WHAT ARE “BUNCHES OF CAMELS?”
by Shawn Brasseaux
Only once do we find this in the Holy Scripture. “The burden of the beasts of the south: into the land of trouble and anguish, from whence come the young and old lion, the viper and fiery flying serpent, they will carry their riches upon the shoulders of young asses, and their treasures upon the bunches of camels, to a people that shall not profit them” (Isaiah 30:6).
In the context, JEHOVAH God is advising Israel not to seek help from Egypt (for they will be a disappointment). Yet, the Authorized Version King James Bible translators provide an enigmatic description that we must study to clarify. What are “bunches of camels?” “Bunch” normally means “a great number,” yet, that does not seem to fit. We need to expand our vocabulary.
The English word “bunch” can also be used in the sense of “a knob; lump; protuberance.” Isaiah, therefore, would likely not be referring to a lot of camels but rather the humps of camels. After all, the wording of the verse indicates that treasures are upon the bunches of the camels. The camels are beasts of burden, carrying merchandise on their backs. For another clue, look at the parallel in the verse: “they will carry their riches upon the shoulders of young asses.” As the donkeys bear loads on their backs, so do the camels (that is, on the humps on their backs). It is a simple concept.
“Bunch” is the translation of the Hebrew word “dabeset,” related to the term (“debas”) frequently rendered “honey” (Genesis 43:11; Exodus 3:8; Exodus 16:31; Leviticus 2:11; Deuteronomy 8:8; Judges 14:8-9; et al.). How did Hebrew ever associate camel humps with honey? Two explanations have been suggested. Firstly, the fatty contents of the camel hump have a sticky consistency like honey. Secondly, a camel’s hump resembles a beehive. Either one of these facts (or perhaps something else) led to an intensification of “debas” (honey) to make it “dabeset” (hump). Whatever the case, there is still no mistranslation in our 1611 Bible.