Painting of the Elasmotherium sibiricum or ‘Siberian unicorn’ above by Heinrich Harder. Photograph: Public Domain
Much attention in the past two days has been devoted to something quite unexpected -Unicorns. In the midst of headlines detailing an attempted plane hijacking in Cyprus and a suicide bomber in Pakistan killing 69 people,  we find headlines about unicorns. Unicorns clearly get people’s attention as they have, for the most part, been grouped along side of leprechauns and fairies in a long list of other childhood fairytales. Not so much anymore though. A fossil discovered by scientists show that these animals may have roamed the earth at the same times humans did. Though they may have not had rainbow fur, they did have one horn and looked much like a cross between a horse and a rhino.  To be fair, scientist have known of the existence of the Siberian Unicorn for some time, but until now it has been assumed that they went extinct long ago and never roamed the earth at the same time that humans did. Job is an interesting place to look in this regard considering the KJV use of “unicorn” in its translation. Below is the translation in the ESV and the KJV.
Job 39:9–10 (KJV 1900) 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?
Job 39:9–10 (ESV) “Is the wild ox willing to serve you? Will he spend the night at your manger? Can you bind him in the furrow with ropes,or will he harrow the valleys after you?
The reason why I give you both the KJV and the ESV is because the ESV here follows the Ancient Hebrew manuscripts while the KJV translates the Hebrew but uses the specific term unicorn from the Greek Septuagint (called the LXX, a translation of the Hebrew). The Hebrew term here is רְאֵם which is a general term for wild ox or another two horned animal like it (Heberew may not have had a specific name for some animals). It gets interesting though because the ancient translators of the LXX understood this word for ox here to refer to a unicorn. So the translators took רְאֵם (wild ox) and translated it as μονόκερως which is best translated unicorn in English or one horned animal (μονό- one). This is why the KJV (as well as Luther in his German translation in 1534) translated this as unicorn.
This translation of the Hebrew word רְאֵם for ox here into the Greek word for unicorn is at the very least interesting, especially in light of the recent discovery.
See our other “According to the Bible” articles: