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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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ראם , Numbers 23:22; Numbers 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9-10; Psalms 22:21; Psalms 29:6; Psalms 92:10; Isaiah 34:7 . In each of these places it is rendered in the Septuagint μονοκερως , except in Isaiah, where it is αδροι , the great or mighty ones. Barrow, in his "Travels in Southern Africa," has given a drawing of the head of the unicorn, "a beast with a single horn projecting from the forehead;" accompanied with such details as, he thinks, offer strong arguments for the existence of such animals in the country of the Bosjesmans. He observes that this creature is represented as a "solid-ungulous animal resembling a horse, with an elegantly shaped body, marked from the shoulders to the flanks with longitudinal stripes or bands." Still he acknowledges that the animal to which the writer of the book of Job, who was no mean natural historian, makes a poetical allusion, has been supposed, with great plausibility, to be the one-horned rhinoceros; and that Moses also very probably meant the rhinoceros, when he mentions the unicorn as having the strength of God.

"There are two animals," says Bruce, "named frequently in Scripture, without naturalists being agreed what they are. The one is the behemoth, the other the reem; both mentioned as types of strength, courage, and independence on man; and, as such, exempted from the ordinary lot of beasts, to be subdued by him, or reduced under his dominion. The behemoth, then, I take to be the elephant; his history is well known, and my only business is with the reem, which I suppose to be the rhinoceros. The derivation of this word, both in the Hebrew and Ethiopic, seems to be from erectness, or standing straight. This is certainly no particular quality in the animal itself, which is not more, nor even so much erect as many other quadrupeds, for its knees are rather crooked; but it is from the circumstance and manner in which his horn is placed. The horns of all other animals are inclined to some degree of parallelism with the nose, or os frontis, [front bone.] The horn of the rhinoceros alone is erect and perpendicular to this bone, on which it stands at right angles; thereby possessing a greater purchase of power, as a lever, than any horn could possibly have in any other position. This situation of the horn is very happily alluded to in the sacred writings: ‘My horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of a reem,' Psalms 92:10 . And the horn here alluded to is not wholly figurative, but was really an ornament worn by great men in the days of victory, preferment, or rejoicing, when they were anointed with new, sweet, or fresh oil; a circumstance which David joins with that of erecting the horn. Balaam, a priest of Midian, and so in the neighbourhood of the haunts of the rhinoceros, and intimately connected with Ethiopia, for they themselves were shepherds of that country, in a transport, from contemplating the strength of Israel, whom he was brought to curse, says, that they had as it were the strength of the reem, Numbers 23:22 .

Job 39:9-10 , makes frequent allusion to his great strength, ferocity, and indocility. Isaiah 34:7 , who of all the prophets seems to have known Egypt and Ethiopia the best, when prophesying about the destruction of Idumea, says, that the reem shall come down with the fat cattle: a proof that he knew his habitation was in the neighbourhood. In the same manner as when foretelling the desolation of Egypt, he mentions, as one manner of effecting it, the bringing down the fly from Ethiopia, Isaiah 7:18-19 , to meet the cattle in the desert and among the bushes, and destroy them there, where that insect did not ordinarily come but on command, Exodus 8:22 , and where the cattle fled every year, to save themselves from that insect.

"The rhinoceros in Geez is called arwe harish, and in the Amharic auraris, both which names signify the large wild beast with the horn. This would seem as if applied to the species that had but one horn. The Ethiopic text renders the word reem, arwe harish, and this the Septuagint translates μονοκερως , or unicorn. If the Abyssinian rhinoceros had invariably two horns, it seems to me improbable the Septuagint would call him μονοκερως , especially

as they must have seen an animal of this kind exposed at Alexandria

in their time, when first mentioned in history, at an exhibition given to Ptolemy Philadelphus, at his accession to the crown, before the death of his father. The principal reason for translating the word reem unicorn, and not rhinoceros, is from a prejudice that he must have but one horn. But this is by no means so well founded, as to be admitted as the only argument for establishing the existence of

an animal, which never has appeared after the search of so many ages. Scripture speaks of the horns of the unicorn,

Deuteronomy 33:17; Psalms 22:21; so that even from this circumstance the reem may be the rhinoceros as the rhinoceros may be the unicorn."

In the book of Job 39:9-10 , the reem is represented as an unmanageable animal, which, although possessed of sufficient strength to labour, sternly and pertinaciously refused to bend his neck to the yoke.

Will the reem submit to serve thee? Will he, indeed, abide at thy crib?

Canst thou make his harness bind the reem to the furrow?

Will he, forsooth, plough up the valleys for thee?

Wilt thou rely on him for his great strength, And commit thy labour unto him?

Wilt thou trust him that he may bring home thy grain, And gather in thy harvest?

The rhinoceros, in size, is only exceeded by the elephant; and in strength and power is inferior to no other creature. He is at least twelve feet in length, from the extremity of the snout to the insertion of the tail; six or seven feet in height, and the circumference of the body is nearly equal to its length. He is particularly distinguished from the elephant and all other animals by the remarkable and offensive weapon he carries upon his nose. This is a very hard horn, solid throughout, directed forward, and has been seen four feet in length. Mr, Browne, in his Travels, says, that the Arabians call the rhinoceros abukurn, "father of the one horn." The rhinoceros is very hurtful, by the prodigious devastation which he makes in the fields. This circumstance peculiarly illustrates the passage from Job. Instead of trusting him to bring home the grain, the husbandman will endeavour to prevent his entry into the fields, and hinder his destructive ravages. In a note upon this passage, Mr. Good says, "the original reem, by all the older translators rendered rhinoceros, or unicorn, is by some modern writers supposed to be the bubalus, bison, or wild ox. There can be no doubt that rhinoceros is the proper term; for this animal is universally known in Arabia, by the name of reem, to the present day." The rhinoceros, though next in size, yet in docility and ingenuity greatly inferior, to the elephant, has never yet been tamed, so as to assist the labours of mankind, or to appear in the ranks of war. The rhinoceros is perfectly indocile and untractable, though neither ferocious nor carnivorous. He is among large animals what the hog is among smaller ones, brutal and insensible; fond of wallowing in the mire, and delighting in moist and marshy situations near the banks of rivers. He is, however, of a pacific disposition; and, as he feeds on vegetables, has few occasions for conflict. He neither disturbs the less, nor fears the greater, beasts of the forest, but lives amicably with all. He subsists principally on large succulent plants, prickly shrubs, and the branches of trees; and lives to the age of seventy or eighty years.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Unicorn'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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