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Horses and Chariots


Relief of Ashurnasirpal II Hunting Lions865-60 BC, The British Museum, London

 

Where Science Meets the Book of Mormon: Come Follow Me Lesson: February 26 - March 3; 2 Nephi 11-19


In 2 Nephi 11:1-2, Nephi stated, “And now, Jacob spake many more things to my people at that time; nevertheless only these things have I caused to be written, for the things which I have written sufficeth me. And now I, Nephi, write more of the words of Isaiah, for my soul delighteth in his words. For I will liken his words unto my people, and I will send them forth unto all my children, for he verily saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him.”

 

Nephi then quoted Isaiah 2:1, 7, and it is rendered word for word in 2 Nephi 12:1, 7, “The word that Isaiah, the son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem…Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots.”

 

The King James Version of Isaiah 2:7 shows the words “is there any” (twice) in italics, showing that those words were not in the original, but were added in 1611 by the translators. I have already addressed this issue in my February 19-25 blog. Suffice it to say here that in translating 2 Nephi 12:7, with no reference to any book or manuscript, Joseph Smith dictated the King James Version of Isaiah 2:7, complete with the words “is there any” (twice). It is my opinion that the ideas behind the words that Nephi copied onto the Gold Plates were transferred into the seer stone and that Joseph dictated those ideas in King James English words that he understood and had already read in the Bible — perhaps several times, and which then were brought back to his memory — through the gift and power of God as conveyed by the Holy Ghost. Again, I cite here Doctrine and Covenants 84:85, “Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man.”  

 

In an April 2001 General Conference address, President Gordon B. Hinkley stated in reference to events culminating in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “How could anyone believe such a story? It seemed preposterous. And yet these people [converts he had just cited] believed as they were instructed. Faith came into their hearts to accept that which they had been taught. It was a miracle. It was a gift from God. They could not believe it, and yet they did…”1 

 

President Hinkley continued, “I read again the other day Parley P. Pratt’s account of his reading the Book of Mormon and coming into the Church. Said he: ‘I opened it with eagerness, and read its title page. I then read the testimony of several witnesses in relation to the manner of its being found and translated. After this I commenced its contents by course. I read all day; eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when the night came, for I preferred reading to sleep…As I read, the spirit of the Lord was upon me, and I knew and comprehended that the book was true, as plainly and manifestly as a man comprehends and knows that he exists.’ (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt Jr. [1938], 37).”2

 

President Hinckley then spoke of our pioneer ancestors who crossed the plains by faith. I have 21 ancestors in my fourth and fifth ancestral generations who did as Parley P. Pratt had done: read the Book of Mormon, became converted, and crossed the plains from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City. One other ancestor died in Illinois before the Saints left Nauvoo. Two others were on their way to California, were converted to the Church, and stayed in Utah. I quit counting after I had read the Book of Mormon fifteen times. I have prayed about it, and I also have a testimony of its truthfulness — even the parts directly quoted from the King James Version of Isaiah.    

 

President Hinkley continued, “Faith? There can be no doubt about it. When doubts arose, when tragedies struck, the quiet voice of faith was heard in the stillness of the night as certain and reassuring as was the place of the polar star in the heavens above…It was this mysterious and wonderful manifestation of faith that brought reassurance, that spoke with certainty, that came as a gift from God concerning this great latter-day work. Countless, literally countless, are the stories of its expression in the pioneer period of the Church. But it does not stop there…As it was then, so it is today. This precious and marvelous gift of faith, this gift from God our Eternal Father, is still the strength of this work and the quiet vibrancy of its message. Faith underlies it all. Faith is the substance of it all. Whether it be going into the mission field, living the Word of Wisdom, paying one’s tithing, it is all the same. It is the faith within us that is evidenced in all we do…Our critics cannot understand it. Because they do not understand, they attack. A quiet inquiry, an anxious desire to grasp the principle behind the result, could bring greater understanding and appreciation.”3

 

Although I have speculated in my most recent posts concerning the process by which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, I still do not know what actually happened when Joseph looked into his seer stone. My belief in the Book of Mormon transcends what I can learn from science into what I must take on faith. Apparently, faith is a source of great power, which we at present do not understand. Paul wrote in Hebrews 11:1,3,6: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear…But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”

 

