I have received some interesting responses, both in comments on the blog and privately, about my post yesterday on domesticated camels in the land of Palestine. Some readers are (re-)convinced that you can’t trust the Bible for one blasted thing; others think that it’s just a picayune point since camels are not really much of a big deal in the narratives of Genesis. So maybe I should provide a bit of background and explain what I see to be the significance of this new finding.
First, on camels. The word “camel” (Hebrew: GML) occurs twenty-four times in the book of Genesis, always in connection with the Patriarchs, and in contexts involving each of the big names: Abraham (only one time, 12:16 – God blessed him with lots of camels), Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph (again only one time, 37:25; he was taken to Egypt by a group of traders with a caravan of camels). The greatest concentration of references is in the story of Isaac and Rebecca in Genesis 24, but there are several references to camels in the life of his son Jacob. In all these instances it is crystal clear from the context that we are talking about domesticated camels, being put to human use – not wild camels roaming around in the wilderness.
There have been many debates over the years over how / when to date these patriarchal narratives – a term for the stories found in Genesis 12 -50 (in Genesis 12 God calls Abraham to go to the promised land; in Genesis 50 his descendants four generations later are living away from the promised in Egypt, where they have fled, under the protection of Joseph, to escape a famine in Canaan). The next book is Exodus, the story of how they escaped slavery in Egypt. So the rough dating is that the exodus probably occurred – if it occurred (I don’t think it occurred, so perhaps I should say the exodus is *thought* to have occurred) – at the beginning of the 13th century BCE (so say, 1290 BCE). The children of Israel were in Egypt for 400 years. So the story of Joseph and his brothers would have been at the end of the 18th c. BCE or the very beginning of the 17th. And their great-grandfather Abraham then would have been around 1750-1800 BCE. Something like that.
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