Are there really Unicorns in the Bible?…..100% Yes!!!!
It is often stated when attacking the Bible How can anyone take seriously a book that includes Unicorns? It’s a reasonable question, nobody has ever proven that unicorns exist or have ever existed. Not one fossil of one single bone of a unicorn has ever been found. Unicorns are mythical creatures and not part of reality. A book that includes them as if they were real cannot be taken seriously. And I would agree. Yet I fully 100% believe in the Bible. So how do I reconcile these two seemingly irreconcilable things. It’s pretty simple. When people today think of the word unicorn they automatically imagine the horse like creature with a single horn protruding from its head. This creature is almost certainly mythical. As we have already established no proof of its existence has ever been found. Any book that includes this creature as if it were real should not be given any credit. However this is not the unicorn that is mentioned in the Bible. The word Unicorn is mentioned 9 times in the KJV version in verses such as.
Deuteronomy 33-17 His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh. KJV
Other versions such as the NIV and ESV use the word wild Ox instead
Deuteronomy 33-17 In majesty he is like a firstborn bull; his horns are the horns of a wild ox. With them he will gore the nations, even those at the ends of the earth. Such are the ten thousands of Ephraim; such are the thousands of Manasseh.” NIV
Deuteronomy 33-17 A firstborn bull—he has majesty, and his horns are the horns of a wild ox; with them he shall gore the peoples, all of them, to the ends of the earth; they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh.”
So the argument the Bible mentions Unicorns actually only works if the KJV is taken as the correct translation. If a person uses the NIV or ESV they can simply say that unicorns are not mentioned in the Bible but are mentioned in a Bible translation. The correct translation is wild ox and therefore the argument the Bible includes unicorns fails. But what about those who like myself do believe that the KJV is the correct translation and that Unicorn and not wild ox is in fact the correct word to use.
All uses of the word unicorn appear in the OT and are translated from the Hebrew word
רְאֵם Reem. The KJV translates this as unicorn/s in all 9 uses of the word.
So why is Unicorn and not wild ox the correct translation.
Firstly. Ox has its own Hebrew word שׁוֹר shor which is not what is being used and is translated as OX by by both the NIV and the ESV
Exodus 23-12 “Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed. NIV
Exodus 23-12 “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed. ESV
Secondly it cannot be a wild ox, the wild ox is simply an ox that is wild
In a passage in Isaiah we are told that the “reem” translated as wild ox in the NIV and Unicorn in the KJV cannot be tamed.
Job 39-9 “Will the wild ox consent to serve you? Will it stay by your manger at night? 10 Can you hold it to the furrow with a harness? Will it till the valleys behind you? 10 Can you hold it to the furrow with a harness? Will it till the valleys behind you? 11 Will you rely on it for its great strength? Will you leave your heavy work to it? 12 Can you trust it to haul in your grain and bring it to your threshing floor?NIV
Job 39-9 Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? 10 Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee? 11 Wilt thou trust him, because his strength is great? or wilt thou leave thy labour to him? 12 Wilt thou believe him, that he will bring home thy seed, and gather it intothy barn?KJV
However a wild ox (shor) CAN be tamed. Therefore the use of wild ox does not work.
But we have already established that unicorns are not real so how can unicorn still be the correct word to use.
In the original 1611 edition of the KJV bible the translators used two slashes // known as a siglum. These were used throughout the Bible. In Isaiah 34-7 before the word Unicorn they used these slashes //unicorn. In the margin they again use the siglum with the words //”or Rhinocerots”
This was the word for Rhinoceros in 1611. The KJV translators clearly linked the word Unicorn with the Rhinoceros.
Oxford English dictionary states the origin of the word Unicorn
Middle English: via Old French from Latin unicornis, from uni- ‘single’ + cornu ‘horn’, translating Greek monokerōs.
Both these words mean one horned. The word unicorn simply means single horned.
If we have a look at Job 39-9 in the Greek septuagint we will see that the word reem is translated as Monokeros
Job 39-9 βουλήσεται δέ σοι μονόκερως δουλεῦσαι ἢ κοιμηθῆναι ἐπὶ φάτνης σου septuagint
And in Isaiah 34-7 in the Latin vulgate reem is translated as unicornes
Isaiah 34-7 et descendent unicornes cum eis et tauri cum potentibus inebriabitur terra eorum sanguine et humus eorum adipe pinguium Vulgate
When Jerome translated the Hebrew into latin he translated the Hebrew word Reem as Unicornis 4 times And Rinocerotis 5 times as we see in the translation of Job 39-9
Job 39-9 numquid volet rinoceros servire tibi aut morabitur ad praesepe tuum
Jerome who had spent years learning Hebrew among the Jews equated Rinoceros and unicornes as interchangeable, in other words meaning the same thing. A one horned Rhinoceros. The Indian and Javan Rhinos have just one horn.
And today the scientific name for a one horned Rhinoceros is Rhinoceros unicornis (Greater One-horned Rhino, Great Indian Rhinoceros, Indian Rhinoceros)
(Diceros bicornis is the scientific name for a 2 horned Rhinoceros)
So in the latin vulgate we have Rinoceros and unicornis both being used where the KJV uses Unicorn. And the scientific name of a Rhinoceros being Rhinoceros unicornis
If you look at webster’s dictionary today under Unicorn we are given the following definition.
1: a mythical usually white animal generally depicted with the body and head of a horse with long flowing mane and tail and a single often spiraled horn in the middle of the forehead
2: an animal mentioned in the Bible that is usually considered an aurochs, a one-horned rhinoceros, or an antelope
Although definition 1 states the now traditional understanding of the word it also has a 2nd definition and clearly states the animal in the Bible considered to be a one horned Rhinoceros
If we have a look at the same dictionary but from the very first edition back in 1828 we can see that the first definition is that of a Rhinoceros.
U’NICORN, n. [L. unicornis; unus, one, and cornu, horn.]
1. an animal with one horn; the monoceros. this name is often applied to the rhinoceros.
2. The sea unicorn is a fish of the whale kind, called narwal, remarkable for a horn growing out at his nose.
3. A fowl.
fossil unicorn, or fossil unicorn’s horn, a substance used in medicine, a terrene crustaceous spar.
Definition number one says it all……there simply was no definition that referred to a mythical creature, a horse or a horse like animal
And if we look at the word Rhinoceros in the same dictionary we see that included in the definition is unicorn.
RHINOC’EROS, n. [L. rhinoceros; Gr. nose-horn.]
A genus of quadrupeds of two species, one of which, the unicorn, as a single horn growing almost erect from the nose. This animal when full grown, is said to be 12 feet in length. There is another species with two horns, the bicornis. They are natives of Asia and Africa.
So even today, while the main definition may have changed a unicorn still can mean a Rhinoceros. When the Bible mentions Unicorn it is not referring to the mythical horse like creature or a wild Ox rather very clearly the creature in question is a one horned Rhinoceros which was otherwise known as a Unicorn.