Moses' Horns
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Basic Information

Exodus 34:29-35 tells how when Moses came down from Mount Sinai after speaking with God, his face was transformed in a manner which frightened the Israelites so much that he was forced to wear a veil. How was his face transformed? Interesting question.

Most translations of the Bible say something like "the skin of his face shone" (KJV), or "his face was radiant" (NIV). A more literal translation would be "the skin of his face sent forth beams". The thing is, the key word in the Hebrew phrase: qâran ‘ôr pânâw can be translated either as "rays of light" or as "horns". In the context, "rays of light" or "beams" makes more sense, and that is how it was translated in the Septuagint and in most other translations of the Bible. But every where else the word qâran appears in the Bible, it means "horns".

(Which, to be fair, would also have freaked out the Israelites).

Jerome used this alternate interpretation in his Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgate, which led to an artistic tradition in the Middle Ages of depicting Moses with horns that lasted well into the Renaissance. It also led to a peculiar superstition that all Jews had horns.

Sources

Bibliography
3. Wikipedia article: Moses (Michelangelo) — Michelangelo's famous depiction of Moses — including horns.

Game and Story Use

  • A Holy Man whose encounters with the Divine has left him physically transformed could be a horrifying, or at least unnerving, NPC.
  • The "radiant" interpretation suggests that the light from Moses' face was God's reflected glory. Not as creepy as horns, but still pretty unnatural.
  • If you prefer technobabble to mysticism, one interpretation could be that the change to Moses' face was actually a mutation caused by exposure to "divine" radiation.
  • Alexander the Great was also depicted with horns; although in his case it was symbolic of his supposedly being the son of Zeus. Don't think he and Moses were related. Then again, maybe there is a mystic link between Great Leaders and having horns…
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