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

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

  1. Some Job 40 discussion here (it’s the discussion re comments Nelstead posted on the CMI facebook page, at the time of writing the fourth conversation):

  2. I’ve now read the article. In the past I assumed either a hippo (they swish their tails to spread their faeces but I assume elephants sway their tails too) or perhaps a mythical creature (not a huge dinosaur that could scarcely hide among reeds or lotus trees). But elephant does sound reasonably plausible (if they occurred where Job lived at the time he or whoever wrote Job chapter 40). Though I would have thought Job would have known that a trunk is not a tail but essentially a nose – verse 24 in the NIV mentions the creature’s nose. As for verse 17a, the wording suggests a type of movement and perhaps implies strength, but the verse does not necessarily point to the tail’s great size. Incidentally I would assume the cedar in question would be the Cedar of Lebanon species (slow-growing but robust and impressive).
    (In case of doubt I am NOT a past or present YEC, though I previously identified as an evangelical Christian believer.)
    You could maybe post your blog article at the BCSE community forum – which I believe is read by various YEC guests.

    • Ashley, you raised some important issues here in the sense that you have underscored yet again, that it can be very difficult to convey to the non-linguist how words in one language can function–and function differently–from their near-equivalent in another language. I started writing an explanation but it quickly grew to where it requires it should probably be its own blog article. Yet, here it is and I’m very interested in seeing how (and if) this helps. [You may find it gets bogged down mid-way, but keep going. By the end, it should make sense. In any case, this is exactly how language works and it is what Ken Ham doesn’t understand.]

      1) When translating some Hebrew word XYZ into English such that the nearest equivalent is “TAIL”, we may be lucky in that that word XYZ may be almost exactly like “TAIL”, or it might be more like “APPENDAGE”. What do I mean by that? Consider this question: When you think of the word TAIL in English, what all do you know about it or can usually assume about TAIL in just about any context when associated with animals? Let’s list them:

      A) A TAIL is usually at the back end of the animal.

      B) A TAIL is usually solitary, that is, an animal has just ONE tail.

      C) A TAIL normally/usually has a BONE(S) in it, if we are talking about mammals, reptiles, and amphibians but not with BIRDS (where a tail is most likely some feathers projecting from the posterior.)

      Perhaps there are other major characteristics, but those are the main ones which come to mind.

      2) For the above, we assumed the Hebrew word XYZ was most like the English word TAIL. But let’s assume that it is NOT quite exactly the equivalent of TAIL, but it is more like the English word APPENDAGE. If you are asked what you think of when an animal’s APPENDAGE comes to mind, you might list:

      M) An APPENDAGE of an animal is a living “extension” or “major protrusion” from the animal such an ARM or LEG or even a TAIL or even a PENIS or most any other “living structure”.

      N) An APPENDAGE of an animal can be one of several. Those appendages can be paired, such as two arms and two legs. Yet, there can also be solitary appendages like a large tail on a monkey or a squirrel. In any case, while a TAIL tends to connote singularity (just one per animal), an appendage can be singular or plural in one animal.

      O) As mentioned above, there’s lots of animals in which a TAIL is associated with bones but APPENDAGES may usually have bones in them but there are types of appendages (in common parlance, but perhaps not among scientists or a particular field of study) which lack bones. [Of course, the penis in humans is unique among mammals in that it lacks a “penis bone” but depends upon hydro-pressure to provide the rigidity normally supplied by a bone in other mammals.]

      OK. Now we are ready to cut to the chase. Consider, Ashley, that our “source language” we are translating FROM (such as Hebrew in the above example) has a word XYZ which is sort of like English word TAIL but also sort of like APPENDAGE. Just to make it interesting, we will assume that the Hebrew language is still a mysterious one (even a newly discovered one) and we are still figuring out word meanings. So what we would do if it appears that XYZ is sort of half-way between TAIL and APPENDAGE. In other words, XYZ holds some combination of the meanings/implications of the ideas listed above: A,B,C,M,N, and O.

      Now think about this carefully: If that word XYZ is studied by scholars, and they conclude that it has these MOST IMPORTANT implications in most cases: A, B, M ???

      That word XYZ which has the connotations A, B, and M, is *NOT exactly the same as English word TAIL and not exactly like the English word APPENDAGE. But you either have to go with one or the other—or use a series of words to capture that ONE WORD, “XYZ”. Translators can do that, but it can make for a wordy and clumsy translation if you do that a lot. So do you go for brevity and rough equivalence? Or do you translated with more words and get accuracy but wordiness? Most translators go for brevity, and even though A-B-M doesn’t EXACTLY fit the English word TAIL it is 2 out of 3 connotations. So, therefore, most English translations chose TAIL. (Nevertheless, the English Bible readers will assume it means EXACTLY “TAIL” just as you did, Ashley. But the scholars know, and may mention in a footnote, that TAIL is an approximations and the Hebrew may carry some connotations of the word APPENDAGE.)

