The Identity of the Unicorn
The unicorn is mentioned 9 times in the Bible (Numbers 23:22; 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9, 10; Psalm 22:21; 29:6; 92:10; Isaiah 34:7). Most modern versions of the Bible identify the unicorn as a wild ox. However, the biblical descriptions do not fit a wild ox. The characteristics of the unicorn are as follows:
The strength of the unicorn is a major theme of the Bible record about unicorns (Numbers 23:22; 24:8; Job 39:11)
- The unicorn is wild and cannot be tamed (Job 39:9-12)
- The unicorn is a dangerous animal (Psalm 22:21)
- The name unicorn means one-horned, although this could possibly refer to one prominent horn.
The Bible is clearly not speaking of a wild ox. However, there is more than one possibility as to its identity.
- First, there is the possibility that the mythical tales of a horse with a prominent forward horn are not completely mythical. Perhaps the unicorn is yet to be discovered. This is not to say that the Bible is teaching a myth. It is not. And, as the biblical description demonstrates, the unicorn in the Bible is not the unicorn of mythology in any way.
- Second, this could be a rare species of rhinoceros that has only one horn. There is actually such a species known to zoologists today. Perhaps it was much more common at one time. Julius Caesar (according to Unger's Bible Dictionary) described a unicorn that was immense in size, of great strength and speed, ferocious, and untamable. This perfectly matches the biblical description of the unicorn.
Third, the name, unicorn, could refer to the prominent horn of the more common rhinoceros. Deuteronomy 33:17 compares the horns of Joseph to the horns of unicorns. With them (the horns) he pushes the people together. They (the horns) are compared to the ten thousands of Ephraim and the thousands of Manasseh. Ephraim and Manasseh are the two tribes that come from the two sons of Joseph. The younger son (Ephraim) was given the greater blessing by Jacob (Genesis 48:17-20). This may be portrayed in Deuteronomy 33:17 by ascribing ten thousands to Ephraim but only thousands to Manasseh. How better to picture these two disproportionate tribes than with an animal that had one prominent horn (the unicorn) but also had a second much lesser horn. As further evidence, Psalm 92:10 refers to the horn of the unicorn as being exalted. This sounds like a forward pointing horn that naturally points upwardor is exalted--as the prominent horn of the rhinoceros. These passages are not absolute proof, but they strongly point to the rhinoceros as the animal that matches the unicorn in the Bible. At least until another unicorn is discovered, the rhinoceros is the most probable identity of the unicorn. The Bible description matches this animal very well.