Definitions

behemoth

behemoth

[bih-hee-muhth, bee-uh-]
behemoth [Heb.,=plural of beast], large, fanciful primeval monster, like Leviathan, evoking the hippopotamus mentioned in the Book of Job. In the Book of Psalms the term occurs in a non-mythological context.

Behemoth(Hebrew בהמות, behemot; Arabic بهيموث bahīmūth, or بهموت bahamūt) is a biblical creature mentioned in the Book of Job, 40:15-24. The word is most likely a plural form of בהמה (bəhēmāh), meaning beast or large animal. It may be an example of pluralis excellentiae, a Hebrew method of expressing greatness by pluralizing a noun; it thus indicates that Behemoth is the largest and most powerful animal ever to exist. Metaphorically, the name has come to be used for any extremely large or powerful entity.

Characteristics

The text from the Book of Job 40 (Judaica Press Bible) is as follows:

15 Behold now the behemoth that I have made with you; he eats grass like cattle.
16 Behold now his strength is in his loins and his power is in the navel of his belly.
17 His tail hardens like a cedar; the sinews of his tendons are knit together.
18 His limbs are as strong as copper, his bones as a load of iron.
19 His is the first of God's ways; [only] his Maker can draw His sword [against him].
20 For the mountains bear food for him, and all the beasts of the field play there.
21 Does he lie under the shadows, in the covert of the reeds and the swamp?
22 Do the shadows cover him as his shadow? Do the willows of the brook surround him?
23 Behold, he plunders the river, and [he] does not harden; he trusts that he will draw the Jordan into his mouth.
24 With His eyes He will take him; with snares He will puncture his nostrils.

The passage describes Behemoth in this way: it was created along with man (40:15a), it is herbivorous (40:15b), it has strong muscles and bones, and it lives in the swamp (40:21).

In Jewish belief, 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. There is a legend that the Leviathan and the Behemoth shall hold a battle at the end of the world. The two will finally kill each other, and the surviving men will feast on their meat. According to midrash recording traditions, it is impossible for anyone to kill a behemoth except for the person who created it, in this case the God of the Hebrews. A later Jewish haggadic tradition furthermore holds that at the banquet at the end of the world, the behemoth will be served up along with the Leviathan and Ziz.

Behemoth also appears in the Apocryphal Book of Enoch, giving the following description of this monster's origins there mentioned as being male, as opposed to the female Leviathan:

"And that day will two monsters be parted, one monster, a female named Leviathan in order to dwell in the abyss of the ocean over the fountains of water; and (the other), a male called Behemoth, which holds his chest in an invisible desert whose name is Dundayin, east of the garden of Eden." - 1 Enoch 60:7-8

There is another Jewish hymn recited on the festival of Shavuot (celebrating the giving of the Torah), known as Akdamut, wherein it says: "...The sport with the Leviathan and the ox (Behemoth)...When 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]." Thus, "from the beautiful skin of the Leviathan, God will construct canopies to shelter the righteous, who will eat the meat of the Behemoth [ox] and the Leviathan amid great joy and merriment, at a huge banquet that will be given for them." Some rabbinical commentators say these accounts are allegorical (Artscroll siddur, p. 719), or symbolic of the end of conflict.

Meaning

Many have interpreted Behemoth as a mythical animal. However, some have attempted to identify it with real animals. In the book of Job, both Behemoth and Leviathan are listed alongside a number of mundane animals, such as goats, eagles, and hawks, leading many Christian scholars to surmise that Behemoth and Leviathan may also be mundane creatures. Suggested animals include the water buffalo, rhinoceros and the elephant, but the most common suggestion is the hippopotamus. Some readers also identify a hippopotamus in Isaiah's bahamot negeb or "beasts of the south" (30:6).

Others disagree with these identifications, pointing to the fact that the animal's tail "moves like a cedar" (40:17), an unlikely description for any of these animals. Scholars maintaining identification with the elephant say that "tail" could describe an elephant's trunk. Moreover, some suggest that "tail" is a euphemism for male genitalia. Support for this is based on another meaning of the Hebrew word "move" which means "extend" and on the second part of verse 17 describing the sinew around its "stones" (the Vulgate uses the word "testiculorum").

Some Young Earth Creationists propose that the Behemoth is a dinosaur. Some sort of sauropod is usually proposed since large sauropods had tails "like a cedar". Adherents of the sauropod-behemoth viewpoint hold that the further descriptions given in Job (i.e., bone strength equaling bronze and iron; the use of Hebrew plural to describe a singular specimen), along with the attributive "chief of the ways of God," and the description "like a cedar" (זְנָבוֹ כְמוֹ-אָרֶז (z'navo kamo arez)) to describe the tail itself point to an animal of immense proportions; hence a sauropod or equivalent. Some however argue that the references to a cedar-like tail refer to bristles resembling the cedar's needle-like leaves which are present on the tails of elephants and hippopotami.

Critics argue that according to the fossil record, and the spoon or pencil-shaped teeth of the sauropods themselves, sauropods were tree-browsers that lived 225 million years ago, and went extinct some 65 million years ago. Furthermore, they cite that the earliest grass fossils date to the late Cretaceous , while the sauropods were in decline, and as such, critics insist that Sauropods would predate the appearance and rise of both people and grasses.

Also, critics cite that the Behemoth is said to eat grass like an ox, meaning it would chew cud; but sauropods lacked molar teeth, and were incapable of chewing. The spoon or pencil-shaped teeth of sauropods allowed them to pull vegetation into their mouths, which would then be swallowed. In response to this, creationists cite that the Hebrew term used in Job for ox (baqar) can denote any classification of herding animals that were common at the time of writing (presumably domesticated). It should also be noted, however, that the hippopotamus also does not chew cud as it is not a ruminant artiodactyl. Critics also argue that the description of the creature possessing a navel (Job 40:16) in the King James Version also contradicts the sauropod hypothesis, because sauropods are oviparous. According to Strong , the Hebrew word ׁשר (shôr) means a twisted string, specifically the umbilical cord. Shôr also has a figurative meaning as the centre of strength. More recent translations such as the New American Standard Bible state "Behold now, his strength in his loins and his power in the muscles of his belly" (Job 40:16).

Other cultures

The Hebrew behemoth is sometimes equated with the Persian Hadhayosh, as the Leviathan is with the Kar and the Ziz with the Simurgh. The Arabic behemoth is known by the name Bahamut, a vast fish that supports the earth. Bahamut is sometimes described as having a head resembling a hippopotamus or elephant. In Russian and Ukrainian, behemoth (бегемот) means hippopotamus.

Literary references

Behemoth is the name of a character in Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita. The character is portrayed as a huge black cat that walks on its hind legs.

Classicist philosopher Thomas Hobbes named Long Parliament as Behemoth in his book Behemoth: the history of the causes of the civil wars of england, and of the counsels and artifices by which they were carried on from the year 1640 to the year 1660.

A demon named Bahumat is released in the book Fablehaven. He is described as three times larger than a man with the head of a dragon crowned with three horns. He has three arms, three legs, and three tails. He has oily black scales with bristly spikes. He is able to emit a wave of darkness to blind his foes, and has a deafening roar. He is recaptured by an empowered fairy army.

See also

Notes

References

  • Metzeger, Bruce M. (ed); , Michael D. Coogan (ed) The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • 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.

External links

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