All of that said, I now will continue my discussion of horses and chariots. Horses evolved mainly in North America, but became extinct here around 10,000 years ago. About 10 million years ago, as many as a dozen species of Equidae roamed the Great Plains of North America. Around a million years ago, one or more species of Equidae, such as the three-toed Anchitherium, crossed the Bering Land Bridge into Asia. By means of DNA analysis, Alisa Vershinina and colleagues have identified two bi-directional dispersals across the Land Bridge: 875,000-625,000 and 200,000-50,000 years ago, coinciding with two periods when the Land Bridge was open. The first dispersal was mostly from North America to Asia, whereas the second period saw movement and interbreeding in both directions, but mostly from Asia back to North America. The connection ended about 50,000 years ago. North American species died out, whereas the Eurasian and African species evolved into modern horses (Equus caballus, Equus ferus, and Equus przewalskii), asses (Equus africanus, Equus hemionus, and Equus kiang), and zebras (Equus grevyi, Equus quagga, and Equus zebra).4

 

Humans have been eating horses for over 400,000 years. Neanderthals stalked now-extinct pony-sized horses, like Equus simplicidens (the Hagerman horse) and E. livenzovensis on the Eurasian steppes.5 Drawings of species like Equus simplicidens appear prominently in the Chauvet cave in southeastern France — dating to 30,000 years ago.6 The so-called Botai culture, named for the settlement of Botai in today’s northern Kazakhstan in northern Central Asia, emerged around 3700–3100 BC, with the transition from nomadic hunter-gatherers, with a variety of game, to a more domestic lifestyle with a diet that relied heavily on horse meat.7 There also is evidence that this society domesticated horses for riding at around 3500 BC.8 

 

Another early Eurasian steppe culture was the Yamnaya culture, named for the practice of burying their dead in pits (the name is romanizationyamnaya, from the Russian adjective Я́мная, which means “related to pits”), dating to around 3300–2600 BC. This culture apparently rode horses and used two-wheeled chariots and four-wheeled ox-drawn carts. The use of horses may have spread with the descendants of those people into the rest of Europe and Asia.9 However, note from the map below that the spread of the Yamnaya horse culture remained largely north of the Black and Caspian Seas, and never crossed south of the Euphrates River. There may have been some interaction with the Babylonian Empire around 800 BC (yellow arrow). The data behind this map suggest that, although present, horses may have been very rare south of the Black Sea, and especially south of the Euphrates.     

 

 

 



Scheme of Indo-European dispersals from a Yamanaya-Western Steppe Herders homeland (), c. 4000 to 1000 BCE, according to the widely held Steppe hypothesis; Wikipedia.

 

The first “asses of the mountains,” or horses, may have been introduced into Mesopotamia as early as 2055–2048 BC by the forerunners of the Babylonian Empire (which began around 1894 BC).10 By 1767 BCE, Babylonian chariots could be grouped into three major categories: the four-wheeled “platform” chariot, the most familiar two-person two-wheeled chariot, and the one-person “straddle” chariot.11 Those were the battle chariots of the Babylonians, and they were likely some of the first times the Israelites would have encountered horses or chariots.

 

However, Babylon was in no position to attack or conquer other lands during much of its early existence. Even though Babylon was populated by Akkadians, it initially was controlled by the Amorites. The Hittites sacked Babylon in 1531 BC, and it was under Kassite control from then until 1169 BC. Between 1100 and 625 BC, Babylonia was invaded numerous times by the Assyrians. During this time, Babylon was sacked and burned in 689 BC — and was not rebuilt until after 625 BC, when Nabopolassar, the father of Nebuchadnezzar, wrested Babylon from Assyrian control.12 


Nebuchadnezzar ruled Babylon from the death of his father in 605 BC until his own death in 562 BC. Early on, Nebuchadnezzar’s successful military career occurred during his father’s reign. In 612 BC, the Babylonians, along with their allies, the Medes, Persians and Scythians, captured the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. The Assyrians moved their capital to Harran, but it was overrun by the alliance in 609 BC, bringing an end to the Assyrian Empire. What was left of the Assyrian army joined the Egyptians at Carchemish on the Euphrates, 470 miles south of Babylon, and 380 miles north of Jerusalem. The Battle of Carchemish took place around 605 BC, under Nebuchadnezzar as commander-in-chief. The combined Egyptian/Assyrian army was crushed, Assyria ceased to exist as an independent power, and the Egyptians retreated, never to regain significant power in the Ancient Near East; and the Babylonian Empire reached its zenith.13


During the siege of Harran, in 609 BC, Pharaoh Necho II of Egypt marched his army north, through Judea and Israel to aid the Assyrians. However, the Judaean king Josiah refused to let the Egyptians pass through his lands. As a result, the Egyptian forces battled the Judaeans at Megiddo, 57 miles north of Jerusalem, resulting in Josiah’s death and his kingdom becoming an Egyptian vassal state.14 We are told in 2 Kings 23:29-30, “In his [Josiah’s] days Pharaoh-nechoh king of Egypt went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates: and king Josiah went against him; and he slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him. And his servants carried him in a chariot dead from Megiddo, and brought him to Jerusalem, and buried him in his own sepulchre. And the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah, and anointed him, and made him king in his father’s stead.”

