To see other posts in this series, please go to the series’ page.
When I was a child I was obsessed with dinosaurs. Our VHS copy of The Land Before Time received quite a workout, as did Dinosaurs! A Fun-Filled Trip Back in Time (featuring the adorable Fred Savage), as well as a Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood special episode on dinosaurs that my younger brother received as a birthday present. And when I wasn’t digging to China in my sandbox, I was diligently sifting sand searching for dinosaur fossils. I had dinosaur toys, read plenty of dinosaur books, and when ABC premiered the sitcom Dinosaurs in 1991, I was right there in the living room glued to the TV shouting, “Not the mama!” For a significant part of my childhood, I was in love with those terrible lizards.
I also grew up being taught that the universe and the earth were only six-thousand years old. This meant that dinosaurs and humans once co-existed. There was, of course, no direct evidence for this, yet it was the inevitable conclusion of reading the Bible: if land animals and humans were created on the same day (Genesis 1:24-31), and dinosaurs were land animals, then dinosaurs and humans were created on the same day and lived side-by-side on the antediluvian earth. But if humans and dinosaurs lived together, why didn’t the Bible mention it? This seemed like a literally huge fact that the Bible overlooked! Or did it?
Dinosaurs in the Bible
One of the books my father would read to me before bed was Dinosaurs: Those Terrible Lizards, a children’s book written by the late young earth creationist Duane Gish. Though the book is currently in storage, I can still remember learning that God made dinosaurs in the beginning and that the Bible does mention them! According to Gish, the ancient book of Job mentions a creature named “behemoth” that seems to fit the description.
Gish, as I would discover, was not alone in his take on behemoth. In the third volume of The Modern Creation Trilogy, Henry Morris and his son John wrote that in the book of Job “God…described a huge land dragon called behemoth (Job 40:15-24) that ‘moveth his tail like a cedar’ and is ‘the chief of the ways of God,’ and was impossible to capture (verses 17, 19, 24).” These descriptions of “dragons,” they contended, are the dinosaurs of modern paleontology.And when I took a biology class at Pensacola Christian College in 2002, the required textbook had this to say about the subject:
Although the Bible does not use the term “dinosaur” (the term was first used in 1842), many Bible scholars believe the two creatures God describes in Job 40-41 may have been dinosaurs living during the time of Job….
Many creationists think that Behemoth.., a giant land animal described in Job chapter 40 as being extremely large, living near a brook, and eating plant matter, may have been a type of sauropod.”
Science, it appeared, had some catching up to do with the Bible!
Though I abandoned both young earth creationism and the view that the Bible describes dinosaurs (long before I abandoned Christianity altogether), it is still a position held by many a believer, including Ray Comfort in his book Scientific Facts in the Bible. He begins by posing a question: “Why did the dinosaurs disappear? This is something that has modern science mystified, but the Bible may have the answer….” Comfort then goes on to quote Job 40:15-24 and lays out the characteristics of the creature the text describes:
- “This was the largest of all creatures God made.
- It was plant-eating (herbivorous).
- It had tremendous strength in its hips and belly.
- Its tail was like a large tree (a cedar).
- Its bones were as strong as bronze and iron.
- Its habitat was among the trees.
- It could stand unmoved in the midst of a raging river.
- It was impervious to snares.”
Then quoting v. 19, Comfort concludes, “This massive creature could not be threatened by man, but only by its Creator. Perhaps God caused this, the largest of all the creatures He had made, to become extinct.”
But is this right? Does Job 40:15-24 describe a dinosaur? And is it true that modern science has no idea what happened to the dinosaurs?
