Thursday, February 9

The Leviathan

The Leviathan: real creature or mythical invention? Alligator, crocodile, or perhaps - as YEC's claim - a dinosaur? What was the Leviathan? On several occasions in the Hebrew Bible, a creature given the name Leviathan appears. In ancient Middle Eastern mythologies, however, a similar creature appears. This has led to the claim that the biblical Leviathan is based off of the Canaanite myth concerning a similar creature, a Babylonian myth, an Egyptian myth, or others. But is this truly the case? If the Leviathan was an actual creature, what was it? Could it really breath fire, as the text of the book of Job seems to imply? If so, what implications does this view entail? The Leviathan is often used by critics to contend that the Hebrew Bible was based off of earlier mythologies. It it our contention, however, that the reality is converse: the mythologies were based off of reality, but became a distorted version of that reality, whereas the biblical text accurately preserves such accounts. The Leviathan is one of the most fascinating creatures mentioned in the Bible, and evidently the topic is a valid one (Photo credit: Gustave Dore, 1885, "Destruction of the Leviathan" public domain usage; from ДиБгд, public domain usage).

Chronologically, the first mention of the Leviathan is found in the book of Job. Job was likely written by Mfoses during his time in Midian in-between his escape from Egypt and before his return to bring the Israelites out of Egypt (c.1485-1445 BC). While bemoaning his current state, Job makes a passing reference to the create, "May those who curse days curse that day, those who are ready to rouse Leviathan" (Job 3:8). A fuller (and the most detailed) description of the Leviathan is found toward the end of the book in Job 41, in which God is speaking to Job. The Leviathan is again mentioned in Psalm 74 (a maskil of Asaph, who lived during the reign of King David, which lasted from c.1010-970 BC) and in Psalm 104 (probably a Psalm of King David) and lastly in Isaiah 27, written around 730-700 BC. Some have likened the Leviathan unto Rahab, a figurative name in the Hebrew Bible used of Egypt and the sea. Of particular interest is Psalm 89:10, which says, "You crushed Rahab like one of the slain; with your strong arm you scattered your enemies" (cf. Isaiah 27).

It is relevant to the topic to display some of the aforementioned passages (the lengthy description found in Job 41 will be examined later in the article), and the other relevant passages are as follows:
  • "You divided the sea with Your strength; You smashed the heads of the sea monsters in the waters; You crushed the heads of Leviathan; You fed him to the creatures of the desert" (Psalm 74:13-14; HSCB).
  • "Here is the sea, vast and wide, teeming with creatures beyond number - living things both large and small. There the ships move about, and Leviathan, which you formed to play there" (Psalm 104:26).
  • "On that day the LORD with His harsh, great, and strong sword, will bring judgment on Leviathan, the fleeing serpent - Leviathan, the twisting serpent. He will slay the monster that is in the sea" (Isaiah 27:1).
From Gustave Dore (1865)
Thus far, we are able to establish: 1) the Leviathan is a "sea monster," or a "monster that is in the sea," it is also a "fleeing serpent," or "twisting serpent," and where "the ships move about" the Leviathan was found, which was "formed to play there." In other words, the above three texts (as well as the Job 3:8 text) appears to be describing some kind of sea serpent, from the surface. The more detailed description in Job 41 will further elucidate the identity of the creature, or at least give us clues to its nature and identity. However, before the description is explored, it is important to address common concerns or objections toward the Bible's inclusion of the Leviathan. For example, the Isaiah 27 text appears to be indicating that God will fight with the Leviathan "on that day," which was a general formula used to refer to end times events. One common objection involves the notion that the Hebrew Bible borrowed (or copied) the concept of a god and serpent fighting at the end of the world, or a god and serpent fighting in general.

In Greek mythology, the Olympian god Apollo (the son of Zeus and Leto) - the god of the sun and light as well as truth and prophecy, music and poetry, and other functions - slew the earth-dragon (or serpent), Python. There are various versions and interpretations of this, such as an older myth which includes two dragon (the female of which is called Delphyne), and in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo (composed c.522 BC), some sections mention Apollo fighting a female dragon, the deadly Drakaina.[1-2] In later Norse mythology, the thunder god, Thor, is depicted is fighting the Jörmungandr at the end of time (better known as the Jormungand or the Midgard Serpent). According to the Prose Edda (written around AD 1220), the ruler of Asgard, Odin, took the three children of Loki, and tossed one of them (the Midgard Serpent) into the ocean that surrounds Midgard (an old Germanic name for our world).[3] This serpent continued to grow, and eventually was able to surround the earth and grasp its own tail. In the mythology, when the serpent lets go, the world is supposed to end. Thor encounters this Serpent on more than one occasion, but at Ragnarök (a series of events akin to the end times), the Serpent will come out of the ocean, and is said to poison the sky.[4] After a vicious fight with the creature, Thor will finally kill Jörmungandr and walk nine paces forward before falling - Thor will have been poisoned by the serpent's venom.[5]