      In any case, as a SCHOLAR you continue to work in the original language, and you have determined A, B, and M are the usual MAJOR connotations of XYZ:

      XYZ is usually at the back end SOLITARY (but not always!), and it has the meaning of a “living extension” of the animal.

      Now consider that when an observer is describing something new that he hasn’t seen before and/or the language doesn’t have an EXACT term for, he tries to come up with an approximation. So what does the ancient Hebrew observer saying about the elephant when looking at its trunk? Remember: he doesn’t have to choose an EXACT word.

      First, from afar he may not immediately notice which direction the animal is facing. Until he sees it EAT or WALK FORWARD or EXCRETE, he may think he sees an animal with TWO TAILS, one at each end. You may think, “Tails don’t come at two ends of an animal”. Yet, the observer has to do the best he can with the words he has. So if both “extensions” or “appendages” look “tail-like”, there is NOTHING WRONG with ignoring the front and rear distinctions and say it like this: “There is a big tail on one end and a little tail on the other.” To an audience THAT MAKES SENSE IN PAINTING A MENTAL PICTURE. And even if the animal starts walking and the observer realizes that the BIG TAIL is on the FRONT, nevertheless, this sentence still paints a mental picture! It makes sense in English even if it is strange sounding uses of the word “TAIL”.

      Remember, ultimately the goal is to CREATE A MENTAL PICTURE THAT COMMUNICATES MEANINGFULLY. And if one lacks the word TRUNK, then “A big tail is on the front of the animal and a small tail is at the rear.” is a very good start. Then you can say, “The big tail is like a big cedar tree and its branches. It can be strong and straight and it can be curved and flexible. And it can sway like a cedar swaying in the wind, back and forth.”

      The fact that TAIL is not used 100% consist with its usual meaning doesn’t matter. It works better than ANY OTHER WORD available to the observer.

      After all, if the observer said, “It has a big ARM in the middle of its face”, an audience would think of a human arm and having fingers on the end. A LEG would work even less well—because legs don’t normally pick up things.

      Now, Ashley, we are ready for your observation: “Though I would have thought Job would have known that a trunk is not a tail but essentially a nose – verse 24 in the NIV mentions the creature’s nose.”

      See the problem? If the observer used a Hebrew word for NOSE, it would do a good job of capturing the connotation of POSITION ON THE FACE—-but a NOSE doesn’t normally have flexibility, strength, and active movement in general. So, again, the goal is to find ONE WORD which captures not all but MOST of the targeted meaning.

      Of course, we can discuss and even DEBATE which of the body-part words we have in English that is the best approximation for a TRUNK. But our decision doesn’t matter. The fact remains that in THE BIBLICAL TEXT OF JOB, the observer chose to use TAIL as an approximation descriptor for what he saw. My only point is that his choice of TAIL, and the way he described that TAIL, fits quite well with an elephant’s trunk.

      That is the main lesson here. The bottom line is (1) words mean what the speakers/culture/audience WANTS THEM TO MEAN, and (2) we have to understand those decisions on the SPEAKER’S/WRITER’S terms, not our own!

      Now you can see why Ken Ham’s argument against elephants—“It can’t be an elephant because a trunk is not a tail and no tail moves around like that!” Ham is simply showing his ignorance of linguistics and how a culture describes something when it doesn’t have a specific word for it. It always chooses words already known which have features which APPROXIMATE the idea being communicated.

      Let’s look at one more example in English. What do you call the back end (the posterior) of an airplane/jet? It doesn’t really matter what engineers or pilots call it. The average English speaker will probably talk about “the tail” of the plane—even though things that fly and have tails normally also have FEATHERS on that tail. Ashley, do you see how your NOSE observation about the elephant is perfectly valid but that it is like arguing with English speakers, “You can’t call the airplane’s back end a TAIL because tails which fly must have feathers on them!” A culture can choose whatever term they wish. And non-pilots call the back end of an airplane a TAIL. Arguments against that simply don’t matter.

      Moreover, there may be some English speaking community somewhere in the world where they happened to get in the habit of calling the back end of an airplane a BUTT. Nothing wrong with that! In fact, they might, according to the unique history of THEIR English speaking community say, “The back end of an airplane is called a TAIL but the back end of a jetplane is called a BUTT.” Or they could even have called a jetplane’s back end a GLUTEUS MAXIMUM. Why? Perhaps somebody familiar with human musculature and anatomy wanted to convey that that first jet they saw had enormous POWER/ENERGY in its engine in the tail of that jet plane.

      So never forget, the culture makes the decision what they want to call something. We are simply observers after the fact.

