Abstract: In the Book of Abraham, God tells Abraham in Haran, “I cause the wind and the fire to be my chariot” (Abraham 2:7). While this initially might appear to be an anachronism, as the chariot is normally thought to have been introduced later, archaeological finds of chariots at the site of Harran predate Abraham by hundreds of years.
It has been said that “the Book of Mormon has not been universally considered by its critics as one of those books that must be read in order to have an opinion of it.”1 The same could be said of the Book of Abraham. One indication that critics do not bother to read the book is that, to date, none have bothered to comment on an apparent anachronism in the text. To spot it as an anachronism, one would have to take the Book of Abraham seriously as an ancient text, which most critics are unwilling to do. The purpose of this article is to discuss the apparent anachronism and why it is not one.
The Standard View
The standard view of chariots in Egyptian history is that one of the most important innovations of the Hyksos in Egypt was “the introduction of the horse and of the horse-drawn chariot which played so large a part in the later history of the country.”2 It is thought that “ironically, the Hyksos introduced the horse-drawn chariot and the more powerful compound bow into Egypt, both military innovations that enabled the Egyptians to compete more successfully in battle with their neighbors.”3 The “horse and horse-drawn chariot” are supposed to have appeared in Egypt “toward the very end of the Hyksos occupation.”4 Some think the [Page 300]first organized Egyptian “chariotry division” was fought at the battle of Megiddo under the Eighteenth Dynasty pharaoh Thutmosis III.5 Others assign the first Egyptian chariot battle to either Thutmosis III’s father, Thutmosis II, or grandfather, Amenhotep I.6 Some have gone so far as to argue that the introduction of the chariot forms the transition from the Middle Bronze Age to the Late Bronze Age in the Ancient Near East.7
The most famous conflict involving chariots was the battle of Qadesh where both sides, the Egyptians under Ramses II and Hittites under Muwatalis, used chariots to great effect.8 Ramses even set up a chariot depot at Joppa.9 By the reign of Ramses III, chariots were even in use in the Libyan army.10
The chariot played a role in the basic organization of the army. The typical Egyptian chariot had a driver and a soldier.11 But even large towns could scarcely muster fifty chariots.12 Being a chariot driver was a path of upward mobility: “at least a third of the viceroys between the later Eighteenth and earlier Twentieth Dynasties were drawn from the royal chariotry or royal stable-administration, a fact that probably reflects their role in the desert campaigning typical of that period.”13 By contrast, in the Middle Kingdom (and in what some would consider the beginning of the Second Intermediate Period), the army consisted of individuals with the following titles: soldier of the city regiment (ꜥnḫ n niwt),14 commander of the city regiment (ꜣṯw n niwt),15 commander-in-chief of the city regiment (ꜣṯw ꜥꜣ n niwt),16 soldier of the crew of the ruler (ꜥnḫ n ṯt ḥqꜣ),17 commander of the crew of the ruler (ꜣṯw n ṯt ḥqꜣ),18 guard (šmsw),19 guard of the palace approach (šmsw ꜥrryt),20 guard of the first battalion (šmsw n rmn tp),21 guard of the ruler (šmsw n ḥqꜣ),22 controller of the guards (sḥḏ šmsw),23 bowmen (iry pḏt),24 warrior (ꜥḥꜣwty),25 general (imy-rꜣ mšꜥ),26 chief general (imy-rꜣ mšꜥ wr),27 overseer of soldiers (imy-rꜣ mnfꜣt),28 and army scribe (sẖ n mšꜥ).29 Chariots and chariotry are conspicuously absent.
