Giant Animals in Hebrew Lore

It is remarkable that travellers of the second and possibly the first millennium before the present era, brought home these stories:

The ruler over the sea animals is Leviathan. His fins radiate brilliant light, its smell is foul.(1) Leviathan spouts out water.(2) This description, one may guess, is of a whale.

Ziz is the ruler over the birds; it is monstrous in size; its wings are so huge that unfurled they darken the Sun. “Great bird Ziz slaps his wings and utters his cry, so that the birds of prey, the eagles and the vultures, blench.(3)The span of the wings of the pterosaurs ranged from 27 feet upwards to an incredible 69 feet, whereas the span of the wings of the large eagles is less than 10 feet.

Behemot (not to be confused with the animal that bears this name at present) is the most notable representative of the mammal kind. Behemot matches Leviathan in strength. It had to be prevented from multiplying and increasing, “else the world could not have continued to exist.” It is deprived of the desire to propagate its kind.

As the above-mentioned travellers could not have visited the American Museum of Natural History on their voyages, nor any other museum of paleontology, nor could they have read modern books on dinosaurs and all their classes, it is puzzling to read their description of the monstrous animals and of their behavior, and also of the weapon used by the largest land animal. In mortal combat between the gigantic beasts, Leviathan kills by a blow of its fins, and Behemot kills by a lash of its tail.(4) The modem paleontologists wondered at the largest land animal’s lack of weapons for attack or defense, which would have made it easy prey for every attacker, and supposed that the animal used its tail as its weapon.

Equally interesting is the description of the gigantic female Reem when heavy with young. “Leviathan, Ziz, and Behemot are not the only monsters; there are many others, and marvellous ones, like reem, a giant animal, of which only one couple, male and female, is in existence .... The act of copulation occurs but once in seventy years between them . . . The act of copulation results in the death of the male. He is bitten by the female and dies of the bite. The female becomes pregnant and remains in this state for no less than twelve years. At the end of this long period she gives birth to twins, a male and a female. The year preceding her delivery she is not able to move . . .. For a whole year the animal can but roll from side to side, until finally her belly bursts, and the twins issue forth. Their appearance is thus the signal for the death of the mother reem.”(5)

The problem of the statics of the dinosaurs, with their pillar-like legs, vexed modern scholars. The larger species are classified as amphibians, though no adaptation for life in water is found in their fossilized remains; they are classified so because, by wading in water, they would have a lesser load of body to carry. That this does not solve the question is shown above. The animals were apparently not adapted to the life conditions and did not survive.

To be more exact, the animals adapted themselves to conditions, but the Earth changed these conditions completely, and more than once. The variations of the force of gravitation became, more than anything else, fatal to the large dinosaurs.


  1. L. Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, I (Philadelphia, 1942), p. 28.

  2. Ibid., p. 4.

  3. Ibid., pp. 4-5.

  4. Ginzberg, I, p. 28.

  5. Ibid., pp. 30-31.