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Names of gigantic beasts or monsters described in Job xl. The former is from a root denoting "coil," "twist"; the latter is the plural form of "behemah"="beast."

—Biblical Data:

Ever since Bochart ("Hierozoicon," iii. 705), "behemoth" has been taken to denote the hippopotamus; and Jablonski, to make it correspond exactly with that animal, compared an Egyptian form, "p-ehe-mu" (= "water-ox"), which, however, does not exist. The Biblical description contains mythical elements, and the conclusion is justified that these monsters were not real, though the hippopotamus may have furnished in the main the data for the description. Only of a unique being, and not of a common hippopotamus, could the words of Job xl. 19 have been used: "He is the first [A. V. "chief"] of the ways of God [comp. Prov. viii. 22]; he that made him maketh sport with him" (as the Septuagint reads, πεποιημένον ἐγκαταπαιζέσΘαι; A. V. "He that made him can make his sword to approach unto him"; comp. Ps. civ. 26); or "The mountains bring him forth food; where all the beasts of the field do play" (Job xl. 20). Obviously behemoth is represented as the primeval beast, the king of all the animals of the dry land, while leviathan is the king of all those of the water, both alike unconquerable by man (ib. xl. 14, xli. 17-26). Gunkel ("Schöpfung und Chaos," p. 62) suggests that behemoth and leviathan were the two primeval monsters corresponding to Tiamat (= "the abyss"; comp. Hebr. "tehom") and Kingu (= Aramaic "'akna" = serpent") of Babylonian mythology. Some commentators find also in Isa. xxx. 6 ("bahamot negeb" = "beasts of the south") a reference to the hippopotamus; others again, in Ps. lxxiii. 22 ("I am as behemoth [="beasts"; A. V. "a beast"] before thee"); but neither interpretation has a substantial foundation. It is likely that the leviathan and the behemoth were originally referred to in Hab. ii. 15: "the destruction of the behemoth [A. V. "beasts"] shall make them afraid" (comp. LXX., "thee" instead of "them").

E. G. H. K.—In Rabbinical Literature:

According to a midrash, the leviathan was created on the fifth day (Yalḳ., Gen. 12). Originally God produced a male and a female leviathan, but lest in multiplying the species should destroy the world, He slew the female, reserving her flesh for the banquet that will be given to the righteous on the advent of the Messiah (B. B. 74a). The enormous size of the leviathan is thus illustrated by R. Johanan, from whom proceeded nearly all the haggadot concerning this monster: "Once we went in a ship and saw a fish which put his head out of the water. He had horns upon which was written: 'I am one of the meanest creatures that inhabit the sea. I am three hundred miles in length, and enter this day into the jaws of the leviathan'" (B. B. l.c.). When the leviathan is hungry, reports R. Dimi in the name of R. Johanan, he sends forth from his mouth a heat so great as to make all the waters of the deep boil, and if he would put his head into paradise no living creature could endure the odor of him (ib.). His abode is the Mediterranean Sea; and the waters of the Jordan fall into his mouth (Bek. 55b; B. B. l.c.).

The body of the leviathan, especially his eyes, possesses great illuminating power. This was the opinion of R. Eliezer, who, in the course of a voyage in company with R. Joshua, explained to the latter, when frightened by the sudden appearance of a brilliant light, that it probably proceeded from the eyes of the leviathan. He referred his companion to the words of Job xli. 18: "By his neesings a light doth shine, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning" (B. B. l.c.). However, in spite of his supernatural strength, the leviathan is afraid of a small worm called "kilbit" (), which clings to the gills of large fishes and kills them (Shab. 77b).

In the Messianic Times.

The leviathan is prominent in the haggadic literature in connection with the advent of the Messiah. Referring to Job xl. 30 (Hebr.), "and the pious ones [] shall make a banquet of it," R. Johanan says that at the time of the resurrection a banquet will be given by God to the righteous, at which the flesh of the leviathan will be served (B. B. l.c.). Even the hunting of the leviathan will be a source of great enjoyment to the righteous. Those, says R. Judan bar Simon, who have not taken part in pagan sports will be allowed to participate in the hunting of the leviathan and of the behemoth (Lev. R. xiii. 3). Gabriel will be charged with the killing of the monster; but he will not be able to accomplish his task without the help of God, who will divide the monster with His sword. According to another haggadah, when Gabriel fails, God will order the leviathan to engage in a battle with the ox of the mountain ("shor habar"), which will result in death to both of them (B. B. 75a; Pesiḳ. p. 188b). Not only will the flesh of the leviathan furnish food for the table of the righteous, but there will be a great supply of it in the markets of Jerusalem (B. B. l.c.). From the hide of the leviathan God will make tents for the pious of the first rank, girdles for those of the second, chains for those of the third, and necklaces for those of the fourth. The remainder of the hide will be spread on the walls of Jerusalem; and the whole world will be illuminated by its brightness (ib.).

Symbolical Interpretation.

