Saturday, March 11, 2023

Unicorn Rebuttal Points and additional material

Unicorn Rebuttal Points

"The Best Things have been Calumniated"

1. Margin of Isaiah 34:7 shows that the KJV translators meant rhinoceros

A. This is completely backwards understanding of the "‖ Or, ..." marginal annotations.  These marginal annotations refer to what the KJV translators called "diverse" senses, which means "different senses," or as Scrivener put it, "alternative readings." Timothy Berg, who has also extensively studied the marginal annotations, has the same description (here). 

B. The marginal annotations, that say "‖ Or, ..." always express a different sense from the main text.  Sometimes the difference is small, sometimes the difference is large, but there is always a difference.  There are explanatory notes, but these are indicated with a dagger symbol 

2. Deuteronomy 33:17 doesn't mean that the Re’em has two horns because sometimes the singular noun can stand for the plural in Hebrew.

While it is certainly true that a singular noun can refer generically to a group, and arguably that's even the case here (1) English follows the same grammatical principle as Hebrew on this point and consequently it is better to translate the singular with a singular and, more importantly, (2) because in this case although Reem is singular, horns is plural, so the expansion based on generic use is just to a herd of reems each of which has horns.  The two words Reem and horns are tied together grammatically.  

3. The "single horn reference" in Psalm 92:10 is "ignored"

The "singular" horn reference in Psalm 92 is about the horn of the person, not the Reem.  The phrase "the horn of an unicorn" in the KJV is supplied by the translators, it is not the text of Scripture.  This can be seen from the italics both in the modern editions of the KJV and in the original printing of the KJV.

Psalm 92:10 But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn: I shall be anointed with fresh oil.

Here are six words of the Hebrew text (with vertical lines added for folks less familiar with Hebrew) with the corresponding English below (recall that Hebrew is written right to left):

וַתָּרֶם | כִּרְאֵים | קַרְנִי | בַּלֹּתִי | בְּשֶׁמֶן | רַעֲנָֽן׃

 fresh. | with oil | I will be anointed | my horn | like a Reem | But you will exalt

People are described in Scripture as having a horn, singular, in numerous places (in addition to Psalm 92:10: Job 16:15 of Job, 1 Samuel 

Job says he defiled his "horn" with dust.  Thus, we understand that "horn" of Job is an idiom or poetical word for his head.  

The dirtying of one's head was a sign of mourning/humility:
Joshua 7:5 "put dust upon their heads"
2 Samuel 1:2 "with ... earth upon his head"
2 Samuel 13:19 "put ashes on her head"
1 Kings 20:31-32 "put ... ropes upon our heads" "put ropes on their heads"
Lamentations 2:10 "they have cast up dust upon their heads"
Ezekiel 27:30 "shall cast up dust upon their heads"
Revelation 18:19 "they cast dust on their heads" .

This contrasts with the opposite, the anointing of the head:
Lev. 8:12 Aaron's head anointed

Especially recall how Jesus commanded his disciples to fast secretly in contrast to others:
Matthew 6:17 "when thou fastest, anoint thine head"

4. The Septuagint translates as μονόκερως (monókerōs)

This is the strongest and most difficult argument to counter.

A. Consider what the King James translators said in their preface:

There be many words in the Scriptures which be never found there but once, having neither brother nor neighbour (as the Hebrews speak) so that we cannot be holpen by conference of places. Again, there be many rare names of certain birds, beasts, and precious stones &c. concerning which the Hebrews themselves are so divided among themselves for judgment, that they may seem to have defined this or that, rather because they would say something, than because they were sure of that which they said, as St Hierome somewhere saith of the Septuagint. Now in such a case doth not a margin do well to admonish the Reader to seek further, and not to conclude or dogmatize upon this or that peremptorily?

B. Nick shouldn't be allowed to appeal to the LXX. According to Nick, the LXX is the fifth column of Origen's Hexapla.  When the LXX does not agree with the Hebrew text, Nick affirms that the LXX is corrupt and should be rejected.  While I don't fully agree with Nick's view of the LXX, I agree that it should not be used to correct the Hebrew, merely to illuminate it.  In this case, the LXX gives an uncertain sound, because the seventy used "monoceros" not "rhinoceros," but the "monoceros" is the name of a mythical animal, possibly deriving from travelers' descriptions of the rhinoceros or some other animal.

5. The Latin has Rhinocerotis five times and Unicornis four times. 

A. It depends on which Latin you're talking about:
    1) The Benedictine Vulgate has Rhinoceros five times and Unicorn four times.
    2) The Vulgate of Jerome (i.e. with his Hebrew-based Psalms translation) has Rhinoceros six times, Unicorn two times, and Monoceros one time.
    3) The Old Latin (according to Sabatier, a new critical edition is in progress) has Unicorn seven times, Monoceros once, with the last reference being a reference to a Monoceros using a pronoun.
    4) The New Vulgate uses "bubali" (a term that can mean antelope, gazelle, wild ox, or buffalo) three times, "unicorn" four times, and "taurus ferum" (wild bull) twice.   
    5) Beza's Old Testament of 1602 uses monoceros four times, and unicorn five times (never rhinoceros).

(p. 156/205)

6. All English bibles predating 1611 have Unicorn in every place, except the Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible that has both Vnicorn and Rhinoceros. 

The really old have the Saxon equivalent 

Psalm 21 (corresponding to our 22), verse 19 (corresponding to our 22): Gefriða me of þæs leon muðe, and of þam hornum þara anhyrna gefriða me, yrming.  (King Alfred's prose Psalter)

The phrase, "þara anhyrna," includes a cognate of the modern German word, Einhorn, which means unicorn.  There is an interesting endnote on the phrase:
(22) þara anhyrna: Ro. unicornuorum; according to Helge Kökeritz, “The Anglo-Saxon Unicorn,” in Early English and Norse Studies ed. Arthur Brown and Peter Foote (London, 1963), pp. 120-26, at p. 125, anhyrna is the wk. fem. noun anhyrne, and the gen. pl. flexion in -a is analogical from the st. gen. pl. nouns or is a corrupt form (through haplology) of original *anhyrnena. But the subst. adj. of the corresponding Lat. and the preponderance of adj. renderings of Lat. unicornis, unicornuus among the Old English glossed psalters suggests that anhyrna here represents an adj. used subst., perhaps originally anhyrnena, with subsequent modification either through haplography or through late West Saxon confusion with the vocalic declension of nouns (see S-B §304, n. 2). See also Gneuss, Lehnbildungen, no. 167.

There is also this Glossary note:

ANHYRNE adj. subst. (?) unicorn gp wk. anhyrna 21.22 (see Commentary)

Apparently, "þara" in this instance is just a form of the definite article, "the."

Psalm 28 (corresponding to our Psalm 29), verse 15 (corresponding to our 5 and 6): 5. (5) Þæs Godes word brycþ cedortreowu, and symle se God brycð þa hean cedertreowu on Libano, þam myclan munte (þa treowa tacniað ofermodra manna anweald). (6) Drihten forbrycð and forbryt þa myclan cedertreowu, emne swa þa lytlan onwæstmas. Þa owæstmas beoð swa mycle and swa fægere swa swa þees deores bearn þe “unicornus” hatte.

As you may note, instead of translating, the Latin is simply quoted.

7. The concept of another animal, such as a "wild-ox", "Auroch", or "goat" came after 1611, and was mostly popularized in modern bibles versions since around the time of Westcott and Hort’s Revised Version. 

a) These later dictionaries are more or less irrelevant.
b) Rhinocerots is plural, not singular.

8. Rabbi Kimhi (aka Rabbi Kimchi aka "the Radak" for RAbbi DAvid Kimhi)  

In Sefer HasShorashim (Provence, France c. 1185-1235), Rabbi David Kimhi has the following entry for the Re'em:

"Re'em with his majestic horns" (Deuteronomy 33:17), meaning a type of wild ox with only one horn, as in "the calves of the re'em" (Psalm 29:6). The word "re'em" is sometimes spelled with an aleph instead of an ayin, such as "from the horns of the re'em you answered me" (Psalm 22:22), and sometimes with a yod instead of an ayin, such as "will the wild ox be willing to serve you" (Job 39:9). It is a very strong animal among the desert beasts.

ראם   וְקַרְנֵי רְאֵם קַרְנָיו (דברים לג, יז), רוצה לומר ראםי כי אין לראם אלא קרן אחת. כְּמוֹ בֶן־רְאֵמִֽים (תהלים כט, ו). ובהניח האל"ף וּמִקַּרְנֵי רֵמִים עֲנִיתָֽנִי (תהלים כב, כב). ובהניח האל"ף והתחלפה ביו"ד הֲיֹאבֶה רֵּים עָבְדֶךָ (איוב לט, ט), הֲתִקְשָׁר־רֵים בְּתֶלֶם עֲבֹתוֹ (איוב לט, י), בהמה מבהמות המדבר חזקה מאד.

While I did not find any sources cited for this particular entry, the Radak apparently related on earlier works of Rabbi Judah ben David Hayyuj and Rabbi Jonah ibn Janah, as well as the work of his own father.

Animadversions (c. 1470 - 1550) by Elias Levita on Sefer HaShorashim says:

"It was written in the name of Rabbi Saadia Gaon that the re'em is the female of the wild goat from Accho. This is a matter of wonder, for can it be imagined that the male is pure and the female is impure? There are also commentators who explain that the re'em is a creature with a single horn on its forehead, but this is also incorrect, since it is written 'with his majestic horns' (Deuteronomy 33:17), implying that it has more than one horn."

ראם   א"א כתב רבינו סעדיה ז"ל כי הראם היא הנקיבה מן אקו. ויש לתמוה על זה, וכי תעלה על דעת שהזכר יהיה טהור והנקיבה טמא? גם יש מפרשים ראם הוא החיה שיש לה קרן אחת במצחה וגם זה איננו נכון מדכתיב וְקַרְנֵי רְאֵם קַרְנָיו בָּהֶם (דברים לג, יז), משמע שיש לה יותר מקרן אחת.

9. Oxford English Dictionary

The Oxford English Dictionary of 1910, and the Webster's Dictionary of 1828, both support the word unicorn as being an umbrella term for all kinds of creatures with a single horn, including the Rhinoceros. The footnote in the KJV modified which kind of unicorn it was, i.e., not a Narwal, nor the Hercules beetle, nor a mythical creature, nor a caterpillar (Schizura unicornis), nor a kamichi (unicorn bird), nor a snake (Green unicorn), nor a Rhino-horned lizard, nor a Bicornus (two horned) Rhinoceros, but a single horned "Rhinocerots", which was later officially named the Rhinoceros Unicornis.

