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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Hippopotamus

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an animal regarded by Bochart (Hieroz. 3, 705), Ludolf (Hist. Aethiop. 1, 11), Shaw (Trav. 2, 299, Lond. 8vo), Scheuzer (Phys. Sac. on Job 40), Rosenmuller (Not. ad Bochart. Hieroz. 3, 705, and Schol. ad Vet. Test. in Job 40), Taylor (Appendix to Calmet's Dict. Bibl. No. 65), Harmer (Observations, 2, 319), Gesenius (Thes. s.v.בְּהֵמוֹת ), Fü rst (Concord. Heb. s.v.), and English commentators generally, as being designated by the Heb. word בְּהֵמוֹת(behemoth' in Job 40:15), by which, however, some writers, as Vatablus, Drusius, Grotils (Crit. Sac. Annotationis ad Job 40), Pfeiffer (Dubia vexata S. S., p. 594, Dresden, 1679), Castell (Lex. Hept. p. 292), A. Schultens (Comment. in Job 40), Michaelis (Suppl. ad Lex. Heb. No. 208), have understood the elephant; while others, again, amongst whom is Lee (Comment. on Job 40 :and Lex. Heb. s.v.בְּהֵמוֹת ), consider the Hebrew term as a plural noun for "cattle" in general; it being left to the reader to apply to the scriptural allusions the particular animal, which may be, according to Lee, "either the horse, or wild ass, or wild bull"(!). Compare also Reiske, Conjecture in Job. p. 167. Dr. Mason Good (Book of Job literally translated, p. 473, Lond. 1712) has hazarded a conjecture that the behemoth denotes some extinct pachyderm like the mammoth, with a view to combine the characteristics of the hippopotamus and elephant, and so to fulfill all the scriptural demands. Compare with this Michaelis (Sup. ad Lex. Heb. No. 208), and Hasaeus (in Dissertat. Syllog. No. 7, § 37, and § 38, p. 506), who rejects with some scorn the notion of the identity of behemoth and mammoth. Dr. Kitto (Pict. Bib. Job 40) and Colonel Hamilton Smith (Kitto's Cycl. Bib. Lit. art. Behemoth). from being unable to make all the scriptural details correspond with any one particular animal, are of opinion that behemoth is a plural term, and is to be taken as a poetical personification of the great pachydermata generally, wherein the idea of hippopotamus is predominant.

The term behemoth would thus be the counterpart of leviathan, the animal mentioned next in the book of Job; which word, although its signification in that passage is restricted to the crocodile, does yet stand in Scripture for a python, or a whale, or some other huge monster of the deep. (See LEVIATHAN). According to the Talmud, behemoth is some huge land-animal which daily consumes the grass off a thousand hills; he is to have, at some future period, a battle with leviathan. On account of his grazing on the mountains, he is called "the bull of the high mountains." (See Lewysohn, Zool. des Talmuds, p. 355). "The fathers,' for the most part," says Cary (Job, p. 402), "surrounded the subject with an awe equally dreadful, and in the behemoth here, and in the leviathan of the next chapter, saw nothing but mystical representations of the devil: others, again, have here pictured to themselves some hieroglyphic monster that has no real existence; but these wild imaginations are surpassed by that of Bolducius, who in the behemoth actually beholds Christ!"

The following reasons seem clearly to identify it with the hippopotamus. 1. The meaning of the original word itself. Gesenius (Thesaurus, p. 183), with whom also Furst agrees (Heb. Lex. s.v.), holds it not to be a Heb. plural, but the Coptic behemoth, "the water-ox" (see Jablonsky, Opusc. 1, 52), equivalent to the ἵππος ποτάμοις ,toc or river-horse of the ancients (Herod. 2, 71; Aristot. Anim. 2, 12 [4]; Diod. Sic. 1, 35; Pliny, 8:39; Ammian. Marcell. 22:15; Abdollatif, Denker. p. 146 sq.; Prosper Alpinus, Res AEg. 4, 12; Ludolph, Hist. _Eth. 1, 11, and Comment. p. 155 sq.; Hasselquist, Tray. p. 280 sq.; Sparrmann, Reise druch siidl. Africa, p. 562 sq.; Ruppell, Arab. Petr. p. 55 sq.; comp. Schneider,.Hist. hippo. vett. crit. in his edit. of Artedi Synon pisc. p. 247 sq., 316 sq.; Bochart, Hieroz. 3, 705 sq.; Oken, Zool. 2, 718 sq.). Rosenmü ller's objection to the Coptic origin of the word is worthy of observation-that, if this were the case, the Sept. interpreters would not have given θηρία as its representative. Michaelis translates בְּהֵמוֹת by jumenta, and thinks the name of the elephant has dropped out ("Mihi videtur nomen elephantis forte פיל excidisse"). Many critics, Rosenmü ller amongst the number, believe the word is the plural majestatis of בְּהֵמָה . But in that case it would hardly be employed with a verb or adj. in the singular, and that masc., as it is.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Hippopotamus'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/h/hippopotamus.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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