Per Fidem Intrepidus means "Fearless Through Faith". My courage isn't my own, it comes from the Holy Spirit, it's my faith in God and my personal savior Christ Jesus that calms my fears and allows me to move forward in this fallen world. Personally I'm afraid of a lot of stuff, but having the faith that Jesus adopted me as his little, sin filled, brother keeps me going.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

OT Tuesday: Here Be Unicorns

Ah unicorns! The mystic horned My Little Pony variant who rides rainbows, purrs under the touch of a virgin princess, twinkles like a Twilight vampire, and whose flatus is the worlds hope for clean renewable energy. A poultice made from the horn of the unicorn was said to cure stomach trouble and epilepsy, as well as neutralize poison. It is said poisonous plants burst when near a unicorn's horn and that if you draw a circle around a spider with a true horn when the spider leaves that circle it will starve to death. 

Of course everybody knows that unicorns are mythological, they never existed, they're the things of fevered dreams and old wives tales. Right? And since they never existed any document that refers to a unicorn is merely a fable, a little bit of nonsense not to be taken seriously. 

So what do we do with Bible passages like
Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? 10 Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee? 11 Wilt thou trust him, because his strength is great? or wilt thou leave thy labour to him? 12 Wilt thou believe him, that he will bring home thy seed, and gather it into thy barn? (Job 39:9-12 KJV)

And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness. (Isaiah 34:7 KJV)
 He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn. (Psalm 29:6 KJV)
22 God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn. (Numbers 23:22 KJV)
It looks to the casual observer that unicorns are running rampant through the holy land dancing on rainbows and starving spiders and such, so that makes the Bible as much a fairy tale as Greek Mythology right? I'm going to say "No" mostly because I know better, but also because I've been doing some digging. If you notice biblical quotes here really don't mention all those spectacular capabilities that make unicorns so popular with nine year old girls and collectors of black velvet blacklight posters. No sparkly manes, no golden hooves, no snuffling around looking for virgin maidens... you'd think the exploding poisonous plants that mark the passage of a unicorn's horn would get some mention in the Bible, but no, and nary a whisper of melodious whinnying by the light of a smiling full moon either. 

The unicorns that are wandering free about the pages of the bible sound pretty nasty compared to the Rainbow Brite version of the unicorn, Job 39:9-12 clearly states that the 'unicorn' is completely untamable, while Numbers 23:22 describes the unicorns as pretty massive, strong beasts. Lets look at a different version of the bible to see just how strong:
22 God brings them out of Egypt, He is for them like the horns of the wild ox. (Numbers 23:22 NASB)
Wait a minute... what happened to the unicorn? Quick! Let's look at Isaiah:
Wild oxen will also fall with them, And young bulls with strong ones; Thus their land will be soaked with blood, And their dust become greasy with fat. (Isaiah 34:7 NASB)
The unicorn is gone! What happened? People happened. The unicorns are running free in the King James version, other versions have wild oxes. In the King James version the Old Testament was translated to English not from Hebrew but from Greek using a document called the Septuagint which is the Hebrew Old Testament translated to Greek back around 300 - 100 BC. The scholars translating the Hebrew to Greek ran into the word re'em which was describing large horned beast. (It currently means Oryx but back then it mostly meant "horned beast") When encountering an unfamiliar word translators will review the context of the passages containing that word to get a better idea of what kind of word they're dealing with. They found they were dealing with a beast of power and majesty that had horns. In this case the translators chose the Greek word monokeros (meaning one horn) for the Hebrew re'em. Is this an unfortunate choice of words? There is nothing in the biblical text that says that the re'em had only one horn or two (or 7 for that matter), yet monokeros was used and translated to unicorn in English.

Looking at the NASB which was translated from Hebrew texts including the Dead Sea Scrolls, when the  modern day translators came up against re'em they noticed a similar Assyrian word, rimu. There are similar words in languages from that era and area like Akkadian, Ugaritic, and Aramaic and all of those languages had similar words mean wild bull so in many translations wild bull or wild ox is used where the KJV uses Unicorn.

The importance of the biblical unicorn is not so much its actual identity but in it's reality. The bible is clearly describing a real animal, a large, powerful, untameable animal with at least one horn. Like the aurochs (Bos primigenius), a large bad tempered wild ox and possibly the actual biblical unicorn, the biblical unicorn is most likely extinct. The unicorn/wild ox of scripture is a powerful beast used to illustrate power and untameable wild majesty and the awesomeness of God's creation. To confuse the scriptural beast with a twinkly fantasy animal is demeaning to the reader but mostly demeaning to God's word which is true in every detail. 

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