The “Unicorn” of the Bible.
The term “unicorn” is found nine times in the King James Version of the Bible (Num. 23:22; 24:8; Dt. 33:17; Job 39:9-10; Psa. 22:21; 29:6; 92:10; Isa. 34:7).
However, unicorn does not appear at all in the American Standard Version, nor in most other more modern versions. This should be a signal that the “problem” is one of translation, rather than a problem with the original, biblical text.
In ancient mythological literature, the unicorn was a horse-like animal with a prominent horn protruding from the center of its forehead. There is no evidence that this creature is alluded to in the scriptures.
Why Does the Bible Mention Unicorns? run time 8:07 seconds
The King James, Douay, and other versions, mention unicorns. But that is not so with modern versions that accurately render the Hebrew.—Psalm 22:21; 29:6; 92:10 (21:22; 28:6; 91:11, Douay).
Over the centuries many myths have developed about an animal with the body and head of a horse but having the legs of a deer and the tail of a lion. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of this legendary creature is the single twisted horn on its forehead.
“People once believed that the unicorn’s horn contained an antidote for poison, and during the Middle Ages, powders supposedly made from such horns sold for extremely high prices. Most scholars believe the image of the unicorn was derived from hearsay European accounts of the rhinoceros.” (The World Book Encyclopedia) Certain Assyrian and Babylonian monuments showed one-horned animals. These are now recognized as stags, ibex, cows, and bulls depicted from the side, a view that did not show both horns.
This is of some interest to Bible students because nine times the Scriptures refer to an animal by the Hebrew term reʼem′. (Numbers 23:22; 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9, 10; Psalm 22:21; 29:6; 92:10; Isaiah 34:7) Translators were long uncertain as to what animal was meant. The Greek Septuagint rendered reʼem′ with the sense ‘of one horn,’ or unicorn. The Latin Vulgate often translates it as “rhinoceros.” Other versions use ‘wild ox,’ ‘wild beasts,’ or ‘buffalo.’ Robert Young simply transliterates the Hebrew into English as “Reem,” basically leaving the reader in the dark.
Modern scholars, though, have eliminated much confusion over the reʼem′. Lexicographers Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner show that it means “wild oxen,” with the scientific identification Bos primigenius. This is a “subfamily of the large horned ungulate family.” The New Encyclopædia Britannica explains:
“Certain poetical passages of the Old Testament refer to a strong and splendid horned animal called reʼem′. This word is translated ‘unicorn’ or ‘rhinoceros’ in many versions, but many modern translations prefer ‘wild ox’ (aurochs), which is the correct meaning of the Hebrew reʼem′.”
Since in current English “ox” has the sense of a castrated male, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures consistently and correctly renders reʼem′ “wild bull.” The aurochs (wild ox, or bull) seems to have become extinct by the 17th century, but scientists have deduced that it was quite different from the unicorn of legend. The ancient aurochs had a body height of about six feet [1.8 m], and a length of some ten feet [3 m]. It might weigh 2,000 pounds [900 kg], and each of its two horns could be over 30 inches [75 cm] long.
This certainly accords with the Biblical mention of the reʼem′, or wild bull. It was noted for its strength and intractable disposition (Job 39:10, 11) as well as its swiftness. (Numbers 23:22; 24:8) Evidently it had two horns, not one horn like the legendary unicorn. Moses referred to its horns when illustrating the two powerful tribes that would spring from Joseph’s two sons.—Deuteronomy 33:17.
So the Bible does not support the idea of unicorns as renowned in legend. It does draw an accurate, though limited, picture of the massive and fear-inspiring aurochs, or wild bull, that existed in Biblical times and down into the not-too-distant past.