In the Psalms David mentions "unicorns". What exactly was unicorns to David's mind?

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    Can you add the chapter and verse number where David mentions unicorns in the book of Psalms? Feb 4 at 16:03
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    Not just Psalms: in KJV - Numbers 23:22, 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9,10; Psalm 22:21, 29:6, 92:10; Isaiah 34:7. See biblehub.com or biblegateway.com to see how other Bible versions translate. Often it is "wild ox" - it could have been any bovine with more than one horn (eg Deut 33:17, Ps 22:21).. but it was living in the wild, strong, and untameable. Feb 4 at 19:19
  • If it were a "unicorn", this exposition is interesting: unicornyard.com/unicorns-in-the-bible
    – pygosceles
    Feb 5 at 18:15

2 Answers 2


While we can't know with 100% certainty, many believe that the "רְאֵם" ("re'em" or "reëm") was a rhinoceros.

The Septuagint translates "רְאֵם" as "μονόκερως" ("monókerōs", which became "monoceros"). As late as Webster's first edition, "monoceros" and "unicorn" were explicitly understood to be synonyms... and moreover referred to an animal belonging to rhinocerotidae. One source describes monoceros as having "feet resembling those of an elephant and a tail like a stag", while multiple sources equate "monoceros" and "unicorn". Older descriptions of unicorns also suspiciously resemble elasmotherium sibiricum, which was certainly a member of rhinocerotidae.

It must be noted that there seems to be confusion as to whether "רְאֵם" had one horn or multiple horns. However, this is not surprising because some "rhinoceroses" have one horn (e.g. rhinoceros unicornis) and some have two (e.g. diceros bicornis).

Another important point is that "רְאֵם" is often used alongside "פַר" ("par", which is understood to refer to a member of bos, if not bovidae more generally). Consider, for example, Isaiah 34:7

And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls

The latter two come from the Hebrew "אַבִּירִ֑ים" ("abbirim", "mighty bulls") and "וּפָרִ֖ים" ("uparim", "young bulls"), while the former is of course "רְאֵמִים֙" ("re'emim"). Clearly, the second and third refer to variations (mature adults and young / calves) of the same animal, but it would be somewhat strange if bos that were missing a horn used a completely separate word. It's more likely that "רְאֵם" ("re'em") refers to an animal that is not bos.

A critical passage is Deuteronomy 33:17: "His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh." Two horns are related to two individuals, Ephraim and Manasseh, but critically Ephraim is greater than Manasseh. This asymmetry is not consistent with a member of bovidae, whose horns are usually (approximately) symmetrical, but it is consistent with the larger and smaller horns of a two-horned rhinoceros.

The God-denying religion of Humanism will do anything it can get away with to paint Christianity as false. Deriding it as "superstitious" and accusing it of believing in "myths" (such as unicorns and dragons) is just one of the weapons in its arsenal.

It's true that the modern idea of a "unicorn" metamorphosed into something genuinely mythical, likely through a combination of highly stylized heraldic artwork and limited access to live specimens (found mainly in Africa and quite scarce in Europe, being almost certainly found only in menageries if at all). Rather than fighting back against this misrepresentation, however, modern translators seem to prefer to distance themselves from the accusation of Scripture portraying "mythical" creatures via a misguided conflation of "רְאֵם" ("re'em") with a "wild ox" (implying the aurochs, bos primigenius), where the latter — still a bos — would almost certainly be known as "פַר" ("par").

The evidence strongly suggests that ancient peoples knew the "unicorn" (in guise of the Latin "unicornis" and Greek "monókerōs") to be a real animal, distinct from bos and belonging to rhinocerotidae. Unsurprisingly, if we ignore the way "unicorn" wandered from its original meaning onto an animal that is purely myth, it's trivial to trace the meaning of the original words to the modern word "rhinoceros". (It should also be noted that the Vulgate used both "unicornis" and "rinoceros", creating a distinction that does not seem to be present in the Hebrew, and has been eliminated again in modern usage wherein "rhinoceros" can refer to both one- and two-horned animals.)

Considering its historical translations and the lineage thereof leading to the English "unicorn", clues such as the differently-sized horns and disagreement as to single or multiple horns, and the clear evidence that the English word "unicorn" departed at some point to refer to a mythical caricature of its original use to refer to a rhinocerotidae, it seems highly probably that the "רְאֵם" ("re'em") is a rhinoceros.


What are David's unicorns that he mentions in the Psalms?

Undoubtedly impossible to say for sure. This creature could be associated with some species of wild ox, wild bull, buffalo or rhinoceros. I have even read accounts of attributing the unicorn to the Tibetan unicorn.

A re'em, also reëm (Hebrew: רְאֵם), is an animal mentioned nine times in the Hebrew Bible. It has been translated as "unicorn" in the Latin Vulgate, King James Version, and in some Christian Bible translations as "oryx" (which was accepted as the referent in Modern Hebrew), "wild ox", "wild bull", "buffalo" or "rhinoceros". Rabbi Natan Slifkin has argued that the re'em was an aurochs, as has Isaac Asimov before him.


