Posts Tagged ‘Egypt’

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Who was Hypatia?

May 5, 2011

The Myths

Hypatia has been depicted as a revolutionary woman scientist,[1] the last of the ancient pagan scientists,[2] a representative of feminist values,[3] and the designer of the astrolabe and hydrometer.[4] [5] Her death has been considered exemplary of the intolerance of religion,[6] and the death of Greek science.[7] [8]

The Facts

Hypatia was a neo-Platonist lecturer and scholar in 4th century Alexandria (Egypt), who taught mathematics and astronomy to members of the privileged elite[9] as part of the mysteries of Neoplatonism.[10]

She was not the first woman ‘scientist’[11] or mathematician.[12] [13] [14] Her position as a teacher of men did not threaten the existing social or religious order.[15] She did not invent the astrolabe,[16] [17] and there is no evidence she invented the hydrometer.[18]

Her brutal murder by a Christian mob was due to political power play, not conflict between Christianity and paganism or science.[19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24]

Her earliest historian (a Christian), praised her and condemned her murderers.[25] She is quoted as having expressed many rationalist ideals,[26] [27] [28] [29]  [30] but these are all fictional. [31] [32] [33] [34] [35]


[1] ‘Hypatia of Alexandria (ca. 370–415) Egyptian astronomer, philosopher, teacher, and mathematician regarded as the first woman scientist, and the first woman to contribute to the study of mathematics.’. Todd, ‘The Facts on File Algebra Handbook’, p. 66 (2003).

[2] ‘Alic, Margaret. Hypatia’s Heritage: A History of women in Science from Antiquity Through the Nineteenth Century. Boston: Beacon and London: Women’s Press, 1986. Examines biographical and scientific evidence to reveal the lives and accomplishments of women in natural and physical sciences and mathematics. The material dealing with Hypatia claims for her the roles of the last important pagan scientist in the western world, and the representative of end [sic] of ancient science.’, Magill, Moose, & Aves (eds.), ‘Dictionary of World Biography: The ancient world’, p. 583 (1998).

[3] ‘Little known for centuries, Hypatia emerged in the nineteenth century as a symbol for feminists of the historical suppression of women’s accomplishments.’, McIntyre, ‘Hypatia’, in Traver (ed.), ‘From polis to empire, the ancient world, c. 800 B.C.-A.D. 500: A Biographical Dictionary’, The Great Cultural Eras of the Western World, p. 205 (2001).

[4] ‘Synesius refers to two mechanical devices, a hydrometer and a silver astrolabe, that he and Hypatia invented‘. Rosser, ‘Women, Science, and Myth: Gender beliefs from antiquity to the present’, p. 13 (2008).

[5] ‘Synesius of Cyrene (North Africa) a student of Hypatia, credited her with the invention of apparatus for distilling water and measuring the level of liquids.’, Lumpkin, ‘Hypatia and Women’s Rights in Ancient Egypt’, in Van Sertima (ed.), ‘Black Women in Antiquity’, p. 155 (1984).

[6] ‘Usually interpreted as an illustration of barbaric religious fanaticism and intolerance for humanistic inquiry,’, Naylor, ‘North Africa: a history from antiquity to the present’, p. 51 (2009).

[7] ‘Her death presents the perfect symbol of the end of the classical world, the end for a long time of the possibility of disinterested scientific inquiry.’, Whaley, ‘Women’s history as scientists: a guide to the debates’, p. 19 (2003).

[8] ‘Van der Waerden reiterates the theme that Alexandrian science ceased with her death:’, Dzielska, ‘Hypatia of Alexandría’, p. 25 (1995).

[9]They were from wealthy and influential families; in time they attained posts of state and ecclesiastical eminence. Around their teacher these students formed a community based on the Platonic system of thought and interpersonal ties. They called the knowledge passed on to them by their ‘divine guide’ mysteries. They held it secret, refusing to share it with people of lower social rank, whom they regarded as incapable of comprehending divine and cosmic matters.’, ibid., p. 105.

[10] To her disciples Hypatia was a medium of divinely revealed truths.

[11] In Hypatia’s day there was actually no such thing as a ‘scientist’ in the modern sense of the term, only the ‘natural philosopher’, who studied the natural world and typically combined observations with religious and philosophical commentary.

[12] ‘She [Dzielska] also unearths a number of references to women in the late Greek philosophical world, which show Hypatia’s example to be not so unusual as had been thought.’, Hodgkin, ‘A history of mathematics: from Mesopotamia to modernity’, p. 72 (2005).

