Sunday, 3 August 2014

Job’s Behemoth Was Hardly a Hippo, Contrary to What Christianity Today Suggests

A hippo might be a lot bigger than a Nile crocodile, but the cedar-like tail is certainly missing. Image courtesy of Stig Nygaard.

Joel Kontinen

Christianity Today is not exactly known for a biblical understanding of creation, Genesis or the age of the earth. It has doubted the existence of a historical Adam, for instance.

Recently, it launched a magazine called The Behemoth. The very first issue features an article on the animal that gave the publication its name.

After much speculation, author Ted Olsen surmises that the creature described in Job 40 is probably a hippo.

While a hippo might be huge, the description does not fit an animal that looks somewhat like an overgrown pig:

Look at the behemoth, which I made along with you and which feeds on grass like an ox. What strength he has in his loins, what power in the muscles of his belly! His tail sways like a cedar; the sinews of his thighs are close-knit." (Job 40:15-17, NIV)

Bible translators have often found it difficult to translate the word Behemoth. With the exception of Job 40:15, they have often rendered it as beast. The translators of the New International Version (NIV) decided to keep the name Behemoth.

But then they explain in a footnote that the animal was possibly a hippopotamus or an elephant.

The hippo (Hippopotamus amphibius) is a huge animal that can weigh up to two tons. Its Greek name πποπόταμος means ‘river horse'. The one thing that it certainly lacks is a tail like a cedar.

The elephant is not a good suggestion, either. It has a tail that is possibly even narrower than that of a hippo. A crocodile has a more cedar-like backside than either a hippo or an elephant. There is a problem, however: crocs like to eat meat and the Behemoth does not.

So perhaps the Behemoth is a huge animal that lived in Job's day but has since become extinct. Some have even suggested it might be a dinosaur.

We should remember that while the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21), this only applies to the original texts. Translations are the work of fallible men. They are not inspired.

Surprisingly, many rock paintings describing dinosaurs have been found in different parts of the world. Perhaps the most spectacular find is an engraving of two fighting sauropod dinosaurs in a 15th century tomb in Carlisle Cathedral in the UK.

The creatures have been dubbed Bishop Bell's Brass Behemoths.

This suggests that people actually saw dinosaurs 600 years ago. Certainly Job, who lived 2,000 years earlier, could also have seen dinosaurs.


Olsen, Ted. 2014. 'Behold Now Behemoth.' The Behemoth. Issue 1. Christianity Today.