Numerous indications exist that the chariot and horse were an Asiatic import into Egypt. Chariots were often depicted as a gift from Asiatics to Egyptian pharaohs.30 The Egyptian terms for “chariot officer,” (snny) and “charioteer” (kṯn) were both imported from other languages.31 The Egyptian term for horse (ssmt) itself was borrowed from Akkadian (sisi mati).32 “Technical expressions describing the chariot, its parts and accoutrements, account for half of the military loanwords into Egypt in the New Kingdom.”33 The protective deities of Amenhotep II’s chariot were Astarte and Reshef, both foreign imports.34
[Page 301]Archaeologically, the earliest horse remains from Egypt were “discovered in situ underneath a destruction layer dating to 1675 bc within the southern fortress of Buhen.”35 Three sites, however, in the southern Levant “contain E. caballus remains that are largely contemporary with or closely predate the Buhen horse: Tel Aphek, Khirbet al-Batrawy, and Tel Michal.”36 Equid37 burials in the Second Intermediate Period Egyptian capital are solely donkeys “but in the Middle Bronze Age in Egypt and the Levant no traces are known of chariots in connection with donkey burials.”38 Horses are not as common as donkeys “due to the expenses in keeping horses, the required knowledge in their breeding, training and harnessing, or the availability of other cheaper and more easily manageable draught animals.”39 Nevertheless, a Thirteenth Dynasty foundation deposit contained a horse bone, and two horse teeth and a horse bone have been found in Fifteenth Dynasty contexts as well as “the almost articulated skeleton of a five year old mare” was found at the so-called “Hyksos Palace.”40 Other Fifteenth Dynasty finds of horse skeletons have been excavated at Tell Hebwa I, Tell el-Kebir, and Tell el-Maskhuta.41
The earliest archaeological finds of chariots from Egypt come from the tomb of Amenhotep II (KV 35). Thereafter, chariots find their way into many royal tombs.42 The earliest known textual evidence for the chariot comes from the early Eighteenth Dynasty in the reign of Ahmose I.43 The earliest iconographic evidence is found in fragmentary reliefs from Ahmose I.44 Thus the archaeological, artistic, and epigraphic evidence converges to full use of the horse and chariot by the beginning of the Eighteenth Dynasty and their introduction some time earlier.45
Introduction of the horse-drawn chariot is said not to start much earlier in Mesopotamia than it did in Egypt. In Mesopotamia, “horse-drawn chariots are a feature of the new order in the later second millennium, and do not seem to have played an important role before then.”46 Later, however, their role changed. “The war chariot was the principal instrument of frontal attack in the Late Bronze Age, while in the Neo-Assyrian period it lost much of this role, acquiring instead a chiefly ceremonial character (clearly visible in the iconography). The king still makes use of a chariot, but mainly as a means of transportation. … It is true that chariots are amply attested as part of both the Assyrian and enemy armies, in the same vein as cavalrymen (and camel drivers for the Arabs), but they do not appear to have any function in the descriptions of battle beyond the speedy transportation of select units.”47
[Page 302]Thus, the standard point of view is that both horses and chariots came into Egypt from Asia during the Hyksos period.
Abraham, however, lived before the Hyksos. The most probable time for Abraham’s life would range from the end of the Twelfth Dynasty through the beginning of the Fourteenth Dynasty. The Hyksos, on the other hand, ruled Egypt during the later Fifteenth Dynasty.48 Therefore the passage in the Book of Abraham where God tells Abraham, “I am the Lord thy God; I dwell in heaven; the earth is my footstool; I stretch my hand over the sea, and it obeys my voice; I cause the wind and the fire to be my chariot” (Abraham 2:7) would appear, at first glance, to be anachronistic. In fact, it is not. While this issue has not received noteworthy attention in works critical of the Book of Abraham, it is treated here to strengthen our understanding of a detail in the book.
The Missing Information
Of course, not everything that is claimed about the introduction of chariots is necessarily accurate. For example, some have claimed that Hurrians moving into the ancient Near East “from the Russian steppes during the sixteenth and fifteenth centuries B.C.” brought “the use of the horse and chariot,”49 although Hurrians were known in the ancient Near East at least six centuries earlier,50 and have been hypothesized to have entered over a millennium earlier bringing their Red-Black Burnished Ware with them from the Transcaucasian Kura-Araxes Region.51 “Though previously believed to be tied to a particular ethnic group, no direct link can be observed in the extant record.”52 But to focus on such matters misses a larger point. The general historical outline presented does not need to be disputed even if minor details can be. For example, “the true horse was well established in Northern Mesopotamia and Susa by the O[ld] Akk[adian] period, ca. 2400 bce.”53
The Book of Abraham, as we currently have it, ends before Abraham actually enters Egypt. It ends in the middle of a vision that God gave to Abraham before he went to Egypt to prepare him to enter Egypt (Abraham 3:15). The line about the chariot is given to Abraham when Abraham was living in Haran (Abraham 2:5–6).
