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A life reconstruction of an aurochs bull, the animal the re'em has been identified with by scholarly consensus
Aurochs in a cave painting in Lascaux, France
Some Christian translations once identified the re'em with the legendary unicorn. Detail of a former floor mosaic dating from year 1213, Basilica of San Giovanni Evangelista, Ravenna.

A re'em, also reëm (Hebrew: רְאֵם), is an animal mentioned nine times in the Hebrew Bible[1] and variously translated as a unicorn or a wild ox. It was first identified in modern times with the aurochs by Johann Ulrich Duerst who discovered it was based on the Akkadian cognate rimu (𒄠 in cuneiform), meaning Bos primigenius, the aurochs, progenitor of cattle.[2] This has been generally accepted,[3] as it is today even among religious scholars. It has been translated in some Christian Bible translations as "oryx" (which was accepted as the referent in Modern Hebrew) and as "unicorn" in the King James Version, possibly referring to a one-horned rhinoceros such as Rhinoceros unicornis.[4]

The King James Version of the Book of Job followed the Greek Old Testament and Jerome Vulgate in the translation of re'em into unicorn:

Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? Canst thou bind the unicorn with band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee? Wilt thou trust him, because his strength is great? or wilt thou leave thy labour to him? Wilt thou believe him, that he will bring home thy seed, and gather it into thy barn?

Some Bible translations into English, including the American Standard Version and New American Standard Bible, interpret re'em as "wild ox". Re'em is also speculated to refer to the Arabian Oryx.

In Jewish folklore, the re'em was larger than a mountain and could dam the river Jordan with its dung. To survive during the deluge, Noah had to strap its horns to the side of the Ark so that its nostril could protrude into the Ark allowing the animal to breathe. King David, while still a shepherd, mistook its horn for a mountain and climbed it, then the re'em got up, carrying David up to the heavens. He prayed to God to save him, so a lion passed in front of the re'em. As the re'em bowed down to the king of beasts, David climbed off, but was threatened by the lion. He prayed again and an animal passed by so the lion could chase it and leave David unharmed.[5]

The Re'em is also mentioned in metaphorical terms in Tractate Zebahim 113b saying in short that it took a tremendous miracle for one to actually survive the deluge. The association may be linked to the mythical beast Behemoth, described in other areas of Jewish mythology, aggada, and Kabbala due to the striking parallels between the two beasts.


  1. ^ Job 39:9-10, Deuteronomy 33:17, Numbers 23:22 and 24:8; Psalms 22:21, 29:6 and 92:10; and Isaiah 34:7.
  2. ^ Die Rinder von Babylonien, Assyrien und Ägypten (Berlin, 1899:7-8)
  3. ^ For instance Jonas Salo, "Cattle Raising in Palestine" Agricultural History 26.3 (July 1952), pp. 93-104.
  4. ^ "Unicorn [ U'NICORN, n. [L. unicornis; unus, one, and cornu, horn.]1. an animal ... ] :: Search the 1828 Noah Webster's Dictionary of the English Language (FREE) ::". Retrieved 2016-07-09.
  5. ^ Graves, Robert; Patai, Raphael (2014). "Chapter 7: The Reem and the Ziz". Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis (e-pub ed.). RosettaBooks. ISBN 9780795337154.