Within the past month, a fairly recent piece of archaeological research has caught the attention, and subsequent delight, of the world’s media. This research, which many individuals are riding on in a wave of jubilance, centers on casting fresh doubt on the reputability of the Bible. Curiously, whilst this research first appeared at the start of the month, it is only now that the Australian media have decided to jump on the back of the bandwagonSam de Brito, Biblical facts fall at the first hump Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Feb. 2014. http://www.smh.com.au/comment/biblical-facts-fall-at-the-first-hump-20140222-338le.html..
So what is this controversy about? Well, according to research conducted by two Tel Aviv University (TAU) archaeologists, domesticated camel bones found in the southern Levant of Israel were dated to a period towards the end of the 10th century BCAmerican Friends of Tel Aviv University, Finding Israel’s First Camels. 03 Feb 2014. http://www.aftau.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=19673. What makes this research supposedly controversial is that the use of domesticated camels appear in the Bible a thousand years earlier than the research evidences. Therefore, skeptics infer, if the Bible is wrong about this, then what else is the Bible wrong about? However, there are a few weaknesses behind the hypothesis which devalues the main strength of this argument.
Firstly, according to TAU’s website, both of the two archaeological digs on which the research is based on occurred in the Aravah Valley (also known as Arabah), which is a large desolate area in the south of IsraelIbid.. This area, in ancient times, was known as a center of copper production and was also, interestingly, home to the Edomites. I want to also note that both of these excavations were specifically carried out around the valley’s copper smelting camps.
Within these digs, they found the bones of domesticated camel in stratas (also known as layers), which were found later than what is reported in the Bible. What most media outlets don’t tell you, however, is that they did find camel bones in the layers which chronologically preceded the 10th century BC, but these bones, the archaeologists claim “probably” belonged to wild camels, which archaeologists think were in the southern Levant from the Neolithic period or even earlier”Ibid. (Italics mine). Consequently, the research actually does show the existence of camels in earlier dates but that they were “probably” not domesticated.
Now the case of probability aside, the other issue with this research is the actual hypothesis itself. Particularly the idea that since no domesticated camels were found in the stratas preceding the late 10th century at the two excavation sites, that there could not be any domesticated camels in the entirety of Israel prior to this date. To insinuate that this research is sufficient evidence to prove the lack of domesticated camels in the entirety of Israel prior to the late 10th century BC, whilst only leveraging two archaeological excavations from a very specific region is academically presumptuous and ensures that the theory remains one of sheer speculation rather than providing conclusive proof.
Many scholars agree. Todd Bolen, Professor of Biblical Studies at The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, California, mentions that while the research is important in illustrating the use of camels in copper mining, “to extrapolate from that and say they never had domesticated camels anywhere else in Israel in the 1,000 years before that is an overreach”Gordon Govier, The Latest Challenge to the Bible’s Accuracy: Abraham’s Anachronistic Camels? Christianity Today, 14 Feb 2014. … Continue reading. Titus Kennedy, an adjunct professor at Biola University, also comments that the research doesn’t “tell us that camels couldn’t have been used in other nearby areas earlier than that”Ibid..
Don’t get me wrong, archaeological evidence offers a undeniable glimpse into our past and offers other perspectives on how we understand history. However we need to realize that due to the nature of this field of study, it is requirement that we compare any result of archaeological research to other existing sources that we have at our disposal in order to determine the most logical conclusions of the results. Otherwise, we may just theorize that something may not exist when, when in all actuality we just haven’t discovered it yet. This has occurred many, many, times in the past where certain academics have sought destroy the historical credibility of the Bible, only to find that the argument proffered falls apart when evidence is found to actually support the Bible’s position.
Like with any biblical controversy, journalists may employ this theory as justification of an nietzschean announcement that God is Dead, but in reality it undermines their own position. Needless to say that, in archaeology, the saying that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence ever holds true.
|Sam de Brito, Biblical facts fall at the first hump Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Feb. 2014. http://www.smh.com.au/comment/biblical-facts-fall-at-the-first-hump-20140222-338le.html.
|American Friends of Tel Aviv University, Finding Israel’s First Camels. 03 Feb 2014. http://www.aftau.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=19673
|↑3, ↑4, ↑6
|Gordon Govier, The Latest Challenge to the Bible’s Accuracy: Abraham’s Anachronistic Camels? Christianity Today, 14 Feb 2014. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/february-web-only/latest-challenge-bible-accuracy-abraham-anachronistic-camel.html.