Behemoth's tail isn't about his tail. It's about his penis (part 2)

In my last post, I argued that the monster Behemoth in the biblical book of Job was a mythic Semitic chaos deity. We can infer this because we can be certain his literary ‘twin’ Leviathan was. Leviathan breathes fire, has multiple heads, and is openly related to the chaos dragon god in Mesopotamian and West Semitic Baal mythology by the biblical authors themselves. 

This post continues my response to an article from Creation.com by Paul Price that attempts to argue Behemoth was a sauropod dinosaur. Price argues this mainly on the basis that the book of Job compares Behemoth’s tail to a cedar. Contrary to Price, I believe Behemoth was most likely a mythological super-ox based on features of the Hebrew texts and comparative ancient mythology. What about his cedar-like “tail”? I think there is firm evidence that the Hebrew term for “tail” here is actually a euphemism for the creature’s penis—a view shared by scads of Jobian specialists. 

Only a liberal evolutionist would claim Behemoth is a mythic super-ox? 

Leviathan, Behemoth, and Ziz Saday in the Ambrosiana Bible MSS B 32 (13th cent).

Price opens his article with some heavy claims. He states the view that "Behemoth was a mythical super-bull" is a "newer idea coming from liberal scholarship."  He thinks this interpretation is so weird that he questions: "Could [scholar's] evolutionary bias be driving their unwillingness to read [the text] in a straightforward manner, subconsciously or otherwise?" (Simon Turpin at Answers in Genesis has recently leveled the same accusation at Tremper Longman). Price thus condemns the view: “The suggestion that this is a reference to a pagan mythological ‘super-bull’ certainly doesn’t do justice to the text, but the suggestion does have all the hallmarks of liberal eisegesis.”  

With these statements, I assume Price reveals his ignorance of the history of Behemoth's interpretation. Behemoth was called the shor habar (wild ox) throughout centuries of classic aggadic literature and is attributed horns with which to slay Leviathan at the eschaton at least as early as Vayikra Rabbah 13:3 (c. fifth century). During my own manuscriptology degree, my Turkish friend acquainted me with Behemoth and Leviathan’s Arabic counterparts Bahmut and Kuyuta—depicted as a great fish and cosmic bull in Islamic cosmographic tradition.

As a manuscript guy inclined to care about such things, I’m also pretty sure our Medieval illuminations of Behemoth as an ox by Ashkenazi scribes survived by the famed 14th century Leipzig Machzor, the 13th century Ambrosiana Bible, or the British Library’s Northern French Miscellany aren’t a case of the libs trying to snake Darwin into scripture. Obviously, the fact that Rabbinic tradition identified Behemoth as an ox isn't proof the biblical authors did, but it does show that Price and Turpin have little ground for accusing the view of being motived by Darwinism.

Price goes so far as to say the super-ox “interpretation abandons any pretense of respect for biblical inerrancy.” (Way to throw a middle finger at some 15 centuries of orthodox Jews!) The irony is this: As far as history cares, they are the ones posing a new interpretation in the face of conservative tradition, and they are the ones clearly reading modern scientific motives into the text to do it.

That time a brachiosaurus hiked up a mountain and animals in the underworld celebrated

What about my claim this creature is mythological? Again--totally unoriginal. This is the overwhelming consensus of our earliest Jewish traditions which tie both creatures to the eschaton based on biblical texts. Reuven Kiperwasser at the Free University of Berlin has conveniently collected a bunch of the sources going back to the Second Temple in a working paper here

A mentionable curiosity in the Septuagint remarks in verse 20 that when Behemoth “went up on a steep mountain, it brought rejoicing to the quadrupeds in Tartarus.” (I love how weird the Bible is.) Why would a dinosaur hiking up a mountain make animals in the underworld rejoice? Whatever the explanation for this tradition, the use of a technical cosmic location like Tartarus implies the domain of mythology was yet again present. 

Finally, you’ll see these ancient sources also demonstrate that my emphasis on Behemoth’s sexual anatomy isn’t something modern liberals have pulled out of thin air either. Note Kiperwasser’s translation of the Targum (compare with Syriac entries in CAL here): 
“[Behemoth] bends his tail like a cedar, and the veins of his testicles are entangled/ He bends with his tail like a cedar, his membrum virile and his testicles are entangled.” 
Price continues: 

“Stanhope...attacks the [theory that Behemoth is a] sauropod...on the grounds that brachiosaurs have extremely long necks, and the [Job] passage doesn’t mention any long neck.... [However,] not all sauropods had long necks to begin with. Stanhope creates a strawman by assuming the identification of ‘brachiosaur’, while actual creationist writers such as Steel have said simply, “some type of extinct dinosaur.” Brachytrachelopan (Figure 1), for example,… was missing the long neck seen in other sauropods. I’m not saying this passage necessarily must be referring to Brachytrachelopan; I am merely raising this example to show that God could have been referring to some large sauropod dinosaur even if He did not mention a long neck.” 

