Because it so often devoured or trampled down part of their crops, the Ancient Egyptians ‘usually regarded [the bull-hippopotamus] as a manifestation of the perverse forces in the world.... As the enemey of mankind [it] was considered sacred to the wicked Set’ and a sacred body of harpooners was maintained whose duty it was to destroy it. And yet the cow-hippopotamus was venerated and even worshipped as a fertility symbol under the name of Thoueris. ‘By tradition, she helped in childbirth the mothers of the gods, of kings and of simple mortals. Herein lies the explanation of the numerous figures, statues, amulets and representations in temples which show Thoueris standing on her two hindfeet leaning on the magic knot’.
In the Old Testament (Job 40: 15ff.), the hippopotamus - its name, Behemoth, probably derived from the Egyptian - symbolizes brute strength, which God can master but which man cannot tame.
Symbolically interpreted, this description embraces all those human impulses and vices which the individual cannot master, affected by original sin. This enormous lump of flesh needs God’s grace if it is to raise itself through spiritualization.