Moses With Horns—An Artistic Curio
IF YOU have ever visited Italy, you might well have seen Michelangelo’s famous statue of the seated Moses, now located at the Church of St. Peter in Chains, in Rome. How curious the 16th-century sculpture appears, as it depicts Moses with horns protruding from his head! In fact, a number of artists have portrayed Moses with horns. Why so? Does the Bible provide any basis for the idea?
The Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible tells us that following his conversation with God on Mount Sinai, Moses’ face was “horned.” (Exodus 34:29, 30, 35; compare Douay Version.) The Vulgate enjoyed great popularity in much of Christendom and thus influenced the way scriptures were understood.
However, the Hebrew word translated “horned” also has the meaning ‘send forth rays’ or ‘shine.’ (See footnote of the Douay Version at Exodus 34:29.) According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, the word “denotes the form of a horn(s) rather than the substance.” And viewed pictorially, rays of light do actually resemble horns.
The fact that Moses’ face emitted rays is explainable, as Jehovah’s glory had just passed by. (Exodus 33:22; 34:6, 7) Paul confirms this to be the accurate understanding, writing about “the glory” of Moses’ face, not of his “horns.”—2 Corinthians 3:7.
Accurate understanding of Biblical terminology thus leads to a more penetrating knowledge of the Bible report. Accordingly, the horns on Michelangelo’s famous statue of Moses are simply an artistic curio stemming from a long-corrected error of translation.
[Picture Credit Line on page 7]
Based on Short History of Art