What is a Behemoth?
Job 40:15-24. The word elsewhere translated beasts -- i. e. great beasts -- is here given in its Hebrew form. Evidently this is right, for Job plainly refers to a beast preeminently great. The animal described as the behemoth in the passage above cited was of prodigious size and strength, and corresponds better with the river-horse of Africa (Hippopotamus amphibius), than with any other known animal. It is very probable that this creature, though not now found in Palestine, may once have inhabited the rivers of Western Asia. The average length of the male hippopotamus (including a tail about 1 foot long) is 14 feet. His girth is nearly the same, and his height at the shoulder is 5 or 6 feet. The huge, uncouth body of the animal is supported by short, stout limbs with four toes, each of which toes has a small hoof. The aperture of his mouth is 2 feet broad, and his tusks are more than a foot long. Cutting-teeth, which retain their sharpness by the same wonderful provision seen in the squirrel, enable him to mow as with a scythe the coarse, tough plants, aquatic roots, and grasses which are his food. A stomach capable of containing 5 or 6 bushels of vegetable matter prepares him to devour enormous quantities of herbage along river-margins and prove sadly destructive to neighboring crops. Though clumsy on the land, in the water the movements of the hippopotamus are often graceful and rapid. For the most part, he loves to lie "in the covert of the reeds and fens," or float in the water with only his nostrils visible. By way of exercise, he walks at the bottom of the river or climbs the neighboring hillsides ("mountains" of the Bible). "The old commentators have made all sorts of conjectures on the behemoth. Some have maintained it was the elephant, others the wild buffalo, others the mammoth or some extinct pachyderm, others that it is a poetical description of these large creatures generally. But it appears clear that the description suits the hippopotamus exactly, and it alone; and this description has been adopted by Bochart and most modern critics. We know from the Egyptian monuments that this huge animal was hunted with spears; and noting its place in the description of the marvels of creation in Job, just before the leviathan or crocodile, the sequence seems to be that, powerful and terrible as is the hippopotamus, yet it may sometimes be taken with spears: 'But what canst thou do with the crocodile? Will spears and barbs avail against him?' " -- Tristram.