New Reader’s Edition of the BHS!

I am very happy for George Athas, friend and JESOT editorial board member. He and collaborators Donald Vance and Yael Avrahami have spent several years producing a new Reader’s Edition of the BHS (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia), and it will finally be available through Hendrickson/German Bible Society at the upcoming SBL meeting in San Diego. Read more about the project at his website, and find Jim West’s review here (including pics of the text).

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Getting Ready to Give Thanks: A Note on Thanksgiving in the Hebrew Bible

How do you say thank-you in Hebrew? Most tourists who visit Israel easily learn to say tôdâ to express their appreciation for kindness or good service. Modern Hebrew borrowed tôdâ, which means “thanks,” from Biblical Hebrew. Biblical Hebrew, however, uses tôdâ and its verbal root yādâ in very different ways.[1]

Giving Thanks

The verb yādâ occurs 111 times in the Old Testament with almost two-thirds of these found in the Psalms. English Bibles translate yādâ in several ways. For example, the New International Version (NIV) renders the verb in the majority of cases as “praise” (44 times), “give thanks” (35 times), and “confess” (10 times).

The original meaning of yādâ may be “acknowledge” (compare Job 40:14).[2] Scholars of a previous generation suggested that yādâ developed from yād “hand” and presupposed the idea of raising the hands in confession or praise.[3] However, most scholars today suggest the fundamental meaning of the verb is “confess.”[4] For them, yādâ conveys two ranges of meaning: (1) to confess God’s character or works, and (2) to confess sins.

Confessing God’s Character and Works

Yādâ is primarily employed in the Old Testament to confess God’s character and His marvelous works.[5] To acknowledge who God is and what He does involves praise, and this moves one to be thankful. Not surprisingly then yādâ occurs in Hebrew poetry in parallel with other praise verbs: “to praise” (Ps. 109:30), “to praise with music” (Ps. 7:17 [Heb. v. 18]; 92:1), “to remember” (Ps. 45:17 [Heb. v. 18]), “to glorify” (Ps. 86:12), and “to declare” (Ps. 30:9 [Heb. v. 10]). Therefore, yādâ functions as one of the key praise terms in the Old Testament.[6] Read More »

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The Development of the Biblia Hebraica

Until 1929 available texts of the Hebrew Bible were essentially reprints or edited versions of Jacob ben Hayyim’s Second Rabbinic Bible, first published by Daniel Bomberg in Venice in 1524/25. Ben Hayyim based his work on late medieval manuscripts and other earlier printed editions. This text served as the textus receptus behind all early Old Testament translations, such as that of Luther and the King James Version.

Beginning in 1929, Rudolf Kittel decided to jettison the later eclectic ben Hayyim text and adopt in its place the earlier text of the Leningrad manuscript B 19A (L; dated AD 1008) as a base for the new edition of his internationally acclaimed scholarly work known as the Biblia Hebraica (first published 1906). Kittel died in 1929, but ten years later Albrecht Alt and Otto Eissfeldt were able to revise and publish the edited fascicles in the third edition of the Biblia Hebraica (Stuttgart: Württembergische Biblelanstalt, 1937). Although Kittel edited only five of the twenty-one fascicles, the work has commonly become known as Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica (BHK). BHK has been criticized for its frequent willingness to correct and emend the B 19A text based on conjecture. BHK has served as the base text behind the Revised Standard Version and other translations of the Old Testament of the same period. Read More »

Posted in Hebrew Bible, Old Testament, Textual Criticism, Uncategorized | 1 Response

Five Importants Texts for Thinking About the Old Testament Canon

Here are five important selections for understanding early Christian reflections on the Old Testament canon. It seems, from my brief study, that the first early Christian reference to the “Old Testament” as a collection of books (cf. 2 Cor 3: 14), comes from Melito (ca. AD 170). However, this text is preserved in a later text, so the dating cannot be fully substantiated. If anyone is aware of an earlier or comparatively early citation, please let me know.

For fuller, yet accessible, treatments of these and other texts on this important topic, see E. Earle Ellis, The Old Testament in Early Christianity (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991); Roger Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church and Its Background in Early Judaism (London: SPCK, 1985, repr. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2008); and the resources posted by Ed Gallagher.

