There Be No Unicorns

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How disappointing that Beauvais Lyons allowed his letter [“Reasonable Conclusions,” April 29, 2010] to be published without due historical research, thus misleading your readership. Unfortunately he is guilty of perpetuating a myth. It made for a good letter, but is an untruth.

If he had been conscientious enough to undertake a little serious academic research, he would have been able to uncover what Biblical scholars have known for centuries. During the preface to the King James Version Bible of 1611 (which is the version that includes the errors he quotes) it is clear that translators do not claim that this is an inspired and perfect translation. Indeed a number of words are mistranslated. The KJV is not a perfect word for word translation. For instance, the KJV translators were limited in the manuscripts available to them, notably because many extant Biblical manuscript copies which we now take for granted had not yet been discovered; for example, the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered 1947.

There are also numerous printing errors in different editions of the KJV. It is well known that in 1659 William Kilburne found in excess of 20,000 errors in at least six editions of the texts. Even today there are discrepancies and differences between editions published by international publishers.

Regarding the misleading use and the mistranslation of “unicorns,” it is an unfortunate and incorrect translation of the Hebrew word “reem” which means “wild ox.” Early translators made the error, which was carried over into the Latin unicornis. Later translators, post KJV, corrected this error. In the Middle Ages when fossil tusks or horns were found, they were said to come from unicorns, and the idea of a “unicorn” probably came from seeing images of a rhinoceros.

Regarding his mention of the word “dragon,” I refer to Biblical analysis by Dr. Stephen C. Meyers. I will paraphrase his research:

The KJV uses the term “dragon” which comes from the Greek word “drakon” which means “serpent.” It refers to a monster with a scaly snake-like body. In the Old Testament the KJV uses the term “dragon” for the Hebrew words “tannim” meaning “jackals” and “tannin” meaning “serpent, or sea monster.” It seems the KJV mistranslated these two separate words. “Tannim” is from the root “tan” meaning “to howl” and “tannin” is from the root “tanan,” “to smoke.” Jackals are known for their howling, and are associated with desolate areas. “Tannin” or “smokers” probably came from seeing the spouts of whales or the snorting of animals which looked like smoke coming from a fire inside. This is probably how the idea of fire-breathing dragons started. The Hebrew is not referring to any dinosaurs! The KJV is a good translation, but it is not perfect. It is outdated. There are better modern translations that make the Bible easier to read and understand. For those who would like a good introduction to textual analysis, the New International Version (NIV) Study Bible is the best.

All very fascinating, but if I could distil the message of the Bible, it would simply amount to a daily reminder to love the Good Lord and the entire beautiful creation with all our hearts, and love and care for our neighbors as we do for ourselves, endeavouring to treat all people as we would like to be treated.

David Clifton, Director of Music,

Apostles Anglican Church

Knoxville

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Comments » 1

beauvaislyons writes:

I appreciate the time and care that David Clifton has taken in addressing translation issues with the words "unicorn" and "dragon" in the Bible. The objections by Christian Fundamentalists to the teaching of evolution in our schools stems from a literal reading of the Bible. David Clifton's research suggests that the Bible is a creation of man rather than God. This is upsetting. I offer the following link from Answers in Genesis, an educational web site associated with the Creation Museum up the road in Kentucky as a rebuttal: http://www.answersingenesis.org/artic....

Here it is written "Some people claim the Bible is a book of fairy tales because it mentions unicorns. However, the biblical unicorn was a real animal, not an imaginary creature. The Bible refers to the unicorn in the context of familiar animals, such as peacocks, lambs, lions, bullocks, goats, donkeys, horses, dogs, eagles, and calves (Job 39:9–12.1) In Job 38–41, God reminded Job of the characteristics of a variety of impressive animals He had created, showing Job that God was far above man in power and strength."

Regardless of the issues raised by David Clifton, many Bibles used daily by East Tennesseans continue to use the words "unicorn" and "dragon."

Beauvais Lyons

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