Oxford English Dictionary (1910), vol. 8, p. 829, center column.

Appendix I - Latin Usage
If we use the critical Benedictine Vulgate (BV):
Numbers 23:22 (link) has "rinocerotis" (with variant spelling)
Numbers 24:8 (link) has "rinocerotis" (with variant spelling)
Deuteronomy 33:17 (link) has "rinocerotis" (with variant spelling)
Psalm 22:22 (Vul Psalm 21:22) has unicornium (with some variants on the spelling)
Psalm 29:6 (Vul Psalm 28:6) has filius unicornium (with some variants on the spelling)
Psalm 92:10 (Vul Psalm 91:11) has unicornis (with a spelling variant)
Job 39:9 (link) has "rinoceros" (with spelling variants)
Job 39:10 (link) has "rinocerota" (with spelling variants)
Isaiah 34:7 (link) has "unicornes" (with a spelling variant)

Stuttgart has the same in Numbers, Deuteronomy, Job, and Isaiah (but with less spelling variation noted).  However, Stuttgart distinguishes between two texts of Psalms: a LXX-derived translation and the Hebrew-derived translation.
Psalm 22:22 same as BV in both LXX-derived Heb-derived translation
Psalm 29:6 LXX-derived matches BV, while Heb-derived has "filius rinocerotis"
Psalm 92:10 LXX-derived matches BV, while Heb-derived unexpectedly has "monocerotis"

Bibliorum Sacrorum latinae versiones antiguae  Sabatier, Pierre, 1682-1742; La Rue, Vincent de, d. 1762 (in the Psalms, the LXX-derived and Heb.-derived columns are also present)
Numbers 23:22 (link) has "unicornis" (differs from Vulgate)
Numbers 24:8 (link) has "unicornis" (differs from Vulgate)
Deuteronomy 33:17 (link) has "unicornui" (differs from Vulgate)
Psalm 22:22 (Vul Psalm 21:22) has unicornuorum (different declension of same word)
Psalm 29:6 (Vul Psalm 28:6) has filius unicornuorum (different declension of same word)
Psalm 92:10 (Vul Psalm 91:11) has unicornis (same as Vulgate)
Job 39:9 (link) has "monoceros" (differs from Vulgate)
Job 39:10 (link) does not repeat word, but implies "monoceros" in verse 9 with "suum"
Isaiah 34:7 (link) has "unicornes" (same as Vulgate)

Finally, if we use the New Vulgate: 
Numbers 23:22 (link) has "bubali" (the correct translation, but at odds with previous Latin editions) 
Numbers 24:8 (link) has "bubali" (the correct translation, but at odds with previous Latin editions)
Deuteronomy 33:17 (link) has "unicornis" (similar to Old Latin and against Vulgate)
Psalm 22:22 (Vul Psalm 21:22) has unicornium (same as Vulgate)
Psalm 29:6 (Vul Psalm 28:6) has filium unicornium (basically same as Vulgate)
Psalm 92:10 (Vul Psalm 91:11) has unicornis (same as Vulgate)
Job 39:9 (link) has "taurus ferus" (the correct translation, but at odds with previous Latin editions)
Job 39:10 (link) has "taurum ferum" (the correct translation, but at odds with previous Latin editions)
Isaiah 34:7 (link) has "bubali" (the correct translation, but at odds with previous Latin editions)

Appendix II

KJV 1617

prdl to the GB

list of variants but also psalms passages

Appendix III

List of Variants from Isaiah 30-35

Appendix IV 

Friday, March 10, 2023

The latest "Pro-Rhinoceros" Scholarship

Nick Sayers argues that the Re'em is a rhinoceros.  The most recent scholarship cited in support of Nick Sayers' view appears to be two things: the "Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (TSK)" and the J-F-B Commentary, namely Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, the Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (1871).


Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (TSK). The TSK first publication indicated, "Consisting of Five-hundred Thousand Scripture References and Parallel Passages from Canne, Browne, Blayney, Scott, and Others, with Numerous Illustrative Notes." The TSK was created in London by publisher Samuel Bagster (1772-1851) and apparently first published around 1830. The earliest edition I found was 1833, which contains a brief statement identifying the Reem with the rhinoceros.

(The treasury Bible. First division: containing the authorized Engl. version. Second division: containing The treasury of Scripture knowledge. (1833). United Kingdom: (n.p.))

There were highly similar opinions expressed in the first half of the 19th century.  For example:

(Cater, P. (1845). Entertaining Knowledge: Or, the Curious Origin and Primary Meaning of Numerous Words and Phrases, Illustrated and Explained with a Dissertation on Ancient and Modern Tongues: by Philip Cater, .... United Kingdom: J. Gilbert. Canterbury: S. Prentice)

These sources are both drawing, directly or indirectly, from a late 1700s book called, "The Natural History of the Bible," or from a prior work quoted by that source. Source citation of that era (at least in the quality of work still promoting the "rhinoceros" theory) leaves much to be desired.

(HARRIS, T. M. (1793). The Natural History of the Bible: Or, a Description of All the Beasts, ... Trees, ... Metals, Precious Stones, Etc. Mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures. Collected from the Best Authorities, and Alphabetically Arranged. United States: (n.p.).)

For another example, a still earlier source:

(Beilby, R. (1792). A General History of Quadrupeds. United Kingdom: S. Hodgson, R. Beilby, & T. Bewick.)

Or this still earlier:

(Hall, W. H. (1789). THE NEW ROYAL ENCYCLOPAEDIA; OR, COMPLETE MODERN UNIVERSAL DICTIONARY OF ARTS & SCIENCES, ON A NEW AND IMPROVED PLAN: IN WHICH ALL THE RESPECTIVE SCIENCES, ARE ARRANGED INTO COMPLETE SYSTEMS, AND THE ARTS DIGESTED INTO DISTINCT TREATISES. ALSO THE DETACHED PARTS OF KNOWLEDGE, Alphabetically Arranged and Fully Explained, According to the BEST AUTHORITIES. Containing a Digest and Display of the Whole Theory and Practice of the Liberal and Mechanical Arts. Comprising a General REPOSITORY of ANCIENT AND MODERN LITERATURE, FROM THE EARLIEST AGES, DOWN TO THE PRESENT TIME: Containing All the New IMPROVEMENTS and Latest DISCOVERIES Made in the ARTS and SCIENCES, Particularly Acoustic ... Vermeology, &c. The Superfluities which Abound in Other Dictionaries are Expunged, for the Purpose of Incorporating Complete Systems, and Distinct Treatises. By Means of this Addition and Deviation from the Old Plan it Comprizes A GENERAL CIRCLE OF SCIENCE, AND FORMS THE MOST COMPREHENSIVE LIBRARY OF UNIVERSAL KNOWLEDGE, That was Ever Published in the ENGLISH LANGUAGE. The Whole Entirely Freed from the Errors, Obscurities, and Superfluities of Other DICTIONARIES. Illustrated with Upwards of 150 Large Superb COPPER PLATES, Accurately Descriptive of the Subjects to which They Refer. IN THREE VOLUMES.. United Kingdom: C. COOKE, No 17, PATER-NOSTER ROW.)

 J-F-B Commentary

The J-F-B commentary has books commented by identified primary commenters.  Brown is only for the Gospels and Acts, while Fausset is for the rest of the New Testament and Job through Malachi.  Jamieson covers Genesis through Esther.  With this division of labor, some of the comments may be from one commentator or the other.  As you will see, the testimony of the J-F-B is all over the map and agrees both with the "rhinoceros" view but also the "buffalo" view.

Considering Jamieson's section frist:

Numbers 23

      22. he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn--Israel is not as they were at the Exodus, a horde of poor, feeble, spiritless people, but powerful and invincible as a reem--that is, a rhinoceros (Job 39:9; Ps 22:21; 92:10).

(nothing relevant at Numbers 24:8)

Deuteronomy 33

      13-17. of Joseph he said--The territory of this tribe, diversified by hill and dale, wood and water, would be rich in all the productions--olives, grapes, figs, &c., which are reared in a mountainous region, as well as in the grain and herbs that grow in the level fields. "The firstling of the bullock and the horns of the unicorn" (rhinoceros), indicate glory and strength, and it is supposed that under these emblems were shadowed forth the triumphs of Joshua and the new kingdom of Jeroboam, both of whom were of Ephraim (compare Ge 48:20).

Turning to Fausset's section:

Job 39

      9. unicorn--PLINY [Natural History, 8.21], mentions such an animal; its figure is found depicted in the ruins of Persepolis. The Hebrew reem conveys the idea of loftiness and power (compare Ramah; Indian, Ram; Latin, Roma). The rhinoceros was perhaps the original type of the unicorn. The Arab rim is a two-horned animal. Sometimes "unicorn" or reem is a mere poetical symbol or abstraction; but the buffalo is the animal referred to here, from the contrast to the tame ox, used in ploughing (Job 39:10, 12).

      abide--literally, "pass the night."

      crib-- (Isa 1:3).

      10. his band--fastened to the horns, as its chief strength lies in the head and shoulders.

      after thee--obedient to thee; willing to follow, instead of being goaded on before thee.

Psalm 22

      21. Deliverance pleaded in view of former help, when in the most imminent danger, from the most powerful enemy, represented by the unicorn or wild buffalo.

      the lion's mouth--(Compare Ps 22:13). The lion often used as a figure representing violent enemies; the connecting of the mouth intimates their rapacity.

(nothing relevant at Psalm 29:6)

(nothing relevant at Psalm 92:10)

Isaiah 34

      7. unicorns--Hebrew, reem: conveying the idea of loftiness, power, and pre-eminence (see on Job 39:9), in the Bible. At one time the image in the term answers to a reality in nature; at another it symbolizes an abstraction. The rhinoceros was the original type. The Arab rim is two-horned: it was the oryx (the leucoryx, antelope, bold and pugnacious); but when accident or artifice deprived it of one horn, the notion of the unicorn arose. Here is meant the portion of the Edomites which was strong and warlike.

      come down--rather, "fall down," slain [LOWTH].

      with them--with the "lambs and goats," the less powerful Edomites (Isa 34:6).

      bullocks . . . bulls--the young and old Edomites: all classes.