I found it richly satisfying that Steele’s article in the Journal of Creation floats the word “erect” four times in relation to Behemoth’s tail. Careful leaning too much into the Septuagint there, guy! 

I haven’t strawmanned Answers in Genesis in the slightest (they are the ones I was principally responding to). Most Young Earthers have assumed Behemoth is one of the long-necked Titanosauria because they infer the biblical phrase, “he is first of the ways of El” implies this was among the largest animals that ever lived. Short necked sauropods, like the species Price proposes, were much smaller.  

Thus, states the Ayatollah of Appalachia himself, Ken Ham, in The New Answers Book vol I (pg. 160): 

“The phrase ‘first in the ways of God’ suggests this was the largest land animal God had made... behemoth is very much like Brachiosaurus, one of the large dinosaurs.” 

Behemoth image published in Steel's article
To twist the knife a little further, a long-necked sauropod is one of the first things you see in the Creation Museum. I’ve shown footage of an Answers in Genesis conference with a room full of kids singing about Behemoth with illustrations of long necked brachiosaurs being projected on the lyric screen. One of the images from these child brain washing sessions of a man standing next to a brachiosaurus is actually published in Steel’s article. At the end of Prices’ own article, I’m beseeched to read a related article from Creation.com about Behemoth that was published in their journal Creation. This one comes accompanied with a video clip that slowly pans up the long neck of a brachiosaurus for seven seconds while the narrator floats only long neck species identifications (Give me a break!). 
Price's article with image of Brachytrachelopan

Price’s proposal—Brachytrachelopan, is a comparatively small radiation of sauropod (less than half the size of Argentinosaurus). Brachy is apparently known from a single specimen discovered in South America—not even the Near East. Quick! Make it the article header image! What exactly were the methodological criteria for selecting it as a candidate example? Is it the mere fact that Brachytrachelopan just happens to be the first hit that pops up when I type “short necked sauropod” into the Google search bar? 


Problems with the dinosaur interpretation

The absence of a long neck isn’t the only textual problem with the dinosaur interpretation. There are actually at least seven others I can think of: 
 
1) Behemoth is probably mythological because Leviathan is. 

2) Behemoth is probably mythical because our earliest traditions, including the Septuagint, imply he is.

3) Sauropods most remarkably eat from trees. To brag about one eating grass is ironic. 

4) Biblical Hebrew has words for scales. It has words for dragons. It has terminology for reptiles. In no way is it implied that Behemoth is a reptile. In fact, his name is an intensified form of a term that implies a mammal. If he were a reptile, this would be ironic. 

5) Behemoth is paralleled with mammals in Job 40:20 in the sense that he lives in the mountains where the “beasts of the field jubilate.” This verse’s statement that the mountains yield him food uses a rare term for food that elsewhere denotes wild animals in Semitic, implying a double entendre in this verse that has the beasts serving him and jubilating (this is observed in Greenstein’s translation notes). Moreover, in the Hebrew of Psalm 50:10, Behemoth appears again in parallel with the beasts of the forest. (Beasts of the field and forest are seen as interchangeable in Isaiah 56:9). Again, the parallelism of Behemoth with these mammal categories (as an etymological ‘super beast’) implies he is a mammal at multiple levels of analysis. 

6) In Job 40:17, the poet decides against using the common Hebrew term for thighs and instead opts for a far rarer Aramaic noun that nowhere else occurs in the Bible. This noun is used to refer to the testicles in Onqelos and Pseudo-Jonathan's Aramaic translation of Lev 21:20. Genesis Rabbah 7:4’s commentary on Behemoth also takes for granted that the term refers to the testicles along with the Targum I quoted from Kipperwasser above. Sauropods didn’t have external testicles.

7) The dinosaur interpretation mainly relies on the literalness of the phrase ‘his tail is like a cedar.’ The fact that the poetic structure of the verse parallels this tail with a noun for the testicles implies it’s a euphemism for the penis. 

In my original argument that Behemoth’s thighs refer to his testicles, I cited a paper by David Bernat in the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. Price took issue with this source.

“Bernat points out that this Hebrew term, ‘pachad’, has sometimes been translated ‘testicles’, including in the Latin Vulgate. Few modern Bible translators choose to render it thus, but Bernat doesn’t address that, or give us any particular reason why this could not simply mean ‘thigh’ as it literally states.”

