Question: Why is the "Ass" (Donkey) mentioned in the Book of Mormon?

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Question: Why is the "Ass" (Donkey) mentioned in the Book of Mormon?

The only clue to the role of the "ass" in Nephite society is a reference those in bondage bearing of their burdens like "a dumb ass"

Brazilian Tapir (wikipedia.com)

The only clue to the role of the "ass" in Nephite society comes from Mosiah 12:5 and Mosiah 21:3, in which those in bondage bear burdens like "a dumb ass."

Other mentions occur in 1 Nephi 18:25 and Mosiah 5:14, while Mosiah 13:24 is a quotation of the Ten Commandments.

"Ass" has been suggested as a loanshift for the tapir, which many have described in decidedly horse-like terms. [1][2]

In addition, some modern tapir enthusiasts indicate that tapirs are likely unsuitable for raising in herds (not being herd animals, they tend to fight), but [P]eople in the tapirs' native countries will keep individuals to fatten them up for food, though...some are pretty tame and others can be extremely dangerous...They're big, heavy and strong, have powerful jaws and teeth, and they can move very fast." [3]

A modern government report indicates that

The tapir is docile toward man and hence management of the animal is relatively easy. An indigenous person describes the tapir as follows: "The animal is very sociable. Taken as a pup, one can easily tame it; it knows how to behave near the house; it goes to eat in the mountain and then returns to sleep near the house." [4]

It would seem that at least a limited role for the tapir is not out of the question, either as a food source (tapirs make up between 7-10% of the diet in rural Amazonia)[5] or as a potential beast of burden on a small scale (given their strength). Charles Darwin even noted that tapirs were kept tame in the Americas, though they did not tend to breed in captivity. [6]

Notes

  1. "Horses in the Book of Mormon" (Provo: Utah, FARMS, 2000). off-site
  2. See, for example, the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911 edition for horse.
  3. Sheryl Todd, "The Tapir Gallery, the Tapir Preservation Fund," Tapir Gallery archive (7 May 1997, 14:03:06 -6h00), (last accessed 22 October 2005) off-site
  4. Joseph Henry Vogel, "White paper: The Successful Use of Economic Instruments to Foster Sustainable Use of Biodiversity: Six Case Studies from Latin America and the Caribbean," Biopolicy Journal, Vol. 2, Paper 5 (PY97005), 1997. off-site
  5. OAS.org off-site (last accessed 22 October 2005).
  6. Charles Darwin, The Variation of Plants and Animals Under Domestication, Vol. 2, (1868), 86. off-site