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Clockwise from left: Behemoth (on earth), Ziz (in sky), and Leviathan (under sea). From an illuminated manuscript, 13th century AD.

Behemoth (/bɪˈhməθ, ˈbə-/; Hebrew: בְּהֵמוֹת, bəhēmōṯ) is a beast from the biblical Book of Job, and is a form of the primeval chaos-monster created by God at the beginning of creation; he is paired with the other chaos-monster, Leviathan, and according to later Jewish tradition both would become food for the righteous at the end-time.[1] Metaphorically, the name has come to be used for any extremely large or powerful entity.


The Hebrew word behemoth has the same form as the plural of the Hebrew noun בהמה behemah meaning 'beast', suggesting an augmentative meaning 'great beast'. However, some theorize that the word might originate from an Egyptian word of the form pꜣ jḥ mw 'the water-ox' meaning 'hippopotamus', altered by folk etymology in Hebrew to resemble behemah.[2] However, this phrase with this meaning is unattested at any stage of Egyptian.[3]

Biblical description[edit]

Behemoth and Leviathan, watercolour by William Blake from his Illustrations of the Book of Job (1826).

The Hebrew word behemoth is only mentioned once in Biblical text, in a speech from the mouth of God in the Book of Job. It is a primeval creature created by God and so powerful that only God can overcome him:[4]

Take now behemoth, whom I made as I did you;
He eats grass, like the cattle.
His strength is in his loins,
His might in the muscles of his belly.
He makes his tail stand up like a cedar;
The sinews of his thighs are knit together.
His bones are like tubes of bronze,
His limbs like iron rods.
He is the first of God’s works;
Only his Maker can draw the sword against him.
The mountains yield him produce,
Where all the beasts of the field play.
He lies down beneath the lotuses,
In the cover of the swamp reeds.
The lotuses embower him with shade;
The willows of the brook surround him.
He can restrain the river from its rushing;
He is confident the stream will gush at his command.
Can he be taken by his eyes?
Can his nose be pierced by hooks?

— Job 40:15-24[5]

The passage later pairs Behemoth with the sea-monster Leviathan, both composite mythical creatures with enormous strength that humans could not hope to control, yet both are reduced to the status of divine pets.[1]

Later interpretations[edit]

In Jewish apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, such as the 2nd century BC Book of Enoch (60:7–10), Behemoth is the unconquerable male land-monster, living in an invisible desert (Duidain) east of the Garden of Eden, as Leviathan is the primeval female sea-monster, dwelling in "the Abyss", and Ziz the primordial sky-monster. Similarly, in the most ancient section of the Second Book of Esdras (6:47–52), written around AD 100 (3:1), the two are described as inhabiting the mountains and the seas, respectively, after being separated from each other, due to the sea's insufficiency to contain them both. Likewise, in the contemporary Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch (29:4), it is stated that Behemoth will come forth from his seclusion on land, and Leviathan out of the sea, and that the two gigantic monsters, created on the fifth day, will serve as food for the elect, who will survive in the days of the Messiah.[6]

A Jewish rabbinic legend describes a great battle that 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." 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 reach 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.[7]

Modern interpretations of Behemoth tend to fall into several categories:

  1. Behemoth is an animal of the modern natural world, most often the hippopotamus (e.g. in Russian where the word begemot refers more often to hippopotamus rather than the Biblical animal), although the elephant and water buffalo could also be candidates. All three consume grass and chew it as an ox would, and have mobile, sprucy tails that sway in a similar manner to a Lebanese cedar-tree.
  2. Behemoth was an invention of the poet who wrote the Book of Job.
  3. Behemoth and Leviathan were both separate mythical chaos-beasts.[8]

Additionally, some creationist fundamentalists, such as the Christian organization Answers in Genesis, claim that the Behemoth is some species of sauropod or other dinosaur based on the comparison of the tail to a cedar tree.[9]

Literary references[edit]

Behemoth as depicted in the Dictionnaire Infernal.

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.

The Dictionnaire Infernal version of Behemoth is a demon that resembles a round-bellied humanoid elephant. He works as the infernal watchman for Satan and oversees the banquets in Hell while having a good singing voice.

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.[10]

The Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov used a demonic cat with the name Behemoth as a character in his novel The Master and Margarita. In the book the cat could speak, walk on two legs and was part of the entourage of Woland who represented Satan.

The webnovel Worm features an Endbringer, a city-destroying monster accidentally created and continually maintained by the powers of the superhero Eidolon, named Behemoth.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Coogan 2004, p. 33.
  2. ^ "behemoth, n.". OED Online. Retrieved September 29, 2020.
  3. ^ "Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae - Login". aaew2.bbaw.de. Retrieved 2021-03-03.
  4. ^ Dell 2003, p. 362.
  5. ^ "Job 40:15–16". www.sefaria.org.
  6. ^ Hirsch, Emil G.; Kohler, Kaufmann; Schechter, Solomon; Broydé, Isaac. "Leviathan and Behemoth". Jewish Encyclopedia.
  7. ^ Ginzberg 2006, p. 43–49.
  8. ^ Uehlinger 1999, p. 166–167.
  9. ^ "Could Behemoth Have Been a Dinosaur?". Answers in Genesis. Retrieved 2022-11-13.
  10. ^ "Nixon in China Libretto | Adams". Opera-Arias.com. 1972-02-21. Retrieved 2014-02-04.