I’m assuming from Price’s bio and the nature of many of his objections that he hasn’t taken Hebrew. The Bible’s typical word for thigh is yarek, occurring some 34 times. It’s what the angel dislocated when Jacob wrestled with him. Instead of an expected term like this, the Job poet opted for a loan word for thigh that nowhere else appears in the entire Bible. Why was this decision made? Is it relevant that Aramaic and Syriac witnesses uniformly understood it to mean the testicles and use it to translate the testicles in Lev 21:20? You don't have to trust me on that, you can read the other known iterations of the noun for yourself in the CAL database here and here. What reason does Price have for waving away how the noun is used in our other witnesses?

Entries for pachad in the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon. (Click to enlarge.)

I think Price has also unfairly represented Bernat with his assertion that Bernat gives us no “particular reason why this could not simply mean ‘thigh’.” Bernat contextualizes this term with the point I just made as well as well as the fact that a sexual translation: 1) creates a neat use of double meaning with the verb yachpotz associated with Behemoth’s tail (the verb can mean both ‘extending’ and to ‘delight’/’desire’). 2)  This verse was just preceded by the phrase “his strength is in his loins” and the term for strength here refers to sexual virility in passages like Gen 49:3, Deut 21:17 and Psa 105:36. Scott Jones adds that the discussion of Behemoth’s masculine force was likely anticipated by God challenging Job to gird his own loins like a man in 40:7. 

Academic commentators are usually aware that pachad indicates the testicles and typically point out that the tail might correspondingly refer to the penis (the poetic couplet parallelism of the former demands the latter). Rob Alter at Berkeley, whom I’ve long endorsed as having produced my favorite translation of the Torah in English, had the balls to translate this verse as “his balls’ sinews twine together.” Edward Greenstein’s fantastic Yale edition of Job opts for: “He drops his ‘tail’ [footnote: a phallus euphemism] like a cedar (trunk); the sinews of his testes intertwine.” 

Why do most mainstream church translations render pachad as thighs? It’s actually expected. Job is the most complicated book to translate in the Bible. Nearly every other verse raises linguistic puzzles and layers of meaning like this that get totally lost on English readers. Mainstream translations aren’t designed to reflect the level of specified linguistic assessment that we are arguing over with this text and consciously relegate that task to specialist editions and commentaries. As Greenstein laments (Job: A New Translation [New Haven: Yale, 2019], pg. xviii): “There is no delicate way to put it...Translators have for the most part recycled interpretations that had been adopted earlier, dispensing with the painstaking work of original philological investigation.”

Thigh is literally what pachad’s Arabic cognate means and undoubtedly its Aramaic etymology, so there is nothing incorrect from a formal equivalence point of view with thigh as a translation. It simply doesn’t highlight the full euphemistic implication of the noun that you find in its other linguistic witnesses, early Rabbinic interpretation, and modern translations and commentaries by Job scholars like Alter, Greenstein, Pope, Stephen Mitchell, or Scott C. Jones. 

Price continues: 

“[The fact that the] Hebrew word Behemoth may be related to another word for cattle does not prove that the word Behemoth itself denotes cattle of any kind.... On top of that, God had just mentioned cattle (an ox) in 39:9, making this redundant if it refers to cattle. What is the most noteworthy feature of bulls? Yes, that’s right, the horns. If this is supposed to be a mythical super bull or super ox, why are no horns mentioned? That seems very odd to put it mildly.” 

The term behema most often refers to cattle in its 200 biblical iterations. This implies an ox is the first candidate we should consider, at least before we start interviewing candidates from the Jurassic. I think both meanings of behema are probably at play in Behemoth’s name. I think he is the ultimate beast—an amalgam of animal traits but likely mainly patterned after an ox in the same way that one could say the deity Leviathan was chiefly patterned after a crocodile or serpent even though he bears other non-crocodile and non-serpent traits. 

The ox view, therefore, isn’t bothered by Price’s accusation of redundancy in the line: “He feeds on grass like an ox” any more than it would be redundant to say leviathan is “like a serpent.” Such a comparison is expected. In regards to his other objection—yes, I believe the monster did have horns and Jewish interpretation inferred this. However, since Behemoth is a mythological creature, he wouldn't even necessarily need to have horns in order to possess traits amalgamated from natural animals like a bull or a hippo. 

My reasons for the mythical bull theory 

But talk is cheap. What reasons do I have for the bovine view? Here’s six: 

1) We have Biblical and Ugaritic texts describing bulls—dwelling in the reeds and in marshes as Behemoth is said to do. Psalm 68:30 calls bulls beasts of the reeds. 

