I consider the sauropod match less than plausible and am quite confident that BEHEMOTH is an elephant.
Those who think the description of the “tail” rules out an elephant lack a basic understanding of how people describe a creature foreign to their experience. Indeed, in English an elephant’s trunk is a good example of applying a label for something unfamiliar (e.g., an elephant’s proboscis) by comparing it with something known (i.e., the trunk of a man or a tree.) Thus, someone seeing an elephant for the first time, especially from a safe distance where the details are unclear, might (for example) say, “It’s a huge animal with a big tail on one end and a little tail on the other end.”
“Look at Behemoth,
which I made along with you
and which feeds on grass like an ox.
16 What strength it has in its loins,
what power in the muscles of its belly!
17 Its tail sways like a cedar;
the sinews of its thighs are close-knit.
18 Its bones are tubes of bronze,
its limbs like rods of iron.
19 It ranks first among the works of God,
yet its Maker can approach it with his sword.
20 The hills bring it their produce,
and all the wild animals play nearby.
21 Under the lotus plants it lies,
hidden among the reeds in the marsh.
22 The lotuses conceal it in their shadow;
the poplars by the stream surround it.
23 A raging river does not alarm it;
it is secure, though the Jordan should surge against its mouth.
24 Can anyone capture it by the eyes,
or trap it and pierce its nose?
(1) J.E.S. what aspect of the description do you believe fails to match an elephant?
(2) A resting elephant can indeed hide under lotus plants (which grow to about six or seven feet tall) and hide among the reeds. Most of the people I’ve known who claim BEHEMOTH was a sauropod consider it a much much larger animal. Do you have a rebuttal for this problem?
(3) One of the best times to safely view elephants is from the other side of a river while the elephant herd wades into the water along the opposite bank. Job 40 describes such a situation quite beautifully. (The KJV in verse 23 says, “Behold, he drinketh up a river, and hasteth not: he trusteth that he can draw up Jordan into his mouth.” That sure sounds like an elephant to me!)
Of course, it is quite feasible for the author of the book of Job to have seen (or heard descriptions of) an elephant. It is extremely doubtful (and there is zero evidence) that any sauropod species survived to recent millennia. Thus, seeing how an elephant fits the description (and a sauropod doesn’t), it is easy to see why BEHEMOTH=sauropod is a very recent claim popularized by only a few origins-ministry entrepreneurs (who are neither scientists nor Hebrew exegetes.)
The explanation is quite simple: various ancient civilizations found dinosaur fossils. It doesn’t take massive scientific knowledge to unearth a protoceratops (for example), examine what appear to be skeletal remains, and conclude: “This is what’s left of a massive animal which roamed this area.” (Have you ever noticed how gargoyles on European buildings look a lot like dragons/dinosaurs? There is plenty of evidence that people have long been fascinated by unearthed dinosaur fossils. Indeed, I recall some stories of Chinese emperors having such unearthed treasures on display in their royal residences, including fossilized dinosaur eggs from the Gobi desert.)
Have you ever wondered how the Cyclops creature arose in ancient myths? If you’ve seen an elephant skull, you know that there is a large hole in the middle of the “face” of the skull where the trunk emerges. Yet, to the ancients it appeared to be the skull of a one-eyed giant man. So it is no great surprise that the ancient Greeks crafted a tale of the mighty Cyclops.
Indeed, the best explanation often tends to be the simplest explanation—especially when massive evidence tells us that most dinosaurs died out many millions of years ago.
A lot of people who think BEHEMOTH was a dinosaur assume that the Job 40 text speaks of “a tail as big as a cedar.” Of course, that is NOT what the text says at all. It says that it “moves like a cedar.” This simile emphasizes flexibility, not size. (In the ancient world, the cedar is known for surviving wind storms well because it is so flexible.) Of course, an elephant’s trunk looks like the ultimate “flexible tail”. One need only watch an elephant herd for a while to see trunks twisting to uproot a bush or to lift a baby elephant or to shoot a stream of water over the elephant’s back.
Other cultures have chosen to speak of an elephant’s trunk as a powerful arm. That is an entirely suitable labeling choice, just as is calling it a “trunk” or a “tail.”
Frankly, if not for the insistence of origins-ministry entrepreneurs like Ken Ham and Kent Hovind, I don’t think anyone reading Job 40 would ever have assumed a sauropod based solely on the text itself. There’s just nothing that I’ve ever noticed in the Hebrew text of Job 40 that sounds at all like a dinosaur. (And notice that when AIG publishes articles pushing the BEHEMOTH=sauropod idea, they always leave out the aforementioned verses that don’t at all fit—so that tells me that they know they are making a wild stretch.)
