What Are Unicorns Doing in the Bible?

In Numbers 23:22, we encountered the first mention of unicorns in the King James bible when it says He hath as it were the strength of an unicorn. But this won’t be the last mention of what we now consider a mythical animal, often gracing the bedroom walls or notebook binders of small girls.

It shows up in Deuteronomy 33:17 as well, again in reference to a description of the lord in having horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth.

In The Book of Job 39:9, the reference is no longer a description of God, but as an actual animal of the flesh. Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee?

Were unicorns being used as farm animals, much like an ox?

The Book of Psalms 22:21 pleads to save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.

And in The Book of the Prophet Isaiah 34:7, the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.

What’s going on? Well, just as there are mentions of wizards in the bible, we don’t have to get all excited and take this as we would mean it today. Among biblical and historical scholars, there is much consensus that this particular English word wound up in the King James Bible by way of a Greek translation of an animal. That Greek word was “monoceros” or “one-horn”. But what was that animal being referred to?

The two leading theories of the day are that it was what we would now call a rhinocerous (another Greek word, meaning “nose-horn”). This would make sense when describing God as having the strength of one, but it also strikes an odd tone if rhinos were being used as farm animals. Anything’s possible, but most likely we’re led to the other theory about this mystery animal, and that’s a since extinct species known as aurochs (or urus), that was an ox-like creature that generations later would become the type of cattle we know today. While two-horned like a steer of today, thus making the “one-horn” reference a bit wobbly, this would account for the use of it as a farm animal.

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