Another example of a god and a serpent caught in battle is found in Vedic religion. There is a serpent (or dragon) called the Vritra which represented drought and was an enemy of Indra. Indra (or Sakra), in this mythology, is the king of the gods (or Devas) and Lord of Heaven. The Vritra is an Asura, which is a group of power hungry deities, generally thought to be sinful and materialistic in nature. In the Vedas (Hindu scriptures), Vritra was also known as the Ahi. In the mythology, the Vritra appears as a dragon/serpent who blocks the course of mighty rivers, and as a result, is eventually slain by Indra. Yet another example is found in the battle between Marduk and Tiamat. Marduk was the sun god of Babylon, and Tiamat was a chaos monster and goddess of the ocean. Some sources identify her as a serpent or dragon.[6]

Some have noted that the "Leviathan" appears in texts from Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit; in Canaanite mythology). In the texts, the pagan god Baal fights - and wins the fight - against a sea monster, Lotan, and Yam (a sea god). Baal wins the fight with weapons which he had pronounced an incantation over.[7] Others have entertained a history and background in mythological concepts of a solar and lunar eclipse caused by a great dragon. In central India, for example, there is a myth about a great dragon that swallowed the sun. In the event that the dragon tries to swallow the sun, "a goat was beheaded in sacrifice to Kali, the Black Goddess, the cause and controller of earthquakes, storms, and other evil things, and the archenemy of demons. Prayers were offered to her that she might frighten away the Dragon."[8] The Bible may use the language of Canaanite myths (Baal vs Lotan and Yam) in a way to affirm the rule of our Creator, but that does not indicate that the Bible is borrowing or copying from pagan mythologies. Similarity does not prove that something was copied. A common analogy in this case has been paintings: simply because two paintings look similar does not prove that one borrowed (or copied) from the other. The Canaanite creature was feared, and was portrayed as a seven-headed dragon.[9] In pagan terms, it was feared, but in biblical terms, God formed the Leviathan to play in the sea (Psalm 104:26).

In later Jewish literature, the Leviathan was often portrayed as a dragon who serves over the Sources of the Deep. Tradition taught that God created a male and female Leviathan, but so that they did nit reproduce and destroy the world, God destroyed the female, and is reserving her meat for a banquet at the arrival of the Messiah. This tradition was also found in the Rashi, a medieval French Rabbi, in a commentary on Genesis. The gigantic size of the Leviathan was detailed by R. Johanan, from whom we have much Jewish tradition (aggadot), "Once we went in a ship and saw a fish which put his head out of the water. He had horns upon which was written: 'I am one of the meanest creatures that inhabit the sea. I am three hundred miles in length, and enter this day into the jaws of the Leviathan'" (B. B. l.c.). In a legend called Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer (recorded in a Midrash, a Jewish interpretation), the text conveys that the fish which swallowed the prophet Jonah (Jonah 1:17-2:10) barely avoided being eaten by the Leviathan, which, according to the legend, eats one whale every day. Not surprisingly, the Leviathan also appears in Apocryphal literature. 

According to 2nd Esdras 6:49-52 (written AD 90-96 or 218), on the fifth day of creation, God created the Leviathan and the Behemoth, setting "apart two creatures: one you call Behemoth and the other Leviathan. You put them in separate places, for the seventh part where the water was collected was not big enough to hold them both. A part of the land which was made dry on the third day you gave to Behemoth as his territory, a country of a thousand hills. To Leviathan you gave the seventh part, the water. You have kept them to be food for whom you will and when you will." Also, in the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch 29:4, "the time is predicted when the behemoth will come forth from his seclusion on land and the leviathan out of the sea, and the two gigantic monsters, created on the fifth day, will serve as food for the elect who will survive in the days of the Messiah."[10] The pseudipigraphal work of 1st Enoch, written between the 3rd-1st centuries BC, 1st Enoch 60:7-9 records, "And on that day two monsters were separated from one another, a female monster named Leviathan, to dwell in the abyss of the ocean over the fountains of the waters; And the male is named Behemoth... And I asked the other angel to show me the might of those monsters, how they were separated on one day and thrown, the one into the abyss of the sea, and the other to the earth's desert." Gnostic literature also has a bit of a different interpretation of the Leviathan.

