What is the Leviathan?
The existence of enormous sea serpents or dragons has been mentioned in numerous mythologies and religions. Greek, Norse, Mesopotamian, Judaism and Christianity are just a few.
The creature known as leviathan appears in many different stories and its origins are rooted in far more than just one Culture. So let’s take a look at some of these origins.
Different theory related to Leviathan
According to the Peter Binsfeld’s classification of demons Leviathan appeared as one of the Seven Princes of hell. The prince of envy.
Scholars such as Thomas Aquinas described it as a demon responsible for punishing those guilty of envy by swallowing them whole. This led to the idea that leviathan may mean more than just an enormous sea creature. It was a place where the damned would be sent. Its gaping moor was thought to represent the gates of hell.
What Leviathan means?
If we go by the Greek old testament and the book of revelation. Leviathan is a term when translated that means dragon. Dragons and serpents were not terms that were as defined as they are today. They normally refer to very similar creatures in Ancient texts.
The old testament doesn’t directly associate leviathan with the devil. But the book of revelation speaks of a mighty battle between God and a Seven-headed dragon. Which is symbolic of
evil and the devil. During this conflict there were two monsters summoned that sided with the dragon. The first beast came from the abyss and the second came from the Earth.
Chapter 13 of the book of revelation describes the first beast as rising from the sea, hence the association with the Leviathan.
Jonah and Leviathan story
In the story where Jonah is swallowed by a whale. There are some biblical scholars who instead believe this could have been the Leviathan. It’s not until the book of Jonah that we see the name leviathan. A monster of the sea that mankind is helpless to overcome. Sharp teeth and scaled is a fairly ambiguous description. Which is why the debate as to what creature may have inspired the leviathan is still ongoing.
I’ve seen suggestions ranging from an enormous crocodile, a giant whale, a multi-headed sea serpent or perhaps just one of the many extinct species that used to inhabit our Ocean.
What Judaism tell about Leviathan?
It’s common in Judaism to see leviathan paired with the behemoth. Leviathan a monster that inhabits the ocean and behemoth a monster found on land. The book of enoch isn’t biblical canon but it does describe leviathan as a female monster that dwells in the depths of the ocean. And the behemoth as its male counterpart found in the desert.
These two monsters were separated by God and when the end comes they shall be slain and served as food to all those deemed as righteous. This essentially means when the time comes God will slay these monsters to save his creations but only his followers will be allowed to feast. In this account leviathan is described as a great fish. The talmud echoes this idea, however it goes a tad further its skin will be flayed and cover the tent where the feast takes place.
If one does not consume its flesh they will be given clothing made from its skin. The remaining skin will be spread across the walls of Jerusalem where its brightness is said to illuminate the World. Now you would assume in order to cover an entire city this would have to be one really big fish.
One description in the town would states it was a creature with horns on its head, a gaping jaw and a body that is 300 miles long. Numerous stories in the Midrash describe encounters and they often involve someone almost being swallowed.
Leviathan in Tanakh?
The word leviathan appears in the tanakh six times. Twice in the book of job, twice in palms and twice in the book of Isaiah. The description however isn’t always the same. Isaiah 27 mentions the torturous serpent leviathan that resides in the sea. The leviathan is described as a great fire breathing monster with impenetrable scales.
The Book of Job perhaps gives us the most detailed explanation of its appearance. When job begins to question his place and belief in God. God describes a fire breathing terror that lurks in the ocean a monster that embodies chaos an untamed beast that mankind could never dream to overcome. The only one who can stop this beast is God himself. So job and anyone else questioning their place in this hierarchy should acknowledge they have much more to learn.
Mesopotamian and Babylonian Mythology
In Mesopotamian and Babylonian mythology, we see what are considered some of the first accounts of the leviathan or creatures that are very similar.
The Babylonian creation myth tells of a primordial Goddess of the sea known as Tiamat, who mates with abzu, The God of fresh water. In one variation tiamat is the Goddess of creation and his marriage to Abzu slowly begins to create the cosmos as they have children.
The second variation is much closer to the leviathan we saw in Christianity. Tiamat is a monster that embodies chaos and takes the form of a serpent or dragon.
The first generation of deities in this pantheon are born from tiamat. However their children plan to overthrow them. Abzu is killed when trying to defend his throne. And so tiamat assumes the form of a wicked monster and seeks vengeance. To aid her she created all of the monsters in the world eventually she was slain by The God Marduk, who created the heavens and the Earth from her body.
The leviathan has taken many different forms but I guess the more interesting question here is which creature do you think inspired its appearance the most.
Let us know your views on Leviathan in the comment box.