Ecclesiasticus 1:1 (my translation):

Πολλῶν καὶ μεγάλων ἡμῖν διὰ τοῦ νόμου καὶ τῶν προφητῶν kαὶ τῶν ἄλλων τῶν κατ᾿ αὐτοὺς ἠκολουθηκότων δεδομένων…

Many and great things we have received through the Law and the Prophets and the others which followed them

Philo, De Vita Contemplativa 25, speaking of the piety of the Therapeutae (my translation):

μηδὲν εἰσκομίζοντες…ἀλλὰ νόμους καὶ λόγια θεσπισθέντα διὰ προφητῶν καὶ ὕμνους καὶ τὰ ἄλλα οἷς ἐπιστήμη καὶ εὐσέβεια συναύξονται καὶ τελειοῦνται.

nor did they carry in…but the Law and the prophesied words of the prophets and hymns and the others, by which knowledge and godliness grow together and have their completeness.

Translation and reconstruction of 4Q397 and 4Q398 (Wise, Abegg, Jr., and Cook, DSS:A New Translation):

[Indeed,] we [have written] to you so that you might understand the book of Moses, the book[s of the Pr]ophets, and Davi[d …] [the events of] the generations.

Melito’s canon, as preserved in Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History 4.26.14ff. (my translation):

ἀνελθὼν οὖν εἰςτὴνἀνατολὴν καὶ ἕως τοῦ τόπου γενόμενος ἔνθα ἐκηρύχθη καὶ ἐπράχθη, καὶ ἀκριβῶς μαθὼν τὰ τῆς παλαιᾶς διαθήκης βιβλία, ὑπο τάξας ἔπεμψά σοι: ὧν ἐστι τὰ ὀνόματα: Μωυσέως πέντε, Γένεσις Ἔξοδος Ἀριθμοὶ Λευιτικὸν Δευτερονόμιον, Ἰησοῦς Ναυῆ, Κριταί, Ῥούθ, Βασιλειῶν τέσσαρα, Παραλειπομένων δύο, Ψαλμῶν Δαυίδ, Σολομῶνος Παροιμίαιἡκαὶ Σοφία, Ἐκκλησιαστής, Ἆισμα Ἀισμάτων, Ἰώβ, Προφητῶν Ἡσαΐου Ἱερεμίου τῶν δώδεκα ἐν μονοβίβλῳ Δανιήλ, Ἰεζεκιήλ, Ἔσδρας

Therefore, coming to the East, reaching even the place where these things were preached and carried out, and having learned exactly the books of the Old Testament–putting them down, I sent them to you. The names are: the Five of Moses–Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy–Joshua son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, the four Kingdoms, the two Chronicles, the Psalms of David, the Proverbs (or the Wisdom) of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job, the Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Twelve in one book, Daniel, Ezekiel, Esdras

Tractacte Baba Batra 14b(for Hebrew text):

The rabbis taught: “The order of the prophets is as follows: Jehoshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and the Twelve Prophets.” Let us see: Hosea, of the Twelve Prophets, was before Isaiah, as it is written [Hosea, i. 2]: “The beginning of the word of the Lord,” etc. This certainly cannot be understood that he was the first of the prophets to whom the Lord spoke since the time of Moses, as there were many prophets after Moses preceding Hosea. And therefore R. Johanan explains that he was the first of the four prophets who prophesied at that period; viz.: Hosea, Isaiah, Amos, and Micah. Hence he was before Isaiah. Why is he placed after? Because his book is counted among the Twelve, among whom were Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, who were the last of the prophets: therefore his book is placed together with theirs. But why was the book of Hosea not separated, and placed first? Because his book is small, and if it were placed separately it would become lost. However, was not Isaiah before Jeremiah and Ezekiel? Why is he not placed first? Because “Kings” ends with the destruction of the Temple, and the whole book of Jeremiah speaks of the destruction, and that of Ezekiel at the beginning speaks of the destruction and at the end of consolation, while Isaiah’s entire book speaks of consolation: destruction was put next to destruction, and consolation next to consolation.

The order of the Hagiographa is as follows: Ruth, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations, Daniel, Book of Esther, Book of Ezra, and Chronicles.

