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March 21, 1986

Which Tablets? Why Horns?

JAMA. 1986;255(11):1437. doi:10.1001/jama.1986.03370110058012

To the Editor.—  In your discussion of the Rembrandt painting on the cover of the Sept 20, 1985, issue of JAMA, you state: "Scholars disagree on whether Moses Breaking the Tablets of Law (cover), painted by Rembrandt (1606-1669) when he was in his early 50s, shows Moses with the first tablets of the Law, which Moses smashed when he saw the people dancing about the golden idol, or with the second tablets."1 The painting obviously refers to the second passage, Exodus 34:1, 27, 29. The painting shows Moses with horns. The language from which St Jerome made the translation on which the Vulgate Bible was based had very similar words for "shone" and "horned"; thus Moses' head in the statue by Michelangelo and in this painting are horned.The following quote is from a book entitled Michelangelo2: "The horns on his forehead are explained by a mistranslation in