Horny Moses

I bet you have seen depictions of Moses like this:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jakig/27794935/

Or like this:

http://www.crystalinks.com/MosesRembrandt.jpg

Or like this:

http://classconnection.s3.amazonaws.com/986/flashcards/2098986/jpg/preview791355522675298.jpg

And I am sure you said the same things I did when I first saw them. What the heck is coming out of his head? Are those horns? Well, yes they look like horns but they may not be meant that way.  The Hebrew word keren (in the book of Exodus) means radiant. Unfortunately, the word keren also means horn. There are some that speculate that there was a mistranslation on the part of St. Jerome (who translated the Bible from Hebrew) and that mistake was translated into art. (http://www.aish.com/atr/Moses_Horns.html) There are also some who argue that St. Jerome did the correct translation and having horns was a symbol of power at the time. (http://rabbiartlevine.com/Home/tabid/2652/ID/840/Ki-Tissa-Moses-Horns-Not-a-Mistranslation.aspx)

Either way, the artists of the Middle Ages and Renaissance meant no disrespect in depicting Moses with horns. The connotation of horns as being “devilish” came much later. Unfortunately, it has also allowed for anti-Semitic translations because heaven forbid racists actually do research before jumping to conclusions about a culture.

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