Moses’ Horny Head

“And when Moses came down from the mount Sinai, he held the two tablets of the testimony, and he knew not that his face was horned from the conversation of the Lord,” Exodus 34:29. “And they saw that the face of Moses when he came out was horned, but he covered his face again, if at any time he spoke to them,” Exodus 34:29.

It’s known that these two verses from the Bible might not have been translated correctly. The word horned should be something like ray of light instead, and some versions of the Bible have changed the verses to read that way. Personally, I’d rather have horns. I think it’d be pretty sweet if all of the ancient prophet’s foreheads started to calcify and sprouted horns. Maybe they did. One thing is for sure, Michelangelo deliberately carved two short ram horns on the top of Moses’ head in his statue which is now in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli at Rome.

Tomb of Pope Julius II

Horns are an interesting symbol. Sheep are surefooted climbers, and remember, Moses had just come down from the mountain after visiting with God. When domesticated, sheep are so gentle that religions all over the world have  incorporated them into their art forms. Apollo, Hermes, and later Jesus were all pictured as Good Shepherds with lambs either resting at their feet or carried on their shoulders. In ancient times, horns were also a symbol of divinity and physical power. When Alexander the Great was initiated by the oracle at the Temple of Amon, he accepted a great horned headdress so all would recognize him as a leader and conqueror. There were the Celtic druids, whose god Cernunnos was known as the “Horned One”. Or Pan from Greece. Even the marauding Vikings wore horns on their head to symbolize their power.

At one point, symbols were wielded by wizards and priests, symbols were worthy of respect and sometimes caused superstitious fear. Simply drawing an icon or writing a word was a magical act. Dressing like an animal could make you that animal. These days, it all seems so mundane. Symbols are so common and ordinary today that we hardly even think about them, and we tend to overlook their power. Maybe this is off-topic and should be the subect for a different post, but think of all we’ve accomplished through language and art. Pretty much everything we do, especially when communicating with others, relies on symbols. Even science uses language and images to communicate ideas. As I spell these words, you could say I’m casting a spell. We all do whenever we write. The words you’re reading right now are made from symbols that create ideas in your head. The icon you clicked to open this webpage was a symbol. And on and on and on. So damn common! And still, the words we use, the art we make, and the faith we might have all use symbols to communicate and express ideas.

As the adopted son of the Pharaoh and heir to the throne, Moses would have been educated in Egyptian philosophy and worship, and he would have been very aware of all the symbols that they used. Michelangelo, who was well educated in Neoplatonism, Christianity, and mythology, would have also understood the meaning of this symbol. With these horns, Michelangelo showed Moses to be a man of power and station. Moses had stood with God, and had the inner strength to become one with his own divinity.

WHAM, those horns did grow! I think they are fantastic! Someday, I hope to sprout some horns on my own head.

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