 

However, Jehoahaz lasted only three months, “And Pharaoh-nechoh put him in bands at Riblah in the land of Hamath [about 200 miles north of Jerusalem], that he might not reign in Jerusalem; and put the land to a tribute of an hundred talents of silver, and a talent of gold. And Pharaoh-nechoh made Eliakim the son of Josiah king in the room of Josiah his father, and turned his name to Jehoiakim, and took Jehoahaz away: and he came to Egypt, and died there.” (Kings 23:33-34) Apparently, after the fall of Harran, Necho left a sizable army on the Euphrates and headed back for Egypt. On his way home, he encountered Jehoahaz, the new Judean king, at Riblah, it is unclear what Jehoahaz was doing there — was he still engaged in fighting against scattered Egyptian forces?

 

According to 2 Kings 23:36, “Jehoiakim was twenty and five years old when he began to reign; and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem…” Apparently, around four years into his reign, the Assyrians and Egyptians were defeated at Carchemish. Then we read in 2 Kings 24:1-2, “In his days Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant three years: then he turned and rebelled against him.” So, apparently, soon after his great victory at the Battle of Carchemish, Nebuchadnezzar marched on Jerusalem. Why?

 

The Nebuchadnezzar Chronicle, which is now housed in the British Museum, is extremely helpful in answering this question. The Chronicle states that Nebuchadnezzar, “crossed the river [Euphrates] to go against the Egyptian army which lay in Karchemiš. They fought with each other and the Egyptian army withdrew before him. He accomplished their defeat, decisively. As for the rest of the Egyptian army which had escaped from the defeat so quickly that no weapon had reached them, in the district of Hamath, the Babylonian troops overtook and defeated them so that not a single man escaped to his own country. At that time, Nebuchadnezzar conquered the whole area of Hamath.” So, it appears that right after the Battle of Carchemish, Nebuchadnezzar chased the Egyptian army half way to Jerusalem before catching up with and completely destroying it.15  

 

The Chronicle continues, “For twenty-one years Nabopolassar had been king of Babylon, when on 8 Abu [15 August 605] he went to his destiny; in the month of Ululu Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon and on 1 Ululu [7 September] he sat on the royal throne in Babylon. In the accession year Nebuchadnezzar went back again to the Hatti-land and until the month of Šabatu [and] marched unopposed through the Hatti-land; in the month of Šabatu he took the heavy tribute of the Hatti-territory to Babylon…In the first year of Nebuchadnezzar [604/603] in the month of Simanu, he mustered his army and went to the Hatti-territory; he marched about unopposed in the Hatti-territory until the month of Kislmu. All the kings of the Hatti-land came before him and he received their heavy tribute. He marched to the city of Aškelon [only 55 miles southwest of Jerusalem, on the coast] and captured it in the month of Kislmu. He captured its king and plundered it and carried off spoil from it… In the fourth year [601/600] the king of Akkad mustered his army and marched to the Hatti-land. In the Hatti-land they marched unopposed. In the month of Kislmu he took the lead of his army and marched to Egypt. The king of Egypt heard it and mustered his army. In open battle they smote the breast of each other and inflicted great havoc on each other. [The Babylonians were repulsed by the Egyptians.] The king of Akkad turned back with his troops and returned to Babylon…In the seventh year [598/597], the month of Kisl�mu, the king of Akkad mustered his troops, marched to the Hatti-land, and besieged the city of Judah and on the second day of the month of Addaru he seized the city and captured the king [Jehoiachin]. He appointed there a king of his own choice [Zedekiah], received its heavy tribute and sent to Babylon.”16 

 

