Behemoth

Variations: Shor Ha-bar (“Wild Ox”), Bahamut, Bahamoot

Behemoth

Behemoth is the plural form of the Hebrew behemah, or “animal”; appropriately, the word is used to describe a creature of vast size and bulk.

The best-known reference to Behemoth is offered in the Biblical book of Job (40:15-24), where it is mentioned in God’s whirlwind tour of humbling natural wonders. The Behemoth eats grass like an ox, and its strength is in its muscular loins and tight-knit thigh sinews. Its tail stiffens like a cedar, its bones are like bronze, and its legs like iron bars. Despite its power, it is apparently passive and indolent, lying in marshes under lotus plants, and feeding in the mountains alongside the wild animals. Behemoth does not fear the river when it rushes into its mouth, and cannot be taken with hooks; only God can approach it.

Psalms 50:10 makes reference to “the behemoth on a thousand hills”, nowadays translated to “the cattle on a thousand hills”. The Midrash elaborates on that, making the Behemoth large enough to sit on the thousand mountains it feeds on, and making it drink six to twelve months’ worth of the Jordan River in one gulp.

The Talmud gives the Behemoth further cosmic significance. The behemoth were created male and female, but to prevent them destroying the Earth, God castrated the male and preserved the female in the World-to-Come for the righteous. This vision of the Behemoth has been interpreted as metaphoric, with the Behemoth representing materialism and the physical world.

If Behemoth is an animal known to us today, the primary candidates are the wild ox, the elephant, and the hippopotamus. The wild ox seems dubious, otherwise the Behemoth would not eat grass “like” an ox. The elephant’s trunk may have been the basis for the “tail”, but the description refers to stiffening, something which the hippo’s tail does. Another possibility is that the “tail” is in a fact a euphemism, and the description refers to the virility and vigor of the bull hippopotamus. Further details – living in water, feeding on land, a mouth big enough for the Jordan to rush into, terrifying power – all but prove that the hippopotamus is the subject of Job’s verses. Bochart agreed, heading his discussion of Behemoth with “non esse elephantum, ut volunt, sed hippopotamum“.

The Arabian Bahamut is a further magnification of the already-large Behemoth, turning it into a vast cosmic fish, one of the foundations on which the Earth stands. It is so big that all the seas and oceans of the Earth placed in its nostril would be like a mustard seed in a desert.

Behemoth is now a synonym for any large animal. Buel gives us behemoth as a possible originator of the word “mammoth”, alongside the Latin mamma and the Arabic mehemot.

The suggestion that Behemoth is a late-surviving dinosaur is best left unaddressed.

References

Bochart, S. (1675) Hierozoicon. Johannis Davidis Zunneri, Frankfurt.

Borges, J. L.; trans. Hurley, A. (2005) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Viking.

Buel, J. W. (1887) Sea and Land. Historical Publishing Company, Philadelphia.

Coogan, M. D.; Brettler, M. Z.; Newsom, C.; Perkins, P. (eds.) (2010) The New Oxford Annotated Bible. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Slifkin, N. (2011) Sacred Monsters. Zoo Torah, Jerusalem.

Yedua

Variations: Jeduah, Jidoa, Feduah, Fedoui, Fadua, Adne Hasadeh, Adnei Ha-sadeh, Adne Sadeh, Abne Hasadeh, Avnei Ha-sadeh, Bar Nash D’tur, Jidra (erroneously)

Yedua

The Talmudic equivalent of the Barometz, the Barnacle Goose, and other zoophytes is the Yedua. This name was used by Rabbi Meir, and these creatures are the yidoni of Leviticus 31:19, often translated to “wizards” in English. The exact pronunciation of the name is debatable, although one variation (“Jidra”) appears to be a misreading of Jidoa as used by Lewysohn. The yedua is also known as Adne Hasadeh (“lords of the field” or “men of the field”), Abne Hasadeh (“stones of the field”), or Bar Nash D’Tur (“man of the field”).

The size of the yedua is unspecified, but it has a human shape, having a face, body, arms, and feet.  However, Rabbi Jochanan, following Moses Chusensis of Ethiopia on the authority of Rabbi Simeon, believed the yedua to be a vegetable lamb, perhaps after confusion with the barometz. This wild man of the mountains lives through its navel, which connects it to the ground with a stem like that of a gourd or pumpkin. If this umbilicus is cut or uprooted the yedua dies. It will maul and kill any living thing within the radius of its stem, and will eat all vegetation within that circle. It is impure, and its body causes spiritual impurity in buildings.

It is valuable in witchcraft, as its bones placed in the mouth, along with certain incantations, allow one to see the future. Yedua hunters killed their quarry by shooting arrows into the navel-stem from a safe distance.

The account of the yedua can be read as an early observation of apes. Rabbi Lipschutz believed the yedua to be inspired by relict populations of chimpanzees or orangutans in the Lebanese cedar forests. The origin of the creature appears to have come about by a simple misspelling that turned tur (“field”) into tavur (“navel”).

References

Coogan, M. D.; Brettler, M. Z.; Newsom, C.; Perkins, P. (eds.) (2010) The New Oxford Annotated Bible. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Laufer, B. (1915) The Story of the Pinna and the Syrian Lamb. The Journal of American Folk-lore, vol. XXVIII, no. CVIII, pp. 103-128.

Lee, H. (1887) The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary. Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington, London.

Lewysohn, L. (1858) Die Zoologie des Talmuds. Joseph Baer, Frankfurt.

Ley, W. (1959) Exotic Zoology. The Viking Press, New York.

Slifkin, N. (2011) Sacred Monsters. Zoo Torah, Jerusalem.