On the Front Lines of the Culture Wars

On the Front Lines of the Culture Wars

Are there really unicorns in the King James Bible?

A painting of a unicorn, artist unknown

What? Unicorns in the Bible? Yes, they are mentioned nine times.

Could it be unicorns really existed?

A 1967 hit song by the Irish Rovers tells a fanciful story of how Noah couldn’t persuade any “silly” unicorns to get on board the Ark since they wanted to play in the rain.

But, what does the Bible say? Were there really unicorns in ancient times?


The word “unicorn” appears in the King James Version nine times – in Numbers 23:22 and 24:8, Deuteronomy 33:17, Job 39:9,10, Psalms 22:21, 29:6 and 92:10 and in Isaiah 34:7.

What was this biblical unicorn? And why don’t later translations of the Bible contain the word?

Numbers 23:22 in the King James Version reads: “God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.”

A statue in Wales


However, the New International Version says: “God brought them out of Egypt; they have the strength of a wild ox.”

The New American Standard Bible reads: “God brings them out of Egypt, He is for them like the horns of the wild ox.”

And the Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible says: “God hath brought him out of Egypt, whose strength is like to the rhinoceros.”

Well, which is it? Unicorn? Ox? Or rhino?

A re'em


The original Hebrew is the word re’em. What was a re’em? Scholars cannot agree. In the late Jewish author and skeptic Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, he offers this:

“The Hebrew word represented in the King James Version by ‘unicorn’ is re’em, which undoubtedly refers to the wild ox (an urus or an aurochs) which is ancestral to the domesticated cattle of today. Re’em still flourished in early historical times and a few existed into modern times, although it is now extinct. It was a dangerous creature of great strength and was similar in form and temperament to Asian water buffaloes.”

"A Virgin and a Unicorn" by Dominic Zampieri (1604)


Biblical scholar Bert Thompson, Ph.D., agrees. “When the first Greek translation of the Bible was prepared about 250 B.C., the re’em was already rare in the long-settled areas of the Near East. The Greeks, who had no direct experience with it, had no word for it.”

So, in their Septuagint translation of the Hebrew, they used the Greek word monokeros, which means “one-horned.” When the Bible was translated into Latin by St. Jerome, he used the Latin word unicornis — which means “one-horned” — but does not necessarily mean a horse with a single horn.

"Wild Woman and Unicorn" circa 1500


In 1611, rather than speculate, the King James Version scholars just made up a new English word “unicorn,” rather as they did with baptismo, Greek for full-water immersion. In that case, rather than offend King James I, who had been sprinkled, they invented a new English word, “baptism” which could mean “sprinkled, poured or immersed.”

“Some people claim the Bible is a book of fairy tales because it mentions unicorns,” writes Bible scholar Dr. Elizabeth Mitchel. “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 (Job 39:9-12.1).


What kind of animal was it?

“In Job 38-41, God reminded Job of the characteristics of a variety of impressive animals He had created, showing Job that God was far above man in power and strength.

“God points out in Job 39:9–12 that the unicorn, ‘whose strength is great,’ is useless for agricultural work, refusing to serve man or “harrow (plow) the valley.”

A white rhinoceros and baby


That might explain why some translators believe that the Hebrew word “re’em” actually was describing a rhinoceros — an incredibly moody and unpredictable animal that, unlike buffaloes, elephants or horses, defied any domestication.

A narwhal

“Modern readers have trouble with the Bible’s unicorns because we forget that a single-horned feature is not uncommon,” writes Dr. Mitchel.


She points out the rhinoceros has one horn. But so does the swordfish.

The Rhinoceros beetle

So does the rhinoceros beetle and the narwhal, is a marine arctic relative of the dolphin.

But the bottom line is that we just don’t know what kind of animal the re’em was.


“The absence of a unicorn in the modern world should not cause us to doubt its past existence,” notes Dr. Mitchel. “Think of the dodo bird. It does not exist today, but we do not doubt that it existed in the past.”

Medieval tapestry "The Hunt of the Unicorn"


Archeologist Austen Henry Layard, in his 1849 book Nineveh and Its Remains, sketched a single-horned creature from an obelisk in company with two-horned bovine animals. He identified the single-horned animal as an Indian rhinoceros. The biblical unicorn could have been one of those.

“Assyrian archaeology provides another possible solution to the unicorn identity crisis,” writes Dr. Thompson. “The biblical unicorn could have been an aurochs (a kind of wild ox known to the Assyrians as a rimu). ”

Humans fighting rimus was a popular sport for Assyrian kings. On a broken obelisk, for instance, King Tiglath-Pileser I boasted of slaying rimus in the Lebanon mountains.

Extinct since about 1627, aurochs were huge bovine creatures. Julius Caesar described them in his account of the Gallic Wars as: “a little below the elephant in size, and of the appearance, color, and shape of a bull.


