Book of Mormon/Chariots

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Chariots in the Book of Mormon

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Question: In what context are chariots mentioned in the Book of Mormon?

Book of Mormon Central, KnoWhy #126: What is the Nature and Use of Chariots in the Book of Mormon? (Video)

The Book of Mormon mentions "chariots," which one assumes to be a wheeled vehicle. It is also claimed that no draft animals existed in the New World to pull such chariots. It should be remembered that chariots do not play a major role in the Book of Mormon. They are mentioned in the following contexts:

Quotations from Old World scriptures

Apocalyptic teachings in Old World style

  • 3 Nephi 21:14 - Jesus speaks of "horses and chariots" in a symbolic and apocalyptic address

Used in conjunction with horses

  • Alma 18:9 - Ammon feeds the Lamanite king's horses, which are associated with his "chariots."
  • Alma 20:6 - Lamanite king uses horses and chariot for visit to neighboring kingdom
  • 3 Nephi 3:22 - Nephites "had taken their horses, and their chariots" to a central fortified area for protection against robbers

(It should be noted that we are not told if these chariots served a purpose in riding, or if they were for transport of goods, or if they had a ceremonial function. One assumes some sort of practicality or ritual importance in war, since they brought chariots to the siege.)

Conspicuously absent is any role of the chariot in the many journeys recorded in the Book of Mormon. Nor do horses or chariots play any role in the many Nephite wars; this is in stark contrast to the Biblical account, in which the chariots of Egypt, Babylon, and the Philistines are feared super-weapons upon the plains of Israel.

Gardner: "a correct approach to a Mesoamerican battle required all three elements: king, litter, and battle beast"

Wrote Mesoamerican expert Brant Gardner, who believes the Book of Mormon was situated in Mesoamerica:

Regardless of the reason for the presence of "horse" and "chariot" in the text, we must still deal with the question of what the original text might have meant the animal and conveyance that Joseph translated as "horse" and "chariot" to be. From this point on, all is speculation—but speculation consistent with the Mesoamerican world.

The wording describing horses and chariots is at least suggestive that the king would be transported in connection with the horse and chariot: "they should prepare his horses and chariots, and conduct him forth." "Conduct him" does not necessarily mean that Lamoni was conducted in the horse/chariot. Indeed, verse 9 mentions horses and chariots, but only the king is "conducted." It is possible that we are dealing with several ritual objects rather than a conveyance. Verse 12, however, does suggest that conveyances are available for the king and his servants; but if would be highly unusual for servants to ride in a culture where everyone walks. Riding would confer upon them the same social status as the king—not to be thought of unless chariots were so common that they were in universal use. And nothing in the text suggests that they were.

If we are dealing with a conveyance, there is a Mesoamerican possibility. A king might be conveyed in a litter, but the litters were carried by men, not pulled by animals. However, an interesting connection between the litter and an animal occurs on what has been termed a battle litter. Freidel, Schele, and Parker note:

Lintel 2 of Temple 1 shows Hasaw-Ka'an-K'awil wearing the balloon headdress of Tlaloc-Venus warfare adopted at the time of the Waxaktun conquest, and holding the bunched javelins and shield, the original metaphors for war imported from Teothuacan. He sits in majesty on the litter that carried him into battle, while above him hulks Waxkluha=un-Ubah-Kan, the great War serpent.... Graffiti drawings scratched on the walls of Tikal palaces, depicting the conjuring of supernatural beings from the Otherworld, prove that these scenes were more than imaginary events seen only by the kings. Several of these elaborate doodles show the great litters of the king with his protector beings hovering over him while he is participating in ritual. These images are not the propaganda of rulers, created in an effort to persuade the people of the reality of the supernatural events they were witnessing. They are the poorly drawn images of witnesses, perhaps minor members of lordly families, who scratched the wonders that they saw during moments of ritual into the walls of the places where they lived their lives.

Thus, Maya art represents the king riding on a litter. In battle, capturing the litter was tantamount to capturing that king's gods. However, the graffiti litters at least open the possibility that these were simply formal litters and not limited to battle context. These litters were accompanied by a "battle beast," or an animal alter ego, embodied in the regalia of the king and litter. Thus, a correct approach to a Mesoamerican battle required all three elements: king, litter, and battle beast.

If Joseph Smith, while translating, came upon an unfamiliar idea but which seemed to describe a kingly conveyance associated with an animal, would it not have seemed logical to him to describe it as a horses and chariot for the king? I see the plausible underlying conveyance as an elaborate royal litter, accompanied in peacetime by the spiritual animal associated with the king. This animal was a type of alter-ego for the king, and was called the way [pronounced like the letter "Y"]....[1]

Gardner's case may be strengthened by the mention of chariots being brought to the lengthy siege in 3 Nephi—suggesting again a possible ritual use associated with warfare.

The most frequent loan-shift applied to the horses by the native americans who first received the Spaniards was "dog". This was the case 45% of the time. Images of these conveyances associated with what appear to be dogs have been documented before. [2]

Rappleye: "In Maya art from the Classic period (ca. AD 300–900), at least, an animal (often a dog) is frequently depicted as traveling near the litter as part of the entourage, thus indicating that both animal and royal litter would need to be made ready for a royal visit."

Another important thing to remember is that the Book of Mormon is a translation, and translations sometimes create anachronisms, or at least misconceptions, that were not there in the original text. The King James Bible, for example, frequently mentions candles and candlesticks, yet ancient Jews and Israelites did not use candles, but rather oil lamps, thus more contemporary translations properly use lamps and lampstands instead.

Although not strictly an anachronism in the Biblical world, the use of chariot in the King James rendering of Song of Solomon 3:9 is another example where the translation may create a misunderstanding. The Hebrew word here is afiryon, which actually refers to a litter or palanquin, which is “an enclosed couch carried by bearers.” This interesting bit of trivia may be relevant to references to chariots in the Book of Mormon.

Although late-19th century French archaeologist Désiré Charnay actually reported finding “chariots” in Mexico, these were merely “toys,” or figurines. No chariot-like wheeled vehicles have yet been found in pre-Columbian America, but litters or palanquins like that mentioned in the Song of Solomon were known and widely used for royal visits in Mesoamerica as early as the Late Preclassic period (ca. 300–50 BC). Although such a “chariot” would not be drawn by horses, it is important to notice that neither are the chariots in the Book of Mormon ever described as being pulled by horses, but rather are simply prepared with horses. In Maya art from the Classic period (ca. AD 300–900), at least, an animal (often a dog) is frequently depicted as traveling near the litter as part of the entourage, thus indicating that both animal and royal litter would need to be made ready for a royal visit.

The chariots of Lamoni are twice made ready for occasions not unlike those in which royal litters would be used to “conduct [the king] forth” (Alma 18:9) in Mesoamerica. Understanding the Book of Mormon in the context of translations, with the difficulties and imprecisions that all translations come with, can thus accommodate the mention of chariots, but it creates a considerably different picture than what we are used to envisioning here.[3]

See FairMormon Evidence:
More information on chariots in the Book of Mormon


  1. Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 Vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 4:287–288. Footnotes and one obvious typographical error have been silently omitted. Italics added to the internal quotation.
  2. "Put Away Childish Things: Learning to Read the Book of Mormon with Mature Historical Understanding" by Neal Rappleye; FairMormon Conference 2017 - pg. 23
  3. Neal Rappleye, "Put Away Childish Things: Learning to Read the Book of Mormon with Mature Historical Thought," FairMormon Conference 2014.