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The Leviathan of the Book of Job is a reflection of the older Canaanite Lotan, a primeval monster defeated by the god Hadad. Parallels to the role of Mesopotamian Tiamat defeated by Marduk have long been drawn in comparative mythology, as have been wider comparisons to dragon and world serpent narratives such as Indra slaying Vrtra or Thor slaying Jörmungandr, but Leviathan already figures in the Hebrew Bible as a metaphor for a powerful enemy, notably Babylon (Isaiah 27:1), and some scholars have pragmatically interpreted it as referring to large aquatic creatures, such as the crocodile. The word later came to be used as a term for "great whale" as well as of sea monsters in general.
Etymology and origins
The name לִוְיָתָן is a derivation from the root לוה lvh "to twine; to join", with an adjectival suffix ן-, with a literal meaning of "wreathed, twisted in folds". Both the name and the mythological figure are a direct continuation of the Ugaritic sea monster Lôtān, one of the servants of the sea god Yammu defeated by Hadad in the Baal Cycle. The Ugaritic account has gaps, making it unclear whether some phrases describe him or other monsters at Yammu's disposal such as Tunannu (the Biblical Tannin). Most scholars agree on describing Lôtān as "the fugitive serpent" (bṯn brḥ) but he may or may not be "the wriggling serpent" (bṯn ʿqltn) or "the mighty one with seven heads" (šlyṭ d.šbʿt rašm). His role seems to have been prefigured by the earlier serpent Têmtum whose death at the hands Hadad is depicted in Syrian seals of the 18th–16th century BCE.
Sea serpents feature prominently in the mythology of the Ancient Near East. They are attested by the 3rd millennium BCE in Sumerian iconography depicting the god Ninurta overcoming a seven-headed serpent. It was common for Near Eastern religions to include a Chaoskampf: a cosmic battle between a sea monster representing the forces of chaos and a creator god or culture hero who imposes order by force. The Babylonian creation myth describes Marduk's defeat of the serpent goddess Tiamat, whose body was used to create the heavens and the earth.
Job 41:1–34 is dedicated to describing him in detail: "Behold, the hope of him is in vain; shall not one be cast down even at the sight of him?" In Psalm 74, God is said to "break the heads of Leviathan in pieces" before giving his flesh to the people of the wilderness. In Psalm 104, God is praised for having made all things, including Leviathan, and in Isaiah 27:1, he is called the "tortuous serpent" who will be killed at the end of time.
The mention of the Tannins in the Genesis creation narrative (translated as "great whales" in the King James Version) and Leviathan in the Psalm do not describe them as harmful but as ocean creatures who are part of God's creation. The element of competition between God and the sea monster and the use of Leviathan to describe the powerful enemies of Israel may reflect the influence of the Mesopotamian and Canaanite legends or the contest in Egyptian mythology between the Apep snake and the sun god Horus. Alternatively, the removal of such competition may have reflected an attempt to naturalize Leviathan in a process that demoted it from deity to demon to monster.
Later Jewish sources describe Leviathan as a dragon who lives over the Sources of the Deep and who, along with the male land-monster Behemoth, will be served up to the righteous at the end of time. The Book of Enoch (60:7–9) describes Leviathan as a female monster dwelling in the watery abyss (as Tiamat), while Behemoth is a male monster living in the desert of Dunaydin ("east of Eden").
When the Jewish midrash (explanations of the Tanakh) were being composed, it was held that God originally produced a male and a female leviathan, but lest in multiplying the species should destroy the world, he slew the female, reserving her flesh for the banquet that will be given to the righteous on the advent of the Messiah.
the...sea monsters: The great fish in the sea, and in the words of the Aggadah (B.B. 74b), this refers to the Leviathan and its mate, for He created them male and female, and He slew the female and salted her away for the righteous in the future, for if they would propagate, the world could not exist because of them. הַתַּנִינִם is written. [I.e., the final “yud,” which denotes the plural, is missing, hence the implication that the Leviathan did not remain two, but that its number was reduced to one.] – [from Gen. Rabbah 7:4, Midrash Chaseroth V’Yetheroth, Batei Midrashoth, vol 2, p. 225].