The King James Version of the Book of Job followed the Septuagint and Jerome's Vulgate in the translation of re'em into unicorn:

Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee? Wilt thou trust him, because his strength is great? or wilt thou leave thy labour to him? Wilt thou believe him, that he will bring home thy seed, and gather it into thy barn? — Job 39:9–12

Some Bible translations into English, including the American Standard Version and New American Standard Bible, interpret re'em as "wild ox" or "wild bull". - Re'em

It is unclear if David was actually writing about the unicorn as an actually known animal or a mythological creature. Scriptures at times are veiled in mysterious meanings.

The unicorn is a legendary creature that has been described since antiquity as a beast with a single large, pointed, spiraling horn projecting from its forehead. - Unicorn

Did the unicorn of Scriptures have one horn or two?

A Two Horned Unicorn?

So while there is a good basis to understand the biblical text to be referring to a single horned animal, many commentators suggest that the intended creature is the aurochs – a two horned wild ox. A creature with horns so identical and symmetrical that when viewed from the side, it would appear that the creature only had one horn. A strange suggestion for calling it a “unicorn” in my view. That would be like naming the single horned narwhale a “dot-head whale” because when viewed straight on from the front the horn would look like a dot. I don’t think people would call the narwhale that, nor does it seem feasible to name a two horned animal a unicorn because the horns looks like one horn from the side when everything was just right.

In support of the two horned wild ox as the meaning some suggest the KJV is mistaken at least in Deut 33.17 which mentions the unicorn. The verse appears to indicate the creature has two horns. Carl Wieland writes:

In the Hebrew of this passage, the word “horns” is plural, but the word re’em is singular. But if they translated it this way, it would read, ‘His horns are like the horns of a unicorn’, which would give a unicorn more than one horn, obviously a contradiction in terms.

Actually, it is the LXX – the Greek translation – where ‘horns’ is plural. Not the Hebrew. In the Hebrew translation (the Masoretic text) – the word ‘horn’ is singular as is the word for the creature – (reh-ahm). It can be readily demonstrated that the word “horn” is singular in Deut 33.17 by comparing it to the clearly plural form. For example, Dan 8.3 reads:

I looked up, and there before me was a ram with two horns. - Dan 8.3

This is the same root word: קרן (q r n ) – “horn”.

In Dan 8:3 the word used is: קרנים (q r n y m) – “horns”.

In Deut 33.17 the word used is: וקרני (v q r n y) – “and the horn of”

Note the word in Deut 33.17 is missing the plural ending. Some might point out that the verse goes on to speak of “with them” referring to the horns. But changing a pronoun to match how a concept is commonly expressed – in terms of number – is not unheard of. Consider Gen 5.2:

“He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them ‘man‘.” - Gen. 5.2

Notice the pronoun “them” is plural, but the noun “man” is singular. This follows the underlying Hebrew which also has a plural pronoun and a singular verb. We see the same thing happening in this verse with the horn of the unicorn. But when speaking of horn as a symbol of strength as the verse in Deuteronomy does, it is common to use the plural. So the verse in Deuteronomy follows the common expressions: speaking of the horn of the unicorn in the singular, but the horn of strength of a person (or people) in the plural.

So the verse in Deuteronomy is not speaking of a two horned unicorn, rather it is using the horn of a unicorn as a symbol of strength. So Moses is using a figure of speech – referencing the horn of a unicorn to invoke an image of strength, and then multiplying that strength by speaking of it in the plural – thus increasing the blessing he is placing on Joseph.

So once again as is normally the case, the Hebrew Text – the Masoretic text – preserves the preferred reading – with both the animal and its horn in the singular.


In summary, the bible does not make reference to magical mythical creatures – it references real creatures – though they may now be extinct. There is reason to believe that “unicorn” – a singled horned animal – is indeed the intended meaning, particularly since there are other words that could have been used, but weren’t. Additionally since the Septuagint is much closer in time to the original Hebrew text than the MT, it is much more likely the translators of the LXX retained the meaning of the word in question: ראם (reh-ahm) and translated it appropriately as “one-horn”. - Are Unicorns In The Bible?

For what it is worth, Unicorn are mentioned in the Revelations of Catherine Emmerich and she places them as living in the Tibetan Plateau which is why some think the Tibetan Unicorn (Pantholops hodgsonii) is the unicorn mentioned in the Bible.

"Unicorns still exist and herd together. I know of a piece of the horn of one of these animals which is for sick beasts what blessed objects are for men."

What are the special powers of a unicorn's horn?

Tibetan Antelopes: The Holy Unicorn of Tibetan Plateau

The Church fathers recognized the Unicorn as a symbol for Jesus Christ.

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