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Playing with Leviathan

Themes in
Biblical Narrative
Jewish and Christian Traditions

Editorial Board

George H. van Kooten

Robert A. Kugler
Jacques T.A.G.M. van Ruiten
Loren T. Stuckenbruck

Advisory Board

Reinhard Feldmeier
Judith Lieu
Florentino García Martínez
Hindy Najman
Martti Nissinen
Ed Noort

volume 21

The titles published in this series are listed at

Playing with Leviathan
Interpretation and Reception of Monsters from the
Biblical World

Edited by

Koert van Bekkum, Jaap Dekker,

Henk van de Kamp and Eric Peels

Cover illustration: Cornelis Anthonisz., Battle between good and evil, c. 1530, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum.

The Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available online at

LC record available at

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List of Illustrations ix
Abbreviations xii
List of Contributors xv
Introduction xvii

Part 1
Ancient Near East

1 The Leviathan in the Ancient Near East 3

Marjo Korpel and Johannes de Moor

Part 2
Old Testament

2 God and the Dragons in the Book of Isaiah 21

Jaap Dekker

3 As a Fish on Dry Land. Some Remarks on Tannîn in Ezekiel 40

Ben van Werven

4 “Is Your Rage Against the Rivers, Your Wrath Against the Sea?”.
Storm-God Imagery in Habakkuk 3 55
Koert van Bekkum

5 The Monster as a Toy. Leviathan in Psalm 104:26 77

Gert Kwakkel

6 “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find The(ir Wisdo)m”. Behemoth and

Leviathan in the Book of Job 90
Nicholas Ansell
vi Contents

Part 3
Early and Rabbinic Judaism

7 Leviathan on the Menu of the Messianic Meal. The Use of Various

Images of Leviathan in Early Jewish Tradition 117
Michael Mulder

Part 4
New Testament and Early Christianity

8 Romans 16:17–20a: Imminent Danger and Victory 133

Theo van Spanje

9 The Air Combat between Michael and the Dragon. Revelation 12:7–12
in Relation to Similar Texts from the New Testament 151
Rob van Houwelingen

10 Leviathan and the Monsters in Revelation 167

Henk van de Kamp

Part 5
Theological Reflections

11 God and the Suffering of Animals 179

Gijsbert van den Brink

12 “God Deals More Roughly with His Creature than We Would Like”.
Leviathan in the Work of Arnold A. van Ruler 201
Dirk van Keulen

13 Modern Political Society as Leviathan. Interpretation and Application

of Thomas Hobbes’ Use of a Biblical Symbol 213
Ad de Bruijne

14 The Dragon / Snake in Myth, Religion and Mission. Fear of Death

Defeated by the Message of Life 233
Kees Haak
Contents vii

Part 6
Iconographic Representations

15 A Glimpse of the Beast. Leviathan in Late Medieval and Early

Modern Art 249
Anique de Kruijf

16 Incarnations of Death: Leviathan in the Movies 280

Reinier Sonneveld

Index of Ancient Sources 297

Index of Geographical and Personal Names 304
Index of Subjects 308
Index of Modern Authors 310
List of Illustrations

1.1 Seven-headed monster from Mesopotamia (from Joan Goodnick

Westenholz, Dragons, Monsters and Fabulous Beasts, Jerusalem 2004, 191,
Fig. 160) 4
1.2 Another seven-headed monster from Mesopotamia (from O. Keel, Die
Welt der altorientalischen Bildsymbolik und das Alte Testament: Am
Beispiel der Psalmen, Neukirchen-Vluyn 1972, 45, No. 52) 5
1.3 The youthful sun-god is still shut in by the primordial sea which is
depicted as a circular serpent chasing after its own tail. However, his
foot is already on the beast (from B.H. Stricker, De grote zeeslang, Leiden
1953, 11, Fig. a) 6
1.4 The three-headed serpent Apophis encircles the lifeless body of the sun-
god (from Stricker, De grote zeeslang, 11, Fig. c) 7
1.5 The snake Ladon encircling the apple tree of the Hesperides. Okeanos
(ocean) and Strymon (a river) are sitting left and right of the tree (date
ca. 475 BCE, from H.-G. Buchholz, “Furcht vor Schlangen und Umgang
mit Schlangen in Altsyrien, Altkypros und dem Umfeld,” UF 32 [2000],
36–168 [166], Fig. 23) 8
1.6 Hercules defeats the serpent guarding the Tree of Life (terracotta plate,
2nd to 3rd century CE; Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich, Room
2, Accession Number SL 89, Loeb Collection) 9
1.7 Cylinder seal in the British Museum depicting Marduk’s victory over
Tiāmat. Since the god has bundles of lightnings in his hands Marduk is
seen as the storm-god. The dragon only has forelegs, the rest of its body
drags along. The skin of the horned monster is scaly, like the skin of the
Leviathan according to Job 41:7–8 [15–16] 10
1.8 The storm-god pierces the sea-dragon with his spear. Flames and
bubbles suggest that the writhing monster causes the sea to boil (after
Keel, altorientalischen Bildsymbolik, 44, No. 50) 11
1.9 Baal standing on the serpentine body of Yam (Sea), piercing him with
his lightning spear. The artisan used the grain of the stone to suggest
heavy rainfall (Musée du Louvre, Paris) 13
1.10 The partly theriomorph Seth thrusts his spear into the mouth of
Apophis (Cairo Museum) 14
15.1 Crispijn van der Passe, The rich man and the poor Lazarus, c. 1595,
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum 253
15.2 Anonymous, Harrowing of Hell, c. 1320, Paris, Musée du Louvre 255
x List of Illustrations

15.3 Pieter van der Heyden, Harrowing of Hell, c. 1561, Rotterdam,

Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Photo: Studio Tromp,
Rotterdam 256
15.4 Anonymous, Boxwood tabernacle, c. 1520, London, British Museum, WB233, © The Trustees of the British Museum 257
15.5 Detail tabernacle with devotional scenes of the harrowing of
Hell 258
15.6 Anonymous, Opening of the first six seals, c. 1400, Facsimile Edition
Flemish Apocalypse, © M. Moleiro Editor ( 259
15.7 Hans Memling, Triptych for the Saint John’s Hospital, c. 1475, Bruges,
Musea Brugge ©—Art in Flanders vzw, Photo:
Dominique Provost 260
15.8 Detail of the right panel of the triptych by Hans Memling 260
15.9 Anonymous, Blowing the fifth trumpet, c. 1400, Facsimile Edition
Flemish Apocalypse, © M. Moleiro Editor ( 262
15.10 Anonymous, Rider ‘Faithful and true’ conquers evil, c. 1400, Facsimile
Edition Flemish Apocalypse, © M. Moleiro Editor (moleiro.
com) 263
15.11 Anonymous, Rider ‘Faithful and true’ conquers evil, c. 1465, London,
British Museum, f.40r 264
15.12 Anonymous, Dead rise, c. 1400, Facsimile Edition Flemish
Apocalypse, Facsimile Edition Flemish Apocalypse, © M. Moleiro
Editor ( 265
15.13 Anonymous, Death and Hell hurled into Lake Fire, c. 1465, London,
British Museum, f.44r 266
15.14 Anonymous, detail of the Theodosia-altarpiece, 1545, Utrecht,
Museum Catharijneconvent, Photo: Ruben de Heer) 267
15.15 Lucas Cranach, Luther preaching and pope hurled into the mouth
of hell, c. 1550, Kupferstich-Kabinett, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen
Dresden, Photo: Herbert Boswank 269
15.16 Anonymous, Pope and Leviathan, Jena Codex, c. 1500, Prague,
Knihovna Narodniho Muzea, f.80r 270
15.17 Cornelis Anthonisz., Battle between good and evil, c. 1530,
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum 271
15.18 Master van Catherine of Cleves, The mouth of Hell, c. 1440, New York,
The Pierpont Morgan Library, Ms M.917/945, f.168v. Purchased on
the Belle da Costa Green Fund and with assistance of the Fellows,
1963 273
15.19 Detail margin of the miniature from the book of hours of Catherine
of Cleves 274
List Of Illustrations xi

15.20 Theodoor Galle, Personification of the world with scales, c. 1600, in

Veridicus Christianus by Joannes David 274
15.21 Master of the Source of Life, Mass of Saint Gregory, c. 1510, Utrecht,
Museum Catharijneconvent 276
15.22 Detail of the Mass of Saint Gregory 277
15.23 Boëtius à Bolswert, Parable of Barlaam and Josaphat, c. 1615,
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum 278
16.1 The monster in Leviathan (MGM, 1989) 281
16.2 Clash of the Titans (Warner Bros, 2010) 282
16.3 The Kraken turns to stone (Clash of the Titans; Warner Bros,
2010) 283
16.4 Harry Potter killing the Basilisk (Harry Potter and the Chamber of
Secrets; 1492 Pictures, 2002) 284
16.5 Luke Skywalker attacking the Death Star (Star Wars: Episode VI;
Lucasfilm, 1983) 286
16.6 Sharknado (The Asylum, 2013) 287
16.7 Shawshank Redemption (Castle Rock Entertainment, 1993) 288
16.8 Joseph, Christ, and Jonah in Biblia Pauperum, 15th Century CE 292
16.9 Christ in Hades. Herrad of Landsberg, ‘Leviathan’, Hortus Deliciarum
folio 84 r, ca. 1170, Strasbourg, now destroyed 294

AB Anchor Bible
ACCS Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture
ACT Ancient Christian Texts
ANET Ancient Near Eastern Texts
AOAT Alter Orient und Altes Testament
BAR Biblical Archaeological Review
BASOR Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research
BBB Bonner biblische Beiträge
BBR Bulletin for Biblical Research
BCOT Baker Commentary on the Old Testament
BECNT Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
BEThL Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensum
Bib Biblica
BJS Biblical and Judaic Studies
BKAT Biblischer Kommentar zum Alten Testament
BOT De Boeken van het Oude Testament
BS Bibliotheca Sacra
BST The Bible Speaks Today
BZAW Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft
CNT Commentaar op het Nieuwe Testament
COS W.W. Hallo, K.L. Younger (eds.), The Context of Scripture, Vol. 1–3,
Leiden 1997–2002
COT Commentaar op het Oude Testament
CTA Corpus tablettes alphabétiques
CTJ Calvin Theological Journal
DDD Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible
DPL Dictionary of Paul and His Letters
EdF Erträge der Forschung
FAT Forschungen zum Alten Testament
GKG Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar (ed. E. Kautzsch)
HAL Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon
HBM Hebrew Bible Monographs
HDR Harvard Dissertations in Religion
HKAT Handkommentar zum Alten Testament
HSM Harvard Semitic Monographs
HTA Historisch-Theologische Auslegung
Abbreviations xiii

HThKAT Herders Theologischer Kommentar zum Alten Testament

HUCA Hebrew Union College Annual
IBC Interpretation Bible Commentary
ICC International Critical Commentary
JANER Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions
JAOS Journal of the American Oriental Society
JEOL Jaarbericht Ex Oriente Lux
JBL Journal of Biblical Literature
JPOS Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society
JSJ.S Journal for the Study of Judaism Supplement Series
JSNT Journal for the Study of the New Testament
JSNT.S Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series
JSOT.S Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series
KNT Kommentar zum Neuen Testament
KTU Keilalphabetische Texte aus Ugarit
LHBOTS Library of Hebrew Bible / Old Testament Studies
NCBC The New Century Bible Commentary
Neotest Neotestamentica
NIB New Interpreter’s Bible
NICNT The New International Commentary on the New Testament
NICOT The New International Commentary on the Old Testament
NIGTC The New International Greek Testament Commentary
NPNF Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers
NTT Nederlands Theologisch Tijdschrift
OBO Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis
OLG Old Testament Guides
ÖTK Ökumenischer Taschenbuchkommentar zum Neuen Testament
OTL Old Testament Library
OTS Oudtestamentische Studiën / Old Testament Studies
PG Patres Graeci (ed. Migne)
PredOT Prediking van het Oude Testament
PTMS Princeton Theological Monograph Series
RB Revue Biblique
RSO Ras Shamra-Ougarit
SBL.WAW Society of Biblical Literature: Writings from the Ancient World
SBS Stuttgarter Bibel-Studien
SBT Studies in Biblical Theology
SD Studies and Documents
SHCANE Studies in the History and Culture of the Ancient Near East
xiv Abbreviations

SNTSMS Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series

Studies in Biblical Literature
TB Theologische Bücherei
SHBC Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary
STAR Studies in Theology and Religion
TANZ Texte und Arbeiten zum neutestamentlichen Zeitalter
TDNT Theological Dictionary of the New Testament
TDOT Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament
THAT Theologisches Handwörterbuch zum Alten Testament
ThZ Theologische Zeitschrift
TLOT Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament
TNTC Tyndale New Testament Commentaries
TTZ Trierer Theologische Zeitschrift
TWAT Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Alten Testament
UBL Ugaritisch-Biblische Literatur
UF Ugarit-Forschungen: Internationales Jahrbuch für die Altertumskunde
VT Vetus Testamentum
VT.S Vetus Testamentum Supplements
WBC World Biblical Commentary
WMANT Wissenschaftliche Monographien zum Neuen Testament
WUNT Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament
ZAW Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft
ZNW Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft
List of Contributors

N. Ansell
is Assistant Professor of Theology at the Institute of Christian Studies in
Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

K. van Bekkum
is Assistant Professor of Old Testament at the Theological University in

G. van den Brink

is Professor of Theology and Science in the University Research Chair Program
at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam.

A.L.Th. de Bruijne
is Professor of Ethics and Spirituality at the Theological University in Kampen.

J. Dekker
holds the Henk de Jong Chair as Professor of Biblical Studies and Identity at
the Theological University in Apeldoorn and is Minister of the Dutch Reformed
Church in Enschede, the Netherlands.

C.J. Haak
is Emeritus Assistant Professor of Missiology, Martyrics and Ecumenics at the
Theological University in Kampen.

P.H.R. van Houwelingen

is Professor of New Testament at the Theological University in Kampen, as well
as Extraordinary Professor of New Testament at the North-West University
Potchefstroom and Research Associate in the Department of New Testament
Studies at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

H.R. van de Kamp

is Minister of the Reformed Church (liberated) in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands.

D. van Keulen
is Postdoc Researcher in Systematic Theology at the Theological University in
Kampen and Minister of the Protestant Church in Luttelgeest, the Netherlands.
xvi List of Contributors

M.C.A. Korpel
is Associate Professor in Old Testament Studies at the Protestant Theological
University in Amsterdam and Groningen.

A.C. de Kruijf
is a passionate Art Historian. She specializes in Late Medieval and Early
Modern devotional art. She wrote a dissertation concerning the extensive relic
collection of the Old-Catholic Saint Gertrude’s Cathedral in Utrecht. Currently
she is working as a religious heritage specialist at Museum Catharijneconvent
in Utrecht and as an independent researcher.

G. Kwakkel
is Professor of Old Testament at the Theological University Kampen
and Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at the Faculté Jean Calvin,

J.C. de Moor
is Emeritus Professor of Semitic Languages and Cultures of the Ancient
Near East at the Protestant Theological University in Amsterdam (formerly

M.C. Mulder
is Associate Professor of New Testament, New Testament, Judaism and ‘Church
and Israel’ at the Theological University in Apeldoorn. He is director of the
Centre for Israel Studies in the Netherlands and Extraordinary Professor (New
Testament) at the North-West University of Potchefstroom, South-Africa.

H.G.L. Peels
is Professor of Old Testament at the Theological University in Apeldoorn and
Research Associate of the Department of Old Testament Studies, University of
the Free State, South-Africa.

R. Sonneveld
is theologian, filmmaker, editor and writer.

T.E. van Spanje

taught New Testament at the Theological University in Apeldoorn (2012–2016)
and is Minister of the Protestant Church in Epe, the Netherlands.

B. van Werven
is Minister of the Protestant Church in Zuilichem, the Netherlands.

In 2014, the Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev surprised the world with his
film Leviathan, an accessible, naturalistic movie that, according to the direc-
tor, could also be viewed as a loose retelling of the book of Job. The film shows
an episode from the life of a man called Kolya, who has to deal with a delin-
quent son, his sexy second wife, and most of all with a mayor seizing his land.
The setting is a small town on the Kola Peninsula in northwest Russia, so that
‘Leviathan’ is easily recognized in the images of carcasses of ships and whales
littering the beaches of this previous fishing community. Kolya struggles with
the dark aspects of human nature and the abuses of modern law. Accordingly,
‘Leviathan’ is in a metaphorical way also displayed in humanity, in the evil pow-
ers disturbing social interaction, and finally even in the Russian state, which is
definitely not serving its citizens’ best interests. The monster is still alive and
resistance seems futile.
Apparently, Zvyagintsev explores the use of this biblical monster in the
1651 treatise Leviathan by the political philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588–
1679). But despite its theological and philosophical associations, the film was
not perceived as a movie that is hard to understand.1 On the contrary, it was
sharply criticized by the Russian Secretary of Culture, won the award for ‘Best
Screenplay’ at the Festival de Cannes and was nominated for an Oscar in the
category ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ at the 87th Academy Awards. In this way,
the film is another example highlighting that ‘Leviathan’ is nowadays not only
viewed as a monster from pre-historical, biblical times with a rich history of
reception. It is also a living entity, still playing its part as a symbol of over-
whelming, incomprehensible evil powers, both in post-communist Eastern
Europe and in the late-modern, secular societies of the West. At the same time,
God and theology are never far away, as also becomes apparent in the movie.
Precisely at the moment when nothing seems certain, a local religious leader
in the film quotes Hobbes, saying “Freedom is knowing God’s truth.” But is God,
who is said to be almighty and compassionate, also to be trusted?
This volume adds another perspective to the study of Leviathan. It origi-
nated at a conference entitled “Playing with Leviathan,” held in Kampen, the
Netherlands, on April 12, 2013, as part of the research program “Who Is Like You
Among the Gods?” of the Biblical Exegesis and Systematic Theology research
group of the Theological Universities Apeldoorn and Kampen. This theological

1  See e.g. Peter Bradshaw, “Cannes Review: Leviathan—a New Russian Masterpiece,” The
Guardian, 22 May 2014.
xviii Introduction

research program studies two important issues. In the first place, it addresses
the antithesis between the unique and exclusive character of Yhwh and Jesus
Christ, as proclaimed by the biblical writings of Christianity, and the ancient
and (post)modern contexts of religious pluralism in which they are presented.
Secondly, the program studies the fact that there has always been a lively inter-
action between this religious pluralism and the ancient Israelite, Jewish and
Christian tradition.2 Accordingly, this volume offers neither a comprehensive
overview of attestations of Leviathan and other sea monsters and dragons in
textual and iconographic sources, nor of their origins.3 It merely reflects on a
specific tension with regard to them. Both the biblical tradition and its recep-
tion present ‘Leviathan’ and its related powers as a symbol of devastating,
incomprehensible evil. Nonetheless, God’s identity as being sovereign over the
entire universe is also defined by exploiting the language and images of this
venerated symbol. Ps 74:12–17, for instance, seems to be acquainted with the
motif that the cosmos was once established by a defeat of the forces of chaos
(cf. Ps 89:10–13).4 In addition, it depicts Leviathan as a multi-headed serpent,
a portrayal that is also attested in pictures from the Ancient Near East. This
biblical image has a rich history of reception, creating allusions to other sto-
ries about dragons in the ancient Mediterranean by its translation δράκων in
the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. At the same time,
however, Ps 74 emphasizes the sovereignty by which God controls these mon-
sters. Possibly, the text also contains the message that Leviathan will be eaten
as food. According to Ps 104:26, Yhwh is even “playing with Leviathan”. Hence,
a few questions need to be asked:

1. How is the interaction to be described between ‘Leviathan,’ which clearly

finds its background in a polytheistic environment, and the ancient
Israelite, Jewish and Christian traditions highlighting the uniqueness of
the divine character?
2. What historical and theological elements have been central in this inter-
action, both in the biblical writings and in their reception in early-mod-
ern, modern and postmodern times?

