Camels, the Bible, and Belief

Domesticated CamelsThere’s an article making the rounds about how domesticated camels are mentioned in biblical books all the way from Genesis forward.

Here’s the problem. According to archeological, scientific, and written records; the beasts weren’t domesticated at that time. The first evidence of camels being used in a domesticated fashion comes in the 10th century BCE. This invalidates all biblical accounts which mention domesticated camels before that time.

The biblical scholars who admit this anachronism say that just because camels were interjected incorrectly into early biblical stories doesn’t mean that anything else in the stories is inaccurate. Really? This seems to fly in the face of logic. If the people who wrote the bible decided to add contemporary facts to an existing account doesn’t that mean the entire account is likely fiction? Sure, there could be parts that are accurate but it is clear that whoever wrote the books of the bible in question wrote them hundreds and possibly thousands of years after the events they depict. How can that be considered accurate?

Normally the fact that the bible is filled with inaccuracies is not something that I’d blog about. It’s evident to me that the thing is largely fiction. I’m also not bothered by religious fanatics who claim that the overwhelming evidence of camel domestication is incorrect because the stories in the bible overrule any scientific or archaeological findings. Those people are insane. I can’t reason with them nor will I try.

My problem is with those who want to believe the bible tells true stories but admit that the camel business is a mistake. It’s not one mistake. Domesticated camels are mentioned more than twenty times in early biblical stories at a time before they were actually domesticated. This means that whoever wrote those stories had no idea what they were talking about.

If I wrote a story about the Roman Empire that mentioned combustion engine driven trucks transporting goods across the Empire would you take the rest of my accounts seriously? No, of course not. Everything I wrote about would be immediately cast in doubt, and rightly so.

I see this brain trick more and more these days. Perhaps I’m just getting old and it’s been around for as long as the domesticated camel, or longer. It just seems to me that people are more willing to ignore facts so that they can believe what they want to be true. The old Is-Ought fallacy. I suppose the fact that David Hume came up with this idea some 300 years ago would suggest we are, perhaps, not living in unusual times. Maybe people have always used this little trick of the mind.

Even so, it is something my brain can’t understand. When someone brings facts forward that I had not considered; I adjust my position accordingly. To do otherwise would be to lie to myself. It would be to base my logical conclusions on my beliefs, not the other way around.

Anyway, I realize I’m not going to convince anyone today. Have a great Valentine’s Day!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne


9 thoughts on “Camels, the Bible, and Belief

  1. Thats an interesting topic. I thought you were going to write about Cigarettes 🙂

    I like thought provoking scientific observations that try and challenge my religious perspective. I’ll read more on camels – but my limited Google-Kung-fu (Bing-kung-fu?) has already provided several alternative explanations.

    Proving religious facts in a way that is fair for both sides is always tough. I can always play the trump card of “God said it” and end all discussion but thats not a satisfying argument for an honest observation of an item.

    Pro-Science positions tends to discredit Bible records and Pro-Bible positions tends to discredit observations. Both sides believe that the other side has a biased agenda. And that’s probably true and can be seen in most ‘Camel’ articles.

    I hold the Bible to an extreme requirement of accuracy. If the Bible was created by God who invented language, words, everything, then the copy of his “Bible” must be 100% accurate. If a supporter can discredit one area (Camels in this case), then any controversial doctrine can readily be disposed or added to the book because “someone way back when forgot to add or subtract this doctrine”.

    I like to look at items with a formula: Bible Fact = Scientific Observation + Conclusion. I would hold fast to the claim that Camels were used in Abrahams time. Perhaps camels weren’t in wide circulation, or perhaps there are problems with the observation.

    I will study the topic more because it does raise interesting questions. I would like to point out that while the presented observations don’t support the Bible account, the observations don’t discredit the Bible account of camels either. The Observation is simply that there is evidence of domesticated camels at time X based on dating method Y and there is no evidence of domesticated camels at an earlier time. Anything more than the facts about the observation are simply a conclusion.

    • Thank you for the comment, Ed.

      It’s true that you can’t prove a negative. All evidence gathered thus far suggests that camels were not domesticated until thousands of years after they are mentioned as being so in the Bible.

