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This article is from
Creation 41(1):40–41, January 2019

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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

  1. Carter, R., Bates, G., and Sarfati, J., Dinosaurs are almost certainly extinct, creation.com/dinos-extinct, 22 February 2018. Return to text.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

John P.
No doubt had Job heard some of these bible translators call behemoth an elephant or hippo he would have had something to laugh about. It is obvious many translators have a theistic evolution view as some other creatures such as the cockatrice have also been sanitised. The KJV mentions in the millenial kingdom a boy can put his hand in the cockatrice's den and come to no harm.And Damascus or Babylon will become the haunt of jackals instead of dragons and other examples abound where translators are compromised.Cockatrices are no snakes nor can jackals be called dragons. We need bible believing translators also, not compromised ones.
Jim M.
"A herbivorous, fully-grown sauropod dinosaur would certainly match the description in Job 40."

I totally agree with this interpretation, but one time someone pointed out v. 21-22 to me and said it was not a good match for this interpretation. I tend to agree. The ESV translation has it translated this way: v. 21-22. "Under the lotus plants he lies, in the shelter of the reeds and in the marsh. 22 For his shade the lotus trees cover him; the willows of the brook surround him."

Assuming the translation of the Hebrew word is correct and we are talking about lotus plants, then it seems hard to understand how a sauropod could "lie under the lotus plants." He would stick up way way above them. Outside of those two verses, it definitely sounds like a sauropod. Either way, I guess, it's hard to imagine hippos hiding under the lotus plants, unless the water is deep. But reeds and a marsh do not usually have deep water, right? Anyway, these two verses are a bit confusing for me.
David Catchpoole
In my local area of Australia, garden clubs recommend that lotus plants be planted at a depth of 3 metres (10 feet) "so as they can grow to their full height". The limitation on going deeper is that the water needs to be sufficiently warm. Perhaps at the time and locality of Job, water was warmer, allowing lotus to be anchored to lake bottoms sufficiently deep enough to hide a sauropod when its neck was held at a horizontal angle.

Also regarding the hiding of a hippopotamus which you are apparently even questioning is possible (not that I'm saying behemoth is a hippo by any means!!!) 3 metres is quite deep enough to conceal a hippo, I would have thought.

As to whether it's possible for a marsh to have deep water, I well remember as a small boy accompanying my father's scuba diving club to Ewen's Ponds in South Australia, in a spring-fed limestone sinkhole area of the south-east. From the shore of the lakes the first 20 metres or so out towards the centre of the ponds was thick with a tangled mass of marshy reeds and other water plants, a real time-consuming nightmare for the scuba divers to wade through up to neck-deep until they reached the drop-off, i.e. where the floor of the three interconnected sinkhole ponds suddenly dropped steeply down to depths of up to 13 metres (43 feet). So although it looked like a shallow marsh from the shore, in reality the ponds did have deepwater sections. In later years a wooden pier was built from the shore out to the drop-off, making it way more 'civilized' for the divers, and their families observing them.
Miss Yvonne R.
Thank you for your article. My reading of the word of GOD is to read and accept as fact. I have always believed the description of Behemoth, being a creation of GOD to be read as truth.. Why do so called biblical scholars wrongly translate what is obviously not an accurate description. This definitely reveals frailty within them. They are not believing GOD. They are not seeing GOD for who HE really is. Researching the internet I have of read of people in the south of England in the 1400's 1600's observing giant lizards fighting just we see today two deer with their large antlers fighting. Believing the word from GOD is the most important in our lives.
Jon A.
God’s design for the hippo’s tail appears to be related to territory marking by males.
The tail is laterally flattened and operates like a windshield wiper blade at high speed. When the hippo defecates, the tail goes into action and scatters the feces over a wide area.

A secondary function involves the female. Young hippos are born without the necessary intestinal microorganisms necessary to digest grass, a main food item. So, the babies ingest some of mom’s feces to get their systems functioning.
Richard H.
Those passages in Job had always puzzled me in my early days as a new believer . I met and spent 2 years with the oldest living Messanic Jew in the USA at the time , Eliezer Urbach . He told me that the Hebrew was different in meaning than what my english bible read. Exactly as this article says , Eliezer has since passed away but what he said in 1990 , CMI writes about today and what a great memory for me and Truth going out to others on a much larger scale! Blessings!
Chris W.
Dear Sirs,

Trying not to be too pedantic I think you meant the New Life Version (NLV) not the New Living Translation (NLT). If you click on Biblegateway they list 52 English translations where the vast majority say 'Behemoth'. As a matter of interest the Orthodox Jewish Bible (OJB), also mentions 'Hippopotamus' but in parenthesis.
David Catchpoole
No, the versions stated are the ones we meant. But thanks for the additional info.
Jeffrey C.
Well put. "Fear nothing" also goes with Job 40:19. Looking at all renderings of that verse on Bible Hub, seems the idea that the tail is a weapon may well be there; though otherwise and anyway the idea that the creature is not easily overpowered by mere mortals. The NLT says "only its Creator can threaten it".

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