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(Exodus 34:30) וירא אהרן וכל־בני ישראל את־משה והנה קרן עור פניו וייראו מגשת אליו׃

(DRB) And Aaron and the children of Israel seeing the face of Moses horned, were afraid to come near.

(KJV) And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him.

(JPS Tanakh 1917) And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face sent forth beams; and they were afraid to come nigh him.

Did Moses' face shine/sent-forth-beams, or did he have horns?

The Hebrew word I have put in bold above is קָרַן. A Hiphil form of this same verb appears in Psalm 69:31 in reference to an ox having horns and hooves.

(Psalm 69:31) ותיטב ליהוה משור פר מקרן מפריס׃

(KJV) This also shall please the LORD better than an ox or bullock that hath horns and hoofs.

According to Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, קָרַן is related to the noun קֶ֫רֶן , which means "horn."

Strong's Exhaustive Concordance also suggests that קָרַן can mean to shoot out horns, but also rays (in a figurative way). Perhaps this would explain the translation differences in Exodus 34.

  • This reminds me of a similar conceptual allusion in Malachi. 'The sun of righteousness shall arise with healing in his wings/beams' (kanaph). – Nigel J Oct 3 '18 at 12:22
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Although i absolutely agree with @SaroFedele direct answer, i relating on Hebrew.

If we look at the Niqud the word קרן is a verb (Qal) and act as predicate of the sentence. If one may want to say that his face got horn(s) on them in Hebrew, he should write something like מקורנן. (Or מקורננות since the verse subject is Moses face).

Therefore קרן is ray(s) of light and can't be horn(s). And this verse simply say that his face looked like it surrounding with ray(s) of light (because he just speak / see God).

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The Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible tells us that following his conversation with God on Mount Sinai, Moses’ face was “horned", exactly, ‘et ignorabat quod cornuta esset facies sua’, ‘and he did not know that his face was horned” (Exodus 34:29, 30, 35; compare Douay-Rheims Version). Aquila, in his Greek TaNaKh’s translation conveyed it in a similar way. Like Adam Clarke’s Commentary says, this kind of translation “has induced painters to represent Moses with two very large horns, one proceeding from each temple!

The term at issue is קרן. What is his meaning?

According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, the word “denotes the form of a horn(s) rather than the substance.” The Tigurine version (see John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible) translates קרן “radios ejacularetur”; Munster and Fagius had “in modum cornu radiaret”; Vatablus, “vel rediasset”; Drusius, “splendere instar cornu”. Gill, again, explains us that “‘Karnon’* in the Arabic language signifies ‘the rays of the sun’. [*Golius, col. 1896. Castel. col. 3455].”

Here we found a clear connection between the apparently so different terms ‘horn’ and ‘[light] ray’. But, is this connection justifiable according the Bible?

Yes, in fact the passage of Habakkuk 3:4a (read, please, the interlinear translation, from right to left) gives light on the correctness of this connection.

ונגה כאור תהיה קרנים מידו לו

becoming is - light like - Him of shining and

hand His from - out came – (or, light-rays) sparklings

Here, speaking about IEUE, the prophet clearly connects קרן (there, on the plural number [קרנים]) with ‘light’.

However, how we can understand the connection between ‘horn’ and ‘(light) ray’? Let us some commentators explain (bold is mine):

Keil & Delitzsch: “קַרְנַיִם, according to קָרַן in Exo 34:29-30, is to be taken in the sense of rays; and this meaning has developed itself from a comparison of the first rays of the rising sun, which shoot out above the horizon […].” (Commentary on the OT, on Hab 3:4)

John Parkhurst: “[…] horns are in Hebrew expressed by the same word as the rays or columns [I would say, ‘conoids’] of light […]. *[The eloquent Jer. Taylor, in his Holy Dying, p. 17, describes the rising sun as peeping over the eastern hills, thrusting out his golden horns, &c.].” This author creates a link between the concept of ‘light’ with those of ‘horn’, also on the further basis of one of the many titles of Apollus (the Sun-God), that is, Καρνειος. In fact, “Callimachus, in his Hymn to Apollo, lin. 62, 63, says, that deity did himself build an altar of horns […].” (An Hebrew and English Lexicon…, on קרן [p. 474, also ft.])

Really, viewed pictorially, rays of light do actually resemble horns (in some particular meteorological situations). So, lacking to understand this connection between ‘horn’ and ‘(light) ray’ Jerome produced that odd kind of translation. Now, the Nova Vulgata has, correctly, “resplenderet”.

And that’s not all.

The most ancient Semitic tongue known until now, Akkadian, has a term QARNU/QANNU that means ‘horn’, ‘protruding (horn-shaped) [‘protuberances’, see ibid. p. 139:i] part of decoration of objects’, [also] ‘of god’s crowns […] ‘I set upon his (Marduk’s) head a crown with mighty horns.’ (Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, XIII:134-140). This further connection with ‘crown’, is not only based on an assonantic reason, because the first crowns (like that Marduk’s) were made like wreaths of horns. And, until now, the ‘points’ of many crowns represent stylized horns.

Moreover, we must not forget that ‘horn’ in the Bible, but also in all the ancient Eastern civilizations, was a symbol of ‘power’. In The Dictionary of Symbols, by Chevalier-Gheerbrant (bold is mine) we read that the word ‘crown’ is originally much near to the word ‘horn’, expressing the concepts of ‘elevation’, ‘power’, and ‘illumination/enlightenment’).

A final connection.

On the basis of the arguments above mentioned we may connect the string ‘horn’ - ‘ray’ – ‘crown’ with another term: ‘cone’. Isn’t the ‘horn’ a twisted cone-shaped object?

See, please, this string of non-Semitic words: Latin cornu, ‘horn’ > corona, ‘crown’ > conus, ‘cone’ (see also Greek κωνος, ‘cone’). Galen of Pergamum mentions even the Greek expression ‘ο της οψεως κωνος’, ‘cone of the visual rays’, 7.95 (cit. in N1138, sotto κωνος).

So, the words ‘horn’, and ‘(light) ray’– in the TaNaKh, and also ‘crown’, ‘cone’, there are all connected by the core concept inside the Hebrew term קרן.

The direct answer to the question proposed is:

No, Moses had no horns on his head. He had rays of divine light protruding from his face. The fact that Moses’ face emitted rays is explainable, as IEUE’s glory had just passed by. (Exodus 33:22; 34:6, 7).

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