What is the Behemoth?

The Behemoth in Jewish Mythology

"Behemoth and Leviathan" by William Blake, from his Illustrations of the Book of Job.

The Behemoth is a mythical beast that is mentioned in Job 40:15-24. It is said to be a gigantic ox-like beast with bones as hard as bronze and limbs as firm as rods of iron.

Meaning and Origins

The Behemoth, or בְהֵמוֹת in Hebrew, appears in Job 40:15-24. According to the passage, the behemoth is an ox-like creature that feeds on grass, yet is so large that his tail is the size of a cedar tree. Some argue that the behemoth was the first of God's creations because Job 40:19 says, "His is the first of God's ways; [only] his Maker can draw His sword [against him]."

Here is the English translation of Job 40:15-24:

Behold now the behemoth that I have made with you; he eats grass like cattle. Behold now his strength is in his loins and his power is in the navel of his belly. His tail hardens like a cedar; the sinews of his testicles are knit together. His limbs are as strong as copper, his bones as a load of iron. His is the first of God's ways; [only] his Maker can draw His sword [against him]. For the mountains bear food for him, and all the beasts of the field play there. Does he lie under the shadows, in the covert of the reeds and the swamp? Do the shadows cover him as his shadow? Do the willows of the brook surround him? Behold, he plunders the river, and [he] does not harden; he trusts that he will draw the Jordan into his mouth. With His eyes He will take him; with snares He will puncture his nostrils.

The Behemoth in Jewish Legend

Just as the Leviathan is an unconquerable monster of the sea and the Ziz a monster of the air, the behemoth is said to be a primordial land monster that cannot be defeated.

According to the Book of Enoch, a 3rd or 1st century BCE non-canonical Jewish text believed to be written by Noah's great grandfather Enoch,

"On (the day of judgment) two monsters will be produced: a female monster, named 'Leviathan,' to dwell in the depths of the ocean over the fountains of the waters; but the male is called 'Behemoth,' who occupies with his breast a waste wilderness named 'Dendain,' on the east of the garden [of Eden], where the elect and the righteous dwell. And I besought that other angel that he should show me the might of these monsters; how they were produced on one day, the one being placed in the depth of the sea and the other in the main land of the wilderness. And he spake to me: 'Thou son of man, dost seek here to know what is hidden?'"

According to some ancient works (Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch, xxix. 4), the behemoth will be an entree served at the messianic banquet in Olam Ha' ba (the World to Come). In this instance, Olam Ha'ba is conceived of as a Kingdom of God that will exist after the messiah, or mashiach, comes.

This article was updated on May 5, 2016 by Chaviva Gordon-Bennett.