U’NICORN, noun [Latin unicornis; unus, one, and cornu, horn.]
1. an animal with one horn; the monoceros. this name is often applied to the RHINOCEROS.
Webster’s Dictionary 1828. RHINOC’EROS, noun [Latin rhinoceros; Gr. nose-horn.] A genus of quadrupeds of two species, one of which, THE UNICORN, as a single horn growing almost erect from the nose. This animal when full grown, is said to be 12 feet in length. There is another species with two horns, the bicornis. They are natives of Asia and Africa.
The English word unicorn occurs nine times in the KJB, and is found in Numbers 23:22; 24:8; Deut. 33:17; Job 39:9,10; Psalms 22:21; 29:6; 92:10; and Isaiah 34:7.
It’s translated from the Hebrew word reem, which comes from a verb used only once, and found in Zechariah 14:10 “Jerusalem, and ‘it shall BE LIFTED UP and inhabited in her place.” This animal is characterized by something lifted up or high and in a prominent position. It’s very strong – “God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an UNICORN.” Numbers 23:22.
It’s also used in a symbolic way in our Lord’s prophetic prayer as recorded in Psalms 22:21 “Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.”
This animal was untamable, as can be seen in Job 39:9 – 12, where God asks Job “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?” This passage shows that the unicorn, whatever it was, could not be tamed at all, nor used in farming to plow the fields like an ox can.
This, as well as other verses soon to be discussed, shows that many modern versions, like the NKJV, ESV, NIV, NASB, Jehovah Witness NWT and modern Catholic versions like the St. Joseph NAB and New Jerusalem bible are incorrect in their rendering of this word as “wild ox” or a “wild bull”. “
Observe -In Isaiah 34:7 in the 1611 edition the AV translators wrote two slashes || in front of the word UNICORN. Those slashes are known as a siglum, and the 1611 edition makes use of sigla throughout. In the adjacent margin – directly across from this siglum – the AV translators repeat that same siglum, i.e., they write the same two slashes ||, and then immediately after that they write – “or Rhinocerots” which was the term for the RHINOCEROS in 1611, derived from the Latin UNICORNIS and the Greek MONOKEROS, both meaning ONE-HORNED, and both referring to the RHINOCEROS type creature. In other words, the AV translators themselves stated that they were equating UNICORN with RHINOCEROS or a type of animal resembling a rhinoceros. They employed UNICORN as a specific type of RHINOCEROS to further indicate that they were referring to a RHINO with a SINGLE HORN, for the SINGLE HORN has spiritual significance in the Bible. That is how everyone understood the passage until scholars arose who can’t speak Latin.
The Hebrew has another word for ox (sowr), so that is hardly a valid alternative in light of the historic interpretation of re’em as “unicorn.” Furthermore, we find unicorns together WITH bullocks and bulls in Isaiah 34:7, thus ruling out that re’em was a bull or bullock The AV translators made it plain that they were talking about the RHINOCEROS. Further still, the AV translators were masters of the patristic literature, including Jerome, who in the 4th century translated the Hebrew word REEM as RHINOCEROTIS five times and UNICORNIS four times. Jerome translated this SAME Hebrew word as RHINOCEROTIS and UNICORNIS. Jerome studied Hebrew for years under the Jews before he began his translation of the OT, thus it is from the Jews that Jerome derived his definitions.
As just stated, the AV translators were EMINENTLY familiar with all of this, as well as statements by others, such as Tertullian in ca 200 who also mentions the RHINOCEROS in the OT passage which the AV translates as UNICORN.
Finally, the UNICORN symbolizes the strength of Israel. A wild ox simply doesn’t fill the bill. For example, observe this rhetorical question – Job 39:9-10 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? This passage clearly indicates that the animal in question is UNTAMABLE. Modern bibles such as the NKJ, NASB, NIV, et cetera, use the term WILD OX here, which once again demonstrates the incompetence of modern translators. In fact, wild oxen are tamed every day. Wild oxen do not symbolize anything but servitude.
Special thanks to Will Kinney, NathanH83, and The Order of Knight George for their scholarship and efforts to verify the text.