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Published:February 12th, 2014 11:34 EST
Why Were Domesticated Camels Included In The Book of Genesis? Yarn or History?

Why Were Domesticated Camels Included In The Book of Genesis? Yarn or History?

By John G. Kays

The revelation that camels probably wern`t around in the earliest of Bible times (The Book of Genesis), and so, therefore, shouldn`t have been mentioned by the writers of these ancient, sacred texts (whoever they might be?), caused me a great deal of consternation; I`ve always believed the Bible was based on historical events that had been considerably tweaked by the perpetual telling and retelling of the story over, perhaps, a transforming timeline of hundreds and hundreds of years. 

Well, I`m a trained historian, and I`ll have to admit, (I`m beginning to think) there`s a stronger argument for saying the narratives of Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph, say, weren`t grounded in any historical facts whatsoever!

While that thought is a likely projection many people will have, based on the findings of two archaeologists from Tel Aviv, Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen, who concluded that domesticated camels didn`t come to Israel until the final third of the 10th century B.C. (by radiocarbon dating camel fossils), it must be pointed out, theologians have always emphasized, the stories in Genesis are a simply a way to teach morals, or to teach the values (Religion, if you are so insistent) of that culture (in this case, the Jewish people of Israel)

Yet, I was taught when in theology class (I went to Jesuit), a large part of these stories are derived from actual historical events. That bubble just got burst!

Well, I still believe this maxim, because I need to feel it`s so; if the entire Old Testament is just one big fairy tale, then why should I care so much that it teaches you a lesson about how to live your life, or how to get by smoothly within your particular political and cultural structure. The bottom line is that, if Abraham and Joseph are not real people, then how can they inform us in any pertinent fashion in the 21st century? 

Here, purportedly, they were riding around taking care of their business on state-of-the art domesticated camels, trying to get their ducks lined up in a row, ethically speaking, when actually you (the biblical authors) meant to say, they were cruising around in the desert on shaky, disheveled donkeys (not elegant, graceful, hump camels)! No wonder you fabricated the story!

When I read the Old Testament, is it like I`m reading A Brother`s Grimm fairy tale? Those fairy tales have lessons you can learn for how to live your life; also, they are based on traditional German folklore, which must have some basis in history. Was, for example, The Prince and The Frog based on some real historical event? I would think he`d have to be, or else where could the Grimm`s have found his tale? 

This must`ve been the case too with the heroes from the Book of Genesis; from what I have read, these earliest of Jewish leaders` (Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph) accounts were handed down by way of oral tradition, exclusively. Lots of room for altercation!

With that in mind, the problem with the camels (or the anachronism, as John Noble Wilford from The New York Times aptly calls it) may be merely the tip of a mind-boggling iceberg (think The Titanic), as far as historical inaccuracies go. I`m no biblical scholar, nor am I a trained theologian, but I do, at least, own a copy of The Oxford Companion to The Bible, which tells me the Book of Genesis was written over several hundred years, and probably had multiple authors. 

Sundry recent articles remind us the Yahwist (which is the basis for Genesis) was probably consolidated (or codified) just before or during the Babylonian Exile (in the 6th century BC), at the behest of their Persian conquerors, who demanded it.

This knowledge is a further source for trouble; nonetheless, what I was driving at, is that there is a 1,000 year gap between when the text was finalized and the time with which they were attempting to describe. Who`s to say the writers weren`t using a contemporary figure, or one from a previous generation once removed (less than a hundred years), when they sketched the forefathers with all their travails into the characters we all know so well? 

And was the sacred text formalized only to appease their Persian oppressors, who granted them the right to live by their own laws and own religion? This misstep of camel inclusion (in the written word) may have been intentional after all; it was good to mention the pack animals in terms of the local economy, and made the ancient heroes of Israel appear as if they were sound business men (with charmed contemporary role models). Hopefully, my final cup of coffee will will be a tamer camel that leads me to the Promised Land, although I doubt it!