Genesis 24:64, The Camel That Wasn’t

Then Rebekah lifted her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from her camel;

//As a recent study in Israel shows, camels were not domesticated in Israel before the time of King David:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/11/science/camels-had-no-business-in-genesis.html

So what is Rebekah doing riding a camel in today’s verse? I did a quick search, and found camels listed in 20 more verses in Genesis. Why are they there?

It actually should come as no surprise. Once the camel was properly domesticated, it became a staple of life. One could hardly imagine life without camels. So, the folks who put the Bible in writing—this would have been after the time of King David—naturally assumed camels to have been a convenient mode of transportation a thousand years beforehand, clear back to the time of the Patriarchs.

There is no deception going on, here. As the ancient stories were passed down, they were naturally retold in a way that made sense to their current audience, a thousand years later.

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6 Comments

  1. So where does that leave readers today? If we assume that, without intentional deception, the writers of the bible changed things to make it easier for contemporary readers to understand what does it tell us?

    That the truth of what was being said was not nearly as important as convincing the reader that the underlying truth AS THE WRITER SAW IT was more important than the details? If that means warping details, changing them or lying about them, so be it?

    And yet, much of the OT seems intended as a history rather than a straight religious teaching tool. How can that fit with changing details? It isn’t intended as fiction, but that’s exactly what we would term such work today; fiction based on real life. Were the writers unable to tell the difference? Did they actually think that their made up stories were true? Did they not care, unable to conceive of anyone wanting the “real deal” so they could come to conclusions themselves? Were they so wrapped up in their own greatness that they thought anything they wrote carried more truth than reality?

    Because it is hard to think that the writers knew names and genealogies of their ancestors but not how they lived or what their most important beats of burden were. They almost certainly knew, but changed the elephant, donkey, etc. to a camel because it matched their own life style. Readers won’t question nearly so much and acceptance is easier. Was that what it was all about?

    • Lee Harmon

      Maybe you hit on the answer in your second paragraph. Truth is more important than details. Conveying Truth (big T), by whatever means is most effective (here assuming camels), trumps truth (little t).

      I think the Bible is its own genre, even though it reads like history. These Biblical stories were not without meaning. Nobody just collected a series of random historical events and put them in writing. Each has a purpose, conveying a deeper truth, as any myth should, particularly when talking about one’s ancestry. So I’m inclined to give the authors a break, and try to dig down to what they really were saying. 😉

      • But are you assuming that the Truth is correct? Or even that the Truth has anything to do with God – was much of it just a matter of “See how great my lineage was”?

        Certain American History books do not cover all that happened; only those things that the author wishes to describe and present. While some of those authors wish to present a balanced view, others do not and are trying very hard to “change history” through their books.

        • Lee Harmon

          Yo, back off your enlightened worldview, Wilderness. Lemme ask about our own patriarchs: George Washington cutting down the cherry tree, is that little-t truth or Big-T Truth?

          “The story was invented by Parson Mason Weems who wrote a biography of George Washington shortly after Washington’s death. Since so little is known about Washington’s childhood, Weems invented several anecdotes about Washington’s early life to illustrate the origins of the heroic qualities Washington exhibited as an adult.”

          • That is EXACTLY the point. The historian is seldom concerned with presenting a factual representation of the time; much more important to present his own view.

            Washington and the cherry tree would fall under Truth, not truth, but very definitely a Truth as determined by the author (the greatness of Washington) and which is opinion only. Not, therefore, a Truth any more than a truth. Just a view, an opinion, of the author.

  2. Lee Harmon

    haha…ok, you win, though I’ll make one more observation: many stories in the Bible are so fraught with exaggeration, and with meaningful holy numbers, that a critical reader should readily perceive that in many cases there is no attempt to address truth, only Truth. When you ask “where does that leave readers today,” the answer is Truth.

    The Truth of a myth is not whether it happened, but whether it happens.

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