Having established a bit of a general understanding concerning how different views have been formed concerning the creature over the ages, it is now pertinent to delve into the possible identity of the creature itself. There are those who would argue that the Leviathan is nothing more than a mythological or figurative construct, and there are those who would argue otherwise. Footnotes in different versions of the Bible identify the creature as a "crocodile or alligator," although some identify the creature as a whale or shark. In Egypt, the crocodile (particularly along the Nile river) was a hunted animal. In ancient Egypt, the crocodile is thought to have, in some contexts, symbolized royal power, and some hold the notion that the Leviathan would symbolize a force that only God could overcome. Ancient Hebrews likely never encountered alligators, and it is the view of many evangelical and secular scholars that the Leviathan was influenced by the Nile crocodile. But is this a good interpretation of the Biblical Leviathan? Though a controversial view, the often maligned Young Earth Creationists hold that the Leviathan was likely a kind of dinosaur. While we may not fully agree with this perspective, it is one worth exploring.

Dr. Henry Morris of the Institute for Creation Research explains in one of his works, concerning Job 41, "The witness of the great beast behemoth is brought into still sharper focus when God begins to speak of leviathan. As the behemoth was the greatest terrestrial animal, the leviathan was the greatest aquatic animal. Like the behemoth, it seems to be extinct, although reports continue to persist of great sea serpents and plesiosaur-like animals in oceans and deep lakes around the world... Note a few characteristics of leviathan. 'Canst thou fill his skin with barbed irons? or his head with fish spears?... Behold, the hope of him is in vain: shall not one be cast down even at the sight of him? None is so fierce that dare stir him up:... The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold' (Job 41:7, 9, 10, 26). These and other verses indicate that the leviathan was impregnable to human efforts to capture or slay him. Yet zoos are full or crocodiles, and crocodiles have been hunted so successfully that they are often considered an endangered species. The same applies to whales. And what about the following description? 'By his neesings a light doth shine, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning. Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out. Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron. His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth' (Job 41:18-21)."[11]

Job's description also notes that the creature "maketh the deep to boil like a pot" (Job 41:31). Evidently, these sea creatures were still living in the time of King David (Psalm 104), probably in the Mediterranean Sea. The creature, if indeed it was a dinosaur (although it is noted that many will disagree with this interpretation), was likely a Kronosaurus or something similar to it. It was not actually a true dinosaur, but was actually a reptile-like sea creature with large, sharp teeth. For centuries, reports have come from people in all walks of life concerning sea serpents or lake creatures similar in description to the Leviathan. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Loch Ness Monster, thought by some, if it exists, to be a kind of plesiosaur. In the Life of St. Columba by Adomnán of Iona (c.AD 627-704, written in the 7th century, a story is detailed concerning St. Columba in the 6th century, when he approached Loch Ness, and an incident allegedly occurred with the creature, in which the Saint commanded the creature to retreat from a man. When a lakeside road was built in the 1930s, a series of consecutive photos and reports flooded in, and to this day continue in some degree, though the debate surrounding the creature rages on.

Some believe the Leviathan was a Kronosaurus
There are many other reports of living dinosaurs, sea serpents or lake creatures. Perhaps one of the more relevant reports to the discussion concerning the Leviathan comes from Georg von Forstner, a captain in World War II who commanded a German submarine. The report came during the war. According to Forstner, "On July 30, 1915, our U28 torpedoed the British steamer Iberian carrying a rich cargo in the North Atlantic. The steamer sank quickly, the bow sticking almost vertically into the air. When it had gone for about twenty-five seconds there was a violent explosion. A little later pieces of wreckage, and among them a gigantic sea animal (writhing and struggling wildly), was shot out of the water to a height of 60 to 100-feet. At that moment I had with me in the conning tower my officers of the watch, the chief engineer, the navigator, and the helmsman. Simultaneously we all drew one another’s attention to this wonder of the seas…we were unable to identify it. We did not have time to take a photograph, for the animal sank out of sight after ten or fifteen seconds. It was about 60-feet long, was like a crocodile in shape and had four limbs with powerful webbed feet and a long tail tapering to a point."[12]

Critics of such reports have attempted (sometimes aggressively) to refute them. The claim of the critics usually go something like, "It is impossible for the creature to have been a Kronosaurus because science has proven that the dinosaur died off 65 million years ago, and is now extinct." While this may be true, there are a myriad of examples where we have found creatures from pre-historic times still with us. Another common objection is that the dinosaur theory does not take Psalm 74 into account. The claim is essentially as follows, "Psalm 74:13-14 describes the seven heads of the Leviathan. Therefore, the dinosaur theory could not be true, since the story is more reminiscent of the hydra or other mythical creatures." The Leviathan was portrayed in Canaanite mythology as being a seven-headed dragon, although the Biblical text does not mention seven heads, so the claim is partially falsified. Second, while it is true that the text mentions the "heads of Leviathan," that does not necessitate that the text is referring to only one Leviathan.

