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BEHEMOTH

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BEHEMOTH

Postby Dr. Goodword » Thu Dec 13, 2012 12:08 am

• behemoth •


Pronunciation: bi-hee-mêth • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A Biblical animal of enormous dimensions. 2. A huge, frightful person or thing.

Notes: We have a single offspring of today's Good Word, an adjective, behemothian. This adjective crept into the language at the beginning of the 20th century, then crept out again almost as soon at it arrived. The Oxford English Dictionary claims that it is used mostly in poetry.

In Play: Today's word works well when referring to a large, surly person: "The bouncer at the bar was a behemoth whom I politely obeyed when asked to leave." On the other hand, it may be used to refer to any object of unusually large size, whether surly or not: "The one-volume Oxford English Dictionary is a behemoth with print so small, it comes with a magnifying glass to read the entries."

Word History: Today's Good Word came immediately from the Latin word behemoth taken from the Hebrew b'hemoth, which referred to some kind of huge beast in biblical times (Job 40:15). This word is assumed to be the intensive plural of b'hemah "beast". But the Hebrew word could be a borrowing of Egyptian pehemau "water-ox", which is what the Egyptians called a hippopotamus, similar to the Greek word hippopotomos "river horse". (Today's Good Word was suggested by Rob Towart, he of seemingly behemothian vocabulary.)
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Re: BEHEMOTH

Postby MTC » Thu Dec 13, 2012 8:18 am

No doubt the inspiration for "MOTHra..."

But Lepidopterology aside, what I find especially interesting about this word is that Latin borrowed it from Hebrew. We are inundated with words English borrowed from Latin, but rarely see words Latin borrowed from languages other than Greek. I struggled to locate this apparently rare species through a Google search, but drew a blank. Emails to classicists at various universities were similarly unproductive. Perhaps Dr. Goodword or the posting community have some thoughts or suggestions? The Romans as an occupying force must have absorbed at least some words from local vocabularies. "Behemoth" proves borrowing can not have been entirely a one-way street.
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Re: BEHEMOTH

Postby Perry Lassiter » Thu Dec 13, 2012 1:02 pm

Hadn't thought of that. Particularly because the written evidence doesn't indicate it was a common word. There are many other Hebrew/Aramaic words one would expect to find before this one.
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Re: BEHEMOTH

Postby bamaboy56 » Thu Dec 13, 2012 5:51 pm

I heard or read somewhere that behemoth might refer to the whale that swallowed Jonah. Somehow that stuck in my mind.
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Re: BEHEMOTH

Postby Slava » Thu Dec 13, 2012 8:42 pm

The cat in Bulgakov's "Master and Margarita" is named Begemot.

This site has a great picture of one incarnation.
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Re: BEHEMOTH

Postby Philip Hudson » Thu Dec 13, 2012 11:00 pm

In cabalistic mythology, Behemoth is the primal unconquerable monster of the land, as Leviathan is the primal monster of the waters of the sea and Ziz the primordial monster of the sky. The story is that Leviathan and the Behemoth will fight each other to the death at the end of the age. Mankind will then feast upon their bodies at the culmination of the age (along with that of Ziz?). Please do not take this as official teaching of any religion. Think myth. Some, not so swuft, Christian mystics transmogrified this into a prophecy that at the end of the age, at the marriage feast of the Lamb, these three monsters will be slain and eaten. Here again, not accepted doctrine of any religion. Has anyone else countered these myths? It comes to me from the arcane mist of my wasted youth.
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Re: BEHEMOTH

Postby Slava » Thu Dec 13, 2012 11:49 pm

Philip Hudson wrote:Has anyone else countered these myths?

Countered, or encountered? I admit I have done neither the one nor the other. Big difference, though, I'd say.
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Re: BEHEMOTH

Postby Philip Hudson » Fri Dec 14, 2012 12:38 am

Slava: The fickle finger of fate must have keyed in "countered". I intended "encountered".
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Re: BEHEMOTH

Postby Perry Lassiter » Fri Dec 14, 2012 1:05 am

My iPad has a wretched habit of omitting "er" from time to time. At first I thought it was just me, but over time, I found that was the only two letters that did that.

