We’ve all seen the images of unicorns that look like beautiful white horses with a single spiral shaped horn coming out of its forehead standing in some majestic scene. Although they were suppose to be wild and free, they also were associated with some beautiful young maiden. Unicorns were a symbol of purity and virtue. It was believed that the unicorn’s horn had the power to neutralize poisons just by touching them.
If you look up unicorns on the Internet, you will find a number of websites that all say the same thing. Unicorns are mythological animals that never really existed.
So what would you say if I told you that there really were unicorns that lived at one time? Would you believe me?
There are stories about unicorns from many different parts of the world including Syria, China, India, and Greece and all over medieval Europe. Unicorns have been portrayed as horses, goats, sheep and even a hare, all having one horn.
If you have been following along with the Articles 4 Kids series, you will know that we have been learning to be like the Bereans who turned to the Scriptures to see what is true or false. Like the Bereans, let’s go the Bible to see what it says about unicorns. (Note that I am using the 1599 Geneva Bible here.)
- Numbers 23:22: God brought them out of Egypt: their strength is as an unicorn.
- Numbers 24:8: God brought him out of Egypt: his strength shall be as an unicorn: he shall eat the nations his enemies, and bruise their bones, and shoot them through with his arrows.
- Deuteronomy 33:17: His beauty shall be like his firstborn bullock, and his horns as the horns of an unicorn: with them he shall smite the people together, even the ends of the world: these are also the ten thousands of Ephraim, and these are the thousands of Manasseh.
- Job 39:9-12: Will the unicorn serve thee? or will he tarry by thy crib? Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band to labor in the furrow? or will he plow the valleys after thee? Wilt thou trust in him, because his strength is great, and cast off thy labor unto him? Wilt thou believe him, that he will bring home thy seed, and gather it unto thy barn?
- Psalm 22:21: Save me from the lion’s mouth, and answer me in saving me from the horns of the unicorns.
- Psalm 29:6: He maketh them also to leap like a calf: Lebanon also and Shirion like a young unicorn.
- Psalm 92:10: But thou shalt exalt mine horn, like the unicorns, and I shall be anointed with fresh oil.
- Isaiah 34:7: And the unicorn shall come down with them, and the heifers with the bulls, and their land shall be drunken with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.
We know that the Bible is God’s Word and God does not and cannot lie, therefore there must have been a real animal called a unicorn. Now we just have to figure out what kind of animal the biblical unicorn was.
The Hebrew word used in the Bible is re’em. This word has been translated in various languages as unicorn, unicornis, einhorn, eenhorn, and monoceros, all of which translate “one horn”. Interestingly, the Hebrew word re’em, does not necessarily mean to have one horn. In fact, many early Jewish translators were not sure what animal was being referred to, so they don’t translate the word at all and leave it as re’em.
We may have a clue from outside the Bible as to what the re’em or unicorn was. Archaeologists discovered a Mesopotamian stone relief showing King Assurnasirpal hunting a wild ox that appears to have one horn. They also found texts that were connected to the relief carving that refer to the one horned ox as a rimu. It is possible that the world rimu and the Hebrew word re’em may be referring to the same animal. There are also some examples of Assyrian art that show a one-horned ox as well. This particular type of wild ox had horns that were perfectly symmetrical or the same on both sides. When you looked at them from the side, it looked like they only had one horn.
The wild ox of biblical times was the now extinct aurochs. They were large powerful beasts that were impossible to tame. The passage in Job describes the unicorn as a large powerful beast that would not be held in a barn or tamed enough to plow a field.
Something else we need to look at is that in several of the verses listed above, (Deut. 33:17 and Psalm 22:21) they refer to the horns (plural) of the unicorn which would indicate more than one horn, like those of the wild ox.
Could the unicorn mentioned in the Bible be the aurochs or wild ox? It is quite possible. Nowadays, most English Bibles use the term “wild ox” instead of unicorn. Even Modern Hebrew spoken today, uses the word re’em to refer to the wild ox.
While the unicorn may have been a one-horned animal or a two-horned animal such as the wild ox and not the pretty one-horned horse of mythology, the important thing to remember is that was a real animal that was powerful and untamable. For those that claim the biblical unicorn was some type of mythological animal that never existed is to undermine the Word of God and the Bible.