Unicorns in the Bible

Does the bible suggest unicorns exist? According to the KJV translation of the bible, there are unicorns (Numbers 23:22, Numbers 24:8, Deuteronomy 33:17, Job 39:9-10, Psalm 22:21, Psalm 29:6, Psalm 92:10, Isaiah 34:7). If the bible is true then why does it mention mythical creatures like unicorns?

Unicorns exist; Narwhals and Rhinos are unicorns since the word unicorn means single-horned. The Hebrew word “re’em” (רְאֵם), is what is translated as a unicorn in the KJV. However, bible scholars aren’t actually sure what this re’em is. This leaves the possibility that the re’em is referring to another creature that went extinct since the time those scriptures were written, perhaps some mammalian creature that looks like an ox or horse with the horn of a rhino. Modern Bible translations often translate “unicorn” as “wild ox”. The Greek Septuagint translates re’em (רְאֵם) as monokeros (μονόκερως), a compound word from μόνος (monos) which means “only one” / “single” and κέρας (keras) in reference to the horn. This was translated to Latin as “unicornis”, which the King James translation picks up as a unicorn.

Mythical unicorns are not even called unicorns in their native origins, just more cultural confusion and linguistic mutation over time caused by a mix of European and Asian cultures. The modern fairytale version may be based on a creature from India often found carved on soap stones. The Greeks supposedly encountered it when Alexander conquered Persia and made contact with India. Ancient Greeks like Ctesias, and Antigonus of Carystus wrote about an “Indian Ass” with a horn. Ancient Romans like Pliny the Elder mentions the oryx and an Indian ox (perhaps a Greater one-horned rhinoceros) as one-horned beasts, as well as “a very fierce animal called the ‘monokeros’ which has the head of the stag, the feet of the elephant, and the tail of the boar, while the rest of the body is like that of the horse; it makes a deep lowing noise, and has a single black horn, which projects from the middle of its forehead, two cubits [900 mm, 35 inches] in length.” Another possible influence is a creature from Chinese mythology called a Qilin (麒麟) pronounced Kirin, which wasn’t even really a horse, but more like a deer. It was often translated as a unicorn in English even though the Chinese have a separate word for a unicorn (single-horned creature).

Rhinos and Narwhals are the only animals that I know of that can naturally fit this description of single-horned. There are about 5 species of rhinoceros known today and none of the modern nomenclatures uses the word “unicorn”, because language isn’t static and variations in pronunciation, spelling, and definitions influence colloquial expression in various regions and across time. In other words, the definitions have changed to use more modern words. Webster’s 1824 dictionary describes a unicorn as a single-horned creature, and since the KJV was written in 1611 this was likely what they originally meant since Webster defined it based on linguistics from before that time. There is another species with two horns, the bicornis. They are natives of Asia and Africa. Recognized today as the Indian rhinoceros (scientific name Rhinoceros unicornis), and the Black Rhinoceros (scientific name Diceros bicornis).

Websters 1824 Unicorn definition:
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.
2. The sea unicorn is a fish of the whale kind, called narwal, remarkable for a horn growing out at his nose.
3. A fowl, fossil unicorn or fossil unicorn’s horn, a substance used in medicine, a terrene crustaceous spar.
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More resources on the word unicorn and Rhinos:
AiG – The Real Unicorns
Unicorn and Rhinos
Siberian Unicorns