2  See and

3  For an overview, see e.g. Robert D. Miller, “Tracking the Dragon across the Ancient Near East,”
Archiv Orientální 82 (2014), 225–245; Bob Becking, Zonder monsters gaat het niet: een geschie-
denis van Leviathan, Vught 2015.
4  For a discussion and literature regarding Ps 74:12–17 and a view trying to diminish its cre-
ational context, see David Toshio Tsumura, “The Creation Motif in Psalm 74:12–14? A
Reappraisal of the Theory of the Dragon Myth,” JBL 134 (2015), 547–555.
Introduction xix

3. How is the biblical notion of ‘Leviathan’ to be evaluated in order to offer

a contribution to the Christian view in diverse religiously pluralist

In looking for an answer to these questions, this volume sketches the ancient
Near Eastern background of ‘Leviathan,’ offers a detailed analysis of several
biblical and post-biblical texts and images, and elucidates its cultural and theo-
logical meaning from the perspective of systematic theology, political theol-
ogy, and missiology. The history of the interpretation of Leviathan in modern
biblical studies is not addressed separately. But needless to say, the apprecia-
tion of ongoing scholarly debate and application of methodological innova-
tions clearly result in the critical evaluation of classic hypotheses concerning
the divine conflict with the dragon, for instance by Hermann Gunkel and
John Day.5
The first contribution, approaching the theme of this volume from the per-
spective of the Ancient Near East, is written by Marjo Korpel and Johannes
de Moor. In their view, the myth of the seven-headed dragon in the classical
world was an adaptation of very ancient oriental predecessors. Accordingly, it
is likely that both the biblical ‘Leviathan’ and the Greek Ladon go back to the
Semitic Lôtān. In many myths, this primordial monster, symbolizing the evil
powers of the world, is defeated. In some of the biblical and Mesopotamian
texts, the downfall of the great sea serpent is definitive, whether in the past or
at the end of times. But in other traditions, such as from Ugarit, Yam and his
monsters Leviathan and Tannin are to be vanquished time and again. There
was always a new Leviathan to be conquered.
The second section concentrates on the detailed explanation of a selection
of texts related to ‘Leviathan’ in the Old Testament.
Jaap Dekker studies the function and meaning of the dragon in the book of
Isaiah. After having explored the attestations of Leviathan, Rahab and Tannin,
Dekker maintains that Leviathan as mentioned in Isa 27:1 does not primarily
represent the power of evil as it manifests itself in creation, but merely embod-
ies the power of evil as it reveals itself in the history of humanity. This Leviathan
will be defeated in the future. In its turn, Rahab in Isa 30:6–7 does not refer to
a battle in the early days or at the end of times. The prophecy focuses on the

5  H. Gunkel, Schöpfung und Chaos in Urzeit und Endzeit. Eine religionsgeschichtliche
Untersuchung über Gen 1 und Ap Joh 12, Göttingen 1895; J. Day, God’s Conflict with the Dragon
and the Sea. Echoes of a Canaanite Myth in the Old Testament, Cambridge 1985. For their
evaluation, see in particular the contributions by Marjo Korpel and Johannes de Moor, Jaap
Dekker, Koert van Bekkum, Gert Kwakkel, and Rob van Houwelingen.
xx Introduction

suggestion that Judah clings to Egypt, in which Israel seems to have an aux-
iliary of mythical proportions. This, however, will result in disillusionment.
Finally, Isa 51:9–11 turns to making use of participles for describing Yhwh’s
victory on Rahab and Tannin. In this way, the prophet expresses the conviction
that hope for exiles is not locked up in the past. Yhwh has already established
a reputation and will do everything to maintain it. Here the rule applies that
past performance really guarantees future results.
Ben van Werven studies the relation between the mythological nature of
tannîn in the book of Ezekiel and the historical and cultural reality of these
chapters by focusing on the spatial aspects of the text. The tannîn dies like fish
on dry land, because it is removed by Yhwh from its natural environment.
What exactly happens in these visualizations? A space-based reading of Ezek
29 and 32 makes it clear why it is important to avoid the use of Chaoskampf as
an interpretative criterion. It clarifies how the identification of the mythologi-
cal monster and Egypt contributes to the rhetoric of Ezekiel as a whole: the
displacement of the pharaoh and Egypt will result in the restoration of Israel,
the displaced community in Babylon.
The use of storm-god imagery for Yhwh in the Old Testament is studied by
Koert van Bekkum in a contribution taking a new look at Hab 3. Is this imagery
to be understood as only metaphorical in nature, or is Yhwh’s rage against
the rivers and the sea reflecting the ancient Israelite version of a common
ancient Near Eastern myth about creation and order in the divine realm? The
article offers a reassessment of this issue by bringing together the results of
three recent scholarly debates: about the comparison of religions, about the
religious-political implications of Enūma eliš and the Baal Cycle, and about the
organization and meaning of Hab 3. In Van Bekkum’s view, both methodologi-
cal considerations and textual and historical evidence make it hard to main-
tain that texts like Hab 3 fit into certain ancient Near Eastern mythic patterns
or reformulate and historicize older polytheistic narratives. Yhwh wears the
garment of the storm-god. Moreover, the ancient Near Eastern cognitive envi-
ronment of the text clearly creates the possibility of understanding important
elements in the text as degraded divine beings. But such an interpretation is
not necessary in order to appreciate that the poem makes use of metahistori-
cal language highlighting Yhwh’s mastery over nature, history and the spiri-
tual world and creating eschatological hope for people in great distress.
Explicit attention to the monster as a toy is provided by Gert Kwakkel in his
contribution on Leviathan in Ps 104:26. According to Kwakkel, it is indeed most
likely to understand the text in such a way that Leviathan is merely a crea-
ture formed by Yhwh to be played with in the sea. The mythical monster is no
match for him. In this way, the verse affirms once more Yhwh’s superiority, not
Introduction xxi

only over Leviathan, but also over other gods such as Baal, who had to struggle
much harder to defeat the monster. This adds a valuable element to Ps 104,
since not only is praising God hardly self-evident, but the potential destructive
powers of the world are also still there. Yhwh has made the sea a safe route of
transport. Yet the fact that he even plays there with Leviathan does not mean
that humans can do the same, nor that the monster is lacking any power to
threaten them. According to the psalm, there is no reason whatsoever to side
with the wicked, who in their unwillingness to submit themselves to Yhwh
present the most important threat to the harmony and stability of creation.
The final subject regarding Leviathan in the Old Testament that needs to
be addressed is its important place in the book of Job. Nicholas Ansell first
explores the question—challenged by recent intertextual studies of biblical
Wisdom Literature—to what extent the book can be read against the back-
drop of the salvation history that is known elsewhere from the Old Testament.
This is followed by an intra-textual approach developing a new understanding
of the function of the divine speeches regarding the Behemoth and Leviathan
in the book as a whole. It turns out that the book of Job not only portrays the
fantastic beasts from (before) the time of Job as the most powerful or dan-
gerous creatures of their own day (such as the crocodile), but also as those
history-shaping forces that threatened Israel’s survival as a people, a view that
is firmly grounded in the fact that God is the Creator of all things. In addition
Ansell’s provoking, well-informed interpretation proposes that the Behemoth
and Leviathan are not used by a sovereign Creator to put Job in his place, but as
beings that symbolically disclose, and help discern, what it means for human-
ity to face its fear of God and thus find wisdom. On the one hand, the beast of
the land and the beast of the sea serve to assure both Job and the readers of the
book that the Creator of all things has the wisdom to address all that has gone
awry. On the other hand, they are challenged to know where to find wisdom
by facing their fear of beings and realities. In this way, readers are pointed in
the way of Life. But only if they are, like Job, provoked beyond their fear of the
The third thematic viewpoint of this volume is the character of Leviathan
in Early and Rabbinic Judaism. This issue is addressed by Michael Mulder, who
studies the references to Leviathan in pseudepigraphical texts dating shortly
after the destruction of the Second Temple (4 Ezra, 2 Bar., and 1 En.) and in two
apocalyptic works (Apoc. Ab. and Lad. Jac.), while he also pays attention to its
attestations in rabbinic sources. Interestingly, 4 Ezra still contains the Ugaritic
notion that the mythical monster was cut into two pieces. Another element
from non-biblical traditions in later Jewish writings is that of the snake sur-
rounding the entire world like a dragon: the dragon as a tail-eater. The climax
xxii Introduction

and focal point of the presence of Leviathan in early and rabbinic Judaism,
however, consists in the motif of divine power preserving the world order and
in that of the eschatological meal. The righteous who are living in a chaotic era
are comforted by the fact that at the messianic meal they will eventually be
satiated with the meat of the monsters which God kept in their place for this
very purpose.
The fourth thematic perspective on Leviathan is that of its attestations
in the New Testament and Early Christianity, by reading a selection of New
Testament texts in the broader context of the 1st century CE and its relation to
some Jewish writings from the Second Temple period.
In an exegetical analysis of Rom 16:17–20a, Theo van Spanje offers a reas-
sessment of the scholarly hypothesis that this passage contains an allusion to
Leviathan in referring to Satan, the serpent of Gen 3:15. This detailed study of
distinctive features of the final section of the letter to the Christians in Rome
and of the identity of the agitators deceiving their hearts, leads to a slightly
different conclusion: Paul does not seem to be making a conscious use of an
ancient mythical image. Nonetheless, the troublemakers in the community in
Rome may have experienced Paul’s wording as a “monstrous” threat.
The article of Rob van Houwelingen concentrates on the air combat between
Michael and the dragon as described in Rev 12:7–12, and on other passages in
the New Testament about a battle in heaven and a casting out of “the ruler
of this world.” Van Houwelingen argues that the overall picture of the vision
of Michael and the dragon, together with similar texts from Luke 10 and John
12, show a phased elimination of Satan. Not, however, as a historical-temporal
scenario, but rather as a cosmic conflict between divine and satanic forces in
which both heaven and earth with all their residents are involved. In this situ-
ation Christians may already celebrate the victory, because in the death and
resurrection of Jesus a decisive air combat has occurred.
Finally, Henk van de Kamp analyses the extent to which the “devilish trin-
ity” in the book of Revelation—the “great red dragon,” the “beast coming up
out of the sea”, and the “beast coming up out of the earth”—reflects both Old
Testament prophecies and the political-religious environment of the book.
According to Van de Kamp, the “Leviathan” of the prophetic oracles indeed is
revived in the parody of Rev 12:3–6 and 13:1–10, in which the dragons represent
the power of the Roman Empire. This power is pictured as only a copy, being
nothing but a manifestation of sheer arrogance. Rev 12 and 13 thus actualize
Leviathan in order to help readers discover that the real power and glory is to
God and the Lamb and, in this way, to strengthen them to persevere in faith.
The analysis of biblical and post-biblical texts is followed by a thematic sec-
tion with Theological Reflections regarding Leviathan from the perspective of
systematic theology, political theology and missiology.
Introduction xxiii

Both Leviathan as a biblical image of primordial evil and the scientific

knowledge about evolution confront the systematic theologian with the ques-
tion of so-called natural evil. Gijsbert van den Brink discusses this issue by
taking a theological look at the massive suffering of animals throughout evo-
lutionary history. He first sketches the positive theological view of animals in
the Bible, then asks whether pain and suffering can indeed be attributed to
animals, and explores several theological explanations for it. In doing so, Van
den Brink criticizes both the traditional view that animal suffering should be
interpreted as part of God’s punishment for human sin, and the contemporary
view that there was “no other way” in which God could achieve his purposes
than by allowing the vast amounts of (animal) suffering which we have in our
world. A modified dualism, according to which evil forces, the precise nature
of which we are unable to fathom, are responsible for so many agonies in the
natural world, might best be able to do justice to the Bible and the theologi-
cal tradition as well as to our deepest moral intuitions—while not being in
conflict with contemporary science. In this way it becomes evident that the
incomprehensible nature and origin of evil as embodied by Leviathan still
plays an important part in today’s systematic-theological reflection.
One of the very few systematic-theologians in whose work Leviathan plays a
prominent role is the Dutch Utrecht professor Arnold A. van Ruler (1908–1970).
Dirk van Keulen, editor of his collected writings, describes how Van Ruler, a
creative and remarkable figure, became interested in Leviathan and how he
developed his thoughts en route to one of his most controversial writings, the
essay entitled “God and Chaos” from the late 1950s. According to Van Ruler
Leviathan shows that “God deals more roughly with his creature than we
would like.” Yet, the description and analysis by Van Keulen bring to light that
this idea is not without problems.
A more recent debate in political theology—inspired by Thomas Hobbes
(1588–1679), his Leviathan from 1651, and its reception by the Anglican theo-
logians Oliver O’Donovan and John Milbank—involves the question to what
extent the late-modern, post-Christian societies of the West can be character-
ized as “Leviathan.” The contribution of Ad de Bruijne first offers an interpreta-
tion of Hobbes’ ideas in the context of the 17th century CE in order to uncover
his aims in deploying the image of the biblical monster. Then, he analyses the
debate between O’Donovan and Milbank and offers his own view. According to
De Bruijne, the characterization of “Leviathan” is appropriate for those states
in which the anti-Christian nature of the exercise of power apart from Christ
actually displays itself. Nevertheless, Christians rightly tend to be reluctant
in using such a radical qualification, for despite the ideological aggression of
secular liberalism, many fruits of the gospel have become inherent character-
istics of Western societies. The Hobbesian logic of a state willing to perform
xxiv Introduction

functions that only Christ can fulfil, however, not only becomes apparent in
outright dictatorial regimes, but also betrays itself in more subtle forms, for
instance, in the modern Western obsession with security. This obsession fits
Hobbes’ vision of the original human condition, so that its consequences can
indeed be named “Leviathan.”
Finally, Kees Haak takes a look at Melanesian dragon stories, based on his
experience as a missionary in church planting and theological education in
the South of Papua, Indonesia. After having sketched some general features of
snake narratives, Haak highlights that dragon stories play an important part in
Melanesian life, culture and religion, and how these stories were adapted after
important vicissitudes, such as the great flood of 1864 CE and the gold rush of
white people in the 1980s. In addition, he adds some information on the func-
tion and meaning of dragons in Australia, Benin, Indonesia and China. Haak
ends by describing a critical analysis of the dragon stories from the perspective
of Reformed theology and mission by re-interpreting the myths of the dragon
in the light of the reliability of God’s revelation in Christ and Scriptures. The
gospel of Life is able to overcome the fear of death expressed in the stories
about snakes and dragons.
A final thematic perspective on Leviathan regards its Iconographic
Representations. Needless to say, the ancient Near Eastern and biblical attesta-
tions and theological concepts of Leviathan formed the impetus to a rich his-
tory of reception, also in all kinds of carvings, statues and images. This section
offers two examples of this.
The art historian Anique de Kruijf focuses on the use of the beast in order to
depict the mouth of hell in late medieval and early modern artistic disciplines,
after the worldwide plague epidemic in the 14th century and in the context of
the cultural and religious turmoil during the 16th century CE. The result was a
meditation on death in the so-called ars moriendi and the frequent depiction
of, for instance, Jesus’ story of the poor Lazarus in Luke 16, in terms of limbo,
and episodes from the book of Revelation. In addition, both satire and mor-
alizing images of the underworld highlight that ‘Leviathan’ was also used for
propaganda and for expressing moral ideas.
In his contribution, theologian and filmmaker Reinier Sonneveld explores
the depictions of Leviathan in computer games and movies. Interestingly, the
improvement of computer animation caused a renaissance of fantasy films
which is still going on, with many new stories formerly considered ‘unfilmable.’
More abstract ‘Leviathans’ occur besides these literal monstrous sea-snakes,
for instance, as the Basilisk in Harry Potter’s The Chamber of Secrets (2002)
and the Death Star in Star Wars: Episode IV (1977). The ‘dragon,’ which always
has to be killed in a way that is most dangerous, can even be symbolized in a
Introduction xxv

prison, as is the case in the film Shawshank Redemption (1994). According to

Sonneveld, it is possible to interpret the use of the ‘Leviathan’-motif in these
movies as fresh expressions of the grand old story of the Christus Victor atone-
ment model of the church fathers: in seeing Harry Potter piercing the Basilisk,
Luke Skywalker entering the Death Star, and Andy Durfresne playing the opera
in prison, the audience may feel free to think of Christ.
What are the main results of this study regarding the diverse attestations,
interpretations and receptions regarding ‘Leviathan?’

1. A first observation is that the interpretation of the biblical texts against

their diverse religious-cultural backgrounds makes it very clear that a
lively interaction with the context indeed occurred. The attestations of
Lôtān, Leviathan, Rahab, tannîn, Ladon and other dragons show that
there is a whole range of interconnected depictions of primordial mon-
sters symbolizing natural, historical and incomprehensible evil in both
the Ancient Near East and the Mediterranean. A closer look at the bibli-
cal and post-biblical texts reveals that it depends from case to case
whether they refer explicitly to these monsters. In some passages, the text
simply refers to a monster living in the sea (e.g. Job 26:8–13; Ps 104:26),
while in other cases, dragons, snakes and threatening waters are meta-
phors identifying evil with a country or empire (Isa 30:6–7; Ezek 29 and
32; Hab 3; Job 41; Rev 12–13). In one passage, the enemy might be merely
perceived as a monster by the text’s intended audience (Rom 16:20).
Nonetheless, in all these cases, ‘Leviathan’ embodies an overwhelming
evil power that can be controlled and defeated only by God. In this way, a
specific field in the cognitive environment of the texts is indeed exploited
or alluded to in order to define a divine identity.
2. A second conclusion is that due to methodological considerations and
the fragmentary nature of the data it is not possible to offer a general
picture of the religious-historical development of the conflict between
God and the monster of chaos. Accordingly, efforts in this direction, for
instance by Hermann Gunkel and John Day, have to be put into
The primary textual and historical evidence tend in another direction,
that is, of a highly flexible use of the notion of a primordial dragon and of
storm-god imagery. Accordingly, the concepts of theomachy (battle of
the gods) and cosmogony (the coming into existence of heaven and
earth) are not automatically implied in allusions to or in the explicit
mentioning of Leviathan and a divine struggle with water. Some texts
seem to refer to a primordial battle in the past (e.g. Ps 74:12–17; 89:10–11),
xxvi Introduction

creating expectations for the future (Isa 51:9–11), or to the fact of the mon-
sters being creatures (Job 40–41; Ps 148:7). Other texts mention God’s
defeat of the waters as a kind of metahistorical reality that can be con-
nected to several moments of divine intervention in history and comforts
people with a message of deliverance, also in the future (Hab 3). Finally,
there is a group of passages using dragon language in order to reflect on
the present and the future, in which the evil one will be conquered (Rev
12–13, cf. Job 40–41) and its flesh eaten (e.g. 4 Ezra 6:52; 2 Bar. 29:4).
In comparison with the attestations of Lôtān and the struggle between
Baʿlu and Yām in the Ugaritic tablets two conclusions have to be drawn.
On the one hand, several observations clearly undermine the theory that
the biblical texts historicize older Canaanite polytheistic narratives: both
types of literature are too distinct; the biblical textual evidence simply
does not reflect such a process, for earlier texts are not less ‘monolatric’
than later ones; and the mythological and metahistorical motifs still play
a part in portraying Yhwh and God as being supreme over all lesser heav-
enly beings. On the other hand, however, these texts do function in the
framework of the story of Israel and of God revealing himself in history.
3. This leads to the third conclusion, regarding the theological factors in
defining the character of God. The combination of language concerning
Leviathan and a God revealing himself in history creates the possibility of
a very lively description both in the depiction of the dimensions of evil
and suffering and in highlighting God’s nature. Not only does ‘Leviathan’
comprise a metaphor for dark aspects of human nature and malicious
political entities, but their personification in the images of waters and
dragons also underscores the incomprehensible, supernatural, and even
personal dimensions of evil being active in this world. The study of the
biblical texts and their history of reception make it clear that evil is still
experienced in this way, even after the sharp division between the natu-
ral and the supernatural by the Enlightenment. With regard to the iden-
tity of God who is in conflict with this wickedness, it has to be noted that
there is one clear common denominator in all ancient Israelite, Jewish
and Christian texts. Unlike the evil powers being depicted in dragons and
waters God himself is not part of creation. Quite the opposite: his tran-
scendent involvement and interference in unjust affairs is so overwhelm-
ing that it defeats all mortal and heavenly powers.
This does not imply that there is no room for the expression of the
human experiences in the face of evil, such as guilt, remorse, anger, deso-
lation and despair. On the contrary, texts in the books of Isaiah, Habak-
Introduction xxvii

kuk, Ezekiel, Job, Psalms, and Revelation even exploit the metaphorical
designations for the enemies as ‘antithetical annexations’ of ‘Leviathan’
in order to comfort and convince their audience: what is thought to be
supernatural falls short in the light of God’s supremacy. This notion of the
final defeat of evil is very prominent, also in the history of reception of
‘Leviathan.’ It can even be traced in movies from secular contexts of the
20th and 21st century, which accordingly can be interpreted as reflecting
the Christus Victor motif. This is an interesting illustration of the develop-
ment in late-modern Western societies that has been called the “nova
effect” by the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor: because the exis-
tence of God is no longer generally accepted, a dynamic occurs spawning
an ever-widening variety of moral and spiritual options. Yet, both the
secular and spiritual worldviews in this religious plurality are still related
to their Christian and humanist origins.6
4. An important fourth conclusion is that the roots of the political meaning
of God’s conflict with ‘Leviathan’—as expressed by Thomas Hobbes and
revived in the recent Christendom debate—go even back beyond the
Bible. Marduk’s defeat of Tiâmat in Enūma eliš underlines the world
order of Babylon’s sudden rise to power in southern Mesopotamia in the
second half of the second millennium BCE. Most likely, the Baal Cycle
reflects tensions and struggles in the political realm of the Canaanite city
state of Ugarit. In Isaiah, Ezekiel, Habakkuk, possibly also in Job, and in
Revelation, monsters of the sea are metaphors, for instance, for Egypt,
the pharaoh, the Babylonians and the Roman Empire. Finally, the history
of reception considers whether ‘Leviathan’ can be equated with the pope,
the European early modern states, the 20th century CE totalitarian
regimes, the secular West, or Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Remarkably, biblical texts never use the political dimension of Levia-
than in order to support an established or new political order. It is often
assumed that earlier versions of the texts were primarily composed for
political propaganda. The literary-historical debate regarding these pas-
sages, however, should always address the question to what extent these
hypotheses are able to do justice to their theological scope. Moreover, the
final form of the biblical books contains a daringly critical attitude toward
the ancient Israelite political systems that is unprecedented in the
Ancient Near East. The later critical eschatological verdicts in the Old
and New Testament of kings, nations and empires is to be connected with

6  Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, Cambridge, MA 2007, 299–300.

xxviii Introduction

this motif. Accordingly, the Bible clearly substantiates Hobbes’ main

point: political systems that in the end pretend to be able to satisfy needs
that can only be fulfilled by God, will be judged by this very same God. In
addition to this view, the biblical and Jewish writings add another signifi-
cant perspective: in the divine judgment, the displaced and persecuted
people of God will be rescued and restored.
5. The diverse associations of Leviathan in political theology finally lead to
the question of its theological evaluation in present-day religious-plural-
ist contexts. It is evident that answering this question requires not only
scholarly craftsmanship and a well-considered methodological approach,
but also a personal stance and theological view of God and the world. The
main perspective in that respect in this volume is that of classical
(Reformed) theology, accepting the Scriptures of the Old and New
Testament as divine revelation telling the story of God, creation and
humanity. Accordingly, it is assumed that in Jesus Christ God rescued this
world that fell into sin, but also that, as expressed in the many attesta-
tions of Leviathan, due to the continuing presence of sin and evil moral
and spiritual forces this is still a dangerous world until the final verdict. It
is from this view that the biblical and post-biblical texts are studied and
all available scientific and scholarly information is used. It turns out to be
a fruitful way for answering questions with regard to the presence of
‘Leviathan’ in creation, human nature, culture, and in the political and
interreligious realm. This yields the conclusion that despite all queries
and problems in dealing with the dark forces of this world, God shows his
supreme power. He is the only one who is “Playing with Leviathan.”

