Yes, Abraham Could Have Ridden a Camel

November 16, 2018 | Megan Sauter
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At various points, the book of Genesis mentions characters who own camels. For instance, Genesis 12:16 mentions Abraham acquiring camels along with other livestock, and Rebecca comes from the land of Aram to Canaan, on her way to marry Abraham’s son Isaac, riding on a camel (24:61). Scholars have for years seen these passages as obvious anachronisms, since evidence suggests that domesticated camels were not introduced to the Land of Israel until around the 10th century BCE, while Abraham, Rebecca, and the other patriarchs would have lived six to ten centuries earlier. But the case is not so clear-cut as these scholars have assumed, writes Megan Sauter:

Abraham’s [and Rebecca’s] place of origin was not Canaan—but Mesopotamia. Thus, to ascertain whether Abraham’s camels are anachronistic, we need to ask: when were camels first domesticated in Mesopotamia? . . . Biblical accounts of the patriarchs and matriarchs have been traditionally dated to ca. 2000–1600 BCE. Camels appear in Mesopotamian sources in the third millennium BCE—before this period. However, the mere presence of camels in sources does not necessarily mean that camels were domesticated. . . .

One of the first pieces of evidence for camel domestication comes from the site of Eshnunna in modern Iraq. A plaque from the mid-third millennium shows a camel being ridden by a human. Another source is a 21st-century-BCE text from Puzrish-Dagan in modern Iraq that may record camel deliveries. Third, an 18th-century text (quoting from an earlier third-millennium text) from Nippur in modern Iraq says, “the milk of the camel is sweet.” . . . Next, an 18th-century-BCE cylinder seal depicts a two-humped camel with riders. Although this seal’s exact place of origin is unknown, it reputedly comes from Syria. . . .

Although domesticated camels may not have been widespread in Mesopotamia in the second millennium, these pieces of evidence show that by [this time] there were at least some domesticated camels. . . . Accordingly, the camels in the stories of Abraham in Genesis are not anachronistic.

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