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The Book of Mormon mentions many animals and plants. Some argue that little scientific evidence has been found supporting the existence of these fauna and flora during Book of Mormon times on the American continent, where the Book of Mormon took place. These "missing" animals and plants include horses, elephants, cattle, swine, bees, barley, and wheat. This has led some to criticize the Book of Mormon; critics suggest that these idiosyncrasies prove that the book is not an authentic ancient text. For those who choose critical thinking over blind criticizing, these apparent contradictions are of little concern.
When the Book of Mormon peoples reached the American continent from the Old World, they doubtlessly encountered many new and exotic species. They likely sought to describe these new species in terms with which they were familiar. History is full of this kind of behavior. The Greeks called the hippopotamus a "water horse," despite the fact that the horse and the hippopotamus are not related species. Several languages refer to potatoes as "earth apples," despite the fact that apples and potatoes are unrelated. The Spaniards arrived in the Americas and encountered many unknown species; they referred to the Yucatan deer as a "kind of little wild goat," the bison as a "cow," the turkey as a "peacock," the antelope as a "sheep," the tapir as "a species of buffalo of the size and somewhat looking like an ass," the prickly pear as a "fig," and American maize as "wheat." Even English offers some pertinent examples; a "star fish" is not really a fish at all, but is like a fish in that it lives in the sea. Likewise, mountain lions are not lions, sea horses are not horses, and hedgehogs are not hogs. In all these cases, people chose to describe new species in terms of known species.
So what might the authors of the Book of Mormon have meant when they referred to horses, elephants, cattle, swine, bees, barley, and wheat? Let's consider this question on a case-by-case basis.Horses.
Horses were native to the American continent in pre-Columbian times; in fact, the horse originally evolved in the Western Hemisphere. While small pockets of this species may have survived into Book of Mormon times (remains of a horse were found in one archeological site dating to 100 B.C.), evidence suggests that most horse populations were extinct in the Americas before then.
In Hebrew, the oral language of the founders of the Book of Mormon people, the word for horse is "sus." "Sus" has a root meaning of "to leap" and can refer to other leaping animals. Perhaps the Book of Mormon peoples referred to the Mesoamerican deer, which also leaps, as a "horse." The tapir or the llama could also have been considered horses.Elephants.
The Book of Mormon describes elephants in the Americas around 2500 B.C. Scientists agree that elephants (mastodons and mammoths) existed on the American continent anciently but are uncertain about the exact date of their extinction. There is substantial evidence, however, that elephants or elephant-like creatures did exist on the American continent around the time the Book of Mormon claims. Recently, butchered mastodon bones were found in a New-World archeological site dating to around the time of Christ. Another site dating to about 100 B.C. has yielded mammoth and mastodon remains as well.Cattle.
The Hebrew word "b'hemah" is sometimes translated as "cattle" in the Old Testament. In reality, it can refer to "any large quadruped or animal." The Hebrew word "s'eh" is also sometimes translated as "cattle" in the Bible, but it can mean any type of sheep or goat. There are many New-World species that might qualify as a "large quadruped" or a "goat." Book of Mormon peoples could have referred to any one of these species as "cattle."Swine.
There is a species in Mesoamerica, where most Mormon scholars believe the Book of Mormon took place, called the peccary. Peccaries look very much like domesticated pigs and could have easily been called "swine."Honey Bees.
The Book of Mormon does not actually mention bees in the Western Hemisphere; only in the Eastern Hemisphere. Nevertheless, many have criticized the Book of Mormon. In fact, there was a species of honey-producing bee in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus. Melipona beecheii
is a species of bee used by the Maya to this day.Barley.
Many have criticized the Book of Mormon because it mentions barley, a crop that was long thought to be native to the Eastern Hemisphere. In 1983, scientists discovered a form of pre-Columbian domesticated barley in Arizona. Whether or not this is the barley of the Book of Mormon cannot be known, but, if not, there are many other New-World plant species that resemble barley. Even in English, we refer to some native American plant species as "foxtail barley," "dwarf barley," "Arizona barley," "California barley," "Stebbin's barley," etc.Wheat.
There are many Mesoamerican plants that could have been called "wheat," including amaranth, huauzontle, chia, fox-tail millet, 'perennial corn,' and Chalco teosinte. Again, even in English we call some native plant species "wheat" because they have a wheat-like appearance.