All graphics and images are copyright of A True Church
His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: (Deuteronomy 33:17a KJV)
Nine times the KJV mentions the unicorn (Numbers 23:22; 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9-10; Psalm 22:21; 29:6; 92:10; Isaiah 34:7).1 Each time it is a translation of the Hebrew word רְאֵם (reêm), or an apparent derivative of רְאֵם (reêm).2 Is “unicorn” an accurate translation? Several translations translate it that way.
Wycliffe 1394, e.g. vnicorn, Numbers 23:22
Tyndale 1531, e.g. vnycorne, Numbers 24:8 (no Tyndale for Job, Psalms, and Isaiah)
Coverdale 1535, e.g. Vnicorne, Deuteronomy 33:17
Matthew 1537, e.g. vnicorne, Job 39:9
Great 1539, e.g. vnycorne, Job 39:10
Geneva 1560, e.g. vnicornes, Psalm 22:21
Bishops' 1568, e.g. vnicorne, Psalm 29:6
KJV 1611, e.g. vnicorne , Psalm 92:10
Douay-Rheims 1750, unicorns, Psalm 22:21 (DRA 21:22); 29:6 (DRA 28:6); Isaiah 34:7; unicorn, Psalm 92:10; rhinoceros, Numbers 23:22; 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; and Job 39:9-10.
KJV 1769, e.g. unicorn, Psalm 92:10
Webster 1833, e.g. unicorn, Numbers 23:22
Jubilee Bible 2000, e.g. unicorn, Numbers 24:8
Complete Apostle's Bible 2005, e.g. unicorn, Deuteronomy 33:17 (minus Isaiah 34:7 “the mighty ones,” see also LXX below)
All of the above translations translate either unicorn or unicorns in all of the cited passages (minus Coverdale, Apostle's, & Matthew's in Job 39:10),3 except the Douay-Rheims.
The Latin Vulgate (from which the Douay-Rheims is purported to be) translates these as:
rinocerotis in Numbers 23:22; 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17 and Psalm 29:6
rinoceros and rinocerota in Job 39:9-10 (respectively)
unicornium in Psalm 22:21
monocerotis4 in Psalm 92:10
Thus, Psalm 29:6 in the Vulgate is “rinocerotis,” but in the Douay-Rheims it reads, “unicorns.”
The Septuagint (LXX) translates as:
μονοκέρωτος (monokerôtos “one horned” singular) Numbers 23:22; 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; Psalm 92:10 (LXX 91:11)
μονοκερώτων (monokerôtôn “one horned” plural) Psalm 22:21 (LXX 21:22); 29:6 (LXX 28:6)
μονόκερως (monokerôs “one horned” singular) Job 39:9
Darby (1890) translates all the passages as “buffalo.” Julia Smith Translation (1855) has “buffalo” in Numbers 23:22; 24:8, Job 39:9-10; Psalm 92:10; “buffaloes” in Psalm 29:6; Isaiah 34:7; “unicorn” in Deuteronomy 33:17; and “the horns of the high” in Psalm 22:21. Rotherham's 1902 Emphasized Bible likewise translates it “buffalo” or “buffaloes” (only in Isaiah 34:7), except in Job 39:9-10 (“wild ox”); Psalm 22:21 (“wild beasts”); and Psalm 29:6 (“wild oxen”).
Several well-known modern translations (e.g. NKJV; NAS, NIV, NLT, JPS, NHEB,7 ESV, HCSB, ISV, ERV, WEB, etc.) translate as “wild ox” or “wild oxen.” The NET Bible translates it “wild bull” (Numbers 23:2), “young bull” (Numbers 24:8), “wild ox” (Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9; Psalm 92:10) “wild oxen” (Psalm 22:21; Isaiah 34:7), or “young ox” (Psalm 29:6). CEB has “wild bull” (Numbers 23:22; 24:8) “wild ox” (Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9; Psalm 92:10), “wild oxen” (Psalm 22:21; Isaiah 34:7), or “young wild ox” (Psalm 29:6). The Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) has “wild ox” (Numbers 23:22; 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17), “wild bull” (Psalm 22:21), “young wild ox” (Psalm 29:6).
Young's Literal doesn't translate, but instead transliterates. Thus, Young's has “reem” or “reems” in those passages, minus Psalm 22:21, which reads, “high places.”8 The ECB (exeGeses companion Bible) likewise translates it as “reem”9 or “reems.”10 The 1853 Leeser Old Testament, by “Rabbi” Isaac Leeser, likewise transliterates “reem” in Numbers 23:22; 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; Psalm 22:21; 92:10; and “young reems” in Psalm 29:6. But, in Job 39:9-10 he gives “forest-ox” and in Isaiah 34:7 “wild oxen.”
