Was behemoth in Job 40:15 a dinosaur?

Or was it an elephant, a hippopotamus, or a mythical creature?

IN THE BOOK OF JOB IN THE BIBLE, in chapter 40, God mentions an outstanding creature called behemoth. God calls it “the chief of the ways of God.”

What was behemoth? Was it a mythical beast? Was it a real animal such as an elephant or hippopotamus as some commentators have suggested? Or was it an extinct animal, possibly a dinosaur?

We believe behemoth was a real animal that is now extinct, and that it could have been a dinosaur. We will tell you why.

The problem of translation

In Job 40:15, God says to Job, “Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox.” This word behemoth appears only once in the whole Bible. This makes it difficult to translate because the full descriptions of behemoth in Job 40 do not match any known living animal. And Bible translators had no other passage to compare it with for extra meaning. The safest choice then, and one taken by careful Bible translators, has been simply to use the word behemoth, and not to try to translate it.

Large dinosaur

In the first edition of the King James Bible, in 1611, the translators used behemoth in the biblical text, but added the margin note “Or, the Elephant, as some thinke.” The slightly earlier Geneva Bible of 1599 also left behemoth in the text, but also added the margin note “This beast is thought to be the elephant, or some other, which is unknowen.” (Note of interest: The passage that became Job 40:15 in the King James Version was Job 40:12 in the Geneva Bible because the chapter breaks were different.)

The Authorised Standard Version of 1901 marched into dangerous territory when, following Dr. James Strong's awkward earlier attempt to translate the word, it substituted hippopotamus for behemoth in the biblical text.

Some people have thought behemoth is a mythical creature. More recently, creationist scholars have suggested that, as incredible as it seems to some, the creature that best fits the description is a dinosaur.

So what is a behemoth?

  1. It can't be a mythical creature, because God was comparing Job's power to that of behemoth's. If someone compared your personality with that of a fazzurky, it would mean nothing to you. Fazzurkies don't exist. It would seem ridiculous. We know God is never ridiculous, so behemoth obviously wasn't a mythical creature.
  2. It can't be an elephant, because verse 17 says behemoth moved its “tail like a cedar”. This is so far from a description of an elephant's tail that we can rule out the elephant on this phrase alone. Some thought the word for “tail” could mean “trunk”. But the Bible knocks down that argument in verse 24 when God asks who can trap behemoth and pierce his “nose”, which would be the elephant's trunk. So it's not an elephant.
  3. It can't be a hippopotamus because, like the elephant, a hippo moves its tail like a piece of thick rope, not like a cedar tree. Also, hippos don't go up to the mountain fields to get their food (verse 20).
  4. It could be a dinosaur, because huge dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus and Brachiosaurus had enormous tails that we might compare to the strength and thickness of a cedar. Some dinosaurs ate “grass like an ox” (verse 15) and dwelt in marshy reeds or fens (verses 21–23). They had strong bones (verse 18), strong hips, powerful stomach muscles (verse 16), and tightly knit sinews (verse 17).
    Many evolutionist websites erroneously say that dinosaurs never ate grass, because grasses evolved after dinosaurs died out. So, they say, behemoth couldn't have been a brachiosaur. They are wrong. Even in the evolutionary long-age-of-the-earth theory, scientists have found dinosaur dung with grass in it (Science, 18 November 2005. See article at ABC science news, which says “In this case, the researchers believe the faeces were left by a large titanosaur, members of a group of long-necked, plant-eating dinosaurs known as sauropods, which included the familiar brachiosaurus.”)

Navel of his belly

Skeptics sometimes point out that Job 40:16 describes the behemoth as having his force “in the navel of his belly”. “But dinosaurs are reptiles,” they say, “so they would not have had navels.”

However, the Hebrew word that the King James translators chose to translate as navel is more likely to mean muscles, as most other Bible translations attest.

And that makes more sense anyway, because an animal's power (force) is more likely to reside in its muscles than in its belly button. Navels are not things of force, but muscles are.

Chief of God's ways

God describes Behemoth as “the chief of the ways of God”, which fits a massive dinosaur better than any other creature. When the translators worked on the Geneva Bible and King James Version, dinosaur fossils had not yet been discovered, so the translators did the best they could with their margin notes.

God says “Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee.” God created dinosaurs and all other land animals with man on the sixth day of creation week. Their bodies were all formed from the basic elements of the earth. But only humans were made in the image of God.

Possibly dinosaurs existed in Job's time about 4000 years ago. This was not long after Noah's Flood, and there would have been dinosaur representatives on the Ark. In the highly respected Henry Morris Study Bible, Dr. Morris notes that “Some descendants survived to and beyond Job's day, giving rise to all the traditions of dragons in various parts of the world.”

We cannot be dogmatic that behemoth was a dinosaur. Possibly it was another extinct creature. But the description fits a dinosaur better than any other creature known.

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