Finally, we wish to express our deep thanks to all the scholars who have
contributed to this volume, most of whom participated in the conference
in Kampen. We are happy that others who did not attend that meeting—
Marjo Korpel, Nicholas Ansell and Gijsbert van den Brink—also published
their important studies in this volume. We also thank the anonymous peer-
reviewer for her or his valuable comments, the members of the editorial
board of Themes in Biblical Narrative for accepting this volume in their series,
Nelson D. Kloosterman for improving the English style, the Stichting Afbouw
for their financial support, and Wouter Beinema for taking care of the indices.

Easter 2016
Koert van Bekkum
Jaap Dekker
Henk van de Kamp
Eric Peels
Part 1
Ancient Near East


The Leviathan in the Ancient Near East1

Marjo Korpel and Johannes de Moor

1 A Seven-headed Monster

The term Leviathan (Hebrew ‫ ) ִלוְ יָ ָתן‬occurs only six times in the Hebrew Bible
(Isa 27:1 [2×]; Ps 74:14; 104:26; Job 3:8; 40:25 [tr. 40:20].2 In all these instances
the Septuagint renders it δράκων “dragon, sea-serpent,” with the exception of
Job 3:8 where the translators have chosen τὸ μέγα κῆτος “the great sea mon-
ster,” probably because they wanted to connect this text with Gen 1:21 where
the Septuagint has τὰ κήτη τὰ μεγάλα “the great sea monsters” for ‫ת־ה ַּתּנִ ינִ ם‬ ַ ‫ֶא‬
‫“ ַהּגְ ד ִֹלים‬the great tunnies.”3 Also the great fish (‫ ) ָּדג ּגָ דוֹל‬that swallowed Jonah
becomes a great sea monster in the Septuagint (κήτει μεγάλῳ, Jonah 2:1; cf. 11).
The author of the New Testament book of Revelation seems to have taken over
this Greek reinterpretation of the Hebrew name of the monster (δράκων μέγας
“a great dragon” in Rev 12:3; see also verses 4, 7, 9, etc.).

1  This contribution is based partly on our study Adam, Eve, and the Devil: A New Beginning
(HBM, 65), Sheffield 2014 (2nd enlarged edition 2015).
2  Some earlier studies on the subject of this contribution: O. Kaiser, Die mythische Bedeutung
des Meeres in Ägypten, Ugarit und Israel (BZAW, 28), 2. Aufl., Berlin 1962; J. Day, God’s
Conflict with the Dragon and the Sea, Cambridge 1985; C. Kloos, Yhwh’s Combat with the Sea:
A Canaanite Tradition in the Religion of Ancient Israel, Leiden 1986; M.C.A. Korpel, A Rift in
the Clouds: Ugaritic and Hebrew Descriptions of the Divine (UBL, 8), Münster 1990, 553–559,
562–563; M.C.A. Korpel, “Diepzee-angsten,” Schrift (266) 45/2 (2013), 66–69; O. Loretz, Ugarit
und die Bibel: Kanaanäische Götter und Religion im Alten Testament, Darmstadt 1990, 92–93;
C. Uehlinger, “Leviathan,” in: K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, P.W. van der Horst (eds.), Dictionary
of Deities and Demons in the Bible (DDD), 2nd rev. ed., Leiden 1999, 511–514; W.D. Barker,
“Slaying the Hero to Build the Temple: A New Assessment of the Tell Asmar Cylinder Seal
and the Temple-Building Motif in the Light of the Ninğirsu/Ninurta Myths,” UF 38 (2006),
27–39; W.D. Barker, “ ‘And thus You Brightened the Heavens . . .’: A New Translation of KTU
1.5:i 1–8 and its Significance for Ugaritic and Biblical Studies,” UF 38 (2006), 41–52, all with
further bibliography.
3  According to the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch (2 Baruch), dating from the early second cen-
tury CE, Behemoth (male) and Leviathan (female) were the sea monsters that God created
on the fifth day.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi ��.��63/9789004337961_002

4 Korpel and de Moor

Remarkably enough this great dragon of Rev 12:3 has seven heads and ten
horns. The ten horns seem to have been derived from the description of a ter-
rifying monster in Dan 7:7. But where did the seven heads come from? True,
Ps 74:14 attributes “heads” (plural) to the Leviathan, but the number “seven”
is lacking there. In Rev 12:9 and 20:2 the great dragon is identified with “the
ancient serpent, who is called Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.”
It is generally assumed that this is a reference to Genesis 3, which would imply
that the author of Revelation entertained a macrocosmic idea of the serpent
in Eden.4
Seven-headed monsters occur already around 2300 BCE in Mesopotamia,
one of the influential centers of religious culture in the world of the Bible.

Figure 1.1 Seven-headed monster from Mesopotamia ( from Joan Goodnick Westenholz,
Dragons, Monsters and Fabulous Beasts, Jerusalem 2004, 191, fig. 160).

Its necks and heads resemble those of serpents, but the monster’s body looks
like that of a lion. Such hybrid creatures were common in the mythology of the

4  In the book mentioned in footnote 1 we demonstrate that additional data indicate that
we have to imagine Eden and its first inhabitants as having been endowed with gigantic
The Leviathan In The Ancient Near East 5

ancient world. In Fig. 1.1 flames issue from its mouths and body. The exorcist
has already succeeded in rendering one head harmless. In the ancient Near
East people tried to combat the forces of evil with magic spells.

Figure 1.2 Another seven-headed monster from Mesopotamia ( from O. Keel, Die Welt der
altorientalischen Bildsymbolik und das Alte Testament: Am Beispiel der Psalmen,
Neukirchen-Vluyn 1972, 45, no. 52).

In Fig. 1.2 two horned divine heroes fight the flaming monster with spears. The
one on the left has already pierced four of its heads. On the basis of Sumerian
texts from approximately the same date it may be assumed that it was the war-
rior god Ninurta/Ningirsu who vanquished the seven-headed dragon. In both
cases the beast has legs,5 but also a “seven-headed snake” is among the mon-
sters Ningirsu defeated.6
About a thousand years later the seven-headed monster reappears in a text
from Ugarit, a Canaanite city located at the coast of present-day Syria, approxi-
mately opposite the “finger” of the island of Cyprus. He is called Ltn there and
since this differs from the Hebrew consonantal spelling lwytn an explanation
of the etymology of the name of the Leviathan is called for.

5  According to several witnesses of the Book of Jubilees the serpent in Eden originally also had
four legs that were cut off as punishment. See O.S. Wintermute, “Jubilees (Second Century
B.C.: A New Translation and Introduction,” in: J.H. Charlesworth, (ed.), The Old Testament
Pseudepigrapha (2 vol.), Peabody 2009 (repr. of 1983 edition), 60, note d.
6  Cf. W.G. Lambert, Babylonian Creation Myths (Mesopotamian Civilizations, 16), Winona
Lake, IN 2013, 202–204.
6 Korpel and de Moor

2 Etymology of the Name

The name of the Leviathan can be elucidated by the concept held by people in
Antiquity of the cosmos. They imagined the earth to be a relatively flat disc on
which a mountain or ziggurat (temple tower) rose up. The disc rested on pillars
founded in the bottom of the primordial flood. This ocean also surrounded the
earth, which was therefore conceptualized as a huge island in a wide sea of
water. This sea swarmed with countless creatures, small and big ones: worms,
snails, snakes, fish, whales and dragons. They were the creatures “in the waters
under the earth” (Exod 20:4) which the Israelites were not allowed to depict
because they enjoyed divine status in the religions of Israel’s neighbours who
gladly described, sculpted and painted them. A Ugaritic myth, for example,
describes a golden table decorated “with all kinds of winged monsters from
the foundations of the earth” (KTU 1.4:I.38–39).7 Modern humans may find it
difficult to conceptualize the sea itself as a huge monster, so that these marine
creatures were crawling and swimming in an even bigger creature. In Egypt the
primordial ocean surrounding the earth was called Apophis. Every morning
the sun-god Re and his helpers had to vanquish this marine reptile.

Figure 1.3 The youthful sun-god is still shut in by the primordial sea which is depicted as a
circular serpent chasing after its own tail. However, his foot is already on the beast
( from B.H. Stricker, De grote zeeslang, Leiden 1953, 11, fig. a).

In other pictures Apophis has three heads (see Fig. 1.4).

7  The abbreviation KTU refers to: M. Dietrich, O. Loretz, J. Sanmartín, The Cuneiform Alphabetic
Texts from Ugarit, Ras Ibn Hani and Other Places, Third, Enlarged Edition, Münster 2013.
The Leviathan In The Ancient Near East 7

Figure 1.4 The three-headed serpent Apophis encircles the lifeless body of the sun-god ( from
Stricker, De grote zeeslang, 11, Fig. c).

The monster has lost its legs here. Apparently the number of heads did not
matter much to the Ancients. Both in Ugarit and in Israel the Leviathan was
designated as “the Fleeing Serpent” (bṯn brḥ / ‫נָ ָחׁש ָּב ִר ַה‬, Isa 27:1).8 In our opin-
ion the name of the Leviathan must be derived from the root lwy / ‫“ לוה‬to fol-
low, surround.” The great sea serpent encircling the cosmos had the form of a
“wreath” (Hebrew ‫ ִלוְ יָ ה‬and ‫)ֹליָ ה‬, so its tail is perpetually fleeing (brḥ) from its
own biting mouth.9

8  Since in Ugaritic and Hebrew the verb brḥ can mean only “to flee,” other proposals have to be
abandoned (with G. Del Olmo Lete, J. Sanmartín, A Dictionary of the Ugaritic Language in the
Alphabetic Tradition (2 vols), Leiden 2003, 236–237).
9  On this monster which the Greeks called Ouroboros, see Stricker, De grote zeeslang; Keel,
altorientalischen Bildsymbolik, 36, Figs. 38–39; 37, Fig. 40; 38, Fig. 41; Lambert, Babylonian
Creation Myths, 238–240. For later representations, see K.W. Whitney, Two Strange Beasts:
Leviathan and Behemoth in Second Temple and Early Rabbinic Judaism (HSM, 63), Winona
Lake, IN 2006, 114–123.
8 Korpel and de Moor

The Ugaritic form Ltn may have been vocalized Lîtānu,10 but the Greek Ladon
is probably a dissimilated form of the Semitic Lôtān. Ladon was the name
of the serpent guarding the tree with the golden apples in the garden of the
Hesperides. It is certainly significant that according to Hesiod (eighth century
BCE) and Pseudo-Apollodoros of Alexandria (second century CE) this was an
immortal dragon with a hundred heads which spoke with many and diverse
sorts of voices.11

Figure 1.5 The snake Ladon encircling the apple tree of the
Hesperides. Okeanos (ocean) and Strymon (a river)
are sitting left and right of the tree (date ca. 475
BCE, from H.-G. Buchholz, “Furcht vor Schlangen
und Umgang mit Schlangen in Altsyrien, Altkypros
und dem Umfeld,” UF 32 [2000], 36–168 [166],
fig. 23).
1 0 1 1

10  So J.A. Emerton, “Leviathan and LTN: The Vocalization of the Ugaritic Word for the
Dragon,” VT 32 (1982), 328–331.
11  Hesiod, Theogony, 820–868; Pseudo-Apollodoros, Library, 2.5.
The Leviathan In The Ancient Near East 9

The Ugaritic personal name Lôdānu may have been derived from the name of
the monster.12 It was not unusual to give infants names of terrifying animals,
e.g. a-ab-ba-ba-áš-ti “Tiāmat is my protecting angel” (Lambert 2013, 237) or
‫ּנָ ָחׁש‬, Nahash, “Serpent.” The name Lôdān or Lôtān might be derived then from
a shortened form *law > *lô similar to ‫ ַקו‬from ‫)קוה‬.

3 The Defeat of the Primordial Serpent

According to classical mythology it was the demi-god Heracles/Hercules who

defeated Ladon and stole the golden apples.

Figure 1.6 Hercules defeats the serpent guarding the Tree of Life (terracotta
plate, 2nd to 3rd century CE; Staatliche Antikensammlungen,
Munich, Room 2, Accession Number SL 89, Loeb Collection).

12  P. Bordreuil et al., Une bibliothèque au sud de la ville***: Textes 1994–2002 en cunéiforme
alphabétique de la maison d’Ourtenou (RSO, 18), Lyon 2012, 53–54 transcribe Ludānu, but
Ugaritic and Akkadian had no other way of expressing the vowel ô.
10 Korpel and de Moor

It seems highly likely now that this myth was an adaptation of very ancient
oriental predecessors. According to the Babylonian creation myth Enūma ēliš
giant serpents helped Tiāmat13 in her insurrection against the highest god
Anu, his son Ea and his grandson Marduk.14 This struggle between Marduk
and the serpentine sea monster Tiāmat was a popular motif among artisans
cutting seals.15

Figure 1.7 Cylinder seal in the British Museum depicting Marduk’s victory over Tiāmat. Since
the god has bundles of lightnings in his hands Marduk is seen as the storm-god.
The dragon only has forelegs, the rest of its body drags along. The skin of the horned
monster is scaly, like the skin of the Leviathan according to Job 41:7–8 [15–16].

An Old-Anatolian myth relates how the storm-god defeated the sea-dragon


13  Her name designates the primordial salty sea and is related to the Hebrew word ‫ ְּתהֹום‬.
14  En. el. I.134–144; II.19–30; III.23–34, 81–92.
15  See e.g. B. Teissier, Ancient Near Eastern Cylinder Seals from the Marcopoli Collection,
Berkeley, CA 1984, 168–169, No. 224; Ḫ. Ḫammade, Cylinder Seals from the Collections of
the Aleppo Museum, Syrian Arab Republic, Vol. 1: Seals of Unknown Provenience (BAR
international Series, 335), Oxford 1987, 116–117, No. 226; Ḫ. Ḫammade, Cylinder Seals
from the Collections of the Aleppo Museumw Syrian Arab Republic, Vol. 2: Seals of Known
Provenience (BAR International Series, 597), Oxford 1994, 99, No. 424.
The Leviathan In The Ancient Near East 11

(The goddess) Inara dressed herself up and called the serpent up from
its hole, (saying:), “I’m preparing a feast. Come eat and drink.” [. . .] The
serpent and [his offspring] came up, and they ate and drank. They drank
up every vessel, so that they became drunk. [. . .] Now they did not want
to go back down into their hole again. (The human) Hupasiya came and
tied up the serpent with a rope. [. . .] The Storm God came and killed the
serpent, and the gods were with him.16

A relief shows that in this case too, the monster was killed by means of a spear.

Figure 1.8 The storm-god pierces the sea-dragon with his spear. flames and bubbles
suggest that the writhing monster causes the sea to boil (after Keel, altorientalischen
Bildsymbolik, 44, no. 50).

This resembles the description Job gives of God’s victory over all evil powers in
the cosmos, including the ‫“ ּנָ ָחׁש ָּב ִר ַיה‬fleeing serpent” (Job 26:5–13). According to
Job 41:23 [22/31] the Leviathan “makes the deep sea boil like a pot of ointment.”
In the Canaanite city of Ugarit it is the young weather-god Baal who is
described as the one who killed the sea-serpent and its helpers,17 according to
some texts with the help of his consort Anat: (KTU 1.3:III.38–46; 1.2; 1.5:I.1–5;

16  H.A. Hoffner, Hittite Myths (SBL.WAW, 2), Atlanta 1990, 12.
17  In mythological thought Yam (Sea) and his helpers are not clearly distinguished, see
KTU 1.83 below where Yam is described as a marine monster with a forked tongue and a
12 Korpel and de Moor

KTU 1.2:IV.18–26  
kṯr.ṣmdm.ynḥt. Kothar took down a double-headed axe
wyp‘r.šmthm and proclaimed its name:
19 šmk. ’at. ’aymr. “You—your name is Ayyamur!18
’ Ayyamur, expel Yam,
mr.ym 20 lks’ih. expel Yam from his chair,
nhr.lkḥṯ.drkth. River from the throne of his dominion!
trtqṣ 21bd b‘l. Leap from the hand of Baal,
km.nšr b’uṣb‘th. like an eagle from his fingers!
hlm.qdq22 d.zbl ym. Strike the skull of his Highness Yam,
bn. ‘nm.ṯpṭ.nhr. Judge River between the eyes!19
yprsḥ ym Let Yam collapse
23wyql.l ’arṣ. and fall to the earth!”
wyrtqṣ.ṣ b‘l And the axe leapt from the hand of Baal,
24k[m.]nšr.b’uṣb‘th. like an eagle from his fingers.
ylm.qdqd.zbl 25[ym.] It struck the skull of his Highness Yam,
bn ‘nm.ṯpṭ.nhr. Judge River between the eyes.
yprsḥ.ym. Yam collapsed,
yql 26l’arṣ. he fell to the earth.
tnġṣn.pnth. His joints quivered,
wydlp.tmnh and his pelvis shook.

This exploit is depicted on the well-known stele (Fig. 1.9) from Ugarit, though
it is embellished more heroically than the description quoted above. Again
the weapon used is a spear on this stele, this time evidently the lightning, as
with Marduk.
In Ramesside Egypt the somewhat ambiguous god Seth was equated with
the Canaanite god Baal. So here Seth became the hero defeating the great
marine serpent every night. In partly theriomorphic shape he stood in the
prow of the bark in which the Sun-god Re travelled through the Netherworld
and thrust his spear into the mouth of the great serpent Apophis, thus saving
Re and his entourage from this terrible sea monster (Fig. 1.10).

18  The name means “Expel anyone!”.

19  Compare 1 Sam 17:49.
The Leviathan In The Ancient Near East 13

Figure 1.9
Baal standing on the serpentine body of Yam
(Sea), piercing him with his lightning spear.
The artisan used the grain of the stone to suggest
heavy rainfall (Musée du Louvre).

The Egyptian coffin text 160 contains spells against the great serpent Apophis
whom Seth had to conquer every night (Ritner 1997).20 The length of the mon-
ster is 30 cubits (ca. 1575 meters). His forefront is flint and one of his names is
“he who is in burning.” It is definitely remarkable that all over the ancient Near
East the sea serpent is also said to be a flaming creature. A recollection of the
Thera (Santorini) eruption?

R.K. Ritner, “The Repulsing of the Dragon (1.21) (Coffin Text 160),” in: W.W. Hallo et al.
(eds.), The Context of Scripture, Vol. 1, Leiden 1997, 32.
14 Korpel and de Moor

Figure 1.10 The partly theriomorph Seth thrusts his spear into the mouth of Apophis
(Cairo Museum).

4 The Invincible Evil

It appears that traditions about the Leviathan have had a long history before
they reached the Bible. However, the theme is dealt with in various ways.
Whereas the defeat of the great sea serpent is definitive in most passages
in the Hebrew Bible and in Mesopotamian traditions, the Egyptian serpent
Apophis had to be vanquished every night. In late apocalyptic literature like
Isa 27:1 and the book of Revelation the final destruction of the Leviathan will
take place only at the end of times. Ugaritic incantations against demons in the
form of monstrous snakes, including the Bathan (Hebrew Bashan) and Lôtān
(Leviathan),21 prove that the Ugaritians did not believe that their god of the

K TU 1.82:13, 27, 41, cf. 6, 32, 35; KTU 1.178.
The Leviathan In The Ancient Near East 15

life-bringing rains Baal had defeated the powers of evil once and for all when
he defeated the Sea-god. We quote from one of these incantations.22 

KTU 1.83:3–13
3 [tb]’un.b ’arṣ 4 mḫnm. You should go into the land of Mahanaim.23
ṯrp ym. 5 lšnm.tlḥk. 6 šmm Solidify24 Yam (whose) forked tongue licks the
tṯrp 7 ym.ḏnbtm. you should solidify Yam-of-the-forked-tail!
8 tn!n.lšbm 9 tšt. You should put Tunnan to the muzzle,
trks 10 lmrym.lbnn you should bind him to the heights of the
11 pl.tbṯn.y ymm Fall down! You will be ashamed, O Yam
12 hmlt.ḫt.y nh[r] (your) roaring is shattered, O River!
13 l You surely will see the Pit,25
tḥmr.[bḥmr] you will be smeared with clay.

