Unicorns in the Bible

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Numbers 23:22-23 from the Geneva Bible (1560)

The unicorn existed in the ancient world as well as appeared in the unchallengeable Christian text, the Bible.  Various editions of the English Bible over the centuries described unicorns including the  Wycliffe (1383), Tyndale (1526), Coverdale/Great Bible (1535), Matthew (1537) Bishop’s (1568), Geneva (1587), and the King James (1611) Bibles.

The unicorn appeared in these editions probably due to an issue of translation.  The Hebrew Old Testament described an animal most likely to be a wild ox or an oryx, and the scribes who translated the Hebrew into Greek called it monokeros (mono-one, kerato-horn, or, monceras).  When the Bible was translated from Greek into Latin, the word became unicorn (uni-one, cornu-horn).

The unicorn appeared in the Old Testament in the Book of Numbers, Deuteronomy, Job, Psalms, and Isaiah.  In the Book of Numbers, after the Israelites fled Egypt but before they arrived in Canaan, Balaam refused the King of Moab’s offer to curse the Hebrews and said, “God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn” (Numbers 23:22). In the Book of Isaiah when Isaiah recited the oracles against the kingdom of Edom, he said, “And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land all be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness” (Isaiah 34:7). Whether Anglican, Puritan, or Catholic, most British Christians heard, read, or at the least were exposed to the stories of the Bible.  Thus, Christianity affirmed the existence of unicorns.

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