So, instead of looking at when the chariot arrived in Egypt, we need to look at when it arrived in Haran.
[Page 303]The Early History of Chariots
While the chariot may not have entered Egypt until Hyksos times in the second millennium bc, it entered the Near East in the third millennium bc. The Sumerian term for chariot is written with a wheel and axle, and this is the oldest form of the sign.54 The chariot was already known in Sumer during the reign of Entemena (ca. 2400 bc), who claimed to build a chariot house (é-gešgígir-ra) at Lagash.55 A chariot appears on a cylinder seal with a Sumerian inscription dating to the Early Dynastic III Period (2500–2350 bc) from Ur.56 About the same time, there is a record of a chariot house (é-gešgígir-ra) in Mari,57 where there are also records of chariots.58 Early records from Šuruppak “list military contingents and chariots.”59
Chariots at Haran
Models of chariots have been found in early third-millennium contexts at Tell Brak, Tell Beydar, Tell Khuera, and Tell Arbid.60 Early third-millennium models (Early Jazirah II) have been found at Tell Brak, and Mari.61 Such “models became common in the northern Mesopotamian sites’ assemblages starting from the mid-3rd millennium bc, and are found at many sites, such as Tepe Gawra, Tell Arbid, Tell Barri, Tell Bi’a and Tell Selenkahiye.”62 “A general increase in quantity and type of models has been attested from the second half of the 3rd millennium bc, with models of wheeled-vehicles becoming a common category of the Syrian Jazirah terracotta assemblages.”63 Thus, the general argument is that chariots were introduced into Syria in the third millennium bc.64
Models dating to the third millennium bc have been found not only throughout the Jazirah region, along with some glyptic depictions on cylinder seals,65 but models have been found specifically at Harran.66 Thus, this was a feature of Harran for hundreds of years before God spoke to Abraham. The mention of chariots is thus no anachronism in the Book of Abraham.
Models from the Middle Bronze IA-II period, the time period of Abraham, have also been found; fourteen were found at Tell Tuqan, south of Ebla.67 Four others dating to the end of the third millennium or early second millennium were found in southeastern Anatolia and North Syria.68 So they were in the vicinity of Abraham in his day.
The Old Babylonian Chariot
An early Akkadian example of chariot (narkabtu) comes from the Old Assyrian correspondence.69 The Assyrian trading colonies were [Page 304]established by Erishum (1939–1900 bc).70 This means that it was known and used in the area where Abraham lived and during his lifetime.
In Babylonia during the Old Babylonian period (the time of Abraham), “chariots seem virtually to be confined to ceremonial occasions or ritual use in the service of the gods (now with the recently introduced horse to tow them).”71 This, in part, was due to location and the geographic features of the land. Babylon was a land of canals and waterways, “a flat alluvial plain laid down by the Tigris and the Euphrates,” whose “expanses of permanent swamp along rivers once formed a more prominent feature of the landscape than at present.”72 Mari was further upstream where “the valley of the Euphrates forms only a narrow ribbon between the zones dominated by the steppe. … At the heart of the river system are the valley and its cliffs; to either side and to the north and south, steppes stretch to the horizon, undulating and stony, with wadis that are usually dry, a land of pasture and nomadism.”73 Thus the famous king of Babylon, Hammurapi, writes to the king of Mari, Zimri-Lim: “The means (of transportation) of your land is donkeys and carts; the means of this land is boats.”74 Even if boats were the main means of transportation in Babylonia, chariots were still used. For example, Ani-ešuḫ writes to Ibni-Šamaš and Sin-iddinam in Sippar that the Kassites have messengers and chariots and are going from Babylon to Sippar.75
Chariots were used as special conveyances,76 meant for royalty or other privileged functionaries.77 They were normally pulled by donkeys;78 a supply list indicates that four donkeys were supplied for the chariot of a certain Zimri-Eraḫ,79 so it would appear that Mariote chariots used four equids. In earlier times, it appears that cattle were used to pull chariots.80 But at Mari, white horses and red horses (the former were preferable) were also used.81 Servants could also request chariots.82 Chariots could be used for long-distance travel83 but were also known to break down (iššebir). As reported in one account, “the chariot which I was riding is no more.”84 Both chariots and express chariots are found in lists at Mari.85 They could be used to transport objects like straw (in.u) and clay (im).86