I thought of Leviathon when first reading the definition for whatever reason. When I get some time (or take it) i may explore it further.
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Re: BEHEMOTH

Postby Slava » Fri Dec 14, 2012 1:32 am

Philip Hudson wrote:Slava: The fickle finger of fate must have keyed in "countered". I intended "encountered".

I guess that would be two fingers, the "e" and the "n" that were AWOL. Or do you type in German? :wink:
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Re: BEHEMOTH

Postby Philip Hudson » Fri Dec 14, 2012 1:50 am

Yeah, two letters omitted, but I think fate has only one fickle finger.
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Re: BEHEMOTH

Postby eberntson » Sun Dec 16, 2012 4:33 pm

So Philip Hudson's definitions of Behemoth & Leviathan jive mostly with my understanding, although I prefer to simplify and say they are just hippopotamus and crocodile respectively, Jonah aside. As for Ziz, I had to look it up, granted in much more tame Judeo-Christian references, and can only find 2 references 1) a bloom, and 2) the pass of Ain Jidy near the Dead Sea. Cabalistic mythology seems fascinating, but it was outside of my realm religious studying. I looked at English, Greek, and Hebrew sources and was unable to find Ziz as a creature of the air. However, I did find it on the web as a favorite trinity of monsters of German rabbis, that will be served at the Messionic banquet at the end of days.
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Re: BEHEMOTH

Postby Perry Lassiter » Mon Dec 17, 2012 6:43 pm

As I sorta promised above, I finally got around to researching the word in a couple of supposedly authoritative books. Biblical Hebrew is written in consonants, leaving us to argue over the vowels until some scribes labeled Massoretes, inserted them according to their opinions. As scholars do about everything, they often question those vowels.

Behemoth (bhm'th) is related to cattle (bhm) and may simply be as the Doc suggests an intensive plural, also called the plural of majesty. In Genesis, God says, "Let US make man..." Some interpret this as a reference to the Trinity, others to a heavenly council (see Job 1), and still others call it a plural of majesty. Shakespeare has his kings do this all the time, and some continue to speak of themselves in the plural as an act of humility. I have friends who will hear someone plurally say "we attend this church" ask whether they have a frog in their pocket.

Consensus is hippo, but there's dissension. (After all, if everyone agreed, what would you write theses and dissertations on?) The crocodile thing comes from an emendation of the text, often done. Our manuscripts, of course, are handwritten and even then not everyone had perfect penmanship all the time. Others stay with cattle, since Israel seemed regularly to portray Yahweh as a bull, viz the golden calf and the two calves Jereboam set up at Bethel and Dan.

Alert, those with tender minds turn your heads a minute. The reference in the passage to a stiff tail may well be a polite reference to a huge male organ, which helps the giant bull possibility.

Remember this is poetry, gorgeous poetry at that, and the author was not trying to communicate the DNA of the beast. In short, the passage has God asking Job whether he could effectively deal with or even understand this colossal animal which the Lord has made.

There is also the possibility that the writer refers to an Egyptian red or white hippo cult, of even to the chaos monster of Semitic legend.
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Re: BEHEMOTH

Postby MTC » Tue Dec 18, 2012 6:51 am

Thank you for the scholarship, Perry. Biblical exegesis to be sure.

You commented:

"...some continue to speak of themselves in the plural as an act of humility. I have friends who will hear someone plurally say "we attend this church" ask whether they have a frog in their pocket."

But substituting the third person plural pronoun "we" for the first person "I" may be far from an "an act of humility." Likely you are already aware of the Victorian "we," the Editorial "we," the Imperial "we," and Nosism in general.

We will retire now...
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Re: BEHEMOTH

Postby eberntson » Tue Dec 18, 2012 11:35 am

Fascinating, I do appreciate the scholarship. I know he Egyptians had a cult for most creatures, but I didn't know there were multiple versions, i.e. red and white hippo cults. The plagues of biblical Egypt were to show hat the gods of pharaoh had no power, ths the cults were a sham too.
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Fear less, hope more;
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