re'em and unicorn and wild ox

Schmuel schmuel at
Fri Jun 14 16:10:53 EDT 2002

Shalom b-hebrew,

Michael Abernathy, (back in January)
>     Some time before the first century of the common era, a group of Jewish
>scholars in Egypt translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek.  Admittedly, there
>are a number of problems in comparing the Masoretic text with the LXX.  But
>there are a few places that I think it is unlikely that they correctly
>translated the intent of the original.  For example, in Numbers 23:22 the ox
>became a unicorn.


I would like to discuss this a bit...
Although I may get a little flack since I am looking at this partly
   from a King James translation perspective .. :-)  Here I found some 
Septy details...
A Look at the Greek
However, when we look at the Septuagint ...In all nine verses above, the 
LXX supports the idea of a single-horned creature, using the word 
"monokeros" (derived "mono-" meaning "singular" or "one", and "keras" 
meaning "horn"). .. It should be remembered though, that a single-horned 
creature seems to create the Deut 33:17 problem mentioned above.

And any other interesting tidbits (OId Latin, DSS, whatever)
... (I put Septuagint in quotes because it is a loosely defined term)

Seems the Septuagint should be considered real evidence for the unknown 
of the biblical Hebrew meaning of re'em, as it is perhaps the earliest 
and re'em is included in Penteteuch, which is more reliable in terms of the 
than Writings or Prophets..

I did notice that Rashi defined re'em as a beautiful-horned animal....
(though not one-horned), and the scriptural passages include horn(s) 

This was helpful...
The unicorn ... the Bible does not refer to fantasy animals Carl Wieland, 
M.B., B.S
      Many Jewish translations simply left it untranslated, because
      they were not sure which creature was being referred to.

       Mesopotamian reliefs have been excavated which show King Assurnasirpal
       hunting oxen with one horn. The associated texts show that this 
animal was
       called 'rimu'. It is thus highly likely that this was the 'reem' of 
the Bible, a wild ox.

      It appears that the reason it was shown in Assyrian (but not 
Egyptian) art as
      one-horned was as an artistic way of expressing the beauty of the 
fact that these
      horns on the 'rimu/reem' were very symmetrical, such that only one 
could be seen
      if the animal was viewed from one side. The first to translate the 
Hebrew Old Testament
      into Greek probably knew that the 'rimu/reem' was depicted as 
one-horned, so they
      translated it as monoceros (one horn).


Now the re'em to unicorn issue has at least three different aspects
    a) mythological
    b) the definition of re'em (or conjectures as to its meaning in 
biblical times)
    c) the usage of the plural in the Deuteronomy passage...
             b and c are my interest, the web pages above and 1828 
Webster's below debunk A

Now we discuss is the plural issue a ..
                                                  . b is interspersed 
throughout the post :-)

Two or three usages of the word re'em  have unusual singular/plural issues, 
not just in the KJV
but also in e.g. the JPS-1985, and I would like to understand more about it..

Sometimes what appears to be a singular translates to a plural

(as the KJV does in Deut 33:17, the claim is that this is simply 'wrong'
   and done only because a singular unicorn would have only one horn),

Yet also what appears to be a plural translates to a singular ..
  Psalm 29:6, in the JPS as well as the KJV (I haven't checked others)

Deut 33:17  is the main cry of grammatical error..  (allowing for re'em to 
be unicorn)
... the claim is made that the plural was added to match the plural of one unicorn
     cannot have horns (putting aside a "symmetrical" understanding covered 

Deuteronomy 33:17
His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the 
horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends 
of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the 
thousands of Manasseh.   (not plural form)

Why Psalm 29:6 is a singular in multiple translations puzzles me,
   in Jewish translation as well, did I misread ?
Ps 29:6
He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young 
unicorn. (Hebrew plural form)

Isaiah 34:7 and Psalm 22:21 are simple plural usages
Isa 34:7
And 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.              (Hebrew plural form)

Ps 22:21
Save me from the lion's mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the 
unicorns.  (Hebrew plural)

Psalm 92:10 has horn plural, I think in Vulgate or Septuagint only though.
Ps 92:10
But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn: I shall be 
anointed with fresh oil.