And who wrote all the books? Moses wrote his book and a portion of Bil’am [Numbers, xxii.], and Job. Jehoshua wrote his book and the last eight verses of the Pentateuch beginning: “And Moses, the servant of the Lord, died.” Samuel wrote his book, Judges, and Ruth. David wrote Psalms, with the assistance of ten elders, viz.: Adam the First, Malachi Zedek, Abraham, Moses, Hyman, Jeduthun, Asaph, and the three sons of Korach. Jeremiah wrote his book, Kings, and Lamentations. King Hezekiah and his company wrote Isaiah, Proverbs, Songs, and Ecclesiastes. The men of the great assembly wrote Ezekiel, the Twelve Prophets, Daniel, and the Book of Esther. Ezra wrote his book, and Chronicles–the order of all generations down to himself. [This may be a support to Rabh’s theory, as to which, R. Jehudah said in his name, that Ezra had not ascended from Babylon to Palestine until he wrote his genealogy.] And who finished Ezra’s book? Nehemiah ben Chachalyah.

Posted in Old Testament, Textual Criticism, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Responses

“Asherah of any kind of wood” – Deut 16:21

Many modern English translations render עֵץ in Deut 16:21 as “tree” (ESV, NASB, NET, NKJV,  NRSV), leading most readers to conclude that the asherah being spoken of in the text is a tree that is “planted.” However, this is not the best translation of the text.

The Hebrew text of Deut 16:21 reads: לֹא־תִטַּע לְךָ אֲשֵׁרָה כֹּל־עֵץ אֵצֶל מִזְבַּח יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשֶׂה־לָּךְ׃

You shall not set up [lit. plant] for yourself an asherah of any kind of wood beside the altar of YHWH your God, which you make for yourself.

votive 2

12th cent. B.C. ceramic offering stand from Megiddo (OI Museum). Photo by William R. Osborne

The difficulty here is the ambiguity of the Hebrew word עֵץ, which can rendered “tree” (Gen 1:1; Ex 10:15; Lev 19:23; Deut 20:19 ) or “wood” (Lev 11:32; Num 31:20; Deut 10:1;  Deut 29:16), respectively. Much has been said about the figurative use of “plant” (נטע) in the Hebrew text (see Wiggins, “Of Asherahs and Trees, 166–68; Park, “The Cultic Identity of Asherah,” 535–36; Binger, Asherah, 122–23. Cf. Joan Taylor, “The Asherah, The Menorah,” 38), thus, leading one to conclude the text is prohibiting the “setting up” of a wooden cult object next to an altar. The grouping of “altar,” “asherah” and “pillar” (maṣṣēbâ, מַצֵּבָה) in Deut 16:21 and 22, also highlights the key components of worship at the בָּמָה (bāmâ, “high place”). First Kings 14:23 and 2 Kgs 17:20 indicate that the high place was constructed by building a pillar and an asherah under a tree.

And they also built for themselves high places, pillars, and cult objects (אֲשֵׁרִים) on every high hill and under every green tree. (1 Kgs 14:23)

Therefore, since Deut 16:21–22 reflects the ritualistic components of the high place, it seems to me very unlikely that verse 21 is referring to planting a living tree beside an altar, seeing that it was most likely constructed under a large tree already in place. Second Kgs 23:6 highlights the fact that an asherah could exist in other cult contexts such as the temple in Jerusalem. But even in this instance there is no reason to believe that the asherah inside the temple was a living tree.

The translation committees of the HCSB and NIV (2011) get it right. Both translations recognize that Deut 16:21 is speaking of a wooden cult object (perhaps stylized to look like a tree) and not a living tree.

Posted in Biblical Archaeology, Old Testament | Tagged , , , | 1 Response


Andrews_1.2_JESOT.29269I am happy to share that we have just published a new issue of Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament (issue 3.1). Here is a rundown of the contents, and you can read the whole issue here. Enjoy!

