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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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CAMEL . The bones of camels are found among the remains of the earliest Semitic civilization at Gezer, b.c. 3000 or earlier, and to-day camels are among the most common and important of domesticated animals in Palestine. They have thus been associated with every era of history in the land. Two species are known: the one-humped Camelus dromedarius , by far the more common in Bible lands; and the Bactrian, two-humped Camelus bactrianus , which comes from the plateau of Central Asia. This latter is to-day kept in considerable numbers by Turkomans settled in the Jaulan , and long caravans of these magnificent beasts may sometimes be encountered coming across the Jordan into Galilee or on the Jericho-Jerusalem road. The C. dromedarius is kept chiefly for burden-bearing, and enormous are the loads of corn, wood, charcoal, stone, furniture, etc., which these patient animals carry: 600 to 800 lbs. are quite average loads. Their owners often ride on the top of the load, or on the empty baggage-saddle when returning; Moslem women and children are carried in a kind of palanquin the camel’s furniture of Genesis 31:34 . For swift travelling a different breed of camel known as hajîn is employed. Such a camel will get over the ground at eight to ten miles an hour, and keep going eighteen hours in the twenty-four. These animals are employed near Beersheha, and also regularly to carry the mails across the desert from Damascus to Baghdad. They may be the ‘dromedaries’ of Esther 8:10 .

Camels are bred by countless thousands in the lands to the E. of the Jordan, where they form the most valuable possessions of the Bedouin, as they did of the Midianites and Amalekites of old (Judges 7:12 ). The Bedouin live largely upon the milk of camels ( Genesis 32:15 ) and also occasionally eat their flesh, which was forbidden to the Israelites ( Deuteronomy 14:17 , Leviticus 11:4 ). They also ride them on their raids, and endeavour to capture the camels of hostile clans. The fellahin use camels for ploughing and harrowing.

The camel is a stupid and long-enduring animal, but at times, especially in certain months, he occasionally ‘runs amok,’ and then he is very dangerous. His bite is almost always fatal. The camel’s hair which is used for weaving (Mark 1:6 , Matthew 3:4 ) is specially taken from the back, neck, and neighbourhood of the hump: over the rest of the body the ordinary camel has his hair worn short. His skin is kept anointed with a peculiar smelling composition to keep off parasites. The special adaptation of the camel to its surroundings lies in its compound stomach, two compartments of which, the rumen and the reticulum , are especially constructed for the storage of a reserve supply of water; its hump, which though useful to man for attachment of burdens and saddles, is primarily a reserve store of fat; and its wonderful fibrous padded feet adapted to the softest sandy soil. The camel is thus able to go longer without food and drink than any other burden-bearing animal, and is able to traverse deserts quite unadapted to the slender foot of the horse and the ass. On slippery soil, rock or mud, the camel is, however, a helpless flounderer. The camel’s food is chiefly tibn (chopped straw), kursenneh , beans, oil-cake, and occasionally some grain. There seems, however, to be no thorn too sharp for its relish.

In the NT references to the camel it is more satisfactory to take the expressions ‘swallow a camel’ (Matthew 23:24 ) and ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,’ etc. ( Matthew 19:24 ||), as types of ordinary Oriental proverbs (cf. the Talmudic expression ‘an elephant through a needle’s eye’) than to weave fancied and laboured explanations. The present writer agrees with Post that the gate called the ‘needle’s eye’ is a fabrication.

E. W. G. Masterman.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Camel'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​c/camel.html. 1909.
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