Horns of Moses

mosesI was reading about Moses and there is a statue of him by Michelangelo and he is depicted as having horns.

As I delved deeper into the reasons for this, I found a really good article by Jonathan Lipnick, Link below:

Did the face of Moses have horns?

So I wrote this in the comments, but it has yet to be verified:

Was investigating this horny thorny issue and came across your article, Jonathan. I would like to blog about it but don’t want to just replicate what you have done in paraphrase, but rather use it as a launching pad for a much less scholarly blog post — it might be irreverent, but it will not be a sacrilege. Here’s a brief quote from Lipnick:

Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of Moses – exhibited in the Church of St Peter in Chains in Rome – is one of the most celebrated pieces of High Renaissance art. It depicts a seated Moses nobly holding the tablets of the Law after having descended from Mount Sinai for the second time (Exodus chapter 34). The statue, which was completed in 1515 to adorn the tomb of Pope Julius II, is beloved for many reasons: the sense of impending movement that it captures; the amazingly lifelike appearance of the musculature, beard and hair; and the knowing expression of wisdom on the face of Moses. But above all, what makes this statue famous is the rather odd fact that Moses has two horns on the top of his head. Why is this?

Why, indeed, Lipnick. I was wondering the same thing myself. For some reason, this song kept repeating in my head, a persistent ohrwurm, as the Germans are wont to say. Oh nein, ich bekomme den Ohrwurm. Perhaps persistent is redundant, because persistence is the very nature of the ohrwurm. Nevertheless, this song blasted relentlessly:

Moses supposes his toeses are roses
But Moses supposes erroneously
And Moses, he knowses his toeses aren’t roses
As Moses supposes his toeses to be

Moses supposes his toeses are roses
But Moses supposes erroneously
A Rose is a rose
A Nose is a nose
A Toese is a toese

Hupidubidu! (ehehehehe)
Moses supposes his toeses are roses
But Moses supposes erroneously
And Moses, he knowses his toeses aren’t roses
As Moses supposes his toeses to be

Moses! (Moses supposes his toeses are roses)
Moses! (But Moses supposes erroneously)
Moses! (And Moses, he knowses his toeses aren’t roses)
As Moses supposes his toeses to be

Mose is a mose is a mose is a moses
A rose is a rose is a rose is a roses
Couldn’t be a lily or a daffy, daffy dilly
It’s gotta be a rose ’cause it rhymes with Mose


(dance break)


Where have I heard that before? Of course, it was Gene Kelly & Donald O’Connor in Singin’ In The Rain. The part where they are practicing their elocution but it is so boring, so they make it into a silly song and dance. Then Debbie Reynolds comes over, and they get even sillier. But I digress. Speaking of digressions, practically every episode of The Twilight Zone was a classic, but the only good Night Gallery was the one where they put the earwig in the man’s ear. It was called The Caterpillar, season 2, episode 22:

Night Gallery – The Caterpillar (S2E22)

All right. Enough diversion. Let’s get back to the issue at hand. Moses. Why did Michelangelo carve him in marble with horns? This is from Exodus 34, where he comes down from Mount Sinai for the second time, with the stone tablets, the ten commandments. The first time he found them worshipping the golden calf. So he broke that tablet. If you recall Chrarleton Heston portrayed Moses, and Edward G. Robinson, who mostly played gangsters, was the leader of the golden calf cult. I totally buy Heston as Moses, but Edward G. is kind of incongruous, if not an out-and-out anachronism. Don’t you think? Keep expecting him to call Heston a dirty rat.

So, Lipnick explains all about the translation, which revolves on the Hebrew word karan or keren. Of perhaps Karen? Like Moses came down from Mount Sinai and demanded to speak to the manager about the appalling golden calf worshipping taking place? I could be wrong, but I heard that Hebrew, in days of yore, omitted vowels, so perhaps it could be read as Karen? Probably not, though. Anyway, Lipnick says it was keren or karan. This means horns, but it could also mean rays of light. Lipnick’s article delves deeply into this word, and he cites other occurrences of it. Like, the Prayer of Habakkuk: “His splendor was like the sunrise, rays (קַרְנַיִם) flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden” (Hab. 3:4). Another citation is from the writing of Paul: …the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory (δόξαν), transitory though it was…” (2 Corinthians 3:7).

Is this the one about the 2 Corinthians who walk into a bar? Who do they see, but Jerry Falwell Jr., his wife, Becki, and the pool boy.

Getting back to the horns of Moses, Lipnick goes on to explain that the culprit at the root of this thorny problem of false translation was the famous 4th/5th century Church Father Jerome. Born in Dalmatia, educated in Rome, settled in Bethlehem, Jerome devoted many years of his life to producing an improved Latin translation of the Bible known as the Vulgate.

Jerome (345-420) spent the second half of his life writing in monastic seclusion in a cell in Bethlehem. He was a learned and experienced translator, deeply familiar with the Greek translation of the Bible (Septuagint). He employed several Jewish teachers in Palestine to teach him Biblical Hebrew. It is therefore particularly odd that Jerome should have chosen this irresponsibly literal translation of the verb karan. Why did he not follow the figurative direction taken several centuries earlier by the Greek translators in the Septuagint?

The Septuagint, or LXX, was a Greek translation that was done in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, and there were 70 translators working on it, which is why it is called Septuagint, or LXX. The Hebrew Torah (The first five books of the Old Testament, or the Pentateuch) was translated into Greek at the request of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285–247 BCE).

Fast forward to Rome. 1515, and Michelangelo is told to carve up a slab of marble for a statue of Moses to adorn the tomb of Pope Julius II. Not having the iconic image of Charleston Heston at hand, he takes out his dog-eared and well worn copy of the Vulgate. You know the rest.

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