“Their strength and speed are extraordinary; they spare neither man nor wild beast. Not even when taken very young can they be tamed.”

There is an account of a 1791 unicorn hunt in Africa, recorded in the 1832 revised edition of Calmet’s Dictionary of the Holy Bible, edited by Edward Robinson. He wrote:

The British Royal Crest


“Dr. Sparrmann, the Swedish naturalist, who visited the cape of Good Hope and the adjacent regions, in the years 1772-1776, gives, in his travels, the following account: Jacob Kock, who had traveled over the greater part of Southern Africa, found on the face of a perpendicular rock a drawing made by the Hottentots, representing a quadruped with one horn.”

“Hottentots” referred to African bushmen who live in South Africa’s Kalihari Desert. They reportedly told Dr. Sparrmann that the animal was “very much like the horse on which he rode, but had a straight horn upon the forehead. They added, that these one-horned animals were rare, that they ran with great rapidity, and were also very fierce.”


Robinson goes on to say that a “somewhat more definite account of a similar animal is contained in the Transactions of the Zealand Academy of Sciences at Flushing (published 1792). The account was transmitted to the society in 1791, from the Cape of Good Hope, by Mr. Henry Cloete.

“This animal resembled a horse, and was of a light-gray color, with white stripes under the lower jaw. It had a single horn, directly in front, as long as one’s arm and at the base about as thick. Towards the middle the horn was somewhat flattened, but had a sharp point; it was not attached to the bone of the forehead, but fixed only in the skin.

“The head was like that of the horse, and the size also about the same. The hoofs were round, like those of a horse, but divided below, like those of oxen. This remarkable animal was shot between Table Mountain and Hippopotamus River, about sixteen days’ journey on horseback from Cambedo, which would be about a month’s journey in ox-wagons from Capetown.


“Mr. Cloete mentions, that several different natives and Hottentots testify to the existence of a similar animal with one horn, of which they profess to have seen drawings by hundreds. He supposes that it would not be difficult to obtain one of these animals, if desired. His letter is dated at the Cape, April 8, 1791.”

In the Book of Job, God’s list of impressive animals goes on to discuss peacocks, ostriches, horses, hawks, and eagles. God builds up to a crescendo, commanding Job to look at the behemoth (Job 40:15). The behemoth’s description seems to match that several species of dinosaur.

To read a review of the film "The Last Unicorn," click on the image!


The list concludes with the leviathan, a powerful sea creature.

So, does the Bible really talk about unicorns?

Yes. The King James Version uses the term nine times.

Were they horses with single horns coming out of their foreheads?

Probably not.

But the fact is we really don’t know — and neither did the translators.

To learn more about translating the King James Version of the Bible, CLICK HERE

CLICK HERE to view a pictorial gallery on unicorns.


To learn about a free giveaway of the DVD “KJB” telling the story of the King James Bible, CLICK HERE

CLICK HERE to take a quiz to see how much you know about the translation of the King James Version of the Bible

AND to see a prank video that includes President Obama riding a unicorn, CLICK HERE.


  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment MrTokarev

    Didn’t you hear? They have unicorns at the white house.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment LutheranChik

    News flash — the Bible isn’t a science book.

  • Bob

    Whew. I was always concerned that Noah, miffed by the unicorns playful tardiness, had left the one-horn’s to drown. That was hard to take, since as the song says, unicorns were “the loveliest of all.”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment jay cee

    It’s funny the direct interpretation of the bible changes as we become so called more intelligent. Makes me wonder if that’s what happened to “Atlantis”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment zuriek

    And here I was thinking that god was the only imaginary creature mentioned in the bible.

  • Pingback: Kotzbröckchen: Links der Woche 15.07.2012 | Kotzendes Einhorn

  • Averagebum

    The unicorn referred to in the Bible was likely to be the Single-Horn Rhinoceros. They are very rare. Most rhinos have 2 horns. Here is a picture of the unicorn:

  • Immortan Joe

    Yes, thank you! It’s important to analyze the entries in the Bible regarding unicorns, because that’s what could invalidate its veracity. Not the ill-tempered, murderous cosmic space boogeyman who obsesses about what we wear, who we associate with and how we make love for some reason, nor the “historical” events that left zero physical evidence of occurring, nor the plethora of characters with superhuman powers. It’s the unicorns that are important- we wouldn’t want to question the truthfulness of the book because of that potential mistranslation. /s

    • Polaris

      You sure are a butthurt individual.

    • Moobeаt

      Hi Joe, this is your parents, we’re worried about you, you’re 28, it’s about time to move out of our basement and get a real job, fighting religion on the internet doesn’t pay bills :(

      • David Alvarez

        Moooooobeeeaaaaaaat!! Is this the new Champion?

      • BarleySinger

        Simply allowing entrenched idiocy to go by without saying a word, lends weight to it. Silence is the voice of complicity. If you say nothing in the face of this rubbish, you promote.