[13] ‘(Incidentally, Hypatia is not the earliest known woman mathematician; Pappus had directed a polemic against a female teacher of mathematics named Pandrosion, and a certain Ptolemais is quoted in Porphyry’s commentary on Ptolemy’s Harmonics.)’, Jones, ‘Later Greek and Byzantime mathematics’, in Grattan-Guinness (ed.), ‘Companion Encyclopedia of the History and Philosophy of the Mathematicla Sciences’, volume 1, p. 65 (2003).

[14]Hypatia, after all, wasn’t the first woman philosopher. The Project on the History of Women in Philosophy amply documented that there were many women philosophers before Hypatia; she didn’t come along unti lafter the fourth century A.D. Among those who preceded her were numbers of Pythagorean women philosophers from the sixth to the third or second century B.C. and others -‘, McAlister, ‘Hypatia’s Daughters: fifteen hundred years of women philosophers’, p. x (1996).

[15] ‘The highly public nature of Hypatia’s career was consistent with the African tradition of Egyptian women,’, Lumpkin, ‘Hypatia and Women’s Rights in Ancient Egypt’, in Van Sertima (ed.), ‘Black Women in Antiquity’, pp. 155-156 (1984).

[16] ‘The invention of the astrolabe is usually attributed to Hipparchus of the second century BC. But there is no firm evidence to support this view. It is however certain that the instrument was well known to the Greeks before the beginning of the Christian era.’, Sarma, ‘The Archaic and the Exotic: studies in the history of Indian astronomical instruments’, p. 241 (2008).

[17] ‘It is generally accepted that Greek astrologers, in either the 1st or 2nd centuries BCE, invented the astrolabe‘, Krebs, ‘Groundbreaking Scientific Experiments, Inventions, and Discoveries of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance’, p. 196 (2004).

[18] *In fact her student Synesius wrote her a letter telling her how to make one for him, and explaining how to use it; ‘I am in such evil fortune that I need a hydroscope. See that one is cast in brass for me and put together. The instrument in question is a cylindrical tube, which has the shape of a flute and is about the same size. It has notches in a perpendicular line, by means of which we are able to test the weight of the waters. A cone forms a lid at one of the extremities, closely fitted to the tube. The cone and the tube have one base only. This is called the baryllium. Whenever you place the tube in water, it remains erect. You can then count the notches at your ease, and in this way ascertain the weight of the water.’ Fitzgerald, ‘The Letters of Synesius of Cyrene’, p. 99 (1926).

[19] ‘As the Czech historian Maria Dzielska documents in a recent biography, Hypatia got caught up in a political struggle between Cyril, an ambitious and ruthless churchman eager to extend his authority, and Hypatia’s friend Orestes, the imperial prefect who represented the Roman Empire.’, Lindberg, ‘Myth 1: That the Rise of Christianity Was Responsible For the Demise of Ancient Science’, in Numbers (ed.), ‘Galileo Goes to Jail: and other myths about science and religion’, p. 9 (2009).

[20]her death had everything to do with local politics and virtually nothing to do with science. Cyril’s crusade against pagans came later. Alexandrian science and mathematics prospered for decades to come.’, ibid., p. 9.

[21] ‘That Synesius, a Christian, maintained such close ties with the Greek intellectual traditions and with his teacher Hypatia, suggests that a hybrid amalgam existed between the intellectual pagan and intellectual Christian traditions.’, Wessel, ‘Cyril of Alexandria and the Nestorian controversy: the making of a’, p. 54 (2004).

[22] ‘Among Christian intellectual elites, this Neoplatonic variety of paganism posed no real threat to their theological views. Such easy coexistence between certain pagan and Christian intellectuals suggests that Hypatia’s paganism per se may not have angered Cyril as much as John of Nikiu claimed.’, ibid., p. 54.

[23] ‘Hypatia was a pagan, but she had a lot of students who were Christians and maybe even a few Jewish students.’, Moore & Bruder, ‘Philosophy: the power of ideas’, p. 85 (2001).

[24]Pagan religiosity did not expire with Hypatia, and neither did mathematics and Greek philosophy. (Dzielska 1995, p. 105).’, Hodgkin, ‘A history of mathematics: from Mesopotamia to modernity’, p. 72 (2005).

[25] Socrates Scholasticus, ‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ (c. 439).

[26]Hypatia was unimpressed with what she called religious superstition. She once described how she felt “truth” was different from religious beliefs: “Men will fight for superstition as quickly as for the living truth – even more so, since superstition is intangible, you can’t get at it to refute it, but truth is a point of view, and so is changeable.”‘, Donovan, ‘Hypatia: Mathematician, Inventor, and Philosopher’, p. 43 (2008).