Apparently the person who commissioned this short text hoped for a definitive
removal of the threatening Sea who is clearly identified here with the serpen-
tine monsters living in his watery body. Ugarit entertained close connections
with the Bashan area. The Ugaritians were acquainted with the Bashan and the
Ḥauran as areas connected with the Canaanite cult of the dead.26 We think that
scholars in Antiquity have racked their brains about this very peculiar chain of
mountains. They found a solution in assuming that it was the solidified body
of a giant sea monster, the Leviathan. The very fact that here a supplicant is
praying for a repetition of this miraculous transformation of the Sea/Leviathan
proves that he did not believe that its petrification had removed its threat once
and for all. The great Ugaritic Baal Myth that formed the central piece of the
religious traditions of Ugarit can hardly be called a joyful message of salvation
to all mankind.27 On the contrary, this myth was never intended as testimony
of any final victory over the forces of evil and it was never understood as a

22  We deal with this passage in much greater detail in the study mentioned in footnote 1.
23  Apparently Mahanayim in the Bashan area.
24  On the derivation of ṯrp see note 1. Since “Bashan” means “serpent dragon” (Akkadian
bašmu) and is a designation of Yam’s sea monster(s) in Ugarit (bṯn) the underlying myth
might be that the dark and sometimes glassy looking volcanic rocks of Bashan consist of
the petrified body of the sea monster.
25  The throne of Death.
26  J.C. de Moor, The Rise of Yahwism: The Roots of Israelite Monotheism, 2nd ed. (BEThL, 91A),
Leuven 1997, 103–207, with earlier literature.
27  This section is based partly on De Moor, Rise of Yahwism, 88–91.
16 Korpel and de Moor

closed chapter of primordial history. Surely Baal did defeat Yam (Sea), but he
did not destroy Yam once and for all.  

KTU 1.2:IV.27–31
27 yqṯ b‘l. wyšt.ym. Baal dragged and put down Yam,28
ykly.ṯpṭ.nhr he wanted to finish off Judge River.
28 b.š‘rm. ‘ṯtrt. Astarte rebuked the Name,29
bṯ l’al’iyn.b‘l “Be ashamed, O Baal Almighty!
29 bṯ.lrkb. ‘rpt. Be ashamed, O Rider on the Clouds!
k šbyn.zb[l.ym.] For his Highnesss Yam is our captive,
[k] 30 šbyn.ṯpṭ.nhr. [for] Judge River is our captive!”30
wyṣ ’a.b[ph.rgm] And when the word had left her mouth,
ybṯ.nn. ’aliyn.b‘l. Baal was ashamed for her.

So it is his own consort Astarte who prevented Baal from finishing off his
monstrous opponent. Later on Ilu’s wife Asherah seems to fear that Yam might
escape again (KTU 1.4:III.1–6). In a still later episode Baal himself refuses to
let the divine artisan Kothar put a window in his palace lest Yam might insult
his daughters again (KTU 1.4:VI.7–14), so Yam is still alive. As a matter of fact,
Baal himself would not have been able to slay the sea-god. When he is impris-
oned with Yam he himself confesses that all his strength had left him (KTU
1.2:IV.1, 5). It was only through an automatically striking weapon provided by
Kothar that Baal was able to knock out his opponent (KTU 1.2:IV.18–26). So the
victory over the Sea and his monsters had been only a Pyrrhic one. Eventually
the god Môt (Death) exploits this fact to his advantage in his famous speech at
the beginning of Tablet V.

28  We maintain this interpretation of J.C. de Moor, The Seasonal Pattern in the Ugaritic
Myth of Ba‘lu According to the Version of Ilimilku (AOAT, 16), Neukirchen-Vluyn 1971, 138
(with earlier literature); Del Olmo Lete, Sanmartín, Dictionary, 721. Contrast M.S. Smith,
The Ugaritic Baal Cycle, Vol. 1 (VT.S, 55), Leiden 1994, 351–356. Baal drags the dead body
of the sea monster on dry land, just as Marduk does with the corpse of Tiāmat: šá-lam-ta
id-da-a ugu-šá iz-ziza “he flung down her corpse, he took his stand on it” (En. el. IV.104).
29  From a philological point of view this is the best rendering. One should not bend the
text to avoid this parallel to Lev 24:11 (against D. Pardee, “The New Canaanite Myths and
Legends,” Bibliotheca Orientalis 37 (1980), 269–291 (274); Smith Baal Cycle, 356). Deliberate
anonymity to avoid blasphemy was quite normal in the ancient world (E. Brunner-Traut,
“Anonymität (der Götter),” Lexikon der Ägyptologie (Bd. 1), Wiesbaden 1975, 281–291).
Astarte and Anat correct Baal also in KTU 1.2:I.40, but there they only grasp his hands and
do not scold him.
30  Captives ought not be put to death (2 Kgs 6:22).
The Leviathan In The Ancient Near East 17

KTU 1.5:I.1–5
1 k tmḥš.ltn bṯn brḥ Although you defeated Lôtān, the fleeing serpent,
2 tkly bṯn ‘qltn destroyed the coiling serpent,
3 šlyt. d šb‘t r’ašm the Tyrant with the seven heads,
4 tṯkḥ ttrp šmm you were uncovered, the heaven came loose,31
kr<k>s 5 ’ipdk like the girdle of your cloak!

Maliciously Môt reminds Baal of the present status of Yam: he is a cupbearer

of Death (KTU 1.5:I.21–22). Death and Sea are allies, both “beloved” sons of Ilu,
and they will attack Baal again.
Therefore it is most remarkable that the myth ends with a prayer to Kothar
to assist (again!) in defeating Yam’s monsters Tunnan and Arish (KTU 1.6:VI.
51–53). The struggle between the god of life, Baal, and his formidable opponents
representing chaos and death, will never end. This continuing threat to ordered
life explains Anat’s explosive reaction to the mere arrival of messengers of Baal
at the beginning of the myth.32 She displays a disproportionate apprehension
that Yam and his monsters might have mounted yet another attack on Baal
whereas she believed to have destroyed them all, including Tunnan, Arish and
Lôtān (KTU 1.3:III.32–IV.4).33 Thus not even the gods could be certain that Yam
would not break loose again. As a consequence man still had to fear the sea-
god whose satellites might come along any time to take away not only a daring
sailor, but also unsuspecting others, even pregnant women (KTU3 1.14:I.14–15).
The same evil powers are warded off again and again in the Jewish Aramaic
incantation bowls and amulets of a much later date. The Sea, the Leviathan,
the Tannin, we meet them all again here.34 This folk-religion apparently was a
remnant of the ancient Canaanite belief that Yam and his monsters had never
been defeated in a really conclusive way.

31  For different translations of this phrase see Barker “ ‘And thus You Brightened the
Heavens . . .’ ”
32  On the order of the tablets of the Baal Myth, see J.C. de Moor, “The Order of the Tablets
of the Ba‘lu Myth,” in: G. Del Olmo Lete et. al., (eds.), The Perfumes of Seven Tamarisks:
Studies in Honour of Wilfred G.E. Watson, (AOAT, 394), Münster 2012, 131–141.
33  In KTU 1.2:I.22–23 the fiery appearance of the monstrous (lines 12–13) messengers of Yam
is described. Anat claims to have defeated “Fire” in KTU 1.3:III.45.
34   C.D. Isbell, Corpus of the Aramaic Incantation Bowls, Missoula, MA 1975; C.D. Isbell, “Two
New Aramaic Incantation Bowls,” BASOR 223 (1976), 15–23; J. Naveh, S. Shaked, Amulets and
Magic Bowls, Jerusalem 1985; C. Müller-Kessler, Die Zauberschalentexte in der Hilprecht-
Sammlung, Wiesbaden 2005; G. Bohak, Ancient Jewish Magic: A History, Cambridge 2008.
18 Korpel and de Moor

However, the same was true of the other arch-enemy of Baal, the god of
death Môt. Even though Anat did destroy him as effectively as she could,35 after
seven years Môt rose to challenge Baal again (KTU 1.6:V.7–VI.16). In the ensuing
struggle the god of life and the god of death appear to be equally strong (KTU
1.6:VI.16–22). To human beings, however, it sometimes looked as if Môt was
the stronger.36 It should be noted that at the end of the myth the god of death
does not succumb to Baal. It is expressly stated that he gives in only because
he fears the wrath of his father El (KTU 1.6:VI.22–23). Neither in this case nor
in the earlier episode describing the victory over Yam is it Baal himself who
overpowers his opponent. Yam is defeated only with the help of the automatic
magical axe of Kothar. Môt is forced to give up as a result of the intervention
of the sun-goddess. With such an unreliable champion, humanity had to fear
that one time Baal might fail again, leaving the earth to the god of death for
seven or more consecutive years (KTU 1.19:I.39–46). The equilibrium between
life and death attained in the Baal-myth can hardly be called stable. People
could derive very little reassurance from it. There was always a new Leviathan
to be conquered.

K TU 1.6:II.30–37. The passage was clearly inspired by the Egyptian cult of Osiris, cf. J.C. de
Moor, An Anthology of Religious Texts from Ugarit (Nisaba, 16), Leiden 1987, 87, n. 422; 88,
n. 430; 89, n. 435; 90, n. 436.
K TU 2.10:12–13, see e.g. E. Lipiński, “Allusions historiques dans la correspondence ougari-
tique de Ras Shamra: Lettre de Ewri-šarri à Pilsiya,” UF 13 (1981), 123–126; D. Pardee, “As
Strong as Death,” in: J.H. Marks, R.M. Good (eds.), Love and Death in the Ancient Near East,
Fs M.H. Pope, Guilford 1987, 65–69.
Part 2
Old Testament


God and the Dragons in the Book of Isaiah

Jaap Dekker

1 Introduction

The book of Isaiah contains a number of prophecies in which a mythical mon-

ster plays a part. Three times it is given a name. Isa 27:1 mentions Leviathan
(‫) ִלוְ ָיָתן‬. It is prophesied that someday Yhwh will kill him. In Isa 30:7 and 51:9
the monster is called Rahab (‫) ָר ַהב‬. According to the latter text Yhwh has slain
the monster Rahab in the past already. In Isa 30:7 the mighty kingdom of Egypt
is compared to Rahab. Thus the book of Isaiah connects the mythical monsters
Leviathan and Rahab with the past (Isa 51:9), the present (Isa 30:7) and the
future (Isa 27:1), though in reverse order. This study focuses on the question
of how the statements made about these monsters are mutually related, and
what message can be heard in them.

2 Seraphim

Leviathan and Rahab are not the only mythical creatures in the book of Isaiah.
In the vision underlying his call Isaiah sees several Seraphim (‫ ְׂש ָר ִפים‬, Isa 6:2).
Traditionally these Seraphim have been interpreted as angels, but we will have
to think of snake-like creatures.1 Ancient seal impressions have been found,
displaying gods who are flanked by one or two snake-like creatures, usually
depicted with four wings.2 Such snake-figures fascinated the ancients and
also received worship (cf. Nehushtan in 2 Kgs 18:4). In this vision of Isaiah each
of the Seraphim even has six wings. In ancient Near Eastern culture such crea-
tures would have possessed supreme holiness. Paradoxically, however, these

1  O. Keel, Jahwe-Visionen und Siegelkunst. Eine neue Deutung der Majestätsschilderungen in
Jes 6, Ez 1 und 10 und Sach 4 (SBS, 84/85), Stuttgart 1977; T.N.D. Mettinger, “Seraphim ‫ ְׂש ָר ִפים‬,”
in: K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, P.W. van der Horst (eds.), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in
the Bible (DDD), 2nd rev. ed., Leiden 1999, 742–744.
2  For pictures, see O. Keel, “Das Land der Kanaanäer mit der Seele suchend,” ThZ 57 (2001),
258–259 and the inclusion of these by W.A.M. Beuken, Jesaja 1–12 (HThKAT), Freiburg
2003, 170.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi ��.��63/9789004337961_003

22 Dekker

Seraphim need their extra wings to protect themselves from the sight of God’s
Isa 14:29 and 30:6 are of special interest for our study. In Isa 14:29 ‫ָׂש ָרף‬
ֵ ‫“ ְמ‬winged Seraph” is a metaphor for the threat of the Assyrian empire.
The Philistines are called not to cheer too early, now that the rod which struck
them (cf. Isa 10:5,24) is broken. This refers to the death of the Assyrian King
Tiglath-Pileser III (727 BCE). The prophet utters the threatening announce-
ment that an adder will come forth from the snake’s root, and that its fruits will
be a ‫עֹופף‬
ֵ ‫ ָׂש ָרף ְמ‬. The latter clearly alludes to a mythical creature to underscore
the threat hanging over the Philistines. The powerful successors of Tiglath-
Pileser III indeed caused the Philistines to suffer. In Isa 30:6 the desert of the
Negeb is described as “a land of viper and flying Seraph” emphasizing
the uncanny nature of this area. Because of the mention of Rahab in Isa 30:7
we will return to this text in the course of this study.

3 Leviathan, Rahab and Tannin

Before the texts themselves are discussed, it is useful to outline who Leviathan
and Rahab are in the Ancient Near East. Also Tannin must be mentioned here.3
Leviathan (‫ ) ִלוְ יָ ָתן‬is the Hebrew name of a dragon called lītānu (or Lotan)
that occurs in mythological texts from the ancient city of Ugarit. He is one of
the helpers of Yam who represents the power of the sea and against whom
the god Baal has to fight. Yam and Leviathan together symbolize the forces of
chaos that has always been a threat to life on earth. Ancient pictures display
Leviathan as a multi-headed serpent (cf. Ps 74:13–14). Under Egyptian influence
he also came to be depicted as a sort of crocodile (cf. Job 40:25–41:26), but the
idea of a multi-headed sea serpent is regarded as the most original. According
to one text the goddess Anat claims that she has defeated Leviathan, the twist-
ing serpent, the monster with the seven heads (KTU 1.3.IV:38–46), according to
other texts Baal has defeated it (KTU 1.2.IV:4–30; 1.5.I:1–4). From Mesopotamia
similar representations are known, dating already from the third millennium
BCE. This reveals how far back into antiquity we find the mythological motif of
the sea monster that is vanquished by a deity, and its wide distribution.4

3  Cf. J. Day, God’s Conflict with the Dragon and the Sea. Echoes of a Canaanite Myth in the Old
Testament, Cambridge 1985. See also the contribution of Marjo Korpel and Johannes de Moor
to this volume.
4  C. Uehlinger, “Leviathan ‫לויתן‬,” DDD2, 511–515; E. Lipiński, “‫יָתן‬
ָ ְ‫ ִלו‬liwjāṯān,” TWAT IV (1983),
God And The Dragons In The Book Of Isaiah 23

Thus far the name Rahab (‫ ) ָר ַהב‬has not been found in extra-biblical texts.
It seems to be of Hebrew origin, though a connection is suspected with the
Akkadian rūbu/rubbu indicating an overflowing water. In the Old Testament
Rahab is one of the names referring to a sea dragon. In the mythology of
the Ancient Near East the idea was present everywhere that the natural and
social order on earth had to be sustained by a struggle against ‘forces of anti-
creation,’ represented by a dragon-like sea monster.5 Depending on the region
this dragon bears different names. He is called Tiamat in Mesopotamian texts,
Yam in Ugaritic texts—with Lotan as one of his helpers—, and, among others,
Rahab in the Old Testament (according to Job 9:13 Rahab also possesses helpers).
The Old Testament seems to be acquainted with the motif that this living earth
was once established by a defeat of the forces of chaos (cf. Ps 74:13–17; 89:10–13),
but also emphasizes the sovereignty by which God controls them.6
In Isa 27:1 and 51:9 Leviathan and Rahab are both called Tannin (‫) ַּתּנִ ין‬. This
is also the case in Ps 74:13–14. Most translations do not handle this as a proper
name, but translate “(sea) monster” (NRSV) or “dragon” (KJV). In Ugaritic texts
the dragon is also called tunnānu, a designation that can be translated “snake.”
As a multi-headed snake tunnānu appears in Ugaritic incantation texts as well.
This presupposes a representation of tunnānu as a demonic power that is still
present and against which people have to protect themselves.7 Not in all Old
Testament texts does ‫ ַּתּנִ ין‬allude to a concrete mythical creature, although

5  This formulation is borrowed from B.F. Batto, “Kampf and Chaos. The Combat Myth in Israelite
Tradition Revisited,” in: J. Scurlock, R.H. Beal (eds.), Creation and Chaos. A Reconsideration of
Hermann Gunkel’s Chaoskampf Hypothesis, Winona Lake, IN 2013, 217–236. Since Hermann
Gunkel’s epoch-making book Schöpfung und Chaos in Urzeit und Endzeit, Göttingen 1895
(English translation: Creation and Chaos in the Primeval Era and the Eschaton: Religio-
Historical Study of Genesis 1 and Revelation 12, Grand Rapids, MI 2006) it has been assumed
for many years that the mythological motif of struggle against chaos was related to the act
of creation. Recently, however, this assumption has been severely criticized, resulting in a
plea for a thorough reconsideration of the Gunkel hypothesis concerning the relationship
between Creation and Chaos. Cf. D.T. Tsumura, Creation and Destruction, Winona Lake, IN
2005 and R.S. Watson, Chaos Uncreated. A Reassessment of the Theme of “Chaos” in the Hebrew
Bible (BZAW, 341), Berlin 2012. The primeval struggle against the forces of chaos probably did
not focus on the act of creation, but on the preservation of the stability of the created order.
Therefore these forces can accurately be designated as ‘forces of anti-creation.’
6  K. Spronk, “Rahab ‫רהב‬,” DDD2, 684–686; U. Rüterswörden, “‫ ָר ַהב‬rāhaḇ,” TWAT VII (1990),
372–378. Because of the continuous presence of the powers of evil, Levenson describes God’s
sovereignty in a dynamic way as “a dramatic enactment: the absolute power of God realizing
itself in achievement and relationship” (J.D. Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil.
The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence, 2nd ed., Princeton, NJ 1994, xiv).
7  H. Niehr, “‫ ַּתּנִ ין‬tannîn,” TWAT VIII (1995), 715–720; G.C. Heider, “Tannin ‫תנין‬,” DDD2, 834–836.
24 Dekker

mythological connotations remain (cf. Gen 1:21; Exod 7:9,10,12; Deut 32:33;
Ps 91:13). Isa 27:1 and 51:9, however, still refer to the mythical monster Tannin.
The exegesis will determine whether in these texts Tannin can be identified
with Leviathan and Rahab.

4 Isaiah 27:1

4.1 Literary Context

The prophecy of Isa 27:1 announces that in the future Yhwh will elimi-
nate Leviathan definitively. It is a short prophecy that is marked out by the
Masoretes as a single paragraph (Setuma).8 This does not alter the fact that it
has to be interpreted in its present literary context. This context is constituted
by the prophecies of Isa 24–27, which form a cluster within the book of Isaiah
and exhibit an eschatological character. These chapters are the direct sequel
to the prophecies against the nations, collected in Isa 13–23, announcing God’s
judgment to nations mentioned by name. In Isa 24–27 the earth as a whole has
to face God’s judgment. The judgment focuses on a city that is referred to as
‫“ ִק ְריַת־ּתֹהּו‬City of Chaos” (Isa 24:10; cf. 24:12; 25:2; 26:5; 27:10). Opposed to this
city is the city of Jerusalem, with Mount Zion, where Yhwh exercises his reign
(Isa 24:23) and offers salvation to those who trust in him (Isa 26:1).
Seven times within Isa 24–27 a prophecy is introduced with the familiar
formula ‫ּיֹום־ההּוא‬ ַ ‫“ ַּב‬on that day” (Isa 24:21; 25:9; 26:1; 27:1,2,12,13). The proph-
ecy concerning Leviathan forms the middle of this series. On the day that
is announced not only will Yhwh execute his judgment (Isa 24:21; 27:1), but
also those who are saved will rejoice and sing abundantly (Isa 25:9; 26:1; 27:2).
Yhwh shall gather all the children of Israel to bow down before him on the
holy mountain in Jerusalem (Isa 27:12,13). Thus in literary terms the prophecy
of Isa 27:1 is associated with both the preceding and the following. In terms
of content, however, the relationship with the preceding is the strongest. The
song of the vineyard that begins in verse 2, has its own theme, though Yhwh’s
care and protection for his vineyard actually presents the positive side of
the elimination of Leviathan. The theme of Yhwh’s coming for punishment,
however, more strongly connects Isa 27:1 with the prophecy of Isa 26:20–21,
also constituting a separate paragraph (Setuma) in the Masoretic text. Both

8  Cf. K.D. Jenner, “Petucha and Setuma: Tools for Interpretation or Simply a Matter of Lay-Out?
A Study of the Relations Between Layout, Arrangement, Reading and Interpretation of the
Text in the Apocalypse of Isaiah (Isa 24–27),” in: H.J. Bosman, H.W. van Grol (eds.), Studies in
Isaiah 24–27. The Isaiah Workshop (OTS, 48), Leiden 2000, 81–117.
God And The Dragons In The Book Of Isaiah 25

prophecies use this same verb ‫“ פקד‬to come for punishment,” while the verb
‫“ הרג‬to kill” also connects them. This lexical cohesion might even indicate that
Isa 26:20–27:1 has to be regarded as an editorial unit.9

4.2 Historical Context

For a long time the prophecies of Isa 24–27 have been dated quite late, even
into the 3rd and 2nd century BCE.10 Most exegetes, however, now realize that
these prophecies must be dated somewhere in the 6th or 5th century BCE, i.e.,
in the post-exilic Persian era.11 Unfortunately, pointers for a more precise dat-
ing are missing.

