Did Job see dinosaurs?
Today's the big day — May 28th, 2007. The long-awaited, $27 million, 60,000 square foot “Creation Museum” opened its doors for the first time in Kentucky, USA. Sponsored by “Answers in Genesis”, the Creation Museum preaches the gospel of young-earth creationism: the Bible teaches the earth is only about six thousand years old, and “true science” backs up the Bible. In keeping with this belief, the park devotes numerous exhibits to convincing visitors that dinosaurs lived alongside mankind until very recent times. We are meant to believe that dinosaurs were taken on board Noah's ark along with parrots, pangolins and pythons.
Young-earth creationists insist that the Bible mentions dinosaurs directly in Job 40:15-24. After outlining the “usual” interpretation that the “behemoth” spoken of in Job was a hippopotamus, elephant, or an ox, and then asserting that “Biblical scholars, both Hebrew and Christian, have never come up with a satisfactory explanation for the meaning of these passages”, Creation Ex Nihilo magazine, September-November 1997 goes on to say,
… the hippopotamus doesn't fit all the facts, as this animal does not have a tail comparable to a cedar tree. However, the description does fit many of the large herbivorous dinosaurs… Such a dinosaur was therefore alive at the time the book of Job was written (p. 40).
Does Job really describe a dinosaur? As this quote shows, their case is based primarily on the statement that,
He moves his tail like a cedar; the sinews of his thighs are tightly knit (40:17).
Hippos, it is argued, don't have a tail like a cedar tree, but some huge grass-eating dinosaurs were equipped with monstrous counter-balancing tails that could be likened to a cedar tree. Thus, Job must have lived with dinosaurs.
Now just possibly Job was talking about a dinosaur, but that doesn't prove he had seen them. We have never seen dinosaurs either, but we know a lot about them. Millions of words have been written about them in recent times but does that prove they live alongside us? Of course not. Yes, people of Job's time may have been far more knowledgeable about matters paleontological than we realize.
The majority opinion that “behemoth” was a hippopotamus makes sense. The Jewish Soncino commentary says that, “In all probability the word is the plural of
behemah, the common Hebrew term for ‘beast, cattle,' and the plural form denotes immensity of size. The hippopotamus was the largest beast known to the Jews [and probably to Job], and this well merited the name behemoth, the beast par excellence”. God was humbling Job by pointing out that he, though a famous and feared man, was a creation of God just as behemoth was, and that he could neither create such a creature (vs. 15) nor tame it — unlike oxen, you could not put a ring in Old Man Hippo's nose (vs. 24). Indeed, even a mighty swordsman would think twice about taking him on face to face (vs. 19).
Job tells us that behemoth, “lies under the lotus trees, in a covert of reeds and marsh” (vs. 22). A huge Apatosaurus (brontosaurus) 30 feet high simply couldn't find shade in such a swampy fen. Indeed, experts are not sure if such creatures even could lie down. How would they get up again? He also tells us that behemoth, “is confident, though the Jordan rush forth to his mouth” (vs. 23, Soncino translation). Hippos are superbly designed for staying on their feet in rushing water. Somehow they are not knocked down by heavy water racing into their open maws. Something about the shape of a 75-foot-long Apatosaurus with enormously long neck and equally long tail doesn't jibe with the idea of wallowing in a raging torrent.
What exactly a contemporary of Job would have understood by likening its tail to a cedar is difficult to say. The verb used in the Hebrew text for “moves” is "haphatz". Found nowhere else, this word is believed by Brown, Driver and Briggs, based on its similarity to words in cognate languages where it is used of birds folding or lowering their wings, to mean “bend down”. The Soncino commentary says that, “The great strength of the animal may be inferred from the muscular stiffness of the tail, which bends like the branch or young stem of a cedar”. From behind a glass wall in a zoo this author watched spellbound as an immersed pygmy hippo thrashed its tail so powerfully it churned up its freshly “dropped” feces, turning the water all around it into a murky haze, in seconds. Move over Popeye — these chaps have real muscles!
The notion that hundreds of species of dinosaurs entered the ark with Noah but that every one of those species was extinct within a few hundred years makes not a lick of sense. Believers can applaud the folk at Creation Museum for taking the Bible seriously and rejecting evolution; if only they would read it a little more carefully.