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Leviathan and Behemoth by the artist-poet William Blake

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.


Old Testament

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.

16 Lo now, his strength [is] in his loins, and his force [is] in the navel of his belly.
17 He moveth his tail like a cedar: the sinews of his thighs are wrapped together.
18 His bones [are as] strong pieces of brass; his bones [are] like bars of iron.
19 He [is] the chief of the ways of God: he that made him can make his sword to approach [unto him].
20 Surely the mountains bring him forth food, where all the beasts of the field play.
21 He lieth under the shady trees, in the covert of the reed, and fens.
22 The shady trees cover him [with] their shadow; the willows of the brook compass him about.
23 Behold, he drinketh up a river, [and] hasteth not: he trusteth that he can draw up Jordan into his mouth.

24 He taketh it with his eyes: [his] nose pierceth through snares.

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

Christian Demonology

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.

  • 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.[1] 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. [2] 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").
  • Many 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" (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 hippopotamuses.
  • 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 [5], 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. However, 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)[6].


  • Bamberger, Bernard, 1952. Fallen Angels - The Soldiers of Satan's Realm. ISBN: 156619850X [1]
  • Langton, Edward, 1977. Satan, a Portrait. ISBN: 0848215621 [2]
  • Mitchell, Steven, 1987. The Book of Job. San Francisco: North Point Press. [3]

Art / Fiction


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