Friday, February 07, 2014

Another Thing a Hebrew Bible Story Got Wrong

by Gary Berg-Cross

The story lines read "Archaeologists Carbon-Date Camel Bones, Discover Major Discrepancy In Bible Story." It's another one of those areas where scientific understanding runs up against mythic stories.  In this case Researchers Lidar Sapir-Hen and Erez Ben-Yosef (Tel Aviv University) report what seems like an historical mistake  laid out in the Bible tale.

The Hebrew Bible (aka Old Testament) mentions  camels as pack animals as early as the story of Abraham. Though there is no archaeological evidence of Abraham's life, we hear from some of the religious and scientific communities, including Chabad and the Associates For Biblical Research, cite the 20th century BCE as his time of birth. 
But carbon-dating has been used to determine the age of the oldest-known camel bones, and these support the view that camels were first introduced to Israel around the 9th century BCE. That's a few hundred years before the time the compilation Hebrew stories were written down, but perhaps a century after Abraham's life. Scholars tell us that "with the exception of a few biblical sections in the Prophets, virtually no biblical text is contemporaneous with the events it describes, and was subject to revision by later authors"....So we have reasonable evidence that writing or editing of the Hebrew text happened quite a bit after the events that are narrate stories.  (There have been large lists of Biblical criticism including sloppy editing.) Here we have a seeming case of human editing the "revealed" truth and making a rationalized, perhaps sensationalized certainly human contextualized story.  
Who to believe? There are some who revere the authors in absentia and still take the stories literally in part because the view of the world they tell of fallen heros, chosen groups, god-fearing behavior and non-interest in worldly things is compelling.
"Too bad", as someone once said of Freudian theory," it's a wonderful story, but it isn't true".

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