If you read the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, you will come away thinking that the ancient Hebrews believed in unicorns. This is understandable since there are nine verses referring to unicorns: Numbers 23:22, Numbers 24:8, Deuteronomy 33:17, Job 39:9 & 10, Psalms 22:22, Psalms 29:6, Psalms 92:10, and Isaiah 34:7,
Many atheists take potshots at Christian Biblical literalism by pointing out that taking the Bible literally would entail believing in ridiculously fantastic creatures such as unicorns. Some Atheists get great joy out of showing Biblically naive believers that their beloved Bible has unicorns populating it.
However, examination of the Hebrew makes it clear that the KJV is just a mistranslation. Wheew, Christians are off the hook on this one — not that there aren’t a lot more hooks out there waiting for them !
Here are the linguistic facts:
- The Hebrew word translated “unicorn” in the KJV is רְאֵ֖ם (re’em) which in the TaNaK (Hebrew Bible) actually means “wild bull” or “ram” and is translated correctly is most other Bibles.
- The Latin translation of the same word in the Vulgate is “rhinocerotis”
- The Greek word in the Septuagint is μονοκέρωτος (monokέrōtoς) which means “one” (mono) “horn” (kerotos). This mistranslation of re’em and may have caused of the misunderstanding. You see, a “rhinocerotis” has one horn.
Anyway, please cut the Christians a break — except those who worship the KJV, of course! There are a lot more substantive debates to be had. And besides, approaching conversations about the Bible in this manner, disobeys what I call the Debator’s Golden Rule which calls for helping the other side present their strongest argument. And more than all this, and the point of this post, is that keeping all the unicorn talk clear-headed allows us to save the unicorn for its most important task: debunking the burden of proof of fantastical notions (covered in another post). For that purpose, Atheists have created the notion of the Invisible Pink Unicorn (Wiki) as well as the Flying-Spaghetti Monster (wiki) for which we are all deeply grateful. We don’t want to confuse our conversations with Christians by discussing biblical unicorns when we have the much more useful invisible pink uniform waiting patiently in the forest ready to come to our rescue ! 🙂
Notes & Pic Acknowledgement:
- Thanks to Charles Kozierok for his beautiful picture to put behind the unicorn. See his site here.
- see this Bible side-by-side translation for verses
- See my other “Word!” posts, here.