The Hebrew word has been translated in some passages "cart," and in others "wagon." In one verse only has it been translated "chariot." The context of the various passages indicates that a distinction was made between vehicles which were used for carrying baggage or produce and those used for carrying riders (chariots), although in their primitive form of construction they were much the same (compare English "cart" and "carriage").
Carts, like "chariots" (which see), were of Assyrian origin. They were early carried to Egypt where the flat nature of the country readily led to their adoption. From Egypt they gradually found their way among the people of the Palestinian plains. In the hills of Judea and Central Palestine, except where highways were built (1 Samuel 6:12), the nature of the country prevented the use of wheeled vehicles. 1 Samuel 6:7,8,10,11,14 show that the people of the plains used carts. The men of Kiriath-jearim found it easier to carry the ark (1 Samuel 7:1). Their attempt to use a cart later (2 Samuel 6:3,1; 1 Chronicles 13:7) proved disastrous and they abandoned it for a safer way (2 Samuel 6:13).
That carts were used at a very early date is indicated by Numbers 7:3,7,8. That these vehicles were not the common mode of conveyance in Palestine is shown in Genesis 45. Pharaoh commanded that Joseph's brethren should return to their father with their beasts of burden (Genesis 45:21) and take with them Egyptian wagons (Genesis 45:19,21; 46:6) for bringing back their father and their families. The very unusual sight of the wagons was proof to Jacob of Joseph's existence (Genesis 45:27).
Bible descriptions and ancient Babylonian and Egyptian pictures indicate that the cart was usually two-wheeled and drawn by two oxen.
With the Arabian conquests and subsequent ruin of the roads wheeled vehicles disappeared from Syria and Palestine. History is again repeating itself. The Circassians, whom the Turkish government has settled near Caesarea, Jerash (Gerasa) and Amman (Philadelphia), have introduced a crude cart which must be similar to that used in Old Testament times. The two wheels are of solid wood. A straight shaft is joined to the wooden axle, and to this a yoke of oxen is attached. On the Philistian plains may be seen carts of present-day Egyptian origin but of a pattern many centuries old. With the establishment of government roads during the last 50 years, European vehicles of all descriptions are fast coming into the country.
One figurative reference is made to the cart (Isaiah 5:18), but its meaning is obscure.
James A. Patch
These files are public domain.