[27] ‘Making matters even worse, Hypatia made public statements against organized religion: All formal… religions are delusive [able to easily mislead people] and must never be accepted by self-respecting persons as final.’, p. 48.

[28] ‘As Hypatia explained, “Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all.”‘, p. 43.

[29]She also warned about the dangers of teaching children myths and fairy tales: Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as poetic fancies. To teach superstitions as truth is a most terrible thing. The mind of a child accepts them, and only through great pain, perhaps even tragedy, can the child be relieved of them.’, ibid., p. 42; this is sometimes understood as advice against teaching religion to children.

[30] This has derived support from Lynn Osen’s ‘Women in Mathematics’ (1975), which ironically does not attribute these statements to her at all, but to her father Theon; ‘”All formal dogmatic religions are fallacious and must never be accepted by self-respecting persons as final,” he told her. “Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all” (Hubbard 1908, p. 82).’, Osen, ‘Women in Mathematics’, p. 24 (1975).

[31] ‘The most creative is the exciting account of Hypatia’s educational training and life composed by Elbert  Hubbard in 1908, who made up most of it to compensate for the lack of historical evidence. He even invented quotations that he attributed to Hypatia, and had a suitably ‘ancient’-looking picture of her in profile drawn to illustrate the piece.’, Cohen, ‘Philosophical Tales: being an alternative history revealing the characters, the plots, and the hidden scenes that make up the True Story of Philosophy’, p. 47 (2008); all quotations attributed to Hypatia or her father are the invention of Hubbard, who had no historical training.

[32] ‘”All formal dogmatic religions are fallacious and must never be accepted by self-respecting persons as final,” said Theon to Hypatia. “Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all.”‘, Hubbard, ‘Little journeys to the Homes of Great Teachers: Hypatia’, pp. 82-83 (1908).

[33]Said Hypatia, “Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as poetic fancies. To teach superstitions as truths is a most terrible thing. The child-mind accepts and believes them, and only through great pain and perhaps tragedy can he be in after-years relieved of them. In fact, men will fight for a superstition quite as quickly as for a living truth – often more so, since a superstition is so intangible you can not get at it to refute it, but truth is a point of view, and so is changeable.”’, ibid., pp. 84-85.

[34] ‘In his ability to see the good in all things Hypatia placed Plotinus ahead of Plato, but then she says, “Had there been no Plato there would have been no Plotinus, and although Plotinus surpassed Plato, yet it is plain that Plato, the inspirer of Plotinus and so many more, is the one man whom philosophy cannot spare. Hail Plato!!”‘, ibid., p. 93

[35] ‘”To rule by fettering the mind through fear of punishment in another world, is just as base as to use force,” said Hypatia in one of her lectures.’, ibid., p. 99.

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Is Solomon’s wealth a literary fiction?

April 30, 2011

The Challenge

The Biblical account of Solomon’s wealth has been described as unrealistic, in standard critical commentaries.[1] Many scholars are sceptical, [2] [3] [4] though some express their doubts cautiously.[5] [6]

Ancient Uses of Gold

Ancient uses of gold for construction which are analogous to Solomon’s include the tomb of Tutankhamen,[7] extensive use of gold plating on buildings in the reign of Tuthmosis III,[8] massive gold use on buildings of the Egyptian New Kingdom era,[9] and the same kind of gold usage in Babylonia and Assyria.[10] Millard also points out that items described as ‘of gold’ were not always solid gold; often they were covered in gold plate or gold leaf.[11]

Solomon’s Income

The Bible identifies ‘Ophir’ as one source of Solomon’s gold.[12] Although the location of Ophir is unknown, archaeological evidence identifies it as a source of gold.[13] Solomon’s income of 666 talents of gold in one year[14] [15]  is considered fictional by some commentators.[16]

Although this income is unique in Ancient Near East records,[17] the 120 talents of gold received by Solomon from Tyre[18] is matched and exceeded by gifts and tribute of gold from other Ancient Near East monarchs.[19] [20] [21] [22] [23]

The vast gold expenditure of pharaoh Orsokon I exceeded even Solomon’s, [24] and it is likely his wealth was the result of his father Sheshonq’s conquest of Solmon’s son Rehoboam.[25] [26] [27] [28]


[1]The gilding of the furnishings, as of the altar, is reasonable, but not that of the whole interior; cf. Stade, and Nowack, Arch., 2, 29, n. I.’, Montgomery, ‘A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Kings’, p. 152 (1951).

