Q: Isn't it true that there were no camels in Bible times? I first heard about this while watching Bib Bang Theory on television. So I looked it up online and found out that camels were not in the bible lands when the bible says they were? How do you explain this? Doesn't this prove the bible is just made up stuff?
A: This is true! This is one of those things that critics like to jump on and because so few people, these days, have any real knowledge about the Hebrew/Christian Bible, and they get away with it -- no -- they are allowed to get away with it. I mean they get away with it by spouting off "facts" proving "camels" (as the example here) were not in the area where Abraham and other famous Hebrew Patriarch and Matriarchs were using them, or the Bible says they were. Or were they?
Here is the quicky answer: It is the Translators of the Holy Bible that put the Word CAMEL in the Holy Word. That's right, the word used back in the time of Abraham and others only meant, "beast" or "burden" as in "beast of burden". This word, in the Hebrew/Aramaic could be applied to any beast of burden, even and ox, or cow, or horse. Remember, many of the references to the various animals from ancient times were different from the words we use today. For example, look all you want and you will never find the word for giant lizards, or dinosaurs, but you do find a word like, dragon. This is mostly because the translators back in the beginning never a word for giant lizards other than, dragon. This is true when it came to certain animals used mostly for transport. Back in Abraham's day there was no word discribing a "Camel" as we know them today, but a word, very similar, meaning a beast of burden.
This word became attached to a particular animal, the Camel, truly a beast of burden, but the origin of its name could have been and was applied to other animals as well. Today we have defined the various 'beasts of burden' by individual names.
Let's take a look at the first place in the Holy Bible where the word, "camel" appears --
(Gen 24:64) Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she dismounted from the camel.
Looking in Strong's Hebrew Dicitonary, we find the word for "camel" is "gamal", pronounced as "gaw--mawl". Now we can see where the current word, "camel" came from. But, does this describe the animal we know as the "camel", as the same animal being discribed back then? No, not at all. We are merely told that a "beast of burden" is being used. A thousand years or more later, an animal, in the Middle East, became the primary "beast of burden" and the name stuck.
Rebekah dismounted from her beast of burden, from the animal she was riding -- this could have been a horse, or an animal we call a horse, today.
Now, let's have a brief look at the plural form, camels, first mentioned in the Bible --
(Gen 12:16) He dealt well with Abram for her sake. He had sheep, cattle, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.
If we can assume this list is in the order of importance then we can see where the "beast of burden" falls, and it is last on the list. Sheep, cattle, male donkeys, all rate before the first of the human servants, interesting. Male servants and female servants, do rate above female donkeys and camels. Notice that the "camel" is ranked last and if this were to mean the "camel" as we know them today, this would not be a correct list for the simple reason the Camel became and is the main animal of wealth among the tribal people. What is being conveyed is that all other animals of burden, not found in the rankings were counted as least valuable and were called "gaw-mawls". You will notice an animal missing in the list -- a horse. It is possible that back in the day, the horse may have been called "gam-mawls", before they became popular and bred into fighting animals -- when did a horse first become called, a horse? The donkey was the prized mode of transportation back then -- no, mules had not come on the scene yet.
If you go online and look this up you will find all sorts of reasoning and even believers making excuses for why these animals are mentioned when there were none found in those days. It is all due to a change in some language parts and changes referencing animals and other things as well, to relate to the common reader, and not to the fact. So, no camles in the days of Abraham? Fine, but there were beasts of burden called "gam-mawls" and this referred to any and all beasts ranked on the bottom of the list as beast fit only for tasks no one else or other animal could or would do. This "title" eventually fell on an animal we call the Camel, today. One hump or two?
Looking back at the "horse", we find the word, sus -- sus, pronounced as soos -- soos, again, as found in Strong's Hebrew Dictionary, meaning to leap, joy. This animal is not found until the time Israel is led to Egypt during the time of famine. Egyptians were using the horse as a war animal, not an animal to ride but for pulling their chariots. In this connection the horse and the chariot with driver were called, "parash", pronounced as "paw--rawsh". This meant the horse and driver and chariot all as one, paw-rawsh.
As believers we do not need to make excuses for translator errors, which may not be errors at all but merely a change in language. As thinking human beings we should be able to understand how these changes can have an impact on the Word and using some common sense not condemn the total because of a few changes not taken into account as time moves on into new and old understandings.
(Exo 9:2-3) For if you refuse to let them go, and hold them still, behold, the hand of YaHWeH is on your livestock which are in the field, on the horses, on the donkeys, on the camels, on the herds, and on the flocks with a very grievous pestilence.
We find the horse coming to provenance in Egypt, as a fighting animal. A song comes out of the defeat of Egypt in the Red Sea -- Ex 15:1,21, and from this point on the exporting of the war horse and chariots for battle all come out of Egypt -- 1 Kg 10:29; 20:25 -- not by Israel but by their enemies seeking to destroy them. The Egyptians had become the innovators, breeding these animals of burden into war machines. Combined with the chariot the Egyptians became dominate in all areas of the Middle East and Africa. Horses, as animals of war came out of Egypt.