This was the same Zedekiah we read of at the beginning of the Book of Mormon. (1 Nephi 1:4) Therefore, Lehi and his family had lived in Jerusalem during the Battle of Carchemish, around seven years earlier, and 380 miles north of Jerusalem; and they apparently were in Jerusalem during the Battle of Megiddo, only 57 miles north of Jerusalem, and eleven years earlier, when Josiah’s dead body was carried in a chariot from Megiddo to Jerusalem. They may even have been there to see the body brought in. They were in Jerusalem when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Aškelon perhaps only three years earlier and only 55 miles southwest of Jerusalem — and then buried it under a mound of dirt. And they were in Jerusalem during the first siege of Jerusalem, when Nebuchadnezzar had carried King Jehoiachin off to Babylon and appointed the puppet king, Zedekiah, in his place. However, Lehi and his family had left Jerusalem before the final siege of Jerusalem, a decade later, in 587 BC, when the city and its temple were destroyed, and the inhabitants were killed or hauled off captive to Babylon.

 

So, the reference to horses and chariots made by Isaiah one hundred years earlier, quoted by Nephi thirty years after leaving Jerusalem, written in the King James Bible some 2200 years later, and quoted word or word by Joseph Smith two hundred years after that, would have been familiar to Lehi and his older sons. However, Jacob and Joseph, who were born in the wilderness, probably never saw a horse or chariot. Although horses and chariots were apparently available to all of the military forces during the late sixth century BC, including the Judaean army, they were probably very rare outside the military. For example, Job was more or less a contemporary of Lehi, and was very wealthy, “His substance also was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she asses, and a very great household; so that this man was the greatest of all the men of the east.” (Job 1:3) Notice that, even for this very wealthy man, no horses were listed among his possessions.

 

In spite of what is depicted in the Book of Mormon Videos,17 Lehi’s family probably had no horses with them when they left Jerusalem. They almost certainly would have had camels and asses to haul all their tents and other supplies, and those animals were probably left behind when Lehi’s family boarded the ship — to cross the ocean to the New World.  

Then there is this rather strange statement in Isaiah 21:7, which is not quoted in the Book of Mormon, “And he saw a chariot with a couple of horsemen, a chariot of asses, and a chariot of camels…”18 It does seem sort of strange to think of Josiah’s dead body being brought into Jerusalem in a two-wheeled battle chariot like the one depicted in the relief at the front of this essay — would his legs have been dragging out the back? It seems much more likely that his body would have been brought in a four-wheeled “chariot.” Were the "chariots" mentioned in Isaiah 21:7, and pulled by asses or even camels, more like the four-wheeled type?

 

 

Trent Dee Stephens, PhD

 

 

References

 

1.     Hinkley, Gordon B., April 2001 General Conference report, churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2001/04/the-miracle-of-faith?lang=eng; retrieved 18 February 2024

2.     Ibid

3.     Ibid

4.     Vershinina, Alisa O. et al, Ancient horse genomes reveal the timing and extent of dispersals across the Bering Land Bridge, Molecular Ecology, 30:6144-6161, 2021; see also list of Equus species in Wikipedia

6.     Stephens, Trent, The Infinite Creation: Unifying Science and Latter-day Saint Theology, Cedar Fort Publishing, Springville, Ut, 2020

7.     Outram, Alan K.; et al., The Earliest Horse Harnessing and Milking, Science. 323:1332–35, 2009; Mair, Victor H., and Hickman, Jane, Reconfiguring the Silk Road: New Research on East-West Exchange in AntiquityUniversity of Pennsylvania Press, 2014, p. 15

8.     Warmuth, Vera et al., Reconstructing the origin and spread of horse domestication in the Eurasian steppe, PNAS 109:8202-8206, 2012

9.     Librado, Pablo, The origins and spread of domestic horses from the Western Eurasian steppes, Nature, 598:634–640, 2021; see also Thompson, Niobe, First Horse Warriors, NOVA, PBS, 2019

10.  Leon Legrain, Horseback Riding in Mesopotamia in the Third Millennium B.C. Penn Museum Bulletin XI, no. 4 (original April, 1946):27-32; penn.museum/sites/bulletin/2848; retrieved 22 February 2024

12.  Walvoord, John F., The Rise and Fall of Babylon, Bible.org; bible.org/seriespage/chapter-v-rise-and-fall-babylon; retrieved 23 February 2024

14.  Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book X, 5:1

15.  Chronicle Concerning the Early Years of Nebuchadnezzar II, translation from the Cuneiform tablet adapted from A.K. Grayson, Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles (1975) and Jean-Jacques Glassner, Mesopotamian Chronicles (Atlanta, 2004); retrieved 23 February 2024

16.  Ibid

17.  Book of Mormon Videos, Intellectual Reserve, 2019

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