4.3 Text and Structure

The prophecy of Isa 27:1 consists of two poetic verses. The opening verse is
formed by a bicolon of 4 + 4 stresses, the second by a tricolon of 4 + 4 + 4

‫ַּבּיֹום ַההּוא יִ ְפקֹד יְ הוָ ה‬ On that day JHWH will come to punish
‫דֹולה וְ ַה ֲחזָ ָקה‬
ָ ְ‫ְּב ַח ְרבֹו ַה ָּק ָׁשה וְ ַהּג‬ with his fierce, great and powerful sword
‫יָתן נָ ָחׁש ָּב ִר ַח‬
ָ ְ‫ַעל ִלו‬ Leviathan, the fleeing serpent,
‫יָתן נָ ָחׁש ֲע ַק ָּלתֹון‬ ָ ְ‫וְ ַעל ִלו‬ Leviathan, the twisting serpent.
‫ת־ה ַּתּנִ ין ֲא ֶׁשר ַּבּיָ ם‬
ַ ‫וְ ָה ַרג ֶא‬ He will kill the dragon in the sea.

These two poetic verses are closely linked. The sentence that starts in the first
continues in the second (enjambment) and both verses include a remarkable
triad. The sword of Yhwh is described with three mutually reinforcing adjec-
tives: ‫דֹולה וְ ַה ֲחזָ ָקה‬
ָ ְ‫“ ַה ָּק ָׁשה וְ ַהּג‬fierce, great and powerful.” This corresponds to
the three different designations of the sea monster in the second verse: ‫ִלוְ יָ ָתן‬
‫“ נָ ָחׁש ָּב ִר ַח‬Leviathan, the fleeing serpent” // ‫יָתן נָ ָחׁש ֲע ַק ָּלתֹון‬
ָ ְ‫“ ִלו‬Leviathan the

9  Cf. B.W. Anderson, “The Slaying of the Fleeing, Twisting Serpent: Isaiah 27:1 in Context,”
in: L.M. Hopfe (ed.), Uncovering Ancient Stones. Essays in Memory of H.N. Richardson,
Winona Lake, IN 1994, 3–16.
10  This dating was connected with the once influential supposition of Bernhard Duhm that
Isa 24–27 could be characterized as apocalyptic in nature. For a description and discus-
sion of this position, see H. Wildberger, Jesaja 13–27 (BKAT), Neukirchen-Vluyn 1978,
11  The shift in dating is accurately described by M.A. Sweeney, Isaiah 1–39 (FOTL), Grand
Rapids, MI 1996, 316–320. Cf. W.A.M. Beuken, Isaiah 13–27 (HThKAT), Freiburg 2007,
12  H.W. van Grol, “Verse Structure of Isaiah 24–27,” in: H.J. Bosman, H.W. van Grol (eds.),
Studies in Isaiah 24–27, 51–80, counts 3 + 4 + 4 stresses in the tricolon.
26 Dekker

twisting serpent” // ‫“ ַה ַּתּנִ ין ֲא ֶׂשר ַּבּיָ ם‬the dragon (Tannin), which is in the sea.”
Because these three designations of the dragon conform to the three charac-
terizations of the sword of the Lord, they belong to the poetic design of this
prophecy. Thus, they should not be understood as referring to three different
monsters. Also Tannin alludes to no other monster than Leviathan.13 The use
of the nota accusativus ‫ ֶאת‬underscores this and is an indication that Tannin
no longer functions here as a proper name. The alliterating inclusion, which
is formed by the first (‫ ) ַּבּיֹום‬and last words (‫ ) ַּבּיָ ם‬of Isa 27:1, contributes to the
poetic design and internal coherence of the text.

4.4 Interpretation
The prophecy of Isa 27:1 latches on to a famous mythical concept. Leviathan is
successively described as “the fleeing serpent” (‫ )נָ ָחׁש ָּב ִר ַח‬and as “the twisting
serpent” (‫)נָ ָחׁש ֲע ַק ָּלתֹון‬. These are designations that also occur in the Ugaritic
Baal myth.14 This does not imply that Isa 27:1 depends on it directly. These
stereotypical descriptions mainly reveal that the mythological motif of the
sea monster was widespread in the ancient Near Eastern world.
Unlike the Baal myth Isa 27:1 presents the victory over Leviathan as a future
event and attributes it to Yhwh. What message does this communicate? This
cannot be determined without drawing the context into its interpretation. The
prophecy of Isa 26:20–21 begins with a call to “my people” to enter their rooms
and to close their doors for the duration of God’s judgment. In terms of con-
tent, this corresponds to the previous call to the strong city to open the gates
for the righteous nation (Isa 26:2). In this strong city the people are safe on
the day that Yhwh will execute his judgment. The admonition to close the
door behind them (‫ּוסגֹר ְּד ָל ְתָך ַּב ֲע ֶדָך‬
ְ Qere) evokes the narrative of Noah who had
to lock himself in the ark, when the flood came (Gen 7:1,14). The mention of
the “passing by” of God’s wrath (‫ ַעד־יַ ֲע ָבר־זָ ַעם‬Qere) may allude to the story
of Passover. The verb ‫( פסך‬Exod 12:13) is characteristic for this story, but also the
verb ‫ עבר‬is used for the “passing by” of Yhwh (Exod 12:12,23).
Isa 26:21 then describes that Yhwh leaves his dwelling in order to punish the
iniquity of the inhabitants of the earth. The earth will disclose the blood shed
on her and will no longer cover her slain. The lexical relationship we signalled
between Isa 26:21 and 27:1 is important here. The coming of Yhwh to punish
(‫ ) ִל ְפקֹד‬the iniquity of the inhabitants of the earth and the coming of Yhwh to

13  O. Procksch (Isaiah I, Leipzig 1930) considers the possibility that the mentioned sea mon-
sters symbolize the three superpowers of the time, namely Egypt, Babylonia and Greece.
This interpretation assumes that Isa 24–27 is essentially apocalyptic. Cf. U. Steffen, Der
Drachenkampf. Der Mythos vom Bösen, Zürich 1984, 129.
14  K TU 1.5 I:1–2.
God And The Dragons In The Book Of Isaiah 27

punish (‫ )יִ ְפקֹד יְ הוָ ה‬Leviathan are interrelated. The same applies to his killing
of the dragon (‫ת־ה ַּתּנִ ין‬
ַ ‫ )וְ ָה ַרג ֶא‬and his announcement that the earth will no
longer cover her slain (‫) ֲהרּוגֶ ָיה‬. How should we understand this relationship
exegetically? (1) Are these two completely different acts that will take place on
the day of judgment? (2) Or is it one and the same act that is indicated here
in two different ways? (3) Or do these verses announce two acts that must be
distinguished, but also understood as each other’s flipside?
People who do iniquity and shed innocent blood can sometimes escape
punishment on earth. The comforting message of Isa 26:21 is that in the future
Yhwh will come to punish them. The flood story, however, expresses already
that in executing his judgment on humanity the deeper problem is not solved,
because the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth (Gen 8:21). Evil
is a power with which humanity itself apparently cannot cope. This does not
excuse humanity, but indicates that God’s coming to punish its iniquity is not
sufficient. Isa 24:5–6 already stated that the earth lies polluted under its inhab-
itants and therefore a curse devours the earth. A similar situation thus as in the
days of Noah. Accordingly, Yhwh once again announces a universal judgment
in Isa 24–27. But in order to characterize this verdict as a lasting and really
innovative judgment, Isa 27:1 announces that Yhwh will also come to punish
Leviathan and thus will break the life threatening power of evil itself.
This means that both comings of Yhwh, as announced in Isa 26:21 and 27:1,
should not be considered as one and the same act (option 2), but as comple-
menting each other. Leviathan as mentioned in Isa 27:1 does not primarily
represent the power of evil as it manifests itself in creation, in natural disas-
ters for example, but it represents the power of evil as it reveals itself in the
history of humankind, in their committing iniquity and in their shedding of
innocent blood. In the former case, the prophecies of Isa 26:21 and 27:1 would
announce two completely different acts each covering a different area (option
1). In the latter case, the second act is the completion of the first. They can be
considered as each other’s flipside (option 3). The lexical cohesion between
the prophecies of Isa 26:20–21 and 27:1 makes this third option the most likely.
Isa 27:1 even looks beyond the historical manifestations of evil, as in the cam-
paigns of the great empires of the time. The imagination of the power of evil
in the mythical figure of Leviathan expresses the demonic that manifests
itself in the iniquity of humanity (cf. Rev 12:9).15 It fits the reign of Yhwh on

15  Cf. J. Day, “God and Leviathan in Isaiah 27:1,” BS 155 (1998), 423–436: “Isaiah here remolded
the mythic symbol of Leviathan, the Great Dragon, that Ancient Serpent, to refer to Satan,
the great and final enemy of Yahweh whom He will defeat in the eschaton.” (435) For the
reception of this idea in the book of Revelation, see the contribution of Henk van de
Kamp to this volume.
28 Dekker

Mount Zion (Isa 24:23) that Yhwh will come to punish all powers in the heav-
ens and on earth (‫ יִ ְפקֹד יְ הוָ ה‬Isa 24:21), and hence also the monster in the sea
(‫ יִ ְפקֹד יְ הוָ ה‬Isa 27:1), “the cause of social disorder.”16

5 Isaiah 30:6–7

5.1 Literary Context

The prophecy of Isa 30:6–7 is part of the section Isa 28–33 which has its own
place in the book of Isaiah. The structure of these chapters is constituted by
six woe-statements, which are interspersed with prophecies of salvation.17 The
beginning of the prophecy of Isa 30:6–7 can be clearly defined. In the words
‫“ ַמ ָּׂשא ַּב ֲהמֹות נֶ גֶ ב‬oracle concerning the animals of the Negeb” this prophecy is
even provided with a superscription. The Masoretes mark a new paragraph
here (Setuma). It is more difficult to determine where this oracle ends. Some
consider the comment to write in verse 8 as part of the same oracle, while others
combine it with the sequel. The particle ‫ ִּכי‬at the beginning of verse 9 could
advocate the latter option. The Masoretes do not mark a new paragraph until
verse 12. That may indicate that Isa 30:6–11 should be considered one single
prophecy. Verse 12, however, begins with the traditional formula ‫ָל ֵכן ּכֹה ָא ַמר‬
‫“ ְקדֹוׂש יִ ְׂש ָר ֶאל‬therefore thus saith the Holy One of Israel” (particle ‫ ָל ֵכן‬+ mes-
senger formula), which in the classical genre of judgment prophecy would pre-
suppose a prior indictment. This indictment is found in the preceding verses
9–11, which are connected with verse 8 through the particle ‫ ִּכי‬. Verse 8 serves
as an introduction to a new judgment prophecy (Isa 30:8–14). Isa 30:6–7 then
constitutes an independent prophecy which itself also belongs to the genre of
judgment prophecy. After the indictment of verses 6–7a follows the announce-
ment of judgment in verse 7b, initiated with the particle ‫ ָל ֵכן‬.
In addition, with regard to content and redaction this prophecy is closely
connected to the foregoing of Isa 30:1–5. In both prophecies the prophet turns
vigorously against attempts of the leaders of Judah to seek the help of Egypt
against an Assyrian threat. This connection is redactionally reflected in the
characterization of Egypt as ‫יֹועילּו‬ ִ ‫“ ַעם לֹא‬a people that cannot profit them”
which both prophecies make use of (Isa 30:5,6).18 The root ‫ עזר‬also connects

16  R.E. Clements, Isaiah 1–39 (NCBC), Grand Rapids, MI 1980, 218.
17  J. Dekker, Zion’s Rock-solid Foundations. An Exegetical Study of the Zion Text in Isaiah 28:16
(OTS, 54), Leiden 2007, 180–190.
18  In Isa 30:5 the phrase is actually a bit longer: ‫יֹועילּו ָלמֹו‬
ִ ‫ ַעם לֹא‬. The word ‫“ ָלמוֹ‬him”
(singular!) refers to ‫ ּכֹל‬at the beginning of the phrase: “everyone comes to shame.”
God And The Dragons In The Book Of Isaiah 29

both prophecies (‫ ְל ֵעזֶ ר‬in Isa 30:5; ‫ יַ ְעזֹרּו‬in Isa 30:7). The judgment prophecy
of Isa 30:8–14 then reveals the spiritual background of Judah’s itch to turn to
Egypt: they do not want to listen to Yhwh.

5.2 Historical Context

Unlike with Isa 24–27, we can trace the historical background of many proph-
ecies in Isa 28–33. The original core of this section has emerged from the
Assyrian crisis, at the time of King Hezekiah, which culminated in the attack
on Jerusalem in 701 BCE. The leaders of Judah then expected that Egypt would
come to save them. The Assyrians, however, defeated the Egyptian auxiliary
troops (battle of Eltekeh).19

5.3 Text and Structure

The design of the prophecy of Isa 30:6–7 is determined by its title, followed by
a tricolon and three bicola.20 The tricolon contains 3 + 3 + 3 stresses, the three
subsequent bicola 4 + 3, 3 + 4 and 3 + 3 stresses. In Hebrew poetry a bicolon
functions as the most common poetic verse-structure. A tricolon is often used
to mark the beginning, as in this prophecy, or the end of a pericope.

‫ַמ ָּׂשא ַּב ֲהמֹות נֶ גֶ ב‬ Oracle concerning the animals of the Negeb:
‫צּוקה‬ ָ ְ‫ְּב ֶא ֶרץ ָצ ָרה ו‬ Through a land of distress and anguish,
‫ָל ִביא וָ ַליִ ׁש ֵמ ֶהם‬  from where come lioness and lion,
ֵ ‫ֶא ְפ ֶעה וְ ָׂש ָרף ְמ‬   poisonous snake and winged Seraph,
‫ל־ּכ ֶתף ֲעיָ ִרים ֵח ֵיל ֶהם‬
ֶ ‫יִ ְׂשאּו ַע‬ they carry on the back of donkeys their riches
‫אֹוצר ָֹתם‬
ְ ‫ל־ּד ֶּב ֶׁשת ּגְ ַמ ִּלים‬
ַ ‫וְ ַע‬  on the hump of camels their treasures
ִ ‫ל־עם לֹא‬ ַ ‫ַע‬ to a nation that cannot profit them,
‫ּומ ְצ ַריִ ם ֶה ֶבל וָ ִריק יַ ְעזֹרּו‬
ִ  because the help of Egypt is vain and empty.
‫אתי ָלזֹאת‬ ִ ‫ָל ֵכן ָק ָר‬ That’s why I call her:
‫ַר ַהב ֵהם ָׁש ֶבת‬  Rahab who sits still!

19  For a reconstruction of Hezekiah’s revolt and Sennacherib’s campaign, see Dekker, Zion’s
Rock-solid Foundations, 94–101.
20  W.A.M. Beuken, Isaiah 28–39 (HThKAT), Freiburg 2010, 152 and 162, does not regard the
first line as a superscription, because he does not read Isa 30:6–7 as an independent
prophecy. Therefore he translates the word ‫ ַמ ָּׂשא‬as “burden” and understands it as the
burden of the caravan animals.
30 Dekker

The tricolon is syntactically closely related to the following bicola. The sen-
tence continues in the next two poetic verses. The main clause is strikingly
interrupted by the mention of lioness and lion, poisonous snake and winged
Seraph. Thus, the title of this prophecy is in fact derived from the content of
a subordinate clause. However, this fits with the emphasis that the sentence
structure places on the land of distress and anguish. Remarkably, the subject
of the verbal form ‫“ יִ ְׂשאּו‬they carry” is not made explicit. If the subject of the
previous prophecy is meant here, this confirms the already established redac-
tional cohesion between Isa 30:1–5 and 30:6–7. The subject apparently are the
rebellious children mentioned in Isa 30:1 or more specifically the officials and
envoys of Isa 30:4.
Within the second bicolon the plurals ‫ יַ ְעזֹרּו‬and ‫יֹועילּו‬
ִ are striking. They have
a unifying effect in the verse-structure. Maybe their plural form is dictated by
the name ‫“ ִמ ְצ ַריִ ם‬Egypt” which is a dual form in Hebrew (cf. the plural ‫ ֵהם‬in the
final clause). Unlike Isa 30:1–5, however, in Isa 30:6–7 the reference to Egypt
follows only after its characterization as “a nation that brings no benefit.” This
reversal adds to the poetic quality of this prophecy.

5.4 Interpretation
The prophecy of Isa 30:6–7 culminates in an ominous naming. Because of
the futility of the Egyptian aid expected by the leaders of Judah, Yhwh calls
Egypt: ‫“ ַר ַהב ֵהם ָׁש ֶבת‬Rahab who sits still” (cf. NIV “Rahab the Do-Nothing”). The
explicit characterization of the desert of the Negeb as “a land of distress and
anguish” already in advance places the mentioning of Egypt under a negative
sign. Poisonous snakes and winged Seraphim sound threatening. The same is
true of the lion and lioness. People who have the courage to travel through
such an uncanny area, bringing along a richly laden caravan of donkeys and
camels, must have a desirable goal. Initially the name Rahab suggests that
Egypt is indeed a mighty helper of mythical proportions. But what an illusion.
This dreaded dragon has nothing to offer. Rahab is a toothless monster. The
leaders of Judah could better have saved themselves the costs and difficulties
of traveling through the Negeb. The ominous name given to Egypt reflects both
Judah’s high expectations and the inevitable disappointment that will follow.21
The prophecy of Isa 30:6–7 does not refer to a battle in the early days, when
Rahab had been slain already by Yhwh (cf. Isa 51:9). Neither does it refer to
a battle in the end of days, when the dragon shall be destroyed definitively
(cf. Isa 27:1). This prophecy focuses on the suggestion that clings to the name

21  Cf. Beuken, Isaiah 28–39, 171.

God And The Dragons In The Book Of Isaiah 31

of Rahab. With respect to Egypt Judah thought to have an assistant of mythi-

cal proportions. At the same time, this name is also ironic. In the myth the
great sea monster inevitably gets the worst of it. Putting all one’s eggs in this
basket—concretized by the heavily loaded donkeys and camels—is doomed
to failure in advance. Seeking refuge with Rahab is like making a covenant with
death and falsehood into a hiding place (Isa 28:15,17).22 All these characteriza-
tions of Egypt are meant ironically and emphasize the coming disillusionment.
In Isa 30:6–7 the mythological motif of the sea monster is supposed to be well
known, though the triumphant act of Yhwh is not explicitly mentioned here.
In the Old Testament Egypt is often characterized as the sea monster
(cf. Ps 87:4; Ezek 29:3–5; 32:2–8). This is probably due to the role of oppressor
that Egypt has played in Israel’s history. Moreover, the victory over this oppres-
sor is closely linked to the experience at the Red Sea.23

6 Isaiah 51:9–11

6.1 Literary Context

The third prophecy that mentions the dragon is part of a triptych. Within
Isaiah 51 and 52 three textual units each start with the same double wake-up
call “Awake! Awake!”: Isa 51:9–16; 51:17–23 and 52:1–10. The first of these calls
is addressed to the arm of Yhwh, the second to Jerusalem and the third to
Zion. Within Isa 49–55 this triptych prepares for the important and also double
call to depart from Babel (‫ סּורּו סּורּו‬Isa 52:11–12; cf. 48:20). The first and last
wake-up calls tie the triptych together because both have the same verb
forms ‫עּורי‬ ִ (cf. ‫עֹור ִרי‬
ִ ‫עּורי‬ ְ ‫ ִה ְת‬Isa 51:17) and both continue with the call
ְ ‫עֹור ִרי ִה ְת‬
‫“ ִל ְב ִׁשי‬clothe yourself.” Although the third wake-up call is addressed to Zion,
the mention of the arm of the Lord functions as an inclusio, because the third
wake-up call culminates into the statement that Yhwh has bared his holy arm
(Isa 52:10).
The prophecy of Isa 51:9–16 is made up of two parts. The first part is a sup-
plication (verses 9–11). The second part expresses the reaction of Yhwh to this
supplication constituted as a salvation prophecy (verses 12–16). Form-critically
these two genres must be regarded as a textual unit. They correspond with
each other in this passage also stylistically: The double ‫“ ָאנ ִֹכי ָאנ ִֹכי‬I, I am” at

22  Cf. Dekker, Zion’s Rock-solid Foundations, 166–177.

23  Cf. Day, God’s Conflict, 88–89. For the identification of the mythical monster and Egypt in
the book of Ezekiel, see the contribution of Ben van Werven to this volume.
32 Dekker

the beginning of verse 12 corresponds to the double ‫עּורי‬ ִ at the beginning

ִ ‫עּורי‬
of verse 9. This emphatic presentation of Yhwh also coheres with the twice-
asked question of verses 9b and 10 ‫־היא‬ ִ ‫“ ֲהלֹוא ַא ְּת‬Aren’t you the one . . .” Even
the syntactic construction of ‫ ִהיא‬respectively ‫( הּוא‬verse 12) with participle is

6.2 Historical Context

The supplication of Isa 51:9–11 originates from a group among the exiles in
Babylon, which is willing to seek Yhwh.24 They have been addressed already
in Isa 51:1–8 and should be distinguished from the people as a whole.25 They
are referred to successively as “pursuers of righteousness” and “seekers of
Yhwh” (verse 1), as “my people and my nation” (verse 4), as “connoisseurs of
righteousness” and “people who have my teachings in their heart” (verse 7).
The people as a whole, however, had continuously responded skeptically to
the liberation that Yhwh had announced in many variations (cf. Isa 49:14) and
which already became apparent in the advance of the Persian King Cyrus from
550 BCE onwards (cf. Isa 41:1–7). Yhwh was very upset and disappointed about
this negative attitude of his people (see Isa 50:1–3). Until now, only the pro-
phetic servant of Yhwh had shown obedience.26 In Isaiah 51 for the first time
a group comes forward that is willing to align itself with this servant and put
trust in God (cf. Isa 50:10–11).27 As seekers of Yhwh they look forward to the
consolation of Israel28 and dare to hope for Yhwh’s intervention. The supplica-
tion of Isa 51:9–11 originates from this group and can be dated in 545–540 BCE.
They may receive the message of God’s comfort in Isa 51:12 (see plural suffix in
‫) ְמנַ ֶח ְמ ֶכם‬.

