This week has seen op-ed pieces in CNN and other locales saying that recent discoveries about domesticated camels in Israel prove the Bible has erred. I have seen two such articles in the last week, one on CNN and the other in the Huffington Post. The gist of the claim is that there has been a recent discovery that shows that domesticated camels in Israel go back to the 10th century BC. The alleged error is that the Bible claims that such camels went back to the partriarchs several centuries earlier. Thus, it is said that the find proves a biblical mistake. Some of the writing has been quite cute. Is this "camel discovery" one that will "break the Bible's back"?
I read the first piece in the Huffington Post and went, come on. I read the second in CNN from a Professor of Old Testament at Yale and asked myself, is he really thinking through this very carefully? Are people aware of what is going on here? Here is my problem with the spin that has been placed on this find, even if that spin comes from somenone in the field at one of our top universities.
The find claims to show that the earliest domesticated camels in Israel go back to the late 10th century BC. The problems involve the word earliest AND the nature of archaeology. One needs to realize that archaelogy deals with recovered remains and the realization that we have not found everything that was (and surely will never recover most of what was). So how do we know these testifying camels are the earleist domesticated camels ever in Israel? We do not know that. It would be one thing to claim that the earliest evidence we NOW possess about domesticated camels goes back to the 10th century. But what we have now does not equal all there was, all of what may be out there, or even all we may one day come across.
I am reminded of where we were for a long time with OT manuscripts. Our oldest texts were from the 900's AD. Then we found the Dead Sea Scrolls and our earliest manuscript knowledge lept back 1000 years, a full millennial broad jump back deeper into history. Many things we claimed to know about manuscripts, their accuracy in copying, and writing had to be redone in light of this new knowledge. In other words, there is no way to claim or know that the earliest bones we have are of the earliest domesticated camels that existed. Those bones do not come out of the ancient dust with a tag on them saying, "earliest bones ever of a trained camel."
So what does this type of editorial actually show? It reflects an amazing lack of knowledge about ancient studies and their limitations, as well as a gullibility of some elements in the media today and also in some academic circles to hype anything that is anti-biblical without giving any opportunity for hearing the other side of the case. This does no one a real service in terms of real news. This is not a case of a conservative screaming do not tread on my sacred book. It is a plea that we let evidence only address what it is capable of addressing, nothing more or nothing less. What we are left with is an empty claim that is like saying a camel is able to go through the eye of a needle. That I can say it does not make it so. The Bible's back is not broken by a find that claims to be the earliest when we have no way of knowing if in fact the bones found are the earliest domesticated camel bones that existed in the region. Maybe what is missing in the claimed proof is the actual proof.