[2]Such extravagant description appears to be a step forward in the process of exuberant imagination, continued by the Chronicler, for whose fancy even the 120-cubit high portico was overlaid with fine gold (2 Ch. 34ff.).’, ibid., p. 152.

[3] ‘Some have regarded this description as exaggerated.’, Hicks, ‘1 & 2 Chronicles’, College Press NIV Commentary, p. 306 (2001).

[4] ‘Some have questioned the authenticity of this description, labeling it unabashed exaggeration.’, Long, ‘1 & 2 Kings’, College Press NIV Commentary, p. 147 (2002).

[5]Despite all exaggerated accounts of Solomon’s wealth and commercial success, which were written to give him honor and prestige, there is an historical kernel in the reports of his wealth.’, Esler, ‘Ancient Israel: The Old Testament in its social context’, p. 105 (2006).

[6] ‘Evidently, we can not take the figures about Solomon’s mercantile activities and revenues given in the account at face value. They must have been fabulously exaggerated. Nevertheless, in Ishida’s assessment, which I share, “We can hardly deny the substantial historicity comprised in them” (p. 109).’, Corral, ‘Ezekiel’s Oracles Against Tyre: historical reality and motivations’, p. 112 (2002).

[7] ‘Here were many articles of furniture plated with sheets of gold, beaten and engraved, a wealth of elaborate golden jewellery, a golden dagger, the king’s gold mask, and, eclipsing all, his coffin of solid gold.7 Its weight is 110.4 kg (243 lbs). Particularly relevant for the present study are the shrines that stood in the tomb. There is a small wooden shrine (50 cms high, 26.6 cms wide, 32 cms deep, 19¾ x 10½ x 12¾ inches) made to hold a statue. Sheets of gold cover it entirely, within and without, embossed and engraved with scenes of the king’s life, magical figures, and inscriptions.’, Millard, ‘Solomon In All His Glory’, Bible and Spade (11.2-3-4.64-65), 1982.

[8] ‘In the Temple of the Sacred Boat at Karnak stood twelve columns erected by Tuthmosis III, about 1450 BC, each about 3½ metres high, designed to represent bundles of papyrus. Each was entirely covered with gold, fastened in slits cut at suitable points in the pattern. In another hall at Karnak were fourteen columns. Their design was similar, a papyrus stem, and they, too, were plated with gold from top to bottom. These pillars were larger; an inscription states that they were 31 cubits, that is 16.25 metres high (53 feet).’, ibid., p. 67.

[9] ‘Tuthmosis III (c. 1490–1436 BC) recorded his building of a shrine ‘plated with gold and silver’, and of a floor similarly made. Amenophis III in the next century decorated several structures in this way. Of one temple in honour of Amun at Thebes he claimed it was ‘plated with gold throughout, its floor is adorned with silver, all its portals with electrum’, while the temple at Soleb had the same treatment, except that ‘all its portals are of gold’. Ramesses II (c. 1297–1213 BC) provided his mortuary temple at Abydos with doors ‘mounted with copper and gilded with electrum’. Later in this period, Ramesses III (c. 1183–1152 BC) ornamented temples in exactly the same way. At Medinet Habu he constructed a shrine of gold with a pavement of silver, and doorposts of fine gold.’, ibid., p. 68.

[10] ‘Esarhaddon of Assyria (680–669 BC) told how he restored the shrine of his national god, Assur, and ‘coated the walls with gold as if with plaster’. His son Ashurbanipal claimed much the same, ‘I clad its walls with gold and silver’. In Babylon a century later Nebuchadnezzar recorded his enrichment of the shrines of his gods, ‘I clad (them) in gold, and made them bright as day’, and Nabonidus (555–539 BC) followed him, ‘I clad its walls with gold and silver, and made them shine like the sun’. The tradition stemmed from much earlier times in Babylonia, for Entemena of Lagash built a temple for his god ‘and covered it with gold and silver’ about 2400 BC.16’, ibid., pp. 68-69.

[11]While words like ‘a gold statue’ or ‘a gold bed’ in ancient documents should not be pressed to mean ‘made of solid gold throughout’ or ‘the purest gold’, they can be understood to mean ‘gold all over’, that is to say, nothing else could be seen.’, ibid., pp. 69-70.

[12] 1 Kings 9: 28 They sailed to Ophir, took from there four hundred twenty talents of gold, and then brought them to King Solomon.