24  U. Berges, Jesaja 49–54 (HThKAT), Freiburg 2015, 148. The exegesis of J. Goldingay,
The Message of Isaiah 40–55. A Literary-Theological Commentary, London 2005, 430–431,
that Yhwh himself would address his arm, seems artificial. He assumes that because
Yhwh speaks in Isa 51:1–8, the same will be the case in Isa 51:9–16, but a change of speaker
fits very well in the dramatic structure of this section.
25  Berges, Jesaja 49–54, 113–114, 137.
26  Cf. J. Dekker, “The Servant and the Servants in the Book of Isaiah,” Sárospataki Füzetek
2012/3–4, 33–45.
27  W.A.M. Beuken, Jesaja deel IIB (PredOT), Nijkerk 1983, 105–106, 121; J.L. Koole, Isaiah III.
Volume 2: Isaiah 49–55 (HCOT), Leuven 1998, 138.
28  Cf. the use of this expression in Luke 2:25.
God And The Dragons In The Book Of Isaiah 33

6.3 Text and Structure

The wake-up call at the beginning of Isa 51:9–11, is designed as a single colon of
five stresses.29 It marks the beginning of the supplication which itself consists
mainly of bicola. Verse 11a consists of a tricolon. This fits to the character of
verse 11 which is virtually identical to Isa 35:10 and underscores the climactic
feature of this verse.

‫רֹוע יְ הוָ ה‬
ַ ְ‫עּורי ִל ְב ִׁשי־עֹז ז‬
ִ ‫עּורי‬ִ Awake! Awake! Put on strength, arm of Yhwh!
‫ימי ֶק ֶדם‬ ֵ ‫עּורי ִּכ‬
ִ Awake as in days of old
‫עֹול ִמים‬
ָ ‫ּד ֹרֹות‬ as in days gone by since long!
‫־היא ַה ַּמ ְח ֶצ ֶבת ַר ַהב‬ ִ ‫ֲהלֹוא ַא ְּת‬ Aren’t you the one who cuts Rahab into pieces,
‫חֹול ֶלת ַּתּנִ ין‬
ֶ ‫ְמ‬ the one who pierces Tannin?
‫־היא ַה ַּמ ֲח ֶר ֶבת יָ ם‬ ִ ‫ֲהלֹוא ַא ְּת‬ Aren’t you the one who dries up the sea,
‫ֵמי ְּתהֹום ַר ָּבה‬ the waters of the great deep,
‫ַה ָּׂש ָמה ַמ ֲע ַמ ֵּקי־יָם‬ the one who makes the depths of the sea
ִ ְ‫ֶּד ֶרְך ַל ֲעבֹר ּג‬ a pathway for the redeemed to cross over?
‫ּופדּויֵ י יְ הוָ ה יְ ׁשּובּון‬
ְ Let the ransomed of Yhwh may return
‫ּובאּו ִצּיֹון ְּב ִרּנָ ה‬
ָ and let them may enter Zion with singing
ָ ֹ ‫עֹולם ַעל־ר‬ָ ‫וְ ִׂש ְמ ַחת‬ so there is everlasting joy upon their heads.
‫ָׂשׂשֹון וְ ִׂש ְמ ָחה יַ ִּׂשיגּון‬ May joy and gladness approach,
‫נָ סּו יָ גֹון וַ ֲאנָ ָחה‬ so that sorrow and sighing shall flee away.30

Verses 9b and 10 are of special interest for our research. The questions of verses
9b and 10a stand out because of the length of each, 4 + 3 stresses. With regard
to content, the bicolon of verse 10b is linked with these, but shorter in form
(2 + 3 stresses) because the question ‫־היא‬ ִ ‫“ ֲהלֹוא ַא ְּת‬Aren’t you the one” is not
repeated again. 

29  Cf. M.C.A. Korpel, J.C. de Moor, The Structure of Classical Hebrew Poetry: Isaiah 40–55
(OTS, 41), Leiden 1998, 497.
30  It is preferable to conceive verse 11 as an integral part of the supplication. The verbal
forms ‫ יְ ׁשּובּון‬and ‫ יַ ִּׂשיגּון‬can be understood as iussiva, after which the perfecta ‫ ָבאּו‬and ‫נָ סּו‬
express the certainty of the expectation.
34 Dekker

6.4 Interpretation
The wake-up call of Isa 51:9 reveals a sense of urgency (cf. Judg 5:12) and coheres
with the characterization of Yhwh as a warrior in Isa 42:13 (cf. Isa 59:17).31 It
is no coincidence that this call is addressed to the arm of Yhwh, because this
symbolizes his decisive intervention, penalizing the one (cf. Isa 30:30) and
saving the other (cf. Isa 40:10–11; 52:10; 59:16; 63:5,12). With their awakening of
the arm of Yhwh some exiles apparently agree with the announcement of
Isa 51:5 that even the coastlands will set their hopes upon the arm of Yhwh.
The awakening of the arm of Yhwh is supported by a reference to the
distant past. In ancient times Yhwh had intervened in a liberating way by
cutting Rahab into pieces32 and piercing Tannin.33 It is not clear whether
Isa 51:9 identifies Rahab and Tannin with one another or that they should be
considered as different creatures. The imagery connected to these names, how-
ever, is more important and alludes primarily to the intervention of the deity
in order to sustain the stability of the order of creation. This intervention is
described by the traditional concept of a fight against one or more mythical
sea monsters. Ps 89:11 can be referred to as a parallel text: “You crushed Rahab
after you had pierced him; your scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.”
(cf. Ps 74:13–15) The same applies to Job 26:12: “By his power he stilled the sea
and by his understanding he smashed down Rahab.”
Some scholars have difficulty accepting that the victorious intervention of
Yhwh is conceived here as a fight against the sea monster. Watts, for example,
regards this idea as a form of mythical thinking that contradicts the teaching
of Scripture. He explains the salvation prophecy of Isa 51:12–16 which follows
the supplication of Isa 51:9–11 as God’s rejection of this apparently popular
superstition.34 This, however, does not do justice to this prophecy. Mythical
language is perfectly suited for making existential statements. With the con-
cept of Yhwh besieging the dragon these praying exiles gave expression to a
deep-seated fear living at the depth of every human heart. They felt themselves
at the mercy of the forces of chaos that can even snatch history within their

31  In the book of Isaiah the verb ‫ עור‬is frequently used for Yhwh awakening King Cyrus
(Isa 13:17; 41:2,25; 42:13; 45:13). The God-seekers among the people seem to respond faith-
fully to this awakening of Cyrus by now asking the arm of Yhwh to fight for them.
32  The unique verb form ‫ חצב( ַה ַּמ ְח ֶצ ֶבת‬Hiph‘il “cut into pieces”) need not be changed in
‫( המחצת‬1QIsaa) and thus adapted to the verb ‫“ מחץ‬to smash down” which is used in
Job 26:12, but can be maintained as the lectio difficilior. The verb ‫ חצב‬with Yhwh as sub-
ject is also used in Hos 6:5 (cf. Isa 10:15).
33  Tannin can be understood as a proper name here, because it is not provided with the nota
accusativus ‫( ֶאת‬cf. Isa 27:1).
34  Cf. J.D.W. Watts, Isaiah 34–66 (WBC), Waco, TX 1987, 213.
God And The Dragons In The Book Of Isaiah 35

grip.35 In this regard it is important that the supplication of Isa 51:9 uses parti-
ciples to describe Yhwh’s victory over Rahab and Tannin. In this way the exiles
express their hope that this victory is not locked up in the past, but that Yhwh
still is able to tackle the sea monsters, even in their own day.36
Verse 9 concretizes the “days of old” with a reference to a particular combat
with the primordial forces of anti-creation. In verse 10 the focus shifts to the
story of the exodus. This is a common plea in collective mourning prayers37
and suggests that Rahab and Tannin, mentioned in verse 9, refer to the event
at the Red Sea. Even then, however, the crossing of the Red Sea must be
seen in line with Yhwh’s primeval combat with the forces of anti-creation,
because in ancient Near Eastern thought these forces represent a continuous
present reality and their defeat is not regarded as an event that took place once
for all (cf. the participles used). It is a recurring experience that people are
overwhelmed by danger.38 God’s restraining of the primordial forces of anti-
creation and his drying up of the Red Sea are more or less presented as one
event in favor of the updating of Israel’s salvation tradition.39
The crossing of the Red Sea is referred to as a drying up of the sea and of the
waters of the great deep. Since mention is made here of drying up instead of
defeating the sea, ‫ יָ ם‬should not be translated as a personal name here. What
is meant, however, with ‫“ ֵמי ְּתהֹום ַר ָּבה‬the waters of the great deep?” The word
‫ ְּתהֹום‬in the Old Testament often refers to the primordial ocean and occurs in
a variety of contexts: in concepts of creation,40 the flood story41 and the exo-
dus tradition.42 Especially in the book of Isaiah Yhwh claims regularly that
he can or will dry up rivers and seas (Isa 42:15; 44:27; 50:2; cf. Isa 19:5–6; 37:25).
This idea is strongly anchored in the exodus tradition. Its repeated mention

35  In fact they cried: “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” (cf. Matt 8:25).
36  Cf. Day, “God and Leviathan in Isaiah 27:1,” 436: “Canaanite mythic imagery was the most
impressive means in that ancient cultural milieu whereby to display the sovereignty
and transcendence of Yahweh, along with His superiority over Baal and all other earthly
37  Cf. Isa 63:11–14.
38  Cf. M. Bauks, “ ‘Chaos’ als Metapher für die Gefährdung der Weltordnung,” in: B. Janowski,
B. Ego (Hrsg.), Das biblische Weltbild und seine altorientalische Kontexte (FAT, 32), Tübingen
2001, 431–464.
39  Cf. B.S. Childs, Isaiah. A Commentary (OTL), Louisville, KY 2001, 404: “A unified ontological
witness to the one purpose of God concerning his people.”
40  See Gen 1:2; Job 28:14; 38:16,30; 41:24; Ps 33:7; Prov 3:20; 8:24,27–28.
41  See Gen 7:11; 8:2; Ps 104:6–9; cf. Ps 36:7.
42  See Exod 15:5,8; Ps 77:17; 78:15; 106:9; Isa 63:13. Noteworthy are the texts mentioning ‫ְּתהֹום‬
in the context of blessing: Gen 49:25; Deut 33:13 (cf. Ezek 31:4,15).
36 Dekker

is understandable against the background of the new exodus from Babylon,

which is announced in this part of the book. It is quite possible then that
‫ ֵמי ְּתהֹום ַר ָּבה‬also allude implicitly to the concept of creation, though verse 10
refers primarily to the exodus. Verse 10a then functions as a bridge to verse 10b.43
In the remainder of verse 10 the reference to the exodus becomes more
explicit. Even more than the mention of the drying up of the sea, the making
of a pathway for the redeemed refers to the miracle at the Red Sea. The latter in
fact constitutes the goal of the drying up. A third designation of the sea is now
added to the previous names: ‫“ ַמ ֲע ַמ ֵּקי־יָ ם‬the depths of the sea.”44 This name
sounds a bit threatening. The depths of the sea are preeminently a place in
which to sink (cf. Ps 69:3,15; 130:1; Ezek 27:34). It is not self-evident that these
could be made a viable pathway. All the greater is the miracle that Yhwh has
done at the Red Sea. By recollecting this miracle the exiles express their long-
ing for a similar divine intervention. The consistent use of participles empha-
sizes this. At the same time the mythical language expresses the anxiety to be
swallowed. There is no reason to dismiss the imagery concerning Rahab and
Tannin as primitive, because it gives a vivid impression of the deep paralyzing
fear that people can feel. Chaos is never far away and still threatening. It is this
fear that the salvation prophecy of Isa 51:12–16 challenges.45

7 Conclusions

Now that we have discussed each of the dragon-texts in the book of Isaiah
separately, we can draw some conclusions and describe how the statements
about the sea monsters relate to each other.

43  Cf. A. Schoors, Jesaja II (BOT), Roermond 1973, 314.

44  1QIsaa uses the preposition ‫ב‬. Then it’s about making a pathway in the depths (cf.
Isa 43:16) instead of changing the water depths into a pathway. The Versions support the
Masoretic text.
45  Cf. C.H. Gordon, “Leviathan: Symbol of Evil,” in: A. Altmann (ed.), Biblical Motifs. Origins
and Transformations, Cambridge, MA 1966, 1–9: “God’s triumph over Leviathan helped
to give men a sense of security for thousands of years. Now that Leviathan has become
merely a symbol, we are not better off. It becomes more difficult to remove evil from our
lives, once evil becomes, as it has become, a concept which can be symbolized, but not
concretized and crushed.” (p. 9).
God And The Dragons In The Book Of Isaiah 37

(1) The book of Isaiah is clearly familiar with the mythological motif of the
anti-creational force of the sea dragon that is widespread in the Ancient
Near East. Scattered throughout the book the sea monsters appear in
at least three different text complexes. When the texts that speak of
the Seraphim are omitted from consideration, the relevant sections are
Isa 24–27, 28–33 and 49–55. These chapters originate from different
periods. Accordingly, the conclusion is justified that the mythological
motif of the sea dragon was well-known also in Israel, so prophecy could
easily fall back on it in different times and contexts.46
(2) Literarily, the dragon-texts in the book of Isaiah are not presented in the
historical order in which these texts most likely arose. The prophecy of
Isa 30:6–7, in which Egypt ironically is named “Rahab who sits still,” is
rightly attributed to Isaiah himself and can be regarded as the oldest allu-
sion to the mythological motif of the sea dragon within the current book.
This prophecy dates from the time of the Assyrian crisis (705–701 BCE).
The supplication of Isa 51:9–11, in which a group of exiles appeals to the
reputation of Yhwh as the one who cuts Rahab into pieces and pierces
Tannin, dates from the last period of the Babylonian Exile (545–540 BCE).
The prophecy of Isa 27:1, holding out the prospect of the destruction of
Leviathan, is much more difficult to date. Scholars generally date it in
the period after the Exile and assign it among the most recent texts in the
book of Isaiah.
(3) It is striking that the sea monsters in the book of Isaiah bear different
names, though no different beings are meant.47 Leviathan occurs only
in the most recent text. Though the number of available texts is too lim-
ited to draw firm conclusions, the use of the name Rahab may go back
to Isaiah himself48 and could also have been used by the Judean exiles,
along with the name Tannin. Maybe in Israel the dragon was known as
Rahab, while the names Tannin and Leviathan entered the Hebrew lan-
guage under the influence of the surrounding cultures. In any case, clear
counterparts of Tannin and Leviathan are attested in the Ugaritic texts.

46  Cf. Batto, “Kampf and Chaos,” 227; Day, God’s Conflict, 92.
47  Cf. Clements, Isaiah 1–39, 218: “The two dragons scarcely have entirely separate identities.”
48  Cf. H. Wildberger, Jesaja 28–39 (BKAT), Neukirchen-Vluyn 1982, 1164. The name Rahab
then obviously must be older than Isaiah, otherwise his audience would not have under-
stood the message.
38 Dekker

(4) The sea monsters mentioned by name in the book of Isaiah are con-
nected respectively to the past (Isa 51:9), the present (Isa 30:7) and the
future (Isa 27:1), but in reverse order. The reader of the book of Isaiah
thus first encounters the prophecy in which God’s defeat of the dragon
is announced as a promise for the future. This presupposes the reality
of evil that manifests itself as a destructive force in history. The prophe-
cies against the nations (Isa 13–23) preceding Isa 27:1 have shown that
this force manifests itself in history in many different appearances
(cf. Isa 14:29). People cannot save themselves from the powers of evil. The
promise that these powers will be broken by Yhwh are meant to arouse
hope for people who experience every day that a curse is on the earth
(cf. Isa 24:6).
(5) From a biblical theological perspective Isa 30:6–7 does not add new ele-
ments. The way in which this prophecy alludes to the mythological motif
of the dragon, however, shows well the difficulty that Judah has with
actually laying its future in God’s hands and expecting the victory over
the powers of evil from Yhwh alone. This prophecy has as its background
the threat of superpower Assyria, which is no match for Judah. Instead of
seeking help from Yhwh, however, they look to Egypt, the other global
force of those days. In fact this is nothing but an attempt to cast out the
demons by Beelzebul (cf. Mark 3:22–26), one that in advance was doomed
to failure. Egypt is a Rahab “who sits still” and being a dragon it is itself a
candidate to be slain. Any aid against the powers of evil other than Yhwh
can justly be called vain and empty.
(6) What, however, guarantees that Yhwh actually is able to defeat the sea
monsters? Isa 27:1 expresses only a promise and Isa 30:6–7 reveals that
there are no earthly alternatives against the powers of evil. Isa 51:9–11
brings up the reputation that Yhwh has already established when it
comes to dragons. Both in his primeval combat with the forces of anti-
creation and in the exodus Yhwh has already proven himself as the one
who cuts Rahab into pieces and pierces Tannin. So there is a good reason
for laying the future in his hands. That’s what a group of exiles actually
does in the supplication of Isa 51:9–11. The reference to the mythological
motif of the dragon in this way strengthens the credibility of the promise
that was already given in Isa 27:1. That promise is not unfounded. Yhwh
has already established a reputation and will do everything to maintain
it. Here applies the rule that past performance really guarantees future
God And The Dragons In The Book Of Isaiah 39

(7) The way in which Yhwh himself responds in Isa 51:12–16 to the supplica-
tion of the exiles is to be understood as a confirmation of this warrant.
In verse 15 Yhwh presents himself as ‫“ ר ֹגַ ע ַהּיָ ם‬the one who stills the sea.”49
The same is said of Yhwh in Job 26:12, but then it is supplemented by
a reference to Rahab: “By his power he stilled the Sea (‫ ;) ְּבכֹחֹו ָרגַ ע הּיָ ם‬by
his understanding he struck down Rahab.” (NRSV) Without mentioning
Rahab by name Isa 51:15 is probably alluding once again to the mythologi-
cal motif of the dragon. In response to the plea of the exiles Yhwh con-
firms his reputation. Of all texts in the book of Isaiah referring to God and
the sea monsters, from a biblical-theological perspective the statements
of Isa 51:9–10 and 51:15 can be considered as their climax. Here Yhwh’s
victory over the sea monsters is brought in relation to God’s identity.

49  Cf. J. Dekker, “Stilling or Stirring Up the Sea? The Translation of Isa. 51:15.” In: K. van
Bekkum, G. Kwakkel, W.H. Rose (eds.), Language and History. Essays in Honour of Jan P.
Lettinga (OTS), Leiden. (forthcoming).

