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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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is the invariable but unfortunate rendering in the A.V. of a Heb. word which occurs nine times in three slightly varied forms (רְאֵם, on Numbers 23:22; Numbers 24:8; plur. [רְאֵמַים, reelym] Psalms 29:6; Isaiah 34:7; רְאֵים, reeym, Psalms 42:10; ) רֵים, reym, Job 39:9-10; and רֵם , rem [only with plur. רֵמַים,Viz.; remim], Psalms 22:21; never with the article; Sept. μονοκέρως or ἁδρός; Vulg. rhinoceros or unicornis), as the name of some large wild-animal. More, perhaps, has been written on the subject of the unicorn of the ancients than on any other animal, and various are the opinions which have been given as to the creature intended. The etymology of the Heb. term (according to Gesenius, from רָאִם =רוּם, to be high; but according to Fü rst, from an obscure root רָאִם, to roar) affords no clear indication of the animal, and hence we must resort to indirect means for elucidating the subject.

I. Scriptural Characteristics. The great strength of the reem is mentioned in Numbers 23:22; Job 39:11; his having two horns in Deuteronomy 33:17; his fierce nature in Psalms 22:21; his indomitable disposition in Job 39:9-11; the active and playful habits of the young animal are alluded to in Psalms 29:6; while in Isaiah 34:6-7, where Jehovah is said to be preparing "a sacrifice in Bozrah," it is added, "Reeim shall come down, and the bullocks with the bulls." The following is a close rendering of Job's famous description of this animal (Job 39:9-12):

"Will Reym be disposed to serve thee? Would he perchance lodge on thy stall? Canst thou tie Reym in a furlow [with] his braid? Will he perchance harrow valleys after thee? Wilt thou trust in him, because vast [is] his force; Or leave to him thy labor? Wilt thou believe in him, that he will return [home] thy seed, Or [into] thy threshing-plat gather [it]?"

II. Modern Attempts at Identification.

1. The reem of the Hebrew Bible has little at all to do with the one horned animal mentioned by Ctesias (Indica, 4:25-27), Elian (Nat. Anim. 16:20), Aristotle (Hist. Anim. 2, 2, 8), Pliny (I1. N 8 31), and other Greek and Roman writers (Solin. 55; Niceph. E. 9, 19), as is evident from Deuteronomy 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" (רְאֵם קִרְנֵי ), not, as the text of the A.V. renders it, "the horns of unicorns." The two horns of the reem are "the ten thousands of Ephraim and the thousands of Manasseh" the two tribes which sprang from one i.e. Joseph, as two horns from one head. This text puts a one horned animal entirely out of the question, and, in consequence, disposes of the opinion held by Bruce (Trav. 5, 89) and others, that some species of rhinoceros is denoted, or that maintained by some writers that the reem is identical with some one-horned animal said to have been seen by travelers in South Africa and in Thibet (see Barrow, Travels, in South Africa, 1, 312-318; Asiatic Journal, 11:154), and identical with the veritable unicorn of Greek and Latin writers.

Little, however, can be urged in favor of the rhinoceros, for, even allowing that the two-horned species of Abyssinia (Robicornis) may have been an inhabitant of the woody districts near the Jordan in Biblical times, this pachyderm must be out of the question, as one which would have been forbidden to be sacrificed by the law of Moses; whereas the reem is mentioned by Isaiah as coming down with bullocks and rams to the Lord's sacrifice. "Omnia animalia," says Rosenmü ller (Schol. in Is. loc. cit.), "ad sacrificia idonea in unum congregantur." Again, the skipping of the young reem (Psalms 29:6) is scarcely compatible with the habits of a rhinoceros. Moreover, this animal, when unmolested, is not generally an object of much dread, nor can we believe that it ever existed so plentifully in the Bible lands, or even would have allowed itself to be sufficiently often seen so as to be the subject of frequent attention, the rhinoceros being an animal of retired habits.

2. Bochart (Hieroz. 2, 335) contends that the Hebrew reem is identical with the Arabic rim, which is usually referred to the Oryx leucoryx, the white antelope of North Africa, and at one time, perhaps, an inhabitant of Palestine. Bochart has been followed by Rosenmü ller, Winer, and others.

But with regard to the claims of the Oryx leucoryx, it must be observed that this antelope, like the rest of the family, is harmless unless wounded or hard pressed by the hunter; nor is it remarkable for the possession of any extraordinary strength. Figures of the Oryx frequently occur on the Egyptian sculptures, "being among the animals tamed by the Egyptians and kept in great numbers in their preserves" (Wilkinson, Anc. Egypt. 1, 227, ed. 1854). Certainly this antelope can never be the fierce indomitable ream mentioned in the book of Job (see Lichtenstein, Ueb. d. Antilopen des nordl. Africa [ Berl. 1826]). (See ANTELOPE).

