The Sideshow

Appearance of camels in Genesis called sign of authors' distance from history

New carbon dating evidence shows animals not domesticated until centuries later

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An Indian herder with his camel. Feb. 7, 2014. (Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP)

Biblical scholars have long been aware many of the stories and accounts in the sacred book were not written by eyewitnesses, and according to new research, further evidence of that historical distance has appeared in the form of a hump-backed camel.

New research using radioactive-carbon dating techniques shows the animals weren't domesticated until hundreds of years after the events documented in the Book of Genesis. The research was published by Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen, archaeologists from Tel Aviv University in Israel. They believe camels were not domesticated in the eastern Mediterranean until the 10th century B.C.

And yet, the hump-backed creatures are mentioned repeatedly alongside Abraham, Jacob and Isaac, indicating the Bible's writers and editors were portraying what they saw in their present as how things looked in the past, says a New York Times article by John Noble Wilford:

These anachronisms are telling evidence that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it narrates and is not always reliable as verifiable history. These camel stories "do not encapsulate memories from the second millennium," said Noam Mizrahi, an Israeli biblical scholar, "but should be viewed as back-projections from a much later period."

Via National Geographic:

While there are conflicting theories about when the Bible was composed, the recent research suggests it was written much later than the events it describes. This supports earlier studies that have challenged the Bible's veracity as a historic document.

The biblical angle wasn't the focus of the recent research, though, just an after-the-fact observation.

The question over "phantom camels" is not new one, according to TIME magazine. Biblical scholar William Foxwell Albright "argued in the mid-1900s that camels were an anachronism."

In an opinion piece for CNN, Joel Baden writes that there was no deception intended on the part of the Bible's authors.

"Biblical authors," Baden writes, "simply transplanted the nomadic standards of their time into the distant past. There is nothing deceptive about this. They weren’t trying to trick anyone. They imagined, quite reasonably, that the past was, fundamentally, like their present."

A similar conclusion was reached by Smithsonian.com author Colin Schultz, who wrote, "these findings don't necessarily disprove all the stories of the Bible. Rather, knowing that there are camels where there definitely shouldn't be shows that the Bible's authors, working thousands of years after the events they were describing were supposed to take place, took a modern lens to these ancient tales."

Follow Mike Krumboltz on Twitter (@mikekrumboltz).

Related: High-tech camel races.

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