Unicorns, Fact or Fiction?

The lyrics are from, The Unicorn, a song made famous by The Irish Rovers, a Canadian folk group was recorded and released in 1968, selling 8 million records and reaching #2 on the Top 100 list.  The author, Shil Silverstein, also wrote A Boy Named Sue.

Now one of the attacks on (and mockery of) the King James Version is its mention of unicorns, not just once, but nine times – Numbers (23:22;24:8), Deuteronomy (33:17), Job (39:9;39:10), Psalms (22:21;29:6;92:10), and Isaiah (34:7).  At best it is said that the KJV translators made a mistake; at worst it is claimed that the KJV proves the Bible contains errors, for there are no unicorns in existence today and no fossils have ever been found of such a creature.  So when it comes to unicorns, let’s separate unicorn fact from unicorn fiction.

The latest (2015) edition of Webster’s dictionary defines unicorn as – “A mythical horse-like animal with a single horn growing from its forehead.”  And that is how it has come to be seen;  a fantasy figure with magical powers that can only be tamed by virgin maidens.  But the very first (1828) edition of Webster’s dictionary defines unicorn as – “An animal with a single horn growing almost erect from the nose, a beast, that when full grown, is twelve feet long.”  Notice, no mention then of a unicorn being a mythical creature of the fantasy world.

And just as Webster’s 2015 definition of a unicorn (as myth) is based upon the current use of the word now; so too was Webster’s 1828 definition of a unicorn (as real) based upon the current use of the word then.  In other words, at least up until 1828, a unicorn was understood to have been an actual animal (be it by that time very rare or totally extinct).  Thus when the KJV translators came to the Hebrew word reem (meaning a one-horned animal) they called it a unicorn (uni/one and corn/horn).  However, Bible skeptics take the 2015 unicorn (as myth) definition and apply it all the way to 1611 when the unicorn (as real) was then the standard definition.

Biblically, when God mentions the unicorn in Job 39:9-12, the animal appears in the middle of a list of other common animals that no one doubts their actual existence.  And what God says of the unicorn is nothing like the mythical pacifist horse-like creature.  Instead this is a rhinoceros-like (rhinoceroses have two horns) beast of great strength that is useless for agricultural work, refusing to serve man by plowing.