Cattle in the New World

Cattle in the New World

The Book of Mormon claims that both the Nephites and the Jaredites had “cattle,” yet there is no evidence of domestication of cows in the New World prior to the arrival of the Spaniards.

Book of Mormon ChineseThere are seven references to cattle in the Book of Mormon. Of these, two are citations from the Old Testament (2 Nephi 17:25; Mosiah 13:18). One reference occurs in the land of Nephi during the time of Enos (Enos 1:21), three occur in the land of Zarahemla near the time of Christ (3 Nephi 3:22; 4:4; 6:1) and one occurs during the reign of the Jaredite king Emer (Ether 9:18). While in our day we tend to associate the term “cattle” with cows, the Hebrew terms rendered “cattle” in the King James version (KJV) of the Bible can include other herd quadrupeds as well. The Hebrew word behemah, for example, mean any large quadruped or animal. Another word that is sometimes translated as “cattle” is the Hebrew seh, usually denoting smaller quadrupeds. The term miqneh, often rendered “cattle” in KJV, denotes herd animals; the word really denotes wealth. In Genesis 30:32, Jacob proposes to his father-in-law Laban, “I will pass through all thy flock [so’n] to day, removing from thence all the speckled and spotted cattle [seh], and all the brown cattle [seh] among the sheep [keseb], and the spotted and speckled among the goats [ez].” In Isaiah 7:25, KJV translates seh as “lesser cattle” to contrast with “oxen” (shor, “bull”) in the same verse. Note, too, the generic usage of some of the “cattle” terms in the Bible:

Exodus 34:19: “every firstling among thy cattle [miqneh], whether ox [shor] or sheep [seh].”

Leviticus 27:26: “Only the firstling of the beasts [plural of behemah], which should be the Lord’s firstling, no man shall sanctify it; whether it be ox [shor], or sheep [seh].”

In light of these examples, the term “cattle” in the Book of Mormon could denote various New World herd animals suitable for domestication, including deer, which are known to have been domesticated by some Native Americans.

Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, Charles A. Briggs, eds., A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), 96-97.

Ibid., 961-62.