Wednesday, February 12, 2014

On Abraham's Camels

Recently, an archaeological report has been making its rounds claiming that the book of Genesis' mentions of camels being used by the patriarchs (eg. in Gen. 12:16) are anachronistic, as camel bones unearthed in the Arabah Valley were dated to having been no later than the 10th century BC, many centuries after the days of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Naturally, this report has been seized upon by numerous news sites, claiming that this proves that the Bible is historically unreliable. For example, one editor for the New York Times states:
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.”[1]
The problem is that, as is the case with discoveries in almost every academic discipline, archaeological discoveries tend to get oversimplified by news sources, who tend to extrapolate conclusions that are not warranted by the actual data. In particular, the conclusions mainstream news outlets have come to regarding the accuracy of the Bible based on this report demonstrate a failure to understand how Archaeology works. There are two main points which indicate why this is the case:

First, Archaeology as a discipline is constantly in flux. I have taken Archaeology courses in the University of Toronto, and I learned early on that new discoveries are constantly overturning old ones, and the interpretations of specific pieces of archaeological data are constantly being disputed. The fact that the oldest camel bones that we know of in the Arabah valley are dated to the tenth century BC does not negate the possibility that even older camel bones are waiting to be unearthed in the region.[2]

Second, the geographical locale where camel bones were dug up is too narrow. The book of Genesis takes place over a wide variety of locations throughout the Ancient Near East. Once one widens the geographical region being studied, one finds that there are plenty of references to domesticated camels that are much older than the camel bones from the Arabah valley. For example, Joseph Free cites various inscriptions of camels carrying water jugs in Egypt that date to as old as the 15th century BC.[3] Going further back than that, we have texts from the city of Alalakh in northern Syria which are dated to the 18th century BC, and mention camels as pack animals.[4] 

In light of these pieces of documentary evidence, the idea of Abraham owning camels becomes much more plausible. I would conclude with the following statement by Free:
[W]ith the above evidence for the knwoledge of the camel in the earlier periods, it would appear somewhat presumptuous to set completely aside as an anachronism the reference to Abraham's having camels in Egypt. Our evidence thus provides another argument for accepting as authentic the picture of the patriarchal period presented in the Old Testament.[5]


[1] John Noble Wilford, “Camels Had No Business in Genesis,” New York Times, 10 February 2014,

[2] Skeptics of the Bible would do well to take this into consideration, as hasty conclusions based on tentative historical data have been the pitfall of many outdated arguments against the Bible in the past. For example, before Hittitology became an established field in Ancient Near Eastern studies, skeptics during the 19th and early 20th centuries jeered at the mention of Hittites in the Old Testament, claiming that the they were just a figment of the Old Testament authors' imaginations. Today, we have many documents and excavated sites belonging to the Hittite civilization, proving beyond doubt that the Bible was right about their existence all along.

[3] Joseph P. Free, “Abraham's Camels,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies (1944): 189,

[4] Donald J. Wiseman, “Ration Lists from Alalakh VII,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 13 (1959):29, Victor Hamilton provides a translation of the phrase “1 SA.GAL ANSE.GAM* MAL*,” rendering it as “one (measure of) fodder--camel.” See Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis 1-17, NICOT (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1995), 384.

[5] Free, “Abraham's Camels,” 193.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

On Prayer

Prayer . . . is a confessing of impotence and need, an acknowledging of helplessness and dependence, and an invoking of the mighty power of God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. . . . God means us . . . to recognize and confess our impotence, and to tell him that we rely on him alone, and to plead with him to glorify his name. It is his way regularly to withhold his blessings until his people start to pray. “You do not have, because you do not ask” (Jas 4:2). “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Mt 7:7). But if you and I are too proud or lazy to ask, we need not expect to receive. This is the universal rule . . . God will make us pray before he blesses our labors in order that we may constantly learn afresh that we depend on God for everything.
Packer, J.I. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012. 118-119. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Work in the Bible

One of the great gifts of the Reformed/Puritan tradition is what sociologist Noah Webster referred to as the Protestant Work Ethic. This is the idea that work is something sacred to the Lord, and that whatever vocation we take up, whether it is in business, the arts, the sciences, law, etc., we must work hard and pursue our vocation to the glory of God. There is certainly much in the Bible that speaks to this topic, which is why I want to give a small compendium of relevant Bible verses.

Proverbs 6:6-11:
Go to the ant, O sluggard; 
consider her ways, and be wise. 
Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, 
she prepares her bread pin summer 
and gathers her food in harvest.
How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.  

Proverbs 14:23:
In all toil there is profit,
but mere talk tends only to poverty 

Ecclesiastes 9:10: Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. 

Ephesians 4:28: Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 

Colossians 3:17, 23-24: And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him... Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

1 Thessalonians 4:10-12: But we urge you, brothers... to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-12: Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Greg Koukl Lecture Notes

Earlier this week, Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason came to the University of Toronto to deliver two lectures, entitled "Bad Arguments Against True Religion," and "Taking Jesus Seriously." He afterwards gave an evangelism training session for the local Power to Change chapter. I took down notes, and for the benefit of everyone who is interested in apologetics and evangelism, I decided to post my notes online. Here they are for everyone who wants them.