Although camels are mentioned over 20 times in the Bible, the patriarchs apparently didn't have much to do with them, according to a new archaeological study that calls the historicity of the Bible into question.
"Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon camels," (Genesis 31:17) is just one of several instances where domesticated camels are used in the stories of Abraham, Joseph and Jacob. However, archeologists Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef and Dr. Lidar Sapir-Hen of Tel Aviv University have found that camels weren't domesticated in the Land of Israel until centuries after the patriarchs lived, providing direct proof that the Bible was compiled well after the events it describes.
Drs. Ben-Yosef and Sapir-Hen used radiocarbon dating to identify the earliest date that domesticated camels were used in the eastern Mediterranean.
Their findings, published recently in the journal Tel Aviv, argued that camels became commonplace at the end of the 10th century BCE - several centuries after the patriarchs lived (2000-1500 BCE) and decades after the Kingdom of David, according to the Bible. Their article also defined the appearance of camels as a turning point in ancient Israel's international trade relations.
The oldest known domesticated camel bones were found in the Arava Valley, the ancient site of copper production, in a series of digs led by Drs. Sapir-Hen and Ben-Yosef. While camel bones were found in deeper sediments, archaeologists think they probably belonged to wild camels, who were present in the southern Levant since the Neolithic period. Researchers believe that the mass domestication of camels coincided with major changes in the copper industry, and opened Israel up to international trade and socioeconomic change.
Camels were most likely originally domesticated for use as pack animals in the Arabian Peninsula, which borders on the Arava Valley, towards the end of the 2nd millennium BCE.