Saturday, February 15, 2014

Of Zionism and Camels. By Tom Wilson.

Of Zionism and Camels. By Tom Wilson. Commentary, February 14, 2014.

The Old Testament’s made-up camels are a problem for Zionism. By Andrew Brown. The Guardian, February 13, 2014.

Domesticated Camels Came to Israel in 930 BC, Centuries Later Than Bible Says. By Mairav Zonszein. National Geographic, February 10, 2014.

Camels Had No Business in Genesis. By John Noble Wilford. New York Times, February 10, 2014.

The Introduction of Domestic Camels to the Southern Levant: Evidence from the Aravah Valley. By Lidar Sapir-Hen and Erez Ben-Yosef. Tel Aviv, Vol. 40, No. 2 (November 2013).


The idea that anyone might use research about camels to attempt to invalidate Zionism may seem rather far-fetched. But at the avowedly anti-Israel Guardian newspaper, anything is worth a try. The author of the piece in question, Andrew Brown, has set upon a recent story featured by the New York Times and National Geographic who themselves have seized upon research from two scholars at Tel Aviv University which has suggested that domesticated camels may not have existed in the Levant in the time of Genesis.
Brown parades this as proof positive that the camels mentioned in genesis must be a fiction. From there Brown’s impeccable line of reasoning just runs and runs. The camels in Genesis are made up, and if they are made up then the Bible is made up, and if the Bible is made up then everything else in the Bible is made up, which means promises to Abraham and his descendants about the inheritance of the land were made up, which means the foundations of Zionism are made up, and so, whatever one might say about the modern State of Israel, its foundations, which Brown dismisses as emotional, are made up and invalid. You follow?
While it may not be wise to engage such people on such matters as to whether the history of domesticated camels does or does not invalidate the Bible, there are a couple of brief points to be made here. For one thing, the research cited in all of this only appears to concern specific copper smelting sites in the Negev’s Aravah Valley. What the study seems to show is the date at which domesticated camels were probably introduced to work at that specific site, which by all accounts is some several centuries after the time at which the Patriarchs and their camels are believed to have been moving through the surrounding region.
Now, perhaps the Methodist Sunday school I attended was deficient, but I don’t seem to recall anything about the Patriarchs participating in the copper smelting industry. Indeed, it seems like somewhat of a stretch altogether to say that because there were no camels working at a specific copper producing site prior to a specific date, therefore no one kept domesticated camels in the entire region before that date either.
Yet, if that extrapolation is too much, what to make of Andrew Brown’s still more far-fetched contention that the probable absence of camels at an ancient copper smelting site in the Aravah Valley somehow invalidates the modern day movement to secure a Jewish national home? Brown writes with relish about how the story in the Times will no doubt upset “Christian fundamentalists,” a hint about what is most likely really at work here. For, with the Guardian serving as Britain’s preeminent left-wing daily, Brown is sure to stress in his piece that there is far “less evidence for the historical truth of the Old Testament” than there is for the Koran.
Europeans in general, and the left there in particular, have become fiercely hostile to Judeo-Christianity and its values. Over recent decades many of them have come to perceive Zionism as an active effort to validate and reaffirm the very same Bible that so many of them have spent so long arguing against and attempting to drive out of their societies. They believe that by establishing a state in the land of Israel, Jews are seeking first and foremost to fulfill a biblical commandment. I recall once attending a tumultuous public lecture by Benny Morris at the London School of Economics. Morris was trying to explain to his audience that Zionism had begun as a secular movement. The audience was having none of it and during the Q&A the arguing went back and forth on this point that they had become so stuck on. They would not be dissuaded from their conviction that Zionism and Israel is a religious and theocratic project, one essentially comparable with jihadism.
The way in which this aggressive dislike of biblical religion can so easily translate into a seemingly untamable hatred of Jews more generally, including Jews today, was evidenced by an outburst by the liberal television personality and would-be intellectual Stephen Fry, when during an interview he exclaimed, “The ten commandments are the hysterical believings of a group of desert tribes. Those desert tribes have stored up more misery for mankind than any other group of people in the history of the planet, and they’re doing it to this day.” Whether or not these desert tribes had camels by this point, disappointingly Fry doesn’t say.
If camels have the slightest chance of helping to invalidate the twin evils of Zionism and the Bible then the Guardian and its readers are only too pleased hear all about it. Brown asserts stridently, “The history recounted in the Bible is a huge part of the mythology of modern Zionism. The idea of a promised land is based on narratives that assert with complete confidence stories that never actually happened.” Of course, the Jewish religion and collective memory has played no small part in the development of Zionist thought, but as one reader wrote in the comments section of a blog monitoring the Guardian, “Modern Zionism has nothing to do with the camels of Abraham but everything to do with European anti-Semitism so perfectly represented by Andrew Brown and the Guardian.”