The Bible.and.Science.Forum fields questions on “unicorns in the Bible” at least twice per month. It’s a great example of how so many of the silliest anti-Bible taunts have taken on powerful mythologies which refuse to die no matter how much evidence is provided. Indeed, when ideologies are at stake, emotions tend to outweigh evidence. It will always be so. Therefore, we try to be realistic and accept the fact that linguistic realities won’t matter when an impassioned taunt is so delightfully useful. As a result, we usually address, and certainly publish for, the education-minded third-parties, not the mocker.
So, why did the KJV Bible of 1611–and the Wycliffe Bible (1382-1395, in Middle English, not Elizabethan ) it regularly follows—translate the somewhat obscure Hebrew word as UNICORN? The answer is very simple: They thought the Hebrew word referred to what we today call an Indian rhinoceros [Greek for “nose” +”horn”], but which until the 1800’s was known to English-speakers as a UNICORN (Latin for “one”+”horn”.) Now if someone wants to make fun of 1611 English speakers, including the KJV Bible translation committee, for using the Latin-derived UNICORN instead of the Greek-derived RHINOCEROS, by all means, get your laughs where you can. (I don’t get the joke, but humor is subjective, I guess.) But keep in mind that zoologists use both words in referring to the Indian rhino, the rhino which is known for having just one horn: Rhinoceros unicornis.
Of course, if someone wants to complain about the KJV Bible, why not go after the BIG problems instead of imaginary pixie unicorns, non-existent Pi=3 declarations, and ridiculous face-palms about “bats aren’t birds” and “rabbits don’t chew cud”? Leave behind the sand pile mud pies and join the adults. You could start with the embarrassing fact that the KJV is sometimes closer to being a translation of late manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate than it is a translation of the Tanakh and the Koine Greek New Testament. Why split non-existent hairs when an insertion like the Comma Johanneum of the KJV was a translation of a sheer fabrication and has a much more interesting story that goes back many many centuries?
With that said, if someone likes to publish their favorite list of “Bible errors and contradictions” —or even wax eloquent about their contempt for the Bible or why they hate theism—knock yourself out. As to the Bible.and.Science.Forum. None of us generally call ourselves fundamentalist. We are academics who care when the uninformed ignore the evidence and deny the realities of Biblical lexicography, exegesis, and basic reading comprehension, especially when you pretend that falsehoods are facts and encourage others to lie about an ancient text instead of engaging the facts. If you think that science is objective but that the humanities departments of the Academy are nothing but subjective opinion, you have far more in common with Ken Ham than sanity should ever allow. But if you want to be taken seriously in terms of your handling the objective evidence from the Biblical texts, don’t keep emulating Ken Ham and Ray Comfort by continuing to post the same lame PRATTs like an AiG or Discovery Institute propaganda mill. When you promote an argument simply because it opposes the Bible, regardless of whether or not it is based on solid evidence and a valid understanding of the topic, you have adopted the same rationalizations of dishonesty that the “creation science” entrepreneurs use.
In all fairness, the 1611 King James Bible translators did a reasonably good job for what limited Hebrew lexicographic resources they had at the time, to name just one tremendous obstacle they faced in translating the ancient tongues. If you want to make fun of the KJV-only crowd, get in line and take a number. Even most Young Earth Creationists think that the KJV-onlyists have gone off the deep end of the pier. In fact, the vast majority of the world’s evangelicals think that KJV-onlyists are downright loony.
And seeing how the Septuagint—-a Greek translation of the Hebrew Tanakh from almost 2000 years old before, translated by Hellenistic rabbis–used the Greek word MONOCEROS (“one” + “horn”) you really can’t fault the KJV professors and clergy for going with the Latin equivalent in English: UNICORNIS ==> UNICORN (“one” + “horn”.) After all, John Wycliffe made the same choice a few centuries before with his ground-breaking English translation. Indeed, in choosing UNICORN, some scholars think the KJV actually got it basically right, even if for the wrong reasons. You see, some think that the “one-horned” beast might have been much like those seen in some stone inscriptions, where the two-dimensional, flat profile (side-view) of the animal made it look like it had only one horn. Thus, they suggest that the ancients named it accordingly, thus leading to the Septuagint’s MONOCEROS (“one”+”horn”.) This alternative view is held in the minority nowadays but all of these details are quite superfluous when considering that something as simple as “big beast” would have served the nine translation contexts quite adequately. Yes, in the end, the exact identity of the animal holds little importance to the translation per se. Of course, today, we have a much better understanding of Hebrew vocabulary and meanings. But, the names of animals and stones will always remain the most difficult of ancient vocabularies to translate.
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