This post is a summary of the article “‘The Wind and the Fire to Be My Chariot’: The Anachronism that Wasn’t” by John Gee in Volume 50 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship.
The full article can be read at https://interpreterfoundation.org/the-wind-and-the-fire-to-be-my-chariot-the-anachronism-that-wasnt/.
An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at https://interpreterfoundation.org/interpreting-interpreter-on-abstracting-thought/.
Gee details an item that critics might look to as an anachronism–in this case, a reference to chariots in the Book of Abraham–and demonstrates how the issue disappears upon a closer reading of both the text and the historical record.
In this paper, John Gee takes a close look at the archaeological history of chariots in the ancient Near East, using that history to provide an example of how a cursory or mistaken reading of that history could lead one to see mistakes and anachronisms in scripture. Gee’s key point of reference is the phrase "I cause the wind and fire to be my chariot" in Abraham 2:7, showing how if a person: 1) assumes that Abraham is making a reference to chariots specifically in Egypt, or 2) is ignorant of the evidence regarding chariots in Abraham’s homeland of Haran, an apparent anachronism would arise.
Gee begins by providing a review of the mainstream historical perspective on the presence of chariots in ancient Egypt. He notes the purported origin of horse-drawn chariots at the tail end of the reign of the Hyksos (around 1550 bc), those chariots’ use in important battles in the dynasties that followed, and the integral role the chariot played in how Egyptian armies were organized. He also notes the earliest archaeological indications of horses in the region, dating to 1675 bc, and of chariots themselves around 1400 bc (in the tomb of Amenhotep II). Gee ends this review by briefly noting the history of the chariot in Mesopotamia, which does not trace much earlier than in Egypt.
It’s here that Gee notes the problem: that Abraham lived before the Hyksos arrived, between approximately 1780 and 1650 bc, placing the reference to chariots in the Book of Abraham at least a century before chariots arrived in Egypt. Though this apparent discrepancy may be due to errors in the mainstream perspective on Egyptian chariots (i.e., with some believing that horses entered the area up to a millennium earlier), the major flaw in such an anachronism is that it’s based on a misunderstanding of the text–the Book of Abraham ends before Abraham even enters Egypt, and the reference to chariots takes place while Abraham is living in Haran.
Gee then moves on to describing the history of chariots in the more northern parts of the Near East, which places the entry of the chariot at closer to 2500 bc. He details various areas in Syria and northern Mesopotamia where chariot models have been found, including some specifically at Harran (the Turkish city generally associated with the Haran of Abraham). According to Gee, "this means that [the chariot] was known and used in the area where Abraham lived and during his lifetime."
After reviewing how chariots would’ve been used in the time and region of Abraham (i.e., as a means of conveyance for elites–including for long-distance travel–being pulled most often by donkeys or cattle, but also by horses), as well as what other means of transportation were available (i.e., palanquins and wagons, Gee concludes by showing the potential symbolic roots of Abraham’s reference to chariots. In Abraham 2:7, it is God who is saying that he would use the wind and fire as his chariot; in the ancient Near East, chariots were often portrayed as a divine means of transportation, with the wind (particularly a hot, violent wind, one often connected with fire), being sometimes portrayed as a winged animal that could’ve pulled the chariots of the divine.
In addition to providing an interesting history lesson on chariots in the ancient Near East, the real value of Gee’s article may be its implicit lesson on how false anachronisms can arise even in authentic texts. A valid perspective of a text’s place in history requires both an accurate understanding of the text and an accurate understanding of history. Missing the mark on either or both can quickly turn truth into falsehood. This is especially the case when, unlike for chariots in Haran, that understanding may be lost to time—inaccessible even to the most careful readers and the most rigorous archaeologists.
It’s true that, as Gee points out several times, no critics have treated chariots in the Book of Abraham as an anachronism. But it’s easy to see how they might have chosen to do so, especially if the evidentiary dice had fallen a little differently. We can also see clear echoes to other proposed anachronisms, past and present, that have been built on an uncertain foundation of evidence, a problematic reading of the text, or both. When the next anachronism inevitably comes into critical fashion, I’ll be sure to give an appreciative thought to Gee and his chariots.