“The Shape of Hope in the Book of Kings: The Resolution of Davidic Blessing and Mosaic Curse” by NATHAN LOVELL

ABSTRACT: The issue of hope in the book of Kings has long been a focal point of debate. This paper approaches the question from the standpoint of the final form of the book, rather than attempting to discern the voice of the Deuteronomist(s) within the text. I argue that the message of hope is exposed by a central theological tension within the book: that Yahweh has promised both blessing to David and curse for Mosaic breach. I conclude that in the resolution of this tension the book encourages hope in its exilic readership, but precludes a return to the monarchy as it was formerly. Rather, the purpose of Kings as it now stands is to reshape exilic hope towards a different type of kingdom, and to demonstrate to the exiles the new shape that this kingdom will take through the prophetic ministry amongst the powerless to gather a remnant. Messianic and nationalistic hope in Kings is shaped by the exile,  which  represents  a  new  beginning  for  Yahweh’s  people. 

 KEYWORDS1–2 Kings, Davidic promise, Mosaic covenant, Messianic hope, Remnant, Exile, Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah, Elijah, Elisha, Jehoiachin 

“The Soteriological Development of the ‘Arm of the Lord’ Motif” by MATTHEW R. AKERS

ABSTRACT: A quarter of a century ago James Hoffmeier published his groundbreaking Biblica article  “The  Arm  of  God  Versus  the  Arm  of   Pharaoh   in   the   Exodus   Narratives.”   The   same   year,   Manfred   Görg   released   his   study   “Der   starke   Arm   Pharaos”   in   the   Festschrift   honoring François Daumas. Both men demonstrated that the OT seizes Egyptian victory language and applies it to the God of Israel in order to portray him as the conqueror of Pharaoh. This paper builds upon these important works, arguing that the OT authors, particularly in the prophetical period, employed the theme to express several important theological concepts. The author of this paper explores a number of OT passages that depict the arm of the LORD as the deliverer of post- Conquest Israel and the redeemer of the entire world. 

KEYWORDSDeliverance, Soteriology, Theology, Prophets, Messiah 

“Making Sense of Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20)” by SILVIU TATU

ABSTRACT: Biblical criticism has debated for the last two centuries whether or not to include the Melchizedek episode (Gen 14:18–20) with the other incidents of the story in Gen 14. This article makes the case for the early integration of Melchizedek’s episode in the narrative concerning Abram recovering Lot and his properties and in the Abraham narrative cycle as a whole. In order to achieve that, several general issues had to be addressed: the integrity of the text itself with its syntactic relationships, literary genre and plot. An investigation of some particular issues follows: Melchizedek’s name, title, and actions, as well as assessing how well they fit the patriarchal context and the original plot. Since the debate is complex and multi-layered, various tools were employed: Hebrew grammar and syntax, form criticism, narrative criticism, and History of Religions. We found that, as it stands, Gen 14:18–20 is too well integrated in the story of Abraham and the fabric of its own world to need political agendas motivating its late addition as various source theories claim. 

KEYWORDSMelchizedek, Genesis 14, Abram and Melchizedek, narrative criticism, form criticism, Canaanite priesthood, Story of Abraham 

“David, the ‘Ruler of the Sons of His Covenant’ (מושל בבני  בריתו): The Expansion of Psalm 151 in 11QPsa” by ANDREW WITT

ABSTRACT: Since ,1965 there has been great debate concerning the provenance of the Great Psalms Scroll (11QPsa). Building off recent analyses by Strawn and Debel, this article argues that Psalm   151A   contains   the   sectarian   phrase   “sons   of   his   covenant,”   which   was   added   to   the   psalm   as   part   of   its   Qumranic revision. This puts  into  question  Flint’s  position  that   the 11QPsa-Psalter tradition had a provenance prior to the establishment of the Qumran community. In its final pages, the article examines some of the implications of its findings, particularly concerning the redactional history of Psalm , 151 and how one might interpret Psalm 151A in light of its expansions. 