Rhinoceros in Biblical and Cognate Languages

The evidence that the Hebrew word, Re'em, refers to the Aurochs is overwhelming.  Nevertheless, there are some who maintain the view that seems to have first originated with the second century translator of the Old Testament, known as Aquila of Sinope.  Apparently Aquila was a proselyte to Judaism, and a disciple of Rabbi Akiba.

As a side note, I found this fascinating detail regarding Masoretic vowel tradition in the Jewish Encylopedia entry on Aquila:

It is interesting to note that Aquila does not agree with the Masoretic punctuation in pointing the names of heathen gods (e.g.,  and , Amos v. 26) with the vowels of  ("abomination").


If this accurate, it confirms that the pointing of the Tetragrammaton with the vowels for "Lord" is similarly a way of highlighting the truly divine, rather than being the actual vowels.

Returning to our question, there is a Greek word for rhinoceros, it's ρινόκερως (rinokeros).  That's the word Aquila used, although the Septuagint did not.  Our English word is directly taken from Latin rhinoceros, which got it from the Greek.

The modern Hebrew word for rhinoceros is "קַרנַף" (kar'NUF).  However, the word karnuf was invented in the 20th century by Joseph Klausner, using the Hebrew words keren (horn) and af (nose).

Turning to other related languages, I found two main branches: one from the Sanskrit, the other from the Ge'ez. 


  • Ge'ez ሐሪሥ, ሐሪስ (ḥäriś, ḥäris, “rhinoceros”) 
  • Arabic حَرِيش‎ (ḥarīš, “rhinoceros”) (apparently derived from Ge'ez)
  • Other languages related closely to Ge'ez have similar words.


On the other hand, Persian has the word کرگدن (karkadan), apparently from Middle Persian (klg /karg/, “rhinoceros; horn”) + (-dʾn' /-dān/, “bearer, holder”), ultimately from Sanskrit खड्ग (khaḍga, “rhinoceros; literally sword bearer”).

This word is similarly found in other languages:

  • Arabic كَرْكَدَّن‎ (karkaddan, “rhinoceros”)
  • Classical Syriac ܟܪܟܕܢܐ‎ (karkǝḏānā, “rhinoceros”)
  • Sanskrit खड्गधेनु (khaḍgadhenu, “a female rhinoceros”)
  •  Avar: гаргадан (gargadan)
  • Middle Armenian: քարկարտան (kʿarkartan), քարկանտան (kʿarkantan)
  • Turkish: gergedan
  • Uyghur: كەركىدان‎ (kerkidan)
  • Uzbek: karkidon

Looking through the Semitic Etymology dictionary, I only found three entries related to the rhinoceros:

Number: 2648

Proto-Semitic: *yaʕal- ~ ʕawāl- (?)

Afroasiatic etymology: Afroasiatic etymology

Meaning: 'mythological bull' 1, 'rhinoceros' 2, 'young of the elephant' 3

Akkadian: alû (elû) 1 'bull (as a mythological being)' Bogh, SB, Akkadogr. in Hitt. CAD a1, 377

Syrian Aramaic: yaʕlā 2 'unicornus, rhinoceros' Br 305

Tigre: ʕǝwal 3 'young of the elephant' ("in der Poesie auch von anderen jungen Tieren gebraucht") [LH, 477], ʔäwal [ibid., apud Munz.] (hardly connected with *ʕVwVl- 'young of an animal' which is attested in Tgr as ʕǝlu 'young of the donkey' [LH 450]; <*ʔawāl- with a variant form in ʕ- through contamination with ʕǝlu) ?

Number: 2654

Proto-Semitic: *ḥar(i)ŝ/ŝx ( ~ *Hawuraris)

Afroasiatic etymology: Afroasiatic etymology

Meaning: 'rhinoceros'

Syrian Aramaic: Cf. ḥarsūmā 'proboscis; labia bovis' Br 257

Arabic: ḥarīš- [BK 1 408]

Geʕez (Ethiopian): ḥariŝ, ḥaris, ḥoras, ʔarwe ḥoras [LGz 244]

Amharic: Cf. ʔawuraris 'rhinocéros' Baet

Number: 2655

Proto-Semitic: *karkadan- ~ *karkand-

Meaning: 'rhinoceros'

Syrian Aramaic: karkǝdonō Brock. 346b

Arabic: karkaddan-, karkadann- [BK 2 888]

Geʕez (Ethiopian): karkand 'unicorn, rhinoceros' LGZ 291

The Assyrian dictionary only offered this:

From my standpoint, the issue here is not just that the words for "rhinoceros" are nothing like Re'em, but that even the one Proto-Semitic word that might refer to a rhinoceros independent of the Ge'ez and Sanskrit streams seems to have mythological connotations.  Arabic stands at a cross-roads between the two major streams and adopts names from both languages, but there seems to be no uniquely Arabic word distinct from the Ge'ez and Sanskrit.  

There are several Biblical Hebrew words with similarity to the "haris" root (Strong's Nos. 2789-2802, for example), but the closest seems to be 2793 "choresh" (חרֶשׁ), which has no obvious connection to rhinoceroses as such. Similarly with the other options.

What's the best explanation for this lack of word for rhinoceros among the Hebrews?  

This is the current range of the Rhinoceros.  Wooly rhinoceros remains have been found in the British isles and Siberia.  The most interesting variety of rhinoceros for the rhinoceros/unicorn identification is the Indian rhinoceros.  According to Brittanica: "The Indian rhinoceros previously occupied an extensive range across northern India and Nepal from Assam state in the east to the Indus River valley in the west." (source

The most likely explanation for the lack of a Hebrew word for rhinoceros is the absence of rhinoceroses in Canaan during the time period from the 15th century B.C. onward.  While I doubt some of the dating methods used, this article summarizes the current naturalistic view on the presence of rhinoceroses in Canaan: "Said Prof. Amos Frumkin, director of the Hebrew University’s Cave Research Center: 'Rhinos haven’t been seen in the land of Israel in the last twenty or thirty thousand years...'." (article describing the find of ancient rhinoceros remains in Samaria)

Exposition of the Church on Psalm 22 (at vs. 22)

This Reformed work from 1562, "Exposition of the Church," provides commentary on various books including, Psalms. The following is the commentary on Psalm 22:22.

"And from the horns of unicorns."

The common translators render the Hebrew word רְאֵם as "monoceros" or "rhinoceros," even though these refer to different animals. As Pliny writes and the name itself indicates, one has a single horn on its nose, while the other, born enemy of the elephant. The other (as he also testifies) has one black horn in the middle of its forehead, which is two cubits long. This beast is said to be very fierce and cannot be captured alive, and its body parts are said to be like those of various animals: the head of a horse, the feet of a deer, the tail of an elephant, and the bellowing of a heavy boar. It is conjectured that this animal is referred to by the Hebrew word רְאֵם in the Scriptures for three reasons. First, from the eminence of its horns, which is noted below in Psalm 92:11, "You have exalted my horn like that of a unicorn." If you understand this exaltation as a sign of strength, as it is often taken in the Scriptures. Second, from its invincible strength and power, to which Numbers 23:22 alludes, "His strength is like that of a unicorn." Third, from its indomitable ferocity, as Job writes of it, "Will the unicorn serve you, or stay by your crib? Can you bind the unicorn with a rope to plow furrows, or will it harrow the valleys after you?" (Job 39:9-10). By these words, the Lord meant to indicate that this animal could not be tamed for the use of man. Although the rhinoceros is also a very fierce animal, it is certain that the height of the horn, which is attributed to the animal referred to in the Scriptures as רְאֵם, does not fit it. Nevertheless, David compares his enemies and Christ's adversaries, who appear to be pious, to unicorns, beasts that cannot be tamed by anyone. For this is the nature of hypocrites, that they will yield to no teacher of truth.


The letters in the text show the various authors from which work is assembled:

(Compare from 1554 and attributed to Bucer)(and this  of Agostino Steuco)(Benedict Aretius 1529)

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Unicorn Debate Outline

Unicorn Debate Outline


This debate is a debate about the Hebrew word "Re'em" (רְאֵם)and today you'll get Reams and Reams of information about the Re'em.  First, I will show from Scripture - from what the KJV translators refer to as the "conference of places" - that the term Re'em refers to the Aurochs, also known as the Urus, and sometimes referred to as a "wild ox" or the like.  The scientific name is Bos Primigenius. 

Second, I will point out the secondary evidence.  The testimony of the sister languages of Hebrew, Akkadian, Amorite, Assyrian, and Ugaritic all agree that the Re'em is the aurochs.  Indeed, the King James translation was challenged by scholars in the 1600s, and whether you look in Strong's or any of the other major lexicons, you will find that the word means "wild ox" or "buffalo" or the like: a wild bovine.   

Third, I will point out that this testimony is not the result of godless or Unitarian influence, but is agreed to by the Trinitarian Bible Society among other supporters of the received text.

Fourth, I will acknowledge the fact that the Septuagint disagrees with my position.  However, as the King James translators said, referring to the Septuagint: "It is certain, that that Translation was not so sound and so perfect, but that it needed in many places correction ... ."

Fifth, I will acknowledge that both the Old Latin and Jerome disagree with my position, and that the New Vulgate only partially agrees.  Regarding the Old Latin, as King James translators said: "Again they were not out of the Hebrew fountain (we speak of the Latin Translations of the Old Testament) but out of the Greek stream, therefore the Greek being not altogether clear, the Latin derived from it must needs be muddy."  Regarding Jerome, as the King James translators remarked, "Again, there be many rare names of certain birds, beasts and precious stones, etc. concerning which the Hebrews themselves are so divided among themselves for judgment, that they may seem to have defined this or that, rather because they would say something, than because they were sure of that which they said, as S. Jerome somewhere saith of the Septuagint."

Having handled these time-consuming tasks, I will not have time to dig into the minds of the King James translators, except to mention now their reasons for setting a "diversity of sense in the margin, where there is a great probability for each", namely: 
Now in such a case, doth not a margin do well to admonish the Reader to seek further, and not to conclude or dogmatize upon this or that peremptorily? For as it is a fault of incredulity, to doubt of those things that are evident: so to determine of such things as the Spirit of God hath left (even in the judgment of the judicious) questionable, can be no less than presumption. Therefore as S. Augustine saith, that variety of Translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures: so diversity of signification and sense in the margin, where the text is no so clear, must needs do good, yea, is necessary, as we are persuaded. 

