Behemoth is a vaguely described beast mentioned in the Bible in the Book of Job. There are various theories about what animal Behemoth actually was, and likewise his friend Leviathan. The most likely interpretation is that the Book of Job is an artistically-crafted allegorical story, drawing on old folk tales, and certainly not to be taken literally.
In Hebrew, the word translated into English as "Behemoth" is literally the plural of a word for "beast". Plurals were sometimes used in Hebrew to indicate greatness of a single thing rather than the existence of multiple things. Hence "Behemoth" means something like "big beast".
JobBehemoth is mentioned in Job 40:15-24, as part of a passage where Job questions God's wisdom and God responds by describing all the amazing things He can do and all the wonders He has made. King James Version:
Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox.
Lo now, his strength is in his loins, and his force is in the navel of his belly.
He moveth his tail like a cedar: the sinews of his stones are wrapped together.
His bones are as strong pieces of brass; his bones are like bars of iron.
He is the chief of the ways of God: he that made him can make his sword to approach unto him.
Surely the mountains bring him forth food, where all the beasts of the field play.
He lieth under the shady trees, in the covert of the reed, and fens.
The shady trees cover him with their shadow; the willows of the brook compass him about.
Behold, he drinketh up a river, and hasteth not: he trusteth that he can draw up Jordan into his mouth.
He taketh it with his eyes: his nose pierceth through snares.
That doesn't actually tell us a lot, particularly if we bear in mind uncertainties about the precise translation of many terms. Even Martin Luther said of the Book of Job: "if it were translated everywhere word for word (as the Jews and foolish translators would have it done), and not, for the most part, according to the sense, no one would understand it".
We can guess that Behemoth has a tail (possibly a big one but see below), eyes, a nose, a navel (disputed below), bones, and stones (which are perhaps testicles). He seems to live in or near mountains, trees, and marshes, fens, bogs, or stagnant water of some sort. He eats grass and drinks a lot of water.
Much of this is contested, however, with significant debates about his tail. Some Biblical scholars criticise the translation of Hebrew "sharir" as "navel", saying it is a plural and may refer to muscles, sinews, or the firm part of the belly.
Behemoth is also mentioned in the Apocrypha including the Book of Enoch. These sections aren't considered to be as authoritative as the Book of Job. 1 Enoch 60 (or 58 in some versions) mentions both Behemoth and Leviathan; the beasts are not described physically but it mentions Behemoth as dwelling in "the dry land of the wilderness" east of the Garden of Eden.
Answers in Genesis takes the literalist position: "In Job 40, the Lord is infallibly describing a real historical creature, called 'Behemoth'."
This runs into the problem that if you consider it a literal description, it doesn't match any actual animal. Particularly problematic is its tail; many people take the description to mean that the tail actually resembles a cedar tree in size, which certainly doesn't match any current land animal.
Various animals have been suggested including the elephant, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, and water buffalo. Answers in Genesis points out that both elephant and hippo have very small tails which don't closely resemble cedar trees. This also applies to other suggestions. It has been suggested that the tails of elephants and hippos do resemble cedar branches. Other identifications link the cedar to an elephant's trunk or suggest the Biblical passage may refer to Behemoth's penis not his tail.
DinosaurAnswers in Genesis concludes that the most probable identification is a large herbivorous dinosaur, now extinct. This is to some degree because we know less about dinosaurs than living mammals:
The main features of the dinosaurs are unknown, apart from the size of their bones, which indicates that some of them were much larger than any known land animal alive today. Consequently, because of our ignorance here, there is nothing in the passage to eliminate this possibility!
Dinosaurs probably did not have navels, being born from eggs (navels are characteristic of placental mammals). However, unless you are a King James Version literalist (who believes the KJV is the literal word of God) you may legitimately question whether Behemoth had a navel.
Not to be confused with
A big fish in Arabic mythology.
- Twenty translations of Job part 4: is Job a fairytale?, Theophrastus, BLT - Bible Literature Translation
- Behemoth, dictionary.com
- See the Wikipedia article on Behemoth.
- Preface to the Book of Job, Martin Luther, godrules.net
- Does the Bible Describe Dinosaurs in Job 40 and 41?, Glen J Kuban, 2008
- Could Behemoth Have Been a Dinosaur?, Allan Steel, Answers in Genesis, August 1, 2001
- Did Behemoth Have a “Navel”?, Wayne Jackson, Christian Courier
- 1 Enoch, pseudephigrapha.com
- See the Wikipedia article on Bahamut.
- See the Wikipedia article on Baphomet.