BEHEMOTH (intensive plural of Heb. behemah, "beast"), creature described in the Book of Job (40:15–24). It is depicted as an animal that eats grass like an ox, is all muscles and strength, lives in the marsh in the shade of the ẓe'elim ("*jujube"), eats huge quantities of food, and can swallow the waters of the Jordan. In the light of the description of other animals in these chapters, it would seem that the reference is to an existing animal, to which legendary details have been added. In later Jewish literature, however, it appears as a purely mythical creature. One of the mammoths fashioned on the fifth day of creation (Targ. Yer., Gen. 1:21; ii Bar. 29:4), he is the male counterpart on land of the female *Leviathan in the sea (iv Ezra 6:49–52). He is said to dwell in the wilderness of Dendain (or Dudain), east of Eden (i Enoch 60:7–8), or else, by a fanciful interpretation of Psalm 50: 10, to span "a thousand hills" (iv Ezra 6: 49–52; Lev. R. 21). At the end of the world's existence he will be slain and served, along with his mate, at a banquet tendered to the righteous (ibid.; Targ. Yer., Num. 9:6; pdre 11; cf. tb, bb 75a). It has been suggested that this reflects the Iranian belief that at the Resurrection the righteous will obtain immortality by drinking a nectar made out of the fat of the mythical ox Hadhayosh mixed with haoma (a plant; Bundahishn 19:13, 20:25; Dadistan-i-Denik 37:119); but it is undoubtedly inspired also by the statement in Psalms 74:14 that God once fed the flesh of Leviathan "to the people." The hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibus) has been identified with Behemoth. It is the largest land animal in the Middle East, weighing up to three tons. It has powerful sinews, an enormous head, and a wide mouth with huge molars. Once it inhabited Ereẓ Israel; skeletal remains of it have been found in the vicinity of the Yarkon River. In ancient Egypt it was a favorite quarry of hunters and its capture with spears is often depicted.
Lewysohn, Zool, 355; Tristram, Nat Hist, 50–53; J. Feliks, Animal World of the Bible (1962), 24.
[Jehuda Feliks /
Theodor H. Gaster]
be·he·moth / biˈhēmə[unvoicedth]; ˈbēəmə[unvoicedth]/ • n. a huge or monstrous creature. ∎ something enormous, esp. a big and powerful organization: shoppers are now more loyal to their local stores than to faceless behemoths.
behemoth (bē´hĬmŏth, bĬhē´–) [Heb.,=plural of beast], large, fanciful primeval monster, like Leviathan, evoking the hippopotamus mentioned in the Book of Job. In the Book of Psalms the term occurs in a non-mythological context.