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If You Believe the Bible,

Then you Also Believe in...Unicorns!

By: David Deschesne

In this ongoing series we are gleaning criticisms of the Bible from the atheist website entitled; The Thinking Atheist. That is actually a misnomer because for those of you who have been following this series debunking the atheists’ criticisms you will notice there really isn’t that much actual “thinking” occurring with this particular atheist author (and I might add in the atheist community in general). Just a lot of cute, knee-jerk, one-line, comedic sound bites intended to cast aspersions on the Holy Bible to those who aren’t fully paying attention to what they’re reading.

In this section, I’ll be discussing the atheist’s assertion that if you believe the Bible...

“...You believe in unicorns, referenced no less than 8 times in the bible. (Numbers 23:22, Numbers 24:8, Deuteronomy 33:17, Job 39:9-10, Psalm 22:21, Psalm 29:6, Psalm 92:10, Isaiah 34:7)”

The word unicorn in its singular form does appear in the King James Bible seven times and three times in its plural form. In every occurrence, it is translated from the original Hebrew texts from the Hebrew word, ראם, reh-ame’, which means literally a wild ox, or wild bull.1

The Jewish Study Bible, American League of Hebrew Congregations’ Torah: A Modern Commentary and all other modern English translations translate the verses cited above as “wild ox” or “wild bull’, not “unicorn.”

Indeed, in the context of the verses the original Hebrew “wild ox” is a much better translation than the word unicorn.

ראם occurs seven times in the Old Testament; and in four of the passages it is found in parallelisms with bulls (Deut. 22:21; 29:6; 33:17; Isa 34:6-7), thus affording a strong presumption that it denotes an animal of the bovine species. Besenius, whose opinion is adopted by Robinson ( ‘Biblical Researches’, iii., p. 306), thinks it denoted a wild buffalo; Bochart followed by Rosenmüller and Winer that it designated a fierce species of antelope (oryx leucoryx.) Others think that the rhinoceros is intended, that animal being represented on the monuments even of the twelfth dynasty as the Egyptian unicorn. But there are objections to its identification; and, besides, the name ‘unicorn.,’ which is a translation, not of the Hebrew, but of the Greek term, μονοκερως, and the Latin unicornis does not correspond with the Biblical descriptions. It is referred to in this passage (Num 23:22) and in Num, 24:8, as an emblem of strength; and the meaning of Balaam is, that Israel was not as they were at the exodus—a horde of poor, feeble, spiritless people—but powerful, impetuous, and invincible as a reem.”2

Since the Hebrew word King James translators rendered as “unicorn” is obviously a wild bull or ox, some have been led to believe it was a simple mistranslation. However, that may not necessarily be the case.

When the King James Bible was written, the term “unicorn” quite likely did not connote images of cute, playful horses with a spiral horn such as today’s modern fairy tales envision. “Aristotle mentions (Hist. anim., ii I; De part. anim., iii. 2) two-one horned animals, the oryx, a kind of antelope and the so-called “Indian ass.” In Roman times Pliny (N.H., viii. 30; 106) mentions the oryx, the Indian ass, and an Indian ox as one-horned; Aelian (De nat. anim., iii . 41; iv. 52) quoting Ctesis, adds that India produces also a one-horned horse, and says (xvi. 20) that the Monoceros was sometimes called Carcazonon, possibly a form of the Arabic Carcadan, rhinoceros.”3

Using the vernacular of the day the King James Bible was written, the Greek word ‘unicorn,’ meaning actual animals that existed in India resembling wild buffalo oxen and antelope with a single horn and possessing a fierce, nasty disposition, is an accurate translation for that time period. The imagery in that word’s usage in the mid-ages had nothing to do with today’s fairy tale and mythological imagery as the atheist is implying here. All modern translations of those verses omit unicorn and instead defer to the more accurate and generic “wild ox”, or “wild bull” as written in the original Hebrew texts.

 

Notes

1. Strong’s #7214

2. A Commentary; Critical, Experimental, and Practical on the Old and New Testaments; ©1945 Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Vol 1, p. 579

3. Encyclopedia Brittanica, ©1958 Encyclopedia Brittanica, Inc., Vol. 22, p. 697