Evidences of Mormon
A compilation and review of the claims made by the Book of Mormon compared against non-apologetic data

The Book of Mormon cow and ox

The Book of Mormon claims that the cow and the ox were found in the Americas. This article examines the following points:

Appears doubtfulAppears doubtful
The bos taurus cow and ox in the pre-Columbian era

There is no evidence to suggest that the bos taurus cow and ox existed in the Americas prior to Columbus.
A native cow and ox of the bovinae genus in the pre-Columbian era

There are two genera of the bovinae genus that are native to the American continent which term their genders as cow and ox. One of these is sometimes disputed as belonging with the bos subgenus.
Baby cow of the bison genus
Quotable SummaryShow

The cow and the ox according to the Book of Mormon

The word cow is mentioned four times in the Book of Mormon. Three of these instances are prophetic statements, and not claims. However the Book of Mormon does contain one claim that states that there were cows in the New World. This is found in 1 Nephi 18:25:

"And it came to pass that we did find upon the land of promise, as we journeyed in the wilderness, that there were beasts in the forests of every kind, both the cow and the ox, …"

The prophetic verses that contain cow or ox are 2 Nephi 17:21, 2 Nephi 21:7, and 2 Nephi 30:13. Ox is also mentioned in Mosiah 13:24 in a similar manner.

The cow and ox in the Americas

As far as I'm aware, there has never been any archeological discovery of remains of the bos taurus cow or its male counterpart in the western hemisphere that date prior to Columbus. Because the bos taurus cow is the most common genus that we associate with the word "cow", most critics of the Book of Mormon dismiss this as an anachronism.

There are, however, two genera of cows which are native to the American continent which fall within the same taxonomy genus of bovinae. They are the American Bison (Bison bison), and the Musk Ox (Ovibos moschatus).[1]

The Musk Ox

The Musk Ox has only been found in the far north of the American continent and no remains have been found that would place them in the correct place for the setting of the Book of Mormon. These animals bear little resemblance to the Bos Taurus.

The American Bison

The American bison are a different story. The American bison share a very similar physiology to the bos taurus. The difference in classification in taxonomy is primarily due to differences in the amount of hair that they produce, and the width of their skulls. American Bison also have a stronger back than bos taurus.

Despite these differences, bison can resemble bos taurus fairly closely. Some scholars place the bison in the bos genus, right along with bos taurus.[1]

At the time claimed by the Book of Mormon, the differences that we know of in modern taxonomy and the animal families did not exist. The divisions that we find in the animal kingdom were initially the work of Aristotle, who did not live until 384 BC. Therefore, a specific identity of an animal would have been based on the author's familiarity of another animal.

For example, compare these images of a calf, cow, and bull of both genera:

A comparison of bos taurus and bison

How would you have named it in your journal? We named the bottom row the American bison or buffalo. The top row is the bos taurus cow, which scholars believe would have been in ancient Jerusalem.

We also know that the American bison at one point ranged all the way from Canada down to the Yucatan Peninsula. Remains of the American bison have been found as far south as the Lol-Tun caves, which places them within most theoretic location models of the Book of Mormon. These remains have not been carbon dated. However, based on other remains at the same location, scholars believe they date to the late Pleistocene age, which is older than the Book of Mormon claim.[2] However, other archeological evidence and scholars have placed the bison in Central America much more recently.[3]

The ox vs. the bull

I mention these etymological differences only because I once had a comment from someone mocking the word ox that was used in 1 Nephi 18:25. Someone, somewhere is going to have an issue with the word ox because it is used in English to clarify the difference between a castrated bull versus a non-castrated bull.

This clarification is simple in English. However, the Hebrew language usually did not differentiate between the two. This means that English translations of Hebrew will use the word ox or bull interchangeably. For example, in the Old Testament, Exodus 20:17 contains the word ox, and Job 21:10 contains the word bull. However in the original Hebrew text, these two verses use the exact same word, which is שֹׁור (pronounced shor).


1 -Expert referenceAmerican Bison, accessed 05/12/2012

2 -Other referenceThe caves of Lol-Tun, accessed 05/05/2012

3 -Peer reviewed referenceRurik List, Historic Distribution and Challenges to Bison Recovery in the Northern Chihuahuan Desert, Conservation Biology, Vol. 21, Issue 6, pgs. 1487–1494, 12/2007, accessed 05/05/2012

References according to the 1st edition Book of MormonShow