Horned Moses

The reason Moses has horns here and in other art works is because Exodus 34:29-35 describes Moses’ face as “qaran,” which is normally translated as “radiant” or “shining.” The Septuagint (Greek Bible) translates it this way. But Hebrew “qaran” also looks and sounds like “qeren,” which means “horn.” The Latin Vulgate version (4th cent. CE) of the Bible translates the description of Moses’ face as “horned” (cornuta). Because of the influence of the Latin Vulgate in European Christianity, the “horned” Moses became the predominant image of Moses in Europe.

I don’t believe that there was anything originally antisemitic in this interpretation, because there are scholars (including Jewish ones) who recognize the possibility of “QRN” as having something to do with “horns.” I’m not even sure that “horned” is a complete mistranslation. Later the reference to horns became part of a stereotypical antisemitic myth, when the horned Moses morphed into the horned Jew. There may still be some in rural areas in the US who believe that Jews have horns. I once jokingly told someone that the reason Jews don’t show their horns is because they’re retractable. We press a button to make them come out.

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DR. LAURENCE H. KANT (LARRY KANT), MYSTIC SCHOLAR: Engaged Mysticism and Scholarship in the Pursuit of Wisdom; Discovering meaning in every issue and facet of life; Integrating scholarship, spirituality, mysticism, poetry, community, economics, and politics seamlessly. Historian of Religion: Ph.D., Yale University, 1993 (Department of Religious Studies); Exchange Scholar, Harvard University, Rabbinics, 1983-84; M.A., 1982, Yale, 1982 (Department of Religious Studies); M.T.S., Harvard Divinity School, 1981; B.A., Classics (Greek and Latin), Tufts University, 1978; Wayland High School (Wayland, MA), 1974. Served on the faculty of Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), York University (Toronto), and Lexington Theological Seminary (Lexington, KY). Works in many languages: Ancient Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, English, French, Italian, German, Modern Greek (some Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish). Holder of numerous honors and awards, including The Rome Prize in Classics (Prix de Rome) and Fellow of the American Academy of Rome.

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