The beast called Behemoth
[Job 40:15-24]

By T.C. Howitt

Jan 14, 2016

Consider the beast called Behemoth in the Book of Job.

Was Behemoth an elephant, a hippopotamus (“sea horse”), a dinosaur (e.g. brachiosaurus) or some kind of mythical monster? Nobody knows for sure. This open issue leads people to either question the literalism or inerrancy of the bible, or to take this as proof for a Young-Earth theory that includes people coexisting with dinosaurs within the last six thousand years, giving fuel to the creationism versus evolution debate. It is stunning that the identity of this animal can have such a profound effect on humanity’s understanding of cosmology, but there you have it. Here’s the verse that gets everyone all excited, so to speak:

He moveth his tail like a cedar: the sinews of his stones are wrapped together (Job 40:17 KJV).

We know that the animal is big, yet gentle if left unprovoked, and grazes on grass like an ox. That could be any of the creatures I listed, though the brachiosaurus strips (or more properly, stripped) leaves from trees and can’t really chew.

But a tail like a cedar? Surely this can’t be an elephant or hippo. They’ve got spindly or stumpy little tails. Some have resorted to claiming the word “cedar” here in Hebrew means “cedar branch.” That’s hardly compelling; it doesn’t fit with the rest of the description of this enormous creature. Are we back to dinosaurs?

Look at that verse again. God’s talking about a tail that moves like a cedar. So we’re not talking about the appendage’s literal size, but rather a figurative impression of its movement.

Behemoth is indeed an elephant, I say. I say this knowing that this idea is fully disputed and loudly mocked due to the size of the elephant’s tail. Could “tail” refer to the elephant’s trunk? Hardly. A trunk is quite the opposite of a tail, especially here since at Job 40:24 God mentions snaring Behemoth’s nose using a different word for that body part.

I’m afraid to report that the “tail” that moves like a cedar is his prodigious penis, which for elephants is about six feet long in total and when erect protrudes in excess of three feet. The ESV translation says “He makes his tail stiff like a cedar.” If you accept my hypothesis, the ESV is downright pornographic here!

What could it mean that, in the same verse, God says “the sinews of his stones are wrapped together?” The KJV keeps the word “stones” while almost every other translation (NIV, ESV, NASB and others) has it as “thighs.” That’s unfortunate. The “stones” are his testicles bound up deep within his body near his kidneys.

Unlike most land mammals, the elephant’s testicles don’t descend. As Aristotle comments in The History of Animals (350 BC): “the testicles are not visible, but are concealed inside in the vicinity of the kidneys.” The elephant has been witnessed to swim up to 30 miles at a stretch, and thus must keep his testicles warm rather than cool.

As for God’s intention in describing these qualities of the animal, he makes it clear in the surrounding verses that Behemoth has nothing to worry about, either in his manhood (excuse me for that) or in his defenses against testicular evisceration (sorry again). In context, God says Behemoth’s bones are like brass, bars of iron, that the animal carries his strength in his loins, that his force is in the navel of his belly.

The language is obscured due to taboo. “Tail” and “rocks” are both euphemisms, as attested by English and Hebrew etymologies. has “penis” derived “from Latin ‘penis,’ earlier ‘tail.’” As for “stones,” the word remains to this day as a euphemism for testicles. Strong’s Concordance says “stone” is “the same as pachad; a testicle (as a cause of shame akin to fear).” Come on, guys. Don’t fear the testes. Compare these euphemisms with the word “nakedness” used throughout the Bible in place of “genitals.”

That’s my story and I’m not necessarily sticking to it, lest people think I’m a perv.

I believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, but not necessarily the veracity of my hypothesis here. It’s just a reasonable explanation without much data.

Much love to all of you, and may you never encounter an elephant in heat. In fact, don’t even Google it.