Did Camels Exist in the Time of Genesis?

The debate has surfaced – again – this time in the pages of the NY Times Science section. Without totally tipping my hat, it is fair to say that this article is less that journalistic, and more like a description on one set of scientists and their theories. That is fine as long as it is introduced this way.This latest article however is riddled with opinion. Most notably: There is substantial other proof that camels DID exist in that time. One dig makes a theory which needs to be tested again. Since they base this on one dig, how scientific can this really be? The word gamal in the Torah might refer to something else. With that said –

Here is some great rebuttals:

There is actually strong evidence that camels were domesticated by the time of the Patriarchs.

1. A 3.5 foot cord of camel hair from Egypt, dated around 2500 BC, shows that Camels were in use and domesticated enough to be groomed.

2. A bronze figurine from the temple of Byblos in Lebanon, which is dated to before the sixth Egyptian dynasty (before 2182 BC), depicts a camel. While the figure could be taken as a sheep, the figure is arranged with items that would strongly require it to be a camel (a camel saddle, camel muzzle, etc.)

3. Two pots of Egyptian provenance found in Greece and Crete, both dating 1800-1400 BC, have camels represented, and one literally has humans riding on a camel back.

4. A text from Alalakh in Syria (c. eighteenth century BC) contains a rations-list. There is a entry for ‘camel fodder’ written in that document in Old Babylonian. This shows that camels were domesticated at that time.

5. Soviet archaeologists found camel-headed wagons that date back to the first half of the third millennium B.C. This showed that two-humped camels were used in Turkmenistan for drawing wagons at that time.

6. A bronze figurine of a man on a crouching camel, found at Nineveh, in Mesopotamia, shows that camels had been domesticated by the middle of the second millennium BC,

So, the evidence that camels were domesticated at the time that the Patriarchs lived is very strong. The absence of camel bones in two digs does not controvert this evidence.

The flaw in the research here lies in its apparent assumption that the Hebrew word used in Genesis for the animal under discussion, “Gamal,” was always meant to refer to the animal we call a camel. But traditional Jewish Rabbinic sources have always admitted to their own confusion about the correct translation of the animals referred to in the bible, particularly in Leviticus 11. The contemporary translations of many of those animals is entirely unclear. The fact that Ben Yehuda, in constructing modern Hebrew, decided to call a shafan a “rabbit” does not necessarily mean that the shafan in Leviticus 11 is actually a rabbit. Likewise, the gamal referred to in Genesis is as likely today’s “camel” as it is a horse or some animal we are unaware of today. Basing archaeological conclusions on the vagaries of modern Hebrew usage discounts the often arbitrary nature that went (and goes) into the construction of modern Hebrew. In this particular case, Ben Yehuda may have thought the “G” of gamal and “C” of camel somehow made it an easy match, and I can relate to that temptation on his part, but it was probably either a guess or, at best, a tenuous connection. Any Rabbinic scholar who was showed this article or the research would say, “So what? Whoever said a gamal is a camel? Let it be a horse.” Translation is always inherently flawed and necessarily inaccurate.

And another:

There are serious holes in the biology here.

A) why in the world would you take data from ONE site as the absolute limit of domestication??

B) “Some bones in deeper sediments, they said, probably belonged to wild camels that people hunted for their meat. Dr. Sapir-Hen could identify a domesticated animal by s

igns in leg bones that it had carried heavy loads.” Ah. So, there WERE older camel bones there. But they didn’t carry “heavy loads”. Golly – do you suppose it’s possible to keep semi-wild camels for a few thousand years- and only use them for meat, milk, and wool- and riding? (Answer; not only possible- but likely; YOU try inventing a camel pack saddle from scratch.)

And we’ll leave aside the “pinpoint” with radio-carbon dating- ask anyone who uses radio-carbon dating about that idea.