When reading the pages of Scripture there are those passages we come upon that raise questions in our mind. We realize God's word is inspired and therefore, inerrant. So when we come across particular words we begin to wonder just what the real truth is.
One such subject is the unicorn. Having been somewhat jaded by the popular song of the 1960's there may be a lingering belief that unicorns used to exist, and because they didn't want to stop playing long enough for Noah to get a male and female on the ark, they became extinct. Others believe unicorns never existed except in mythological stories and epics, and the wonderful world of make believe.
What then do we do when we read of unicorns in Scripture? This was brought to my attention recently in questions that were asked by inmates at the Grayson County Detention Center. In the writings of Moses 'unicorn' appears in Numbers 23:22;24:8; and Deut. 33:17. Before the days of Moses were the days of Job and in Job 39:9,10, we find the unicorn mentioned again. After the days of Moses we find the unicorn mentioned in Psalm 22:21; 29:6; and 92:10. Isaiah 34:7 also mentions the unicorn. It must be pointed out that these passages of Scripture speak of the unicorn only in the King James Version.
As I began to research the subject of the unicorn from the Hebrew language, the word in the Hebrew text in translated 'buffalo.' There is a note saying 'unicorn' is from the Greek word monokeros, 'mono' meaning one and the 'keros' perhaps having reference to the horn, since that is our depiction of the unicorn. This Greek term is found in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is not found in the Greek New Testament or in the Greek lexicons used to translate from the Greek to other languages.
Most translations will render the Hebrew term 'wild ox,' with antelope also used in places. Another rendering of monokeros is rhinoceros. The unicorn of Numbers 23:22 and 24:8 as well as the other passages may just be depictions of the popular thinking of the time when the Septuagint was translated (around the 3rd century B.C.) and is simply the choice of the translators. It should also be noted that during this time of the Septuagint's being translated the Grecian Empire ruled and Greek mythology would be on the rise. Why only the King James Version translators chose to use 'unicorn' is not clear.
It is important to keep in mind that when you read the passages listed which make mention of the unicorn, the emphasis seems to be on the horn and its meaning is tied to the strength often associated with the horn of an animal. With this in mind the rendering of the Hebrew term re'em as rhinoceros or wild ox is most likely the better translation.
Concerning the question that serves as the title for this article, it is reasonable to conclude Moses, as well as David and Isaiah, did not see a unicorn. Rodger