Sorry if this has been talked on here before, but I’ve been kinda stumped on what to do with leviathan that’s mentioned in the book of job. As a huge dinosaur enthusiast, I do wish it was a dinosaur, but it clearly isn’t by the way how it’s described. It’s mentioned to have multiple heads in I believe psalms and it breaths fire. What are some good ways to interpret leviathan?
I personally view Leviathan in the Bible as a generic umbrella term for large sea creatures in general. Similarly with Behemoth – a generic umbrella term for large land animals. I don’t view them as referring to any particular specific species/genus/family/order/class/clade/whatever of animal over and beyond that. The anatomical features described for them seem to be a fairly generic mishmash of attributes of large land or sea creatures, generally chosen to emphasise their great size and the challenges of trying to interact with them.
Yes it’s cool to try and imagine them as if they were dinosaurs, but to be honest that’s just people’s fertile imaginations at play.
Hi Eric. Good to hear you’re a dinosaur enthusiast. My son taught me a lot about dinosaurs when he was growing up (because there could never be enough dinosaur books, films, artwork, or museum trips). More recently, he and his wife and I spent a wonderful day at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta. If you haven’t been, it’s worth a trip if you can manage it.
I wish I could say the Leviathan in Job 41, preceded by the Behemoth in Job 40, are as easy to understand as the paleontology of dinosaurs. The Book of Job is perhaps the most difficult book in the Bible. The author uses a lot of poetic imagery, but not a lot of scientific or historical fact, to make his points about God. So Behemoth and Leviathan represent forces of nature that God has created for God’s own purposes, though we, as human beings, often find fault with these forces of nature and therefore find fault with God himself.
The Book of Job is really one big, long rant from a Hebrew mystic about how badly people are treating God. The passage about Leviathan is the climax of Job’s message about God. Basically, it says that all creatures and all forces of nature must be respected – not just the ones that serve human purposes. God is God and we are not. So it’s not our place to judge the fitness of God’s creations, even if those creations are huge, scary, fire-breathing water dragons.
It’s interesting, though, how the vivid description of Leviathan makes us think of dinosaurs, the fossils of which we only began to find centuries after the Book of Job was written. Except for the fire-breathing part, of course.
Hebrew Leviathan is cognate with Ugaritic Lotan, a 7-headed coiled serpentine monster also associated with Mesopotamian Tiamat
Obvious similarity to the 7-headed Red Dragon, symbolizing the Adversary, in Revelation, and in whose (nearly) exact shape & form the Beast of the Sea, symbolizing the pagan Roman empire, is depicted
Hi, Eric. I’ll chime in to echo some of what has already been suggested above: that ‘Leviathan’ is a literary device standing in for the magnificent and un-tamable wildness of creation.
Leviathan is a meant to represent a chaos creature or at least a giant sea monster from the primordial waters of the deep. I feel it is figurative and not based on any real animals (maybe somewhat based off the whale but I’m not sure). Others such as @ErikNelson and @Mervin_Bitikofer seemed to have covered it fully already.
If Tannin = serpents, and Leviathin = coiled serpent, then maybe Leviathan = Levia + than = coiled + serpent ??? Something ever so vaguely like that ???
Leviathan was an ancient near eastern creature that is explained here by Ben Stanhope:
Enjoyed the link. The reference he made to Psalm 74 has made me wonder if it has roots in the whale fossils in Egypt’s Valley of the Whales.
It is not only ANE imagery.
What was his (then-)new book?
If you insist on reading Psalm 74 into the first couple of days of creation of day & night, Sun & Moon of creation…
then the “Leviathan / Lotan / Tannin / Tehom / Tiamat / Rahab coiling twisting fleeing 7-headed serpent dragon of the primordial abyss” was already present very early in Genesis 1
That could be consistent with Saint Augustine’s interpretation of Gen 1:4, God “dividing light from dark”, to allude to the fall of the darkened angels away from God’s realm of light
The presence of potential sin even in Eden (Gen 1:25-31 = Gen 2-3) would then be explained
Not sure how (the) God could still decree that “all was good / very good” throughout Genesis 1, but perhaps the focus is more on earth, everything was still all clear on earth ???
From the Ben Stanhope video, in the older Ugaritic, Leviathan = Lotan (LTN), the “twisting” (QLTN) serpent, possibly related ???
Meanwhile, Hebrew Behemoth = Ugaritic Arshu / Atik = monstrous bull… = Minoan Minotaur ???
From the parallel 1st Creation (Gen 1) to 2nd Creation (Gen 2), seems like:
- Darkness (no light) to Light in the vast abyss of heaven --> no humans to Adam on earth
causing me to suspect that, given that latter talks about the creation of intelligent life on earth (humanity), the former may be talking about the creation of intelligent life in heaven (angels) ?
Recently, Philip Senter argued in the December Issue of Perspectives on Science & Christian Faith:
Leviathan and Behemoth are not natural animals, but rather supernatural entities with important roles in ancient Hebrew eschatology.
It is behind a paywalll I think for six months though I have a PDF copy (not sure if only the authors can send out personal copies I’d have to check).
By the way, I enjoyed your article in the God and Nature Magazine that Sy linked in the pics thread.
IMHO, as what it seems to be - a mythological beast known from both Ugaritic and Israelite tradition. I see no problem with supposing that the Bible contains mythological ideas. If characters in the parables can be non-historical, why must every part of the OT be historical ? There is no reason why Leviathan has to be a dinosaur or other real prehistoric beast - it is an assumption, based on nothing, that every animal in the Bible has to be classifiable in the terms of modern taxonomy. Dragons are not scientifically real - that does not make them any less well worth talking about. And exactly the same applies to the beasts and monsters of the Bible. Scientific & historical truth are kinds of truth, and far from the only kinds, or even the most important kinds.
