Unicorns in the Bible


When many people hear that unicorns are mentioned in the Bible, they imagine the mythical unicorn with a flowing mane and a sparkling horn. But, that image of the unicorn is only fantasy. Unicorns are mentioned in the Bible – in fact, they are mentioned in the Bible in nine times. But, before you rush off to check it out for yourself you need to know that the word unicorn only occurs the in the Authorized King James Version of the Bible, which means if you have a modern Bible, another word has probably been substituted for unicorn to distinguish the unicorns mentioned in the Bible  from the mythical ones.

A Little History – Translations Gone Wrong

You may be wondering how anyone knows that the unicorns of the Bible were not really the legendary unicorns. The truth is, no one really knows for sure, but there are some historical clues that shed some light on the topic. Because the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and later translated to other languages, it is easy for the meaning of words to change over time. That’s exactly what many religious scholars think happened with the word for unicorn.

Around 250 B.C. a group of Greek scholars undertook the task of translating the original Hebrew Biblical text to Greek to make it available to the public. When these scholars encountered the Hebrew word re’em, they were puzzled. It probably referred to a wild ox with one horn, but because it had become extinct, the Greeks did not have a word for the name of the animal. They did what any good scholar would do and translated it to the closest word they knew. They used the word monokeros, meaning one-horned to describe the Biblical unicorn.

Later, when St. Jerome translated the Bible to Latin, he encountered the word monokeros and did the same thing. He used the Latin word unicornis, which also meant one-horned. In 1611, when a group of scholars translated the Bible to English, there was no English equivalent for the word unicornis, so they coined the new English word unicorn.

So What Was a Monokeros?

Interestingly, the Greek word monoceros (monokeros) gives us more clues to the identity of the Biblical unicorn.  Many point to the 1828 version of Webster’s Dictionary as proof that monokeros refers to the mythical unicorn and not some wild ox or rhino. While it is true that Webster’s Dictionary defines a monoceros as a unicorn (MONOC’EROS, noun 

[Gr. sole and horn.] The unicorn.), there is more to the story. The 1828 dictionary provides more detail in its definition of unicorn:  (U’NICORN, noun [Latin unicornis; unus, one, and cornu, horn.] 1. An animal with one horn; the monoceros. This name is often applied to the rhinoceros.)  Clearly, the word monceros did refer to a unicorn, but it was more likely a type of one-horned rhino than a mythical unicorn dancing among rainbows.

So, What Do We Know About Unicorns in the Bible Verses?

While the appearance of the unicorn isn’t described in the Bible, it does provide some clues to the nature of this mysterious beast.

  • In Numbers 23:22 and 24:8, the Bible speaks of the strength of a unicorn.
  • Deuteronomy 33:17,  Psalms 22: 21 and Psalms 92:10 speak of the unicorn’s horn.
  • Job 39:10 and 39:10 both speak of the unicorn not tilling the earth.
  • In Psalms 29:6, the unicorn is likened to a young calf skipping, while Isiah 34:7 mentions unicorns in the same context as bulls and bullocks.

From the context of the word unicorn in the Bible, we can conclude that the unicorn was an animal of great strength, similar to bulls and bullocks, with a notable horn. We can also conclude that it was not a domesticated animal used to till the fields.

The answer to the question “Are there unicorns in the Bible?” is yes, but no one knows for sure what the Biblical unicorn really looked like. Most scholars agree the unicorns mentioned in the Bible were either a type of wild ox – as the Hebrew name suggests – or a one-horned rhinoceros as the Greek suggests. Nearly everyone agrees that the Biblical unicorn is unlikely to match our image of the mythical unicorn.