Apropos of the Nye v. Ham Creationism debate, we have more bad news for Biblical Literalism:
A new paper by Israeli archeologists Lidar Sapir-Hen and Erez Ben-Yosef, [pdf] posted at the University of Tel Aviv web site, is bad news for biblical literalists and far right wing Israeli nationalists who use the Bible for support.
The Hebrew Bible’s oldest chapters– Genesis, Exodus, and even Judges purport to discuss events thousands of years ago. The custom in Western biblical scholarship is to date Abraham to e.g. 2000 B.C. This dating is based on nothing more than counting generations (“begats”) backward and assigning an arbitrary number of years to each generation. In fact, Genesis is replete with myths and assertions of people living hundreds of years, and was only historicized in this way by 19th century positivists.
But here is proof that the Bible was written late and projects later developments into the distant past: it alleges that people had domesticated camels four millennia ago in what is now Israel. And that assertion, folks, is simply not true. That is the finding of Sapir-Hen and Ben-Yosef.
E.g. Genesis 24: 64 says, “Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from the camel.” If this encounter happened circa 2026 BC, it was happening a thousand years before anyone was riding camels.
The archeologists’ digs near the Jordanian border find evidence of domesticated camels sort of 930-900 BC. But they don’t find that evidence in any settlements older than 930 BC. There is a pretty clear dividing line between the pre-domestic camel and post- domestic camel settlements.
Although it was likely based on previous oral tales, the Bible probably wasn’t written down in something like its present form until the Babylonian exile, 586-539 B.C. When those scribes reworked the folk tales of the Canaanites, they projected sixth-century BC realities back into the past. Thus, they had characters riding camels before they were domesticated. Riding a camel was taken for granted in 580 BC.
You might think this point is a minor one. But it demonstrates how the scribes worked. They projected recent things into the distant past.
Basically, the authors of the Bible assumed a lot of things that weren’t actually true. They were projecting their present-day realities into the distant past (like domesticated camels), because they had little working knowledge of the period they were writing about.
Disproving the Bible-as-written doesn’t disprove the existence of God, of course. But for my own part, it’s hard to take a book seriously as a source of moral authority when it’s riddled with these kinds of errors. I’m sure your mileage will vary, as the old saying goes.