Book of Mormon/Animals/Hens

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Hens in the Book of Mormon

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Question: Are hens anachronistic to the Book of Mormon?

There is evidence for chickens and hens in Book of Mormon times. Though it remains tenuous.

Book of Mormon Central, KnoWhy #200: Why Did Jesus Christ Compare Himself to a Hen? (Video)

The Savior speaking to the Nephites at the temple repeats the famous line from the Sermon on the Mount about a hen covering her chickens. Some have claimed that hens and chickens are anachronistic to Book of Mormon times. There is evidence to support mulitple views, including a potential loan-shift.

Book of Mormon Central has written:

Jane Allis-Pike explained, “For a metaphor to be meaningful, the reader must have a familiarity with the objects used for comparison.”[1]For people living in ancient America, chicken might have referred to an actual chicken,[2] or it could have been a loan-shift term for a fowl with similar features in the New World.[3] Turkeys, for example, were prevalent in ancient America,[4] took special care to protect their young,[5] and played a significant role in religious thought.[6]. Whatever species of fowl was represented here by the words hen and chickens,[7] audiences generally are familiar with the natural behavior of hens and their young.[8]


  1. Jane Allis-Pike, “‘How Oft Would I Have Gathered You as a Hen Gathereth Her Chickens’: The Power of the Hen Metaphor in 3 Nephi 10: 4–7,” in Third Nephi: An Incomparable Scripture, ed. Andrew C. Skinner and Gaye Strathearn (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2012), 59.
  2. Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 5:322: the “common assumption is that chickens were a post-conquest introduction into the Americas.” However, there is currently not a consensus concerning the timing and details of the chicken’s introduction to the Americas (see p. 322). See George F. Carter, “Pre-Columbian Chickens in America,” in Man Across the Sea: Problems of Pre-Columbian Contacts, ed. Carroll L. Riley, J. Charles Kelley, Campbell W. Pennington, and Robert L. Rands (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1971), 178–218; George F. Carter, “Before Columbus,” in The Book of Mormon: The Keystone Scripture, ed. Paul R. Cheesman, S. Kent Brown, and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1988), 172–176; Alice A. Storey, et al., “Radiocarbon and DNA Evidence for a Pre-Columbian Introduction of Polynesian Chickens to Chile,” PNAS 104, no. 25 (2007): 10335–10339. For further references, see Allis-Pike, “How Oft Would I Have Gathered You,” 60 n. 6.
  3. Allis-Pike, “How Oft Would I Have Gathered You,” 60: “many ground-feeding birds—quail, chickens, pheasants, turkeys—gather their offspring under their wings, and since the Book of Mormon is a translated work, the words hen and chicken may simply be the English signifiers of a bird that did exist among the Lehites. Regardless of the actual bird the New World survivors knew, we can assume they would have been familiar with a bird that gathered its offspring under its wings.” For a more thorough explanation of loan-shifting and translation, see Book of Mormon Central, “Why Are Horses Mentioned in the Book of Mormon? (Enos 1:21),” KnoWhy 75 (April 11, 2016). For a specific example of “turkey” as a loan-shifted term for “chicken,” see Allen J. Christenson, Popol Vuh: Sacred Book of the Quiché Maya People: Translation and Commentary (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007), 87: “In modern Quiché usage, ak' refers to chickens, which were introduced by the Spaniards soon after the Conquest. The Precolumbian ak' was the domesticated turkey (Meleagris ocellata). Colonial period dictionaries often refer to the turkey as kitzih ak' (true ak') to distinguish it from the chicken introduced from Europe.”
  4. See Erin Kennedy Thorton, Kitty F. Emery, Devid W. Steadman, Camilla Speller, Ray Matheny, and Dongya Yang, “Earliest Mexican Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) in the Maya Region: Implications for Pre-Hispanic Animal Trade and the Timing of Turkey Domestication,” PLoS ONE 7, no. 8 (2012): e42630; Benjamin S. Arbuckle and Sue Ann McCarty, “Animals and Inequality in the Ancient World: An Introduction,” in Animals and Inequality in the Ancient World, ed. Benjamin S. Arbuckle and Sue Ann McCarty (Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2014), 33; Erin Kennedy Thorton, “Zooarchaeological and Isotopic Perspectives on Ancient Maya Economy and Exchange,” FAMSI, 2008, 4, online at
  5. See “Wild Turkey Parenting,” eMammal, September 6, 2013, online at; Karen Davis, “A Mother Turkey and Her Young: ‘Their Kind and Careful Parent,’” Poultry Press 17, no. 3 (2007): 2: “During the first few weeks of life, young turkeys sleep on the ground under their mother’s wings. After a month or so, they leave the ground and fly at night to a large low branch, where they ‘place themselves under the deeply curved wings of their kind and careful parent, dividing themselves for that purpose into two nearly equal parties.’”
  6. See Ana Luisa Izquierdo y de la Cueva and María Elena Vega Villalobos, “The Ocellated Turkey in Maya Thought,” PARI Journal 16, no. 4 (2016): 15–23.
  7. The English word hen, like the Greek word ornis in Matthew 23:37, can be used to mean many kinds of female birds, including female turkeys, quail, or pheasants. While the word chickens here could well point to the young chicks of regular chickens, the Greek word used in Matthew 23:37 for chickens is nossia, which can mean the young offspring of birds generally. In Psalms 84:3 it refers to the chicks of a sparrow, and in Leviticus 12:8; 14:22; and Luke 2:24 it is used in the expression “two young doves.”
  8. From linked KnoWhy. Citations retained for easy reference.