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Clockwise from left: Behemoth (on earth), Ziz (in sky), and Leviathan (under sea).

Behemoth (/bɪˈhməθ, ˈbə-/; Hebrew: בהמות‎, behemot) is a beast mentioned in Job 40:15–24. Suggested identities range from a mythological creature to an elephant, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, or buffalo.[1] Metaphorically, the name has come to be used for any extremely large or powerful entity.


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

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.[2] C. L. Patton lists several interpretations of the nature of these beasts, including the idea that they are chaos monsters destroyed by the deity at the time of creation.[3]

Leviathan is identified figuratively with both the primeval sea (Job 3:8, Psalms 74:13) and in apocalyptic literature as the Devil, who has been around since before creation and will be defeated during the end times. 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.[1][4]

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 writingsEdit

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 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.[5]


Behemoth as depicted in the Dictionnaire Infernal

Since the 17th century CE there have been many attempts to identify Behemoth. Some scholars have seen him as a real creature, usually a hippopotamus or elephant, occasionally a rhinoceros or water buffalo.[2] 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.[6]

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". The Vulgate seems to endorse such a reading by using the word "testiculorum".[7] Russian-language speakers have used the cognate word бегемот (begemot) to refer to the hippopotamus from third quarter of the 18th century – Russian-speakers also use the name гиппопотам (gippopotam).

Young Earth Creationists, who tend to believe humans coexisted with dinosaurs, have argued that the behemoth may have been a sauropod-like dinosaur due to it being a large, plant-eating land animal with a long tail resembling a cedar.[8] Young earth creationists assert that the creature's massive size and its tree-like tail eliminate the possibilities of it being an extant land animal, where they see it more akin to a large herbivorous dinosaur (such as a sauropod).[9][10]

Another opinion sees Behemoth as 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.[1]

Literary referencesEdit

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 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.[11]

In a letter to his sister Mariana, Khalil Gibran told her that his health was "as good as a Bahamut", which is thought to derive from the biblical "Behemoth".[12]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Metzger, Bruce Manning; Coogan, Michael D (2004). The Oxford Guide To People And Places Of The Bible. Oxford University Press. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-19-517610-0. Retrieved 22 December 2012.
  2. ^ a b Van Der Toorn, Karel; Becking, Bob; Van Der Horst, Pieter W (1999). Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible: Second Extensively Revised Edition. Brill. pp. 165–168. ISBN 978-90-04-11119-6.
  3. ^ Iwanski, Darius (2006). The Dynamics of Job's Intercession. Biblical Institute Press. p. 41. ISBN 978-88-7653-161-3.
  4. ^ Michael D. Coogan (2008). A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament. Oxford University Press. p. 387
  5. ^ Adapted from Legends of the Jews, Louis Ginzberg - volume I
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Mitchell (1987)
  8. ^ Keil, C.F. and Delitzsch, F., Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. IV, Job, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, p. 357, 1988.
  9. ^ Hanson, A. and Hanson, M., The Book of Job, SCM Press, London, p. 112, 1953.
  10. ^ Driver, S.R. and Gray, G.B., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Job, T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, Part II, p. 326, 1921.
  11. ^ "Nixon in China Libretto | Adams". 1972-02-21. Retrieved 2014-02-04.
  12. ^ "Gibran's letter to Mariana, c(1927-1930)".


External linksEdit