II. Two Horns?
So, what's the right translation? Is it a unicorn, a rhino, a buffalo, a wild ox, a wild bull, or a “reem” (whatever that is)?
First of all, how does the “unicorn” hold up to the passages at hand? It's problematic in Deuteronomy 33:17.
His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: (KJV)
Unfortunately here, the KJV translates רְאֵם (reêm) as a plural, “unicorns,” unlike it's predecessors, “vnicorne” (Tyndale, Coverdale, Matthew, Great, Bishops) and “vnicorn” (Wycliffe). But, the Hebrew is not plural, as those old translations illustrate, as does the Douay-Rheims (“a rhinoceros”), Webster, Darby & Rotherham's (“a buffalo”), Julia Smith (“unicorn”); YLT (“a reem”), ECB (“a reem”), NKJV, NAS, JPS, NHEB, NIV, NLV, ERV, CJB, ASV, LEB, NET, OJB, etc.. Those all correctly translate it as a singular, and it is indeed the singular Hebrew word רְאֵם (reêm). The Hebrew plural is either רְאֵמִים (re'êmiym, e.g. Psalm 29:6) or רֵמִ֣ים (rêmiym, Psalm 22:21). But here it is the singular, רְאֵם (reêm).
That creates a problem for the translation of “unicorns” in Deuteronomy 33:17, because it more literally reads (if translating it “unicorn”), “the horns of the unicorn.” The unicorn, by sheer definition, does not have horns (plural), but rather one horn. Thus, the “horns of the unicorn” just doesn't match the language in the Hebrew, unless רְאֵם (reêm) was a collective term (like sheep); but there is nothing indicating that.
Likewise, in Numbers 23:22 and 24:8 (as in Deuteronomy 33:17) there is a plural noun with the singular רְאֵם (reêm). In both passages that noun is translated, “strength” (KJV “strength of the unicorn”; NKJV “strength of the wild ox”), but it is nonetheless a plural noun, as Leeser illustrates:
God, who brought them out of Egypt, is to them like the heights of the reem. (כְּתוֹעֲפֹ֥ת רְאֵ֖ם [keto`aphot reêm], see also Numbers 24:8 “heights of the reem,” Leeser OT)
This same plural noun, תוֹעֲפֹ֥ת (to`aphot, “heights” Leeser), is used two other places in the OT, Job 22:25 and Psalm 95:4. Job 22:25 reads,
Yea, the Almighty shall be thy defence, and thou shalt have plenty of silver. (KJV)
Here the KJV translates תּוֹעָפ֣וֹת (to`âphot) as “plenty.” Psalm 95:4 reads,
In his hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is his also. (KJV)
Here the KJV translates תוֹעֲפ֖וֹת (to`aphot) as “strength.” The NKJV translates it as “heights” (NAS “peaks”).
Throughout Scripture “horn” or “horns” is used as a term that depicts strength or power (e.g. 1 Samuel 2:1, 10; 2 Samuel 22:3; Job 16:15; Jeremiah 48:25; Zechariah 1:1, 21), and this is how some translations translate תוֹעֲפֹ֥ת (to`aphot) in Numbers 23:22 & 24:8. The ESV, NASB, NLV, HCSB,11 and Green's Literal all translate Numbers 23:22 and 24:8 as “horns of the wild ox” or “horns of a wild ox” or “horns of the wild bull” (NLV). So, in these passages (Numbers 23:22 and 24:8) we have an indication of a plurality of horns, rather than solely one.
So, if it's not “unicorn” (a one horned horse) what is it? That is hard to determine, since the context of the passages are not definitive. In modern Hebrew רְאֵם (reêm) means “oryx,”12 but is this what was meant when the Scriptures were written? It does not appear to be, if we pay attention to God's description in Job.
