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The horse was the latest and strongest transport animal to be developed; it spread rapidly, first over Eurasia and N Africa, later to the Americas and Australasia, escaping and becoming feral in suitable areas. Everywhere it has become the most important beast of burden and an intimate associate of man, next only to the dog. This factor may have helped to fix a prejudice against eating horsemeat in Eng.-speaking lands. This was forbidden to the Heb. for, like its close relative the ass, the horse is single-hoofed and does not ruminate; there is no obvious hygienic basis for this ban.
Zeuner sets out in detail the archeological and zoological evidence of the horse’s early history and this section owes much to his research. The equines once formed four groups, fairly distinct geographically. a. The zebras in E and S Africa; sporadic attempts to use them had only temporary success. b. The true asses of N and NE Africa, from which the donkey is derived (see Ass). c. The half-asses from the dry belt running from Pal. eastward to the Gobi Desert (see Wild Ass). d. The horses of the grassy lowlands of Eurasia N of the great mountain ranges. All four groups were divided into local species or races. Of the true horses, only Przewalski’s, the E race, survives precariously in Mongolia and some zoo parks. It stands about forty inches at the shoulder and is reddish brown, the hair becoming longer and paler in winter; the mane is dark brown. Like all equines it runs in herds. The W race was the tarpan, of which the last known specimen died in 1851 in the Ukraine. It was a small gray-brown horse with upright mane and the chief ancestor of the many breeds of domestic horses today, with the Plains of Turkestan a likely center of domestication, though not the only one.
Undoubtedly this occurred later than with the sheep, goat, ox and ass but nothing is known of its early pattern. Oxen had long been used for pulling wheeled carts, and with the fertile patches of plains country becoming exhausted and dried out (as happened after a few centuries of primitive agriculture) the need for faster draught animals might have prompted the farmers to catch and tame these wild horses. The actual means remains a mystery; modern man has achieved nothing like it, other than the catching and training of a few zebras. Regarding its original domestication, this must have been during the 3rd millennium b.c. but evidence prior to 2000 b.c. is not reliable. The Sumerians mention the horse in proverbs from c. 2100 b.c. but apparently did not use it. The horse first found regular mention about 1,800 b.c., though it was not yet important, for Hammurabi’s law (c. 1750 b.c.) does not list it. Within the next fifty years it spread rapidly to the SW including Asia, Palestine, and Egypt, where it arrived in the Hyksos era not many decades before Joseph came to power. This spread, which took it as far as Troy, resulted from its use in war chariots. Whatever its purpose when first brought into service, the horse added a new dimension to invading armies.
The horse in Biblical narrative.
Solomon made no attempt to obey God on this point and within a year or so of becoming king he had built stables for 4,000 horses (
There is nothing about the horse’s biology or habits in the many Biblical contexts, in contrast to other major animals.
The horse’s place in the Scriptures contrasts markedly with the ass. Of over 140 occurrences only about 50 are truly literal; the rest, with all the fifteen NT references (except horsemen,
G. S. Cansdale, Animals and Man (1952); F. E. Zeuner, A History of Domesticated Animals (1963).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
The common names are (1) cuc, and
(3) The word parash, "horseman," occurs often, and in several cases is translated "horse" or "warhorse" (
(4) The feminine form cucah, occurs in
(5) The word ’abbirim, "strong ones," is used for horses in
(6) For [~rekhesh (compare Arabic rakad, "to run"), in
(7) For kirkaroth (
(8) ’achashteranim, and
(9) bene ha-rammakim, which have been variously translated. the King James Version has respectively "camels" and "young dromedaries," the Revised Version (British and American) "used in the king’s service" and "bred of the stud," the Revised Version margin "mules" and "young dromedaries."
The Hebrew and Egyptian names for the horse are alike akin to the Assyrian. The Jews may have obtained horses from Egypt (
The horses of the Bible are almost exclusively war-horses, or at least the property of kings and not of the common people. A doubtful reference to the use of horses in threshing grain is found in
4. Figurative and Descriptive:
The horse is referred to figuratively chiefly in Zechariah and Revelation. A chariot and horses of fire take Elijah up to heaven (