KEYWORDSPsalm , 15111, QPsa, Great Psalms Scroll, sectarian terminology, provenance 

Book Reviews

Beginning Biblical Hebrew: A Grammar and Illustrated Reader by John A. Cook and Robert D. Holmstedt (Reviewed by W. K. Bechtold)

Isaiah by David W. Baker (Reviewed by P. Wegner)

Journey to Joy: The Psalms of Ascent by Josh Moody (Reviewed by A. Witt)

From Conquest to Coexistence: Ideology and Antiquarian Intent in the Historiography of Israel’s Settlement of Canaan by Koert van Bekkum (Reviewed by V. P. Long)

Jerusalem and the Nations: Studies in the Book of Isaiah by Ronald E. Clements (Reviewed by P. J. Long)

Psalms 1–2: Gateway to the Psalter by Robert L. Cole (Reviewed by P. J. Long)

Against the Gods: The Polemical Theology of the Old Testament by John Currid (Reviewed by J. W. Hilber)

Jewish and Christian Approaches to the Psalms: Approaches and Convergence edited by Susan Gillingham (Reviewed by J. E. Stewart)

Invitation to the Psalms: A Reader’s Guide for Discovery and Engagement by Rolf A. Jacobson and Karl N. Jacobson (Reviewed by R. Burgess)

Reading with the Faithful: Interpretation of True and False Prophecy in the Book of Jeremiah from Ancient Times to Modern by Seth B. Tarrer (Reviewed by A. Day)

Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King by Herman W. Bateman IV, Darrell L. Bock, and Gordon H. Johnston (Reviewed by D. Diffey)

A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New by Gregory K. Beale (Reviewed by M. J. Boda)

An Introduction to Ugaritic by John Huehnergard (Reviewed by M. S. Heiser)

When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible by Timothy Michael Law (Reviewed by K. Capps)

The Story of Israel in the Book of Qohelet: Ecclesiastes as Cultural Memory by Jennie Barbour (Reviewed by R. L. Meek)

Prophets before the Exile: Amos, Hosea, Micah, Zephaniah, Nahum, Habakkuk by Christopher R. Smith (Reviewed by K. Möller)

Genesis by John H. Walton (Reviewed by G. E. Schnittjer)


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Fight Pride by Reading the Old Testament

OT-044-medPaul’s use of the Old Testament in 1 Cor 10:1-11 is a locus classicus for Christians seeking to understand how to understand the Old Testament text within the church. And the immediate verses that follow, 1 Cor 10:12-13, are also widely quoted by Christians but as encouragement for fighting temptation and pride. The consequence is that both sections of the chapter are frequently, although separately, reflected upon by believers. Consequently, I believe too often the first is used as a proof text for Old Testament application in the church and the second a proof text against pride and temptation, and the connection between the two ideas is missed entirely.

Verse 6 reads:

Now these things happened to them as type (τύποι), in order that our evil desires might not be, as they desired evil. (author’s translation)

The reference to “these things…as a type” (Ταῦτα δὲ τύποι…) in verse 6 likely forms an inclusio with verse 11 which uses nearly the same phrase (ταῦτα δὲ τυπικῶς…) to conclude the section addressing the sins of Israel. So, it is not completely without reason that we tend to read verses 6-11 as a unit of thought. In verses 6-11 Paul discusses (1) the golden calf incident [Ex 32:6], (2) Israel’s desire for the daughters of Moab and Baal worship [Num 25:1-9], (3) Israel’s impatience and faithlessness toward Moses’ and the Lord’s guidance in the wilderness [Num 21:6], and (4) the people’s continued grumbling against the Lord [Num 14:2ff.; 16:41ff.]. Paul states that these thing were recorded for the instruction of church by providing a “type” for us.

I think that we might miss the theological significance of this phrase by just rendering it “example.” Yes, Israel was an example, it was also more than that. Israel wasn’t just a bad example in that some people, some time ago, in a land far away from did some wrong things…Israel is the example. If anyone should have responded appropriately to the Lord it was Israel. They alone possessed the Patriarchs and Torah (Deut 4:7; Rom 9:4-5). Yet, even with the revelation of YHWH through Torah and the Prophets, Israel hardened its heart and desired evil. Israel’s typological disobedience demonstrates, not only the condition of their heart, but the disposition of all human hearts toward the Lord. If Israel–God’s chosen people and treasured possession–responded in these ways, why should Christians think that they are impervious to the same temptations to rebel?

