In Job 40, the Lord is infallibly describing a real historical creature, called "Behemoth." No known living animal, such as the elephant or hippopotamus, fits the passage adequately. A detailed analysis of the key clause Job 40:17a suggests that the most natural interpretation is that the tail of Behemoth is compared to a cedar for its great size. Consequently, the most reasonable interpretation is that Behemoth was a large animal, now extinct, which had a large tail. Thus some type of extinct dinosaur should still be considered a perfectly reasonable possibility according to our present state of knowledge. The passage Job 40:15–24 gives a detailed description of the creature named "Behemoth." There has been controversy as to what Behemoth really is. This paper focuses on the clause Job 40:17a, which is crucial to the proposition that Behemoth could have been a type of dinosaur. The other common proposals are also analyzed, and some general considerations are made concerning the whole passage.
The word "Behemoth" (Job 40:15) is literally a plural form of a common Old Testament (OT) word meaning "beast." However, practically all commentators and translators have agreed that here we have an intensive or majestic plural, so that the meaning is something like "colossal beast." This case is similar to the word "Elohim" (the most common name of God in the OT), which is actually a majestic plural form, but is always used with a singular verbal form, just as is encountered in this passage. Also, we read in verse 19 that Behemoth was the "chief of the ways of God," which suggests that Behemoth was one of the largest (if not the largest) of God's creatures.
There are basically three animals that have been put forward as candidates for Behemoth which we will consider in this paper: the elephant, the hippopotamus, and some type of dinosaur.
Gordis gives an interesting overview of how Behemoth has been interpreted throughout history, noting that "the interpretation has oscillated through the centuries between two poles, mythical and real." The interpretation that Behemoth was an elephant is very old and was common among mediaeval scholars. The original KJV-1611 had a marginal note "Or, the Elephant, as some thinke [sic]." But the French Protestant pastor Samuel Bochart in his Hierozoicon (1663), which analyzed the animals in the Bible in great detail, suggested that Behemoth was a hippopotamus, and this has since remained as the most common interpretation. The suggestion of a dinosaur has only arisen in relatively modern times.
We will first dismiss the idea that Behemoth is some kind of mythological creature. Gordis gives many good reasons why Behemoth cannot be interpreted in this way. For example:
"the First Speech of the Lord deals with flesh-and-blood animals and birds, from the existence of which important conclusions are drawn regarding the nature of the world and man’s place in it.... The same consideration supports the idea that Behemoth and Leviathan are also natural creatures, the existence of which heightens the impact of God’s argument."
The descriptions of the physical and behavioural characteristics of Behemoth are also not consistent with mythological creatures.