  3. TomS

    What has been the traditional interpretation of BEHEMOTH? Do we have any ancient mention of hippos or elephants or fabulous creatures? When does the suggestion of “dinosaur” first occur? (I am not a YEC, but is it remotely possible that the author of Job knew of fossils of gigantic animals?) The Wikipedia article on elephant says that the Greek word for elephant occurs meaning ivory in Mycenean Greek and Homer, and for the animal in Herodotus, so I think that it is plausible to say that the animal was known to the author of Job. (BTW, why is it so often claimed by conservative Christians that the book of Job is one of the oldest books of the Bible?)
    There is something a bit odd to suggest dinosaur, given the great diversity of dinosaur, as well as the diversity of large non-dinosaurs, extinct and extant. (Are they using “dinosaur” to mean “extinct megafauna”?)

  4. TomS, most commenters have tended to just call it BEHEMOTH. They transliterate it into English because there is no real requirement that anybody identify it. After all, the purpose of the passage is ultimately about describing God’s POWER in terms of his creation and man’s smallness compared to God. Some even think it is simply a poetic imagery of “the ultimate wild beast”. LEVIATHAN seems to be in the context of the oceans of the world: the ultimate sea monster. So perhaps BEHEMOTH is similar.

    It is also possible that Job never saw the BEHEMOTH but is basing his description on a second hand or third hand account. So there may be conflation of multiple creatures OR, yes, it might be some ancient memory or an idea based on a fossil find of some post-Ice Age Giant Mammal, like those common in North America several thousand years ago. The American heartland yields many giant mammoths and beavers and huge saber-toothed tigers.

    Those ideas make a lot of sense, TomS, just as you were speculating. On the other hand, Ken Ham’s DINOSAUR=BEHEMOTH is nothing but wishful thinking to reinforce his Young Earth Creationist ideas. It is probably one of the silliest and most obvious logic fails of all of his propaganda and pseudo-science.

  5. I’m often working and experimenting with different analogies and ways of explaining linguistics concepts. So I’m very interested in your feedback.

    Probably the most important fallacies we need to correct in the public’s understanding of TRANSLATION is that 100% equivalence is rarely possible. In reality, translators must choose from words in the target language which are APPROXIMATIONS and which MAY involve connotations entirely missing in the original SOURCE language.

    For example, there are words in Hebrew and Greek which could be translated quite well by the English word “GAY”. But no Bible translator in recent decades would use that word because GAY would be too likely to make an English reader think that homosexual orientation was involved in some way—-even though only ONE of the definitions of GAY has that connotation.

    We see a similar process happening in English since the KJV Bible was translated. In 1611, sitting on your donkey would be expressed as “SITTING ON YOUR ASS”. But for many years now, “SITTING ON YOUR ASS” has meant “doing nothing” and “being lazy”, so in that case, a LITERAL translation of some Hebrew phrase of “sitting on your donkey” requires special handling to avoid the wrong idea.

  6. Ashley & TomS, you might find this classic “psycholinguistic experiment” interesting. It and experiments like it are still being debated, because there is much to be discovered into terms of how much a culture’s views are IMPOSED ON THE LANGUAGE and whether and how the LANGUAGE STRUCTURE IS IMPOSED ON THE CULTURE AND THE BRAINS OF ITS SPEAKERS.

    So without getting into that famous hypothesis addressing a causal relationships with how a given language works and if/how/whether it imposes particular viewpoints/decisions on its speakers:

    A group of kindergarten children are asked to play with a collection of objects. The teacher tells them, “I want you to organize the toys so that like things are together. I want to GROUP similar things in their own piles.”

    Reportedly, a classroom of typical WASP children group all of the objects by their respective colors: red things in one pile, yellow things in another; blue things in another.

    Reportedly, a classroom of Navajo children group all of the objects by their respective SHAPES: pointy things in one pile, smooth-round things in another pile, flat things in a pile, etc.

    One can find these experiments described in many different ways. But early on scientists observed that the children’s groupings seemed to fit various orientations within their language.

    Obviously, correlation and causation are complex issues. But if nothing else, when we interpret Old Testament events and texts, for example, we have to always stop and ask ourselves if our interpretation is a bias from our own culture or language we are trying to IMPOSE on an ancient people.

    The best “worst example” of this is when people on Internet forums try to argue that all languages and cultures are “stupid” or inferior if they group “fouls of the air” together based on HAVING WINGS while a “scientific culture” insists on dividing SELF-PROPELLED FLYING CREATURES from PASSIVE GLIDING CREATURES and dividing BIRDS from FLYING MAMMALS (LIKE BATS) and from FLYING INSECTS.

    I’ve had a number of anti-theists who told me that the Bible was “wrong” or “incorrect” for using ONE HEBREW WORD to referring to “winged creatures larger than insects” instead of separating them into Linnaean taxonomic categories. One would think that they would realize that that is an obvious case of the Anachronism fallacy as well as an erroneous assumption that every culture must name groups of animals in the same ways that today’s scientists do. Yet, I found them talking them out of it was no more likely than getting Ken Ham to accept basic scientific facts. (Cognitive dissonance is a widespread affliction common to ALL humans at one time or another.)