I believe this is why Paul links the unit in verses 6-11 with verses 12-13 with “Ὥστε” (“So that” or “Therefore” [ESV]). The proper consequence of reading about Israel’s hardened response should be to remind us that we also cannot justify sinful lives. Just like Israel, the church cannot “go on sinning that grace may abound” (Rom 6:1), nor may we avoid the battle against temptation because we have special spiritual status that removes us from the battlefields of sin. Christians must also take up the fight against idolatry, sexual immorality, and anger against the Lord, trusting that–just like Israel’s battles–God is doing the fighting.

Verses 12 and 13 read:

So that let the one who thinks he stands take heed that he might not fall. Temptation has not seized you, except that which is common to mankind. But God is faithful and He will not allow you to be tempted more than you are able to handle, but he will make with temptation also a way of escape, that you might be able to endure. (author’s translation)

Just as Israel’s sin was a type of human disobedience, Paul reminds the Christians in Corinth that their battle against sin and temptation is the necessary human condition in a post-fall world. However, Israel’s sin nor our own, is the final word: “But God is faithful.” When we read the Old Testament and encounter the “type” of Israel’s rebellion against the Lord, we should recognize that apart from God’s grace enabling us to overcome temptation, we are destined to become the “antitype.” So, let us fight pride in our lives by reading and re-reading the Old Testament that we might be reminded of the pattern of human rebellion and the God who is faithful in spite of it.

– Rusty Osborne


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Camels and Consternations

Author on camel near the Dead Sea

If you have been tracking with the news over the past week you have seen the numerous articles on camels and the Bible popping up in mainstream media outlets like New York Times (“Camels Had No Business in Genesis”), Time (“The Mystery of the Bible’s Phantom Camels”), CNN (“Will Camel Discovery Break the Bible’s Back?”), Fox News (“Camel Bones Suggest Error in Bible, Archaeologists Say”), and National Geographic (“Domesticated Camels Came to Israel in 930 B.C., Centuries Later than Bible Says”).

John Noble Wilford’s New York Times piece perhaps best captures the ethos of the press coverage:

There are too many camels in the Bible, out of time and out of place. Camels probably had little or no role in the lives of such early Jewish patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who lived in the first half of the second millennium B.C., and yet stories about them mention these domesticated pack animals more than 20 times. Genesis 24, for example, tells of Abraham’s servant going by camel on a mission to find a wife for Isaac. 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.

This barrage of coverage was instigated by a recent press release and article published by Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef and Dr. Lidar Sapir-Hen of Tel Aviv University.Their research is based upon the camel bones discovered in the Aravah Valley in the Levant, which are radiocarbon dated to latter part of the 10th century B.C. The camel bones are studied in connection with certain copper producing communities within the valley. They conclude:

Current data from copper smelting sites of the Aravah Valley enable us to pinpoint the introduction of domestic camels to the southern Levant more precisely based on stratigraphic contexts associated with an extensive suite of radiocarbon dates. The data indicate that this event occurred not earlier than the last third of the 10th century BCE and most probably during this time. The coincidence of this event with a major reorganization of the copper industry of the region—attributed to the results of the campaign of Pharaoh Shoshenq I—raises the possibility that the two were connected, and that camels were introduced as part of the efforts to improve efficiency by facilitating trade. (Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen, “The Introduction of Domestic Camels to the Southern Levant: Evidence from the Aravah Valley,” Tel Aviv 40 [2013]: 282.)

It should be noted that, like most of the “latest news on the Bible,” camels have been argued to be anachronistic to the patriarchal period for about 50 years now. Critical scholars have long viewed camels as proof of the much later composition (and fictitious nature) of the patriarchal narratives. So, what is a proper response to such conclusions and journalist Elizabeth Dias of Time, who writes regarding the non-historical nature of the Bible: “Case closed”?

First, the issue of determining the difference between wild and domesticated camels by means of bones fragments collected from a few sites is not exceptionally conclusive. In an outstanding and thorough article, Martin Heide writes:

Due to the camel’s natural habitat outside urban centers (and therefore also outside the normal range of archaeologists in the Near and Middle East, who concentrate on the settled communities in the more densely populated areas), the early evidence for camel-man contacts is meager (cf. Rosen/Saidel, 2010, 64).The camel was used primarily in the desert, where it would die. It has to be kept in mind that the domestication of the camel does not, as in most cases of domestication, imply an adaption of the animal’s ways of life to man, but an adaption of man to the camel’s way of life. (Martin Heide, “The Domestication of the Camel: Biological, Archaeological, and Inscriptional Evidence from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Israel, and Arabia, and Literary Evidence from the Hebrew Bible,” in Ugarit Forschungen 42 [Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2011], 338.)

