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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

 

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CAMEL

kam'-el (gamal; kamelos; bekher, and bikhrah (Isa 60:6; Jer 2:23 "dromedary," the American Revised Version, margin "young camel"), rekhesh (1 Ki 4:28; see HORSE), kirkaroth (Isa 66:20, "swift beasts," the American Standard Revised ersion. "dromedaries"); bene ha-rammakhim (Est 8:10, "young dromedaries," the American Standard Revised Version "bred of the stud"); achashteranim (Est 8:10,14, the King James Version "camels," the American Standard Revised Version "that were used in the king's service")): There are two species of camel, the Arabian or one-humped camel or dromedary, Camelus dromedarius, and the Bactrian or two-humped camel, Camelus bactrianus. The latter inhabits the temperate and cold parts of central Asia and is not likely to have been known to Biblical writers. The Arabian camel inhabits southwestern Asia and northern Africa and has recently been introduced into parts of America and Australia. Its hoofs are not typical of ungulates but are rather like great claws. The toes are not completely separated and the main part of the foot which is applied to the ground is a large pad which underlies the proximal joints of the digits. It may be that this incomplete separation of the two toes is a sufficient explanation of the words "parteth not the hoof," in Lev 11:4 and Dt 14:7. Otherwise these words present a difficulty, because the hoofs are completely separated though the toes are not. The camel is a ruminant and chews the cud like a sheep or ox, but the stomach possesses only three compartments instead of four, as in other ruminants. The first two compartments contain in their walls small pouches, each of which can be closed by a sphincter muscle. The fluid retained in these pouches may account in part for the power of the camel to go for a relatively long time without drinking.
The Arabian camel is often compared with justice to the reindeer of the Esquimaux. It furnishes hair for spinning and weaving, milk, flesh and leather, as well as being an invaluable means of transportation in the arid desert. There are many Arabic names for the camel, the commonest of which is jamal (in Egypt gamal), the root being common to Arabic, Hebrew and other Semitic languages. From it the names in Latin, Greek, English and various European languages are derived. There are various breeds of camels, as there are of horses. The riding camels or dromedaries, commonly called hajin, can go, even at a walk, much faster than the pack camels. The males are mostly used for carrying burdens, the females being kept with the herds. Camels are used to a surprising extent on the rough roads of the mountains, and one finds in the possession of fellachin in the mountains and on the littoral plain larger and stronger pack camels than are often found among the Bedouin. Camels were apparently not much used by the Israelites after the time of the patriarchs. They were taken as spoil of war from the Amalekites and other tribes, but nearly the only reference to their use by the later Israelites was when David was made king over all Israel at Hebron, when camels are mentioned among the animals used for bringing food for the celebration (1 Ch 12:40). David had a herd of camels, but the herdsman was Obil, an Ishmaelite (1 Ch 27:30). Nearly all the other Biblical references to camels are to those possessed by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Ishmaelites, Amalekites, Midianites, Hagrites and the "children of the East" (see EAST). Two references to camels (Gen 12:16; Ex 9:3) are regarded as puzzling because the testimony of the Egyptian monuments is said to be against the presence of camels in ancient Egypt. For this reason, Gen 12 through 16, in connection with Abram's visit to Egypt, is turned to account by Canon Cheyne to substantiate his theory that the Israelites were not in Egypt but in a north Arabian land of Mucri (Encyclopaedia Biblica under the word "Camel," 4). While the flesh of the camel was forbidden to the Israelites, it is freely eaten by the Arabs.
There are three references to the camel in New Testament: (1) to John's raiment of camel's hair (Mt 3:4; Mk 1:6); (2) the words of Jesus that "it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God" (Mt 19:24; Mk 10:25; Lk 18:25); (3) the proverb applied to the Pharisees as blind guides, "that strain out the gnat, and swallow the camel" (Mt 23:24). Some manuscripts read ho kamilos, "a cable," in Mt 19:24 and Lk 18:25.
There are a few unusual words which have been translated "camel" in text or margin of one or the other version. (See list of words at beginning of the article) Bekher and bikhrah clearly mean a young animal, and the Arabic root word and derivatives are used similarly to the Hebrew. Rakhash, the root of rekhesh, is compared with the Arabic rakad, "to run," and, in the Revised Version (British and American), rekhesh is translated "swift steeds." Kirkaroth, rammakhim and 'achashteranim must be admitted to be of doubtful etymology and uncertain meaning.
Alfred Ely Day

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'CAMEL'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE; 1915.

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