    Even so, many people assume that the “scientific view” is always the “right view”. While science is great for EXPLAINING things, it holds no special superiority in simply expressing what humans wish to value. For example, in East Asian cultures some objects are considered “tranquility producing” and others “stress producing”. Why is that at all wrong? If it expresses an honest view, it simply expresses what it expresses. Saying it is “wrong” to group objects in that manner is like saying “People who prefer chocolate flavor are correct and vanilla lovers are incorrect.”

    • TomS

      I guess that if they had seen an ostrich or a penguin they would call it a TSIPPOR, but one never knows.
      I like to compare the ways that language changes, by undirected “random mutations”, and produces a working result (not perfect, but it works) with biological evolution. Somehow or other the mistakes of generations become standard usage, without any intelligent design needed.

      • TomS, it sounds like you would probably join me in criticizing the Biblical scholars who tend to treat Hebrew as one static language throughout the many centuries that are covered even by just the chronology of the Old Testament. And it gets even more complicated than that when we admit that we don’t know what language(s) the probably ORAL TRADITION behind the Job text went through before being written down in some language–whether that written language was Hebrew from the start or some other language that was later translated into Hebrew. There is so much we don’t know!

  7. TomS

    It’s a combination of amusing and frustrating to observe the debates about what to call various primates: monkeys, apes and humans. According to the best current cladistics, there are two different clades of monkeys, New World monkeys and Old World monkeys; apes are a clade within the Old World monkeys, and humans are a clade within apes. This means that all apes are Old World monkeys and humans are apes.
    But in the history of the English language, the word “ape” is the word which designated the only non-human primates that Europeans were aware of: Old World monkeys. They didn’t know about chimps, gorillas, orangs, or gibbons. About the time that they were learning about the wider world, like the New World monkeys, there was the new word appearing, “monkey”, and nobody is sure why. If only somebody had made the rational decision, and apply that new word only to the New World primates, and keep the old word “ape” for the Old World primates, we wouldn’t have the arguments of today. We would be calling those animals “Barbary apes”, and baboons would be apes, and when centuries later, chimps and gorillas were discovered, they would be called “apes”, too.

  8. I’ve skimmed the above. I also checked last night and it appeared that elephants are not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible (ivory is). So there is no other word (or perhaps same word translated as behemoth in Job 40) elsewhere in the Bible – probably.

    • TomS

      The word translated “ivory” is SHAN, which means “tooth”.

    • We must also keep in mind that even at the time that the Book of Job was written, BEHEMOTH might already have become (perhaps even centuries before) a very general word that meant something like “huge beast. Thus, its meaning could have varied greatly in a given context. Perhaps when one ox in the village was much bigger and stronger than the others, people called that one BEHEMOTH. Perhaps the biggest guy on the football team was called BEHEMOTH. Perhaps it had developed the meaning of “king of the hill”, that is, the victor of any battle.

      Even though words are extremely flexible and can even get applied as multiple parts of speech, people often have a tendency to assume that a NOUN like BEHEMOTH must have an equivalent in the form of a particular species—even though a NOUN can also be a term for various taxons (like “primate” or “reptile”) or a general descriptor (“quadruped” or “warm-blooded animal”.) With that in mind, every Bible commentator I’ve ever read has tended to focus on elephants, hippos, rhinos, and “unknown”. [Frankly, I don’t recall ANY commentator discussing dinosaurs until “creation scientists” started claiming dinosaurs fit the bill–and then the idea was raised just long enough to show reasons in the passage to reject it.]

      Of course, Bible translators through the centuries have tended to use the common sense solution: When you aren’t sure how to translate a word, consider simply TRANSLITERATING IT, which basically means NOT translating it. Therefore, BEHEMOTH is there in Hebrew so why not keep it in English. (Same with LEVIATHAN.) Ken Ham et al would do well to keep that in mind. If translators who know the Hebrew well avoid making a final call on its meaning, anybody who goes where translators fear to tread had better have some good evidence for their choice.

      • TomS

        people often have a tendency to assume that a NOUN like BEHEMOTH must have an equivalent in the form of a particular species. —- Prof Tertius

        In the first place, there is the assumption that a noun has a referent. We all learn in elementary school that “a noun is a name of a person, place or thing”, but linguists know that a name can have no referent at all, not even a abstraction. Words like “behalf” (“in behalf of”), “miss” (“a near miss”), “air” (“on/off/by air”).
        And moreover I see all too often the anachronism casually engaged in by Biblical commentators that there was a concept in the Ancient Near East of biological “species” – or any other taxon. For it appears that no one before the Late Middle Ages in Europe had thought of living things as belonging to species (that every living thing belongs to one life-long category with certain physical traits inherited from its ancestors, etc.). …. (Although, now that I think of it, is it any less defensible than “dinosaur”? 🙂 )

        TomS has made excellent points yet again.