The main unique characteristic of this beast is that it is depicted as strong and wild (not tamed or tamable by man). In Job 39 God says to Job,
9 Will the wild ox be willing to serve you? Will he bed by your manger?
10 Can you bind the wild ox in the furrow with ropes? Or will he plow the valleys behind you?
11 Will you trust him because his strength is great? Or will you leave your labor to him?
12 Will you trust him to bring home your grain, And gather it to your threshing floor?
These are all rhetorical questions, and thus assume the answer of “No.” In other words, no, Job can't get the “reem” (רְאֵם) to serve him, nor to bed by his manger, nor can he bind him in the furrow with ropes, nor get him to plow the valley. Job wouldn't trust this animal's strength to labor for him (like an ox), to bring home the grain, or thresh it. These questions well depict an animal that is beyond a man's control. The “wild ox” doesn't seem to fit here, since wild oxen are tamed by men.
For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. (James 3:7)13
With the strength depicted in Job, this compliments other passages that speak likewise of his strength. Numbers 23:22 says,
God brings them out of Egypt; He has strength like a reem(see also Numbers 24:8),
With the context being God's overwhelming power displayed in Egypt, God's super powerful strength is likened to the strength of a “reem.” This attributes some serious strength to this animal.
Likewise, Deuteronomy 33:17 says,
His glory is like a firstborn bull, and his horns like the horns of the reem; together with them He shall push the peoples to the ends of the earth; they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh. (Deuteronomy 33:17)
Here the horns of the “reem” are viewed as with great strength, “He shall push the peoples to the ends of the earth.” Moreover, with the mention of Ephraim and Manasseh, this pictures the two “horns” by which “He shall push the peoples.” And, when Genesis 48:19 is considered, where Ephraim is noted as greater than Manasseh, one horn is greater than the other. Can you think of an animal that might fit that description, having one horn bigger than the other (and fit the other characteristics)?
IV. A Rhino?
As already noted, the Latin Vulgate/Douay-Rheims' translate it “rhinoceros” in Numbers 23:22; 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; and Job 39:9-10. Are the Vulgate and Rheims on to something?
In Isaiah 34:7 the 1611 KJV translates the plural of רְאֵם (reêm), רְאֵמִים (re'êmiym), as “Vnicornes” (“unicorns”), but it gives in the margin an alternative translation of,
Seeing this, one might conclude the KJV translators weren't so sure of their “unicorn” translation of רְאֵם (reêm). But, that's not necessarily the case.
Today, Webster's defines a unicorn in this way.
: a mythical animal generally depicted with the body and head of a horse, the hind legs of a stag, the tail of a lion, and a single horn in the middle of the forehead (www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/unicorn)
But, note how the 1828 Noah Webster's dictionary defines “unicorn.”
U'NICORN, n. [L. unicornis; unus, one, and cornu, horn.]
UNICORN'OUS, a. Having only one horn. (http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/word/unicorn, underlining added)
Now note in this same dictionary the section on rhinoceros.
RHINOC'EROS, n. [L. rhinoceros; Gr. nose-horn.]
But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn: I shall be anointed with fresh oil. (Psalm 92:10 KJV)
Here it is a singular animal (רְאֵ֣ים re'êym) and a singular horn. But, some may argue, Exodus 21:19 likewise has a singular horn for a singular animal, but there it is for an ox, an animal that clearly has two horns. Exodus 21:29 reads,
But if the ox tended to thrust with its horn in times past, . . . (Exodus 21:29 NKJV).
An ox has two horns, but here only one is mentioned. That, sadly, is because of the translators. The Hebrew doesn't have any “horn” at all. The NAS does a better job at translating this verse.
If, however, an ox was previously in the habit of goring, . . . (NAS, Exodus 21:29).
It is the Hebrew verb for “goring” here, נַגָּ֥ח (naggâch), and there is no word for “horn,” קֶֽרֶן (qeren). This same phrase in the Hebrew, שׁוֹר֩ נַגָּ֙ח ה֜וּא מִתְּמֹ֣ל שִׁלְשֹׁ֗ם (shor naggâch hu' mitmol shilshom) is found one other place, Exodus 21:36. There the KJV & NKJV do a better job at translating this phrase. The NKJV reads,
Or if it was known that the ox tended to thrust in time past, . . . (Exodus 21:36).
So, Exodus 21:29 isn't a passage to use for claiming the mention of one horn on a two horned animal is somehow a Scriptural concept. Nowhere is that actually found in the Word. Thus, Psalm 92:10, if it is indeed speaking of a one-horned animal and Numbers 23:22; 24:8; and Deuteronomy 33:17 dictate a two horned of this same animal, then rhinoceros seems to be a good candidate for the identification of this beast, since there are both one and two horned rhinoceri.
Yet, is the rhino beyond being tamed by man, as Job depicts? That might depend on what you mean by “tamed.”
