Antlers, Horns & Haloes
A Rabid Fundamentalist Column
John W. Cowart
If you were to go into a church service late at night and suddenly all the lights went out, would anyone there glow in the dark?
What got me to thinking about this deep, urgent theological problem was a pipe of tobacco.
A week ago, Donald, my youngest son, gave me a tobacco pipe made out of an elk’s antler.
What an artifact. The craftsman who made this pipe had to drill four long bores to channel the smoke from the bowl to the mouthpiece around the curves of the antler. A real feat of skill. This pipe is weighty. Who knew that an antler weighted so much? This is a substantial work of art…
Some folks might call it kitsch instead of art. But what do they know. Such folks could not appreciate an oil painting of Elvis on genuine blue velvet. Why, I’ll bet that if I took my Elk Horn Pipe to Antiques Road Show the appraiser would positively drool with envy.
So when Donald presented me with this treasure, I preened and purred and examined it from every angle.
I hefted it this way and that. I carefully loaded the bowl with the very finest pipe tobacco Walgreens sells.
I chose just the right wooden match from my hand-tooled match safe (circa January 12th). I struck the match and applied the flame to the bowl and lustily inhaled.
Then I gagged.
Ever singe your eyebrows?
Know how burning hair smells?
Well, this beautiful Elk Horn Pipe tastes exactly like burning hair smells. Ghastly!
As I spit and sputtered and gasped for air, I remembered reading somewhere that a horn is actually a specialized hair follicle grown large. Yes, even the horn on the nose of a rhinoceros, is really a hair. .
Hair don’t smoke good.
No it doesn’t.
This incident got me to thinking about horns so I consulted an encyclopedia to find that antlers and horns are two different things:
“Antlers are the deciduous horns of male deer (stags). They consist essentially of bone, growing from protuberances on the top of the skull. Antlers begin as bony growths covered with skin and hair (velvet). They grow at incredible rates, with the immense racks of deer, elk and moose growing in just 3 to 4 months. This makes them one of the fastest growing living tissues.
“After the antlers have reached their maximum size, blood vessels at the base close down causing the skin to dry up and peel off. The owner assists this process by rubbing against trees. … Once the velvet is gone, only the hard bony core remains as a formidable weapon in the annual mating game.
“Antler is quite unlike … horn (from sheep, buffalo, oxen, goats, etc), which is a natural plastic material based on keratin, the main ingredient of toe and finger nails, hoofs and hair….Horn consists of three distinct parts: a short inner bony frame, a membrane and the outer horn…This outer portion is made up of little "tubules" or "granules" of keratohyalin imbedded in a solid plastic-like matrix. … Horn is a hard keratinous substance, as opposed to a soft keratinous substance or a bony one, specifically the non-deciduous sheath surrounding a bony core emerging from the forehead of cattle, sheep, goats, antelopes, and similar mammals. Similar substances include claws, nails, hooves, hair and feathers. ”
I didn’t know that.
Antlers are shed yearly; horns are for life. Antlers branch out, horn’s don’t.
So, my beautiful pipe is actually antler rather than horn – but it still tastes like burning hair.
What does all this have to do with church folks who glow in the dark?
Bear with me please.
My research into this fascinating subject also revealed that about the year 1505 Pope Julius II decided to build an elaborate tomb for himself. He commissioned a 30-year-old sculptor named Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni to carve 40 statues for the monument. Well, as things turned out Pope Julius was buried somewhere else and Michelangelo got sidetracked from his sculpture to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. By 1545 some of the statues for the monumental tomb were dispersed to Florence and Paris…
But one famous statue remained in Rome.
It is a stature of Moses – with horns
Now, my encyclopedia says that, “Traditionally artists portrayed godly people with a nimbus or halo around their heads. Originally, the halo represented a glow of sanctity emanating from the head. Since it was conventionally drawn as a circle, during the Renaissance, when perspective became more important in art, the halo was changed from an aura surrounding the head to a golden ring that appeared in perspective, mysteriously floating above the heads of the saints.”
Usually godly people were shown with a halo; so why would Moses be portrayed with horns?
Take a look at the 34th chapter of Exodus where Moses came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments:
And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses' hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him. And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him. And Moses called unto them; and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him: and Moses talked with them. And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh: and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him in mount Sinai. And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a veil on his face. But when Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he took the veil off, until he came out. And he came out, and spake unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded. And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone: and Moses put the veil upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him. (vs. 29-35)
According to my research, the reason Moses usually has horns in portraits of him is that in the Torah his face was described as beaming with light. In Hebrew all words have a 3 letter root, the only difference is the vowels. But in the Torah there are no vowels and since horns and beaming with light share the same root, the two are easily confused
“The Hebrew Bible says that Moses didn’t know that his face was radiant because he had spoken to God. In Hebrew, the word for “radiant” is karan. This is closely related to the Hebrew word for “horn” – keren. When Jerome translated the Hebrew Bible into Latin, the phrase came out as "cornuta esset facies sua" – “his face was horned”.
