Abraham and His Camels & The Shroud of Turin. How did we get here?

imageStephen Jones has posted Off-topic: Archaeologists Carbon-Date Camel Bones, Discover Major Discrepancy In Bible Story? in his blog. He begins nicely and I agree with the way he begins (his text is in bold).

Researchers Lidar Sapir-Hen and Erez Ben-Yosef from Tel Aviv University have discovered what may be a discrepancy in the history laid out in the Bible. Using carbon-dating to determine the age of the oldest-known camel bones, the researchers determined that camels were first introduced to Israel around the 9th century BCE. This is fallacious. Just because the oldest camel bones that archaeologists have yet found in what today we call Israel (assuming the carbon-dating is correct) are 9th century BC, does not mean that camels were not in Israel before then. . . . That is a version of the fallacy of the Argument from Ignorance: "We haven’t found it, therefore it did not exist"!

But soon it becomes apparent that this is not a posting about carbon dating or camels or logical fallacies. It quickly evolves into a defense of biblical literalism up against “naturalism” that “so dominates the academic world that group-think . . . prevents the Christian, Biblical position from being heard in the secular schools and universities” (AND the Shroud of Turin, according to Stephen is an example). And what specific Christian, biblical position is under attack? That Abraham had camels.

Stephen tells us:

Dr. Robert Harris, an Associate Professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, says this [the carbon dating of the camels] shouldn’t come as a shock to the theological community. “While these findings may have been published recently, those of us on the inside have known the essential facts for a generation now," Harris conveyed to HuffPost Religion through associates at JTS. "This is just one of many anachronisms in the Bible, but these do not detract from its sanctity, because it is a spiritual source, not a historical one.”This might be the modern Jewish position but it is not a consistent Christian position. The Christian New Testament states the entire Bible, Old and New Testament, was "breathed out by God":

Wait a minute! I’m a Christian. While I fully respect Stephen’s beliefs in biblical literalism, I don’t agree with his assertion that what Harris says is inconsistent with Christianity. I don’t mind if Genesis is wrong about Abraham having camels. In fact, I rather imagine that Abraham was a composite figure developed as part of the early Jewish history legend about 1500 years after he was supposed to have lived. Stephen should believe what he wants but he should not imply that his specific beliefs define Christianity. (I wouldn’t even get into this discussion but for the fact that he is, for some reason, writing about the Shroud of Turin).’’

He quotes scripture:

2Tim 3:16: "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,"

It depends. I’m a Christian. I use the Bible. To my way of thinking, using literal words from the Bible to argue that the Bible is literally true is about as big a fallacy as you can have.

Stephen continues:

The real problem is that Naturalism, the philosophy that "nature is all there is-there is no supernatural", so dominates the academic world that group-think . . . prevents the Christian, Biblical position from being heard in the secular schools and universities.

A prime example is the Shroud of Turin. . . .

The Shroud of Turin?  How did we get here?

Stephen continues:

. . . The evidence is overwhelming that the Shroud is the very burial sheet of Jesus, bearing the image of his crowned with thorns, crucified, speared in the side, dead, buried and resurrected, body! But the secular world, dominated by Naturalism, rejects it out of hand.

I agree with Stephen’s statement up to the word ‘dead’. It may be an image of Christ’s resurrected body but I don’t think there is any evidence of that. (I believe in the resurrection but am not convinced that the shroud shows that).

Then again, if Stephen and I were to lay out what each of us thinks is the evidence pertaining to the authenticity of the shroud we would differ greatly. He thinks there are images of coins over the eyes. I’m quite certain there are not, and so forth. Can we even agree that the shroud is real if our reasons are different?

If you continue reading Stephen’s posting, he comes to the conclusion that the rejection of biblical literalism and rejection of the shroud’s authenticity tells us that the end is near. I think there is a fallacy in this thinking.

9 thoughts on “Abraham and His Camels & The Shroud of Turin. How did we get here?”

  1. The camels of Abraham. The classical example of clutching at straws and looking for any alleged problem, just to undermine the credibility of religious tradition.

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camel#Domestication

    Dromedaries may have first been domesticated by humans in Somalia and southern Arabia, around 3,000 BC, the Bactrian in central Asia around 2,500 BC,[14][62][63][64] as at Shar-i Sokhta (also known as the Burnt City), Iran.[65]

    Abraham lived circa 2000-1800 BC -so he could have possessed camels. The only problems are those the sceptics have with religion.

    I am not Biblical literalist, but I believe that Biblical stories from Abraham onwards are essentially historical.

  2. Fundamentalism can be dangerous, it has led many, particularly pastors, to abandon their respective churches and assume an anti-Christian stance. The world lost an eminent biblical scholar and the author of many good books, this week, books that can be very helpful in biblical interpretation. A few minutes of talking with Father Daniel J. Harrington, SJ convinced me that was worthwhile reading what he had written, whether on OT, NT, Qumran,Christianity/Judaism/Faith:

  3. 2Tim 3:16: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” Elsewhere scripture says “My ways are not your ways, it is the Lord who speaks!” These suggest to me that there are higher truths than what the biblical literalists would have us believe. There are also cosmic truths contained in the tales of the Grimm brothers. Even fiction may contain truth, or poetry, or fables, or prophecy!

  4. Hark! The sound of a fool rushing in where angels fear to tread. Yes, ’tis I, not wholly ignorant of biblical archaeology, who finds nothing remarkable in the findings of Sapir-Hen and Ben-Josef, whose camel dating only confirms what had already been well established anyway, that domesticated camels only arrived in the mines of the lower Levant (south of the Dead Sea) round about 1000 years BC.

    Jones is wrong about the “argument from ignorance” and the “if we haven’t found it, therefore it doesn’t exist” suggestion. The site described was in continuous occupation since the late 14th century BC, and layer after layer of faunal studies show what animals were present at the site. Camels are conspicuously absent before the late 10th century, and conspicuously present after it. This is definitely suggestive of their introduction at about that time.

    It is perhaps worth mentioning here that Abraham is not mentioned in Sapir-Hen and Ben-Josef’s paper, nor is there any discussion of biblical chronology at all, but they do mention the rock-art conveniently omitted from the Huffington post article. It is apparent that Jones hasn’t read their paper, although it is freely available by clicking their names on the first line of the article.

    It is not impossible that the story of Abraham is based on truth, but there is no archaeological consnsus about him. Some think he is wholly legendary, and others that he may represent an actual migration, but there is little suggestion that this occurred long before the first millennium BC, in spite of literal biblical chronology. The idea that the biblical contemporary of Abraham called Amraphel is to be identified with Hammurabi of Babylon in about 1750 BC is much disputed.

    Dr. Robert Harris, an eminent Jew, said to the Huffington Post: “This is just one of many anachronisms in the Bible, but these do not detract from its sanctity, because it is a spiritual source, not a historical one.” Jones boldly announces that this may be a Jewish view, but it is not a Christian one. Well, wrong again. There is no “Christian” position about the historical veracity of the bible. It is perfectly true that individual Christians may hold sincere beliefs, but they are only individuals, and cannot speak for Christianity as a whole. If anybody needs some kind of Christian consensus, they will have to have recourse to that massive collection of Christians, the Catholic Church (1.1 billion), or one of the larger alternatives if they can’t agree with Rome. It turns out that for the vast majority of Christians, Robert Harris’s views are wholly acceptable.

  5. We thank Israel Finkelstein and Thomas E. Levy for insightful comments that helped
    improve the manuscript.

    Truly, just the mention of Finkelstein says everything to me about thecontext and the purpose of such reports…

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