As a Fish on Dry Land

Some Remarks on Tannîn in Ezekiel

Ben van Werven

1 Introduction

At first glance Ezekiel’s tannîn,1 as described in Ezek 29 and 32, resembles a

fish—dying because it is removed from its natural habitat. Although tannîn
has indeed been identified as a tuna,2 a wide range of other possible identifi-
cations has been offered. H. Gunkel’s Schöpfung und Chaos (1895) encouraged
some commentators to presume a direct relation between the ancient Near
Eastern myths and the biblical tannîn, while others interpret the creature as a
crocodile. The precise interrelation between the tannîn and the proper names
of Rahab and Leviathan is key to our understanding of the tannîn’s nature,
but remains disputed.3 Wakeman, in a rather broad statement, says that in
poetic passages tannîn “can be read (alone, parallel or in apposition to Rahab
or Leviathan) as a generic term, ‘the monster’ ” and concludes that tannîn is
“properly a mythological term” referring to the monster defeated by Yhwh
“when he established his dominion.”4 Boadt also sees a mythological creature
in the tannîn: “Ezekiel chooses his mythic imagery to express this personifica-
tion of original evil opposed to God and not to portray a ruler troublesome as
a crocodile.”5 Because of, inter alia, the connection between the tannîn and
the overtly mythological Rahab / Leviathan, and the alleged use of the term

1  Read tannîn for tannîm. Cf. L. Boadt, Ezekiel’s Oracles against Egypt: A Literary and Philological
Study of Ezekiel 29–32, Rome 1980, 26.
2  For the Septuagint interpreting fish, including ‫ת־ה ַּתּנִ ינִ ם ַהּגְ ד ִֹלים‬
ַ ‫“ ֶא‬the great tunnies” of Gen
1:21, as monsters, see the contribution to this volume by Marjo Korpel and Johannes de Moor.
3  Cf. C.G. Heider, “Tannîn,” in: K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, P.W. van der Horst (eds.), Dictionary
of Deities and Demons in the Bible (DDD), 2nd rev. ed., Leiden 1999, 834–836, and H. Niehr,
“Tannîn,” in: G.J. Botterweck, H. Ringgren, H. Fabry (eds.), Theological Dictionary of the Old
Testament (TDOT), Vol. 15, Grand Rapids, MI 2006, 726–731.
4  M.K. Wakeman, God’s Battle with the Monster, Leiden 1973, 72–73. To make things even more
unclear, Wakeman also identifies the tannîn as ‘a master jackal’ (76 n. 7).
5  Boadt, Ezekiel’s Oracles, 29.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi ��.��63/9789004337961_004

As A Fish On Dry Land 41

tannîn in the Old Testament “to describe the chaos monster,” Day argues in
relation to Ezek 29 and 32 for a mythological interpretation of tannîn.6 The
application of the term tannîn to a historically retraceable figure like Pharaoh
Hophra (including Ezek 29:3 and 32:2), is interpreted by Day as a historiciza-
tion of a divine conflict. This does not, however, entail a demythologization of
the mythological monster into a real crocodile. In fact, Day sees only the scales
of the tannîn (Ezek 29:4) as a feature of a mundane crocodile, but according to
him this “does not subvert the total impression that the dragon of Ezek 29 and
32 is mythological.”7 More recently, Guillaume also argued for a “thoroughly
mythological” tannîn in Ezekiel.8 However, a more naturalistic interpretation
of the tannîn as referring to a crocodile is still being defended, sometimes
with reference to an Egyptian hymn of praise calling Pharaoh Thutmosis III
a crocodile.9 In practice, however, it proves difficult to fully separate myth
and nature. For example, Block and Greenberg favor a mundane crocodile
in Ezek 29 and 32, but at the same time leave room for the mythological
connotations of the tannîn. Yoder argued for a link between ‫ ַה ַּתּנִ ים ַהּגָ דוֹל‬in
Ezek 29:3, Gen 1:21 and the Mesopotamian royal epithet ušumgallu, meaning
“great dragon.”10 Recently, Marzouk shed more light on reasons for the appar-
ent monstrification of Egypt in the book of Ezekiel. His reseach focuses on the
monster and its impurity. In his view, Israel’s infidelity and impurity as evi-
dent in its trust in Egypt as a problem more pressing than Egypt’s oppressive
Generally speaking, commentators find it hard to disregard the tannîn’s
“mythological connection,” but at the same time do not want to ignore the
historical and cultural reality of Ezek 29–32. However, Ezek 29 and 32 seem
to resist a characterization as either myth or reality. Is it possible, instead of
assuming a historicization of a mythical monster, or a categorical rejection

6  J. Day, God’s Conflict with the Dragon And The Sea, Cambridge 1985, 94–95.
7  Day, God’s Conflict, 95.
8  Ph. Guillaume, “Animadversiones: Metamorphosis of a Ferocious Pharaoh,” Bib 85 (2004),
9  Among others: W. Eichrodt, Ezekiel, A Commentary, Philadelphia 1970, 403; W. Zimmerli,
Ezechiel 25–48, Neukirchen-Vluyn 1979, 708; D.I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 25–48,
Grand Rapids, MI 1998, 135 n. 26. Cf. ANET, 347. Less certain of the importance of this
hymn is Day, God’s Conflict, 95 n. 31.
10  T.R. Yoder, “Ezekiel 29:3 and Its Ancient Near Eastern Context,” VT 63 (2013), 486–496.
11  S. Marzouk, Egypt as a Monster in the Book of Ezekiel (FAT 2, 76), Tübingen 2015.
42 van Werven

of the natural crocodile because of the “mythological vocabulary,”12 to seek

a balance between these two apparent extremes? Should this ambiguity be
accepted or abandoned? This calls for further research on the mental picture
Ezekiel’s words evoke.13 In doing this research, connecting biblical fragments
isolated from the MT with other fragments of extra-biblical origin should be
avoided. It remains unclear if these alleged connections are actually more than
an ‘impression’ in the commentator’s mind, and what they contribute to a bet-
ter understanding of the text as a whole. It will prove useful to move on from
asking questions about the nature of Ezekiel’s tannîn and possible intertextual
relations, to a visualization of the encounter between Yhwh and the tannîn.
While it is true that we cannot tell from the inside what this mental picture
may have looked like for Ezekiel’s first addressees, we can sketch an image of
what happens to the tannîn on the basis of the text itself. Therefore, this con-
tribution focuses on the spatial aspects of Ezek 29 and 32 in direct relation to
the tannîn. Both Ezek 29 and 32 contain spatial references to provide clues
for a visualization.14 To avoid a premature identification of Ezekiel’s tannîn
with a (super)natural creature, in this paper the Hebrew word tannîn is left

2 Spatial References in Ezekiel 29:3–6a and 32:2–815

Ezekiel 29:3–6a
29:3 “Speak and say:
‘Thus says the Lord YHWH:
See, I am against you, Pharaoh, king of Egypt,

12  Block, Ezekiel 25–48, 201.

13  Cf. R. Poser, Das Ezechielbuch als Trauma-Literatur, Leiden 2012, 489. Poser, reading
Ezekiel as ‘Trauma-Literature,’ sees the description of the defeat of the tannîn (and Tyre,
Babylon, et cetera) as a familiar part of the process needed to recover from a trauma
(‘traumatherapeutischen Arbeit’). Therefore, she interprets Ezekiel’s description of the
Pharaoh as “Nildrache, Löwe bzw. Seeungeheuer” as “Manifestationen des verschluckten
Täters”: the projection (in fact a ‘mental picture’) of the enemy onto the inner stage
(‘Inneren Bühne’) of the trauma victim. By subsequently imagining the downfall of this
enemy, a trauma victim may be able to integrate in his life what has happened.
14  Cf. a ‘space-based reading’ of Isaiah 1–39 by M.E. Mills, Alterity, Pain, and Suffering in
Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, New York, NY 2007, 3–62.
15  For arguments for this delineation of the relevant passages of Ezek 29 and 32, see Block,
Ezekiel 25–48, 131 and 197.
As A Fish On Dry Land 43

the great tannîn16 who lies in the midst of his streams,

who says:
“My Nile17 is mine, I made [it] for myself.”
29:4 But I will place hooks in your jaws,
and stick the fish of your streams to your scales,
and I will haul you up from your streams,
and all the fish of your streams will stick to your scales.
29:5 I will hurl you towards the wilderness;
—you and all the fish of your streams.
On the open field you will fall;
you will not be gathered,
and you will not be collected.
To the beasts of the field and the birds of the air
I have consigned you as food.’
29:6 Then all who live in Egypt will know that I am YHWH.”

Ezekiel’s sketch of Yhwh’s encounter with the tannîn in Ezek 29:3–5 gives the
following references to space, including movement between different spaces
or locations. In 29:3 it is said the tannîn lies in the midst of his streams. The
basic meaning of the verb ‫ רבץ‬is “to lie down” (cf. Ezek 34:14–15).18 When used
of animals it usually denotes a secure environment wherein they can be at rest.
Here it suggests that the tannîn, living in its Nile-streams, has nothing to fear.
Ezek 29:3 can be read as a portrait of a king with a home base that is strong

16  Yoder interprets ‘the great tannîn’ as “a Hebrew version of a Mesopotamian epithet”
despite grammatical difficulties and lack of comparative material. “Replicating the
Akkadian ušumgallu ‘great dragon’ as efficiently as possible and drawing upon Israelite
cosmological history (i.e. Gen 1:21), he feigned incorporating Pharaoh into a long, ven-
erable line of Mesopotamian kings and deities to receive this title.” This may or may
not be true. However, even without the use of a Mesopotamian honorary title it is clear
that with tannîn a royal figure is intended. It is not clear why the benign portrayal of the
‫ת־ה ַּתּנִ ינִ ם ַהּגְ ד ִֹלים‬
ַ ‫ ֶא‬in Gen 1:21 should disqualify a pejorative meaning of ‫ ַה ַּתּנִ ים ַהּגָ דוֹל‬in
Ezek 29:3, as Yoder claims. Further, the question remains unanswered why Ezekiel would
use a uniquely Mesopotamian epithet if Ezek 29–32 is totally focused on (or: against)
Egypt to convey a message, not to the Pharaoh (contra Yoder, “Ezekiel 29:3,” 496, n. 51), but
to the exiled Jewish community.
17  On the singular and plural of ‘stream’ (‫)יְ אֹר‬, see Boadt, Ezekiel’s Oracles, 28–29.
18  Contra Boadt, Ezekiel’s Oracles, 28, ‫ נטׁש‬in Ezek 29:3 has mythological connections
because of its association with the Sea in Gen 49:25 and Dt 33:13 and because of the Akk.
rabiṣum, meaning ‘demon.’
44 van Werven

enough to be “opportunistic and ambitious.”19 This is consistent with the fact

that Egypt was ruled at that time by the Saite dynasty, specifically Pharaoh
Hophra (Apries) from its base Sais in “the streams” i.e. the Nile Delta area.20
The positioning “in the midst of” emphasizes the fact that the tannîn has, even
owns, a place where he is at home. This is not only Ezekiel’s perception, as the
following quote from the tannîn / Pharaoh reveals: “My Nile is mine, I made
[it] for myself.” Block correctly says the “sg. yĕʾōr suggests a shift in meaning.”21
The shift is from a general designation “streams” to a precise naming of this
place, thus highlighting a definitive acknowledgement of the importance of
this place by spatial language. The preposition ‫ ְל‬in ‫ ִלי יְ א ִֹרי‬allows for the trans-
lation “my Nile is mine,” but this quasi-locational use of the preposition may
also be rendered as “my Nile is or exists to me.”22 This location is defined by the
fact that it is the property of the tannîn. The second half of Pharaoh’s state-
ment elaborates on this, calling it the property of the tannîn on the grounds
that he is its creator.
Ezek 29:4 surveys Yhwh’s reaction to the tannîn and its statement. Yhwh
catches the tannîn by placing hooks. Meanwhile the fish will certainly (note
the repetition of ‫ )דבק‬stick to the scales of the tannîn, indicating that the
removal of the tannîn will not leave his habitat untouched. After the catch,
three verbs picture a movement in three stages in Ezek 29:4–5 in which the
tannîn is forced to leave his territory: haul up, leave (into) and fall (‫ נטׁש‬,‫עלה‬
and ‫)נפל‬. The expression ‫ ּונְ ַט ְׁש ִּתיָך ַה ִּמ ְד ָּב ָרה‬offers an interesting challenge.
The ‫ה‬-locativus is hardly compatible with a straightforward translation of the
verbal form ‫ ּונְ ַט ְׁש ִּתיָך‬as “I will abandon you.” Still, the much used alternatives
“to hurl” and “to cast” obscure the spatial aspect of ‫נטׁש‬.23 Yhwh will not only
change the tannîn’s position (as dethronement), he will also leave him behind
in the wilderness (KJV: “I will leave thee thrown into the wilderness”). After the

19  Block, Ezekiel 25–48, 134.

20  J. Malek, “Sais,” in: W. Helck, E. Otto (eds.), Lexikon der Ägyptologie, Vol. 5, Wiesbaden 1984,
21  Block, Ezekiel 25–48, 135.
22  B.K. Waltke, M. O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, Winona Lake, IN
1990, 206.
23  In Ezekiel ‫ נטׁש‬is used four times, only within the carefully constructed seven ‘Oracles
against Egypt’ of Ezek 29–32, providing lexical coherence to this textual unit. Except
in 29:5 and 32:4 it is used twice in 31:12 in relation to the cedar. The verb ‫ נטׁש‬seems in
Ezekiel reserved for personified leaders and their territory, specifically denoting their
abandonment as part of Yhwh’s judgment. As Ezek 28:17 suggests (‫ל־א ֶרץ ִה ְׁש ַל ְכ ִּתיָך‬
ֶ ‫) ַע‬
Ezekiel could have used 9( ‫ ׁשלך‬times in Ezekiel, but not in Ezek 29–32) instead of ‫ נטׁש‬to
describe Yahweh dethroning a foreign ruler.
As A Fish On Dry Land 45

hooks are placed the tannîn is hauled up and definitively abandoned in exactly
the opposite location of “his streams”: the ‫ ִמ ְד ָּבר‬. Block rightly states that this is
a reversal, but this does not implicate that the tannîn “is reduced to an ordinary
fish.”24 The reversal concerns a place, not the nature of the tannîn. By using
the general ‫ל־ּפנֵ י ַה ָּׂש ֶדה‬
ְ ‫ ַע‬parallel to ‫ ַה ִּמ ְד ָּב ָרה‬, the emphasis is not so much on the
harsh conditions of the wilderness, but on the fact that this kind of place is
the opposite of the streams of the Nile. In contrast to the Nile as property
(of the tannîn), the wilderness is no man’s land. Furthermore, the phrase
‫ לֹא ֵת ָא ֵסף וְ לֹא ִת ָּק ֵבץ‬can be read as a spatial reference, as both ‫ אסף‬and ‫קבץ‬
imply movement between at least two locations. The double negation pre-
cludes any movement to reverse the situation of the tannîn. Even the total dis-
appearance of the slain tannîn is suggested, since he will serve as food for birds
and beasts: scavengers which usually leave little trace of the carcass they feed
on. After speaking of fish sharing the fate of the tannîn, explicit reference is
made to Egypt in v. 6a, forming an inclusio with “Egypt” in v. 3, explicitly linking
the literary space evoked by Ezekiel’s oracle with historic reality.

Ezekiel 32:2–8
32:2 “Son of man, raise a lament over Pharaoh, king of Egypt,
and say to him:
‘You compare yourself to the young lion of the nations,
but you! [You are] like a tannîn in the seas.25
You have sprang up in your rivers;
you have stirred up the waters with your feet;
you have muddled their rivers.’
32:3 Thus says the Lord YHWH:
‘But I will spread my net out over you
in the company of many nations;
and they will haul you up in my dragnet.
32:4 I will leave you on the land
—on the open field I will hurl you;
I will settle all the birds of the heavens on you;
and I will satisfy the beasts of the whole earth with you.

24  Block, Ezekiel 25–48, 138.

25  Reading the ‫ו‬-copulativum of ‫ וְ ַא ָּתה‬negatively, because the verb ‫ דמה‬and the emphatic
personal pronoun create a contrast between the young lion and the tannîn. It is unneces-
sary to link (with Boadt, Ezekiel’s Oracles, 132) this expression with mythological creatures
combining features of both lion and dragon. For a fusion between lion and dragon, see
Th.J. Lewis, “CT 13.33–34 and Ezekiel 32: Lion-Dragon Myths,” JAOS 116 (1996), 28–47.
46 van Werven

32:5 I will place your flesh upon the mountains;

I will fill the valleys with your carcass;26
32:6 I will drench the land with your outflow
—with your blood on the mountains
and your ravines will be filled from you.
32:7 And I will cover the heavens when you are extinguished,27
and I will darken their stars.
I will cover the sun with a cloud
and the moon will not give its light.
32:8 All the lights that shine in the heavens
I will darken over you,
and I will impose darkness on your land.’
Declaration of the Lord YHWH.”

The sketch of the tannîn and Yhwh’s intervention in Ezek 32:2–6 resembles
that of Ezek 29, but there are some differences. From Ezek 29:3–5 the abode
of the tannîn is known to be the Nile and its streams, but Ezek 32:2 adds to
this “in the seas.” However, not too much should be made of this reference
to the sea, in view of the subsequent lines which balance “the seas” with
“rivers / waters / rivers,” forming an A-B-A pattern.28 The emphasis is on how
the tannîn plays havoc within his aquatic domain. The sea and the creature
are not seen as one (evil) being. What matters further is that Yhwh’s interven-
tion is limited to the tannîn. There is no mention of a battle with the sea as for
example in the Baal-Yam conflict.29
Compared to Ezek 29, the passage in Ezek 32 concerning the tannîn has an
expanded range of view, since it mentions twice “the nations” and describes
cosmic signs. The main argument, however, remains the same as in Ezek
29. The mentioning of two (closely related) fishing methods other than the
hooks of Ezek 29:4a (i.e. fishing with a “casting net” and a “dragnet,” resp. ‫ֶרֶׁשת‬
and 30‫ )ֵח ֶרם‬seems at first sight superfluous. The effect, however, is a subtle
receding of Yhwh as actor in favor of the nations. Despite the many predicates
in first person plural in vv. 4–8, the supreme moment of getting hold of the

26  For a detailed discussion of the difficult ‫מּותָך‬

ֶ ‫ ַר‬see Boadt, Ezekiel’s Oracles, 137–138.
27  Literally: “in your extinguishing.”
28  Only by isolation from its context (v. 2), the reference to ‘the seas’ may suit a mythological
dragon as Day, God’s Conflict, 95 suggests.
29  Fragment CTA 2, transl.: J.C.L. Gibson, Canaanite Myths and Legends, Edinburgh 1977, 44.
30  A dragnet needs a crew of fisherman in contrast to a casting net which can be operated
alone. Here the nations (plural) are Yahweh’s crew.
As A Fish On Dry Land 47

tannîn is “outsourced” to human agents. For a single but crucial moment, they
stand in Yhwh’s place. The outcome is the same as in Ezek 29, for the tannîn
is subjected to the same movement, pictured as a three-stage process. Both
accounts of this movement may be presented as follows:

catch stage 1 stage 2 stage 3

Ezek 29 v. 4 v. 4 v. 5 v. 5
place hooks haul up hurl / leave into fall
verb MT ‫נתן‬ ‫( עלה‬hi.) ‫נטׁש‬ ‫נפל‬
Ezek 32 v. 3 v. 3 v. 4 v. 4
spread net haul up leave hurl / cast
verb MT ‫פרׂש‬ ‫( עלה‬hi.) ‫נטׁש‬ ‫( טול‬hi.)

Notice the verbs ‫ עלה‬and ‫ נטׁש‬forming a lexical link between Ezek 29 and 32.
The order of the three stages in Ezek 29 is logically transparent: haul → hurl →
fall. In comparison, the order of stages 2 and 3 in Ezek 32 seems odd, because
the casting naturally comes before the leaving of an object. This order subordi-
nates ‫ טול‬to ‫ נטׁש‬as the grammatical subordination of ‫ל־ּפנֵ י ַה ָּׂש ֶדה ֲא ִט ֶילָך‬
ְ ‫ ַע‬to the
preceding and following waw-consecutive also shows. Boadt sees in this con-
figuration of verbs a chiastic play between vv. 3 and 4, which contrasts ‫ טול‬with
‫פרׂש‬, but his translation of the last verb with “to gather” seems strange.31 More
likely the apparent interchange of ‫ טול‬with ‫( נטׁש‬as far as logic is concerned)
emphasizes the central place of ‫ עלה‬and ‫ נטׁש‬in Yhwh’s dealing with the
tannîn. This subordinate clause is a bridge to a new phase: the depiction of the
fate of the tannîn after it is placed in the wilderness. Between the start of this
phase in v. 4c and the next signatory formula in v. 8, two sets of five verbs
describe the different acts of Yhwh.32 Again, none of these verbs describe a
battle between Yhwh and the tannîn. Instead two parallel pictures show the
total defenselessness of the tannîn in its new place. Being hauled up from its
Nile-streams, the birds of the heavens and all the beasts of the earth will have
free access to the tannîn and will be able to benefit from him (i.e. as food).
Ezek 32:7–8 resemble prophetic descriptions of “the Day of Yhwh,” but may

31  Block, Ezekiel 25–48, 136.

32  These sets are respectively: ‫( ׁשכן‬hi.), ‫( ׂשבע‬hi.), ‫נתן‬, ‫ מלא‬and ‫( ׁשקה‬hi.) in vv. 4c–6; the
second set is: ‫( כסה‬pi.), ‫( קדר‬hi.), ‫( כסה‬pi.), ‫( קדר‬hi.) and ‫ נחן‬in vv. 7–8.
48 van Werven

also be read as a spatial reference, expanding with a second set of five verbs the,
as it were “two-dimensional movement” from the Nile-streams to the desert to
a three-dimensional space. Even the heavenly bodies are involved in Yhwh’s
victory, which is pictured as an event of cosmic proportions. Consistent with
imagery of fish sticking to the tannîn’s scales (Ezek 29:4–5), in Ezek 32 his
defeat and death is said to have severe implications for all of Egypt, since it is
explicitly stated that Yhwh “will impose darkness on your land” (v. 8b).
To summarize, Ezek 29 stresses the irreversibility of Yhwh’s action; the
creature will not be gathered or collected. Ezek 32 scales up Yhwh’s abandon-
ment of the tannîn to a cosmic event: even the cosmos will on the authority
of Yhwh “leave” the tannîn / Pharaoh. The passages concerning the tannîn in
Ezek 29 and 32 visualize the encounter between Yhwh and the tannîn with the
aid of a sketch of two opposite places: the streams / Nile and the wilderness.
Accordingly, they both formulate Yhwh’s action with two key verbs: ‫ עלה‬and
‫נטׁש‬. Yhwh’s action may be characterized as a displacement. The tannîn is like
a fish: remove it from its natural habitat and death comes inevitably, no final
deathblow is needed.33 A proper battle scene is lacking in both descriptions.