Is there any doubt that the main reason AIG pushes the sauropod connection is in desperate hope of making a “dinosaurs lived contemporaneously with humans” young earth argument? Without that motivation, nobody would ever have read a sauropod into the text.
Dinosaurs were a popular topic even when I was growing up in the middle of the last century. Yet, I can’t recall when I first heard Job 40 associated with a sauropod. Perhaps it was in THE GENESIS FLOOD (1962, Henry Morris & John Whitcomb Jr.) but I’ve forgotten.
Here’s a curve ball. I (along with many in my discipline) think Behemoth (along with Leviathan) is a mythical creature showing God’s sovereignty over all of creation, including the wildest imaginative creatures and even creatures of chaos. The “tail” might even be a euphemism for a penis. The word “behemoth” is actually a plural form for “beast.” Perhaps we should call it “mega-beast.” Whatever one does with this creature’s identity, let’s not forget the overall rhetoric and theology of the 80 rhetorical questions asked by YHWH.
My gut reaction is that the Job references are drawing off basic ANE mythology. But i suppose it’s possible those myths themselves may have drawn off of some discoveries, but I don’t know any evidence for that.
I’ve never thought of any of the traditional interpretations you summarized as being “a curve ball.” Leviathan certainly sounds wildly imaginative. Yes, the “beast” meaning of BEHEMOTH is still reflected among a lot of Jewish people I know who call a boisterous or obnoxious person a behemoth when yelling at them to quiet down.
Lots of mythical creatures have at least some basis in fact. (Even chimera monsters are based on actual animals but with the various features combined into a single beast.)
As to the “tail” being a penis, I’ve had professors (of long ago) both promote and pan that idea. I remain a bit torn on that one.
Yes, just as Jesus’ mention of the mustard seed being very small was not a botany lecture, the Book of Job is not a zoology treatise.
I would simply observe that nothing in the Job 40 description deviates from natural observations of real animals—while dragon myths tend to add various “non-natural” attributes like dragon fire which destroys prey and enemies and even tales of flight (despite the huge size of the dragons.) The behemoth description in Job 40 always struck me as so down to earth that a more complex explanation (like dinosaur fossils) seems unnecessary. Besides, myth tends to associate strength and size with rabid appetites and bloodthirstiness. In contrast, the behemoth beast in Job 40 eats grass like an ox and casually rests among the reeds along a stream. That is, the Bible’s behemoth doesn’t gobble down warriors in one bite or roast a flock of sheep in one quick barbecue.
Of course, those are just my impressions—not years of exegesis.
I’ve always heard the most likely real world creature for behemoth was the Nile hippopotamus.
The KJV version of Job 40:17 Is “He moveth his tail like a cedar: the sinews of his stones are wrapped together.”. Stones of course are his cajones. The prevailing view among paleontologists is that dinosaurs like sauropods had internal testicles. Mammals are the only class of vertebrates to have evolved external testicles, primarily for thermal regulation.
I asked a Young Earth Creationist friend (who promoted the behemoth=sauropod idea) about that very thing and he basically said: “Nobody knows whether sauropods had internal testicles. Soft tissues don’t easily fossilize. So you can’t rule out external testicles.”
Here it gets weird. Hippo testicles are sort of “in between”, not external and not inside the abdomen. They are contained in a space called the inguinal canal in the lower front part of the body and can actually be moved or retracted up to 40 cm. Hence the KJV description “the sinews of his stones are wrapped together.”.
I’m not saying this interpretation is 100% correct, it’s just one I’ve seen defended before.
True but the only evidence we do have is that mammals are the only known class to evolve them externally. Birds are the direct descendants of maniraptoran dinosaurs and they have all their junk internal.
Good point. But the ancients would not necessarily be stymied by an anatomical fact. I’ve not researched commentators’ views on this topic but I assume that the ancients would have automatically presumed that a powerful and fearless animal would have “mighty stones”. This may fall in the same category as Jesus speaking of the mustard seed as the smallest of seeds: it doesn’t have to be consistent with biological absolutes that we would expect today.
You and I know that—but those two sentences presume a lot of basic science and methodologies which are not necessarily trusted by those who make behemoth=sauropod arguments. (Indeed, many of them will entirely reject the idea of birds descending from anything but their respective bird-kind.)