Leviathan and Behemoth in the ESV Study Bible

(Christy Hemphill) #1

This was linked in an article discussing the Genesis film and I thought it was pretty interesting:

In young earth stuff my kids have been exposed to, the idea of dinosaurs living with humans is always supported by these behemoth and leviathan passages, with that verse about “tail like a cedar” being one of the gothcha points made. (Who ever heard of a hippopatamus with a tail like a cedar; it had to be a brachiosaurus!) The ESV notes say it was probably a euphemism for sex organs. LOL, I’d love to see AIG rebut that in their homeschool material.

So even the ESV (a translation produced by a very conservative Evangelical translation committee and pushed hard in Neo-Cal circles) argues against the Ken Ham interpretation of these verses. Good for them.

(Larry Bunce) #2

I remember reading about behemoth recently, but I can’t find it on a BioLogos search. I found this article on a Google search, which is what I remember reading.
The author says that behemoth is definitely an elephant, and that Ken Ham omits verses 20-24 of Job 40 which apply more to an elephant than a sauropod, to make the description fit his idea that behemoth is a dinosaur, and therefore that dinosaurs and humans once lived together.



Behemoth is probably a rhinoceros or buffalo (or some other plant-eating big mammal in Job’s day). Leviathan is just an ancient near eastern mythical creature. My guess is this is entirely figurative language in the Bible when mentioning Leviathan and it has nothing to do with elephants/sex organs/whatnot. Leviathan is also mentioned outside of Job (in Psalm 74:14; 104:26; Isaiah 27:1). It was a common near eastern tale to say that, in the beginning of creation, there was some sort of primordial chaotic sea, and in this sea, there existed these great divine deities/gods (who are basically sea serpents). Then, as the tale goes, the divine creator(s) comes in and slay the chaotic sea monster, and then make order out of chaos and hence commencing the creation of our world as we know it. The readers of the biblical narratives would have been familiar with these tales circulating around in their days (like the Enuma Elish), and thus would have recognized the motif in the Bible. The primeval history of Genesis (ch. 1-11) clearly take a number of ancient near eastern stories, including Enuma Elish, Epic of Atrahasis, and possibly (not very sure here) the Epic of Gilgamesh, and transforms these stories in order to allegorically set up the narrative of God’s world in a way that the Israelite’s would have been reminiscent of, since they had known these stories, but also in a way that would be knew for them, as the biblical authors transformed these texts in order to allegorically set up the new story being revealed to them with important meanings and motifs that lay the basis for the rest of what is to come.

I recommend watching this Yale lecture. The lecturer takes shots at the Bible here and there but otherwise this is a great lecture on these issues.

(Christy Hemphill) #4

It was behemoth whose “tail” and “sinews” were described euphemistically, and your guess is contradicted by Hebrew experts and the Latin Vulgate translation.

[quote]In the poetic verse structure, “tail” (Hebrew: zanav) is paralleled with the Hebrew word pachad, translated “thighs.” This word “thighs” only appears once in the Bible, but we know its meaning through Aramaic and a cognate Arabic word (Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic are related languages). In Aramaic literature, it refers to the testicles. This is why the KJV translates this word “stones,” and it’s why Jewish scholars like Rashi and Ibn Ezra interpreted it as “testicles.” The Latin Vulgate likewise uses the word testiculorum, and modern Hebrew experts like Stephen Mitchell and Robert Alter have also opted for translations reflecting language of virility.[/quote] source

I’m aware that Leviathan was the name of a mythical sea monster that represented chaos. The word could also be used to refer to crocodiles. It depends on the context. I was referring to the passage in Job, not anything in Genesis. In any case, it’s not proof that dinosaurs and humans co-existed.


It was behemoth whose “tail” and “sinews” were described euphemistically, and your guess is contradicted by Hebrew experts and the Latin Vulgate translation.

I never said that Behemoth was a figurative creature. In the beginning of my post, I wrote “Behemoth is probably a rhinoceros or buffalo (or some other plant-eating big mammal in Job’s day).” I think you misunderstood my words as to mean that Behemoth was a near eastern creature – I was talking about Leviathan. You are correct to say Hebrew scholars understand Behemoth as an actual creature. I think we’re in agreement here.

On the other hand, Hebrew scholars definitely understand ‘Leviathan’ to be an ancient near eastern creature, perhaps some chaotic sea god present in the primordial sea of which God begins creating. I posted a Yale lecture from Christine Hays that explains this near eastern concept in depth. I’d highly recommend watching it, Christine is a renowned and definitely very smart scholar and Yale doesn’t feature her lectures on the Old Testament for nothing. We seem to be on the same page here. I’m not aware of Leviathan being used to refer to crocodiles, though, perhaps you could refer me to something here.

(Christy Hemphill) #6

My only point was that the verses about sex organs were about the behemoth not the leviathan. So your guess that those verses were “entirely figurative” and “had nothing to do with sex organs.” was off.

Here are some public domain resources and Strong’s that mention the crocodile referent for Leviathan in some verses. Whale is also a possibility. My more recently published lexicons have similar information.


I think Christine Hayes is a really great lecturer. I’m up to about lecture 15 on her Yale series. Although she probably isn’t religious, her depth of knowledge has really helped me to appreciate the Hebrew scriptures much more. I never truly realized how dramatically different monotheism really is. It’s so much more than simply belief in one god…I didn’t know about the “meta-divine realm” of pagan religions. (I still love Wagner though!)


Oh yes, you’re right, the sex organs thing is about Behemoth. My mistake, I suppose I read the texts too quickly. Thanks for the links.


You’re absolutely correct, those things were entirely new for myself as well. It really gives you a new sense about just how foundational God’s revelation is, and what we westerns take as axiomatic in religious theory, it was entirely the opposite in the ancient world. I’m trying to juggle Hayes lectures with Dale Martin’s on the NT right now, and even though Martin isn’t religious either, some of the insights he can make really give you a much newer, much more appreciative attitude towards these revelations we’re so blessed to have.

(George Brooks) #10

The “theory” behind Mithraism (not necessarily the older Mithra) is really quite complex…

… there was a greatest deity, a Lion-headed figure had a realm of Light… out beyond the edge of the Zodiac … “He / It / Whatever” was in charge of the entire Cosmos, as well as Time itself.


The other thing that was fascinating is how she cites pagan laws and practices and contrasts these with the biblical ones. I’ve known for many years that “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was to make the punishment fit the crime and not go beyond what is appropriate. But I had never heard of the draconian punishments for relatively minor crimes in the pagan world.

(Laura) #12

Speaking of YEC pushing the “brachiosaurus/behemoth” connection, this is a page I came across today from one of my kiddos’ Noah’s ark activity books (given to us by a relative). The “B” in this book is “behemoth” which is intended to be some kind of sauropod (if you can visualize the completed dot-to-dot), probably brachiosaurus… to me, this illustrates how hard sell this idea has become, when “brachiosaurus” would have fit just as well for B, but “behemoth” was used to essentially try and rename the dinosaur with a creature name plucked out of Job.

(Notice it also emphasizes they were young behemoths!)

(Christy Hemphill) #13

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