        Thankfully, the last generation or two has seen MUCH improvement in the skills and background of Bible commentators as seminaries in the USA and Canada have been hiring outstanding professors who have not let their evangelical roots prevent them from seeking top-ranked European PhDs in Biblical Studies and who have MUCH better linguistics expertise and even science knowledge. Unfortunately, it will be a long time before their commentaries are Googled on-line when one is studying a difficult passage–because old commentaries are often out of copyright while new ones are still selling as printed books and can’t be placed on-line for free.

        Yes, any way one looks at it, the BEHEMOTH=DINOSAUR argument is pathetic. But it sure makes things easy for the “creation science” scholar. The rest of us have to do a lot of study and work!

  9. Accordingly, I would love to invite Young Earth Creationists to come here and present their evidence for BEHEMOTH being a sauropod dinosaur–especially in showing that it is a BETTER fit for the evidence in the text than an elephant. Ken Ham never makes any effort to reviewing the pericope sentence by sentence to critique the sauropod hypothesis.

  10. >Although, now that I think of it, is it any less defensible than “dinosaur”?

    TomS, your comments bring another thought to mind about what must SURELY be a “morale issue” at times at places like AiG. Admittedly, for a scientist who actually managed to earn a legitimate science PhD to tolerate working there, they have to have developed a tolerance of cognitive dissonance which must require scientific notation to express. But even despite that, they are working for Ken Ham, a boss with very little substantive higher education and clearly no idea how science works and what is required of scientists. Surely even someone like Dr. Georgia Purdom [Hi, Georgia! Isn’t Google Alerts a wonderful invention? After all, we otherwise would probably have never crossed paths!] must want to hide her head at times when the boss says the most mor0nic things.

    I keep thinking about how Ken Ham pretends that Dr. Mary Schweitzer’s “organic remnants” [for lack of an exact term for whatever was found, since it is still debated] somehow trumps and wipes away ALL of the voluminous evidence for millions of year of earth history. Surely, EVEN IF Dr. Purdom et al truly do think the earth is young, they surely MUST be capable of seeing the massive logic fallacies in such presentations.

    After all, so much of YEC “logic” is akin to my visiting social websites and finding that users have adopted the username “Adolph-Hitler” and someone concluding: “I just found evidence for Hitler still being alive!” and pretending that that “discovery” somehow outweighs all of the REAL evidence that tells us that it is most likely NOT him posting on Facebook etc. Indeed, the AiG-style of logic would defend the “Hitler found on-line” hypotheses by challenging critics with, “You have yet to 100% PROVE that it COULD NOT BE Hitler posting on-line.” And that is why I suggest that there surely must be those kinds of “face-palm moments” at AiG, even if nobody may dare speak allowed of it.

    I remember when Dr. D. James Kennedy was still alive. Many of his TV programs that were supposed to be preaching Christ’s teachings turned into entire episodes dedicated to denying “Darwinism” and evolution. Yet, I knew people who worked for Kennedy’s seminary and office—and also saw occasional anonymous posts online—which suggested that a LOT of the staff were sufficiently educated in scripture and in science to absolutely CRINGE at being a part of an anti-evolution campaign because of their jobs. Many disliked the simple fact that “This is not the Gospel mission we signed on to do. This has nothing to do with Jesus’ message.” But many were very outspoken wherever they could, including at their local churches, to let people know that Kennedy was virtually alone among the staff members in making it a priority. They knew much of his science “knowledge” was laughably wrong. I even heard that sometimes graffiti appeared on boxes and restroom paper towels making fun of it all, such as “What have you done today to send Darwin to hell?”

    No doubt AiG has carefully screened staff from the start because that was ALWAYS their central message. But it is hard to imagine that there are not people there, especially the scientists who are more like Dr. Todd Wood and wish they could stop the idiotic anti-science and pseudo-science claims that are embarrassing.

    If nothing else, they surely notice that there are posters in the Creation Museum exhibits which contradict the AiG website’s ARGUMENTS FOR A YOUNG EARTH or AGAINST EVOLUTION YOU SHOULD NOT USE!

    I have never seen a Christian ministry without disagreement and dissent within it. Even if just on minor things. But the more defiant and mor0nic the “proclamations”, the more embarrassing it must get.

    What do you think, Dr. Georgia Purdom? (Hey, you could even disagree with us here on any of the articles by using a pseudonym.)

  11. TomS

    I just saw this on the BBC’s web pages about seeing hippos being cannibal

    • Thanks! Fascinating information.

      By the way, I recommend that anyone posting links would assist readers by providing a summary of why they found the linked webpage worthwhile.

      It can be especially helpful to mention whether the link is relevant to some tangential aspect or whether it directly addresses some question under discussion. I know I always appreciate it when I can determine quickly whether the link is likely to interest me and merit my further reading.

      Thank you, TomS for the link.