In the Talmud Baba Bathra 75a it is told that the Leviathan will be slain and its flesh served as a feast to the righteous in [the] Time to Come, and its skin used to cover the tent where the banquet will take place. The festival of Sukkot (Festival of Booths) therefore concludes with a prayer recited upon leaving the sukkah (booth): "May it be your will, Lord our God and God of our forefathers, that just as I have fulfilled and dwelt in this sukkah, so may I merit in the coming year to dwell in the sukkah of the skin of Leviathan. Next year in Jerusalem."
The enormous size of the Leviathan is described by Johanan bar Nappaha, from whom proceeded nearly all the aggadot concerning this monster: "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'".
When the Leviathan is hungry, reports Rabbi Dimi in the name of Rabbi Johanan, he sends forth from his mouth a heat so great as to make all the waters of the deep boil, and if he would put his head into Paradise no living creature could endure the odor of him. His abode is the Mediterranean Sea; and the waters of the Jordan fall into his mouth.
In a legend recorded in the Midrash called Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer it is stated that the fish which swallowed Jonah narrowly avoided being eaten by the Leviathan, which eats one whale each day.
The body of the Leviathan, especially his eyes, possesses great illuminating power. This was the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer, who, in the course of a voyage in company with Rabbi Joshua, explained to the latter, when frightened by the sudden appearance of a brilliant light, that it probably proceeded from the eyes of the Leviathan. He referred his companion to the words of Job xli. 18: "By his neesings a light doth shine, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning" (B. B. l.c.). However, in spite of his supernatural strength, the leviathan is afraid of a small worm called "kilbit", which clings to the gills of large fish and kills them (Shab. 77b).
In the eleventh century piyyut (religious poem), Akdamut, recited on Shavuot (Pentecost), it is envisioned that, ultimately, God will slaughter the Leviathan, which is described as having "mighty fins" (and, therefore, a kosher fish, not an inedible snake or crocodile), and it will be served as a sumptuous banquet for all the righteous in Heaven.
Leviathan can also be used as an image of Satan, endangering both God's creatures—by attempting to eat them—and God's creation—by threatening it with upheaval in the waters of Chaos. St. Thomas Aquinas described Leviathan as the demon of envy, first in punishing the corresponding sinners (Secunda Secundae Question 36). Peter Binsfeld likewise classified Leviathan as the demon of envy, as one of the seven Princes of Hell corresponding to the seven deadly sins. Leviathan became associated with, and may originally have referred to, the visual motif of the Hellmouth, a monstrous animal into whose mouth the damned disappear at the Last Judgement, found in Anglo-Saxon art from about 800, and later all over Europe.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible suggests in a footnote to Job 41:1 that Leviathan may be a name for the crocodile, and in a footnote to Job 40:15, that Behemoth may be a name for the hippopotamus. Young Earth Creationists have also identified Leviathan and Behemoth with dinosaurs.
The word Leviathan has come to refer to any sea monster, and from the early 17th century has also been used of overwhelmingly powerful people or things (comparable to Behemoth or Juggernaut), influentially so by Hobbes' book (1651).
Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber'd and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.
Anton Szandor LaVey in his Satanic Bible (1969) has Leviathan representing the element of Water and the direction of west, listing it as one of the Four Crown Princes of Hell. This association was inspired by the demonic hierarchy from The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage. The Church of Satan uses the Hebrew letters at each of the points of the Sigil of Baphomet to represent Leviathan. Starting from the lowest point of the pentagram, and reading counter-clockwise, the word reads "לִוְיָתָן". Transliterated, this is (LVIThN) Leviathan.
- Cirlot, Juan Eduardo (1971). A Dictionary of Symbols (2nd ed.). Dorset Press. p. 186.
- Wilhelm Gesenius, Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (trans.) (1879). Hebrew and Chaldee lexicon to the Old Testament .
- Uehlinger (1999), p. 514.