Chariots were constructed by carpenters,87 and fancy ones were decorated with precious stones (na4)88 and gold.89
Chariots were used to get people places quickly.90 The Mariote official Ašqudum said that he would take his children in chariots and make it from Tillazibi (a place near Dur-Yahdun-Lim in the Saggaratum district at the confluence of the Habur and Euphrates rivers)91 to Emar (further up the Euphrates), a distance of about 200 kilometers, in three days.92
[Page 305]Even in Mari, chariots were a symbol of royalty.93 The official Sammetar tells Zimri-Lim, “Yet my lord knows that the kings of this land where I am about to go — aside from Buna-Ištar (of Kurda) and Šarraya (of Razama), who use a palanquin — they all ride a quality chariot. There are some who even ride an ordinary chariot.”94
The architecture of towns in Middle Bronze Age IIB Palestine has been argued to reflect the introduction of the chariot into that part of the Levant. The fortifications were “vast rectangular enclosures … walled in by earthen ramps and surrounded by moats. Towered gates with multiple apertures on a single axis make their appearance at many sites.”95 The gates are viewed as having been rebuilt to accommodate chariots.
By the time of Suppiluliuma I (1344–1322 bc)96 chariots were standard in Qaṭna.97 So Hannutti writes to Idanda, king of Qaṭna, “You know that Mittanni is destroyed and you are afraid of these three chariots. You will see what they will do.”98 Šarrupše also writes Idanda about the Hittite chariots and troops.99 A charioteer, Šeniya, is even mentioned.100
Other Old Babylonian Means of Transportation
Chariots were not the only prestigious form of transportation. Palanquins or sedan chairs (nūbalum) were used as early as the fourth millennium bc,101 but textually are known, principally from Mari, and “all the dated or datable attestations come from the time of Zimri-Lim.”102 These elaborate conveyances were made of wood and decorated with gold, silver, and precious stones.103 They were carried around by men104 — designated ša nūbalim, “those of the palanquin”105 — and a large number of them, eleven to forty-eight, were employed by various places.106 Not just any form of transportation was considered appropriate for royalty; Bahdi-Lim, the governor of Mari,107 writes to Zimri-Lim on the occasion of his first entry into the city108 that “since you are (first) king of the nomads and you are, second, king of Akkad (land), my lord ought not ride horses; rather, it is upon a palanquin (nubālum) or on mules (anše.ḫá kūdani) that my lord ought to ride, and in this way he can pay honor to his majesty.”109 The palanquin or “nūbalum at Mari was the royal vehicle par excellence.”110 Palanquins could also be used to transport deities, such as Itur-Mer, Lagamal, and Ikšudum.111 They could also be used to transport members of the royal family,112 or important clergy like the high-priestess of Addu,113 and even those on diplomatic missions.114 Others in the region did not feel the same way. The Turukkean king, Zaziya, remarks sarcastically, “Where is Zimri-Lim, whom you seek to be your father and behind whom you walk as he rides in a palanquin?”115 [Page 306]When serving on a diplomatic mission, Sammetar116 writes back to Zimri-Lim: “Now I fear that were I to ride a palanquin and these kings see (it), they will make a big fuss saying, ‘(he [Zimri-Lim] is) like us — yet he sent his servant [Sammetar] here by having him ride a palanquin!’ They will make a big fuss here.”117 So, “the kinglets of Upper Mesopotamian realms found the fact that an ambassador of Zimri-Lim traveled by palanquin scandalous, because some of them were not permitted such a luxury.”118 Riding in a palanquin was seen as too prestigious for just anyone to ride;119 a commoner riding in one was seen as an act of sedition.120
