Behemoth (// or //, also //; Hebrew: בהמות, behemoth (modern: behemot)) is a beast mentioned in Job 40:15–24. Suggested identities range from a mythological creature to an elephant, hippopotamus, rhinoceros or buffalo. Some creationists believe it to be a description of a sauropod, due to its tail being described as like a cedar tree. Metaphorically, the name has come to be used for any extremely large or powerful entity.
Plural as singular
Job 40:15–24 describes Behemoth, and then the sea-monster Leviathan, to demonstrate to Job the futility of questioning God, who alone has created these beings and who alone can capture them. Both beasts are chaos monsters destroyed by the deity at the time of creation, although such a conflict is not found in the Genesis creation narrative.
Leviathan is identified figuratively with both the primeval sea (Job 3:8, Psalms 74:13) and in apocalyptic literature – describing the end-time – as that adversary, the Devil, from before creation who will finally be defeated. In the divine speeches in Job, Behemoth and Leviathan may both be seen as composite and mythical creatures with enormous strength, which humans like Job could not hope to control. But both are reduced to the status of divine pets, with rings through their noses and Leviathan on a leash.
Job 40:15-24 King James Version
15 Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox. 16 Lo now, his strength is in his loins, and his force is in the navel of his belly. 17 He moveth his tail like a cedar: the sinews of his stones are wrapped together. 18 His bones are as strong pieces of brass; his bones are like bars of iron. 19 He is the chief of the ways of God: he that made him can make his sword to approach unto him. 20 Surely the mountains bring him forth food, where all the beasts of the field play. 21 He lieth under the shady trees, in the covert of the reed, and fens. 22 The shady trees cover him with their shadow; the willows of the brook compass him about. 23 Behold, he drinketh up a river, and hasteth not: he trusteth that he can draw up Jordan into his mouth. 24 He taketh it with his eyes: his nose pierceth through snares.
Later Jewish writings
In Jewish apocrypha and pseudepigrapha such as the 2nd century BCE Book of Enoch, Behemoth is the primal unconquerable monster of the land, as Leviathan is the primal monster of the waters of the sea and Ziz the primordial monster of the sky. According to this text Leviathan lives in "the Abyss", while Behemoth the land-monster lives in an invisible desert east of the Garden of Eden (1 Enoch 60:7–8). A Jewish rabbinic legend describes a great battle which will take place between them at the end of time: "...they will interlock with one another and engage in combat, with his horns the Behemoth will gore with strength, the fish [Leviathan] will leap to meet him with his fins, with power. Their Creator will approach them with his mighty sword [and slay them both]." Then, "from the beautiful skin of the Leviathan, God will construct canopies to shelter the righteous, who will eat the meat of the Behemoth and the Leviathan amid great joy and merriment." (Artscroll siddur, p. 719).
In the Haggadah, Behemoth's strength reaches its peak on the summer solstice of every solar year (around 21 June). At this time of year, Behemoth lets out a loud roar that makes all animals tremble with fear, and thus renders them less ferocious for a whole year. As a result, weak animals live in safety away from the outreach of wild animals. This mythical phenomenon is shown as an example of divine mercy and goodness. Without Behemoth's roar, traditions narrate, animals would grow more wild and ferocious, and hence go around butchering each other and humans.
Since the 17th century CE there have been many attempts to identify Behemoth. Some scholars have seen him as a real creature, usually the hippopotamus, occasionally the elephant, rhinoceros, or water buffalo. The reference to Behemoth's "tail" that "moves like a cedar" presents a problem for most of these readings, since it cannot easily be identified with the tail of any animal. Biologist Michael Bright suggests that the reference to the cedar tree actually refers to the brush-like shape of its branches, which resemble the tails of modern elephants and hippopotamuses. Some have identified the cedar as an elephant trunk, but it might instead refer to Behemoth's penis, since the Hebrew word for "move" can also mean "extend", and the second part of the verse speaks of the sinew around his "stones" (not, as in the translation provided above, his "thighs"). The Vulgate seems to endorse such a reading by using the word "testiculorum". Russian cognate бегемот (begemot) actually means hippopotamus (From third quarter of 18th century. The earlier name is гиппопотам (gippopotam).).
