Jesus’s Ass

Jesus entered Jerusalem on the back of a baby donkey the week before his alleged execution and resurrection, according to  the book of Matthew in the New Testament.  The donkey symbolizes peace whereas the horse represents war.  Obviously, the Romans didn’t view Jesus as the leader of a peaceful movement.  The Romans only crucified people who rebelled against the empire.  The New Testament likely gives a wildly inaccurate account of what really happened.  Somehow, the Jews get blamed for Jesus’s crucifixion, as if the brutal Roman military leaders would succomb to the wishes of a mob.  Just a few days prior to when the Jews allegedly urged Jesus’s execution, they gave him an honorable reception upon his entry into Jerusalem.  The whole story doesn’t make sense and is full of logical contradictions, but this is not surprising because the bible is a clumsy compilation of stories written by many different men with differing agendas, and furthermore, passages have frequently been rewritten, mistranslated, and interpolated thousands of times by various scribes who also had differing agendas.

According to legend, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on an ass a week before he was executed and resurrected. 

The scientific name for Jesus’s ass is Equus africanus, also known as the domesticated donkey.  Originally, it ranged from North Africa through the Middle East.  The Spanish brought donkeys to North America in the 1500’s and some of them went wild and still live in the American southwest where they are called burros.  They are tough animals well adapted to living in desert environments.  They will attack predators and stomp them to death.  Some people keep donkeys to protect their other farm animals.  Here’s a delightful video of a donkey playing with a dog. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txfVhMFYnxU  It almost makes me want to buy one and keep it in my backyard.

Two other species of asses live in Asia.  Unlike the donkey, the Asian wild ass (Equus hemionus), and the Tibetan wild ass (Equus kiang) are considered untameable.  Hemionus means half-ass.  These wild asses are larger than a donkey and have some features that are more horse-like, hence the name, half-ass.  Formerly, vertebrate paleontologists thought Asian wild asses were sister species to the half-asses that lived in North America until the late Pleistocene about 11,000 years ago.  However, a study of Equus genetics suggests the North American half-asses did not share a close evolutionary lineage with Asian asses. Instead, their similar morphology was due to convergent evolution.

A herd of Equus kiang–the Tibetan wild ass.  Vertebrate paleontologists used to think they were closely related to the Pleistocene half-asses that formerly lived in North America because they  have similar physical characteristics.  However, genetic studies suggest this similar morphology is due to convergence and the North American half-asses have a different evolutionary lineage and are not closely related.

American half-asses lived from Alaska to Florida during the Pleistocene, but they never crossed the Bering landbridge.  Asian asses evolved from an earlier Equus species that did originate in North America but crossed the Bering landbridge before the Pleistocene.  The horse (Equus caballus) did live on both sides of the Bering landbridge from Western Europe to Florida during the Pleistocene.  Genetic evidence suggests the Pleistocene horse is the same animal as the modern day horse.  One clade of this species was restricted to North America, and it became extinct before the horse was domesticated.

Vertebrate paleontologists named over 50 species of Equus from Pleistocene-aged fossils found in North America, but genetic evidence suggests there were just 2–the horse and the North American half-ass.  A 3rd species of Pleistocene horse, the hippidion, lived in South America.

Reference:

Weinstock, Jaco; et. al.

“Evolution, Systematics, and Phylogeography of Pleistocene Horses in the New World: A Molecular Perspective”

PLOS Biology 3 (8) 2005

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