Thursday

July 29, 2010
This post courtesy of Dictionary.com’s Word of the Day and Wikipedia.com’s entry on Behemoth, edited somewhat by me. The Blake painting is very cool.

behemoth \bih-HEE-muhth\, noun:

1. Any creature or thing of monstrous size or power
2. An animal, perhaps the hippopotamus, mentioned in the Book of Job.

All the sportive rollickings of all the animals, from the agile fawn to the unwieldly behemoth, are dances taught them by nature.
— Ambrose Bierce, They All Dance

And while that’s not the case here, the retail behemoth clearly has the captive attention of mainstream America.
— Dave Herrera, “3OH!3 gets enviable Walmart co-sign, prepares to print its own money,” Denver Westword, July, 2010.

Behemoth derives from the Hebrew b’hemoth in the Book of Job, but may be a folk etymology of Egyptian pehemau , “water-ox,” the name for the hippopotamus.

Wikipedia has a good run-down on this word–

Job 40:15-24 describes Behemoth, and then the fire-breathing sea-monster Leviathan, to demonstrate to Job the futility of questioning God, who alone has created these beings and who alone can capture them:[2]

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

In later Jewish writings

In Jewish aprocrypha and pseudepigrapha such as the 2nd century BCE Book of Enoch, Behemoth is the primal unconquerable monster of the land, as Leviathan is the primal monster of the waters of the sea and Ziz the primordial monster of the sky. In the 2nd century BCE 1 Enoch Leviathan lives in “the Abyss”, while Behemoth the land-monster lives in an invisible desert east of the garden of Eden (1 Enoch 60:7-8). A Jewish hymn recited on the festival of Shavuot describes a great battle which will take place between them at the end of time: “…they will interlock with one another and engage in combat, with his horns the Behemoth will gore with strength, the fish [Leviathan] will leap to meet him with his fins, with power. Their Creator will approach them with his mighty sword [and slay them both].” Then, “from the beautiful skin of the Leviathan, God will construct canopies to shelter the righteous, who will eat the meat of the Behemoth [ox] and the Leviathan amid great joy and merriment.” (Artscroll siddur, p. 719).

Meaning

Since the 17th century CE there have been many attempts to identify Behemoth. Some scholars have seen him as a real creature, usually the hippopotamus, although occasionally as the elephant, the crocodile, or the water buffalo[3]—even, for modern Creationists, the dinosaur. (The reference to Behemoth’s “tail” that “moves like a cedar” (40:17), is a problem for most of these theories, since it cannot easily be identified with the tail of any animal. Some have identified it as the elephant’s trunk, but it might instead refer to Behemoth’s penis based on another meaning of the Hebrew word “move” which means “extend” and on the second last part of verse 17 describing the sinew around its “stones”—not, as in the translation above, his thighs. The Vulgate, recognising this, uses the word “testiculorum”).[4] A second opinion is that Behemoth is a product of the imagination of the author of Job, a symbol of God’s power (and indeed, in verse 24 he is described as having a ring (“snare”) through his nose, a sign that he has been tamed by Yahweh).[1] Most likely is that he is a mythic being conquered by God along with Leviathan, the equivalent and descendant of a similar monster found in Ugaritic mythology.[5]

William Blake painting of God pointing to Behemoth and Leviathan (1826)

 

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