“Look at Behemoth”
In order to understand the nature of the beast, we must begin with its name: “Look at Behemoth,” Yahweh tells Job, “which I made just as I made you” (Job 40:15, NRSV). The word which the NRSV has translated as “Behemoth” is actually not a translation at all but a transliteration. That is, the word “Behemoth” is the Hebrew substantive bĕhēmōwt, itself a plural form of the singular bĕhēmâ which often refers to cattle or other “beasts” (e.g. Genesis 1:24, 2:20, etc.). But though bĕhēmōwt is plural, the attendant descriptions of him and his activity are in the singular. To appreciate how out of the ordinary this is, it helps to know two fundamental aspects of Hebrew nouns and verbs.
- Hebrew nouns have a gender (male or female) and a number (singular or plural).
- Hebrew verbs agree with their subjects in both gender and number.
- Therefore, a subject whose gender is feminine and number is singular will be accompanied by a verb that is both feminine in gender and singular in number.
The noun bĕhēmōwt is feminine in gender and plural in number but the verbs used to describe it are masculine in gender and singular in number. This is, in a word, odd. And that should be our first clue that what is being described is out of the ordinary. This is confirmed by the description of the creature that follows.
Virility and Tenacity
At the end of v. 15, we are told that Behemoth “eats grass like an ox,” an image that certainly plays down any idea that this is a ferocious creature like Leviathan, a being so terrifying that Yahweh asks, “Who can confront it and be safe? – under the whole heaven, who?” (41:11) Yet this vegetarian diet belies its formidable form, and the Joban author, through the use of biblical parallelism, emphasizes the beast’s virility and massive physique.
What Comfort regards as innocent references to Behemoth’s physical strength and large tail (vv. 16-17) are almost certainly references to its virility. This is particularly clear in v. 17:
A: “It makes its tail stiff like a cedar;
B: the sinews of its thighs are knit together.”
The NRSV’s translation of line B is consistent with many English translations (e.g. ESV, NASB, NIV, etc.). The older King James Version is slightly different: “the sinews of his stones are wrapped together.” Readers familiar with the often-archaic language of the KJV will recognize that “stones” is a euphemism for testicles. The underlying Hebrew word, paḥădōw, is in all likelihood borrowed from the Aramaic noun paḥda’ (“testicle”). Thus, the KJV seems to capture the sense of line B more accurately than the NRSV.
If line B is speaking of Behemoth’s genitalia, then it is likely that line A would also be (in keeping with the nature of synonymous parallelism that runs throughout these verses). Comfort understands line A as referring to the size of its tail and therefore thinks that such a description coheres with it being some kind of dinosaur. But the text isn’t describing the size of the tail but rather its stiffness: “He stiffens [yḥpṣ] his tail [zĕnābô] like a cedar” (my translation). Moreover, while a tail (zānāb) is quite often just a tail, it also functions euphemistically as a reference to the penis. Since dinosaurs were reptiles and generally speaking reptiles do not have external genitalia, v. 17 cannot refer to a dinosaur as Comfort suggests.
Similarly, v. 16 seems to be describing the virility of Behemoth.
A: “Its strength is in its loins,
B: and its power in the muscles of its belly.”
In his translation of Job, Robert Alter points out that the Hebrew word rendered “its loins” (motnāyw) is by way of metonymy a reference to Behemoth’s sexual prowess. Additionally, the word rendered “its power” is “the Hebrew term ‘on [which] is characteristically used for sexual potency.” In sum, v. 16 in tandem with v. 17 refers to the virility of Behemoth. But it cannot refer to a dinosaur since it is unlikely that they possessed external genitalia to which the Joban author could refer. Another creature must have been in the mind of the author.
Behemoth’s powerful physique is described in v. 18:
A: “Its bones are tubes of bronze,
B: “its limbs like bars of iron.”
This is a textbook example of synonymous parallelism. The first line is reinforced by the second, emphasizing the creature’s strength and setting up the discussion of its tenacity in v. 23. Behemoth, therefore, is “solidly constructed” and “can withstand any force that may be brought against it.” It is a creature par excellence.
