Why Do People Think That Moshe Had Horns?
Anybody who has ever seen Michelangelo’s marble statue of “Moses” in Rome from the year 1513 may have noticed that he has two small horns on his head.

 

Where does the concept that Moshe had horns come from?

 

In Parshat Ki Tisa (Shmot 34:29) we read:

 

“And when Moshe came down from Mount Sinai and the two Tablets of Testimony were in Moshe’s hand when he came down from the mountain, Moshe did not know that the skin of his face became radiant (karan ohr panav) when God spoke to him.”

 

Rashi comments that the word “karan” is a term having a common root with “karnayim”, horns because the light shines out and projects as a sort of “horn.”

 

A few sentences later we read (sentence 35):

 

“B’nai Yisrael saw Moshe’s face, that the skin of Moshe’s face became radiant (karan ohr p’nai Moshe), and Moshe replaced the cover over his face until he would come in to speak to God.”

 

Michelangelo’s sculpture is based on the Vulgate (the Latin translation of the Bible by Jerome in the late Third Century).

 

In sentence 29, Jerome took the word “karan” and translated it as “horned” (also a translation of the Hebrew word “keren” but one that does not fit as well as a “ray of light”).

 

The Greek Septuagint’s translation (which Jerome also had access to) is:

 

“Moses did not know that the appearance of the skin of his face was glorified.”

 

Medieval scholars believed that when Jerome said “horned” he was referring to “glorified” and not actual horns.

 

Unfortunately, this concept was later misunderstood and often used in anti-Semitic ways especially at the end of the middle ages.

 

We learn from here why it is so important to improve our Hebrew and text skills and study the Torah in the original.