Monthly Archives: January 2015

Young Earth Creationists insist: “The BEHEMOTH of Job 40 must be a dinosaur!”

{This new article is still in draft form. It will probably be proofread and finalized in the next few days. If you the topic is important to you, you will probably want to read it again after this preface message disappears.}

It is difficult to believe that many readers of Job 40 through the centuries assumed that the BEHEMOTH of Job 40 is a dinosaur. In fact, most of us today find the suggestion humorous, for quite a number of obvious reasons which hardly need to be emphasized here. Incredibly, today’s “creation science” ministries not only insist that BEHEMOTH=DINOSAUR is “obvious”, but when Christians express skepticism about the claim, YECist leaders actually leap several steps beyond what they’ve explicitly said, and go so far as to warn them: “To doubt that dinosaurs lived contemporaneously with humans is to call God a liar.”!   I find that accusation and attitude so disgusting and outrageous, I’m not even going to provide links to illustrate this lamentable behavior among some Christians.

Instead, I would like to present an alternate view of the BEHEMOTH in Job 40 and invite “creation science” promoters to tell me why they think my position wrong.  While BEHEMOTH=DINOSAUR proponents seem to be motivated by introducing an anachronistic agenda into the Biblical text and offer virtually no scriptural or scientific evidence for the claim, I would like to focus on what Job 40 actually states, not what it doesn’t state.

So what is the BEHEMOTH in Job 40?

As to the identification of BEHEMOTH, from Hebrew exegesis and lexicography alone I never took a very strong position through most of my career. But once I had more sufficient experience in COMPARATIVE LINGUISTICS and understood how an observer deals with something new which does not yet have a term within his/her language, I have ever since been VERY INCLINED to think that BEHEMOTH in that passage is an ELEPHANT.

[I’ve not studied the topic in years so all of this is from memory. In some instances of the details, I may even possibly be conflating from non-Biblical sources. I wrote this summary in about twenty minutes. Nevertheless, I believe my interpretation is sound.]

Why an elephant? Let’s start by considering the many descriptions from Job 40 which would seem to fit both elephants and hippos:

1) Yes, both animals graze on grass.

Yet, as the list of comparisons continues, the similarities lean more and more toward the elephants making the stronger impression:

2) The adults of both species have little to fear from predators. Yet does anyone think of the hippo as stronger than elephants? No. Does anyone seeing an animal and a hippo for the first time assume the elephant is stronger? YES. And Job 40:19 says “It ranks FIRST among the works of God.” If one were ask observers at the zoo to comment on the relative strength of hippos, would they not likely say, “Hippos surely aren’t any stronger than rhinos.” They would most likely think that hippos and rhinos would compete for second place behind the elephants!

Yes, “It ranks FIRST among the works of God” is a VERY STRONG argument against BEHEMOTH being a hippo.

3) Both tolerate other wild animals to be around them TO SOME DEGREE as described in the passage—-but elephants are FAR MORE TOLERANT. Hippos, in contrast, are infamous for being aggressive, unpredictable, and definitely DO NOT have the reputation for calm repose that elephants usually have. (I’m told that in Africa, the hippo’s reputation for unpredictable aggression makes it more greatly feared by humans.) It is unclear if Job 40:20b should be weighed into the comparisons, but if it does, I’d give the nod to elephants.

4) But Job 40:20a says “The hills bring it their produce”. Hippos eat grass and an observer from a distance (like the observer in Job 40) is unlikely to ever see them eat anything else, so all of that “produce” from the hills would seem to go to waste. In contrast, elephants, though they also eat a lot of grass, eat all sorts of OTHER PRODUCE found in the area, everything from leaves to the fruit on trees, to tree bark, using their trunks to grab virtually ANY PLANT PRODUCT (i.e., produce) in sight, to plant tubers/roots they pull churn up from the ground using their tusks, and you name it! When grass is in short supply, they will eat virtually any plant product in sight including twigs if they have to. Zookeepers in America have found that elephants will even eat leftover Christmas trees. Pigmy elephants eat around 300+ pounds per day while adult Africa elephants are known to eat close to 700 pounds per day.

So if you were an observer from a distance commenting on “the first among the beasts”, which animal would seem to to cause “the hills to bring it their produce”? Perhaps a hippo would cause the lawn to give up its grass, but isn’t it obvious that it would take all of the produce of the hills to provide 700 pounds of food per day to the elephant BEHEMOTH?

5) BOTH hippos and elephants rest without worry—but hippos tend to do their resting in the water where they can keep cool while it is the ELEPHANTS which tend to rest under the shade of the popular trees and tall plants and would therefore be described as Job 40:22 speaks of the BEHEMOTH. An observer is far more likely to notice how elephants spend their leisure time resting in the shade under the tall trees.

6) BOTH species can be described in hyperbolic terms like “drinking the Jordan River” or “swallowing the river in its mouth”. But I would argue that a herd of elephants bathing in the heat of the day would make a stronger impression because of the ways in which elephants suck enormous quantities of water through their trunks and then can blast that water on to their backs and other elephants. This would make a far greater impression on the observer than a hippo merely opening its mouth or disappearing under the surface. So, WHICH ANIMAL SEEMS MORE CONFIDENT WHEN FACED WITH A RAGING RIVER? Being much larger, an elephant evokes a far greater degree of “mastery over the river” when compared to a hippo.