El’s First Great Act
If the description of vv. 16-18 didn’t make Behemoth’s supremacy abundantly clear, then what Yahweh says to Job in v. 19 surely does: “It is the first of the great acts of God – only its Maker can approach it with the sword.” The NRSV masks the word underlying its translation of “God” in this verse. Rather than the often used ʾĕlōhîm, the text speaks of ʾēl (El) the name of an ancient deity of the Canaanite pantheon. Mark Smith writes,
The original god of Israel was El. This reconstruction may be inferred from two pieces of information. First, the name of Israel is not a Yahwistic name with the divine element of Yahweh, but an El name, with the element, *’ēl. This fact would suggest that El was the original chief god of the group named Israel. Second, Genesis 49:24-25 presents a series of El epithets separate from the mention of Yahweh in verse 18….
While it is tempting to believe the Joban author is speaking of two distinct deities – Yahweh on the one hand and El on the other – it is clear from v. 15 that he equates Yahweh with El. This suggests that the poetry here represents a later stage in Israelite religion in which Yahweh had already merged with El.
Yet the mention of El and the claim that Behemoth is “the first of the great acts of [ʾēl]” suggests that this creature belongs to a primordial age, one connected with a time when Job’s god turned watery chaos into order (cf. Job 26:7-13). This is another clue that what the text is describing is out of the ordinary. An additional clue is found in the second line: “only its Maker can approach it with the sword.” Though an entity made by Yahweh, Behemoth must be approached by its maker with a weapon. While on one level such language “symbolizes [God’s] complete mastery of the beast,”  there is still something out of the ordinary going on.
A Lord of Creation
In vv. 20-24, the author further describes Behemoth’s impressiveness and tenacity. First, v. 20 states that the “mountains yield food [bûl] for it.” The image is one of lord and vassal wherein the former presents gifts in tribute to the latter. This lordship imagery continues in the second line of the couplet: “where all the wild animals play [yĕśaḥăqû].” On the mountains, under Behemoth’s watchful eye, the wild animals are free to frolic. This need not mean that Behemoth dwells on the mountains, only that the wild animals are on them and that the mountains are subservient to him. The description of vv. 21-23, after all, suggests that Behemoth spends considerable time in the water. But the point seems to be that as the creation par excellence, the rest of creation is almost nothing compared to him. He is so massive that the mountains are that which yields him food. Moreover, he hides among “lotus trees” and doesn’t fear even when the turbulent Jordan river rushes against him. Verse 24 alerts us to Behemoth’s tenacity: there is no one who can capture it. That is, no one except its maker (v. 19).
Is Behemoth a Dinosaur?
Comfort’s conclusion that Behemoth is a dinosaur is little more than wishful thinking. Since dinosaurs were reptiles, the description of its “tail” (i.e. penis) and testicles in v. 15 suggests something more mammalian. Moreover, the form of its name – bĕhēmōwt – is plural yet all the accompanying language concerning it is singular. But that isn’t all. It is not only plural in form but it is an intensive plural, evoking imagery of a kind of super animal. It’s association with the ancient deity El (v. 19) and Leviathan (ch. 41) as well as its larger-than-life description speak to an animal of mythic proportions, not something as terrestrial as a dinosaur.
So, what is it? Though many scholars have seen in this description the hippopotamus, I think that the creature is something more ancient and cosmic. It is not possible to go in depth on the subject here but it suffices to say that given its association with Leviathan, a beast of Canaanite lore, it is possible that Behemoth is modeled after “Rebel, the calf of El” spoken of in the Ugaritic Baal Cycle. As Chris Hansen notes, “This element [i.e. Rebel, the calf of El] can be related back to Behemoth, who is likewise a bull or bovine animal and a companion of Leviathan, just as this bull [i.e. Rebel, the calf of El] is the companion of Lotan.” In my opinion, this is the view that makes the most sense of most of the data.
What Happened to the Dinosaurs?
