Baby unicorns in the BCP, 1662

Ps 29:6 He maketh them also to skip like a calf: Libanus also, and Sirion, like a young unicorn"

Going to the Hebrew I find
"ראם"
[Re-em}
which we know as oryx ( a large antelope with big curving-backwards horns which is still around today)

What did anyone know about either the unicorn or oryx in 1662?
What can we have expected them to know?

Comments

  • I believe that's the "one-horned ox" of legend. Wikipedia advises that modern Hebrew identifies re'em with the oryx but that it is far from clear what the ancient word referred to, with hypotheses ranging from the oryx to the aurochs via a variety of rhinoceros.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    I think that's right. The range of the modern rhino is southern Africa, a smallish area just to the north of the Congo, and then India. Knowledge of the Indian rhino at least would have reached Palestine in biblical times. There are still oryx in the Arabia peninsula, albeit in tiny numbers, and again, there'd be knowledge in Palestine. So which of these was it?
  • There are dragons in the AV too (Ps 148.7). What a wonderful world to live in.
  • The Septuagint (Ps. 28: 5-6) knows nothing of skipping. God is going to break the cedars of Lebanon, and grind them, and indeed Lebabnon itself, as fine as dust like the (golden) calf. But the beloved one (in contrast) is like the son of a one-horned rhinoceros, proverbial for its strength.
  • The National Library of Israel has a blog post about unicorns and other strange animals encountered by Western travellers to the Holy Land, with some delightful illustrations].
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    A great account and thanks for the link. The author says:

    Yet it could be that the link between the re’em and the mythical unicorn is based on actual sightings. The Holy Land was always a desired destination for pilgrims and tourists who came to walk the paths traveled by Jesus of Nazareth. Some of the travelers, among them various monks and artists, described their arduous journeys in vivid detail, including accounts of the region’s geography, as well as its flora and fauna. Some of these accounts, primarily from the early modern period, contain depictions, occasionally illustrated, of a mysterious unicorn.

    To which I would add that the location of Palestine would be the path between Babylon/Persia and Egypt, bringing all sorts of knowledge to the residents of the biblical lands.
  • GalilitGalilit Shipmate
    Super article, Margaret and indeed delightful illustrations ...
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    I think that psalm is known in some circles as Qol Adonai, the Voice of the Lord.

    I suppose the first point is that this doesn't represent the knowledge of natural history in the 1660s, but the 1530s, as the psalter in the BCP comes from Coverdale's translation of the Bible of 1535. However, the AV of 1611 also has 'unicorns'.

    The second, though, is that the Coverdale version of the psalms may be hallowed by tradition but there's not much else that can be said for it. It isn't a very good translation. It wasn't translated from the Hebrew. It contains three extra verses in psalm 14 that are not in the Hebrew Bible at all. They are interpolations found in the Vulgate and the LXX. For the psalms, Coverdale seems to have worked from the Vulgate and Luther's German version. Nor is there any truth in the ridiculous myth that one still occasionally hears from ecclesiastical musicians that his version is specially suited to chanting. If it seems to be, that's only because they are used to its words. They've got habituated to it.

    The Vulgate seems to vary between versions as to whether it has 'unicorn' or 'rhinoceros'. I suspect the latter might gradually have replaced the former as people became more aware that unicorns didn't exist and rhinoceroses did.

    The other question seems to be what animal at the time "ראם" meant. In an odd way, what it might mean in modern Hebrew may not be that persuasive. Candidates seem to include the oryx, the rhinoceros or the aurochs (wild cow). Is there an unbroken tradition of identification, or does it depend on what an early twentieth century rabbi and re-founding settlor decided he'd prefer it to mean?

    The Greek word in the LXX just means an animal with one horn. So it could mean either a unicorn or a rhinoceros. That presumably is an indication of what "ראם" was thought to mean about 200 BC. It might imply that it's less likely to mean a wild ox.

    There's quite a story about Renaissance Europe's awareness of the rhinoceros. It was of almost legendary status. The first one to be seen in Europe was brought to Lisbon in 1515. Dürer produced a famous engraving of it, but he never saw it himself. He relied on reports and a sketch by someone else. Virtually every illustration of this fabulous beast thereafter for 250 years derived from his engraving. Even after that when more people had actually seen a real one, his illustration still continued to influence other representations.

  • For a modern day instance, Mr Lamb had never seen nor heard of a rhinoceros, and it took a great deal of argument before he could be convinced that we weren’t pulling his leg. When he saw one, he was dumbfounded.
  • GalilitGalilit Shipmate
    Enoch wrote: »
    The other question seems to be what animal at the time "ראם" meant. In an odd way, what it might mean in modern Hebrew may not be that persuasive. Candidates seem to include the oryx, the rhinoceros or the aurochs (wild cow). Is there an unbroken tradition of identification, or does it depend on what an early twentieth century rabbi and re-founding settlor decided he'd prefer it to mean?

    I've always known it as oryx from Real Life, books, and tv.
    Google Translate gave me oryx too.
    Neither really sources that'd stand up to much scrutiny, I admit

  • [Major Tangent Alert]
    Coincidence is a bizarre thing at times. Just yesterday, I was browsing a book containing some discourses of the Buddha. One, the Khaggavisana Sutta, seems to be guidance to full-fledged monks (not the Lay Disciples). The multiple verses all end with the instruction that a wise man "should live alone like a rhinoceros horn." Odd that the subject of one-horned animals should then show up here today!
    [End Major Tangent Alert, Please resume useful discussion.]
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    Gee D wrote: »
    The range of the modern rhino is southern Africa, a smallish area just to the north of the Congo, and then India.
    I think a lot of animals we now think of as exclusively African were historically middle-eastern as well, though I don't know if rhinos are an example.

  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Can't help on that. Certainly the probability of knowledge is as far as e can take it.
  • Dafyd wrote: »
    Gee D wrote: »
    The range of the modern rhino is southern Africa, a smallish area just to the north of the Congo, and then India.
    I think a lot of animals we now think of as exclusively African were historically middle-eastern as well, though I don't know if rhinos are an example.

    There are certainly many tales of lions in Egypt and Palestine/Syria/that region. I don't know that any still call cis-Saharan Africa home, let alone the Levant.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    There were lions in Palestine as late as Crusader times, perhaps even more recently.
  • Is there still one in Judah?
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    No. Judah’s lion burst his chains (crushing the serpent’s head).
  • Quite parenthetically, one of the best features of the 1662 BCP (IMHO) is the continuing use of the wonderfully quirky Coverdale version of the Psalms. They may be rather incomprehensible at times, but they can be FUN.

    YMMV.

    Do, please, carry on the discussion about Unicorns. They will, no doubt, soon appear (post-Brexit).
  • mousethief wrote: »
    There are certainly many tales of lions in Egypt and Palestine/Syria/that region. I don't know that any still call cis-Saharan Africa home, let alone the Levant.
    Gee D wrote: »
    There were lions in Palestine as late as Crusader times, perhaps even more recently.

    I don't know when lions became extinct in Palestine, but if Wikipedia correctly reflects what its sources say, they were present in parts of the Middle East and North Africa until the 20th century.
    Dafyd wrote: »
    I think a lot of animals we now think of as exclusively African were historically middle-eastern as well, though I don't know if rhinos are an example.

    Wikipedia has a map showing the 'original distribution' of the white rhinoceros reaching southern Egypt, but Indian ones no nearer than what is now Pakistan; but in the absence of a source for the information, or an indication of what time period is referred to by 'original', it's not that helpful.
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