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The Problem with Camels and the Old Testament

camels

Camels are mentioned as pack animals in the biblical stories of Abraham, Joseph, and Jacob. But archaeologists have shown that camels were not domesticated in the Land of Israel until centuries after the Age of the Patriarchs (2000-1500 BCE).

 

Whenever you read a Bible or a children’s Bible with illustrations, you’re bound to come across images of camels alongside Abraham, Issac, or Jacob.  We take this for granted most of the time.

The New Bible Dictionary: 3rd Edstates,

In Scripture, camels are first mentioned in the days of the Patriarchs (c. 1900 – 1700 BC) [a bit different from the caption above].  They formed part of the livestock wealth of Abraham and Jacob (Gen. 12:16; 24:35; 30:43; 32:7, 15) and also of Job (1:3, 17; 42:12).  On only two notable occasions are the Patriarchs actually shown using camels as transport: when Abraham’s servant went to Mesopotamia to obtain a wife for Isaac (Gen. 24:10), and when Jacob fled from Laban (Gen. 31:17,34)- neither an everyday event.  Otherwise, camels are attributed only to the Ishmaelites/Midianites, desert traders, at this time (Gen. 37:25).  This very modest utilization of camels in the patriarchal age corresponds well with the known rather limited use of camels in the early 2nd millenium BC. (p. 160)

 

However, recent archaeological and scientific studies provide new evidence that suggests that camels were domesticated in the regions associated with the biblical Patriarchs centuries later than is portrayed in the biblical accounts.

This research and issues with the domestication of camels is not new news and has been known for some time now.

This research is interesting when trying to place a time-frame on when and where the Pentateuch was written and compiled.

How science and biblical studies converge – read the article here.

 

 

 

“Noah’s Ark: The Facts Behind the Flood”

Was the Ark that survived the Flood really round?

Dr. Irving Finkel, assistant keeper at the department of the Middle East at the British Museum, recently deciphered the “Ark Tablet” – an ancient Babylonian tablet that describes a flood and a building of an ark by a single person; however this one is unique in that this tablet provides specific instructions on how the ark was to look like and be built.

Some interesting facts:

  1. In this account, the ark was round, called a coracle– a shape that is still used today in the Middle East, with a diameter of around 230 ft; very different from our traditional picture of what the ark looked like from our Sunday school pictures
  2. It’s one of the first known depictions of the Akkadian (Semitic Babylonian) word “sana” which translates to “two each, two by two” when the Ark Tablet describes how the animals were rounded into the coracle. (Sound familiar?)
  3. It’s worthy to bear in mind that, as Finkel states, the Babylonian flood story in cuneiform is 1,000 years older than the book of Genesis in Hebrew.

He’s come out with a new book on his discoveries called The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood.

I personally had a chance to attend a lecture of Dr. Finkel in the summer last year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art when they were exhibiting the Cyrus Cylinder; the Met used his English translation of the Cylinder. He’s quite an entertaining speaker, unlike most other academic lecturers in his field who tend to be quite dry and boring in my opinion.

It should be interesting to see how this may impact biblical and Old Testament studies in the future.

Click here for his complete article.