      It’s also suggests that I cannot prove, as Bertrand Russell said, that a teapot is not orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars.

      I choose to believe that the lack of evidence that camels were domesticated at this time means they were not. Likewise I choose to believe the lack of evidence of a teapot in that orbit means it isn’t there.

      If I take you correctly you do not believe this. You believe, despite the current lack of evidence, eventually evidence will be found that proves camels were domesticated at this time.


  2. The Bible has proven to me to be a credible source of information, so I give the Bible the benefit of the doubt (The benefit of the doubt has to go on one side of the equation or the other). I try and reconcile honest observations with the Bible. Fitting the observation and the Bible together either creates a greater understanding of God, or makes me even more crazy — or both.

    I can’t disprove that teapots are orbiting sun, but I don’t find that referenced in the Bible so I think I’m safe there!

    I understand the point you are trying to make, but the premise of the post was that Camels weren’t domesticated in Abrahams time so the Bible must be false. The observation does not support the conclusion that the Bible MUST be wrong in its account. Therefore it is reasonable to hold an opposing hypothesis.

    Neither do I find your hypothesis unreasonable however. If you don’t hold the Bible infallible, then I can see the reasonableness of your equation.

    I’ve never paid attention to Camels in the past — they seemed like irrelevant details — but now you’ve piqued my interest.

  3. I’ve been slogging my way through “The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World ” it can be found here; It is a very carefully researched book steeped in archaeological research. At times it can be a bit tedious to read. In prehistory early hunter-gatherer nomadic tribes used the horse primarily as a food source. In the archaeological record horse tooth wear is used to identify the time period of domestication. The details of how this record has been interpreted bears out the basic assumption that archaeology is built on deductive reasoning. Archaeology is not a basis for proving or disproving a theology in and of itself. It may prove or disprove certain facts to a reasonable certainty but we must always remember that it is reasonable to assume the fossil record unearthed so far is but a slim percentage of the total fossil record that remains undiscovered. While inaccuracies may call a historical text into question it doesn’t prove the entire to be false.

    I tend to compare the acceptance of religious doctrine to being a juror at a trial. In one case we are asked to accept a doctrine on faith which implies a suspension of reasoned analysis. In the second case we are asked to find “beyond a reasonable doubt”. Neither act requires incontrovertible, undeniable proof, merely a willingness to accept based on a certain level or burden of proof. That level is variable depending on the individual involved in the decision making process. We are not solely rational beings though we may wish to believe it. We are a complex matrix of emotional response, learned prejudice (or pre-disposition if you prefer), innate instinctive reaction, and reasoned thought. The motivations which compel each of us to accept or reject a particular mode of conduct or religious faith are just as complex and varied as we are individually. to subject religious belief solely to a test of rational logical thought makes us less than the sum of what we are. Attributes of faith, hope, love, fealty, honor, humility or other similar highly valued but largely unquantifiable traits cannot be measured rationally. So, first I would submit that the domestication of the camel is largely irrelevant to the significance of the Bible as a religious text although it does call into question its historical significance. If this were my only quibble I would gladly accept the whole. Secondly, I would submit that there are many versions of the Bible. Since they do not all perfectly agree it is not possible to assume that they are all “The word of God” and infallible. To accept this opens a rather thorny question. Perhaps this is not the place to explore that question.

    • Thank you for the comment, Dale.

      Interesting stuff and certainly the absence of information cannot be used as proof of anything. It can merely suggest. It really comes down to how much evidence you need to accept something as fact. I’ve found that it generally relates to ones willingness to have faith. The more faith you have the less likely you are to believe contrary evidence. The less faith, the more likely.


    • Thank you for the comment, James.

      Readers note that the link provided is not the link to the original article. It is a religious organization’s rebuttal.

      It largely says what’s been reiterated here already. The absence of evidence is not evidence. Russell’s Teapot (which I link to in another comment). I say that there is teapot orbiting the sun between Mars and Earth. You can’t prove it’s not there, so it could be.

      Therefore, despite the fact that there is absolutely no evidence of a camels being domesticated in the time of Abraham it doesn’t mean they weren’t.

      I choose to accept the evidence at it exists now. James does not. That’s each of our own decision to make.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *