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Bible - Rays of Light or Horns?
The horns on Michaelangelo's famous statue of Moses are a mistake! It's true that the Bible describes Moses as having horns coming from his head. However, this was a mistake on the translators' part. In Hebrew, "ray of light" and "horn" are spelled the same. Thus, the translators mistook "rays of light" for "horns". Because of this, Moses is often portrayed looking like a devil. I believe, however, that this has been fixed.
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Contributed By:
etaonish on 10-19-2000
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Pictures Click on the thumbnails for a full-size image, or send in your own
Moses with Horns--kind of. The artist made them from his hair.
Moses with Horns--kind of. The artist made them from his hair.
Comments:
gdsov writes:
I don't know if statement like "the Bible is inaccurate" is a fair statement. After all, wouldn't such an error in translation be credited to the translator? Certainly Paul, Moses, or David wouldn't have written something as blatantly inaccurate as "Moses has horns". The error must be attributed to the translation process.
83 of 118 people found this comment helpful. Did you? Yes
TheEggman writes:
You have to look at the issue objectively - It IS correct to say that "the Bible is inaccurate" (at least in reference to this issue) since no matter whose fault it is - the wording in the book is wrong (it doesn't matter that it's the translators fault - the error made it to print). NOTE: However the Bible IS still accurate if you're reading it in the original Hebrew text since since the error was not introduced until it was translated. The Bible in it's original text may have been free of error having been essentially dictated to man by God himself - but man has a tendency to foul-up Gods works. We've corrupted the planet he gave us - why not his words?
57 of 73 people found this comment helpful. Did you? Yes
Jaycakes writes:
A careful reading shows that ÷øð or (QRN) does represent the Hebrew word/image/concept of "horn" in this passage. With this interpretation, Moses' hornyness at this point of the story is simply a symbol of his connection with the divine. QRN, it should be noted, is a three radical root that means "horn" in every other occurrence in the Hebrew Bible. There are Hebrew words that mean "rays" and "rays of light". The author does not use these words in this passage, he chooses to use the word "horn". Horns, throughout the Bible are often used symbolically to denote power or divinity. Horns were a common symbol denoting power and divinity both when Exodus was written and when Jerome was translating. In other words, being "horned" to their eyes and ears would have seemed as normal as "enlightened" seems to us. Remember, having real rays of light shooting from your face is as odd an image as sprouting real horns. Indeed the author was probably trying to communicate Moses' state as something greater than "enlightened". To him, Moses was Horny As far as the horned Moses in art, the thing becomes even more complicated. We can't be sure what Michelangelo - for example - was thinking when he made his horned Moses. Did the "horns" still glorify Moses in the eyes of his contemporaries? Some say yes and some say no. At this point of history, the Christian Communities were beginning to use "horns" as both a symbol of the Devil and a symbol of the "devil Jew". Unfortunately, this is the image that stuck which has caused some, like the original author of this piece, to invent "Jerome's mistake" to explain away the unsettling image of the Horned Moses. (Please write me if you have any questions or disagreements with my take, but I warn you - I wrote my Masters thesis on this subject, and while I have spared you the length of it, I won't hesitate to use it on ya!) jaycakes@hotmail.com
22 of 24 people found this comment helpful. Did you? Yes
shadow magic writes:
The original mistake was in Exodus (34:29) although it was corrected in current versions of the bible. If you're interested in reading a little more or seeing a picture of Michelangelo's Moses then go here http://gallery.euroweb.hu/html/m/michelan/1sculptu/giulio_2/
14 of 19 people found this comment helpful. Did you? Yes
incabulos writes:
Horns, in Moses' time, were a symbol of authority and power. Many gods, including YHVH have been depicted as having them. Kings and holy men were shown sometimes with exaggerated crowns. The mistake, oddly enough, is in todays authors inability to separate evil from horned figures. In the dark ages Satan was pictured with horns..so good beings could not be. Another point of interest: Moses came down from the mountain with horns at the begining of the astrological age of the Ram stating,"I am the ram of God!" coincidence?
17 of 26 people found this comment helpful. Did you? Yes
bunny g writes:
This is just my two cents, and is the only reasoning I can see (if the word really does translate to mean those two things.) 1) The artist knew that the word meant "horns" and "rays of light". 2) As artistic license, the sculptor decide to portray Moses with horns so his piece would a) be unique & b) draw more attention to him. 3) YOU TRY SCULPTING RAYS OF LIGHT! I don't think this is really a slip up. It's individual interpretation of a book that is very controversial and, thus, liable to different symbolic decodings.
27 of 47 people found this comment helpful. Did you? Yes
The Country Parson writes:
It's hard for me to believe that Jerome, the greatest translator/biblical scholar of his day, would have been unaware of how the New Testament writers used this word--clearly the Gospel writers associated Moses with a SHINING face--thus the comparison of Jesus to Moses in the account of the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-3; Mark 9:2-4). I can't shake the thought that Jerome chose to "horn" Moses because he was miffed with secular Christians of his day who not only used the Jewish Septuagint version of the Old Testament, but also were very much a part of the cosmopolitan (secular) culture of Alexandria in those days. A horned Moses certainly is contrary to the Septuagint, and Jerome may have been looking for something contrary to the Septuagint, something superior to it because of its association with what he considered to be "secular" culture, which may have disgusted him given his "hermit" piety. I'm not sure this was "anti-semitic" in intent, but it could have been. At any rate, its hard for me to accept the idea that Jerome accidently "horned" Moses. He was too fine a scholar to have made a mistake. Not that he lied in his translation, but I think he may have gleefully taken advantage of the ambiguity of the original Hebrew word which could have been translated "horned". In my mind the basic question upon which this turns is, did Jerome choose to translate that ambiguous Hebrew word into a Vulgate Latin word that could only have meant horned? Could he have chosen some other Latin word that could only have meant "shone"? If so, the "horning" was deliberate. Or, was the Vulgate word Jerome chose itself ambiguous or misunderstood by later generations because of changes in the way that word was commonly used? I'd surely like to hear from others regarding your thoughts on Jerome's choice of Vulgate Latin words. Attributing the horning of Moses to later "misinterpretations" turns on Jerome's choice of Vulgate words for his translation-- What did that Vulgate word mean in Jeromes day? And, did common understanding of that Vulgate word change as the language evolved?
7 of 7 people found this comment helpful. Did you? Yes
sdwileyjr writes:
For those of you that are confused. The horns on Moses in the sculpture, was not a mistake or some reason for a artist to be different. The horns are put there, because the horns stand for power. Now I do know a bit about the bible and the translation. What I do know is that it has been translated so many times that there are some mistakes in words. The rays of light and horns part might be correct by everyone, but the horns stand for power and that is why they are there.
13 of 20 people found this comment helpful. Did you? Yes
MorPH writes:
Actually, stinkinsac, I believe that you actually CAN use the term slip-up. Just about. Because they have 'fixed' it now, they must have known it was a mistake, a.k.a. a slip-up. However, I do see your point, and I must say that you are obviously a very intelligent person.
4 of 4 people found this comment helpful. Did you? Yes
Bill writes:
Stating that a mistranslation in the Latin Vulgate caused Michelangelo to put horns on his statue of Moses introduces an even greater slip-up! A careful examination of Exodus 34 reveals that the “second” set of tables are discussed in verses 1-4; the most important event in Moses life is described in verses 5-9; the Ten Commandments (Decalogue) are outlined in verses 10-28; and the mistranslation occurs three times in verses 29-35. Michelangelo’s statue of Moses may not be associated with the prophet’s fifth decent from Mount Sinai with the original Tables of the Ten Commandments, as is traditionally thought. It may well represent Moses 6’th ascent up the mountain with the duplicate set of Tables. If this is the event Michelangelo has depicted in the statue, Moses has just watched as God descend in a cloud and pass by in front of him. And Moses is currently looking at the “back parts” of God.
5 of 7 people found this comment helpful. Did you? Yes
KidV writes:
If we're going to get into theology, I might as well add this: The Bible was written by man, and man is imperfect. The Bible's been translated and re-translated thousands of times by thousands of different people, and is therefore imperfect. The slipup on the famous sculpture of Moses is indeed a translation error, and an error that I personally believe would interest KIDS a lot more than a ray of light would.
23 of 44 people found this comment helpful. Did you? Yes
ascookie19 writes:
I hate to disappoint all who think they are right, but here's the true answer: Originally, the Bible has been translated from Ancient Hebrew. In both Ancient Hebrew and today's Hebrew, 'rays of light' and 'horns' MEAN THE SAME THING. It was written to mean rays of light, but Michaelangelo drew it as horns from any sort of mistake (maybe a mistake in the translation, etc.). And so, he didn't mean to sculpt Moses with horns, but do to the misinterpretation of the words that mean the same thing, he did make a mistake. I am sure it wasn't because Moses looked like the Devil or something, it's just because 'rays of light' and 'horns' mean the same thing. (trust me, i know Hebrew and the Bible pretty well)
11 of 20 people found this comment helpful. Did you? Yes
feanor writes:
Not only the King James' version suffers from inaccurasy (or however you would like to call a different interpretational base) I myself am the Netherlands and know for a fact that the different versions of bibles we have, all give a different interpretation for some parts of the book. This started with the translation of the Jewish texts and continues all the way to present day. Meaning that every bible as we know it today is not quite the same as the original. The bible is as it will always be, a guideline for some people. The mistake often made is interpreting it rigidly. (But hey, that's just my opinion)
8 of 14 people found this comment helpful. Did you? Yes
Lane writes:
I don't know if we're still talking about the statue or not, but Michelangelo definately didn't depict Moses with horns to be unique...it was common practice back then. Moses has horns, just as Hermes has wings on his feet. It got to a point where they just used horns to show it was Moses. Michelangelo didn't make a mistake, he just needed people to understand it was Moses. Stuff like that has happened all through Christian history...did you know that in Byzantine art, they would depict the birth of Jesus in a cave, not a manger?
