By now you may have heard about a new archaeological discovery detailing when camels came into usage in the Southern Levant. Dr. Ben-Yosef noted that the camels were not domesticated in that area until centuries after the time of Abraham. Passages like Genesis 24:10-33 seem to disagree.
What should Christians do with this new data? Some of the extreme conservative theologians have reacted to this finding by denying the relevancy of this study on the specific possessions of Abraham. Others wish to dismiss the scientific discovery entirely and just depend on the Biblical text. However, are either of these approaches really the most logical? Several leading theologians have argued no.
One Old Testament professor, who spoke under condition of anonymity, said that what we see in Genesis 24 is actually a highly specialized sub-genre that no one has noticed before. He calls it the “Prophetic Anachronistic Idiomatic Narrative” (abbreviated as PAIN). What the PAIN sub-genre does is use language or descriptions that will come into common use at a later time to convey a narrative to a future audience. In PAIN Abraham’s servant could have been using any type of animal. However, when the inspired author wrote the story, he used “camel” as a stand-in, since camels would make more sense to those who would read the story thousands of years after the author died. This approach allows the Bible to be authoritative even in cases where, on the surface, archaeology seems to disagree.
A few theologians have countered this claim insisting that the idea of PAIN was foreign to the Jewish Rabbis. While this may be true, we should recognize two things. First, several prophets did not understood the full ramifications of their prophecy. Thus, we should not predicate our interpretation of the Bible entirely on what the Jewish Rabbis thought of it. Second, our knowledge of Hebrew is more advanced than the Rabbi’s. Through the use of computers we have learned many things about Hebrew that the Israelites could never have dreamed of knowing. Keeping these two things in mind, it is entirely plausible that PAIN existed in Old Testament times.
How does this discovery impact your interpretation of the Old Testament?