Beating an Extinct Horse?

In several of my recent posts, references to interesting evidences in favor of Book of Mormon plausibility often elicit questions about horses, among other things. The mention of horses in the Book of Mormon is one of the more challenging issues for the Book of Mormon since scientists generally believe that horses in the Americas were extinct by Book of Mormon times. LDS folks have suggested that pockets of horses as well as mastodons could have been survived into Book of Mormon times, but there is little evidence for this. And I mean that: there may be a little evidence for that, but it’s not a solid case. However, it’s important to consider what the evidence actually is (yes, there are reports of actual non-fossilized horse remains apparently from pre-Columbian times in Mesoamerica and elsewhere, opening the possibility that actual horses were present during Olmec or early Mayan times). We should also consider the possibility that a different species than the modern horse may have been meant. Just as Europeans called the hippo a “river horse” when they saw it, it’s possible that Nephites used a Hebrew term for horse to describe a native species that could run and jump. Before you get into mocking mode, please read the interesting and well documented discussion on these issues in a book review by Daniel Peterson and Matthew Roper on Stan Larson’s Quest for the Gold Plates. Search for the second occurrence of the word “horse” in that article and begin reading there until the header “Metals.” Actually, please read the whole article – a very helpful one in dealing with several objections to the Book of Mormon.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

15 thoughts on “Beating an Extinct Horse?

  1. Sorry off subject, just thought it was interesting…

    Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon by Dr. Joseph Allen has a very slight reference to Yaxchilan which he believes might have been associated with Zarahemla. I understand it was a large city-state.

    Anyhow, considering the 350AD treaty which gave up all the cities in the land southward, it is interesting to note that the first Mayan King to rule in Yaxchilan took power in approx. 359AD, according to the book Chronicle of the Maya King and Queens by Simon Martin.

    I find the timing very interesting! Just another lucky guess by JS I guess.

    I will comment on the article when I read it. Just thought I would share this with you.

  2. Its interesting to note that most of the charges made by critics of the Book of Mormon have been contested, not proven. I do not think that we would be able to ‘prove’ it in one way or the other. Evidences given demonstrate ‘plausibility’ which to me gives Joseph Smith a greater chance to claim that the Book of Mormon is a document of people that lived in the American continent. Where? Don’t know. The limited geography theory sounds more appealing to me.

    Critics of the Book of Mormon will never be satisfied until they see an artifact of the nephite or jaredite period… or perhaps even without seeing they would be convinced. Larson fits into the second category

  3. While there are reports of pre-Columbian horses, I thought Steve Jones had tested most of them and they didn’t date right. (Of course given the whole 9/11 controversy Jones is wrapped up in right now, perhaps it’s a good thing he didn’t claim pre-Columbian horses)

  4. Regarding Dr. Jones, I have been doing some research on him. He seems like a pretty sincere intellegent individual. I hope he gets the information he needs.

    Anyway. I did a quick search of the word horse in the BOM. I found no mention of the people actually riding the horses. That may lend credence to the Tapir theory. The Tapir are probably too small to ride anyway. Horses are often mentioned in conjunction with chariots, but there is no mention (that I could find) of them riding chariots either. I may be wrong though as my research was not all that extensive.

    Very interesting to think about.

  5. Most objections to the “tapir theory” — which is not, incidentally, my preferred solution to the question of Book of Mormon horses — represent not so much reasoned arguments as anthropologically naïve and rather boneheaded ridicule, and typically rely upon reading into the Book of Mormon things (e.g., riding “tapirback”) that appear to be inspired by cowboy movies rather than by the Book of Mormon itself.

    Regarding Dr. Jones’s C-14 dating of horse bones, I’ve heard both that he has found several of them dating to historic pre-Columbian times and that he has found virtually none of them to date to those times. I don’t have first hand knowledge of what he’s discovered thus far. Of course, to be able to authenticate even a single horse bone as belonging to the historically pre-Columbian Americas would be extremely significant.

  6. The clincher to the horse debate is right here, as quoted from the referenced review:

    “Consider the case of the Huns of central Asia and eastern Europe. They were a nomadic people for whom horses were a significant part of their power, wealth, and culture. It has been estimated that each Hun warrior may have owned as many as ten horses. Thus, during their two-century-long domination of the western steppes, the Huns must have had hundreds of thousands of horses. Yet, as the Hungarian researcher Sándor Bökönyi puts it with considerable understatement, “we know very little of the Huns’ horses. It is interesting that not a single usable horse bone has been found in the territory of the whole empire of the Huns. This is all the more deplorable as contemporary sources mention these horses with high appreciation.”

  7. Would agree with Bookslinger. I view the horse issue as I do (prepare for weird analogy) the issue of a white blood count when determining if someone has appendicitis (sp?). Just because the WBC is high does not mean one has appendicitis. It must be confirmed by other symptoms. Conversely, if the WBC is low, one must have a plethora of other evidence to prove otherwise. In other words, the lack of horses is by no means a worthwhile objection to the BOM, esp. considering the plethora of other evidences. Those who cry foul on this element of BOM scholarship alone have a serious case of historical myopia.

