Behemoth is a primeval beast mentioned in the Book of Job and identified later as a demon in Christian demonology.
The word is most likely a plural form of bəhēmāh, referring for Hebrews to a beast of use to humans or a dumb animal. It is being used here, however, as a single entity. 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. Metaphorically, the name has come to be used for any extremely large or powerful entity.
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.
Behemoth 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. It is either describes as an huge hippopotamus or a dragon-like creature.
Behemoth and Leviathan
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.
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.
In the Old Testament, the earliest description is in the Book of Job, which describes Behemoth as follows:
15 Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox.
It is also said(The Book of Job, chapter 40) that rabbis make him a great roast on the festival of their Messiah because he can eat as much hay as beef. They make the roast large enough so that Behemoth must gobble up the hay of a thousand mountains a day, which he has eaten since the beginning of the world. He never leaves these mountains, for if he did, time would be disrupted. The rabbis also claim that God killed the female of the species so that they could never reproduce.
Behemoth also appears in the Apocryphal Book of Enoch (dated second century BCE - first century CE), 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
Also 4Edras 6:47-52 (dated late 1st century CE) states that on the fifth day, after God had commanded the water to create living creatures:
Then you kept in existence two living creatures; the name of one you called Behemoth and the name of the other Leviathan. And you separated one from the other, for the seventh part where the water had been gathered together could not hold them both. And you gave Behemoth one of the parts which had been dried up on the third day, to live in it, where there are a thousand mountains; but to Leviathan you have the seventh part, the watery part; and you have kept them to be eaten by whom you wish, and when you wish" - 4Edras 6:49-52
According to Collin de Plancy's Dictionnaire Infernal (1863), Behemoth rules over the domain of gluttony, and is said to be butler and high cupbearer of hell. Bodin thought he was the Egyptian Pharaoh who persecuted the Israelites. There are disagreements about his appearance throughout commentaries. Some say he appears as a whale or elephant. Others believe he is a species that no longer exists. Urbain Brandier wrote that he was definitely a demon, whereas Delancre sees him as a monstrous animal, who can disguise himself as a dog, elephant, fox, or wolf. Behemoth is not listed in Wierus' hierarchy of demons, though Wierus does admit that Behemoth could be Satan himself.
Behemoth in Paradise Lost
John Milton writes about the birth of Behemoth in his epic, Paradise Lost living creatures, both good and evil:
Each in their kind. The Earth obeyed, and straight Opening her fertile womb teemed at a birth Innumerous living creatures, perfect forms, Limbed and full grown: Out of the ground up rose, As from his lair, the wild beast where he wons In forest wild, in thicket, brake, or den; Among the trees in pairs they rose, they walked: The cattle in the fields and meadows green: Those rare and solitary, these in flocks Pasturing at once, and in broad herds upsprung. The grassy clods now calved; now half appeared The tawny lion, pawing to get free His hinder parts, then springs as broke from bonds, And rampant shakes his brinded mane; the ounce, The libbard, and the tiger, as the mole Rising, the crumbled earth above them threw In hillocks: The swift stag from under ground Bore up his branching head: Scarce from his mould Behemoth biggest born of earth upheaved His vastness: Fleeced the flocks and bleating rose, As plants: Ambiguous between sea and land The river-horse, and scaly crocodile. - Paradise Lost - Book VII 453-474
Theories and analysis
Many have interpreted Behemoth as a mythical animal. However, some have attempted to identify it with real animals.
Art / Fiction