Christianity Today has an excellent round-up of some evangelical scholars reacting to the work of two researchers at Tel Aviv University who used radiocarbon dating on the bones of camels found in ancient copper mines south of the Dead Sea to suggest dating near the end of the 10th century BC (centuries after the patriarchs). The New York Times reported the alleged implication: “Camels probably had little or no role in the lives of such early Jewish patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who lived in the first half of the second millennium B.C., and yet stories about them mention these domesticated pack animals more than 20 times.”
Here is an excerpt from CT‘s piece:
Two recent academic papers written by evangelical scholars—Konrad Martin Heide, a lecturer at Philipps University of Marburg, Germany; and Titus Kennedy, an adjunct professor at Biola University—both refer to earlier depictions of men riding or leading camels, some that date to the early second millenium BC.
Among other evidence, Kennedy notes that a camel is mentioned in a list of domesticated animals from Ugarit, dating to the Old Babylonian period (1950-1600 BC).
He concludes, “For those who adhere to a 12th century BC or later theory of domestic camel use in the ancient Near East, a great deal of archaeological and textual evidence must be either ignored or explained away.”
In an interview with Christianity Today, Kennedy said that he noticed archaeologists who work in Israel and Jordan seem to date camel domestication later than those who work in Egypt and Mesopotamia.
“[Israel] doesn’t have much writing from before the Iron Age, 1000 BC,” he said. “So there aren’t as many sources to look at. Whereas in Egypt, you have writing all the way back to 3000 BC and in Mesopotamia the same thing.” Based on Egyptian and Mesopotamian accounts, Kennedy believes domestication probably occurred as early as the third millennium BC.
He also believes the TAU researchers not only ignored evidence from outside Israel, they also assumed too much about their own research. “All they really tell us is that at that particular place where they were working they found some camel bones that they interpreted as in a domesticated context between the ninth and 11th centuries BC,” Kennedy said. “It doesn’t tell us that camels couldn’t have been used in other nearby areas earlier than that.”
Archaeologists usually remember that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” The absence of evidence for Hittites once fueled some 19th-century debates over the Bible—until the vast Hittite empire was discovered in Anatolia. Questions about the Book of Daniel once focused on the absence of the prominently featured Belshazzar from Babylonian king lists—until it was discovered that Belshazzar was actually the son of Nabonidus, and co-regent.
You can read the whole thing here.