Behemoth is not a dinosaur; my apologies to Comfort. But there is yet one issue with which we must deal: what happened to the dinosaurs? Comfort contends that the issue has “mystified” science. Is this true? To answer that question, I asked my friend Jackson Wheat to write a short section for this post on the matter. For those who do not know him, Wheat is doing undergraduate studies toward a degree in biology and in his spare time maintains a Twitter presence and a YouTube channel. On top of all that, he has written a tome with James Downard entitled The Rocks Were There: Straight Science Answers to Bent Creationist Questions (volume 1). Without further ado, here is Mr. Wheat to close the blog post.
JACKSON WHEAT ON THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE DINOSAURS
Hello! Thanks for having me. I’m honored to be given a space on your blog. Now, what really happened to the dinosaurs? This question has tugged on both researchers and the general public for well over a century. After the naming of the clade Dinosauria in 1842 by Sir Richard Owen and the subsequent discovery of dozens of dinosaur genera during the Bone Wars (1870s-80s), the question of “Where are they now?” was popularly raised. In one sense, they never left; birds are the sole living descendants of dinosaurs. In another, the non-avian dinosaurs were wiped out by a cataclysm unlike anything anyone alive today has ever experienced (though there is a conversation to be had about decreasing dinosaur diversity in the late Cretaceous and smaller extinction events, that would take us too far afield).
A meteor struck our pale blue dot about 66 million years ago in what is today the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. We know this from a number of meteor-specific markers, such as shock quartz at the scene of the crash and a global layer of the element iridium at the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary. This element is quite rare on Earth, but it is abundant in celestial rocks, providing a good deal of evidence for the impact. In addition to this, in 2019, the late Cretaceous Tanis fossil site was discovered in North Dakota (linked below), showing fish killed just literal hours after the meteor struck.
What do creationists make of all this? Well, that depends. For years, creationists vehemently denied that a meteor ever struck Earth. I even posted a video on my channel titled “Response to Light Sensitive Species and the Cretaceous Extinction” (linked below) in which the crew at the Institute for Creation Research was arguing for no meteor. However, as RJ Downard and I show in our new book The Rocks Were There (linked below), the guys and gals at Answers in Genesis, including Ken Ham and Andrew Snelling, argue for a meteor—albeit, having it strike Earth during the global flood. Although the head honchos at either organization want to pretend creationism is a unified front, it is anything but. Of course, you can read all about it in our new book.
“A seismically induced onshore surge deposit at the KPg boundary, North Dakota”: https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/116/17/8190.full.pdf
“Response to Light Sensitive Species and the Cretaceous Extinction”: https://youtu.be/Ji2eebe6Iec
“The Rocks Were There: Straight Science Answers to bent Creationist Questions, Volume 1”: https://www.amazon.com/Rocks-Were-There-Creationist-Questions/dp/B0858TGBQX/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1587698547&sr=8-1
Acknowledgements: In addition to writing a section for this post, Jackson Wheat was gracious enough to answer questions I had about reptilian genitalia, a topic I’m sure was thrilling to discuss!
 Duane T. Gish, Dinosaurs: Those Terrible Lizards (El Cajon, CA: Master Books, 1977).
 Henry M. Morris and John D. Morris, The Modern Creation Trilogy, vol. 3: Scripture & Creation (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 1996), 208.
 Morris and Morris, The Modern Creation Trilogy, vol. 3: Scripture and Creation, 210. Morris and Morris also contend that the obsession with dinosaurs that began in the 90s is the product of Satanic influence and hastening on of the “new age.” See their discussion on pp. 207-212.
 Biology: God’s Living Creation, second edition, Gregory Parker and Brian Ashbaugh, editors (Pensacola, FL: A Beka Book, 1997), 494. There are virtually no Bible scholars in the 90s or even earlier who would have contended that the beasts mentioned in Job 40-41 were dinosaurs, and the textbook offers no citation that would make us think otherwise.
 Ray Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible: Amazing Truths Written Thousands of Years Before Man Discovered Them (Bellflower, CA: Living Waters Publications, 2016).
 Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible, 8.
 Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible, 9.
 Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible, 9.
 Unless otherwise noted, all quotations from the Hebrew Bible are from the New Revised Standard Version.
 For an overview of Hebrew nouns and verbs, see Christo H.J. van der Merwe, Jackie A. Naudé, and Jan H. Kroeze, A Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 53-56.
 For an overview of Hebrew poetry and the phenomenon of biblical parallelism in Hebrew poetry, see William Sanford Lasor, David Allan Hubbard, and Fredric William Bush, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament, second edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 231-242; Wilfred G.E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry: A Guide to Its Techniques (Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1986), 114-159; J. P. Fokkelman, Reading Biblical Poetry: An Introductory Guide, Ineke Smit, translator (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 61-86.
 For example, in Leviticus 21:20 KJV the one “who hath his stones broken” is not allowed to serve in the Aaronic priesthood. Modern translations either render the underlying Hebrew with the word “eunuch” (e.g. NKJV) or refer to damaged or crushed testicles (e.g. NRSV, NIV, NASB, ESV).
 Robert Alter, The Wisdom Books: A Translation with Commentary (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010), 170; Edward L. Greenstein, Job: A New Translation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2019), 178.
 This is essentially the translation offered by David Clines (though he uses neuter pronouns rather than masculine). Clines also discusses the root ḥpṣ which is shared with the verb ḥāpēṣ (“he delights”). “Stiffens,” he contends, is valid based upon context. See the discussion in David J. A. Clines, Job 38-42, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2011), 1150-1151.
 Edward L. Greenstein, Job: A New Translation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2019), 178; Samuel E. Ballentine, Job (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2006) ,684; John E. Hartley, The Book of Job, New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 525; cf. Jeffrey Boss, The Human Consciousness of God in the Book of Job: A Theological and Psychological Commentary (New York: T&T Clark International, 2010), 206.
 Alter, The Wisdom Books, 170. Alter translates v. 16, “Look, pray: the power in his loins, the virile strength in his belly’s muscles.”
 Hartley, Job, 525.
 Ballentine, Job, 684.
 Mark S. Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel, Kindle edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002), location 1045; see also K.L. Noll, Canaan and Israel in Antiquity: A Textbook on History and Religion, second edition (London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2013), 135-136.
 For an overview of this process, see Smith, The Early History of God, Kindle edition, locations 1397-1437.
 Hartley, Job, 525; cf. Carol A. Newsom, The Book of Job: A Contest of Moral Imaginations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 250.
 Hartley, Job, 525; Greenstein, Job, 179; cf. Clines, Job 38-42, 1189; Gray, The Book of Job (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2010), 494. In Alter’s translation (The Wisdom Books, 170), he translates the Hebrew, “For the mountains offer their yield to him.”
 Hartley, Job, 525-526.
 Clines (Job 38-42, 1145, 1153) thinks “mountains” is wrong, in part because he believes Behemoth is a reference to a hippopotamus. He thinks the reading should be, “The rivers bring to it their produce….”
 Ballentine, Job, 683.
 E.g. Clines, Job 38-42, 1185-1186.
 See “The Baal Cycle,” Mark S. Smith, translator, in Ugaritic Narrative Poetry, Simon B. Parker, editor (Society of Biblical Literature, 1997), 111.
 Christopher Hansen, The Book of Job: A Small Introduction for Beginners, Kindle Edition (self-published, n.d.), location 322.
 For an overview, see Bernard F. Batto, “Behemoth,” Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, second edition, Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst, editors (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 167-168. Both Hansen (The Book of Job) and Batto make much of Marvin Pope’s commentary on the book of Job concerning this particular subject. (Commentators in general look to Pope on all of Job as a survey of numerous commentaries shows.) However, I do not possess Pope’s commentary yet and so cannot make my own assessment of his argument.
Featured image by Alexsomber: Wikimedia Commons.