1. Internal Evidence of Scripture

There are seven points here, all of them pointing to the Aurochs.

A. Reem is Contextually Linked to the Ox

  • In the nine places Reem is used, there is always or nearly always an association or comparison with an ox, bullock, or bull in the context.

i. Numbers 23:22 and 24:8

  • Not only are there numerous animal sacrifices of oxen, but God (portrayed as being Reem-like) is said to "eat up the nations his enemies," which adopts the imagery of Numbers 22:4, which expressed a fear that Israel would destroy the surrounding nations "as the ox licketh up the grass of the field."  

ii. Deuteronomy 33:17

  • The reem is in poetic parallel to the bullock.

iii. Job 39:9-10

  • The reem is identified as being too wild for tasks associated with a domestic ox.

iv. Psalm 22

  • The reem is part of a triplet of animals, namely dog, lion, and reem, at 22:20-21 which corresponds to the same triplet of animals introduced at 22:12-16 as bulls, lion, dog).

v. Psalm 29:6

  • The young reem is in poetic parallel to the calf.

vi. Psalm 92

  • Most likely the term "horn" here refers to the "head."  While there are multiple kinds of animals with high heads, the most notable of the day in the land of Canaan was the Aurochs.
  • If the horn is here intended as a literal horn, the horn mentioned here is mentioned in association with anointing.  If the sense of the verse is that the horn is being used as oil flask for anointing, that would limit the horn to being the horn of a clean animal. 
  • The horn is also described as being "exalted."  If it refers to an actual horn, it would more naturally refer to the elevated horns of the aurochs rather than the spiral horns of a ram.

vii. Isaiah 34:7

  • Reem is part of a poetic triplet with bullocks and bulls, in parallel to a poetic triplet of lambs, goats, and rams.

B. The Reem is a Two-horned animal

  • Deuteronomy 33:17 says Joseph's horns are like the "horns of the Reem" and the two horns in the metaphor are Ephraim and Manasseh.  Additionally, Numbers 24:8 "pierce them through with his piercers" (lit. arrows)  similarly suggests horns (plural) rather than a horn singular.

C. The Reem is a clean animal

  • The animals coming down from the mountains in Isaiah 34 are coming down to be sacrificed.  Additionally, if Psalm 92 refers to a literal horn for anointing or music, the horn would be from a clean animal.

D. The Reem is a strong animal

  • Numbers 23:22 and 24:8 speak of the "strength of the Reem" and Job 39:11 likewise comments on the great strength of the Reem.  The Reem is in poetical parallel with the strong (bulls) of Bashan in Psalm 22, where it also treated being a dangerous, aggressive animal, like a lion or a dog.  
  • Notice as well that the word used to describe a domestic ox is "shor," which references the strength of the animal.

E. The Reem uses its horns to Push

  • Deuteronomy 33:17 describes Joseph's Reem-like horns as pushing the nations. 

F. The Young Reem jumps like a Steer

  • Psalm 29:6 places the young Reem in poetic parallel with a calf as to "skipping", which refers to jumping or bucking, not to a canter pace.

G. The Reem has an Elevated Head

  • To have one's "horn" exalted means to have their head uplifted.  Thus, when the Psalmist says his horn will be exalted like a Reem, he's referring to an animal with an uplifted head.  

2. Cognate Studies

The Hebrew word, reem, appears to be related to the Akkadian, Amorite, Assyrian, and Ugaritic words for wild ox, namely the Aurochs.  I include the Proto-Semitic for good measure, although you will recognize that Proto-Semitic is more of an hypothesized language than anything else.  I also include some other languages which offer less direct support.

A. Proto-Semitic

Proto-Semitic (PS) (source - Footnote 92 suggests that the Geez word "reem" is a Hebraism) Note especially the comment: "*rʔm- is the only reliable PS term for a wild bovine"
Proto-Semitic : *riʾm (Assyrian Languages site)

B. Akkadian

Akkadian 𒄞𒄠 rimu (The Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary n.b. Sumerian has a different word from Akkadian, but the dictionary identifies the Akkadian word rimu as corresponding to the Sumerian words: am, gudam, and piriĝ, which mean "wild bull") (See also: Assyrian Languages site)

C. Assyrian

Assyrian rimu (entry at pp. 359-63 of the Assyrian Dictionary) meaning "wild bull"

D. Ugaritic 

Ugaritic 𐎗𐎜𐎎 rủm or r'm 
(source: A Dictionary of the Ugaritic Language)

E. Amorite

Amorite: (in the section of "Terms with non-Akkadian phonology")

riˀm- ‘aurochs’ (No. 37; cf. SED II No. 186)

This term is attested in Mari as ri-iḫ-mi.40 Its orthography with explicit notation of the second consonant underlines its difference from Akkadian rīmu. The word is also appears as a loanword from a West-Semitic language in the lexical list Malku V 49 as ri-ˀi-mu. 

(Amorite Animal Names: Cognates for the Semitic Etymological Dictionary)

F. Syriac

Syriac: rˀm →rym, rymˀ (rēm/raˀ/ym, raymā) n.m. #2 buffalo (The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon)(more detailed entry including as second definition a unicorn)

G. Arabic

By contrast, Arabic رِيم‎ (rīm) or رِئْم‎ (riʾm) refers to a gazelle or white antelope.  However, as argued by Kogan, (link) "The cognate Arabic riʔm- underwent a semantic shift and came to denote a kind of antelope[FN93] (it is tempting to suppose that this shift was conditioned by the absence of Bos primigenius in Arabia in historical times but recent research invites to a more cautious approach to this question, v. Sima 2000:48).[FN94]" (pp. 278-9).L. Kogan. Animal Names of Biblical Hebrew: An Etymological Survey in Babel und Bibel 3, Annual of Ancient Near Eastern, Old Testament, and Semitic Studies, Papers of the Institute of Oriental and Classical Studies Volume XIV (Eisenbrauns, Indiana, 2006)

Additionally, for a variety of reasons, Lipiński suggests "wild bulls" as a possible etymology of 'ārām, the name of the Aramaeans, from whom we get the Aramaic language (link to beginning of etymology discussion section) Lipiński, E. (2000). The Aramaeans: Their Ancient History, Culture, Religion. Belgium: Peeters.

H. On-Going Work in the Field - ANE Poetic Parallelism

There is ongoing work in Ancient Near-East (ANE) language studies.  For example, one recent article (Two Remarkable Vocularies: Amorite-Akkadian Bilinguals!, Andrew George and Manfred Krebernik 2022 in "Revue d'assyroligie et d'archéologie orientale") included a detailed analysis of a diglot Amorite / Old Babylonian Akkadian tablet as well as other texts.  One of the other texts, labelled as Text No. 3 (section 8.1) was a synonym list of body parts, garments and animals (CBS 8538. P263338. Fig. 6.).  Line 23 of the list is as follows:
23 [ri-iḫ]-mu AM [0] rīmu “wild bull” V 49
Note that the brackets represent reconstruction, as explained a few pages later:
3: 23. Cf. Malku V 49: ri-i’-mu = ri-i-mu. By analogy with ṣa-aḫ-nu (l. 10) the word in the left-hand column can be restored as [ri-iḫ]-mu, where IḪ expresses (i)ʔ. The spelling represents the original form of Semitic *riʔm- “aurochs” (SED I no. 186), which developed into rīmu in Akkadian. Outside Akkadian the word is attested in NWS (e.g. Ugaritic rủm, Hebrew rǝʔēm) and Arabic (riʔm).

3. Biblical Scholarship

The gold standard authorities on Old Testament Hebrew variously support a large, wild bovine.  

A. Strong's (source)

רְאֵם rᵉʼêm, reh-ame'; or
רְאֵים rᵉʼêym, reh-ame';or
רֵים rêym, rame; or
רֵם rêm, rame; from H7213; a wild bull (from its conspicuousness):—unicorn.

As you can see, Strong's fairly straightforward definition of Reem is "a wild bull." The reference to "unicorn" is simply the usage in the King James Version.

B. Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon (source)

† רְאֵם noun masculineJob 39:10 wild ox (Assyrian rêmu DlHWB 603 (ראם), HoughtonTSBA v (1877). 336 ff., and illustrated before p. 33 SchrKGF 135 ff., 530 HomNS 237 ff., 410, 436 f. DrDeuteronomy 33:17; on strength and ferocity, PlinNH viii. 21; Aramaic רְאֵמָא, רֵימָא, רֵימָנָא bdb091003 (LagBN 58); Arabic bdb091008 is white antelope, antilope leucoryx; Greek Version of the LXX (erroneous) μονοκέρως (Isaiah 34:7 ἅδροι, Vulgate unicornis, and (oftener) rhinoceros); — absolute ר׳ Numbers 23:22 +, רְאֵים Psalm 92:11, רֵים Job 39:9,10; plural רְאֵמִים Isaiah 34:7; Psalm 29:6, רֵמִים Psalm 22:22 (see Baer); — wild ox, as fierce and strong Job 39:9,10; simile of strength of Israel, לוֺ כְּתוֺעֲפוֺת ר׳ Numbers 23:22 = Numbers 24:8 (JE), וַתָּרֶם כִּרְאֵם קַרְנִי Psalm 92:11; so figurative of Joseph, קַרְנַיו קַרְנֵי ר׳ Deuteronomy 33:17; figurative of princes of Edom Isaiah 34:7 ( + אַבִּירִים עִם פָּרִים); of powerful foes, מִקַּרְנֵי רֵמִים Psalm 22:22; in simile of skipping, leaping, בֶּןרְֿאֵמִים Psalm 29:6 (|| עֵגֶּל).

BDB acknowledges the Septuagint Greek and Vulgate but merely to identify them as erroneous.

C. Köhler's and Baumgartner's Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti libros

Ludwig Köhler (1880-1956) and  Walter Baumgartner (1887-1970) likewise join the "wild oxen" view and specifically identify the Aurochs (Bos primigenius).

D. Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon  (source)

Gesenius (1786-1842) already recognizes that the animal is a "wild animal ... resembling an ox."  Notice that the belief in unicorns (while nearly gone) is still present based on a report of English travelers to Tibet.

E. Fürst's A Hebrew & Chaldee lexicon to the Old Testament

Julius Fürst (1805-1873) as translated by Samuel Davidson (1806-1898) likewise concludes that the animal is the buffalo or wild ox, although interestingly with a slightly different proposed etymology (i.e. from "roaring" rather than "exalted"). Fürst only mentions to dismiss the Vulgate, Aquina, and Septuagint readings.


