Those pesky biblical unicorns
As everyone knows, the Bible mentions unicorns several times. For those that believe the Bible to be inerrant, this presents a problem. They have to argue that unicorns did indeed exist. For example, on the Answers in Genesis web site there is a lengthy essay which opens with:
Some people claim the Bible is a book of fairy tales because it mentions unicorns. However, the biblical unicorn was a real animal, not an imaginary creature. The Bible refers to the unicorn in the context of familiar animals, such as peacocks, lambs, lions, bullocks, goats, donkeys, horses, dogs, eagles, and calves.
The Biblical unicorn was a real animal? Indeed!
Interestingly, Isaiah 34:7 was recently brought to my attention as one of the places where unicorns are mentioned. As I do occasionally, I chose to open my trusty old print copy of the Revised Standard Version to put the reference into context. Here is the relevant verse:
7. Wild oxen shall fall with them, and young steers with the mighty bulls. Their land will be soaked with blood, and their soil made rich with fat.
"Hold it, John", you might say. You have the wrong verse. The word unicorn does not appear.
Oh, the verse is indeed correct, and as far as I can determine, the word unicorn does not appear anywhere in the Revised Standard Version.
So - off to Bible Gateway which has numerous versions of the text of the Bible online. In the King James Version we do indeed find unicorns in that very same verse, Isaiah 34:7:
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.
So, which is correct? Unicorns? Or wild oxen? Most English language versions on Bible Gateway do not mention unicorns. Here's the score:
- Unicorns - 4;
- Wild oxen - 18;
- Buffalo - 1;
- Rams - 1;
- Oxen - 1;
- Bullocks - 1;
- Wild Animals - 1.
And the unicorns are clustered in the older versions, those not based on current Biblical scholarship.
What we are dealing with here is perhaps translators' choice or, what seems more likely, translators' error, which seems to originate with the Wycliffe Bible and carried forward to the King James version.
How about foreign versions?
- The four French versions at Bible Gateway all refer to buffalo (buffles).
- The dozen Spanish versions also refer mostly to buffalo (búfalos), but with wild oxen (bueyes salvajes) and wild bull (toros salvajes) variants.
- And one lonely unicorn in the 1569 Spanish Protestant version, eliminated in later versions.
I suppose I could spend hours checking out other foreign language versions and using Babel Fish to sort out what they are saying but I suggest the conclusion is pretty clear: Most biblical authorities do not agree with the idea that the original text intended "unicorns." Rather the intention was some form of wild cattle. Quite a different beast!
One further nail in the unicorn's coffin (not that a coffin is required for an imaginary beast) is the Torah. Is the unicorn in the Torah, the Jewish version of the Old Testament? Let's go to Jewish Answers:
Does the Torah mention the unicorn?
The Torah doesn't mention an animal with one horn, but the Talmud does mention it, and there are even Midrashim that associate it with Adam.
So, there is a Jewish tradition of a unicorn, but it is nowhere in the Biblical text.
Where does this leave us. Simply, that the Bible versions which refer to unicorns are almost certainly in error. And those that defend the existence of unicorns - such as the Answers In Genesis people and other blind followers of the King James Version - are also in error. Their supposedly inerrant version of the Bible is clearly wrong and they are forced to reject four centuries of subsequent Bible studies by learned Christian theologians to defend their indefensible position.
Of course silly beliefs demand parodies, and a good one has been in existence for a few years. Visit the Unicorn Museum which...
[by] focusing on the more implausible aspects of this reputed infallible document [the Bible], the Unicorn Museum seeks to illustrate the $27 Million charade that is the Creation Museum and highlight the intellectual laxity that characterizes Creationism and Intelligent Design.
Now that's a worthy aim - and perhaps makes unicorns in the Bible worthwhile.