[13]The expression “gold of Ophir” occurs not only in the Bible, but also on an eighth-century B.C. ostracon* found at Tell Qasile in Israel. That ostracon, while showing that the name was current to designate the origin or type of gold, throws no light on Ophir’s location.’, Millard, ‘Does the Bible Exaggerate King Solomon’s Golden Wealth?’, Biblical Archaeology Review (15.03), May/June 1989.

[14] 1 Kings 10:14 Solomon received 666 talents of gold per year; commentators are divided as to whether this represents an annual income, or the income of one particular year.

[15] ‘On the basis of these figures, Solomon’s gold can be computed as: 120 talents==3,960 kg==3.9 tons from Tyre, and the same from Sheba; 420 talents==13,860 kg==13.6 tons from Ophir; 666 talents==21,978 kg==21.6 tons in one year.’, Millard, ‘Solomon In All His Glory’, Bible and Spade (11.2-3-4.72), 1982.

[16] ‘Indeed, J.B. Pritchard argues that the narrative’s references to gold, pure gold and silver and its allusions to the respect which Solomon’s peers showed to him are ‘popular—even folkloristic’ elements of the history of Solomon’s age.’, Younger Jr, ‘The Figurative Aspect and the Contextual Method in the Evaluation of the Solomonic Empire: 1 Kings 1–11’, in Clines, Fowl & Porter (eds.), ‘The Bible in Three Dimensions: Essays in Celebration of Forty Years of Biblical Studies in the University of Sheffield’, p. 159 (1990).

[17]The only ancient text that reports the annual income of a powerful king in Old Testament times is the Hebrew Bible. In 1 Kings 10:14 the figure of 666 talents of gold (almost 25 U.S. tons) is given for Solomon. This may refer to a particular year, just as the 420 talents (15.75 U.S. tons) from Ophir refers to a particular source (1 Kings 10:11). Only two figures in ancient records approach the amount of 666 talents: the total of Pharaoh Osorkon’s gift to the gods and the amounts of treasure Alexander the Great found in Persia.’, Millard, ‘Does the Bible Exaggerate King Solomon’s Golden Wealth?’, Biblical Archaeology Review (15.03), May/June 1989.

[18] 1 Kings 9: 28 They sailed to Ophir, took from there four hundred twenty talents of gold, and then brought them to King Solomon.

[19] ‘We learn from firsthand sources that Metten II of Tyre (ca. 730) paid a tribute of 150 talents of gold to our old acquaintance Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria, while in turn his successor Sargon II (727-705) bestowed 154 talents of gold upon the Babylonian gods – about 6 tons in each case. Going back almost eight centuries, Tuthmosis III of Egypt presented about 13.5 tons (well over 200 talents) of gold in nuggets and rings to the god Amun in Thebes, plus an unknown amount more in a splendid array of gold vessels and cult implements. Worth almost a third of Solomon’s reputed annual gold revenue, this was on  just one occasion, to just one temple.’, Kitchen, ‘On the Reliability of the Old Testament’, pp. 133-134 (2003).

[20] ‘So a king of Assyria wrote to the Pharaoh about 1350 BC, ‘Gold is like dust in your land, one simply gathers it up.’ A contemporary king repeated this statement six times in letters to the Pharaoh! The Assyrian went on ‘Why do you think it is so valuable? I am building a new palace, send me enough gold to decorate it properly! When my ancestor wrote to Egypt, he was sent twenty talents of gold. . . . When (another king) wrote to Egypt to your father, he sent him twenty talents of gold . . . send me much gold!’ (Twenty talents by Babylonian standards was 600 kg or 11.7 cwts.).’, Millard, ‘Solomon In All His Glory’, Bible and Spade (11.2-3-4.73), 1982.

[21] ‘When Damascus surrendered to Adadnirari III, probably in 796 BC, the Assyrian received 2,300 talents of silver (69,000 kg; 67.76 tons), 20 talents of gold (600 kg; 1,320 lbs), and much else. Some sixty years later Tiglath-pileser III subjugated Samaria, placing Hoshea on the throne as his nominee. Samaria paid 10 talents of gold (300 kg; 660 lbs) as tribute (and an unknown amount of silver). The same emperor received the submission of Tyre, and with it the large sum of 150 talents of gold (4,500 kg; 4.4 tons).’, ibid., p. 74.