The “tamed” God spoke of with Job is a “tamed” to the point of using it as a trained work animal like an ox. A rhino that was simply “tamed” to the point of being able to touch without getting killed or hurt is not exactly what the Lord was talking about. “Tamed” rhinoceros of that sort there apparently are.17 But, “tamed” as in the way God spoke to Job? A rhino is an unlikely candidate for plowing, but it's apparently been done (www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8sh7Eo3WRw); and there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 3:15).
Another possibility is that it is a type of rhino with which we are unfamiliar. For example, there is supposedly the Elasmotherium.
Elasmotherium ("Thin Plate Beast") is an extinct genus of giant rhinoceros . . . .
Three species are recognised. The best known, E. sibiricum was the size of a mammoth and is thought to have borne a large, thick horn on its forehead . . . .
Like all rhinoceroses, elasmotheres were herbivorous. Unlike any others, its high-crowned molars were ever-growing. Its legs were longer than those of other rhinos and were designed for galloping, giving it a horse-like gait. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elasmotherium)
Was this the “reem” (רְאֵם) of Scripture? God knows.
IV. One Horned Horses?
Now, concerning the existence of unicorns (one-horned horses) Wikipedia claims,
Unicorns are not found in Greek mythology, but rather in accounts of natural history, for Greek writers of natural history were convinced of the reality of the unicorn, which they located in India, a distant and fabulous realm for them. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unicorn)
In Roman times, Pliny the Elder's Natural History mentions the oryx and an Indian ox (which may have referred to the rhinoceros) as one-horned beasts. He called the Indian ass "a very ferocious beast, similar in the rest of its body to a horse, with the head of a deer, the feet of an elephant, the tail of a boar, a deep, bellowing voice, and a signle black horn, two cubits in length, standing out in the middle of its forehead." Pliny added that "it cannot be taken alive." Aelian, quoting Ctesias, added that India produces also a one-horned horse, and said that the "monoceros" was sometimes called "carcazonon," which may be a form of the Arabic "carcadn," meaning "rhinoceros." Strabo said that in India there were one-horned horses with stag-like heads. (www.allaboutunicorns.com/ancient-history.php)
Since such history should be taken with a grain of salt (Ecclesiastes 1:11), there is no knowing for sure (without other evidence). Just because we haven't seen one, doesn't mean they don't, or did not exist. Man is quite foolish to come to such a conclusion based on his minuscule knowledge. It's a big world, and it cannot be known, that is, all that is in it. As it is written,
When I applied my heart to know wisdom and to see the business that is done on earth, even though one sees no sleep day or night, then I saw all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. For though a man labors to discover it, yet he will not find it; moreover, though a wise man attempts to know it, he will not be able to find it. (Ecclesiastes 8:16-17).As you do not know what is the way of the wind, or how the bones grow in the womb of her who is with child, so you do not know the works of God who makes everything. (Ecclesiastes 11:5)
Yet, modern men think they have complete knowledge on whether a certain animal is in existence or not. Like Nathan Hoffman, in his article on creationtoday.org writes,
This is what most of us think of when we hear the word “unicorn.” We think of a horse with a horn growing from its head. This is how unicorns are depicted in movies, cartoons, paintings, etc.y (sic) Now, this is not a real creature. This animal is totally fictitious. None of these are alive today and no scientist has ever found a fossil of one. (www.creationtoday.org/why-does-the-bible-mention-unicorns/, underlining added)
So, since we have no evidence of one, it doesn't exist? And, no doubt, Mr. Hoffman has traveled the globe covering every square kilometer, to know there certainly are no unicorns.
This is not to say unicorns exist. But, to say they do not, simply out of a lack of evidence, is an ignorant stance. There's plenty about the world we live in that we are still learning about. Man is an eternity away from such perfect knowledge and knowing what all is, and was done, under the sun. We know in part (1 Corinthians 13:9), and the secret things belong to the Lord (Deuteronomy 29:29).
Finally, the “unicorn” translation of the KJV has given unbelievers cause to mock Scripture, but their mocking is obviously in ignorance. One such mocking takes place on the website, unicornmuseum.org.
What is the Unicorn Museum?
Based on the idea of ‘if it’s in the Bible, it must be true’, The Unicorn Museum promotes belief in the Biblical Truth of unicorns, a creature mentioned nine times in the KJV Bible.
