YHVH – Conqueror of the Chaos Monsters
The other day, while browsing some Kent Hovind videos on YouTube, I caught an interesting remark. Hovind, a notorious young earth creationist, claimed that dinosaurs lived as recently as 5000 years ago. Our legends of fire-breathing dragons come from our memories of dinosaurs, and that those dinosaurs breathed fire. Now, where did Hovind get these ideas which have no historical or scientific support? I believe it to specifically be a reference to Behemoth and Leviathan, two creatures mentioned in Job 40 and 41. Since Behemoth has biblical reference outside of this passage, I thought I would look into Leviathan, and see what the Bible says about this creature, and various ways in which it can be interpreted. Let’s look up some of the Biblical references to Leviathan. Some Bibles interpret the Leviathan of Job 41 to be a crocodile. This was the view taken by my old church when I was growing up. Ken Hovind believes this to be a dinosaur. Let’s take a look at the description of this beast as given by YHVH in Job 41:
The Lord (YHVH), in expresses his power and might to Job thusly:
“Can you draw out Levi’athan with a fishhook, or press down his tongue with a cord? Can you put a rope in his nose, or pierce his jaw with a hook? (vs 1,2)
Implying that YHVH can do these things to Leviathan, and poor mortal Job cannot. But then YHVH, in continuing in this vein says something very odd:
Will he make many supplications to you? Will he speak to you soft words? Will he make a covenant with you to take him for your servant for ever? (vs 3,4)
Again, implying that YHVH can, and poor mortal Job cannot. But does this also imply that YHVH has done this? Has YHVH subdued Leviathan and made the creature his servant forever? Either implication does not point to a dinosaur to me, much less a crocodile.
Let’s skip down to verse 9:
Behold, the hope of a man is disappointed; he is laid low even at the sight of him (Leviathan). No one is so fierce that he dares to stir him up. Who then is he that can stand before me? Who has given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine. (vs 9-11)
YHVH here expresses that everything under the whole of heaven belongs to him, that he is the mightiest of all. And he does this by expressing his dominance over Leviathan, the creature which humbles man by the mere sight of him. Would a powerful god who possesses all under heaven express his dominance by subduing a mere crocodile or dinosaur? This passage only makes sense to me if Leviathan is also a tremendous creature that would pose some kind of challenge to YHVH. Otherwise, there is really not much for YHVH to brag about.
Now we get to a physical description of Leviathan:
“I will not keep silence concerning his limbs, or his mighty strength, or his goodly frame. Who can strip off his outer garment? Who can penetrate his double coat of mail? Who can open the doors of his face? Round about his teeth is terror. His back is made of rows of shields, shut up closely as with a seal. One is so near to another that no air can come between them. They are joined one to another; they clasp each other and cannot be separated. (vs 12-17)
I double plated, armored coat of mail? Plates of armor like shields? So tightly bound that no air can pass through, joined and clasped and inseparable? This is no crocodile. What the heck is this Leviathan creature?
And now my favorite part:
His sneezings flash forth light, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn. (vs 18)
Wow! When I read this, I cannot help but think of Isaiah 14:12,
How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star (Lucifer), son of Dawn!
but that reference will have to wait for another article.
Out of his mouth go flaming torches; sparks of fire leap forth. Out of his nostrils comes forth smoke, as from a boiling pot and burning rushes. His breath kindles coals, and a flame comes forth from his mouth. (vs 19-21)
There is no way in hell that this is a crocodile. Not even dinosaurs could even breath fire, but I have to give Hovind credit for at least his consistency. Based on this passage, he does claim that dinosaurs prowled the earth in the days of Job, and yes, they did indeed breathe fire. But if that is the case, how does that work scientifically? By what scientific method can any creature ignite a flame and breathe it out?
This is not science. This creature never existed. This is myth.