The "Hebrew plural form" re'emim is not in Deut 33:17, yet the KJV has it 
in plural,
and yet the opposite seems to happen in Psalm 29:6, not only in the KJV but 
in the JPS-1985 which I looked at...  .. why ?

(the rest of straight singular passages are at bottom)

Are the singular and plural usages "not so simple" as just
im=plural of number, lack of im=singular ?

In your opinions, in terms of the plural, is the re'em to unicorns 
translation defensible ...
e.g. are there times where a word that is not in a plural form can 
translate to an
        English plural of number
(the obverse .. or inverse..or reverse. :-)... is true... but I wonder 
about this possibility? )

One can say it must be a plural because a unicorn only has one horn, and 
the horns in
Deut 33:17 are plural, but that has a degree of circularity, I am trying to 
see the Hebrew
grammar understandings...

And anyone who wants to comment on the meaning of re'em, using modern Hebrew,
Septuagint, Rashi or whoever .. :-)  Please do so.....

Thank you... all help appreciated.....

Shabbat Shalom

Postcript/Footnote type info..

other unicorn passages, simple singular

Nu 23:22
God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.

Nu 24:8
God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an 
unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their 
bones, and pierce them through with his arrows.

Job 39:9-10
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?

Transliterated R@'em
Phonetic        reh-ame'       Noun Masculine
probably the great aurochs or wild bulls which are now extinct. The exact 
meaning is not known.
Some more sources...  UNICORN:  (watch.pair also)
A Defense of King James  By Tim and Barb Aho
There were common English usages of the word "unicorn" in the 19th century 
and probably in Elizabethan era also. The 1828 Webster's Dictionary does 
not even mention a mythical creature but defines unicorns as varieties of 

Unicorn, n. [L. unicornis; unus, one, and cornu, horn.]
1. An animal with one horn: the monoceros. This name is often applied to 
the rhinoceros.
2. The sea unicorn is a fish of the whale kind, called narwal,
     ramarkable for a horn growing out at its nose.
3. A fowl. Fossil unicorn, or fossil unicorn's horn, a substance used in 
     a terrene crustaceous spar. 22.  The Unicorn In The Bible  Did the unicorn exist?
The next author to speak of the Unicorn was Aristotle in his Historia 
Animalium. Here, he also calls the Unicorn the wild Indian ass, and he 
speaks of how the animal is single-horned (Aristotle, 89).
(more historical info on what a unicorn was...)
 >23. Why would the Holy Spirit mis-guide the translators to employ the use 
of mythical creatures like "unicorn" for wild ox, "satyr" for "wild goat", 
"cockatrice" for common viper, when today we know what the real name of 
these creatures is?< (one defense of the KJV 
usage)  ?
An article on The Biblical Unicorn - "unicorn" = dinosour? (link not yet found)

Perhaps this word is one of the cases the KJV translators had in mind when 
they said,

" hath pleased God in his divine providence, here and there to scatter 
words and sentences of that difficulty and doubtfulness, not in doctrinal 
points that concern salvation, (for in such it hath been vouched that the 
Scriptures are plain) but in matters of less moment, that fearfulness would 
better beseem us than confidence...".  (and basic charge of error and rhino 
In consulting the Latin Vulgate, it was seen that this word, re'em, was 
given as monoceras. Ah-hah! Unicorn!  (more Vulgate and Septuagint info)
Mythological and Mysterious Creatures in the KJV Unicorns By: Brian Tegart
    (singular and plural chart of unicorn, ox)
Unicorns and the KJV by Rick Norris
The earlier English Bibles (Wycliffe's, Tyndale's, Coverdale's, Matthew's, 
Great, Taverner's, Geneva, and Bishops') all had "unicorn" [singular] at 
Deuteronomy 33:17.
Unicorns The "Unicorn" is mentioned nine times in the KJV (Numbers 23:22; 
24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9,10; Psalm 22:21; 29:6; 92:10; Isaiah 
34:7). In Deuteronomy 33:17 it says the unicorn has "horns" plural, so the 
KJV solved this problem by translating "unicorn" as plural "unicorns." It 
is an unfortunate translation of the Hebrew "reem" which means "wild ox" 
(BDB, 910b). It seems that the LXX translation made the error which was 
carried over into the Latin unicornis.
    (this is the basic charge of error)
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia WILD OX - claim of error - against usage

Schmuel at

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