Did you know that the medieval depiction of Moses having horns comes from the Latin Vulgate translation of the Hebrew Masoretic text of Exodus 34:29?
It came about when Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses’ hand as he was coming down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with Him.
The root meaning of the Hebrew word karan does mean “horned” but “projected” or “shone” is probably a better translation.
Was Jerome that dense? Perhaps not. As this excellent article from the user-edited internet encyclopedia states, it’s possible that Jerome through his faithfulness to the original text felt he could still convey the glorification of Moses’ countenance.
In ancient times an animal’s horns were considered signs of its power and humans often mimicked that in their accoutrements.
However, an understanding of other passages renders the original intent more clear.
In II Corinthians 3 the Apostle Paul contrasts the Mosaic Law as the Condemnation of G-d’s (abbreviated out of respect) Righteousness and that glory is a fading one, just as Moses used to wear a veil to keep the Israelites from seeing the glowing of his face fade (verses 12-13). It is in sharp contrast to the Glory of the Gospel—Salvation through the Finished Work of the Anointed One Jesus. That is a Glory that does not fade.
THE ROLE OF LIGHT
Over the Levitical priest’s ephod he wears a “breastpiece of judgment” adorned with four rows of different colored precious stones (Exodus 28:15-30). It is the conviction of Dr. Chuck Missler of Koinonia House ministries that the breastpiece represents the Divine spectrum of His Light, and I agree.
When Christ allowed Himself to be seen in His Glorified Body he was joined by Moses and Elijah (a Witness to His Sonship by the best representatives of “the Law” and “the Prophets”—a Hebrew euphemism for the Bible) and Matthew 17:2 describes that His Face shone like the sun, and His Garments became as white as light.
Yet Peter’s rash promise to build 3 tabernacles to memorialize each one implies that perhaps all three had a similar appearance. I John 3:2 makes the astounding assertion that Followers of Christ—Creator of all the Universe—will one day, also appear as He does!
Later, in Matthew 28, the angel who rolled away the stone of Christ’s Tomb is given a similar description:
And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the L-rd descended from Heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. ~ Matthew 28:2-3
It’s safe to say that “light” conveys to us aspects of who G-d is, particularly His Truth and His Righteousness, as Christ Himself tells us:
“For G-d so loved the world, that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have Eternal Life. For G-d did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the Name of the Only Begotten Son of G-d. This is the Judgment: that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in G-d.” ~ John 3:16-21
So, although we should forgive Jerome, Michelangelo and our medieval cousins for their sincere but perhaps misguided dedication to a literal interpretation of Scripture we must be good students ourselves and understand G-d’s Word in the Light of its entirety.