The Domestication Of The Camel In The Ancient Near East -- By: Titus Kennedy

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 23:4 (Fall 2010)
Article: The Domestication Of The Camel In The Ancient Near East
Author: Titus Kennedy

The Domestication Of The Camel In The Ancient Near East

Titus Kennedy

Titus Kennedy

Domestic camels on the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, British Museum.


Although many claim there is a consensus within archaeological circles, in reality, scholars debate exactly when the camel was first domesticated in the Near East—for any purpose. The theories range from as late as the ninth century BC to as early as the beginning of the third millennium BC, depending on the availability of data, interpretation of data, and personal opinions, leaving quite a wide range of years in dispute. The domestication debate impacts several instances of camels being used as beasts of burden prior to the 12th century BC within the OT books of Genesis, Exodus, Judges and Job. The word “camel” (גמל) is used in a domesticated sense 22 times in Genesis (12:16, 24:10-64, etc.), once in Exodus (9:3), 4 times in Judges (6:5, 7:12, 8:21, 8:26) and 3 times in Job (chapters 1 and 42). It is clear that in these books camels are used in a domesticated sense, and often as beasts of burden. The references would place domestic camel use in the early second millennium BC, during the Middle Bronze Age in the ancient Near East, or in the late third millennium BC during the Intermediate Bronze Age, depending on one’s chronology. Stephen Caesar, in the Winter 2006 issue of Bible and Spade, discusses at length the interplay between the Patriarchs and camel domestication. However, because of the early setting in the text and the tendency in Near Eastern studies to assign camel domestication to after the 12th century BC, these texts have often been cited as anachronistic, inserting “camel” for another animal or adding it to the text. Thus, evidence of domesticated camels in the early second millennium BC or earlier is critical to the historicity of these texts. Concerning substitution of “camel” for another animal, Millard argues that a later writer making modifications in the text in an attempt to emphasize the wealth of the patriarchs would not substitute “camel” but instead “horse,” since horses were expensive and valuable during the Iron Age (Millard 1980: 50). This is a plausible assertion that demonstrates a textual emendation from “horse” or another animal to “camel” would be highly unlikely. Still, the general consensus by ancient Near Eastern scholars over the last several decades is that camels were not domesticated in the area until the Iron Age.

Typically, ancient Near Eastern scholars such as Donald Redford, Israel Finkelstein and William Albright subscribe to as late as a ninth century view, or at earliest the ...

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