Extinct Animals in the Bible

Lascaux Painting of Aurochs
Lascaux Painting of Aurochs

In Discover magazine (March 2017, page 24) there is a reference to a species of wild cattle called aurochs that lived in Europe, Asia, and North Africa. The article says that the aurochs was the first recorded animal to become extinct. The last aurochs died in Poland in 1627. These animals are portrayed in the ancient cave art of Chauvet-Pont d’Arc and Lascaux in southern France. They have been called “supercattle.” Julius Caesar saw aurochs and said of them, “In size these are little but inferior to elephants. They spare neither men nor beast.”

In the Bible, there are animals described that we do not find examples of in the living biosphere of today. In Job 40:15-24 there is a description of an animal which in the Hebrew is called behemoth. This word is the plural of the word behema used in Genesis 1:24 and many later verses throughout the Old Testament. Behema is usually translated as livestock or cattle, and there is no question but that this is the intent in Genesis 1. Behemoth would be a large, massive example of behema. It cannot refer to a dinosaur, even if we ignore the scientific evidence because the word always referred to an ungulate, which is a mammal. Suggestions that it was a hippopotamus are unlikely since there was another word for the hippo. It could refer to a giant sloth which also became extinct. However, the aurochs probably fits the description better.

Our point is that animals that lived at the time of Job and Moses may not be in existence today. While we cannot be sure what they were, there is no reason to suggest that this is an error by the author of Job. It is also no reason to say that the Bible describes mythical animals or that it refers to dinosaurs. Like every other argument that attempts to denigrate the integrity of the Bible or put it at odds with scientific evidence, better information shows the Bible to be true and accurate. (Hebrew word discussion from The New Bible Dictionary, Eerdman’s Publishing.)
–John N. Clayton © 2017