Tall tale of the hippo’s tail (a behemothian blunder and cedar misleader)
“Once upon a time, the tail of the hippopotamus was like a cedar.”
For anyone familiar with the short-and-stumpy tail of a hippo, any statement equating it with the massiveness of a cedar tree or log reeks of being a ‘tall tale’ (i.e. untrue). But that is in essence what some Bible versions (e.g. the Contemporary English Bible, The Living Bible, and New Living Translation) are saying in Job 40:15–24, where Job is instructed to “behold” a particularly formidable creature God made that moves its tail “like a cedar”. The Bible translators for those versions, no doubt noting that animal’s capacity to occupy streams/marshlands (vv. 22–23), have rendered the Hebrew word בּהמוֹת (behēmôt) in verse 15 to be ‘hippopotamus’.
However, other Bible translators, unsure of what the beast was, have simply transliterated the Hebrew into English as ‘behemoth’. The English Standard Version, e.g., documents God speaking to Job about the creature as follows:
“Behold, Behemoth, which I made as I made you; he eats grass like an ox.
Behold, his strength in his loins, and his power in the muscles of his belly.
He makes his tail stiff like a cedar; the sinews of his thighs are knit together.
His bones are tubes of bronze, his limbs like bars of iron.
He is the first of the works of God; …”
Some Bible versions in their footnotes (e.g. New International Version Study Bible), have suggested the behemoth could be an elephant, surmising that ‘first of the works of God’ likely refers to pre-eminence in size. But the cord-like tail of the elephant doesn’t justify comparison with a mighty cedar at all. Thus neither elephants’ nor hippos’ tails measure up to the description of Job 40:17.
So, if God wasn’t telling Job to go look at an elephant or hippo, what else might the behemoth have been? Have there ever been any land animals larger than an elephant, with a mighty tail, which since the time of Job have become extinct?
Sure have. Though now extinct,1 some, if not many, of the dinosaurs would have still been roaming the Earth in Job’s day. Scholars generally hold that Job lived at about the same time as Abraham, i.e. only a few hundred years after pairs of the various kinds of dinosaurs had come off Noah’s Ark after the Flood (Genesis 6–9). There is also ample extrabiblical historical evidence pointing to dinosaur-like creatures co-existing with people well after Job’s time.2
A herbivorous, fully-grown sauropod dinosaur would certainly match the description in Job 40. Consider for example Dreadnoughtus schrani, the former existence of which is now known from an “exceptionally complete” fossil skeleton unearthed in Argentina, reported in 2014.3 Lead discoverer Ken Lacovara of Drexel University (Philadelphia, USA) described Dreadnoughtus (‘fear nothing’) this way:
“So, everything about this dinosaur is giant. The femur [the longest, thickest leg bone] is six feet tall. … The tailbones are gargantuan with huge muscle scars that show us that it essentially had a weaponized tail that was 30 feet long. … this incredibly large and muscled individual that would have feared nothing in its landscape … And this is an incredibly bulky, massively muscled tail—everything about this speaks to its power.”4
Now there’s a tail consistent with the ‘cedar’ parallel of Job 40. And as any child familiar with the pin-the-tail party game would surely recognize, such a bulky, massively-muscled tail doesn’t belong on a hippo, or elephant. So why did Bible translators make such a behemothian blunder? Was it because they were beholden to the evolutionary/long-age tale falsely decreeing that Dreadnoughtus and other dinosaurs died out before man ever existed? Did one tale (long-agism) beget another (that Job 40:17 is the hippo’s tail)?
If so, it shows that not only can such ideas diminish belief in the Bible, but translation of it, too. Time to end the tale-telling!
Note from the Editor: After this article went to press in Creation magazine, we were very pleased to hear that in the New Living Translation’s 2015 edition, ‘behemoth’ has replaced the ‘hippopotamus’ of the NLT first edition (1996)—the edition we used as one of the Bible translations canvassed for this article.
References and notes
- Carter, R., Bates, G., and Sarfati, J., Dinosaurs are almost certainly extinct, creation.com/dinos-extinct, 22 February 2018. Return to text.
- E.g. see: Did Angkor really see a dinosaur?, creation.com/angkor-dinosaur (re a stone carving circa AD 1200), and Bishop Bell’s brass behemoths, creation.com/bb (re a brass engraving circa AD 1496). Return to text.
- Lacovara, K.J., and 16 others, A gigantic, exceptionally complete titanosaurian sauropod dinosaur from southern Patagonia, Argentina, Nature Scientific Reports 4(6196), September 2014 | doi:10.1038/srep06196. Return to text.
- Associate Professor Lacovara on a 4:16 min video clip (at 00:30–00.58 and 02:40–02:48) embedded in the online article by Geggel, L., Dreadnoughtus dinosaur weighed whopping 65 tons, feared nothing, livescience.com, 4 September 2014. Return to text.