What do you Think Behemoth and Leviathan are in Job 40/41?

QUESTION:  What do you think Leviathan is in Job 41… At first I thought crocodile maybe… But the more I read the more it sounded like a dragon, or maybe dinosaur? I’m curious about it and wonder what you think.

RESPONSE: Yes, most Bibles will say in the footnotes that Leviathan is the crocodile and Behemoth is the hippo.  I’ve always resisted that description because it doesn’t seem to fit the size and majesty of the creatures being described. And in some places the description simply doesn’t fit at all.  For example, what Hippo have you seen with a “tail like a Cedar” (Job 40:17)?  It’s a poetic description, granted, but the Hippo’s tail is the LEAST impressive thing about it!  Like a tree, really?

I know that the Hippo tail does stand up straight (like a tree) when threatened, and they are very aggressive, so I’m open to this being the animal that God is referring to.  But Behemoth and Leviathan seem to be much bigger and more impressive than that (41:22-34), and when I was a young earth creationist this was especially compelling evidence that maybe people and dinosaurs must have co-existed.  But the problems with that whole creation model are various so I no longer hold to it.

But then I realized that not even young earth creationists believe that Job lived before Noah and YEC doesn’t believe dinosaurs lived past the flood.  So almost NO Bible scholar believes Job (who lived around the time of Abraham) ever actually SAW or LIVED WITH dinosaurs.

So I felt forced by the evidence to disbelieve God could be referring to dinosaurs since from neither an old earth perspective OR a young earth perspective did Job see these creatures.

Yet, I hold out a possible way to retain the dinosaur idea.  Perhaps while Job never saw a dinosaur he did still KNOW ABOUT them.  How?  Well, perhaps in the exact same way we today know about dinosaurs even though we’ve never seen them – from the rocks.  We tend to think that no one knew about dinosaurs until the 1700’s because that’s when paleontologists first started cataloging them.

But these scientists didn’t make the bones!  In some cases the remains of these enormous “monsters” of the past were found right out in the open.  So surely they could have been known about in ancient times. (They could even have been uncovered by deep digging – since Job 28:1-4 shows Job’s time is familiar with mining.  This would have easily uncovered dinosaur bones as happens today in mining operations around the world.)

If this is true, then perhaps these huge bones became the basis for the relatively common dragon stories that you see in very different, very diverse and completely isolated people groups around the world.  Add to that the common belief in the ancient world that the ocean contained “monsters” (sailors reporting on whales etc.) and these might just be the enormous water and land creatures which Job was familiar with, and to which Behemoth and Leviathan refers.  God of course, might have been referring to extinct beasts which Job had no knowledge of.  Then the descriptions fit AND we aren’t committed to a model that Job coexisted with dinosaurs.  But I assume that Job had to know what these creatures were, since it would make no sense for God to reference them if he didn’t.

Brachiosaurus Statue
Brachiosaurus Statue

I say again, it’s possible because of the poetic license that these are “merely” a hippo and a crocodile.  The point for Job would still be the same:  God’s creatures represent the fact that His power and purposes are beyond Job’s ability to contain or comprehend.  However, because we do know about dinosaurs, we also know that this very point would be so much MORE powerfully made with a Brachiosaurus and a Plesiosaur!

Am I letting that knowledge influence how I look at the text?  Perhaps.  But I think a fair reading does show that Behemoth and Leviathan transcend the size and power of any currently living animals we know (except maybe whales).  And since all the other animals referenced are real animals (the ostrich, the horse) it makes no sense that Behemoth and Leviathan aren’t also real animals. This rules out behemoth and leviathan being mythical creatures God invents just to make a point.

Without more digging (pun not intended), I can’t find a lot of hard evidence that ancient peoples ever did find dinosaur bones.  Still. I can’t believe this never happened, since in recent times, in fossil rich areas (like Montana and Alberta), the bones of very large dinosaurs were found literally staring at us without any excavation in some cases.  And no one has a better explanation for the universality of dragon myths which so closely resemble the basic look of the largest dinosaurs.  It seems at least possible that Job could have had some image of a “thunder lizard” in his head.

So I retain the somewhat whimsical (yet reasonable) notion that God may have been referring to dinosaurs in Job, even though I’ve long ago rejected the Young Earth Creation model that insists humans coexisted with them. Could God not use knowledge of extinct beasts to make the point he’s making in his speech to Job?  I think it’s possible, and it fits the epic descriptions better than hippos and crocodiles… unless we’re talking about this bad boy:

Extinct 40 ft. Crocodile: Sarcosuchus
Extinct 40 ft. Crocodile: Sarcosuchus