רְאֵם > רֵים Jb 39:9f (Bauer-L. Heb. 224h, 579r, 583y); primary noun; cf. SamP. rā̊m Nu 23:22 24:8 and rā̊mi Dt 33:17; MHeb. רְאֵם; OArm. רומא, ראמן; JArm. רְאֵימָה, רְאֵמָנָא and רֵימָא; ? EgArm. ראם (Cowley Arm. Pap. 81:110 very uncertain, see Jean-H. Dictionnaire 269 and Grelot Documents p.116; Hoftijzer-Jongeling Dictionary 1042, rʾm I: word of unknown meaning); Ug. rum, pl. rumm (Gordon Textbook §19:2294; Aistleitner 2470; Dietrich-Loretz UF 10 (1978) 63); cf. Fisher Parallels 1: p. 334 entry 508; p. 444 entry 111; 2: p. 29 entry 55; on the problem of whether rum means wild bull or buffalo see 1: p. 444 entry 111 (with bibliography); Akk. riømu(m) (AHw. 986) wild bull, cf. Salonen Jagd 167ff, 247ff; Syr. raymā in Pesh. often equivalent to רְאֵם (Brockelmann Lex. 727b); Arb. riʾm white antelope: sg. masc. (Michel Grundlegung 1:74), pl. רְאֵמִים; Ps 22:22 רֵמִים, many MSS רְאֵמִים: wild bull (bos primigenius boianus, Hess ZAW 35 (1917) 121ff; Hilzheimer MAOG 2/2 (1926); Doughty 327f; Dalman Arbeit 6:167f; Bodenheimer An. Man 52f; following D. Talshir The Nomenclature of Fauna in Samaritan Targum, and J. Feliks Lešonenu 44 (1980) 124-130; in the OT רְאֵם is bos primigenius, but in MHeb. and the Targum it is Oryx leucoryx :: Sept. οἱ ἁδροί only Is 34:7; elsewhere always μονοκέπας; Vulg. rinoceros Nu 23:22 24:8 Dt 33:17 Ps 28:6 (iuxta Hebr.), Jb 39:9f; unicornis Is 34:7 Ps 22:22 29:6 (iuxta Sept.), 92:11 (iuxta Sept.), monoceros (iuxta Hebr.); cf. Mouterde MUSJ 45 (1969) 450): —a. Nu 23:22 24:8 Dt 33:17 Is 34:7 Ps 22:22 29:6 92:11 Jb 39:9f; similes: בֶּן־רְאֵמִים … כְּמוֹ Ps 29:6, כִּרְאֵם קַרְנִי Ps 92:11; —c. expressions: with אָבָה Jb 39:9; with יָרַד Is 34:7; with ישׁע מִן (hif.) Ps 22:22, cf. Kraus BK 155:322, 323; with קָשַׁר Jb 39:10. †

Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 1163–1164.

HALOT distinguishes between OT use, in which the word refers to the Aurochs (bos primigenius) and Modern Hebrew and the Targum where it is used of the Oryx (following the semantic drift observed in Arabic).

G. Steinberg's (1878) Jewish and Chaldean etymological dictionary to Old Testament books. 

This one, not in English obviously, says that according to the latest research the word Reem refers to an antelope, the comment about Psalm 29:6 is just that the animal in that case is young.  (source)

3'. Pre-KJV Biblical Scholarship

The above list are all the major translation dictionaries for Hebrew from the 20th and 21st centuries, and the best of the 19th century.  The last such dictionaries I could find with the "unicorn" or "rhinoceros" given meaning are
  • Frey's "A Hebrew, Latin and English Dictionary; containing all the Hebrew and Chaldee Words used in the Old Testament" (1815) (link to page)  While there is not much discussion of any of the words, the preface mentions reliance on the work of Buxtorf, Robinson, and Taylor and acknowledges following the Septuagint (pp. viii-ix).
  • Buxtorf's Lexicon Hebraicum et Chaldaicum cum brevi Lexico Rabbinico Philosophico orginally printed in 1607 was reprinted in the 1800s as well.  (source)
That said, even Buxtorf's mentions bos sylvestris ... 

The KJV translators tended to value the work of  Johann Reuchlin, who in turn learned (indirectly, through his writings) from the thirteenth century Rabbi David Kimhi.

De Rudimentis Hebraicis, ("The fundamentals of Hebrew"), was apparently first published in 1506 by Johann Reuchlin, on the Hebrew grammar, and included a Hebrew-Latin lexicon.  Reuchlin (p. 377) writes:

Notice that Reuchlin is explicit about it being the rhinoceros or the unicorn. He refers to Perotto's "Cornucopiae" late 15th century reference work, which included separate mention of both "unicornus" (and here) and "rhinoceros".  Likewise, Reuchlin refers the reader to Tortellius who distinguishes the rhinoceros (link) from the unicorn (link to unicorn entry)

Another possible reference for the KJV translators was Thesaurus Linguae Sanctae, sive Lexicon Hebraicum, ("Treasury of the sacred language, or Hebrew lexicon"), first published in 1529 by Santes Pagnino


There was also apparently a Yiddish-Hebrew-Latin-German dictionary written by Elia Levita and published by Paul Fagius in 1542 in Isny, referred to as "Shemot Devarim."  I had some trouble getting the resources of this so far.

4. Bible Dictionaries

A. Easton's

Easton's Bible Dictionary
Described as an animal of great ferocity and strength (Numbers 23:22, R.V., "wild ox," marg., "ox-antelope;" 24:8; Isaiah 34:7, R.V., "wild oxen"), and untamable (Job 39:9). It was in reality a two-horned animal; but the exact reference of the word so rendered (reem) is doubtful. Some have supposed it to be the buffalo; others, the white antelope, called by the Arabs rim. Most probably, however, the word denotes the Bos primigenius ("primitive ox"), which is now extinct all over the world. This was the auerochs of the Germans, and the urus described by Caesar (Gal. Bel., vi. 28) as inhabiting the Hercynian forest. The word thus rendered has been found in an Assyrian inscription written over the wild ox or bison, which some also suppose to be the animal intended (comp. Deuteronomy 33:17; Psalms 22:21; 29:6; 92:10).

B. Smith's

Smith's Bible Dictionary
the rendering of the Authorized Version of the Hebrew reem , a word which occurs seven times in the Old Testament as the name of some large wild animal. The reem of the Hebrew Bible, however, has nothing at all to do with the one-horned animal of the Greek and Roman writers, as is evident from (33:17) where in the blessing of Joseph it is said; "his glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of a unicorn ;" not, as the text of the Authorized Version renders it, "the horns of unicorns ." The two horns of the ram are "the ten thousands of Ephraim and the thousands of Manasseh." This text puts a one-horned animal entirely out of the question. Considering that the reem is spoken of as a two-horned animal of great strength and ferocity, that it was evidently well known and often seen by the Jews, that it is mentioned as an animal fit for sacrificial purposes, and that it is frequently associated with bulls and oxen we think there can be no doubt that, some species of wild ox is intended. The allusion in (Psalms 92:10) "But thou shalt lift up, as a reeym , my horn," seems to point to the mode in which the Bovid' use their horns, lowering the head and then tossing it up. But it is impossible to determine what particular species of wild ox is signified probably some gigantic urus is intended. (It is probable that it was the gigantic Bos primigeniua , or aurochs, now extinct, but of which C'sar says, "These uri are scarcely less than elephants in size, but in their nature, color and form are bulls. Great is their strength and great their speed; they spare neither man nor beast when once; they have caught sight of them"

Bell. Gall. vi. 20.-ED.)

5. Pro-KJV Scholarship

A. Trinitarian Bible Society

The Trinitarian Bible Society has "A Bible Word List," which includes the following entry for Unicorn:

unicorn* – wild bull: Nu. 23.22; Job 39.10

B. D. A. Waite

"4,114 Definitions from the Defined King James Bible extracted from the DKJB by Dr. Jung and South Korean helpers with additions and enhancements by the original author of the definitions" D.A. Waite, Jr. (M.A., M.L.A.) Bible For Today publication no. 3010.  

unicorn ~ Obs. one-horned rhinoceros: used in the Middle English O.T. to render the Latin Vulgate unicornis or rhinoceros and retained in later versions (Heb probably the great aurochs or wild bulls which are now extinct. The exact meaning is not known.) 

C. Kapusta

"A King James Dictionary: A Resource for Understanding the Language of the King James Bible" (p. 156), Philip P. Kapusta: "Unicorn - Wild Ox."

D. Morris

Henry Morris KJV Study Bible, The - The King James Version Apologetic Study Bible with over 10,000 comprehensive study notes Hardcover – May 15, 2012

6. Jewish Scholarship 

The Jewish Publication Society (JPS)  published a "from scratch" translation of the Masoretic Text into English.  The complete Tanakh was published in 1985 after various sections were published from 1969-1982.  It is not related to the 1917 JPS translation, which was based on the Revised Version.  The 2006 edition (available at is shown in the text appendix below.  The JPS has uniformly adopted "wild ox" as the translation of Reem.

Likewise, the English translations of the Jewish secondary sources likewise generally either transliterate "reem" or translate as a wild-ox or the like.  

There are a few Jewish fables that describe the Reem as being so big it couldn't fit on Noah's ark or that David mistook it for a mountain.  There is nothing that I could find that pointed toward another interpretation than the Aurochs.  

Moreover, it was interesting to note that Adam is said to have sacrificed a bull that had only one horn in its forehead.

Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer 19:12 (Talmudic Israel/Babylon,  c.630  - c.1030 CE)

"But my horn hast thou exalted like that of the reêm" (Ps. 92:10). Just as the horns of the reêm are taller than those of all beasts and animals, and it gores to its right and to its left, likewise (is it with) Menachem, son of 'Ammiel, son of Joseph, his horns are taller than those of all kings, and he will gore in the future towards the four corners of the heavens, and concerning him Moses said this verse, "His firstling bullock, majesty is his, and his horns are the horns of the reêm: with them he shall gore the peoples all of them, even the ends of the earth" (Deut. 33:17). All the kings will rise up against him to slay him, as it is said, "The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers (take counsel together)" (Ps. 2:2). And Israel who (will be) in the Land (of Palestine) (will experience) great trouble, but in their troubles they (will be) like a green olive, as it is said, "I am anointed with fresh oil" (Ps. 92:10).