        The book of Genesis also talks about the equivalent of demi-gods, “the suns of god looked down at the daughters of man and found them pleasing” who are the spawn of human women and either “angles” or some other similar beings – who went on to become the “heroes of old”.

        Meanwhile a huge portion of humanity believes in all of this, without question. Mythology may be able to tell us things about what was important to people long ago, and what their societies were like, but they are not “historical accounts”.

        • skwills

          The thign is, nothign in Genesis 6 actually identifies the Sons of God as Angels or gods, and most Biblical Scholars see them as just a different set of Humans, for example, Seth’s line VS Ables.

          Or just the peopel who worshipped God VS those who didnt.

          It need not be anythign near the equivolent of Demi-gods.

        • KamonSence1951

          Exactly. I find it fascinating that billions of people so deeply believe in so many “mythical” things solely based on faith, what they were taught and won’t question, and totally ignore the many horrible things and contradictions in the bible. YET, they scoff and laugh at any mention, theories, possibilities and scientific findings that have opened up many questions regarding the probability that perhaps we are here not because of gods, but because beings from other celestial places could have been on earth millions of years before humans ever set foot on it. Are they the creator of humans? Were they misunderstood and seen as gods by ancient people? Is that less far fetched than some of the screwy things in the bible? If anything, to think humans are or were the sole beings of intelligence in the universe is blatant stupidity and the height of arrogance. But then, even with the great possibility of definitive proof someday, will the church and the devout believers still deny or continue to believe that their god also created aliens? Probably. Could “we” humans actually be the aliens of this planet, indigenous to another planet? Absolutely.

      • KamonSence1951

        Dear Mom & Dad, you raised me to have faith and only question things not of the bible or those things I heard in church. You taught me to go through life blindly accepting what I was told about a man in the sky who only answers the prayers of people he likes, those who beg him to hear them, and ignores all other innocents who suffer including children who die from abuse, starvation and illness. You say god will bless us, but I doubt the innocent people who died on 9-11 felt very blessed. I don’t need a book written by mere humans who created their own versions of many gods and rules to control people by to make me a responsible, moral and decent human. I am a good person because that is how one thrives and prospers in a civil society.

        I love you and dad, and I am not offended by you or anyone else believing in any god. That is your choice. I am however offended by believers who indoctrinate their children by teaching them only one version of religion and not giving them the opportunity and knowledge to learn about other religions, including what atheists are, to help them choose and decide for themselves what is best for them when they are old enough. Most people follow the belief system or religion they were born into. What if you were born into a different culture? Would you have been conscious enough to find your way back to your current belief system? Would you have taught me to be a Christian who believes in Christ if you were born and raised in a Hindu, Jewish or Muslim family? I doubt it. Are your current beliefs merely a product of your environment and not the result of conscious choice? I think so. Have you invested any time to learning history? I know you haven’t because if you did, you would understand from a scientific stance there is proof that Christianity’s teachings were largely assembled from pre-Christian myths, and that the story of Jesus being a god or the son of god was a fictional character pieced together from many, many earlier mythical pagan figures with almost identical stories, including virgin births and resurrection.

        Just love me for the good person I am as I love you, and please continue to enjoy your beliefs and religion as you see fit, but I beg you to not impose what you belief on me or on others, and hope that others do the same towards you. Please allow people to just be people first without your religious judgments and assumptions, and I will try harder to do the same from my perspective.

    • Peter L.

      Don’t forget, god watches your holes.

    • skwills

      I take it you did not read the actual article you are replying to. It prety well invalidates the Unicorn objection.

  • Prescott Bush

    This is an important topic well addressed by the scholars at the Biblical Unicorns Research Society.

  • Michael Lee

    Your 1611 etymology for unicorn is nonsense. The very first edition of Wycliffe’s Bible (printed by hand in 1382) renders Numbers 23:22 as “Whos strengthe is lijk to an vnycorn”, and that’s not even the first appearance of the word in print. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the Ancrene Wisse contains the following adage: “Mon is wulf oðer liun. oðer unicorne.” [which would translate to “Man is wolf or lion or unicorn” in more modern English].

    • skwills

      But what did the term Unicorn mean? Also, doesn’t the Hebrew Original take precedent over the Wycliffe? Also, didnt’ Wycliffe and his Lollards produce Manuscriots rather than Print?

      • Michael Lee

        It was referring to a rhinoceros, but even in that usage Wycliffe’s Bible is not the first text to use the word “unicorn.” The truth is that the origin of the word is not in the Bible. Also, when I said “in print,” I was being rather semantically lazy. I meant “in publication.”

        • skwills

          I think we agre then. I had thought you meant that Unicorns, as int he mythical creature, was int he Bible.

          Which the article deals with. So I also made a mistake here.

    • KamonSence1951
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