- Herrmann (1999), p. 133.
- Heider (1999).
- Uehlinger (1999), p. 512.
- van der Toorn, K.; Becking, Bob; van der Horst, Pieter Willem, eds. (1999). Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 512–14. Retrieved 13 July 2012.
- Hermann Gunkel, Heinrich Zimmern; K. William Whitney Jr., trans., Creation And Chaos in the Primeval Era And the Eschaton: A Religio-historical Study of Genesis 1 and Revelation 12. (Grand Rapids: MI: Erdmans, 1895, 1921, 2006).
- Enuma Elish, Tablet IV, lines 104–105, 137–138, 144 from Alexander Heidel (1963) , Babylonian Genesis, 41–42.
- Jewish Publication Society translation (1917).
- Gen. 1:21.
- Gen. 1:21 (KJV).
- Ps. 104.
- For example, in Isaiah 27:1.
- Watson, R.S. (2005). Chaos Uncreated: A Reassessment of the Theme of "chaos" in the Hebrew Bible. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 3110179938, ISBN 9783110179934
- Babylonian Talmud, tractate Baba Bathra 74b.
- One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Hirsch, Emil G.; Kaufmann Kohler; Solomon Schechter; Isaac Broydé (1901–1906). "Leviathan and Behemoth". In Singer, Isidore; et al. Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company. Retrieved 3 September 2009.
- Chabad. "Rashi's Commentary on Genesis". Retrieved 25 October 2012.
- Finkel, Avraham (1993). The Essence of the Holy Days: Insights from the Jewish Sages. Northvale, N.J.: J. Aronson. p. 99. ISBN 0-87668-524-6. OCLC 27935834.
- Baba Bathra 75a
- Bekorot 55b; Baba Bathra 75a
- Labriola, Albert C. (1982). "The Medieval View of History in Paradise Lost". In Mulryan, John. Milton and the Middle Ages. Bucknell University Press. pp. 115–34. ISBN 978-0-8387-5036-0. p. 127.
- Link, Luther (1995). The Devil: A Mask Without a Face. London: Reaktion Books. pp. 75–6. ISBN 0-948462-67-1.
- Hofmann, Petra (2008). Infernal Imagery in Anglo-Saxon Charters (PDF) (Thesis). St Andrews. pp. 143–44. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-10-01.
- The Holy Bible Revised Standared Version. New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons. 1959. pp. 555–56
- "Genesis Park, Room 1: The Dinosaurs". Genesispark.com. Retrieved 13 July 2012. Taylor, Paul S. (13 February 2008). "Were Dinosaurs alive after Babel?". Answersingenesis.org. Retrieved 13 July 2012.
- Dupeyron-Lafay, Françoise (2017). "The Violence and Monstrosity of Time: The Symbolism of Oceans and the Representations of Leviathan and the Kraken in English Poetry and Literature". Polysèmes (17). doi:10.4000/polysemes.1966. ISSN 0999-4203.
- ""The Kraken" (1830)". www.victorianweb.org. Retrieved 2017-09-03.
- "The History of the Origin of the Sigil of Baphomet and its Use in the Church of Satan". Church of Satan website. Retrieved 3 September 2009.
- Heider, George C. (1999), "Tannîn", Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2nd ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, pp. 834–836.
- Herrmann, Wolfgang (1999), "Baal", Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2nd ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, pp. 132–139.
- Uehlinger, C. (1999), "Leviathan", Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2nd ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, pp. 511–515.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Leviathan.|
- 'Sea monster' whale fossil unearthed. Named Leviathan by scientists 30 June 2010.
- Putting God on Trial – The Biblical Book of Job contains a major section on the literary use of Leviathan.
- Job 41:1–41:34 (KJV)
- The fossilised skull of a colossal "sea monster" has been unearthed along the UK's Jurassic Coast. 27 October 2009
- 'Sea monster' whale fossil unearthed 30 June 2010
- Enuma Elish (Babylonian creation epic)
- Philologos concordance page
- Text of the Leviathan passage from Job 40 and 41