Horses and Bridles in the Book of Mormon
by Ted Dee Stoddard
BMAF Board of Advisors
Gullible is a word that perhaps describes one expected reader’s reaction to Linda and Richard Eyre’s recent article in Mormon Times, “Using Alma’s Horse and Bridle Analogy with Kids” (Mormon Times, July 7, 2011).
This rebuttal to the Eyres’ article is not in response to their metaphorical use of horses and bridles to reinforce their point about parenting, “Children have metaphorical minds and will remember and retain the talks we have that connect to something that they know and can relate to.” The issue here is their illogical, unfounded, and even deceptive perspective that Book of Mormon peoples had horses.
Linda and Richard say, “Alma used a great analogy with his middle son, Shiblon—that of a horse and a bridle (Alma 38:12). We can use the same metaphor effectively with our young children.”
Through this statement, the Eyres blithely expect their readers to believe that the Nephites had horses that required bridles. However, they distort the scripture by changing the word bridle as found in Alma 38:12 from a transitive verb to a noun: “See that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love.” Nothing in this statement in any way has anything to do with horses, and to suggest to readers that it does reflects either ignorance or intentional deceptiveness on the part of the Eyres.
As used in Alma 38:12, bridle is a transitive verb whose meaning is clearly explained in Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary, American Dictionary of the English Language: “To restrain, guide or govern; to check, curb or control; as, to bridle the passions.” Clearly, Alma—or Mormon—is talking about restraining, guiding, governing, checking, curbing, or controlling the passions through the word that was eventually translated as bridle by Joseph Smith. However, the verse says or implies nothing that can be associated with bridling a horse. Thus, the 1828 dictionary definition is undoubtedly the meaning that Joseph intended in his 1829 translation of the verse.
Many readers of the Book of Mormon, whether novices or scholars, rather naturally and naively assume that Book of Mormon peoples had horses—probably because the readers grew up reading about the use of horses by the Plains Indians of the United States. Such readers typically receive quite a shock or jolt when they discover the historical fact that horses as we know them in South, Middle, and North America were brought here by the Spanish conquistadors and were nonexistent in the Americas during Book of Mormon times.
If we ascribe even the slightest credibility to the outcomes of archaeological, anthropological, and historical studies of the Americas, we will conclude that Book of Mormon peoples did not own or use horses as we think of horses today. Frankly, Book of Mormon readers, writers, illustrators, and scholars should recognize that fact and let it support and enhance their testimonies that Joseph Smith indeed translated the Book of Mormon exactly as he claimed—by the gift and power of God. That is, the word horse in the Book of Mormon in every instance must be examined from the perspective of the translation process. Perhaps the best evidence that Joseph did not make a critical error of ascribing nonexistent horses to Book of Mormon peoples is associated with the warfare accounts of the Book of Mormon. In that respect, all armies in the Book of Mormon were marching armies. Nowhere among the warfare accounts do we find any support for thinking that Nephites or Lamanites used horses for warfare purposes. Had Joseph Smith depicted Helaman mounted on a horse while commanding the stripling warriors, as Arnold Friberg does, critics would have indisputable evidence—based on archaeological, anthropological, and historical studies of the Americas—that Joseph Smith was a fraud.
(For one comprehensive account that attempts to explain the occurrences of the word horse in the Book of Mormon, see “‘I Will Cut Off Thy Horses Out of the Midst of Thee’: The Issue of the Word Horse in the Book of Mormon,” found on the BMAF website at www.bmaf.org/node/198. Rebuttal responses are encouraged.)