Seth Sanders e-mails:
I published something on this, "Old Light on Moses' Shining Face" in Vetus Testamentum 52:400-406 last year [actually, it was 2002 - JRD] which applies some new data to the question, from both Mesopotamian and Jewish sources, and may clarify things. I argue thus:The crux of Moses' shining face in Ex. xxxiv is explained by first-millennium Mesopotamian astronomical and lexical sources which attest an ancient understanding of light as material. Moses' face could, quite literally, radiate horns of light, and the need to translate the term as either divine radiance or physical protuberance is a side-effect of modern conceptual categories, irrelevant to ancient Israelite ideas. Furthermore, the well known ancient Jewish tradition of Moses' coronation, and his divine physical transformation attested in newly published Midrashic sources suggests an authentic ancient reading of the text that resolves the contradiction between Ex. xxxiii and xxxiv. While no human could see God and live, in Ex. xxxiv, the Israelites recoil from a transformed Moses who is no longer precisely human.
Follow the link above to read the article, which is very interesting. Requires paid personal or institutional subscription to access.
Reader Danny Kerman e-mails:
Ironically, I've had a few conversations recently (as well as this evening before reading this blog) about remnants of the horn myth. I�assume it stems from the statue of Moses, but I've never investigated the issue.
As you wrote -Bottom line: the portrayal of Moses with horns came about through a particular, not entirely impossible, reading of the biblical text, not as an attempt to demonize him.
Whatever Michaelangelo's intention with his statue, at some point people began to�believe that all Jews had horns - a belief�still active in some areas today.
This evening an Israeli was telling me an account of an outing he had with a few fellow�Israelis in Texas (somewhere outside Waco), where a waitress, upon being informed that the language being spoken at the table was Hebrew, asked for permission to feel one of their heads. They allowed her to do so, but as she ran her hands all over one of their heads they�didn't understand what was going on, until she explained that she was looking for horns.��After hearing this�I related�a story my mother told me - upon bringing me home from the hospital after�I was born, a neighbor from down the street came to pay my mother a visit. When she saw that�I didn't have any horns, she accused my mother of having had them cut off before she left the hospital. Another friend of mine told me about his stay in South America (I don't remember where) - he lived in the home of a local family while studying in an intensive Spanish program. One Sunday after church, the entire village lined up in this family's yard to see the Jew, and to check if he had horns.
I've heard of this idea and that there are people around who still believe it, but I've never met any of them.