The Hebrew terms are: , the generic and most common term; (I Kings v. 8; Micah i. 13; Esth. viii. 10, 14), the swift horse (A. V. "mule"); (only in the plural), the riding-horse, also the horseman (I Sam. viii. 11; Isa. xxviii. 28); , in the combination (Esth. viii. 10; A. V. "young dromedaries"; R. V. "breed of stud"); and lastly, more as a poetical epithet, , "the strong one" (Judges v. 22; Jer. viii. 16).
The horse is not indigenous to Palestine, nor is it among the ordinary possessions of the Semitic pastoral nomads. This accounts for its omission from the catalogue of the domestic animals of the Patriarchs; and in the Decalogue, while the ox and the ass are among the animals the coveting of which is prohibited, the horse is not mentioned (see Michaelis, "Mosaisches Recht," 2d ed., part iii., Appendix, "Etwas von der Aeltesten Gesch. der Pferde," etc.). Where the horse is referred to, it is the war-steed of the enemy, from whom for warlike purposes the Hebrews must have learned the art of training and utilizing the animal. The horse was not used for riding. It is represented as harnessed to the warchariot manned by archers; for the soldier equipped with bow and arrows had to have both of his hands free. Where upon the monuments the bowman is depicted on horseback, he is always attended by another horseman, whose business it was to lead the bowman's horse. In II Kings xxiii. 11 bronze horses are mentioned as being dedicated to the sun, which idolatrous institution Josiah is reported to have removed. This gloss corroborates the assumption of the foreign origin of the use of the horse (Victor Hehn, "Kulturpflanzen und Hausthiere," 3d ed., pp. 29 et seq., Berlin, 1877).Introduced from Egypt.
The first mention of the horse in the Old Testament is in connection with Egypt (Gen. xlvii. 17). The only allusion in the Pentateuch to the horse as a factor in Israel's life is found in the law forbidding the king to "multiply horses" (Deut. xvii. 16). OnPalestinian soil the animal was employed as a warhorse by the non-Israelite tribes (Joshua xi. 4). David seems to have been the first to adopt this use of the horse (II Sam. viii. 4, xv. 1); Solomon imported many horses and chariots from Egypt (I Kings x. 28); and they became a permanent feature of the armies of the later kings (II Kings ix. 21, 33; xiii. 7). The horse was not used for draft purposes, though Isa. xxviii. 28 mentions the use of the horse for thrashing. As a king's state animal it is mentioned in connection with the Persian court (Esth. vi. 8). From the horse as a war animal are derived various descriptions and similes, e.g., from its strength and swiftness (Hab. i. 8; Jer. iv. 13), its flint-like hoofs (Isa. v. 28); its prancing and trampling (Judges v. 22; Jer. xlvii. 3; Nahum iii. 2); the splendid poetical description in Job xxxix. 19-25 should be especially noted. Frequent warning is given against putting one's trust in the horse (Isa. xxx. 16; Ps. xx. 7, xxxiii. 17).
In later times the horse seems to have become common in Palestine. The exiles brought with them horses from Babylon (Neh. vii. 68); and there was a "horse gate" in Jerusalem (II Chron. xxiii. 15). Horses were imported into Palestine from Egypt (Isa. xxxi. 1, 3; Ezek. xvii. 15), and especially through the Phenicians from Armenia (Togarmah), which was one of the staple markets for horses (Ezek. xxvii. 14). The whip and trappings and ornaments of the horse are mentioned in Ps. xxxii 9; Prov. xxvi. 3; and Zech. xiv. 20.—In Rabbinical Literature:
Six characteristics are predicated of the horse in the Talmud: (1) it is salacious (comp. Ezek. xxiii. 20); (2) it loves war; (3) it is high-spirited; (4) it needs little sleep; (5) it consumes large quantities of food; and (6) its evacuations are small (Pes. 113b and parallels). The Medes and Persians were especially rich in horses (Sanh. 98b). In connection with Zech. i. 8 the Talmud distinguishes red, yellow, and white horses (Sanh. 93a).
The horse was considered one of the most useful of the domestic animals; hence one should not live in a city where the neighing of the horse is not heard (Pes. 113a). It was used for riding (Bek. 2a) and in the chase (Shab. 94a), and covers were made of the hair of its mane and tail (Suk. 20b, Rashi). Non-Israelites ate its flesh (Yer. Sheḳ. xii. 2).
Much labor was spent in the care of the horse (Shab. 113b; M. Ḳ. 10a, b). The general use of horseshoes is not mentioned in the Talmud; but in war time horses were sometimes provided with metal shoes (Shab. 59a). Among the objects used for the outfit of the horse are mentioned the bridle, an iron mouthpiece called "scorpion" ("'aḳrab"), and the collar (Kelim xi. 5, xxi. 2). For a white horse a red bridle was considered becoming (Ḥag. 9b). The forehead was decorated with scarlet-colored ornaments, and for protection against the evil eye the tail of a fox was hung between the eyes (Shab. 53a). At the death of its master the horse of a king was disabled by cutting through the tendons of the hoofs, so that it should not be used by any one else ('Ab. Zarah 11a). The horse was also employed as an instrument of punishment, culprits being bound to its tail and dragged over thorns (Sanh. 26b; Yoma 69a). The appearance in a dream of a white horse was considered a favorable omen (Sanh. 93a).
- Tristram, Natural History of the Bible, p. 102;
- Lewysohn, Zoologie des Talmuds, p. 136.