Unicorns and the Bible

It is fair to say that there is a growing number of cynics and skeptics today who argue that the Bible is nothing more than a collection of fairy tales. One example such critics will often cite as “proof” is the biblical reference to unicorns. Some people of faith may be surprised to learn that the Bible does indeed mention unicorns, but per the usual with such cynics claims, there is more to be said. Therefore, for this post the subject will simply be: Unicorns and the Bible.

It is true that in earlier English translations of the Bible, the word “unicorn” is used to reference a particular animal. Once more, from the biblical text it is also clear that such references are to a real animal and not an imaginary creature. For example, in The Book of Job, God describes to Job the impressive attributes of various animals he created to highlight his greatness. In other words, to remind him that God is greater than man. So clearly in these texts God is speaking of real animals that Job would have been familiar with, and not that of some mythical creature. Naturally many cynics have had a field day mocking believers on this point, arguing that to believe the Bible is to believe in fairy tales, i.e. unicorns. However, the reality is that they are the ones showing their ignorance.

Why? Because they are guilty of using an outdated English translation for starters. Once more, they are further guilty of limiting themselves to only the popularized image of a winged horse-like creature with a single horn, this is the mythical creature we today call a unicorn. The problem with this thinking, is that when someone mentioned a unicorn several centuries ago, they most certainly did NOT have this mystical horse-like creature I just described (and pictured on this post) in mind.

To illustrate this point, one need look no further than the Webster Dictionary. For example, in the early nineteenth century edition, a unicorn is simply described as     “an animal with one horn”.  In fact, the term was most often used during that time to describe a rhinoceros or rhino. Only in more modern editions are unicorns described as “mystical” or “mythical” animals. Even famed travelers from long ago, such as Marco Polo, mentioned seeing unicorns in their writings. But the descriptions given were not that of the now popularized mystical horse creature, but that of a buffalo or bull like creature, with the feet of an elephant, and a single large horn in the middle of their forehead. Sounds more like a rhino than a horse to me. The aforementioned Marco Polo described them as “very ugly brutes to look at.”

With that in mind, here are the facts on the biblical reference to unicorns. The actual Hebrew word is “reem”, which roughly means “a horned animal” or “cattle”. Therefore, when the King James Bible was produced in the early seventeenth century, the translators, without a clear-cut English translation, selected the word unicorn as the best translation for “a horned animal” which they viewed as referring to a single horned animal. Modern translators do not agree the word exclusively means a single horned animal but that “a horned animal” can simply mean an animal with horns, whether one or two. That is why modern English translations render the Hebrew word “reem” as “wild ox”. Therefore, while linguistic experts cannot conclusively say how many horns the biblical “reem” had, it’s clear that the animal in question was a powerful animal possessing one or two strong horns. In other words, it was NOT the fantastical and mythical flying horse-like creature popularized in art and modern films.

In conclusion, such cynical critics that mock the Bible for its reference to unicorns, are mischaracterizing the facts and perpetuating a falsehood.  Whether this is deliberate or simply ignorant on their part, God only knows. But I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and just assume ignorance. The facts as discussed in this post are this, the Hebrew word “reem” was translated in older English as “unicorn”, but did NOT carry with it the modern mystical animal definition we think of today. In earlier times, a unicorn simply meant a single horned animal, such as a rhinoceros. Furthermore, modern linguist do not even believe the term “reem” means a “single horned animal,” and therefore render the term as “wild ox” in modern English translations. Those are the facts, to those at least to whom facts still matter.

Thank you for reading, I hope some may have found this post insightful.

JDN

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