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Behemoth in the Netherlands

In 2007, I was invited to speak at a Christian youth camp in the Netherlands. In one of my talks, on the subject of dinosaurs, I referred, as I often do, to the “behemoth,” as mentioned in Job 40:15. Even with an able translator, this caused a certain amount of confusion, as I then went on, as I often do, to comment on how many Bibles footnote this creature, and describe it as a hippopotamus or an elephant. The 1984 edition of the New International Version does this, though I am pleased to note that this footnote has been removed in the 2011 edition. However, the children were all using a Dutch translation of the Bible (Het Boek in Dutch) which was produced by the International Bible Society (IBS)— precisely the same organization that translated the NIV in English. The first source of confusion was that Dutch uses different verse numbers. This is OK — chapter and verse numbers are not inspired. So, the verse that in English is Job 40:15, in Dutch it turns out to be Job 40:10.

Kijk eens naar het nijlpaard. Ik heb hem gemaakt, net zoals Ik u heb gemaakt. Hij eet gras als een os.

The problem will become clearer when I give you the literal English translation of the Dutch version (according to Google Translate).

Look at the hippo. I made it, just as I have made [you]​​. He eats grass like an ox.

So the IBS, in their Dutch version, have not footnoted the suggestion that “behemoth” means “hippo”; they have actually put that word into the text.

I have no personal knowledge of this Dutch translation, other than this verse, nor of any other possible Dutch translations. And even formal equivalent English translations will sometimes choose an English word that the translators think is right, when it might not be. This problem underlines the need to address what the original language actually says, and to take account of descriptions in context. R.A. Torrey, in his Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge, has this to say about “behemoth”:

Perhaps an extinct dinosaur, maybe a Diplodocus or Brachiosaurus, the exact meaning is unknown. Some translate as elephant or hippopotamus but from the description in Job 40:15-24, this is patently absurd.1

  1. Torrey, R.A., Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge, (online version), < http://www.biblestudytools.com/concordances/treasury-of-scripture-knowledge/job-40-15.html >
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