Camels (Genesis 24)

The first Biblical references to domesticated camels occur in the stories of Abraham. He owned them (Genesis 12:16), and his servant used them as pack animals (24:10). Camels are also mentioned in the stories of Jacob (30:43, 31:34, 32:15) and Joseph (37:25) and were found among the Amalekites, Ishmaelites and Midianites.

Scholars have debated the historicity of these references to camels because most believe that these animals were not widely domesticated until approximately 1200 B.C., long after the time of Abraham. Arguments in support of later domestication of the camel include:

Neither the Mari tablets from the eighteenth century B.C. nor the fourteenth century B.C. Armarna correspondence mentions domesticated camels.

During the patriarchal period the donkey appears to have been the animal primarily used for transport. For example, the “Benji Hasan painting”,, which depict Semites bringing goods to Egypt during the Twelfth Dynasty (1900 B.C.), pictures donkeys rather than camels being used in caravans.

On the other hand, we do see clear evidence of camel domestication in the first millennium , much later than the time of the patriarchs. For example, Assyrian wall relief artwork depicts men riding camels into war.

Other evidence does suggest that at least some camels were domesticated earlier. Bone fragments and other archaeological remains have led some scholars to postulate a third millennium date for camel domestication. Although many scholars regard this evidence as inconclusive because it is difficult to distinguish wild from domesticated animals using only bone samples, other evidence, as described below, suggests that people were relying on camels in som manner:

* A braided cord of camel hair from pre-dynastic Egypt has been discovered.
* A Summerian text refers to camel’s milk.
* An Old Babylonian text from early second-millennium Ugarit describes the camel as a domestic animal.

Thus, the evidence does not force us to regard the appearance of domesticated camels in Genesis as anachronistic. Such tamed animals probably were rare during the second millennium, however, and may have been owned almost exclusively by wealthy people.

Third millenium BC Egyptian petroglyph of a man leading a dromedary camel.

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