I guess it’s redundant by now. It’s been answered very well and thoughtfully a few times. But it’s obvious that Levithan did not exist. The scriptures , tying Levithan in with the great sea monsters ( not merely great fish) portrays it as a giant multi headed sea dragon that breathed fire and God went to war with and crushed its head.
In ancient Semitic faiths there was this belief in some religions that a giant multi headed sea dragon was already here on earth. The gods went to war with it and finally destroyed it.
In genesis it plays off that concept and says no. God did not go to war with it. For a fact he created it and called it good and he was its creator. As the story unfolds we see that in the old testament this creature is brought up again in Job as a way to show how powerful God is. God created this magnificent sea serpent dragon thing. In Jonah, we read that this same creature swallows Jonah and spat him out. It was a fictional story as shown by how it picked Jonah, one of the “terrible profits” to bring the good news to the Gentiles. In psalms, a very imaginative book of poetry, then narrative changes to being that God eventually crushed the heads ( multi headed ) sea monster and tossed its body around the earth. In the new testament we see this same beast being used to describe the ones from the sea and so on and even satan being described very similarly as a flying dragon.
The myth was such a common myth that you can even see the similarities between God becoming a man ( Jesus ) and destroying the dragon just like God the father destroyed the giant sea serpent with the concepts of a man that was part God , a demi god named Hercules, and his battle with a multi headed dragon. These things all helped spawn the medieval mythologies of knights as a agent of the kind battling dragons to save a beautiful price SS he then married much like Jesus saved the church as his bride.
The descriptions make it very clear that it’s not a whale , hippo, or alligator. It’s a dragon of myths. It’s not a dinosaur proving early earth creation as evidence that men and dinosaurs were all living together. It’s strictly a literary device.
There seems to be some connection of the Leviathan of Job 3 (per my WBC commentary) with Ugaritic imagery involving (in this one case) a mysterious force capable of things like eating of the sun or moon during what we would call eclipses etc — or, for example, cursing the day Job was conceived so that his conception may never have happened. I have not looked into other references – such as those in psalms or Job 40…but this would, at least, make “Leviathan” somewhat symbolic at best.
I do know people who think, as you reference, that Leviathan was a reference to dinosaurs,. They then take it – since they are YEC — to mean that humans dwelt with dinosaurs in the past.
And yes, I can, as some others here have done, recommend some great dinosaur sites for you…Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, MT, for example. I was in a more local dinosuar museum in, I believe, Thermopolis, WY, this past Sept, where there was a sign saying that you and I would simply constitute a “snack” for some dinosaurs …thus, it is hard for me to see how we cohabited this planet with the Big Ones, especially.
Hopefully this blog will give you some ideas…but do look into the connection of the largely poetic verses of Job with the imagery of Ugarit — which, for Job’s time, would have been familiar thinking.
I love dinosaurs too.
There are many creatures, or composites of creatures, that could fit the description.
But dinosaurs were long gone.
Leviathan is used with different senses (different references) in the Old Testament. In some texts Leviathan is just a large sea creature, as in Psalm 104:26, which mentions two travelers of the sea: “There go the ships, / and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.” We don’t know what sort of large sea creature is intended; it could be a whale, or even a giant squid.
Although the final Hebrew word of verse 26 (bo, a preposition with a pronominal suffix) can be taken to mean that God made Leviathan to play “in it” (that is, the sea), it might mean that God made Leviathan to play “with it/him.” According to one Jewish tradition (‘Abodah Zarah , in the Babylonian Talmud), God plays with Leviathan for three hours each day.
In other biblical texts, Leviathan can mean a mythical beast representing the forces of chaos, which God conquers, as in Isaiah 27:1 and Psalm 74:14 (Leviathan in verse 14 is parallel to the sea and the dragons in verse 13). Leviathan is here described in language reminiscent of Canaanite myth (found in the Ugaritic tablets at Ras Shamra). On this parallel, see the handout I sometimes use in class to show this (https://jrichardmiddleton.files.wordpress.com/2020/01/middleton-the-canaanite-background-of-leviathan-with-biblical-texts.pdf).
For further analysis of this use of Leviathan (and parallel terms like Rahab, the serpent, tannin, etc.), anyone interested can consult the article I wrote called “Created in the Image of a Violent God? The Ethical Problem of the Conquest of Chaos in Biblical Creation Texts” (https://jrichardmiddleton.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/middleton-created-in-the-image-of-a-violent-god.pdf). An expanded version of this article shows up as chap. 6 of my Book The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Brazos, 2005).
The figure of Leviathan in the book of Job is unique in that the beast seems to be mythological; it is clearly more than an ordinary zoological specimen (after all, it breathes fire). Yet it is not God’s enemy, but rather a creature that God is proud of and boasts to Job about. I have explored this use of Leviathan in an article called “Does God Come to Bury Job or to Praise Him? The Significance of YHWH’s Second Speech from the Whirlwind” (https://jrichardmiddleton.files.wordpress.com/2017/07/middleton-does-god-come-to-bury-job-or-to-praise-him-st-marks-review-2017.pdf). On my reading, God implicitly compares Job to Leviathan (affirming the royal dignity and power of each) with the purpose of letting Job know that (unlike Job’s three friends) God is partial to bold, fiery creatures, who are not easy to subdue (which is what comforts Job at the end of the book).