« Cambridge Platonists Camel Camera Apostolica »


CAMEL: The most valuable possession of the nomads of the desert.

The Syrian and Egyptian camel is the single-humped, lank, and long-legged Camelus dromedarius. Its foremost utility is that of common carrier ("ship of the mainland" was its poetical designation even prior to Islam). Great bodily strength and endurance fit it for this service. Its very voracity is content with the meanest fodder of the driest pasture greases, half-dried acacia twigs, dry straw, and the like; and it can toil days at a time upon an exceedingly small stint of forage. At such times the fatty hump, which when in good condition weighs as much as thirty pounds, almost entirely disappears. It is no less easily satisfied in the article of water. In spring it feeds on freshly dewed grasses, and can dispense with watering several weeks running. In the dry season it can hold out three or four days without water; and then, when it reaches a watering-place, it swallows the water in enormous quantities. Its broad, fleshy, cushioned foot prevents it from sinking deeply into the desert sand.

The carrier camel bears ordinarily from two to three hundredweight; still more on occasion (cf. II Kings viii. 9). Its gait at a walk is about two and one-half miles an hour, and it maintains this pace right along with alacrity and freshness for twelve or fourteen hours and even longer. The riding camel differs from the foregoing, just as a noble race-horse from the heavy draft-horse. It can cover as much as ninety miles a day, and this for several days together. The camel saddle is a trough-shaped wooden seat fastened over the hump with a tight gearing both front and back. This is covered with a cushion. The rider sits as on a side-saddle. For women and children palanquins are likewise in use, with seats and curtains (Gen. xxiv. 61, xxxi. 17). The camel ministers to the Bedouins' every-day needs. The rather thick and fatty camel's milk is their beverage; and their horses often drink it. The flesh of the camel, except that of the hump, which is esteemed a peculiar delicacy, is said to be hard and tough; but still it is a feast for the Bedouin to kill one of the herd and eat meat. They also occasionally bleed the camel a little in times of scarceness. The Israelites accounted camel's flesh unclean. The Bedouins' coarse cloaks are woven of camel's hair (Matt. iii. 4), and also their thick tent-rugs. The hide is worked into sandals, thongs, water-skins, and the like. The dung is dried and then serves for fuel.

The camel naturally is less important in agricultural Palestine. Yet even here it has its usefulness as beast of burden; and when heavy loads and great distances are in question, horses and mules are not to be compared with it. In the Old Testament the breeding of camels on a large scale is found under the patriarchs (Gen. xii. 18, xxiv. 10, xxx. 43) and David (I Chron. xxvii. 30). But 367in every era there is reference to the manifold uses of camels (e.g., II Kings viii. 9; Isa. xxx. 8; I Chron. xii. 40; Ezra ii. 67; Neh. vii. 69). To the poet the camel in its wild raging during the rutting season is an image of the nations which in their blind passion are devoted to strange gods (Jer. ii. 23).

I. Benzinger.

Bibliography. H. B. Tristram, Natural History of the Bible, p. 58 sqq., London, 1867; idem, Survey of Western Palestine, Fauna and Flora, ib. 1884; H. Blackburn. Bible Beasts and Birds, ib.1886; J. G. Wood, Bible Animals, ib. 1883; idem, Domestic Animals of the Bible, ib. 1887; H. C. Hart, Animals of the Bible, ib. 1888; A. E. Knight, Bible Plants and Animals, ib. 1890; DB, i. 344–345; EB, i. 633–636.

« Cambridge Platonists Camel Camera Apostolica »
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