Bones in the Desert- Leviathan?

When coming across Psalm 74 the other day, this verse stood out to me:

“It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan and gave him as food to the creatures of the desert.”

In looking at various commentaries, they relate it to the destruction of Egyptian armies during the Exodus, but as they were destroyed in the sea, that does not ring true in some ways. I then remembered the “Valley of the Whales” at Wadi Al-Hitan . Though first discovered in modern times in 1902, doubtless desert nomads had come across these ancient whale fossils, and I think it possible that the stories of these bones were integrated in this Psalm.

While interesting to speculate about in its own right, that then led me to consider how we read the Psalms, and whether it differs from how we consider the words as inspired in comparison to other Biblical writing. After all, they are by definition songs, written and sung by worshipers to God, and especially as many of our modern songs have bad theology at times, it makes one take pause. Certainly, we must consider that these particular songs have been preserved through the ages with the same guiding hand of God as the rest of scripture, and canonized through the same process, but still…

At times I look at Psalms as coming from the hand of God, and quote Psalm 19 often supporting the expression of God’s glory through nature, though shy away a bit with looking at Psalm 137 where the singer asks for God to bless anyone who would cast his enemies babies against the rocks.

In any case, I could present my thoughts in a lengthy post, but that would bore you and I am more interested in what you guys think and understand about how we should look at this.

Do you think fossils mistaken as Leviathan’s bones may have been integrated in this Psalm? If so, what does that say for inspiration, and do we see other examples of writer’s contemporary presumptions integrated in scripture, even though those presumptions are factually wrong? (Cue discussion about the size of a mustard seed)

How do we interpret Psalms differently because of its genre and origin? Are we guilty of misusing Psalms in proof texting our positions on origins, whether it be YEC, ID, OEC, or EC?

What do you do with this?

Bones copy

Just kidding, actually, here’s some context:


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Here’s a video perfectly explaining the Leviathan of the Bible in its ancient near eastern context.

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Good information, my pondering is about why the writer would associate this sea chaos creature with “feeding the beasts of the desert” unless they had seen or heard stories of the giant bones present (which we now know to be whales)?

I actually don’t know the answer to this question, but how many fossils have actually been found in the Middle East? Is the historical geography/ecology amenable to the formation and preservation of fossils? Are there, for example, remains left of things like lions that are attested to in scripture but are not there today? Granted, the lion thing is probably more devastating to a YEC point of view…

It should go without saying that God didn’t kill a multi-headed Chaos dragon when he created the world. So this shouldn’t be any more of an issue than it was before.

I don’t think God would have bothered to correct the psalmist’s mistakes, since palaeontology is not the aim of the game.

It’s possible however, that the ‘desert’ is merely symbolic of chaos having been defeated. with the waters symbolising chaos having dried up. In which case, the verse is “nonscientific”, not “unscientific”.

Where does the Bible say Leviathan will feed on the beasts of the desert? I’m pretty sure they didn’t even think Leviathan actually existed, Leviathan was just another ANE motif for the Israelite.

He didn’t say “feeding ON the beasts of the desert”. He said the opposite, “feeding the beasts of the desert”, meaning the beasts of the desert feeding on Leviathan.


My mistake. The passage was under my nose the entire time:

Psalm 74:17: You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.

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I’d be very surprised if absolutely no Israelite believed Leviathan was a real creature. In the Ancient world myth could be both symbolic/archetypal and literal at the same time. The Chaoskampf is far to wide a concept for it to be merely symbolic. If the Ancients saw myth as being entirely symbolic with no literal meaning at all, Socrates would not have been forced to drink hemlock.

Relevant video by John Walton:

The “deep” in Genesis 2 seems to be linguistically related to the Mesopotamian goddess Tiamat, associated with the waters of chaos and the sea serpent. Certainly the chaos-imagery is consistent across the cultures, although in the Genesis account chaos is not personified or deified because a distinguishing characteristic of the Genesis account is that there is only one God and Creation is not inherently divine.

I’m just generally saying that the author himself thought, and intended, for this to be an allegorical figure. It’s possible later generations began taking these as real figures.


It’s like walking into a room and hearing only the last sentence… “excuse me, what did you mean by that?”

I do like your speculation that perhaps this part of Psalms was inspired by the bone field of whales in the middle of the desert. Since Leviathan can be construed as a primordial or satanic deity of the realm of water, there is a poetic irony - - perhaps even a poetic justice - - that this serpent of the watery realm would, after being slain, be dropped into the wilderness devoid of water.

Less likely is the idea that the scribes thought the Serpent actually operated in what has become desert.

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The question of how to interpret Psalms was addressed in part by my pastor’s sermon today. He spoke on Psalm 15, and mentioned how many Psalms are man talking to God, with parts being God’s reply, thus a combination of potentially error prone man originated writings, combined with God spoke replies. Now how to determine what can be taken as inspired, and what is not, he did not address outside of what sounds right. Not his words, but all very vague.
In any case, I got the idea that if Leviathan’s bones were really whale fossils, at least in that way of thinking it is no big deal.

I’ve been thinking about that too in terms of Psalm 22, where some of Jesus’s words on the cross were taken from. There’s some pretty despairing language in there, insinuating that God does not hear him, as well as “I am a worm and not a man.” I have no doubt it is all inspired, but it is also the Psalmist pouring out his feelings to God, speaking truth as he feels it, even if some of the things he says are not true from God’s perspective (and would be considered “bad theology” by most if we took them out of context).

Anyway, this is an interesting discussion because I have often wondered about Leviathan as well, especially as referenced in Job.

Here’s the thing. With this in mind, I see no reason why it can’t be entirely poetic, rather than speaking of literal bones in the desert.

I agree that it is entirely poetic, but only muse that that poetic imagery is based on stories of giant bones in the desert found by wandering traders or herdsmen. That would then be an example of how scientific misconceptions wind up in the text.


Yes, of course.

And yet … sometimes life is strange!

Some people think Exodus and the crossing of the Red Sea has to be poetic as well.

But there is a famous story, fully affirmed, that Napoleon and his personal bodyguard, all on horseback, took advantage of a predicted low-water event across an inlet of the Red Sea. They were a little too casual for when they came back … and they found themselves in the ocean, on horseback, with waters quickly rising back up to normal height.

If not for the exceptional leadership of Napoleon, they might have all perished. But they managed to get to the other side without fatalities.

So… a perfectly poetic notion … miraculous to some … that Moses “crossed” the Red Sea (or a portion of it). And yet something as strange as that was also based on local phenomenon that would have been known by locals thousands of years ago.

Sometimes a cigar is a cigar, and sometimes what sounds like a miracle is simply a lyrical description of something that actually happens that inspires the rest of the story.

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