There are many other common objections, and there are many good, in-depth replies to said objections. It is not the purpose of this article to answer these, but to provide a background on the Leviathan and offer possible identifications of the creature. On a different, more eschatological note, what of the notion that God is going to defeat the creature at the end of time? For this answer, we turn to the New Testament. Revelation 12 describes an enigmatic end-time battle between the archangel Michael and his angels against the fallen Satan and his angels. Of interest is the description of the form in which Satan chooses to appear in this battle. Elsewhere, Satan appears, disguised as the serpent in Eden (Genesis 3; Revelation 12:9, 20:2), sometimes appearing in his likely pre-fall state, as an angel of light (2nd Corinthians 11:14), and may be able to disguise himself as a human, given the heavenly angels ability to do so (Hebrews 13:2). In Revelation 12, however, Satan appears in a very different form - as "an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads" (12:3). Perhaps one of the more striking passages follows, which says, "And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down - that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him" (12:7-9). To note, here, Satan appears as a dragon - with seven heads. 

This, then, is the missing piece of the puzzle. Given the context of the book of Job and the cosmic drama between God and Satan, "In ending His discourse, God called leviathan 'a king over all the children of pride' (Job 41:34), so the animal is also symbolic of Satan, whose challenge to God instigated Job’s strange trials. He is 'the great dragon . . . that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world' (Revelation 12:9). Perhaps, therefore, the mysterious and notorious extinction of the dinosaurs is a secular prophecy of the coming Day of Judgment, when God 'shall punish leviathan' (Isaiah 27:1), and the 'devil that deceived them' will be 'cast into the lake of fire . . . and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever' (Revelation 20:10)."[13] In Job 41, we may infer that God was weaving hints in and out of His discourse concerning the Leviathan toward Satan, essentially God was saying to him, "Job did not deny Me and curse Me, therefore, you serpent, you have lost." With Revelation 12 in mind, texts such as Isaiah 27, which speak of God fighting or defeating the great serpent/dragon, the passage is further elucidated. The Leviathan was used by God in His discourse to show Job the first in rank of His aquatic creatures, something which Job had evidently been aware of prior to this (Job 3:8). While critics of the Biblical text may contend that the Leviathan is a mythological construction, regardless, it should on a personal level remind us that God, who noted that He had control of the creature, also has control of everything else. Even though our problems may become larger than life, so to speak, God is larger than those problems. 

Troy Hillman

[1] Burket, Walter. "Kynaithos, Polycrates and the Homeric Hymn to Apollo" from Arktouros: Hellenic studies presented to B. M. W. Knox. ed. G. W. Bowersock, W. Burkert, M. C. J. Putnam. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1979. 53-62, Print.
[2] Kerenyi, Karl. The Gods of the Greeks. Thames and Hudson, 1951. 136. Print.
[3] Sturluson, Snorri. Gylfaginning ch. xxxiv. 2008. 37. Print.
[4] Ibid, 61-62.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Jacobsen, Thorkild. "The Battle between Marduk and Tiamat". Journal of the American Oriental Society 88 (1). 1968.104–108. 
[7] Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet, et al.. Apologetics Study Bible for Students. 1st ed. Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009. 513. Print.
[8] Christian, James L. Philosophy: An Introduction To The Art of Wondering. 3rd ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981. 3. Print.
[9] Ibid, [7]. 609.
[10] "LEVIATHAN AND BEHEMOTH." Jewish Encyclopedia. N.p., 2011. Web. 8 Feb 2012.
[11] Morris, Ph.D., Henry M. The Remarkable Record of Job. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Master Books, 2004. 117-125. Print.
[12] Taylor, Paul S.. "Sightings." The Great Dinosaur Mystery. Eden Communications, n.d. Web. 9 Feb 2012.
[13] Morris, Ph.D., Henry M.. "Leviathan." Institute for Creation Research. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Feb 2012.