These haggadot concerning the leviathan are interpreted as allegories by all the commentators with the exception of some ultraconservatives like Baḥya ben Asher ("Shulḥan Arba'," ch. iv., p. 9, col. 3). According to Maimonides, the banquet is an allusion to the spiritual enjoyment of the intellect (commentary on Sanh. i.). The name, he says, is derived from (" to join," "to unite"), and designates an imaginary monster in which are combined the most various animals ("Moreh," iii., ch. xxiii.). In the cabalistic literature the "piercing leviathan" and the "crooked leviathan" (Isa. xxvii. 1), upon which the haggadah concerning the hunting of the animal is based, are interpreted as referring to Satan-Samael and his spouse Lilith ("'Emeḳ ha-Melek," p. 130a), while Ḳimḥi, Abravanel, and others consider the expressions to be allusions to the destruction of the powers which are hostile to the Jews (comp. Manasseh ben Israel, "Nishmat Ḥayyim," p. 48; see also Kohut, "Aruch Completum," s. v. "Leviathan," for other references, and his essay in "Z. D. M. G." vol. xxi., p. 590, for the parallels in Persian literature). The haggadic sayings obtained a hold on the imagination of thepoets, who introduced allusions to the banquet of the leviathan into the liturgy.

S. S. I. Br.—In Apocryphal Literature:

Both leviathan and behemoth are prominent in Jewish eschatology. In the Book of Enoch (lx. 7-9), Enoch says:

(Charles, "Book of Enoch," p. 155; comp. "the secret chambers of leviathan" which Elihu b. Berakel the Buzite will disclose, Cant. R. i. 4).

"On that day [the day of judgment] two monsters will be produced: a female monster, named 'Leviathan,' to dwell in the depths of the ocean over the fountains of the waters; but the male is called 'Behemoth,' who occupies with his breast a waste wilderness named 'Dendain' [read "the land of Naid" after LXX., ἐν γη Ναίδ = , Gen. iv. 16], on the east of the garden, where the elect and the righteous dwell. And I besought that other angel that he should show me the might of these monsters; how they were produced on one day, the one being placed in the depth of the sea and the other in the main land of the wilderness. And he spake to me: 'Thou son of man, dost seek here to know what is hidden?'"

According to II Esdras vi. 49-53, God created on the fifth day the two great monsters, leviathan and behemoth, and He separated them because the seventh part of the world which was assigned to the water could not hold them together, and He gave to the behemoth that part which was dried up on the third day and had the thousand mountains which, according to Ps. i. 10, as understood by the haggadists ("the behemoth [A. V. "cattle"] upon a thousand hills"; comp. Lev. R. xxii.; Num. R. xxi.; and Job xl. 20), furnish behemoth with the necessary food. To the leviathan God gave the seventh part of the earth filled with water; and He reserved it for the future to reveal by whom and at what time the leviathan and the behemoth should be eaten.

In the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch, xxix. 4, also, the time is predicted when the behemoth will come forth from his seclusion on land and the leviathan out of the sea, and the two gigantic monsters, created on the fifth day, will serve as food for the elect who will survive in the days of the Messiah.

Among the Gnostics.

Behemoth and leviathan form in the Gnostic system of the Ophites and others two of the seven circles or stations which the soul has to pass in order to be purged and to attain bliss (Hippolytus, "Adversus Omnes Hæreses," v. 21; Origen, "Contra Celsum," vi. 25). As if the meat of the "wild ox" behemoth and the fish leviathan were not deemed sufficient for the great banquet of the righteous in the future, a fowl was added, i.e., the "ziz" (A. V. "the wild beasts" of the field), mentioned in Ps. 1. 11 after the account of the behemoth in verse 10, and understood by the Rabbis to signify a gigantic bird (B. B. 73b). Thus the Apocalypse of Simeon b. Yoḥai (Jellinek, "B. H." iii. 76) has the three animals, the monster ox behemoth, the fish leviathan, and the gigantic bird ziz, prepared for the great banquet. This tradition, however, indicates Persian influence, for it is of the Parsee cosmology that the existence of such primeval representatives of the classes of animals is a part. There are four such species mentioned in "Bundahis," xviii.-xix.: (1) "the serpent-like Kar fish, the Arizh of the water, the greatest of the creatures of Ahuramazda," corresponding to the leviathan; (2) the three-legged ass Khara, standing in the midst of the ocean ("Yasna," xli. 28); it is mentioned in the Talmud as the "unicorn ḳeresh," "ṭigras" (i.e., "thrigaṭ" = "three-legged"), the gazel of the heights (Ḥul. 59b), and forms, under the name "Ḥarish," in Mohammedan eschatology a substitute for behemoth and leviathan (see Wolff, " Muhammedanische Eschatologie," 1872, pp. 174, 181); (3) the ox Hadhayosh, from which the food of immortality is prepared, and which forms the parallel of behemoth; and (4) the bird Chamrosh, the chief of the birds, which lives on the summit of Mount Alburz (comp. "Bundahis," xix. 15); compare also Simurgh (Avesta "Saena Meregha," eagle-bird, griffin, Hebraized "Bar Yokneh"), the fabulous giant-bird, which the Rabbis identified with ziz (see Windischman, "Zoroastrische Studien," pp. 91-93; West, "Pahlavi Texts," in Max Müller, "S. B. E." v. 65-71).

  • The commentaries of Dillmann, Delitzsch, and others on Job;
  • Gunkel, Schöpfung und Chaos, Göttingen, 1895;
  • Eisenmenger, Entdecktes Judenthum, ii. 296 et seq., 873 et seq.;
  • Weber, System der Altsynagogalen Theologie, 1880, p. 195;
  • Hastings, Dict. Bible;
  • Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl.
E. G. H. K.
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