Job 40–41

Behemoth and Leviathan

Commentaries by Gerald West

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William Blake

Behemoth and Leviathan, from Illustrations of the Book of Job, 1825–26, Engraving, 411 x 275 mm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Gift of Edward Bement 1917, 17.17.1–15,

‘Behold now Behemoth, which I Made with Thee’

Commentary by Gerald West

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William Blake was haunted by the book of Job, returning to this biblical text again and again.

What is surprising in Blake’s depiction of Behemoth and Leviathan in both his watercolours and engraving of the subject is how constrained these creatures are, encapsulated in a circle, the womb of God’s creation. Earlier, in 1794, Blake’s well-known poem ‘The Tyger’ asks a Job-like question of God concerning creatures like Behemoth and Leviathan: ‘Did he who made the Lamb make thee?’ But in Blake’s reflections on the book of Job the only questions are God’s.

In the watercolours and engraving both Behemoth and Leviathan are contained, clearly within and under God’s control, though Leviathan in particular conveys a sense of impending movement and power. God, angelic creatures, Job, Job’s wife, and Job’s three friends look on as God points to these mighty creatures, the apex of God’s creation: ‘Nothing on earth is like it. … It is king over all the sons of pride’ (Job 41:33–34 own translation). The images and the text in the margins (of the engraving) are accepting of, rather than resistant to, the mystery of bounded power and violence, whether animal (Behemoth and Leviathan) or human (thee): ‘Behold now Behemoth, which I made with thee’.

The image invites the reader to recognize the kindred nature of the great beasts, the biblical human watchers, and contemporary viewers. God’s arm links all three. The three levels of God’s reality are clearly framed: the inner circle of these most awesome of animals, the intermediate oval of the human and animal, and the outer rectangle in which God and the angels frame all in all. Here all is harmony; each has its place and power, under God. Job’s relentless interrogation of the retributive theology of his friends and the justice of God are interrupted and answered in Blake’s image. Blake captures the moment of epiphany for Job: ‘I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You’ (Job 42:5).



Blake, William. 1805–10. Behemoth and Leviathan. Watercolour, available at [accessed 22 October 2018]

Blake, William. 1823. Illustrations of the Book of Job, ed. by Charles Eliot Norton (Boston: James R. Osgood and Co.). Available at [accessed 22 October 2018]

Anish Kapoor

Leviathan, 2011, PVC, 33.6 x 99.89 x 72.23 m, Monumenta 2011, Grand Palais, Paris; ©Anish Kapoor / All rights reserved DACS / Artimage, London and ARS, NY 2019. Photo: Dave Morgan

‘He Looks On Everything’

Commentary by Gerald West

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This monumental sculpture takes the reader/viewer within Leviathan. Though the biblical text offers a largely external array of images, there are also allusions to the ‘inside’ of Leviathan. God dares us to touch (with terror), and to ‘open the doors of Leviathan’s face’ (Job 41:14 own translation).

Anish Kapoor takes up God’s challenge, enabling us to be intimate with Leviathan by inviting our touch of the polyvinyl fabric—probably less with fear than interested apprehension—and by confronting us with the interior of God’s monumental creation.

Perhaps by becoming more intimate with Leviathan, we are offered the possibility of becoming more intimate with God. By allowing Kapoor to conduct us into Leviathan, we also find ourselves conducted into a new relationship with aspects of God’s creation. Walking within Leviathan, we experience ourselves as puny and vulnerable but also present and alive. We see the world differently through the skin and the eyes of Leviathan: ‘It looks on everything that is high; it is king over all the sons of pride’ (41:34). All is reconfigured from within this body, both the world outside and we who are inside. The emotive language of Job 40:15–14 and 41:1–34 becomes an emotional experience within the interior of Kapoor’s work. And when we find our way outside, we discover that this creation (or creature) is even bigger than it had seemed from the inside.

Leviathan has texture, has an inside and an outside; Leviathan is an experience, an encounter. Indeed, as the biblical text declares, Leviathan must be ‘beheld’ by Job and readers of Job. ‘Nothing on earth is like it’ (41:33) thus becomes not only an imaginative but also a sensory reality.

The immensity of Kapoor’s Leviathan, which fills the Grand Palais in Paris, inhabiting more than 13,000 square metres of space, can help to make a sensory reality of Leviathan, the creature, and to disclose God, the creator. ‘Behold now’ says God to Job when beginning to describe Behemoth and Leviathan (40:15). Kapoor reiterates this divine summons, providing us with access to a phenomenon that is both actual and overwhelming. Like Job, perhaps, we are bewildered but transformed.