3. Arnold Boot (Animad. Sacr. 3, 8. [Lond. 1644]), with much better reason, conjectures that some species of Urus, or wild-ox, is the reem of the Hebrew Scriptures. He has been folloswed by Schultens (Comnment. in Jobum 39:9, who translates the term by Bos sylcestris: this learned writer has a long and most valuable note on this question), Parkhurst (Heb. Lex, s.v. ראם ), Maurer (Comment. in Job. loc. cit.), Dr. Harris (Nat. Hist. of the Bible), and by Cary (Notes on Job, loc. cit.). 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 reeynz, my horn," seems to point to the mode in which the Bovidae 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. At present there is no existing example of any wild bovine animal found in Palestine; but negative evidence in this respect must not be interpreted as affording testimony against the supposition that wild cattle formerly existed in the Bible lands. The lion, for instance, was once not infrequently met with in Palestine, as is evident from Biblical allusions; but no traces of living specimens now exist there. Dr. Roth found lions bones in a gravel bed of the Jordan some few years ago; and it is not improbable that some future explorer may succeed in discovering bones and skulls of some huge extinct Urus, allied, perhaps, to that gigantic ox of the Hercynian forests which Coesar (Bell. Gall. 6:20) describes as being of a stature scarcely below that of an elephant, and so fierce as to spare neither man nor beast should it meet with either. "Notwithstanding assertions to the contrary," says Col. Hamilton Smith (Kitto, Cyclop. art. "Reem"), "the urus and the bison were spread anciently from the Rhine to China, and existed in Thrace and Asia Minor; while they, or allied species, are still found in Siberia and the forests both of Northern and Southern Persia. Finally, though the buffalo was not found anciently farther west than Aracoria, the gigantic Gaur-Bibos gaurus) and several congeners are spread over all the mountain wildernesses of India and the Sheriff al-Wady; and a further colossal species roams with other wild bulls in the valleys of Atlas. We figure Bibos cavifrions, a species which is believed to be still found south- west of the Indus, and is not remote from that of the Atlas valleys." (See WILD BULL).


4. Russell (Aleppo, 2, 7), Robinson (Bibl. Res. 2, 412), and Gesenius (Thesaur. 5.) have little doubt that the buffalo (Bubalus buffalus) is the reem of the Bible; and this opinion is shared by Umbreit, Hitzig, Ewald, Hengstenberg, and other commentators. Although the Chainsa, or tame buffalo, was not introduced into Western Asia until the Arabian conquest of Persia it is possible that some wild species (Bubalus arnee, or B. brachycerus) may have existed formerly in Palestine. (See BUFFALO).

III. The Unicorn Proper. Legendary Notices. Throughout classical antiquity (as seen above) vague notions of a true unicorn prevailed. In the ὄνοι ἄγριοι of Ctesias, which were larger than horses-white, with a horn on the forehead a cubit long, which were very swift and strong, not ferocious unless attacked, and then irresistible, so that they could not be taken alive-we can trace the original of the familiar form that figures in the English national heraldic shield. Aristotle and Herodotus follow Ctesias, and Strabo gives the unicorn a deer-like head. Oppian makes it a bull with undivided hoofs and a frontal horn; and Caesar, who puts it in the Hercynian forest, gives its single horn palmate branches like those of a deer. Pliny draws the portrait with the greatest attention to details. It was a most savage beast, generally like a horse, with the head of a deer, the feet of an elephant, the tail of a boar a deep bellowing voice, and a single black horn, two cubits long, projecting from the middle of its forehead. See the Ann. and Mag. of Nat. Hist. Nov. 1862.

Although the medallic history of the kings of Macedon (Havercampius, Genesis Hist. [in the Dutch language]) furnishes no coins bearing a single- horned goat, it is still asserted by Maillot ant others that such was to be found among their ensigns; but this was most probably after the- Macedonian conquest; for a single horned ibex appears on the bas-reliefs of Che el-Minar; another occurs on a cylinder; and one cast in brass, supposed to have been the head of a Macedonian standard, was found in Asia Minor, and presented to the Antiquarian Society of London. If mysterious names were resolvable by the canons of pictorial definition, the practice of imagining horns to be affixed to the most sublime and sacred objects would be most evident from the radical meaning of the word cherub, where the notion of horns is everywhere blended with that of "power and greatness." (See CHERUBIM).

There were also horns at the corners of altars-the beast with ten horns in Daniel etc. (ch. 7). In profane history we have the goat head ornament on the helmet of the kings of Persia, according to Ammianus, more probably Ammon horns: such Alexander the Great had assumed; and his successors in Egypt and in Persia continued a custom even now observed by the chief cabossiers of Ashantee, who have a similar ram-head of solid gold on the front of their plumy war-caps. Indeed, from early antiquity Greek and Ionian helmets were often adorned with two horns; among others the head of Seleucus I (Nicator) appears thus on his coins. The practice extended to metal horns being affixed to the masks or chaffrons of war-horses (so coins of Seleucuis Nicator) and of elephants (Antiochus Soter); and they form still, or did lately, apart of the barbed horse-armor in Rajahstan. Triple-horned and bicorn led helmets are found on early Gallic and Iberian coins; they were again in use during the chivalrous ages; but the most remarkable, the horn of strength and domination seem elevated on the front of the helmet impressed on the reverse of the coins of the tyrant Tryphon, who, in his endeavors to obtain Syria, was at war with Antiochus Sidetes during the era of the Maccabees, and was not likely to omit any attribute that once belonged to its ancient kings. (See HORN).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Unicorn'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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