Did Moses come down with horns?

My Mormon neighbor asked my why the Vulgate translation said that Moses had horns when he came down off the mountain. My neighbor asked by Pope Julius had him painted with horns in the Sistine Chapel.


Sheila M.

This comes from Exodus 34:29–30

As Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant in his hands, he did not know that the skin of his face had become **radiant **while he spoke with the LORD.

The Hebrew word that is now usually translated as “radiant” or “shining” can also mean “horned.”

St.Jerome chose to translate it as “horned” because he believed the word was being used as a metaphor for Moses’ authority and strength that had been gained from his experience with the Lord. In the ancient world horns were seen as symbolic of power and were not perceived as a negative image. So St. Jerome believed the word was being used in this manner. St. Jerome in making the translation did not think Moses literally had horns.

Basically the passage is saying that Moses was noticeably changed by his encounter with the Lord and it showed in every aspect of his appearance and actions.

Future generations, perhaps not fully understanding the metaphor, would go on to depict Moses literally with horns in artwork. Imagine if you were to read that someone “looked like a million dollars.” You immediately understand its a metaphor. However, perhaps at some point in the future someone will read that and make an artwork of the individual wearing a suit of money…

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