  8. Good points. Does the objection to horses disprove the Book of Mormon? Neighhhhhh.

    Regarding Steven Jones, he’s an outstanding intellect. The fact that he’s taking on a politically incorrect topic does nothing to undermine his scientific skills. If there is evidence pointing to a larger-than-believed terrorist effort to bring down the World Trade Center, let’s examine it with the best scientific tools available. And if someone has political reasons to suppress or destroy such evidence, it raises further questions that should be answered. Let’s see if Dr. Jones is given access to the materials he needs or not.

  9. I am not sure tapirs are the “horses” of the BoM, but a friend of mine who did his mission in Guatemala told me that he saw lots of them there and they are basically the size of a shetland pony. So they could definitely be pack animals or draw wagons (chariots). Especially since noone ever seems to ride them. Interesting stuff.

  10. I’m sincerely curiously about this:

    Is there any similar effort by those who disbelieve the Bible to try to convince Bible-believers, either Jews or Christians, that the Bible is false and just a collection of made-up stories, due to there not being sufficient archaeological evidence to back up much of its contents?

    The Egyptians were meticulous record-keepers, and there are no ancient Egyptian records and no archaeological evidence to suggest an Israelite captivity in Egypt or their exodus. So if that story is false, then Moses was a liar, and then rest of the Bible just falls apart, because everyone else was pretty much based on him.

  11. Bookslinger, if you ask an atheist or agnostic, probably they’ll tell you that the Bible is just faith promoting stories without any significant truth. But I wouldn’t expect to have counter cult ministries bashing the Bible fbecause of internal inconsistencies (where is the evidence of the parting of the Red Sea, or the wandering of Jews for forty years, etc.). What you do have is some ministries praising their translation of the Bible and rejecting the others as ‘pirate’ version.

    I am not fully conversant on genetics or antropology issues, so my comments are much limited. I think that the major point of discussion is how horses are depicted in the Church literature (gospel art kit). The classic image of Helaman and the 2,000 stripling warriors depicts Helaman in a white horse, very much in a Roman-style position probably fuels critics to argue against the existence of horses (equus) on the American continent whilst ridiculing the theory of the ‘tapirs’ as horses. There hasn’t been enough data to prove or disprove the existence of horses (or whatever the Nephites actually had). I hope that in the future, we have access to more resources that enable us to know more about this issue as we now know about the cement technology in Mesoamerica

  12. The “horse means something else theory” is really two distinct theories: (1) The Nephites used the word “horse” to describe something else similar to horses, OR (2) Joseph Smith translated some other beast’s name as “horse” because it was the nearest thing in his vocabulary.

    The articles and posts here have convinced me to be open-minded and inconclusive about the first theory. I do wonder in what way divine inspiration operated: Did the divine gifts pertaining to translation, including the use of the Urim and Thummim, give Joseph only the ability to translate what was literally on the page? Or did they also give him the ability to see and understand what the ancient record keepers were thinking and intending when they wrote? I don’t know. It’s interesting that Lucy Mack Smith describes her son as having given vivid descriptions of Nephite and Lamanite life. (I presume he gained such knowledge from his tutoring sessions with Moroni?) But I don’t know how such knowledge intersects with the translation process.

    I’m highly skeptical about the second theory, that Joseph said “horses” because he didn’t have a word that would directly translate what was on the page. The mentioning of cureloms and cumoms in the Book of Mormon indicates to me that Joseph was perfectly capable of departing from his own zoological vocabulary, and introducing a word entirely foreign to himself, when the text of the Book of Mormon called for it.

  13. Of course, he might not have been able to think of an equivalent animal for the ones mentioned, curelom etc. Maybe horse was just the closest thing. I wish we knew more about how he translated but I guess if we dont no biggie.

  14. I don’t get it. The words appreared on his sear stone. If the word horse appeared that is what he said. If it said curelom, that is what he had transcribed.
    How he translated is pretty clear. What is not clear about that?

  15. Anonymous: What is not clear is, HOW did the words appear to Joseph as he was translating, at the various stages when he used a seerstone, the Urim and Thummim, or no aids but the Holy Ghost?

    The fact that one account describes Joseph as not looking at the plates while he translated doesn’t mean he never did so while translating. I don’t even know how much to assume that the account is correct, since Joseph generally did his work screened off to one degree or another from others.

    Clearly, the process of translation required that Joseph “study it out in [his] mind” before concluding what the meaning of the plates was. So: When he translated, was he simply given the words verbatim in English? I doubt that very much. It wouldn’t require any “studying out” at all. It wouldn’t use any of his own effort. It wouldn’t involve the incorporation of his own vocabulary, influenced by the Bible and other factors.

    When he “saw a word” did he see it in English? Did he see it in the original language and have to understand in some spiritual way how to render it in English?

    There are two different things that Joseph may have been shown: (1) The words inscribed on the plates and (2)the thoughts of the inscribers. We know he had the first, in one form or another, but did he also have the second? When Joseph was figuring out what the words on the plates meant, did he also have any information about what the writers were thinking?

    I don’t know the answers to these questions. As far as I know no one else does either.

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