[22] ‘During the reign of Tuthmosis III the yield of the gold fields at Wawat in Nubia (the Sudan) for three years was 232.4 kg (512 lbs), 258.8 kg (570 lbs), and 286.1 kg (630 lbs). These may be exceptional figures, yet they show what sort of income was available from a single source. In the Annals of the same pharaoh, the booty taken between his twenty-second and his forty-second years amounted to over 11,500 kg (11.3 tons) of gold. His successor, Amenophis II (c. 1427–1401 BC) claimed the weight of gold vessels he took from the Levant was 6,800 deben (618.5 kg; 1,360 lbs).’, ibid., p. 75.

[23] ‘None of these figures approach the amounts recorded for Solomon except for the booty gathered by Tuthmosis III (11,500 kg; 11.3 tons).’, ibid., p. 75.

[24] ‘In Egypt Shishak’s successor Osorkon I gifted some 383 tons of gold and silver to the gods and temples of Egypt in the first four years of his reign, many of the detailed amounts being listed in a long inscription (now damaged) (figs. 22A, B). That sum would (in weight) be equivalent to almost seventeen years of Solomon’s annual gold revenue,’, Kitchen, ‘On the Reliability of the Old Testament’, p. 134 (2003).

[25] 1 Kings 1425 In King Rehoboam’s fifth year, King Shishak [Sheshonq] of Egypt attacked Jerusalem. 26 He took away the treasures of the LORD’s temple and of the royal palace; he took everything, including all the golden shields that Solomon had made.

[26]His reign is poorly documented, nothing hints at a far-reaching military adventure, bringing home rich booty.’, Millard, ‘Solomon In All His Glory’, Bible and Spade (11.2-3-4.76), 1982.

[27] ‘Osorkon’s father was Sheshonq 1 (c. 945–924 BC), the Shishak who took the gold from Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and from the Judaean treasury.’, ibid., p. 76.

[28] ‘Where could Osorkon have obtained such immense wealth, to spend on such a scale after only three and a third years of his reign? Barely five years earlier, Osorkon’s father Shishak had looted the wealth of Jerusalem. It seems unlikely to be a mere coincidence that almost immediately after that event Osorkon could dispose so freely of so much gold and silver.*The vast amounts of Solomon’s golden wealth may have ended up, at least in part, as Osorkon’s gift to the gods and goddesses of Egypt.’, Kitchen, ‘Where Did Solomon’s Gold Go?’, Biblical Archaeology Review (15.03), May/June 1989.

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Were camels domesticated in the time of Abraham?

April 24, 2011

The Challenge

WF Albright, one of the most famous 20th century archaeologists, argued that the camel was not domesticated until around the 1st millennium, well after the time of Abraham.[1] This was considered persuasive by many Biblical scholars, who were convinced that references in Genesis to camels in Egypt during the time of Abraham[2] are anachronistic. [3] [4] [5]

The Evidence

Some evidence alleged for very early camel use in Mesopotamia has proved dubious,[6] [7] but Albright overlooked evidence for camel domestication reported by the French archaeologist Petrie in 1907.[8]

However, Petrie’s evidence for camel domestication during the Ramesside era in Egypt (1292-1069 BCE), was still too late for Abraham (from around 1900 BCE), though significantly earlier than Albright’s date.

Evidence for early camel domestication elsewhere in the Ancient Near East and North Africa is well documented, [9] [10] [11] [12] and has been used to argue defend the Genesis account. [13] [14] [15] [16]

It is recognized domesticated camel caravans must have passed through Egypt at an early date, even though the Egyptians made no reference to them at this time. [17] [18]  Bulliet observes that evidence for the early domestication of the camel in Mesopotamia cannot be ignored on the basis of their absence in Egyptian evidence.[19]

He agrees with Albright that evidence for Syrian domestic camel use during the 3rd to 2nd millennium is absent,[20] and argues the undisputed evidence of their use elsewhere in Mesoptamia indicates they entered the area on a very small scale as pack animals by rich traders, rather than being herded in large numbers.[21] [22]

Firm evidence for very early camel domestication in Egypt has caused some scholars to reconsider the Biblical narrative.[23] [24] [25]


[1]According to Albright, any mention of camels in the period of Abraham is a blatant anachronism, the product of later priestly tampering with the earlier texts in order to bring more in line with altered social conditions. The Semites of the time of Abraham, he maintains, herded sheep, goats, and donkeys but not camels, for the latter had not yet been domesticated and did not really enter the orbit of Biblical history until about 1100-1000 BC with the coming of the Midianites, the camel riding foes of Gideon.’, Bulliet, ‘The Camel and the Wheel’, p. 36 (1990 ed., originally published 1975).