One of the constant themes throughout ancient mythology was the concept of the chaos god or some other destructive monster. Whether we are talking about Egyptians, the Zoroastrian god Ahura Mazda, Vedic beliefs about their young god Indra, the Scandinavian god Thor, and Ugaritic and other Semetic mythologies, a constant theme emerges in their creation myths. Each of these gods had to face a primordial world of chaos, ruled or at least inhabited by some kind of monster. The god was usually a powerful, young hero who emerged from an older pantheon of gods to challenge the monster. Sometimes, the hero battled the monster on the condition of being granted divinity, as was the case of Indra. And sometimes the world was created from the remains of the defeated monster. This theme occurs again and again, and I see hints of that theme peeking through our own Bible. Job 41 is a classic example. Leviathan is a chaos monster, and YHVH must subdue him.
What is the alternative to that ‘heretical’ view? Leviathan was some kind of earthly beast whom YHVH was proud of subduing. It is a beast that brought terror to mankind because of its dread power. It is a beast that could breathe fire. Our alternative, the only one that I can see, is that Leviathan is a fire-breathing crocodile, or we go the Kent Hovind route and claim that it was a dinosaur.
The literal description of this beast just does not work. After reading these Biblical passages as thoroughly as I can, I am convinced that they are pure myth. It just makes more sense with an honest reading of the text. It keeps with the theme of the popular creation mythos of the time. And we don’t need to invoke literal fire-breathing dragons. No, I never heard that in Sunday sermon either, but it is the only view, in my judgment that makes any sense. Read the entire chapter and tell me if I am selling this passage of Scripture short.
What else can we learn about Leviathan from Scripture? Leviathan is also present in Psalm 74, so let’s take a look and see if this mythic theme is consistent:
In praising the attributes of God (Elohim, this time), the psalmist writes:
Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. Thou didst divide the sea by thy might; thou didst break the heads of the dragons on the waters. Thou didst crush the heads of Leviathan, thou didst give him as food for the creatures of the wilderness. Thou didst cleave open springs and brooks; thou didst dry up ever-flowing streams. Thine is the day, thine also the night; thou hast established the luminaries and the sun. Thou hast fixed all the bounds of the earth; thou hast made summer and winter. (vs 12-17)
What in the world is this talking about? Charles Spurgeon thought Leviathan was a big fish who was killed when Moses parted the Red Sea. He also thought the dragon was Pharaoh. Here is his interpretation in his own words:
Monsters long accustomed to the deep found themselves left high and dry. Huge things of the sea cave and the coral grot were deprived of their vital element, and left with crushed heads upon the dry channel bed. There, too, that old dragon Pharaoh was utterly broken, and Egypt herself had the head of her power and pomp broken with an almighty blow. Even thus is that old dragon broken by him who came to bruise the serpent’s head, and the sea of wrath no longer rolls before us; we pass through it dry shod. Our faith as to the present is revived by glad memories of the past.
Well, you be the judge, but just don’t think that interpretation works. The text of the psalm does not say fish. It does not say Pharaoh. It says dragons. It says Leviathan. These are monsters that the psalmist is crediting Elohim for killing, for smashing their heads upon the rocks and feeding to the carrion eaters. Elohim then creates the earth when he is done, which fits the mythic theme of the earth being created from the remains of the chaos monsters. This psalm makes perfect sense when compared to other myths of the time.
There is one more passage in Scripture that may or may not fit this theme (Isaiah 26:20-27:1), and one that does not really fit at all (Psalm 104:26). Similarly, the mythic theme of the chaos monster does appear in other places, but with different names from Leviathan (e.g. Isaiah 51:9-11). But that just goes to show that the Bible is not a consistent in its themes, and that is was written with many different ideas, mythic backgrounds and agendas. There are hints in Scripture that, I feel, show the diverse cultural background it really came from.
But I don’t think it is all like what I learned in church – that there is one God, and one consistent golden theme throughout Scripture. I think that interpreting much of Scripture through these ancient myths makes, in many cases, the most reasonable interpretation. As I have written about several times on this blogsite, I love this mythology, but it just does not fit the orthodox Judeo-Christian view. Therefore, we never hear anything from the pulpit except that which our creeds tell us what to believe. Sometimes, these alternate views just make more sense. If we are to put ourselves into the minds of the ancients when we read their words in Scripture, we cannot separate their cultures from it, and that includes their mythologies.
It is amazing what you can find in Scripture if you look outside the standard church readings. Amazing. And that is reason 42364 why I reject the notion that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God (TM).