Hebrew In Israel | Horns – Learn Torah

Hebrew In Israel | Horns – Learn Torah

Yoel Halevi No Comments

Many words in Hebrew can have several meanings which are based on context.  Here is a case of one word which in time became a symbol for bad things, such as demonic powers and the devil, when originally it was used to describe good things.

Horns (קֶרֶן-Keren-Horn Singular feminine noun, qrnm in Ugaritic-UT 2279) were actually a symbol of power, and even divine ability.  Horned crowns or caps were a common feature in the Ancient Near East (ANE), and were placed on heads of gods and men.

Alexander the great was depicted with horns, and the Sea People wore caps with horns.  This tradition also appears with the Vikings and many other cultures.  It is interesting to find that Yoseph is also described as metaphorically having horns which were used to represent power(Devarim 33:17).

The horn is also used as a metaphor for ones might and self honour/respect.  Such is the case in 1Sam 2:1, Psalms 75:11 and 92:11.

The word is also used to describe the edge of things, such as corners and tops of corners.  Most commonly known is the Horns of the Altar which were depicted as sharp edged items on the corners of the altar.  However, many Christian artists misunderstood the word and thought it actually meant horns.  This lead to a very common theme of actual animal horns on altars.

Keren is also used to describe beams of light, and was a common art feature in Egyptian art for sun rays.  As a denominative verb it means to distribute light through a source such as fire (Habaquq 3:4).  Because of the literal translation and lack of understanding of contextual meaning common in Hebrew, Michelangelo depicted Moshe as a horned man. 

As in many cases, we can see how a word based on context can have more than one meaning.  This reality has led to many interesting interpretations, which sometimes result in obscure interpretations of the text.


As can be seen, horns were used to describe many aspects of power and good, but never evil.  Giving evil horns would have meant that evil had power, but in truth only gods and strong humans were depicted with horns.  We also see that the word Keren can depict more than just horns, but also anything emanating from a source.


J.Black&A.Green “Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia”, The British Museum, pp. 102-103

M.Kedari “Biblical Dictionary” Bar Illan Publication, pp.966-967


Originally Published:  7 February 2017

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