It was this mistranslation that led artists such as Michelangelo, to portray Moses as having horns on his forehead.
One scholar adds, “Naturally it was a useful mistake to have made if you were an anti-Semite, because then of course you could link Jews with the mediaeval Christian figure of the devil, who was represented as having goat horns”.
Just as an aside, where in the world would anybody get the idea that the devil has horns?
In Scripture the devil is described as an old serpent, as a roaring lion, and as an angel of light – but nowhere in the Bible is he referred to as having horns, pitchfork or red union-suit.
The book of Revelation mentions a beast rising up out of the sea with seven heads and ten horns, and another beast coming up out of the earth with two horns – and while these varmints are bad news, neither is specifically identified as the devil.
The picture idea of a devil with horns apparently came into being as a composite from Greek mythology and transferred over into an early Christianized world-view. The pagan figure of Pan, the rapist god of lust, was envisioned as a half-man-half-goat. Pagan women were so terrified of meeting this monster that his name supplies the English word panic – what women felt as they fled his horny clutches. The fish-spear of the sea god Neptune transformed into a pitchfork, and Heaven only knows where the red union-suit came from.
So there is no relationship between the imagined horns of the devil and the radiant, glowing face of Moses who talked with God as friend talks with friend. An artist’s conception of a misunderstood Hebrew word. A word meaning rays of light, radiance, shining, glory, glow. – the warmth you feel when you’re in the welcoming presence of God.
One incident in the New Testament speaks of such radiance. On the Mount of Transfiguration “Jesus’ appearance changed in front of them. His face became as bright as the sun and his clothes as white as light,” Matthew says.
Luke says, “Suddenly both Moses and Elijah were talking with him. They appeared in heavenly glory and were discussing Jesus’ approaching death”.
“A bright cloud overshadowed them,” Matthew says, “Then a voice came out of the cloud and said, “This is my Son, whom I love and with whom I am pleased. Listen to him”.
The disciples who saw all this were terrified; they covered their eyes and fell facedown on the ground.
A reasonable reaction to all that brightness.
Light make us uncomfortable.
I can only recall two cases when I thought maybe that possibly I may have seen someone shine. I was with my father when he died. As he expired, I thought I saw a glow about his body. – Of course it was about 6 a.m. with the sun just rising and his hospital room faced east, so maybe all I saw was reflected sunlight. About one month later I was with my wife. in the delivery room when our youngest daughter was born. I could swear I saw that same glow on the newborn baby… Of course, the birth happened under bright surgical lights and the baby was covered with the glop and gore and slime of birth, so maybe what I saw was just reflected light…
Or, maybe the poet, I think it was Wordsworth, was right when he wrote, “But trailing clouds of glory do we come from God who is our home”.
There is a hint in Scripture that we are all given the chance to reflect divine light.
The Apostle John says that Jesus “Was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world”.
We are all meant to shine, to reflect God’s glory, to bask in His Presence.
But, alas, the Scripture also says, “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil”.
What a sad state of affairs.
Missing glory, we grovel in dark, damp mud.
What else would you expect from doers of evil deeds?
So, what are we to do?
Is there anything we can do?
The other night my wife who studies accounting, read me a quote from some economist who said, “If you’re in the hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging”
Makes sense to me.
Jesus often told the people who came to him, “Go and sin no more”.
I don’t know about you, but whenever I find myself walking in darkness because my deeds are evil – Do you know what it is that causes the darkness?
My own shadow.
Try it yourself. Find a strong light and walk away from it. What causes the darkness you walk in?
Turn around and walk toward the light. Do you see any darkness now?
God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.
Walk away from Him and your shadow creates your own darkness. Turn around and walk toward Him and guess what?
He’s there in a flash!
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you – that’s the promise of Scripture.
Now, there’s one other little thought I want to consider before I quit writing. Remember that odd question I asked when starting this article? If you were to go into a church service late at night and suddenly all the lights went out, would anyone there glow in the dark?
My answer to this question is Yes.
Definitely, emphatically YES!
In his Sermon From The Mount Jesus said, “You are the light of the world”!
You are God’s light to the dark world around you. When folks around you are lost in the dark, they look to you to light their way out. You are the light of the world.
Did you know that?
When Moses came down from that mountain after meeting God, he did not know that his face glowed either.
You are indeed the light of the world.
But, you say, I’m not worthy.
Nobody ever said you were.
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