Rashi on Deuteronomy 33:17:3 (Middle-Age France,  c.1075  - c.1105 CE)
וקרני ראם קרניו AND HIS HORNS ARE THE HORNS OF A RE’EM — The ox — its strength is mighty but its horns are not beautiful, a Re’em, however — its horns are beautiful but its strength is not mighty: therefore it ascribes to Joshua the strength of an ox and the beauty of a Re’em’s horns (Sifrei Devarim 353:10).

Daat Zkenim on Numbers 23:22:1 (Middle-Age France / Germany / Italy / England,  c.1100  - c.1300 CE)

כתועפות ראם לו, “He is for them like the horns of the wild ox.” The word תועפות is equivalent to “double, twice as much.” G–d’s protection for His people has been demonstrated to be at least twice as strong as the strength of the wild ox. The word: וכפלת in Exodus 26,9, is rendered by the Targum as ותעוף. We find that expression also used in Job 11,17: תעופה כבוקר תהיה, “you will shine you will be like morning,” (when the light is especially bright.) Bileam likens G–d to the wild ox in His listening to human beings, just as on other occasions the prophet Hoseah 11,10 likens G–d’s roaring to that of the lion, and the prophet Amos 3,8 also compared Him to a lion, as inspiring fear and dread.

Deliver me from the lion's mouth; Yea, from the horns of the wild oxen Thou hast answered me. – The wild ox will gore with his horns, as it says (Deut. 33:17): "With them shall he gore peoples." Thou hast answered me is equivalent to "Thou wilt answer me," and of this there are many similar examples in the words of prophecy. Or its interpretation may be: Because Thou hast delivered me many times from great troubles, the deliverance from which was like being saved from the horns of the wild oxen; and as Thou didst bring me out from the other exiles, so save me now from the lion's mouth.

Chizkuni, Numbers 23:22:1 (Middle-Age France,  c.1220  - c.1260 CE)

כתועפות, like the lofty horns;” the construction of this word implies that there is more than one of these horns. Our author cites Zecharyah 5,2 as a parallel, מגלה עפה, “a flying scroll.” The horns of the Reem, are twice as strong as ordinary horns. Although there is no known animal nowadays that is called Reem, the Torah uses the mythical animal as an example of this creature possessing strong horns. People in Moses’ time were still familiar with that species.

Ramban on Deuteronomy 33:17:1 (Middle-Age Spain,  c.1246  - c.1286 CE)
B’CHOR’ (THE FIRSTLING) OF HIS BULLOCK, MAJESTY IS HIS. “B’chor (firstborn) is sometimes used to denote greatness and sovereignty, as it is said, I also will appoint him [David] first born. Similarly, Israel is My son, My first born. [Hence, this verse means:] The strength of the king who will come forth from him [Joseph] — namely, Joshua — will be as great as that of an ox to subdue many kings. And his horns are the horns of the wild-ox. The ox has great strength but its horns are not beautiful; the wild-ox, on the other hand, has beautiful horns but its strength is not great. Moses then ascribed to Joshua the strength of an ox and the beauty of the horns of the wild-ox. 

Tur HaArokh, Deuteronomy 33:17:2 (Jacob ben Asher, c.1280  - c.1340 CE)

   וקרני ראם קרניו, “his glory will be like the horns of the Re’em.” Moses refers to the horns in the plural, parallel to the term רבבות אפרים, the tens of thousands of Ephrayim, on the one hand, and the אלפי מנשה, “the thousands from Menashe” on the other. Ephrayim’s blessing recalls that Yaakov, at the time, had insisted on placing his right hand on Ephrayim, and his left hand, i.e. אלפי, on Menashe. Israel has been described elsewhere as consisting of רבבות אלפי, “tens of thousands of thousands,” (Numbers 10,36)

He saw no wickedness in Jacob,  
He beheld no violence in Israel;  
The Lord, his God, is with him.  
And trumpet blowing, homage to the King.  
The God, who led him forth from Egypt,  
Is strength to him as the buffalo's mighty horns.  
Therefore, no sorcery is in Jacob;  
No wizard-art in Israel,  
The time cometh when shall be sought  
In Jacob and Israel what God hath wrought."

7. Earliest Commentary

A. Origen

Origen's Numbers' homilies reflect uncertainty regarding the identity of the animal described at Numbers 23:22 and 24:8.  He states: "Now a unicorn is reported to be an animal that is formed in outward appearance in such a way that it contains a symbol of its own name." (Homily 16, Section 6.2, p. 95 in Ancient Christian Texts: Homily on Numbers, Origen, Trans. Scheck, Ed. Hall) () After finding that Christ is indicated by the beast, Origen continues by justifying the interpretation of "kingdom" for "horn," based on Daniel 8:22.

There are a few ways to harmonize Origen's comment with the Septuagint rendering.  The prefix "mono" is a prefix related to "one," which is the number associated with the Greek alpha and the Hebrew Aleph.  The shape of the Greek Alpha and and Proto-Canaanite Aleph are thought to have originally represented an ox head.  Moreover, as shown in the images in this section, the Aurochs was frequently illustrated in profile, as though it had a single horn.       

B. Clement of Alexandria

Clement of Alexandria (Fragments) "Macarius Chrysocephalus: Parable of the Prodigal Son, Luke xv., Oration on Luke xv., Towards the Close."

To the sons, then, who come to Him, the Father gives the calf, and it is slain and eaten. But those who do not come to Him He pursues and disinherits, and is found to be a most powerful bull. Here, by reason of His size and prowess, it is said of Him, His glory is as that of an unicorn. Numbers 23:22 And the prophet Habakkuk sees Him bearing horns, and celebrates His defensive attitude — horns in His hands. Habakkuk 3:4 Wherefore the sign shows His power and authority — horns that pierce on both sides, or rather, on all sides, and through everything. And those who eat are so strengthened, and retain such strength from the life-giving food in them, that they themselves are stronger than their enemies, and are all but armed with the horns of a bull; as it is said, In you shall we butt our enemies.

C. Justin Martyr

Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 91. The cross was foretold in the blessings of Joseph, and in the serpent that was lifted up

Justin: And God by Moses shows in another way the force of the mystery of the cross, when He said in the blessing wherewith Joseph was blessed, 'From the blessing of the Lord is his land; for the seasons of heaven, and for the dews, and for the deep springs from beneath, and for the seasonable fruits of the sun, and for the coming together of the months, and for the heights of the everlasting mountains, and for the heights of the hills, and for the ever-flowing rivers, and for the fruits of the fatness of the earth; and let the things accepted by Him who appeared in the bush come on the head and crown of Joseph. Let him be glorified among his brethren; his beauty is [like] the firstling of a bullock; his horns the horns of an unicorn: with these shall he push the nations from one end of the earth to another.' Deuteronomy 33:13-17 Now, no one could say or prove that the horns of an unicorn represent any other fact or figure than the type which portrays the cross. For the one beam is placed upright, from which the highest extremity is raised up into a horn, when the other beam is fitted on to it, and the ends appear on both sides as horns joined on to the one horn. And the part which is fixed in the centre, on which are suspended those who are crucified, also stands out like a horn; and it also looks like a horn conjoined and fixed with the other horns. And the expression, 'With these shall he push as with horns the nations from one end of the earth to another,' is indicative of what is now the fact among all the nations. For some out of all the nations, through the power of this mystery, having been so pushed, that is, pricked in their hearts, have turned from vain idols and demons to serve God. But the same figure is revealed for the destruction and condemnation of the unbelievers; even as Amalek was defeated and Israel victorious when the people came out of Egypt, by means of the type of the stretching out of Moses' hands, and the name of Jesus (Joshua), by which the son of Nave (Nun) was called. And it seems that the type and sign, which was erected to counteract the serpents which bit Israel, was intended for the salvation of those who believe that death was declared to come thereafter on the serpent through Him that would be crucified, but salvation to those who had been bitten by him and had betaken themselves to Him that sent His Son into the world to be crucified. For the Spirit of prophecy by Moses did not teach us to believe in the serpent, since it shows us that he was cursed by God from the beginning; and in Isaiah tells us that he shall be put to death as an enemy by the mighty sword, which is Christ.

Appendix 1 | The Texts in Translation

The order follows the Protestant canonical order, as distinct from the Jewish canonical order or the Greek Orthodox order of the LXX.  The numbering of each verse is the Jewish/Protestant numbering.  The LXX and Vulgate numbering (where different) is noted.

1. Numbers 23:22

(KJV) God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.

(ISV) From Egypt God brought them— his strength was like a wild ox!

(LSB) God brings them out of Egypt, He is for them like the horns of the wild ox.

(JPS 2006) God who freed them from Egypt

Is for them like the horns [Lit. "eminences"] of the wild ox.

(JPS 1917) God who brought them forth out of Egypt

Is for them like the lofty horns of the wild-ox.

(MT per Sefaria) אֵ֖ל מוֹצִיאָ֣ם מִמִּצְרָ֑יִם כְּתוֹעֲפֹ֥ת רְאֵ֖ם לֽוֹ׃

(LXX)  καὶ ὅταν θερίζητε τὸν θερισμὸν τῆς γῆς ὑμῶν, οὐ συντελέσετε τὸ λοιπὸν τοῦ θερισμοῦ τοῦ ἀγροῦ σου ἐν τῷ θερίζειν σε καὶ τὰ ἀποπίπτοντα τοῦ θερισμοῦ σου οὐ συλλέξεις, τῷ πτωχῷ καὶ τῷ προσηλύτῳ ὑπολείψεις αὐτά· ἐγὼ Κύριος ὁ Θεὸς ὑμῶν.

(Clem. Vul.) Deus eduxit illum de Ægypto, 

cujus fortitudo similis est rhinocerotis.

(Nova Vul.) Deus eduxit illum de Aegypto,

sicut cornua bubali est ei.

2. Numbers 24:8

(KJV) God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows.

(ISV) God is bringing them out of Egypt with the strength of an ox. He’ll devour enemy nations, break their bones, and impale them with arrows.

(LSB) God brings him out of Egypt, He is for him like the horns of the wild ox. He will devour the nations who are his adversaries, And will gnaw their bones in pieces, And shatter them with his arrows.

(JPS 2006) God who freed them from Egypt

Is for them like the horns [See note at 23.22] of the wild ox.

They shall devour enemy nations,

Crush their bones,

And smash their arrows.

