Biblical references and the etymology of the word Behemoth gives us some clues about the identity of this creature.
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Excavating the Bible Newsletter #006

Greetings Excavators:

Jeff A. Benner When the subject of biblical monsters come up, Behemoth and Leviathan are the two that usually come to mind for most Bible students. While there are many other "monsters" in the Bible, all of which we will get too soon enough, we are going to begin with these two, starting with the Behemoth.

Book Project: Monsters, Myths & Mysteries of the Bible

Heading: The Behemoth

Behold, Behemoth, which I made as I made you; he eats grass like an ox. Behold, his strength in his loins, and his power in the muscles of his belly. He makes his tail stiff like a cedar; the sinews of his thighs are knit together. His bones are tubes of bronze, his limbs like bars of iron. He is the first of the works of God; let him who made him bring near his sword! For the mountains yield food for him where all the wild beasts play. Under the lotus plants he lies, in the shelter of the reeds and in the marsh. For his shade the lotus trees cover him; the willows of the brook surround him. Behold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightened; he is confident though Jordan rushes against his mouth. Can one take him by his eyes, or pierce his nose with a snare? (Job 40:15-24, ESV)

Etymology of the word Behemoth

Hebrew is a gender sensitive language; therefore every noun is identified as either masculine or feminine. Plural nouns are identified by their suffixes. The suffix iym is used for masculine nouns while the suffix ot is used for feminine nouns. The noun be’hey’mah, meaning “beast,” is a feminine noun (being identified as such by the ah suffix), and its plural form is be’hey’mot. This Hebrew word is anglicized as Behemoth, the very same word that we find in Job 40:15.

Hebrew plurals are similar to our English plurals in that they identify the noun as being more than one. However, unlike our English language, Hebrew plurals can also be used for something immense in size or of great importance. While the Hebrew noun be’hey’mah means “beast,” the plural form, be’hey’mot, can mean “beasts” (quantitatively plural) or “great beast” (qualitatively plural). We see something similar with the word Elohiym, which is usually translated as "God." This word is plural (identified by the iym suffix as mentioned previously), but is a qualitative plural (a mighty God) and not a quantitative plural (gods).

Occurrences of the word Behemoth

The Hebrew word be’hey’mot appears five times in the Hebrew Bible. In Deuteronomy 32:24, Psalm 50:10, Psalm 73:22 and Habakkuk 2:17, the word be’hey’mot is translated as “beasts” or “cattle.” In these verses, the plural noun is being used in a quantitative sense—more than one beast.

Only in Job 40:15 is it transliterated as Behemoth (the anglicized form of the Hebrew be’hey’mot). We know that in this case, the plural form is being used in a qualitative sense (a singular great beast) because the pronouns “he” and “him” are used for this creature, not “them” and “they.” It is interesting to note that even though the word be’hey’mot is a feminine plural noun, it is being identified as a masculine noun, as indicated by the masculine pronouns used. The most likely reason for this is that the word be’hey’mot, in this verse, is not just a noun, but a proper noun. It is the Hebrew name for this creature, hence the first letter being capitalized in most translations--Behemoth.

The identity of the Behemoth

There are three predominant theories to the identify of the Behemoth. They are;

  1. A modern creature (e.g., elephant or hippopotamus)
  2. An extinct creature (e.g., mammoth or brontosaurus)
  3. An imaginary or metaphorical creature.

As God tells Job to “look” at the Behemoth, we can conclude that whatever this creature was, it would be a creature that Job was familiar with, whether real or imaginary. The description of the Behemoth implies that it is of immense size and lives in rivers and marshes. A hippopotamus would fit this description, but some would argue that a hippopotamus' tail isn't "stiff like a cedar" (some translations have "sway like a cedar"), but then the word "tail," may not actually be referring to a tail.

Jeff A. BennerJeff A. Benner
Excavating the Bible
November 25, 2023

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