Why Mythical Creatures Are Presented in the KJV
Ridicule by scholars is misleading
Examples are satyr, cockatrice and unicorn, said to be improper terms for mythical creatures. But the Hebrew text refers to mythical creatures figuratively to focus on an imaginative power assigned by men to such creatures. The KJV marginal notes show the reader the facts of the matter by revealing the type of creature that serves as the subject of the mythology, indicating goat for satyr (part-man & part-goat) and adder for cockatrice (part-serpent and part-rooster). The figurative terms are appropriate for the extensive poetry in the Hebrew text, and they reflect colorful human attitudes toward goats & snakes that partly equate their natures with the behavior of men or mythical creatures, as seen by a little context study. Isa.13:21 notes dancing satyrs and Isa.14:29 notes fiery flying serpents in relation to the cockatrice, the language being indicative of mythical figures noted in Hebrew poetry to signify certain unique behavior. Isa.59:5 in the Hebrew notes eggs of a viper in relation to a cockatrice, and poisonous vipers don't lay eggs, while a mythical creature does most anything.
Now a reader may think that Isaiah 11:8 does not support the concept of Hebrew-text figurative use of mythical creatures. Here the Millennial kingdom is in view.
KJV: And the suckling child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice den.
Here again we encounter figurative language of mythology, despite the fact that a real state of perfect peace among people & animals in the Millennial kingdom is indicated. The first clause of the verse refers to the reality of the smallest child not being harmed by the poisonous asp at this future time, and then to emphasize the complete safety of children at this time in the future, the basic concept is repeated in the second clause in using the figurative mythical term cockatrice. The repetition with somewhat different language characterizes the parallelism of Hebrew poetry, and this is another example of the extensive poetry in the Hebrew text of scripture. The text contrasts the literal asp with the figurative cockatrice to show readers that the worst imagination of the danger of poisonous reptiles will be out of order in the thinking of mankind during the unique period of peace in the Millennial kingdom.
The case with the unicorn
In secular writing, a unicorn refers to a mythical horse-like animal with one horn in its head, and in scripture the term can refer to a mythical or real single-horn animal that signifies power, and the single-horn type of rhinoceros properly represents the term in its real-world sense (Job 39:9,10).
Dt.33:16,17...let the blessing come upon the head of Joseph, and on the top of the head of him that was separated from his brethren. His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns.
In criticizing the KJV unicorns, scholars say wild ox is correct. However, the context governing the passage here relates to Hebrew poetic expression with a figurative sense of a powerful animal that describes Joseph's great power. His power here refers to his ability, through his descendants that are the ten thousands of Ephraim and thousands of Manasseh, to push multitudes of people to the ends of the earth in displacing them from their lands. The unicorn, real or mythical, is a figurative term for great or unique power, and thus properly fits the context here. A wild ox doesn't signify this degree of power, figuratively or actually, in the same sense that the power of a wild ox doesn't compare with that of a rhinoceros that is a real unicorn in some scripture passages.
The grammar further denies wild ox. The KJV horns of unicorns is literally horns of unicorn, horns of him in the Hebrew, but Hebrew for singular unicorn and him does not apply to a single wild ox noted in the NIV. The Hebrew suffix of horns signifies the regular plurality of a group, not dual plurality of one ox with two horns. Context refers to Joseph, so the Hebrew singular sense refers to the unicorn as a single species, and him has the collective singular sense of a group that this pronoun often displays, so horns of unicorns is correct. Horns of a wild ox in the NIV isn't grammatically correct since it indicates one animal. Horns of the wild ox (the species), as in the NASV, is the correct grammatical sense, but the isn't in the text, and resultant error confuses the reader about the identity of the animal that fits the context. Modern versions sacrifice literality of language unnecessarily by use of a or the to justify use of wild ox.
The grammatical problem adds to the basic one of missing the figurative context that relates to Joseph as the one exerting the great power, through descendants of his two sons. It is the singular horn of a unicorn that designates Joseph in his power. Modern scholars think that a two-horned beast is needed to represent power applied through the two tribes descended from his two sons, but the power originated with Joseph, his great faith in God empowering him through dream interpretation and bringing him to the pinnacle of power in Egypt. The two great tribes derived from him were a result of the faith of Joseph that produced the new nation of Israel during the sojourn in Egypt, a nation that would become God's unique people in the earth. The tribes themselves were notably lacking in power of faith, as seen when they desired to return to Egypt during the exodus that would lead them to the land where their new nation would be established. The two tribes are noted in connection with Joseph since it was through them that Joseph exerted his unicorn-like power in a figurative sense.