(JPS 1917) God who brought him forth out of Egypt

Is for him like the lofty horns of the wild-ox;

He shall eat up the nations that are his adversaries,

And shall break their bones in pieces,

And pierce them through with his arrows. 

(MT per Sefaria) אֵ֚ל מוֹצִיא֣וֹ מִמִּצְרַ֔יִם כְּתוֹעֲפֹ֥ת רְאֵ֖ם ל֑וֹ יֹאכַ֞ל גּוֹיִ֣ם צָרָ֗יו וְעַצְמֹתֵיהֶ֛ם יְגָרֵ֖ם וְחִצָּ֥יו יִמְחָֽץ׃

(LXX) τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῶν σαββάτων προσθήσεται ἔναντι Κυρίου διὰ παντὸς ἐνώπιον τῶν υἱῶν ᾿Ισραήλ, διαθήκην αἰώνιον. 

(Clem. Vul.) Deus eduxit illum de Ægypto,

cujus fortitudo similis est rhinocerotis.

Devorabunt gentes hostes illius,

ossaque eorum confringent, et perforabunt sagittis.

(Nova Vul.) Deus eduxit illum de Aegypto,

sicut cornua bubali est ei.

Devorabit gentes, hostes suos,

ossaque eorum confringet

et perforabit sagittis.

3. Deuteronomy 33:17

(KJV) 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.

(ISV) May the firstborn of his bull be honorable to him, and may his horns be those of a wild ox. With them may he push people all together, to the ends of the earth. These are the myriads of Ephraim and the thousands of Manasseh.”

(LSB) As the firstborn of his ox, splendor is his, And his horns are the horns of the wild ox; With them he will push the peoples, All at once, to the ends of the earth. And those are the ten thousands of Ephraim, And those are the thousands of Manasseh.”

(JPS 2006) Like a firstling bull in his majesty,

He has horns like the horns of the wild-ox;

With them he gores the peoples,

The ends of the earth one and all.

These [i.e. one of the wild-ox's horns] are the myriads of Ephraim,

Those [i.e. the other horn] are the thousands of Manasseh.

(JPS 1917) His firstling bullock, majesty is his;

And his horns are the horns of the wild-ox;

With them he shall gore the peoples all of them, even the ends of the earth;

And they are the ten thousands of Ephraim,

And they are the thousands of Manasseh

(MT per Sefaria) בְּכ֨וֹר שׁוֹר֜וֹ הָדָ֣ר ל֗וֹ וְקַרְנֵ֤י רְאֵם֙ קַרְנָ֔יו בָּהֶ֗ם עַמִּ֛ים יְנַגַּ֥ח יַחְדָּ֖ו אַפְסֵי־אָ֑רֶץ וְהֵם֙ רִבְב֣וֹת אֶפְרַ֔יִם וְהֵ֖ם אַלְפֵ֥י מְנַשֶּֽׁה׃ {ס}

(LXX) πρωτότοκος ταύρου τὸ κάλλος αὐτοῦ, κέρατα μονοκέρωτος τὰ κέρατα αὐτοῦ· ἐν αὐτοῖς ἔθνη κερατιεῖ ἅμα ἕως ἀπ᾿ ἄκρου γῆς. αὗται μυριάδες ᾿Εφραΐμ, καὶ αὗται χιλιάδες Μανασσῆ.

(Clem. Vul.) Quasi primogeniti tauri pulchritudo ejus,

cornua rhinocerotis cornua illius :

in ipsis ventilabit gentes usque ad terminos terræ.

Hæ sunt multitudines Ephraim :

et hæc millia Manasse.

(Nova Vul.) quasi primogeniti tauri pulchritudo eius,

cornua unicornis cornua illius,

in ipsis ventilabit gentes

usque ad terminos terrae.

Hae sunt multitudines Ephraim,

et hae milia Manasse ”.

4. Job 39:9

(KJV) Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib?

(ISV) Is the wild ox willing to serve you? Will he sleep at night near your feeding trough?

(LSB) Will the wild ox consent to serve you, Or will he spend the night at your manger?

(JPS 2006) Would the wild ox agree to serve you?

Would he spend the night at your crib?

(JPS 1917) Will the wild-ox be willing to serve thee?

Or will he abide by thy crib? 

(MT per Sefaria) הֲיֹ֣אבֶה רֵּ֣ים עׇבְדֶ֑ךָ אִם־יָ֝לִ֗ין עַל־אֲבוּסֶֽךָ׃

(LXX) βουλήσεται δέ σοι μονόκερως δουλεῦσαι ἢ κοιμηθῆναι ἐπὶ φάτνης σου;

(Clem. Vul.) Numquid volet rhinoceros servire tibi,

aut morabitur ad præsepe tuum ?

(Nova Vul.) Numquid volet taurus ferus servire tibi

aut morabitur ad praesepe tuum?

5. Job 39:10

(KJV) Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee?

(ISV) Can you bind the ox to plow a furrow with a rope? Will he harrow after you in the valley?

(LSB) Can you bind the wild ox in a furrow with ropes, Or will he harrow the valleys after you?

(JPS 2006) Can you hold the wild ox by ropes to the furrow?

Would he plow up the valleys behind you?

(JPS 1917) Canst thou bind the wild-ox with his band in the furrow?

Or will he harrow the valleys after thee? 

(MT per Sefaria) הֲֽתִקְשׇׁר־רֵ֭ים בְּתֶ֣לֶם עֲבֹת֑וֹ אִם־יְשַׂדֵּ֖ד עֲמָקִ֣ים אַחֲרֶֽיךָ׃

(LXX) δήσεις δὲ ἐν ἱμᾶσι ζυγὸν αὐτοῦ ἢ ἑλκύσει σου αὔλακας ἐν πεδίῳ; 11 πέποιθας δὲ ἐπ᾿ αὐτῷ, ὅτι πολλὴ ἡ ἰσχὺς αὐτοῦ, ἐπαφήσεις δὲ αὐτῷ τὰ ἔργα σου;

(Clem. Vul.) Numquid alligabis rhinocerota ad arandum loro tuo,

aut confringet glebas vallium post te ?

(Nova Vul.) Numquid alligabis taurum ferum ad arandum loro tuo,

aut confringet glebas vallium post te?

6. Psalm 22:22

(KJV) I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.

(ISV) I will declare your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation, I will praise you, saying,

(LSB) I will surely recount Your name to my brothers; In the midst of the assembly I will praise You.

(JPS 2006) Deliver me from a lion’s mouth;

from the horns of wild oxen rescue [Lit. "answer."] me.

(JPS 1917) Save me from the lion's mouth;

Yea, from the horns of the wildoxen do Thou answer me.

(MT per Sefaria) ה֭וֹשִׁיעֵנִי מִפִּ֣י אַרְיֵ֑ה וּמִקַּרְנֵ֖י רֵמִ֣ים עֲנִיתָֽנִי׃

(LXX) (21:22) σῶσόν με ἐκ στόματος λέοντος καὶ ἀπὸ κεράτων μονοκερώτων τὴν ταπείνωσίν μου.

(Clem. Vul.) (21:22) Salva me ex ore leonis,

et a cornibus unicornium humilitatem meam.

(Nova Vul.)  Salva me ex ore leonis

et a cornibus unicornium humilitatem meam.

7. Psalm 29:6

(KJV) He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn.

(ISV) He makes them stagger like a calf, even Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild ox.

(LSB) He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, And Sirion like a young wild ox.

(JPS 2006) He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,[Lit. “He makes them skip like a calf, Lebanon and Sirion, etc.”]

Sirion, like a young wild ox.

(JPS 1917) He maketh them also to skip like a calf;

Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild-ox.

(MT per Sefaria) וַיַּרְקִידֵ֥ם כְּמוֹ־עֵ֑גֶל לְבָנ֥וֹן וְ֝שִׂרְיֹ֗ן כְּמ֣וֹ בֶן־רְאֵמִֽים׃

(LXX) (28:6) καὶ λεπτυνεῖ αὐτὰς ὡς τὸν μόσχον τὸν Λίβανον, καὶ ὁ ἠγαπημένος ὡς υἱὸς μονοκερώτων.

(Clem. Vul.) (28:6) et comminuet eas, tamquam vitulum Libani,

et dilectus quemadmodum filius unicornium.

(Nova Vul.) Et saltare faciet, tamquam vitulum, Libanum,

et Sarion, quemadmodum filium unicornium. 

8. Psalm 92:10

(KJV) But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn: I shall be anointed with fresh oil.

(ISV) You’ve grown my strength like the horn of a wild ox; I was anointed with fresh oil.

(LSB) But You have raised up my horn like that of the wild ox; I have been anointed with fresh oil.

(JPS 2006) (92:11) You raise my horn high like that of a wild ox;

I am soaked in freshening oil.

(JPS 1917) But my horn hast Thou exalted like the horn of the wild-ox;

I am anointed with rich oil.

(MT per Sefaria) וַתָּ֣רֶם כִּרְאֵ֣ים קַרְנִ֑י בַּ֝לֹּתִ֗י בְּשֶׁ֣מֶן רַעֲנָֽן׃

(LXX) (91:11) καὶ ὑψωθήσεται ὡς μονοκέρωτος τὸ κέρας μου καὶ τὸ γῆράς μου ἐν ἐλαίῳ πίονι·

(Clem. Vul.) (91:11) Et exaltabitur sicut unicornis cornu meum,

et senectus mea in misericordia uberi.

(Nova Vul.) Exaltabis sicut unicornis cornu meum,

perfusus sum oleo uberi.

You have raised up my might like a wild-ox; you have anointed me with moist anointing oil of the leafy olive.

9. Isaiah 34:7

(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.

(ISV) Wild oxen will fall together with them— young steers and mighty bulls. Their land will be drenched with blood, and their soil will be swollen with fat.

(LSB) And 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.

(JPS 2006) Wild oxen shall fall with them, [Emendation yields “with fatted calves.”]

Young bulls with mighty steers;

And their land shall be drunk with blood,

Their soil shall be saturated with fat.

(JPS 1917) And the wild-oxen shall come down with them,

And the bullocks with the bulls;

And their land shall be drunken with blood,

And their dust made fat with fatness.