  12. I note that the CMI article stated:
    “At this point we should also note that some have suggested that the word ‘tail’ here could be interpreted as ‘trunk’ (see, for example, the footnote for this verse in the NIV19), so that Behemoth would thus be the elephant. But the most glaring objection to this idea is that we read later in verse 24 about Behemoth’s nose (and that it cannot be pierced)! The animal cannot have a trunk (described by ‘tail’) and also a distinct nose!”
    However it is not essential to assume that when the writer referred to a tail he really meant a trunk.

  13. TomS

    I can’t resist asking, if we call an elephant’s trunk a “tail”, how many tails it has. :)-

    • Why is that a problem? The analog is–for example–a millipede. When an observer first looked at a millipede and said, “It has a thousand legs!”, did others object by saying: “How many legs do you think an animal can have?? Isn’t four legs the limit?” The same applies here: Why do you suppose that an animal is limited to one TAIL? An observer who doesn’t know of a good term for something he sees will grab the first word that he can make fit the situation.

      I get the impression from Ashley’s comment and Tom’s that I still haven’t explained the linguistic concept clearly enough. When a language lacks a special, distinct word for a “thing” which nobody in the culture has seen before, they make do with the nouns they DO have. So I’m saying that, from a distance, it would be quite natural for an observer to think and to say “These large animals have a large tail at one end and a small tail at the other.”

      We know this from the study of our language—as well as countless others. It is simply a fact. So in this case, if someone thinks TAIL would not be a likely “fallback” term for a trunk, what would be a better term? Perhaps ANOTHER observer might say, “I’d say that thing on the animal animal over there is like an arm—-but it swings and flexs about more like a tail!” A third observer might say, “I think of it as being like a VERY VERY LONG NOSE!”

      So who is right? They are ALL “right”! Each observer made a COMPARISON, which is how such terms start out, in so many cases. In fact, that is exactly what happened in English, except English-speaking observers of an elephant [or the language they borrowed it from by translation] compared it to a part of a PLANT instead of an ANIMAL. The term that became popular was TRUNK, that is, they decided NOT to compare the strange appendage of an elephant with a TAIL, LEG, ARM, or NOSE. They chose to compare it to a tree’s TRUNK: big and having no branches coming out of it.

      Did they choose “correctly”? It doesn’t matter. It is the choice which became standard that ends up in the dictionary and known to everybody years later. But in my opinion, seeing how a tree TRUNK is usually not so extremely flexible, nor does it move a lot, nor swing, nor pick up things, I think there are better choices available. In fact, if some linguist a thousand years from now was reading a “long last language” called English and saw a description of an elephant, would they see the word TRUNK and think “We recognize that! That is the big immobile part of a tree. It is that main part that the branches and roots connect to, so an elephant’s TRUNK must be his MAIN BODY that the legs and head attach to! (See how “logic” doesn’t always work out?)

      Indeed, the first English-speaking observer of an elephant COULD have used another common tactic to name an elephant’s trunk: by combining descriptive words, such as NOSE-ARM, or HOSE-NOSE, or even NOSE-TAIL. Would you agree that those could be good words for an elephant’s trunk? (NOSEARM, HOSENOSE, NOSETAIL.) On the other hand, the “keepers of the language” in the case of most European languages were the Greek-Latin fluent Christian monks and, later on, the university scholars of the Enlightenment. So it isn’t too surprising that more “technical” and later-coined terms were built from Greek and Latin morphemes—-or directly borrowed from the Greek and Latin philosophers who coined the terms long ago. (An example is “aquaduct”. It is considered an English word and found in the dictionary, but it is an obvious ancient word from the Roman AQUA [water]+DUCTUS [leading as on a path]. However, if the English had invented the first aquaducts and not the Romans, we might look at an aquaduct today and call it a LONGTROUGH. After all, if the ancient Anglo-Saxons had invented aquaducts independently—in some alternate universe where Rome didn’t conquer them—the English inventors and early workers might have handed down to us an Anglo-Saxon term like BIGWASH, BUILDRIVER or WATERRUSH. See how it works? And because people may migrate or be conquered, it is not at all predictable whether a term in the 13th century will “win out” over some conqueror’s term of the 17th century. [As I’ve cited so many times in my writings, a favorite example of conqueror’s words winning out over vanquished words are the Norman French terms naming the meats they, the wealthy, dined on (beef, pork, poultry, mutton) but the poor conquered people who raise it for them still name the animal (cow, pig, chicken, sheep.) And we see BOTH culture’s words retained from the bilingual courtroom of those centuries so that even today our legal documents speak of LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT and crimes like AID AND ABET. Each pair communicates in the two languages of the culture: Anglo-Saxon word AND Norman/Latinic word.]

