The Impact of Inclusion Versus Noninclusion

 In several instances, the point has been made that what is not included about horses in the Book of Mormon may be more significant than what is included. Those comments refer specifically to the fact that the Book of Mormon does not mention horses in connection with the following activities commonly associated with horses:

Conveying riders on their backs

  • Pulling conveyances such as carts or wagons
  • Working in agricultural pursuits as draft animals
  • Assisting with military campaigns
  • Assisting in the construction of buildings or cities

             Obviously, if Joseph Smith were going to err unintentionally and thereby commit a critical error in using the word horse in the Book of Mormon, he undoubtedly would have referred to horses in one or more of the above instances. That he did not is perhaps much more significant than the other instances involving his use of the word horse.

             The Book of Mormon reflects numerous accounts in which horses would have been invaluable as a resource for riding, pulling, or assisting. If horses had been available to the Nephites and Lamanites, surely they would have utilized the horses for the betterment of their civilizations. That they did not is a testament to the fact that Joseph translated the record correctly without committing a critical error—although he easily could have done so if he had authored the Book of Mormon himself rather than translated it. That is, from his environment and perspective, he probably did not realize that horses became a part of Lehi’s descendants’ lives through the Spanish conquerors rather than via the horses’ domestication as wilderness mammals. Linda Schele and David Freidel succinctly and authoritatively make the point that the Maya of Mesoamerica did not have access to horses:

There are certain things about the . . . kind of “technology” available to the ancient Maya that help people of the [twenty-first] century to understand a little better what their lives were really like. They were . . . a stone age people. . . . All they accomplished was done by means of stone tools, utilizing human beings as their beasts of burden: No animals large enough to carry cargo lived in Mesoamerica before the coming of the Spanish.37

            For whatever reason, the Book of Mormon contains many accounts of warfare activities. In depicting one of those activities based on his life and perceptions, the account of Helaman’s leading the two thousand stripling warriors, Arnold Friberg committed what is probably a critical error. In his painting, Friberg pictures Helaman riding a large military horse as Helaman leads the stripling warriors in Alma 53–58. The Book of Mormon record itself does not support Friberg’s perceptions, even though Friberg, “as he does in all of his Scriptural paintings, . . . tries to show that the events were not allegorical; they really happened, to real people. . . . This was the task confronting him as he sought to translate the Book of Mormon onto canvas.”38 Or, as Friberg himself says, “Through my paintings, I bear witness to the truth as I understand it.”39

            The point here is that Joseph Smith could just as easily have made similar critical errors in connection with military conquests in the Book of Mormon if he had relied strictly on his own perceptions instead of translating the accounts of military conquests.

            The horse has been identified as one of the key reasons that a tiny force of about four hundred Spanish conquistadors were able to overthrow a powerful empire of at least eleven million people.40 Military domination by either the Nephites or the Lamanites would have been just as dramatic if either had had the horse to assist with military campaigns.

            How do the words of the Book of Mormon describe military campaigns? The record contains numerous accounts about military campaigns, and they are all consistent. The armies of the Book of Mormon were marching armies that did not have the benefit of horses. Here are a few instances out of dozens that show the marching, rather than the horseback riding, nature of Book of Mormon armies:

  • Amalickiah commanded that his armies should march forth and see what had happened to the king (Alma 47:27; emphasis added).
  • Teancum made preparations to make an attack upon the city of Mulek, and march forth with his army against the Lamanites (Alma 52:17; emphasis added).
  • Moroni and his army, by night, marched in the wilderness, on the west of the city Mulek (Alma 52:22; emphasis added).
  • [The Lamanites] were wearied because of their march, and the men of Lehi were fresh (Alma 52:28; emphasis added).
  • Helaman did march at the head of his two thousand stripling soldiers (Alma 53:22; emphasis added).
  • Antipus did march forth with a part of his army, leaving the remainder to maintain the city (Alma 56:33; emphasis added).
  • Coriantumr did march forth at the head of his numerous host, and came upon the inhabitants of the city, and their march was with such exceedingly great speed that there was no time for the Nephites to gather together their armies (Helaman 1:19; emphasis added).
    1. Zemnarihah did give command unto his people that they should withdraw themselves from the siege, and march into the furthermost parts of the land northward (3 Nephi 4:23; emphasis added).

            Furthermore, by looking at Book of Mormon references that contain such words as travel, traveled, traveling, journey, journeyed, journeying, sally, sallying, and so forth, Book of Mormon readers will clearly discern that Book of Mormon peoples walked to get from one location to another. They did not ride horses. If Joseph Smith had authored the Book of Mormon rather than translated it, as a result of his environment and perceptions, he probably would have made the critical error of providing horses for the people to ride as they moved from one location to another. After all, that was undoubtedly his perception of Lamanites based on the continental United States Native Americans’ use of horses in the West of his day. He was, however, true to the record itself and did not make this critical error. Here again is an instance in which what is not said in the Book of Mormon about horses is just as significant, if not more significant, than what is said.