(MT per Sefaria) וְיָרְד֤וּ רְאֵמִים֙ עִמָּ֔ם וּפָרִ֖ים עִם־אַבִּירִ֑ים וְרִוְּתָ֤ה אַרְצָם֙ מִדָּ֔ם וַעֲפָרָ֖ם מֵחֵ֥לֶב יְדֻשָּֽׁן׃

(LXX) καὶ συμπεσοῦνται οἱ ἁδροὶ μετ᾿ αὐτῶν καὶ οἱ κριοὶ καὶ οἱ ταῦροι, καὶ μεθυσθήσεται ἡ γῆ ἀπὸ τοῦ αἵματος καὶ ἀπὸ τοῦ στέατος αὐτῶν ἐμπλησθήσεται.

(Clem. Vul.) Et descendent unicornes cum eis,

et tauri cum potentibus ;

inebriabitur terra eorum sanguine,

et humus eorum adipe pinguium.

(Nova Vul.) Cadunt bubali cum eis,

iuvenci cum tauris;

inebriabitur terra eorum sanguine,

et humus eorum adipe pinguium,

Appendix 2 | Jewish Commentary and Fables

Avodah Zarah 8a:11 (Resources)

And Rav Yehuda says that Shmuel says: The bull that Adam the first man sacrificed had one horn in its forehead, as it is stated: “And it shall please the Lord better than a bullock that has horns [makrin] and hooves.” The Gemara raises a difficulty: Isn’t makrin plural, which indicates two horns? Rav Naḥman bar Yitzḥak says: Mikkeren is written, i.e., the letter yod is missing from the word, indicating that there was only one horn.

Rabbeinu Bahya, Shemot 25:5:1
ועורות תחשים, “and the skins of the tachash.” The tachash was some kind of free-roaming beast. Our sages in Shabbat 28 are of the opinion that the tachash was an animal which existed only during that generation and had a single horn on its forehead. Its whole function was to have its skin serve as one of the coverings of the Tabernacle. Apparently, the colour of their skin was so beautiful that it was not to be used again for secular purposes so that G’d allowed this animal to become extinct as soon as it had fulfilled its purpose. Our sages on that same folio explain that the fact that it had a horn on its forehead was proof that it was a ritually pure animal. According to our tradition the ox offered by Adam as a sacrifice also had only a single horn on its forehead. This is based on Psalms 69,32: “ותיטיב לה’ משור פר מקרן מפריס, “that will please the Lord more than oxen, than a bull with a horn and hooves.” The singular of the word קרן means that a particular bull had only one horn. Although the vowel pattern under the word מקרן suggests more than one, the absence of the letter י suggests that David speaks about a single-horned bull. At any rate, unless the tachash had been ritually pure, none of its parts would have qualified for use in the Tabernacle. We have a strong allusion to this in the words of Exodus 13,9 למען תהיה תורת ה’ בפיך, “so that what goes into your mouth should conform to the Torah of the Lord.” Seeing that the tachash had so many colours Onkelos translates ססגונה, “proud of its being multi-coloured.”

Rosh Hashanah 26a:4 (Resources)

GEMARA: Rabbi Yosei is saying well, i.e., presents a convincing argument. Why do the Rabbis not accept it? The Gemara explains that the Rabbis counter Rabbi Yosei’s argument as follows: Indeed, all other shofarot are called shofar and they are also called keren, but that of a cow is called keren, but it is not called shofar, as it is written: “His firstborn bull, grandeur is his, and his horns [karnav] are the horns of [karnei] a wild ox” (Deuteronomy 33:17). It is therefore clear that the horns of a bull are called keren, and nowhere are they called shofar.

Numbers 23:22 (source)
כתועפות, like the lofty horns;” the construction of this word implies that there is more than one of these horns. Our author cites Zecharyah 5,2 as a parallel, מגלה עפה, “a flying scroll.” The horns of the Reem, are twice as strong as ordinary horns. Although there is no known animal nowadays that is called Reem, the Torah uses the mythical animal as an example of this creature possessing strong horns. People in Moses’ time were still familiar with that species.
Chizkuni, Numbers 23:22
Chizkuni, translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk

Genesis 6:19 (source)
ומכל החי, “and of all living creatures, etc.” according to Rabbi Yehudah, the fully grown animal known as reem did not enter the ark as it was too tall, whereas not fully developed specimens, did enter. (Compare Matnot kehunah on B’reshit Rabbah 31,13. According to Rabbi Nechemyah, the mature pair of reems was tied by Noach to the outside of the ark. He bases himself on a verse in Job 39,10, which hints at the length of the legs of this kind of animal.
Chizkuni, Genesis 6:19:1
Chizkuni, translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk

Legends of the Jews 4:4:8 (source)
In the solitude of the desert David had opportunities of displaying his extraordinary physical strength. One day he slew four lions and three bears, though he had no weapons. His most serious adventure was with the reem. David encountered the mammoth beast asleep, and taking it for a mountain, he began to ascend it. Suddenly the reem awoke, and David found himself high up in the air on its horns. He vowed, if he were rescued, to build a temple to God one hundred ells in height, as high as the horns of the reem. Thereupon God sent a lion. The king of beasts inspired even the reem with awe. The reem prostrated himself, and David could easily descend from his perch. At that moment a deer appeared. The lion pursued after him, and David was saved from the lion as well as the reem.
Pre-Historic Creatures of Midrash

Legends of the Jews 1:4:45 (source)
One animal, the reem, Noah could not take into the ark. On account of its huge size it could not find room therein. Noah therefore tied it to the ark, and it ran on behind. Also, he could not make space for the giant Og, the king of Bashan. He sat on top of the ark securely, and in this way escaped the flood of waters. Noah doled out his food to him daily, through a hole, because Og had promised that he and his descendants would serve him as slaves in perpetuity.

Didymus the Blind, Commentary on Psalms 20-21

"And from the horns of unicorns. It is also called rhinoceros. And in the 28th Psalm, it says, 'And the beloved as a son of unicorns.' This animal is said to be the size of a not small, but rather large calf. It is very compact, thick, and has a horn on top of its nose. It is the strongest of animals, and when it becomes angry, its horn becomes very strong, harder than that of any elephant. When it is not angry, it is soft like flesh. And sometimes, when it is hot, it throws large stones in order to lie on them and cool off. So, when this animal is angry, as I said, its horn is very hard. It cannot be calmed down."

Clement of Alexandria Fragments
To the sons, then, who come to Him, the Father gives the calf, and it is slain and eaten. But those who do not come to Him He pursues and disinherits, and is found to be a most powerful bull. Here, by reason of His size and prowess, it is said of Him, His glory is as that of an unicorn. Numbers 23:22 And the prophet Habakkuk sees Him bearing horns, and celebrates His defensive attitude — horns in His hands. Habakkuk 3:4 Wherefore the sign shows His power and authority — horns that pierce on both sides, or rather, on all sides, and through everything. And those who eat are so strengthened, and retain such strength from the life-giving food in them, that they themselves are stronger than their enemies, and are all but armed with the horns of a bull; as it is said, In you shall we butt our enemies.

Google Translate: English to Hebrew
The wild bull is clean animal, as distinct from the unclean rhinoceros, and is a real animal, as distinct from the unicorn.
שור הבר הוא בעל חיים נקי, להבדיל מהקרנף הטמא, והוא חיה אמיתית, להבדיל מחד הקרן.

The aurochs is clean animal, as distinct from the unclean rhinoceros, and is a real animal, as distinct from the unicorn.
הסליל הוא בעל חיים נקי, להבדיל מהקרנף הטמא, והוא חיה אמיתית, להבדיל מחד הקרן.

Appendix on "Horn" as an idiom for "Head"

The exact origin of this idiom is unclear.  It could be from the fact that the usual place for horns is the head.  

We see the interchangeable use of horn and head in Zechariah 1:21

Zechariah 1:21
Then said I, What come these to do? And he spake, saying, These are the horns which have scattered Judah, so that no man did lift up his head: but these are come to fray them, to cast out the horns of the Gentiles, which lifted up their horn over the land of Judah to scatter it.

Lifting up one's head is used in a similar sense to lifting up one's horn.  We see this from the use of the more common phrases of lifting up one's head as a symbol of joy, as contrasted with lowering one's head as a symbol of sadness.  In general, up and oily was associated with joy, whereas down and dirty was associated with mourning. 

Genesis 40:13
Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thine head, and restore thee unto thy place: and thou shalt deliver Pharaoh's cup into his hand, after the former manner when thou wast his butler.

Judges 8:28
Thus was Midian subdued before the children of Israel, so that they lifted up their heads no more. And the country was in quietness forty years in the days of Gideon.

2 Kings 25:27
And it came to pass in the seven and thirtieth year of the captivity of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the seven and twentieth day of the month, that Evilmerodach king of Babylon in the year that he began to reign did lift up the head of Jehoiachin king of Judah out of prison;

Jeremiah 52:31
And it came to pass in the seven and thirtieth year of the captivity of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, in the five and twentieth day of the month, that Evilmerodach king of Babylon in the first year of his reign lifted up the head of Jehoiachin king of Judah, and brought him forth out of prison,

Job 20:6
Though his excellency mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds;

Psalm 3:3
But thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.

Psalm 24:7
Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.

Psalm 24:9
Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.

Psalm 27:6
And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the LORD.

Psalm 83:2
For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult: and they that hate thee have lifted up the head.

Psalm 110:7
He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head.

Luke 21:28
And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.

Job 10:15
If I be wicked, woe unto me; and if I be righteous, yet will I not lift up my head. I am full of confusion; therefore see thou mine affliction;

Lam 2:10
The elders of the daughter of Zion sit upon the ground, and keep silence: they have cast up dust upon their heads; they have girded themselves with sackcloth: the virgins of Jerusalem hang down their heads to the ground.

Ezekiel 27:30
And shall cause their voice to be heard against thee, and shall cry bitterly, and shall cast up dust upon their heads, they shall wallow themselves in the ashes:

Appendix on Range of Aurochs

Range of the Aurochs

Europe - Especially starting at page 6 of The history of the European aurochs (Bos primigenius) from the Middle Pleistocene to its extinction: an archaeological investigation of its evolution, morphological variability and response to human exploitation by Elizabeth Wright (link to Wright 2013 thesis) Also, p. 4 of the pdf provides a map showing the geographic range of the Aurochs.

Egypt - "Bos primigenius in Ancient Egyptian art" (link to paper)

Arabia - "Aurochs at Q. al Asba" (link to article from Arabian Rock Art Heritage)

Britain - "A comparative analysis of the habitat of the extinct aurochs and other prehistoric mammals in Britain" (link to paper)