[2] Genesis 12: 15 When Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. So Abram’s wife was taken into the household of Pharaoh, 16 and he did treat Abram well on account of her. Abram received sheep and cattle, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.

[3] ‘Some scholars have suggested that only with the 1st millennium B.C. was the camel fully domesticated’, Pratico, ‘Nomadism’, in Bromiley (ed.), International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, volume 3, p. 547 (rev. ed. 1988).

[4]The almost unanimous opinion of Biblical scholars is that mention of domesticated camels in the Patriarchal narratives (Gn 12:16; 24:10; 30:43) constitutes an anachronism. Camels, they say, were not domesticated until late in the second millennium BC, centuries after the Patriarchs were supposed to have lived.’, Caesar, ‘Bible and Spade (13.77), 2000.

[5] ‘There continue to be some scholars who follow Albright’s skepticism (1942; 1945; 1949: 207) that references to camels in the patriarchal narratives are anachronistic (e.g. Koehler-Rollefson 1993: 183).’,  Younker, ‘Bronze Age Camel Petroglyphs In The Wadi Nasib, Sinai’, Bible and Spade (13.75), 2000.

[6] ‘To be sure, one or two representations of camels from early Mesopotamia have been alleged, but they are all either doubtfully camelline, as the horsy looking clay plaque from the third dynasty of ur (2345-2308 B.C.), or else not obviously domestic and hence possibly depictions of wild animals,’, Bulliet, ‘The Camel and the Wheel’, p. 46 (1990 ed., originally published 1975).

[7] ‘These five pieces of evidence, needless to say, may not convince everyone that the domestic camel was known in Egypt and the Middle East on an occasional basis between 2500 and 1400 B.C. Other early depictions, alleged to be of camels, which look to my eyes like dogs, donkeys, horses, dragons or even pelicans, might be more convincing to some than the examples described above.’, ibid., p. 64.

[8]The pottery figure of a camel laden with water-jars was found in a tomb of the XIXth dynasty in the northern cemetery. There were no traces of a later re-use of the tomb; the style of the figure is of the rough fingered pottery of the XIXth dynasty, and quite unlike any of the moulded Roman figures; and the water-jar, is of the XIVIIIth-XIXth dynasty type and not of a form used in Greek or Roman times. Hence it is impossible to assign this to the age when the camel is familiar in Egypt, and it shows that as early as Ramesside times it was sufficiently common to be used as a best of burden.’, Petrie, ‘Gizeh and Rifeh’, in ‘Publications of the Egyptian Research Account and British School of Archaeology in Egypt’ (13.23), 1907.

[9] ‘Camels are not anachronistic in the early second millennium BC, but find only sparing attestation and use both in Genesis and external sources then and until the twelfth century BC.’, Kitchen, ‘Historical Method and Hebrew Tradition’, Tyndale Bulletin (17.1.83), 1966.

[10] ‘Both the dromedary (the one-humped camel of Arabia) and the Bactrian camel (the two-humped camel of Central Asia) had been domesticated since before 2000 BC.’, Scarre, ‘Smithsonian Timelines of the Ancient World’, p. 176 (1993).

[11] ‘As far as hard dates go, the 2500-1500 B.C. suggested earlier for the introduction of the camel into Somalia is the best that can be done from available data. Given the stage domestication had reached by the time the camels and their owners crossed the sea, some additional time must be allowed for earlier stages. Taking this into consideration, it is easily conceivable that the domestication process first got underway between 3000 and 2500 B.C.’, Bulliet, ‘The Camel and the Wheel’, p. 56 (1990 ed., originally published 1975).

[12]Found in a context datable to 2700 B.C., the remains led the excavators to argue that camel domestication began in Turkmenia and spread south (Compagnoni and Tosi 1978: 95–99). The domestic camel was apparently known to the inhabitants of the Indus Valley Civilization by 2300 B.C., although the species utilized remains open to question (Meadow 1984: 134 and references).’,  Zarins, ‘Camel’, in Freedman (ed.), Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (electronic ed. 1996).

[13]Archeological discoveries have now shown clearly that references to domesticated camels in Genesis are by no means anachronistic, as some earlier scholars supposed. While camel caravans seem to have been used regularly only from the Late Bronze Age onward, archeologists have found numerous bones of domesticated camels. Thus when Parrot was excavating Mari, he found camel bones in the ruins of a house dated in the pre-Sargonic period (ca 2400 B.C.). An eighteenth-century-B.C. relief from Byblos pictured a camel in a kneeling position, and a socket on the back showed that the animal’s hump and its load had been attached separately. In accord with patriarchal traditions, cylinder seals from Middle Bronze Age Mesopotamia showed riders seated upon camels.’, Harrison, ‘Genesis’, in Bromiley (ed.), International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, volume 3, p. 547 (rev. ed. 1988).