      It is also worth noting that as the Old English language developed, common words used daily by the average person, including the majority of the population who weren’t literate and didn’t know any Latin, their words stayed around and we still use them. They are the “core” words of the language, used so often that there was little chance of them being replaced. Thus, it is no surprise that they are Frisian, Anglo, and Saxon words, such as: IS, AM, THROUGH, BAKE, COW, PIG, WILL, SHALL. But if something new came into the culture that people didn’t have a good word to name it, in so many cases it was the CLERICS (i.e., the clergy) who used their Latin skills (and sometimes Greek) to name it. Thus, it is no surprise that the emerging sciences of medicine and biology would see lots of Greek and Latin words enter the language through the more educated people who knew those languages: CRANIUM, OPTIC NERVE, PULMONARY ARTERY.

      Indeed, let’s use what I’ve described thus far to re-live the experience of a Greek or Roman observer getting their first look at the one-horned beast that is both very large and very dangerous. The one-horned variety of this beast is found in India, but may have ranged farther west and north in the days of Alexander the Great. The two-horned variety of this beast is found in Africa. I don’t recall if Homer mentions them or who first used the terms by which we know them. But let’s focus on the words they chose: The Greeks called it NOSE-HORN, which in Greek is RHIN (nose) and CEROS (horn). The Romans called it ONE-HORN, which in Latin is UNI (one) + CORNUS (horn). Yes, that gives us RHINOCEROS and UNICORN!

      [By the way, in it has escaped someone’s notice: early trumpet-like instruments were made from hollowed-out animal horn. Thus, to this day the English language uses HORN for both an animal’s HORN and the HORN one blows on to make musical notes. Also, a CORNET is a type of horn, but its name is from the Latin word for horn: CORNUS. Of course, a CORNUCOPIA is a horn-of-plenty.]

      It is worth mentioning that at the time of the KJV Bible (1611), the Greek term, RHINOCEROS, had not yet become common among the general public. They still tended to use the word that Latin-oriented priests/monks used: UNICORN. After all, they were familiar with lots of cattle with two horns and deer with many horn-points, but an Indian Rhinoceros brought to London for the King’s zoo was quite remarkable to them and everybody tended to point out “It has just one horn!” So the UNICORN name was easily the prefered name. [As you may have noticed, when people who like to make fun of the Bible, they ridicule it for the fact that the KJV translators “believed in unicorns!”, they are simply showing their own ignorance of Latin and Greek and of the fact that the KJV translators were simply struggling to translate a particular Hebrew word and thought it might refer to the Indian rhino, which the common people were still calling a UNICORN. There is nothing “mythical” about a UNICORN, a one-horned animal. Indeed, we don’t have to think very hard to realize how it happened that SOME ARTISTS and STORYTELLERS took the simple descriptions of sailors and other traveler’s and developed tall tales about UNICORNS, “a horse with a horn out of the center of its face!” Of course, that is an excellent description of a rhinoceros, but only if you think of a huge DRAFT HORSE. But if your idea of a “horse” is a small one, a pony, meet the mythical unicorn! So the next time a clueless Bible-critic laughs about unicorns in the Bible, you can also remind them that scientists use the same term: Rhinoceros unicornis is the scientific name for the Indian rhino.]

      This may seem tangential but this is a good place to introduce another concept: Why did people in England drop the Latin word UNICORN in favor of the Greek word RHINOCEROS? I’ve not researched this but based on linguistic tendencies alone, my hunch is that sailors brought back from Africa their stories and eventually an actual specimen of a related beast: the TWO-HORNED African version of the animal. It looked just like a UNICORN but they didn’t like using that name because it meant ONE-HORN. But the Greek term, RHINOCEROS could be used on BOTH types of animals, both the one-horned and the two-horned. Doesn’t that make good sense? [And here’s where I will point out that people don’t always make sense. If the word UNICORN had been too entrenched and there weren’t newspapers and monks to promote the word RHINOCEROS, we might have ended up with a strange term like TWO-HORNED UNICORN! Yes, sometimes a word’s definition and its etymological history based on meanings of the morphemes can be two different things! Remember the first rule of lexicography: a word means whatever a culture SAYS the word means! Logic doesn’t matter!]

      Now, I’ve taken you all through these examples in order to eventually get back to the elephant and BEHEMOTH. Do you now see why arguments like “It can’t be referring to an elephant’s trunk because that would mean the animal had two tails!”? For the same reasons, when Bible-critics complain, “The Bible says a grasshopper has four legs. We all know grasshoppers have SIX legs!!! Ha! Ha!”, they make the same silly error in presuming that cultures and their languages look at the world in the same ways. In fact, cultures count the appendages of animals differently: some see six legs; some see four legs and two arms; some see two grabbers, two arms, and two legs. And if I recall my Hebrew lexigraphy correctly, the ancient Hebrews thought of grasshoppers and locusts [which everybody knew because in a bad year they were everywhere eating the crops!] as having four legs and two jumpers. So it always annoys me when ignorant critics make the assumption that ancient authors were so stupid that they were unable to count legs on a common insect!