2) Job 40:24 says Behemoth cannot be pierced through his nose and captured. In the ancient Near East, as today, bulls were controlled via a ring pierced through the septum and attached to a rope or a staff. Job 39:10 in the previous chapter also speaks of wild oxen as indominable.

3) The Hebrew word that Behemoth is formed from is an intensified term for a typical word for cattle. For example: Does God own Behemoth (singular) on a thousand hills in Psalm 50:10 or cattle (plural) on a thousand hills? The terms are identical and have been debated since antiquity.

4) The poetry of Job emphasizes Behemoth’s sexual virility “Behold! His strength is in his loins…. The sinews of his testicles are knit…” “he extends his 'penis' like a cedar” Bulls are prime candidates as symbols for reproductive virility in the Near East.

5) The line about rivers rushing against Behemoth’s mouth seems reminiscent to an idea in Gilgamesh where the mythic bull of heaven drinks up rivers (e.g. see first seg. B, lines 55-63 here). This may be an especially interesting parallel if we agree with Alter’s translation where, “The hyperbolic sense here may be that Behemoth demolishes a whole river in one long, easy gulp.” This sort of mental image was clearly inferred, for example, in Bava Batra 74b.11. 

5) As has often been noted by mainstream scholars, the passage in the Baal Cycle that mentions the Ugaritic version of Leviathan pairs him with a creature the god also defeated called "El’s calf Atik" (also named Arshu) in KTU 1.3 (notice Behemoth is called “the first of the ways of El” in 40:19). It seems an unlikely a coincidence that the Bible should also pair leviathan with a chaos monster whose etymology circumscribes a bull. KTU 1.6 vi:51-53 depicts these two creatures as chaos monsters in dyad similar to what we see in Job: “In the sea are Arshu and the dragon, May Kothar-and-Hasis drive (them) away, May Kothar-and-Hasis cut them off.”   

My Biggest Problem with Young Earth Interpretive Methodology

To end this post, I’ll respond to one of Price’s final objections. These few sentences represent what I believe to be the most important difference between us: 

“The first thing to note is that [the super ox] interpretation abandons any pretense of respect for biblical inerrancy.... As one reads their rather Walton-like appeals to later extrabiblical sources, it can scarcely be missed that the tendency among academics to want to read the Bible through the lens of pagan literature is very much in-vogue.” 

For what it's worth, I upended my life, moved to a major German University and spent months writing my MA thesis specifically on Egyptian and Phoenician influence on First Temple Hebrew art and theology. I was fascinated by such puzzles as: Why did the royal seals of King Hezekiah’s administration bear the sun disk of Re and Egyptian ankhs considering the Bible praises him as an exclusive Yahwist who destroyed all the altars to foreign gods in his lands? Why did Isaiah’s other colleague have the sun god bearing the hemhem crown and uraei cobras on his royal seal? (Anyone interested in the answer can pick up my book.)

What I’m doing is not “Waltonian.” It’s how all ancient literature analysis works. The Bible openly interacts with its surrounding culture so richly that a person simply can’t be literate in academic Bible study or archeology without encountering that fact regularly. We have to read the Bible through the lens of "extra-biblical sources" and “pagan literature” because the biblical authors openly make references to these, indigenously shared in their culture, and spoke a cognate language to them. If your theology doesn’t let you to go with the biblical authors to these sources, then your theology is trying to be more holy than the Bible and is getting in your way of understanding it.

This isn’t just theoretic ivory tower hair splitting either. If creationists had bothered to read the Baal Cycle, one of the most famous ancient Near Eastern texts, they wouldn’t have embarrassed themselves for decades and invited the world to mock the Bible through their claim that fire breathing dragons used to literally exist alongside brachiosauruses in the biblical period. 

Comments

  1. Hi. How plausible is the view that Behemoth's tail is literally a just the tail, and the reference to "sways like a cedar" is referencing how the tail of the bull(or elephant) sways from side to side like a cedar branch, not necessarily the whole cedar tree?

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  2. Look, If the entire young vs. old earth debate comes down to Behemoth's penis - indeed, God has played the most next-level humor game in cosmic history (as we probably should have expected Him to).

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  3. Hi Mr. Stanhope. Thanks for your response. Nobody told me about it, as I haven't been on staff at CMI since earlier this year. I appreciate your taking the time to address my article, though I still feel there are important areas you glossed over in your response. I'm a bit busy at the moment, but I'm working out how I might help continue the conversation going forward. Stay in touch!

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