[14] ‘Excavations in eastern Arabia, an area once believed to be a cultural backwater unworthy of archaeological investigation, have turned up evidence that camels were first domesticated by Semites before the time of Abraham. Much of this evidence has been examined by M. C. A. MacDonald of the Oriental Faculty at the University of Oxford’, Caesar, ‘Bible and Spade (13.77), 2000.

[15] ‘the principle area of extensive early camel domestication was the Syro-Arabian desert, due west of Ur, Abraham’s birthplace (1995: 1356).’, ibid., p. 77.

[16] ‘possession of camels by Semitic travelers endowed them with a special advantage over those who did not, particularly in economic and political terms. This conforms to the Genesis image of the Patriarchs as wealthy, respected individuals who could hold their own against monarchs and chieftains.’, ibid., p. 78.

[17]Horses and camels were not represented in Old Kingdom Egypt and camels are said to have been introduced into Egypt much later than horses.’, Daly, ‘Egyptology: the missing millennium: ancient Egypt in medieval Arabic writings’, p. 102 (2005).

[18] ‘In view of the very early caravan links between Arabia and the Nile Valley, it would be very surprising if the camel had not reached Egypt before the first millennium BC; doubtless there were religious reasons for the lack of representations of this animal earlier than this. Camels could have been first introduced to Egypt from 1680 BC by the invading Hyksos, but it is not until the end of the second millennium that references to them begin to be found;’, Fage, ‘The Cambridge history of Africa: From the earliest times to c. 500 BC’, volume 1, pp. 288-289 (1982).

[19]Yet it is very difficult to explain away all of the evidence pointing to the camel’s presence outside the Arabian peninsula prior to the year 1400B.C. The effort is better spent looking into the reasons why the evidence from this early period is so very scarce.’, Bulliet, ‘The Camel and the Wheel’, p. 36 (1990 ed., originally published 1975).

[20] ‘The archaeological record, as Albright affirms, shows no indication of camel use in the Syrian area during the period in question, 2500-1400B.C.,’, ibid., p. 64.

[21] ‘Indeed, they must have played little or no part in the ordinary herding economy of the time. The most satisfactory explanation of this circumstance is that the camel was known because it was brought into the area by traders carrying goods from southern Arabia but that it was not bred or herded in the area. It is worthy of note that whereas the citations from the Bible associating camels with Abraham and his immediate descendants seem to fit the generalized pattern of later camel use in the area, they could also fit a pattern in which camels were very uncommon. The largest number of animals mentioned in those episodes is ten, and those ten are probably most of what Abraham had’, ibid., pp. 64-54.

[22]But it has been demonstrated that the camel was already in use during the period in question and that its probable homeland was southern Arabia. It is much more reasonable, therefore, to assume that the camel was the main carrier on the incense route from the very beginning, or nearly so, and that the Semitic tribes of the north came to know the camel in this way in very small numbers. In other words, the presence of camels in the Abraham story can be defended and the story treated as primary evidence of camel use without disputing Albright’s contention that camel-breeding nomads did not exist in Syria and northern Arabia at that time.’, ibid., pp. 66-67.

[23] ‘However, in various parts of the country some evidence for the presence of camels has been uncovered, associated with dates as far back as the predynastic period (Free 1944:191).’, Daly, ‘Egyptology: the missing millennium : ancient Egypt in medieval Arabic writings’, p. 102 (2005).

[24] ‘In the Egyptian Fayum province was found a camel-skull dated to the ‘Pottery A’ stage, i.e. within the period c. 2000–1400 BC, the period from the Patriarchs practically to Moses; see O. H. Little, Bulletin de l’Institut d’Égypte 18, 1935–6, p. 215.’, Kitchen, ‘Camel’, in Wood & Marshall (eds.), ‘New Bible Dictionary’, p. 160 (3rd ed. 1996).

[25] ‘However, there is now a growing body of scholars who believe that camel domestication must have occurred earlier than previously thought (prior to the 12th century BC) and that the patriarchal narratives accurately reflect this (e.g., Ripinsky 1984; Coote and Whitelam 1987: 102; Zarins 1992: 826; Borowski 1998: 112–18).’, Younker, ‘Bronze Age Camel Petroglyphs In The Wadi Nasib, Sinai’, Bible and Spade (13.75), 2000.