Heide goes on to state that we must recognize the difference between “domestication” and “widespread use,” or use for specific tasks like those perhaps associated with a mining community. “[I]t has to be kept in mind that most of the processes involved with the use of the camel – i.e. breeding,nurturing, milking, and riding – are not reflected in the archaeological record,” (Ibid., 340).

Second, the biblical texts emphasize the Mesopotamian origin of Abram and his family, and naturally his camels. Genesis 12 presents Abram as traveling great distances from Ur in ancient Mesopotamia to Haran, north of Syria-Palestine, and then finally down into the ancient land of Canaan. Camel domestication would not have to be a common phenomenon in Canaan during Abram’s sojourn in the land for the biblical account to be accurate. Mesopotamian sources associate the possession of camels with prestige and wealth, very similar to the representation of Abram provided in the book of Genesis.

Third, it is widely acknowledged that camel domestication took place in Mesopotamia and surrounding regions during the late 3rd millennium and early 2nd millennium B.C., around the time of the patriarchs. Heide concludes his study stating:

The “camel” (gāmāl ) in the patriarchal narratives may refer, at least in some places, to the Bactrian camel. Abram is seen as having employed camels for long-distance journeys in north-south direction, very probably commencing in upper Mesopotamia. From there, he migrated to Canaan and moved further down to Egypt (Gen 12:5.9.16). The same can be said for the opposite direction, from Canaan to upper Mesopotamia and back again (Gen 24:10–64).His son Isaac, who dwelt all his life in Canaan, is not portrayed as having used any camels. His grandson Jacob, however, who spent a considerable time of his life in upper Mesopotamia, did not only use, but bred a small herd of camels (Gen 30:43; 31:17; 32:7.15). After he had settled down in Canaan again,camels are not seen as belonging to his moveable property any more. Albright’s dictum that “any mention of camels in the period of Abraham is a blatant anachronism” (Albright, 1942, 96) is questionable. The archaeological and inscriptional evidence allows at least the domesticated Bactrian camel to have existed at Abraham’s time. In the daily life of the patriarchs, however, the camel played a minor role (Ibid., 368).

So, is the case closed on the historical inaccuracy of the Bible based upon camel domestication in the southern Levant? Emphatically, no. And sadly the present popular interest in Ben-Yosef’s and Sapir-Hen’s article appears to reflect nothing more than a large-scale interest in “disproving” the Bible. I would highly recommend anyone who is actually interested in the subject to read Heide’s article linked above. It is far more thorough and judicious in its conclusions.

(Many thanks to Martin Heide for making his research available online.)

– Rusty Osborne

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Ancient Israel in the Promised Land: Fact or Fiction?

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- Rusty Osborne

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Ray Clendenen’s Extensive OT Bibliography

Dr. Ray Clendenen, of B&H Publishing, has made available his recently updated (1/6/2014) Bibliography for Old Testament Study on This document (385 pages) is not for the faint of heart and is quite impressive in its breadth. It covers important topics such as archaeology, geography, intertextuality, text linguistics, LXX, text criticism, hermeneutics, and canon before moving into a book-by-book structure. The resources given reflect a broad range of scholarship but also represent the interests of an evangelical scholar (e.g., sections devoted to messianism and theology).

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Experts in each specific field will likely find some works missing that they would have included, and a large majority of the references are to works written in English. However, for the advanced Master’s student or those entering into a doctoral program, this is a very helpful place to start a variety of research projects. Bibliographies like this one simultaneously make me want to read a lot more, and then sigh while thinking of all the books I will likely never read! Which ever way you respond, I would encourage you to download a copy and store it away in a research folder on your computer. Thank you for the work Dr. Clendenen.

– Rusty Osborne

Photo credit: Photo by William Hoiles (wikimedia commons)

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