Menezes, Caroline. 2013. ‘Anish Kapoor: Leviathan’, Studio International: Visual Arts, Design and Architecture, [accessed 31 May 2018] [accessed 31 May 2018]

Trevor Makhoba

God Wants His People, c.2001, Linoleum cut, 418 x 302 mm, The Museum of Modern Art, New York; 1110.2007.14, © Courtesy of Mrs. G. Makhoba © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY

‘God Wants His People’

Commentary by Gerald West

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This image is clearly theological. Both the linocut phrase ‘It gives sufficeint [sic] time for repentance’ and the artist’s title (in pencil at the bottom) ‘God wants his people’ declare a theological theme. What is not as clear is the reference to Job 40 and 41, until one remembers that isiZulu and isiXhosa Bible translations of these chapters translate Behemoth as ‘hippopotamus’ and Leviathan as ‘crocodile’.

Here Trevor Makhoba conjures a combined hippopotamus/crocodile beast, with millenarian nostrils (shaped from the number 2000) and tombstone teeth. The mouth of this great beast gapes at us. The attentive viewer is forced to take a step back, such is the power and threat of this open jaw. This image draws on the implied threat of the biblical Behemoth and Leviathan towards humans (Job 41:25, 34), and the clear incapacity of humans to control either (40:24; 41:1–8, 26–29). Indeed, this work invokes the sense in the biblical text of God’s tenuous control of these most mighty of God’s creatures: ‘He is the first of the ways of God; let his maker bring near his sword’ (Job 40:19 own translation).

In the context of a rampant HIV pandemic in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, Makhoba’s homeland, the question that haunts Makhoba’s image is: ‘Is God for or against this terrifying beast?’ The night sky and the stars allude, perhaps, to the beginning of Job’s lament (Job 3) where he imagines creation undone. In his anguish Job reverses the order of creation: ‘May the day be darkness’ (3:4). The stars and the white arrows in the right-hand panel portend redemption from the ‘black gloom’ (3:5). But the black arrows point to certain destruction for those drawn into the monstrous mouth. As with Leviathan, ‘[a]round its teeth there is terror’ (41:14). However, the words of Scripture, though not from the book of Job, offer words of hope: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Corinthians 12:9). ‘God wants his people’, provided they repent. Only then are we safe from Behemoth–Leviathan.

William Blake :

Behemoth and Leviathan, from Illustrations of the Book of Job, 1825–26 , Engraving

Anish Kapoor :

Leviathan, 2011 , PVC

Trevor Makhoba :

God Wants His People, c.2001 , Linoleum cut

‘Whatever Is Under the Whole Heaven Is Mine’

Comparative commentary by Gerald West

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These three images offer us different ways of apprehending Job 40 and 41.

Somewhat surprisingly, given the wild unpredictability of much of the book of Job, William Blake offers us a clear sense of God’s order within each of his three ‘spheres’ or frames. Here animals, humans, and the divine each have their appointed place. What connects them is God. Blake reads the book of Job as a confirmation of God’s order and control. Behemoth and Leviathan are awe-full but constrained.

Not so for Trevor Makhoba. He experiences Behemoth and Leviathan unbound, prowling through his province and preying on African bodies. His image unleashes Behemoth and Leviathan, confronting us with the terror of their textual power made ‘flesh’. Makhoba’s beast is all mouth, the body hidden from view, just as the hippopotami and crocodiles of the rural areas of his homeland lie submerged below the surface of the waters, waiting, with only their nostrils visible. Like the HIV and AIDS pandemic, the danger of this beast is invisible. Behemoth and Leviathan lurk just below the surface of normal life, as HIV inhabits the blood beneath the skin.

Both artists invite us to be attentive; to ‘behold’. Just as Blake’s image has human watchers, so too does Makhoba’s, with silhouetted humans looking down into the gaping mouth. But the beholding differs dramatically. One is a visionary insight into cosmic order; the other a vigilance against a crouching and virulent threat.

Anish Kapoor shifts the focus from seeing to touching. His Leviathan consists of flesh-like fabric. While Makhoba’s image seemed too terrifying to touch, Kapoor’s Leviathan invites tactile encounter. But it cannot be tamed. Though drawn into and around the pulsating body of God’s ‘king’ of creation (Job 41:34), we remain dwarfed by it. Experiencing this Leviathan with our whole bodies, we are also vulnerable to the creature’s disorientating immensity. Thus Kapoor and Makhoba disturb us in different ways. Kapoor’s Leviathan swallows us up within its body, but we feel the potential presence of Makhoba’s Behemoth–Leviathan, unseen and terrible, within ours.

The palette of these artworks ranges from the sharp black and whites of Makhoba’s linocut, through the grayscale of Blake’s engraving (and the pastel colours of his watercolours), to the vibrant intense red (from the inside) and earthy-ochre (from the outside) of Kapoor’s installation. Makhoba is an accomplished oil painter, preferring bright colours in his paintings, so his choice of black and white for this work seems significant: funereal perhaps. Kapoor’s red interior allows a more life-enhancing role for Leviathan: like a womb the enveloping environment might be a place of new beginning, as the whirlwind was for Job.