      So, do you think Ken Ham thought through basic lexigraphic analysis when he decided that BEHEMOTH=DINOSAUR? Incredibly, he has NO EVIDENCE. And evidence simply doesn’t matter to him. He needs an argument for a young earth and putting dinosaurs alongside humans is something he needs! I don’t usually close with an assessment of someone’s intelligence or integrity. But I marvel at what Ham’s BEHEMOTH=DINOSAUR argument tells us about his logic skills and his honesty.

      • P.S. Scientists are well aware of the ambiguities commonly-used words can introduce. That is why they will often choose terms that avoid confusion. Of course, that often means dropping common English words entirely and borrowing morphemes from Latin or Greek, even ones that have already been introduced into English. So one may see designations like “appendage” from a structure coming out of a larger structure. But when scientists started studying insects and they noticed appendages/projections from the head, they decided to use ANTENNA. And even though the etymology of Latin ANTENNA was not entirely clearly (perhaps something which EXTENDS or STRETCHES.) Just the fact that ANTENNA is a different word from ARM and LEG makes it useful and sufficiently distinct.

        One other thought: If an ancient observer looked at a sauropod dinosaur, how would he describe it? Does Ham spot anything in the BEHEMOTH description which UNAMBIGUOUSLY fits a sauropod? No. But I suppose he would say that his argument is based upon faith. (Yes, his knowledge of theology is as limited as his knowledge of science and linguistics.)

  14. Ashley and TomS: Do you understand from my descriptions why the arguments against TAIL being a TRUNK are weak? I’m not saying that I’m 100% sure that BEHEMOTH=elephant and the TAIL absolutely must be referring to a TRUNK, but I’m far more concerned about readers understanding how words develop agreed-upon meanings—and until they do, people experiment as best they can to describe things.

    Here’s another kind of example that comes to mind: An animal called a CAVIES is known to most Americans as a GUINEA PIG. But a scientist of the distant future reading about a “GUINEA PIG” might err much like the “tail-objectors” by saying: “No, a guinea pig could NOT be a cavies—because a cavies is NOT a type of pig.” Likewise, he might object to the identity of a “flying squirrel” by noting that “No squirrel yet discovered can fly!” (Of course, a native speaker of English today know that a flying squirrel is indeed a squirrel but it merely GLIDES.) So the scientist of the future would have made two major mistakes because of not understanding how words are used.

  15. Toms

    First of all, I was just joking. I was reminded of the Lincoln joke about calling a dog’s tail a leg. Nothing was intended.
    But seriously, I looked at the “Anchor Bible Dictionary” in the article “Zoology (Animal Names in the Bible)” (vol.6, page 153, “miscellaneous”)
    under “elephant” has Akkadian “pi:rum” (Modern Hebrew PI:L) and footnote 18 says: ‘… Sumerian term for elephant AM.SI, “ox with a hand”.’ I don’t know what to make of that, other than it is possible to refer to the trunk as another appendage. (I assume that that is was the Sumerian term is saying.)

  16. Yes, “ox with a hand” is an excellent example of how a language makes use of its words to name something new.

    Also, TomS, you had asked how we know that the Book of Job is the oldest book in the Bible. The Hebrew is very archaic. It follows literary forms from the 2nd Millennium BCE. Also, what it does NOT mention also suggest a very old origin.

    I think some of the rabbinical literature speaks of it being ancient even in the time of Moses.

    • TomS

      I tried to make a note in the Wikipedia article on “Book of Job” which said that there are some commentators who believe that Job is ancient. It was rejected because i could not provide adequate citation for that. Does anyone have a scholarly reference for this? Note that I do not need an argument for the antiquity of the book, but only a citation that there are reputable writers who argue for that. Enough so that it deserves mention.
      (I believe that it deserves mention, even though my personal opinion does not deserve mention.)

      • Wow. I didn’t know that there was any doubt about Job being very old and probably preceding most of the OT. But I suppose Wikipedia just wants everything stated to have a source. Even a lot of the public domain commentaries online would say so. The first to come to mind is probably Gleason Archer’s OT Introduction, a popular textbook for many years but perhaps less common now.

  17. Wouldn’t the writer(s)s of Job and their contemporaries have been more likely to see an elephant than a hippo? I may be wrong, but elephants were used as beasts of burden (think Hannibal attacking Rome) so are trainable, and you can imagine “ride the BEHEMOTH, only 5 bucks” signs like you unfortunately see today. No one has ever suggested that I ride a hippo or rhino.

    • Mark Germano asked “Wouldn’t the writer(s)s of Job and their contemporaries have been more likely to see an elephant than a hippo?

      Probably. In ancient times there were so many animals in ranges where they were killed off or driven out by human civilization. We do know that the North African Elephant was driven to extinction around the time of the Caesars. When I was in grad school, I think the Book of Job was assumed to date from at least a thousand years prior, perhaps even 14 century B.C.E. Of course, we don’t really know where Job lived.

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