7) Both elephants and hippos are very strong.
HOWEVER, in a habitat where both elephants and hippos are familiar, surely the ELEPHANTS would have the reputation for being the strongest. Why? Observers from a distance are not likely to see hippos doing anything to show off or make an impression concerning their strength. But EVERYBODY is impressed by an elephant’s strength and an observer can certainly witness an elephant knocking down a tree just to munch on some leaves or to strip the bark for minerals. Elephants can also be seen effortlessly lifting a heavy tree blocking a baby elephant’s path. And nature documentaries have shown a lion or a group of predators leap through the air to pounce on a baby elephant only to be stopped by a defending elephant adult grabbing one with their trunk and hurling it through the air or crushing its skull with one foot. IN CONTRAST, how many times has the average observer been impressed by a hippos show of strength?

JOB 40:17.   What is it?
So, why would anyone think that BEHEMOTH in Job 40 is a hippo?….or an elephant?….or a dinosaur? Everyone puts a lot of emphasis on a single Hebrew sentence that is not easy to figure out. Translations of Job 40:17 include:

“Its tail sways like a cedar” (NIV)
“Its tail is as strong as a cedar” (NLT)
“He makes his tail stiff like a cedar” (ESV)
“He bends his tail like a cedar” (NASB)
“He moves his tail like a cedar” (ASV)
“He doth bend his tail as a cedar. (YLT)
“He maketh his tail like a cedar” (KJV)

So what animal is described by this observer, watching from a distance, because he doesn’t want to risk disturbing the mightiest of all beasts?

Ken Ham seems to place his ENTIRE argument on the word TAIL. He concludes, “Obviously, neither elephants nor hippos have noteworthy tails. So BEHEMOTH cannot be either of them!” Clearly, Ham has neither any background in comparative linguistics nor does he apply any common sense to the situation. CONSIDER: Suppose you have never seen an elephant before. Perhaps you’ve heard of them, but as you observe from a distance, what do you describe about the elephant? And what do you do when your language has no word for TRUNK? After all, this is the one part of an elephant that you’ve never seen on any other animal. And it is precisely because the trunk is such a unique feature that you have to do the best you can with the vocabulary your language DOES have.

So as you watch this strange animal and see that versatile appendix doing what elephant trunks do, what do you call it? In fact, how would you describe this strange animal in general? Would you not say, “This huge animal has a TAIL AT BOTH ENDS!”? You would probably say, “It has a relatively small, unimpressive tail. That little tail flips around a little bit. That’s about all that you can say. But at the other end, there’s a HUGE TAIL coming out of the animal’s FACE, as if that “tail” was an extension of the animal’s nose! And the animals moves around that BIG TAIL very flexibly, moving it like a cedar tree! He can make it sway like a cedar when he walks, swinging it from side to side. He can make it stiff like a straight cedar tree or make it bend and curve around like cedar tree branches can be deformed by wind or humans bending them. But that BIG TAIL is not just flexible, it is very strong, just like a cedar tree supporting a heavy weight!”

Yes, the difficult-to-translate Hebrew of the passage yields a variety of slightly different English translations because committees have tried to capture accurately the variety of implications of the Hebrew word. So by examining a collection of parallel translations, even an English-speaker with no knowledge of Hebrew can understand the issues:

“He moves/straightens/bends/swings/forces/lifts his “TAIL” like a cedar tree/branch…”

……virtually DEMANDS the realization that the author observing THE BEHEMOTH is describing an ELEPHANT.

In contrast, is there ANY reason to think that the BEHEMOTH is a sauropod dinosaur? Hardly.

Accordingly, now that I’ve posted a summary of why I believe it likely that the BEHEMOTH in Job 40 is an elephant, I would like to know if anyone believes there are other, more likely interpretation of the BEHEMOTH pericope.

I would also like to address an obvious question: What did English speakers say about the elephant’s impressive appendage the first time they saw or heard about the exotic animal? I’ve not done an intensive study. But I do know what etymologists say about the word which has become the standard English term for it: TRUNK. While a few scholars think there may possibly be origins in a corruption of TRUMPET (referring to the loud blast an elephant makes when alarmed and which is always accompanied by a raising of the trunk), the majority think an elephant’s trunk was name after the large “branchless” portion of a tree: the tree trunk. Indeed, that same concept of a “main body lacking any appendages or branches” that describes a human torso, explains why an elephant’s trunk and a tree trunk are rooted in the same concept.

So here also we see the observer, whether an English-speaker or Hebrew-speaker, looking at a large animal and describing the large, branchless, strong APPENDAGE with a comparison to a TREE. (Indeed, the Hebrew-speaker referred to a particular kind of tree, because the cedar tree is known for flexibility and naturally growing in both straight and curved forms.

Moreover, while Ken Ham’s BEHEMOTH=DINOSAUR appears to involve no serious thought into scientific, linguistic, or paleontological evidence, it nevertheless comes with the confident bluster of so many “creation science” ministry leaders and reminds us that the Kruger-Dunning Effect is alive and well. And rarely helpful in explaining Bible passages.

I would like to ask CMI and other YEC ministries: “Has ANY Bible reader on their own read the BEHEMOTH passage in Isaiah 40 and exclaimed, ‘Wow! That just HAS to be a dinosaur. It is so obvious!'” Even by YEC standards, I’m surprised that they’ve made that a do-or-die stand. Why can’t Christians reading the passage say, ‘Some think it is a rhinoceros and some think it is an elephant. But nobody real knows for sure. There are pros and cons to each idea. Yet, in any case, the purpose of the passage is not zoological description. The purpose is teaching a truth about God.”

Why can’t everyone in the Body of Christ just agree to go that far and not be judgmental beyond it?
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