The Behemoths and Leviathans of these artists demand our attention in different ways, compelling us to look carefully, unsettling us, while in important ways also incorporating us. Each work brings particular details within the biblical text to life, and each offers resources for theological reflection. God’s presence is overt in Blake, entertained in Kapoor, and hoped for in Makhoba. But each of these images, in their respective intersections with the book of Job, may help us explore not only the presence but also the nature of God. Blake assures us that God’s control is absolute; Makhoba is not so sure in the face of the terrible spectre of mass death; Kapoor wonders whether a close encounter with even the most sublimely terrible of God’s creatures may also be the occasion of both personal and collective remaking.



Menezes, Caroline. 2013. ‘Anish Kapoor: Leviathan’, Studio International: Visual Arts, Design and Architecture, [accessed 31 May 2018]

Schoenherr, Douglas E. (ed.). 1997. Lines of Enquiry: British Prints from the David Lemon Collection (Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada)

West, Gerald. 2010. ‘“God Wants His People”: Between Retribution and Redemption in Trevor Makhoba’s Engagement with HIV and AIDS’, De Arte, 45.81: 42–52

Next exhibition: Job 42

Job 40–41

Revised Standard Version

40 And the Lord said to Job:

2“Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?

He who argues with God, let him answer it.”

3Then Job answered the Lord:

4“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer thee?

I lay my hand on my mouth.

5I have spoken once, and I will not answer;

twice, but I will proceed no further.”

6 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:

7“Gird up your loins like a man;

I will question you, and you declare to me.

8Will you even put me in the wrong?

Will you condemn me that you may be justified?

9Have you an arm like God,

and can you thunder with a voice like his?

10“Deck yourself with majesty and dignity;

clothe yourself with glory and splendor.

11Pour forth the overflowings of your anger,

and look on every one that is proud, and abase him.

12Look on every one that is proud, and bring him low;

and tread down the wicked where they stand.

13Hide them all in the dust together;

bind their faces in the world below.

14Then will I also acknowledge to you,

that your own right hand can give you victory.

15“Behold, Beʹhemoth,

which I made as I made you;

he eats grass like an ox.

16Behold, his strength in his loins,

and his power in the muscles of his belly.

17He makes his tail stiff like a cedar;

the sinews of his thighs are knit together.

18His bones are tubes of bronze,

his limbs like bars of iron.

19“He is the first of the works of God;

let him who made him bring near his sword!

20For the mountains yield food for him

where all the wild beasts play.

21Under the lotus plants he lies,

in the covert of the reeds and in the marsh.

22For his shade the lotus trees cover him;

the willows of the brook surround him.

23Behold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightened;

he is confident though Jordan rushes against his mouth.

24Can one take him with hooks,

or pierce his nose with a snare?

41“Can you draw out Leviʹathan with a fishhook,

or press down his tongue with a cord?

2Can you put a rope in his nose,

or pierce his jaw with a hook?

3Will he make many supplications to you?

Will he speak to you soft words?

4Will he make a covenant with you

to take him for your servant for ever?

5Will you play with him as with a bird,

or will you put him on leash for your maidens?

6Will traders bargain over him?

Will they divide him up among the merchants?

7Can you fill his skin with harpoons,

or his head with fishing spears?

8Lay hands on him;

think of the battle; you will not do it again!

9Behold, the hope of a man is disappointed;

he is laid low even at the sight of him.

10No one is so fierce that he dares to stir him up.

Who then is he that can stand before me?

11Who has given to me, that I should repay him?

Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.

12“I will not keep silence concerning his limbs,

or his mighty strength, or his goodly frame.

13Who can strip off his outer garment?

Who can penetrate his double coat of mail?

14Who can open the doors of his face?

Round about his teeth is terror.

15His back is made of rows of shields,

shut up closely as with a seal.

16One is so near to another

that no air can come between them.

17They are joined one to another;

they clasp each other and cannot be separated.

18His sneezings flash forth light,

and his eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn.

19Out of his mouth go flaming torches;

sparks of fire leap forth.

20Out of his nostrils comes forth smoke,

as from a boiling pot and burning rushes.

21His breath kindles coals,

and a flame comes forth from his mouth.

22In his neck abides strength,

and terror dances before him.

23The folds of his flesh cleave together,

firmly cast upon him and immovable.

24His heart is hard as a stone,

hard as the nether millstone.

25When he raises himself up the mighty are afraid;

at the crashing they are beside themselves.

26Though the sword reaches him, it does not avail;

nor the spear, the dart, or the javelin.

27He counts iron as straw,

and bronze as rotten wood.

28The arrow cannot make him flee;

for him slingstones are turned to stubble.

29Clubs are counted as stubble;

he laughs at the rattle of javelins.

30His underparts are like sharp potsherds;

he spreads himself like a threshing sledge on the mire.

31He makes the deep boil like a pot;

he makes the sea like a pot of ointment.

32Behind him he leaves a shining wake;

one would think the deep to be hoary.

33Upon earth there is not his like,

a creature without fear.

34He beholds everything that is high;

he is king over all the sons of pride.”