The wagon (mar-gid-da, ereqqu) had four wheels121 and was normally pulled by oxen.122 Wagons were especially used in northern Mesopotamia,123 where more of the ground was less swampy. It could be decorated as a luxury item.124 Because it was an expensive but useful item (it was used, for example, for hauling barley from the harvest,125 and for transportation of goods over long distances)126 that was not necessarily constantly in use by one individual or family, it could be rented out.127 Only exceptionally was it used to transport people.128 Wagons were fashioned and repaired by carpenters (nagar).129
Horse riding was clearly something that Zimri-Lim was accustomed to, however much it may have been frowned upon by the people at Mari.130 But riding horses and other animals was extremely useful in times of war. Shepallu wrote to Mutiya, king of Shekhna, that after a raid on his territories that took a number of people and livestock captive, “I mounted a horse and I went with sixty men to the town of Sabim in front of his encampment.”131 By Middle Babylonian times, when the Gilgamesh epic was composed, the use of the horse in battle was taken for granted.132 Conventional wisdom was that it could trot (lasama) for 7 beru (danna), about 76 kilometers or 47 miles, at a stretch.133
Chariots of the Gods
Chariots were not only a royal means of transportation; they were particularly a divine means of transportation and associated with deities. They were used to transport statues of deities during processions.134 “The building of a processional chariot was such an important event for the religious sensibilities of the Sumerians and Akkadians that they would date events by it.”135 For example, one of the year names of Išme-Dagan is the “year a lofty chariot was fashioned.”136 One of the month names at Mari during earlier Shakanakku times was iti dNin.ki.gigir, “the month of Ninki of the chariot,”137 who had her own temple at Mari at that time.138 “In Mesopotamian mythology the gods are frequently described as riding [Page 307]in wheeled vehicles.”139 The Sumerian myth of Ninurta describes the god Ninurta as being “on his shining chariot, which inspires terrible awe.”140 Chariots are also known for Adad, An, Baba, Bel, Belit-ile, Bunene, Ea, Enlil, Ishtar, Nabu, Ninazu, Ningirsu, Ninlil, Satran, Sin, and Utu.141 In most of these cases, the references were to actual physical chariots made for cultic purposes.142 Wagons were also used for divine processions,143 and the trip of Nergal in his wagon was a major holiday in Mari.144
Chariots of Wind and Fire
As noted earlier, it has been claimed that “horse-drawn chariots are a feature of the new order in the later second millennium, and do not seem to have played an important role before then” in Mesopotamia.145 But the Book of Abraham does not identify a horse-drawn chariot. It specifically identifies the chariot with “the wind and the fire” (Abraham 2:7). The equids drawing the war chariots in the famous Standard of Ur146 are not precisely identified, and both donkeys and onagers have been suggested.147 The use of a chariot does not necessarily entail the use of a horse. Still, horse-drawn chariots are mentioned at Mari in Old Babylonian times.148 In one Old Babylonian account (thus contemporary with Abraham), the four winds (im.limmu.ba) are depicted as mules (parê) who provide the transportation of deities.149 In another Old Babylonian account,150 the wind, particularly “a hot, humid, violent wind,”151 is thought of as an animal with wings152 that brought “most of the rain to the lands of southern Mesopotamia.”153 So the idea that the winds provided the animals that pulled a divine chariot is a known idea from Abraham’s day.
The wind is also connected with fire. A fragmentary Old Babylonian text says that when “the storm wind of the land settled on the land … it brought the [standing] fire and [the wind] in its midst.”154 So the same storm-winds that bring the chariots of the gods, also bring fire. Multiple deities, such as Girra, Gibil,155 and Nusku,156 are deifications of fire.
While the wind and the fire being the chariot of God might at first seem out of place in the Book of Abraham, these concepts are attested both archaeologically and textually in times and locations relevant to Abraham. While the apparent anachronism that is treated here may not have been noticed in past criticism of the Book of Abraham, consideration of the external data related to Abraham 2:7 may help strengthen our understanding of the Book of Abraham and its background.
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