4 of 6 people found this comment helpful. Did you? Yes
SwiftSword writes:
The Bible has the most original Transcripts of all antiquated writings and from them it also has the most completed manuscripts. the firstfrist full manuscript if from 250 years after the last book was completed. The next piece of literature is Homer's Iliad and the first known full manuscript is 2000 years after the writing of the last book. When you look though all of the manuscripts and parts of manuscripts of the Bible you find only 40 of the original (about) 250,000 lines to be in disgression. The few errors that are in there are only of style and of misspellings. In all of the many manuscripts none of the discrepitcies are enough to change the meaning or to change any doctrine. The few inaccuracies are in fact enough to change but a few words, but not the meanings. God gave us free will and in all the copying and re-copying there is no inaccuracies
10 of 19 people found this comment helpful. Did you? Yes
fungus writes:
But in Revelations (or was it Ezekiel?) Jesus is decribed as a lamb with seven horns on His head!
7 of 15 people found this comment helpful. Did you? Yes
skinhead writes:
Hmmm, it's been a while since my religious studies schooling, but if I remember correctly, the septuigent (sp?) did not meet to compile the works that would later be known as the Old Testament until around 30 AD. Because of Egyptian texts complaining of "Sea People" who were people from phoenicia that moved inland and eventually settled in Egypt during a period of draught (probably the Hebrews) it is assumed that the Exodus story took place somewhere around 1500-1300 BC. even the most respected oral traditions and patriotic legends cannot help but be somewhat twisted and altered over the course of time. then, through several translations, mistakes happen. I believe this mistake is unique to the King James version of the Bible, which makes sense because that version was written with a poetic licence and has more emphasis on flowing, beautiful word choice than content.
5 of 11 people found this comment helpful. Did you? Yes
ConanaBanana02 writes:
i just read something about the horns/rays of the light the other day. apparently, when the bible was translated, the phrase "rays of light" was mistranslated because its spelled the same as the word for "horns." so when people painted moses they either added horns to him or rays of light because of the mistranslation. i guess there are both kinds of depictions of moses out there.
2 of 5 people found this comment helpful. Did you? Yes
~skippy~ writes:
Hey! You're messing with my Bible now! My Bible (KJV) is the infalible translation. All other 'versions' are perversions. What book have you been reading? NIV? RSV? Good News for Modern Man?
2 of 5 people found this comment helpful. Did you? Yes
ROGUE writes:
The bible is seriously flawd. Man has changed the word of God. The original, first bible sent down as a guidence has been changed by man to accomodate the needs of man and his evil ways.
1 of 6 people found this comment helpful. Did you? Yes
stinkinsac writes:
You cant use the term slip up when it comes to bible due to all the symbolic text. IN Genesis you have God speaking things into existence with words like "let US create (this and that)" before Jesus was even mentioned in the bible. You also have 4 different views of the Ressurection in the 4 Gospels.
10 of 25 people found this comment helpful. Did you? Yes
pboy writes:
Hey, the Bible isn't just translated by ONE person, it's painstakingly translated by a whole board of experts. No doubt SOMEONE would have realised that the word means two things. Obviously they decided that 'horns' was better suited than 'ray of light'.
10 of 26 people found this comment helpful. Did you? Yes
csick writes:
The most conservative view of the Bible is that there is no such thing as a mistake or mistranslation in an officially accepted Bible because the God influences the writer/translator directly and constantly throughout the process. So any officially condoned version throughout time, no matter what differences may exist from the original text, is perfectly correct. See www.religioustolerance.org for a better explanation of the inerrancy of the Bible than I can give.
5 of 16 people found this comment helpful. Did you? Yes
EggGuy writes:
WRONG! The bible is influenced* by God, not written by Him. You just proved yourself wrong there. INSPIRED means that He himself did not write it, but He influenced it.
9 of 26 people found this comment helpful. Did you? Yes


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