Another opinion is that Behemoth is a product of the imagination of the author of Job, a symbol of God's power: in verse 24 he is described as having a ring ("snare") through his nose, a sign that he has been tamed by Yahweh.
Some Young Earth creationists identify Behemoth as possibly a sauropod dinosaur, arguing that no other animal but a sauropod dinosaur has a tail that "moves like a cedar. However, this argument does not consider other possible meanings of a tail like a cedar, and is at odds with the scientific evidence that the last of the sauropods became extinct about 66 million years ago when a large asteroid struck the Earth, and that modern humans did not exist until around 50,000 years ago.
The Dictionnaire Infernal has depicted Behemoth as a humanoid Elephant Demon with a round belly. This depiction of Behemoth is a huge soldier of Satan that lives in Hell. Behemoth is an infernal watchman who also presides over the gluttonous banquets and feasts. It is also said that Behemoth has also enjoyed a certain renown for his voice where he was regarded as Hell's official demonic singer.
The 17th-century political philosopher Thomas Hobbes named the Long Parliament 'Behemoth' in his book Behemoth. It accompanies his book of political theory that draws on the lessons of English Civil War, the rather more famous Leviathan. It is also the name of a character in Mikhail Bulgakov's novel, The Master and Margarita.
The Behemoth also appears in John Milton’s Paradise Lost (Book VII 470–472): "[… ]Scarce from his mould / Behemoth biggest born of earth upheaved / His vastness: Fleeced the flocks and bleating rose,[ …]"
The Behemoth is mentioned in The Seasons by James Thomson: "[…] behold ! in plaited mail / Behemoth rears his head." […] (Summer). The German émigré Franz Leopold Neumann entitled his 1941 book about National Socialism, Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism.
The Behemoth is also mentioned in the opera, Nixon in China, composed by John Adams, and written by Alice Goodman. At the beginning of the first act, the chorus sings "The people are the heroes now, Behemoth pulls the peasants' plow" several times.
- Book of Job in Byzantine illuminated manuscripts
- The beast (Revelation), two beasts described in the New Testament
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- Michael D. Coogan, "A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament" Page 387
- Adapted from Legends of the Jews, Louis Ginzberg - volume I
- Bright, Michael (2006). Beasts of the Field: The Revealing Natural History of Animals in the Bible. London: Robson. pp. 26–27. ISBN 1-86105-831-4.
- Mitchell (1987)
- Steel, Allan K. (2001-08-01). "Could Behemoth Have Been a Dinosaur?". Answers in Genesis. Retrieved 2014-02-04.
- "Scriptural Evidence: Dinos in the Bible". Genesis Park. 2013-09-15. Retrieved 2014-02-04.
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- Job 40:17
- Anthony, S. (February 8, 2013). "Finally confirmed: An asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs". ExtremeTech. Retrieved March 4, 2013.
- Nowell April (2010). "Defining Behavioral Modernity in the Context of Neandertal and Anatomically Modern Human Populations". Annual Review of Anthropology 39: 437–452. doi:10.1146/annurev.anthro.012809.105113.
- "Nixon in China Libretto | Adams". Opera-Arias.com. 1972-02-21. Retrieved 2014-02-04.
- Metzeger, Bruce M.; Michael D. Coogan, eds. (1993). The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-504645-5.
- Mitchell, Stephen, 1987. The Book of Job. San Francisco: North Point Press. Cited in R. T. Pennock, 1999, Tower of Babel, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Behemoth.|
- Leviathan and Behemoth article in the Jewish Encyclopedia
- Putting God on Trial – The Biblical Book of Job contains a major section on the literary use of Behemoth.