The word “caveman” usually means a prehistoric or primitive person who lives in caves. They are said to belong to an early stage of civilization (Paleolithic or Stone Age) and use stone, wood and bone tools. But what does the Bible say about people living in caves?
After the global flood, God told Noah’s descendants to spread out and “fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1). But they disobeyed and built a city called Babel with brick and tar on a plain that later become known as Mesopotamia (Gen, 11:1-4). Their punishment was to be divided into different language groups and scattered across the earth (Gen. 11:8-9). So these language groups migrated to different lands as described in Genesis 10. This means that according to the Bible, in about 2,200 BC people dispersed from the Middle East to populate the earth.
The Bible records people living in caves between the 6th and the 18th century BC. Let’s look at each of these in turn and see what they reveal about cavemen in Biblical times.
18th century BC
Abraham’s nephew Lot may have been a Councillor in the city of Sodom near the Dead Sea (Gen. 19:1). After Lot’s family fled from Sodom before it was destroyed, they stopped at the town of Zoar. But because he was afraid to stay in Zoar, Lot and his two daughters moved to live in a cave in the mountains (Gen. 19:30). It seems he was afraid that God was going to destroy Zoar as well and this seems to have happened as afterwards they thought they were the only people left on earth (Gen 19:31). So Lot and his daughters moved from living in a city to living in a cave in the mountains. They went from civilization to isolation.
Job, who lived in ancient times, said that those banished from human society lived “among the rocks and in holes in the ground” (Job 30:5-6).
15th century BC
While the Israelites were invading Canaan, the Gibeonites made a treaty with Israel. When five Amorite kings attacked the Gibeonites, the Lord helped the Israelites to take them by surprise and defeat them. But the kings fled and hid in the cave at Makkedah (Josh. 10:16-18). When Joshua found out where the kings were, he had the cave guarded until they could be executed. Afterwards, their bodies were thrown back into the cave. So the kings of the Canaanite cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon moved from living in a city to become fugitives hiding in a cave. They went from civilization to isolation.
12th century BC
When the Israelites “did evil in the eyes of the Lord”, God allowed them to be overpowered by the Midianites for seven years. “Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds” (Jud. 6:2NIV). So the Israelites, who lived in cities, prepared shelters for themselves in caves to hide from the enemy. They were ready to go from civilization to isolation.
After Samson took revenge by attacking the Philistines, he stayed in a cave in the rock of Elam (Jud. 15:8, 11). Then the Philistines came to Judah to kill Sampson. So Samson who usually lived in a town in Judah moved from living in a town to become a fugitive hiding in a cave.
11th century BC
While Saul was king of Israel, the Israelite army fled when they faced a superior Philistine army. “When the Israelites saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns” (1 Sam. 13:6). So an army moved from living in their camp to hiding in caves. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, dens were cut out of mountains and rocks to provide refuge and strength in times of war.
When David was a fugitive because Saul wanted to kill him, David often hid in caves. About 400 men were with him at the cave of Adullam (1 Sam. 22:1-2). They also hid in the cave near the Crags of the Wild Goats in the Desert of En Gedi where David spared Saul and cut off the corner of his robe (1 Sam. 24:1-11). He also hid in caves when being pursued by Absalom (2 Sam. 17:9). David was hiding in a cave when he wrote Psalms 57 and 142. At this time he feared his enemies. So David hid in caves to escape Saul’s murderous plans and to escape from other enemies.
9th century BC
While Queen Jezebel was killing the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah hid a hundred of the Lord’s prophets in two caves, fifty in each (1 Ki. 18:4, 13). So the prophets hid in caves to escape Jezebel’s murderous plans.
Also, when the prophet Elijah fled to Mt Sinai, he spent a night in a cave (1 Ki. 19:9, 13). Elijah would have slept in the cave for protection from the weather and from wild animals.
6th century BC
During times of severe oppression the Israelites took refuge in caves and holes in the ground. Some Israelites were in caves when the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem in 586 BC (Ezek. 33:27). They will also try to hide in these places from God’s future judgment (Is. 2:10, 19, 21).
When they are warned of a Babylonian invasion, the Moabites, Edomites and Arabians are urged to flee their towns and live in caves (Jer. 48:28; 49:8, 30).
In the list of those who demonstrated faith and endurance in Old Testament times in Hebrews 11, it says that they “wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground” (Heb. 11:38). They would have lived in caves because they were expelled from their families and from society. They went from civilization to isolation.
Finally, when God will judge the world in a coming day, people will panic and try to hide in caves and among the rocks of mountains (Rev. 6:15).
All these instances of people occupying caves in Biblical times occurred many years after the city of Babel. This means they are not steps in humanity’s progress towards urbanization. Instead they represent regression to a simpler lifestyle, not progression towards a more advanced lifestyle. These people already lived in cities and towns before they went to live in caves. The examples given above show that this move from civilization to isolation was driven by need.
Most of these people hid in caves to escape being captured by their enemies. In this case a cave is a refuge – it is strong being composed of rock and they are hidden from sight. After all, many old buildings were made of stone. The oldest buildings in Europe are stone.
Caves are also suitable for temporary accommodation while travelling. For example, they would be useful for people migrating from the Middle East to populate the earth in the 22nd century BC. Technological knowledge would have been lost when the people of Babel were subdivided into small language groups and dispersed across the earth.
Fugitives and migrants would tend to have basic tools with them and not the trappings of civilization. So artefacts found in caves would represent particular people in particular situations. They don’t necessarily represent the civilization living at the time in towns and cities. For example, the tools used by Australian Aboriginals in the 19th century AD didn’t represent those used at the same time by Australians of European descent.
The Bible shows that in Biblical times caves were mainly used to hide from enemies and as temporary accommodation while travelling. It doesn’t support the popular idea of Paleolithic (Stone Age) cave man because people were urbanized at the same time that people occupied caves.
Remember that the Bible is an important record of ancient history and such recorded history trumps archaeological science, particularly in the case of ancient history.
Written, January 2015