Courtesy of Carol Newsom

Moses, with a face like a horned mask, upper left, receives the tablets of the Law from God and then shatters them, upper right. In the lower panel of this illumination, the people worship a bright-eyed golden calf. This is a page from a compendium of Church doctrine, dated to c. 1295, entitled La Somme le Roy; it was compiled by the Dominican Frère Laurent for the benefit of Philip III of France. The page shown here comes from the finest copy, illuminated by MaiÆtre Honoré, a leading French Gothic painter.

The image of the horned Moses, popular in art for over 900 years, derives from a disputed translation of a single word in Exodus, qaµran. Variously rendered as “horns,”; “horny,”; “was glorified”; or “shone,”; the word that describes the skin of Moses’ face after Moses spoke with God (Exodus 34:29–35) still engenders scholarly debate.