The Unicorn Museum is a parody of The Creation Museum, a religious-based institution which opened its doors in Petersburg, KY on May 28, 2007. (www.unicornmuseum.org/wp/about)
They write on their home page,
Our goal is to raise donations from the human population sufficient to place a Unicorn Museum billboard near the site of the Creation Museum. This will help build awareness in the human community of alternative fantasy creatures and help us regain our rightful place among the human pantheon of gods and monsters. (www.unicornmuseum.org)
As all mockers before them, they will find out that God gets the last laugh (Proverbs 1:26). Moreover, as we do not see unicorns today, neither do we see horses of fire (2 Kings 2:11), nor do we see flying horses. But, those so privileged in the future will not only see them, but ride them as well.
11 Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.
12 His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself.
13 He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.
14 And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. (Revelation 19:11-14)
1There is also the goat in Daniel 8:5 with “a notable horn between his eyes” (KJV; NKJV; Douay-Rheims; Darby; etc.).
2Numbers 23:22; 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17 all have the singular noun רְאֵם (reêm). Psalm 29:6 & Isaiah 34:7 have the plural of רְאֵם (reêm), רְאֵמִים (re'êmiym). Job 39:9-10 have the singular noun רֵים (rêym), Psalm 22:21 the plural noun רֵמִ֣ים (rêmiym), and Psalm 92:10 the singular noun רְאֵ֣ים (re'êym). Psalm 29:6 is more literally, "like a son of reems" כְּמ֣וֹ בֶן־רְאֵמִֽים (ven-re'êmiym). See, e.g. "as a son of reems" in Psalm 29:6 ECB (exeGeses companion Bible) and YLT "as a son of Reems."
3Job 39:10 in Coverdale and Matthew's give nothing more specific than the generic third masculine singular (“him”). But, the antecedent is the רֵ֭ים (rêym) “vnicorne” of the prior verse, so the meaning is the same.
4“Monocerotis” means “one horned” apparently from Greek μονόκερως (monokerôs) from μονό (mono) “one” + κέρας (keras) “horn.”
5The antecedent for αὐτοῦ (autou) “him” is μονόκερως (monokerôs), so the meaning is the same.
6In addition, LXX has μονοκερώτων (monokerôtôn) “one horned” in Psalm 78:69 (LXX 77:69) for the Hebrew word רָ֭מִים (râmiym) translated “heights” in the NKJV. Thus, the LXX in Psalm 78:69 reads:
And He built His sanctuary as of unicorns, . . . .
This same exact word, רָ֭מִים (râmiym), is found also in 2 Samuel 22:8 (translated “the haughty”) and Job 21:22 (“those on high”). The phonetic closeness of terms may be why there is a difference in translations here. Ramiym (רָ֭מִים ) is from רוּם (rum) which means to rise or exalt, and so the NKJV has “heights,” since it is a masculine plural participle of רוּם (rum) acting as a noun. Rum (רוּם) is the basic root (spelling changes depending on usage). LXX, on the other hand, evidently took it for a derivative of רְאֵם (reêm).
7New Heart English Bible, 2010 by Wayne A. Mitchell
8In Psalm 22:21 Young's Literal Translation reads,
Save me from the mouth of a lion: -- And -- from the horns of the high places Thou hast answered me! (Psalm 22:21)
The Hebrew word רֵמִ֣ים (rêmiym) is translated “high places” here by the YLT. As in the above footnote, this different translation by Young may be due to the close association between the word for the animal רְאֵם (reêm) and the verb רוּם (rum). Rum (רוּם) can be used (different spelling of course) as a participle acting as a noun, as it is used in Psalm 3:3 “one who lifts up” מֵרִ֥ים (mêriym), or Psalm 75:6 “exaltation” הָרִֽים (hâriym).
11English Standard Version (ESV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
13The Greek words for “tamed” and “has been tamed” are δαμάζεται (damazetai) and δεδάμασται (dedamastai). These are from the same root verb and mean to “subdue” (or “tame”). This verb is only also found in James 3:8 for taming the tongue, and in Mark 5:4 in which it says of the demoniac, “neither could anyone tame him.”
14Behemoth (Job 40:15-24) is a ginormous beast, a “dinosaur” like size animal, with the tail the size of a cedar tree (vs. 17). Behemoth is so large that “he is not disturbed” though “the river rage” or “though the Jordan gushes into his mouth” (vs. 23), or his eyes are attacked, or his nose snared (vs. 24).
15From the description in Job 41, leviathan is clearly a massive (Job 41:9, 25, 34) fire breathing dragon (Job 41:18-21).