3 The Absence of a Battle between Yhwh and the Tannîn

Several commentators, including Wakeman, Boadt and Day, have seen a con-
nection between Yhwh’s encounter with the tannîn in Ezek 29 and 32 and
some well-known battle scenes from ancient Near Eastern myths of Canaanite
and Ugaritic origin.34 Characteristic for this position is Boadt: “The original
Chaoskampf becomes moralized into the battle of Yhwh to manifest his
hegemony over the foreign idols.”35 Uncertainty remains, however, regarding to
what extent this mythological content has been demythologized. Besides, seen
from this perspective, does the Chaoskampf motif indeed belong to the core of
the text in terms of its structure and message? To put it briefly: is Ezekiel an
independent text or not? As evidence shows, spatial references in Ezek 29:2–6a
and 32:2–8 constitute a solid framework within which the encounter between
Yhwh and the tannîn takes place. This textual backbone is one of the reasons
that allow for Ezekiel’s account to be heard and interpreted on its own terms,

33  M. Greenberg, Ezekiel 21–37, New Haven 1997, 610; cf. 657: “the doom takes the form of the
fatal separation of the monster and his dependents from their natural environment.”
34  Wakeman, God’s Battle, 73; Boadt, Ezekiel’s Oracles, 27; Day, God’s Conflict, 95.
35  Boadt, Ezekiel’s Oracles, 27.
As A Fish On Dry Land 49

without ancient Near Eastern myths providing an indispensable interpretative

Recently, Watson called for a reassessment of the Chaoskampf motif,
because “there is no unequivocal internal evidence pointing to its existence
in any of the texts considered.”36 Watson convincingly argues to abandon
the Chaoskampf motif as the hermeneutical key to unlock a variety of Old
Testament passages with “mythological material.” One of the problems is that
the ancient Near Eastern traditions that are being discussed, more often do not
depict good and evil in terms of black and white, but more like yin and yang,
as symbols pointing to an interconnection between two seemingly opposites.37
Several myth monsters in the Ancient Near East also combine in themselves
these two opposite forces. Marzouk states: “It is true that the monsters do not
act benevolently, yet they expose the monstrosity that is within the divine
pantheon, especially when the gods of order act monstrously, thus resembling
their rivals.’38 An important part of the argument is the absence of a proper
battle in which Yhwh fights to overcome Chaos and create cosmos. Instead,
a diverse spectrum of images (including the sea, rivers, Leviathan, Rahab and
tannîn) is used to visualize Yhwh’s revelation of himself as sovereign ruler and
give words to the human experience of that revelation in all its complexity. As
Korpel and de Moor make clear in chapter 1 of the present volume, evil in its
monstrous forms was de facto invincible in many ancient Near Eastern tradi-
tions. Therefore incantations were not optional but essential in preserving a
cosmic balance. While the great Ugaritic Baal Myth “was never intended as
testimony of any final victory over the forces of evil,” Ezekiel’s words claim a
final victory of Yhwh over the tannîn.39 For Ezekiel Yhwh is a sovereign god,
not a mere warrior in an endless battle.
The unsuitability of Chaoskampf as the explanatory term does not, however,
imply the absence of allusions to the motif of the slaying of a dragon in the
Old Testament. Although sensitive of the difficulties involving the dating of

36  R.S. Watson, Chaos Uncreated. A Reassessment of the Theme of “Chaos” in the Hebrew Bible
(BZAW, 341), Berlin 2012, 259. Contra Yoder, “Ezekiel 29:3,” 496. Greenberg, Ezekiel 21–37,
648 already warned against the “powerful critical impulse to suppose that there is always
something behind a text, that every text must be derivative (a reflection of the critics’
contingent creativity?).”
37  This ambiguity is also part of the concept of ‘The Force’ in the Starwars films: it is a ‘Force’
with two sides. See the contribution of Reinier Sonneveld in this volume.
38  Marzouk, Egypt as a Monster in the Book of Ezekiel, 93.
39  Korpel and De Moor in chapter 1 of this volume. See, for example, also their discussion
regarding the Jewish Aramaic incantation bowls and amulets, which may indicate that
not everyone accepted Ezekiel’s message.
50 van Werven

texts, Watson signals the attestation of the allusions to the overcoming of a

dragon are in texts dating from around and after 587 BCE, including Ezek 29
and 32.40 Archaeological evidence indicates the existence of a polytheistic reli-
gion in Israel. Conceivably, myths concerning a battle with a dragon were part
of this polytheism, which became increasingly more widespread prior to the
Exile (Cf. Ezek 8). This climax of apostasy evoked Yhwh’s judgment, which in
turn was announced in terminology echoing the extra-biblical myth(s). “In any
case, when the motif does appear, it is in a distinctively Israelite form, inso-
far as it is characteristically employed to speak of the dynamics of a historical
situation, chiefly the exodus and hope of redemption after c. 587 BC.”41 This
could explain why the encounter between Yhwh and the tannîn seems rather
detached. The only actual point of ‘bodily’ contact between Yhwh and the
tannîn is the placing of the hooks in Ezek 29:4. This stands in sharp contrast to
the killing of Yam with clubs42 and the “muzzling” of the Tunnanu by Anat.43
The need to avoid the Chaoskampf as an interpretative criterion becomes
even more pressing, not only because Ezek 29:3–6a and 32:2–8 use spatial
imagery, but also because of Ezekiel’s oracles against Egypt as a whole.44 Here
too, spatial language provides a stage for the self-revelation of Yhwh: “Then
they will know that I am Yhwh” (Ezek 29:6,9,16,21; 30:8,19,25,26; 33:15).45 The
following examples illustrate this.

– In Ezek 29:9–11 Egypt’s doom is expressed in spatial imagery: it will become

a “desolation and a waste” (respectively ‫ ְׁש ָמ ָמה‬and ‫) ָח ְר ָּבה‬, the main reason
being Egypt’s self-confidence / hybris. See also Ezek 30, esp. vv. 1–19. Note the
link between the total abandonment of the tannîn and the fact that Egypt
will be left uninhabited (v. 11), thus: left behind. The Egyptians will be “scat-
tered and dispersed” (v. 12) just like the tannîn will not be “gathered and
collected” (v. 5).
– Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon (Ezek 29:17–21) may be connected with the
fishermen of Ezek 32:3. In Ezek 32:3 the nations play a surprisingly crucial
role in ‘handling’ the tannîn. Yhwh is at work, but chooses to use certain

40  Watson, Chaos Uncreated, 394.

41  Watson, Chaos Uncreated, 395.
42  Gibson, Canaanite Myths, 44.
43  Baal I.iii. See J.C. de Moor, An Anthology of Religious Texts From Ugarit, Leiden 1987, 11.
44  Boadt, Ezekiel’s Oracles, 177: “Besides the colourful imagery used as part of the accusa-
tion, geographical images seem to predominate throughout.” Cf. the spatial language of
Ezek 36.
45  Cf. T.D. Meyer, Literary Structure and Setting in Ezekiel, Tübingen 2010, 194, n. 14.
As A Fish On Dry Land 51

instruments; not clubs or any other weaponry as in the ancient Near Eastern
myths, but nations. Thus, Yhwh is portrayed, not as a mere warrior fighting
for his own share of divine influence, but as a sovereign god who arranges
everything at his own will and is in that kind of control. He even takes effort
to handle the payment of his human agents meticulously.

Instead of a “battle of the gods,” one movement carried out by Yhwh serves
to present him as the sovereign and holy One; thus making the first part
of Ezek 29 an integral part of the main rhetorical agenda of Ezekiel, which is
“to transform his audience’s (the exiles’) perceptions of their relationship with
Yhwh and ultimately to change their behaviour.”46

4 The Problem with Sobek

To be separated from the discussion about mythological imagery in Ezekiel is

the discussion about the Egyptian crocodile-god Sobek in relation to Ezekiel’s
tannîn. The origin of this link between the creature in the Book of Ezekiel and
one of Egypt’s many gods lies in the self-proclamation of the tannîn as “cre-
ator of the nile” in Ezek 29:3 (“My Nile is mine, I made it for myself ”). Surely
this proclamation encompasses an ordinary Nile-crocodile (so Boadt in line
with Gunkel’s Schöpfung und Chaos). But is it really “still tempting to see” in
the tannîn an allusion to Sobek?47 Sobek originated as a primeval crocodile
and god of the water / Nile. In later times he was associated with the creator
sun god: Atum, Re or Khepri.48 Qualities of lesser gods (including the croc-
odile-god) were ascribed to Re, forming a new amalgamate. It remains to
be seen, however, whether the crocodile as such was credited with divine
creative powers. Moreover, divine creative powers were also directly ascribed
to the Pharaoh himself, making him capable of creating things such as the Nile
and its streams. This makes it possible to see Ezekiel’s tannîn as referring to a
human being to whom divine powers were attributed and not unequivocally to

46  D.I. Block, Ezekiel, Chapters 1–24, Grand Rapids, MI 1997, 15.
47  Block, Ezekiel 25–48, 137.
48  F. Dunand, C. Zivie-Coche, Gods and Men in Egypt: 3.000 bce to 395 ce, New York, NY
2004, 49; P. Remler, Egyptian Mythology A to Z, New York, NY 2010, 180. Sobek was already
worshipped during the Old Kingdom period (2686 BCE–2181 BCE) for Sobek is mentioned
in the Pyramid Texts of Sakkara. Cf. A.W. Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians: Studies in
Egyptian Mythology, Vol. 1, New York, NY 1969, 78.
52 van Werven

a member of the Egyptian pantheon.49 Day rightly remarks that “the Pharaoh
is nowhere spoken of as the creator of water in virtue of his being a crocodile.”50
It seems unwise then, to connect the divine Pharaoh directly with Sobek, on the
grounds that “Some worshippers of Sobek believed that he created the Nile.”51
Next, it is hardly possible to make an unambiguous statement on the way
Sobek functions in Egyptian mythology. Sobek is a multifaceted deity (as many
deities are).52 Since fish were regarded as “creatures of chaos, as a fish eater
Sobek was thereby helping to establish order”—but in other cases Sobek
threatens this same order.53 This ambiguity is not found in Ezekiel’s descrip-
tion of the tannîn.

5 Conclusions

A space-based reading of a text is by no means the only viable approach, but

in the case of Ezek 29 and 32 it serves well as a fresh reading of these texts.
One of the results is that the text portrays Yhwh’s action as a displacement.
Yhwh does not fight for his victory; he instead organizes it. As it turns out,
he even owns the dragons lair. In this way, the oracle stresses the absolute
sovereignty of Yhwh, which is also the main thrust of the book of Ezekiel as
a whole. In its view of divine sovereignty the book differs significantly from
ancient Near Eastern myths, which do not depict a final victory over evil and in
which hope is nearly absent.54 Concerning the tannîn itself, Watson’s research
gives ample reason to be very careful in suspecting dependence on Canaanite
myths. Terminology like “the mythic nature of . . .” tends to deny the basic inde-
pendence of a text. In the Book of Ezekiel, the tannîn is a term strongly con-
nected with a pretentious Pharaoh / Egypt and their downfall. Darr correctly
says: “Exploiting the weakness implicit in a familiar image and matching meta-
phor and mode of punishment with deadly perfection, the prophet depicts

49  Watson, Chaos Uncreated, 298 n. 128, quotes Oswalt: “The Arabic word for ‘crocodile’ is
a derivative of the word ‘Pharaoh’ ”. See J.N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66,
Grand Rapids, MI 1998, 342, n. 45. Cf. Greenberg, Ezekiel 21–37, 602.
50  Day, God’s Conflict, 95, n. 31.
51  N.R. Bowen, Ezekiel, Nashville, TN 2010, 180.
52  Cf. R.H. Wilkinson, Die Welt der Götter im alten Agypten. Glaube, Macht, Mythologie,
Stuttgart 2003, 30.
53  G. Pinch, Handbook of Egyptian Mythology, Santa Barbara, CA 2002, 201.
54  See the contribution by Korpel and De Moor.
As A Fish On Dry Land 53

YHWH’s utter destruction of a presumptuous monarch.”55 Ezekiel describes the

tannîn as a thoroughly evil creature. Its evilness consists in being danger-
ous and aggressive (Ezek 32:2c), insubordinate and rebellious by nature (cf.
Ezek 29:3c) because it has nothing to fear, just like a crocodile has no natural
predators. This fits the historical situation at the time indicated by the texts
themselves (Ezek 29:1; 32:1). In addition to this, it to be noted that the Hebrew
language did not have an independent word for ‘crocodile,’ so that the distinc-
tion between a natural and a supernatural creature remains dubious.56 In com-
parison to dragons in other ancient Near Eastern texts, Ezekiel’s tannîn has a
surprisingly low profile. It does not become an integral part of creation after its
death, nor is it kept alive and under control—possibilities familiar to ancient
Near Eastern myths.57 The term tannîn seems to bring with it an ambiguity:
it can designate a natural (crocodile) and a supernatural (dragon) creature
simultaneously, making it a useful word to refer to both historic reality and
myth. When tannîn needs a translation, “dragon” or “monster” and not merely
“crocodile” is favourable.
Although Ezek 29–32 are addressed to the Pharaoh / Egypt, the first audi-
ence of these words were Israel’s exiles in Babylon.58 Conceivably, their reac-
tion to Ezekiel’s oracle’s and specifically to the figure of the tannîn depended
on at least two factors. Firstly, the extent of their knowledge of contemporary
mythology (“extratextual repertoire”)59 influenced the depth of their under-
standing of Ezekiel’s message. Determining the extent of this repertoire is dif-
ficult. Secondly, the personal narrative (biography) of each exile would have
shaped the reaction to what Ezekiel said. As mentioned earlier, it is possible
that myths involving a battle with a dragon became relatively widely accepted
prior to the Exile, even among Israel’s leadership. Although Ezekiel does not
seem to use “strongly mythological material” to “mock the mythical plots” (so
Boadt), the mythological connotations of the tannîn certainly will have been
noticed by those who meddled with “foreign cults.”60 In addition to this, it
is feasible to think of the community of exiles not only as a religious diverse

55  K.R. Darr, “Literary Perspectives on Prophetic Literature,” in: K. May, Old Testament
Interpretation, Past, Present and Future. Essays in Honour of Gene M. Tucker, Nashville, TN
1995, 141.
56  Watson, Chaos Uncreated, 165.
57  Wakeman, Gods’ Battle, 22.
58  Block, Ezekiel 1–24, 5. Bowen, Ezekiel, 180 seems to skip this important phase in the recep-
tion of Ezekiel’s words and mentions only ‘the readers’: “Since in Egypt Pharaoh was
deified, readers might think of the crocodile deity Sobek.”
59  K.R. Darr, “Literary Perspectives,” 140.
60  Boadt, Ezekiel’s Oracle’s, 170–171.
54 van Werven

group, but equally diverse as far as politics were concerned. It is not incon-
ceivable that at least some of the exiles were still hoping for Egyptian assis-
tance in Jerusalem’s helpless situation. Ezekiel’s quotation of the Pharaoh in
Ezek 29:3 may reflect this trust in a seemingly independent tannîn-like power.
The downfall of the tannîn pictured in Ezek 29 implies a stern warning not to
trust Egypt’s Pharaoh (Hophra), whose actions were not so much proof of his
power as much as his rebellion against Yhwh’s will.61 About two months after
the fall of Jerusalem Ezekiel is instructed to lament Pharaoh’s fall, which had
been predicted earlier. To Ezekiel’s entire public the theme of ‘displacement’
as such must have been a delicate subject: a displaced community themselves.
In a surprising move, however, Ezekiel points out how another displacement,
i.e. of the Pharaoh / tannîn and subsequently of Egypt, Ezek 29:12, will result
in the restoration of Israel. This becomes clear in Ezek 28:24–26: Yhwh will
“gather” (‫קבץ‬, cf. Ezek 29:5 ‫ )לא קבץ‬Israel and give them “their own land” in
possession again.

C.A. Strine, C.L. Crouch, “Yhwh’s Battle against Chaos in Ezekiel: The Transformation of
Judahite Mythology for a New Situation”, JBL 132 (2013) 889.

“Is Your Rage Against the Rivers, Your Wrath

Against the Sea?”
Storm-God Imagery in Habakkuk 3

Koert van Bekkum

1 Introduction

Habakkuk’s Prayer (Hab 3) is generally acknowledged to be a poetic master-

piece. It opens with sentences expressing human distress in the face of divine
judgment (Hab 3:2; see also v. 16) and ends with the remarkable expression
“I will rejoice in Yhwh,” despite the fact that the land will lay in waste
(Hab 3:17–18). The lines between these utterances of fear, trembling and hope
describe a theophany of Yhwh in amazing majestic language. The poetic
imagery in this passage emphasizes the terrifying manifestation of a raging
divine warrior on his chariot and reminds the reader of Yhwh as a rider of the
clouds. The consternation caused by his appearance is depicted as a gigantic
storm. The lightning of God’s arrows and javelin irradiates a sky covered by
black clouds. Sun and moon stand still. Heavens, earth and the underworld get
in motion. Thunder and lightning open the earth. Water comes out of the deep,
mountains tremble and the great primeval flood swirls—all because Yhwh is
coming for the deliverance of his people (Hab 3:3–15).1
The question is how these images are to be understood. Can the depic-
tions be qualified as metaphorical language, so that Yhwh is in reality fighting
human opponents, although the “waters” are mentioned?2 Or does the per-
sonification of water in this and similar descriptions of the Flood (Tĕhōm), the
Sea (Yām), the River (Nāhār), the sea monsters (Tannin), and of Leviathan and
Rahab reflect an ancient Israelite perception of the powers of the waters that
is more personal in character and refers to a common ancient Near Eastern
awareness of a mythical past?3 Despite its complexity, the poem of Hab

1  Cf. A.S. van der Woude, Habakuk, Zefanja (PredOT), Nijkerk 1978, 70.
2  E.g. Ps 114:3,5 (the sea flees before Yhwh).
3  E.g. Job 26:8–13 (God having bound up the water in the clouds, divided the sea and pierced
the serpent); Ps 74:13–17 (Yhwh having broken the sea, shattered the heads of the sea mon-
sters and of Leviathan, having cleft the fountain and the brook, established the light of the

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi ��.��63/9789004337961_005

56 van Bekkum

3 seems to offer some light on this issue. It starts with a description of the
“coming of Eloah from Teman” (Hab 3:3), a well-known biblical motif connect-
ing Yhwh to a south called Sinai, Paran, Edom, and Teman.4 This tradition
appears also in the 7th century BCE inscriptions from the (possibly Northern
Israelite) caravanserai of Kuntillet ʾAjrud in the Sinai desert, which mention a
“Yhwh of Teman.” At least in a canonical context, the motif most likely refers
to Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and to Yhwh’s theophany at Mount Sinai,
although there is discussion about its actual religious-historical background.5
The passage in the poem attracting most attention, however, is the depiction
of ‘Eloah’ and ‘Yhwh’ in imagery that is also prominent in the mythology of
Canaan as known from the tablets and pictures that have been excavated since
1929 in Rash Shamra, the location of the Late Bronze Canaanite city of Ugarit.
The poetic forms and style of Hebrew poetry parallel those of the Ugaritic epic
traditions.6 Moreover, it seems that the depiction of Yhwh and his entourage
in this ancient Israelite poem resembles the portrait of the Canaanite storm-
god Baal, who is also in combat with the waters and who is accompanied by
lesser divine beings.7 Several lines within the theophany of Hab 3:3–15 even
give the impression of mentioning these gods by name:

sun and set the borders of the earth); Ps 89:10–11 (Yhwh God Sebaoth is ruling the sea, having
crushed Rahab); Ps 104:26 (Yhwh created the Leviathan as a toy); Ps 148:7 (the sea monsters
live to praise Yhwh); Isa 51:9–10 (Yhwh having cut Rahab in pieces and pierced the dragon,
having dried up the sea and the waters of the deep).
4  Deut 33:2; Judg 5:4; Ps 68:8–9,18. For elements in Hab 3:2–7 alluding to poetic descriptions and
narratives regarding Yhwh’s revelation at Sinai, see Shmuel Aḥituv, “The Sinai Theophany in
the Psalm of Habakkuk,” in: Chaim Cohen et al. (eds.), Birkat Shalom. Studies in the Bible,
Ancient Near Eastern Literature, and Postbiblical Judaism, Winona Lake, IN 2008, 225–232.
5  Cf. Exod 15:7–17; Ps 68:5,8–9; Ps 77:15–20. For the discussion, see Karel van der Toorn, Family
Religion in Israel and Babylonia (SHCANE, 7), Leiden 1996, 266–315; Mark S. Smith, The Origins
of Biblical Monotheism. Israel’s Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts, New York, NY
2001, 135–148. For the inscriptions at Kuntillet ʾAjrud, see Zeʾev Meshel, Kuntillet ʾAjrud:
An Iron Age II Religious Site on the Judah-Sinai Border, Jerusalem 2012, 86–135.
6  Cf. e.g. W.G.E. Watson, Traditional Techniques in Classical Hebrew Verse (JSOT.S, 170), Sheffield
1994, passim; Dennis Pardee, The Ugaritic Texts and the Origin of West Semitic Literary
Composition, Oxford 2012, 79–106.
7  See KTU 1.2:IV.13–14,24; 1.3:IV.25–28; 1.4:V.6–9, VII.25–31.
“ Is Your Rage Against the Rivers, Your Wrath Against the Sea ? ” 57

‫וְ נֹגַ ּה ָּכאֹור ִּת ְהיֶ ה‬ There was a brightness like sunlight, (4aA)
‫ַק ְרנַ י ֹם ִמּיָ דֹו לֹו‬ rays8 were coming out of his hand. (4aB)
‫וְ ָׁשם ֶח ְביֹון ֻעּזֹה‬ And there was a hiding of his power (Hebyon), (4b)9
‫ְל ׇפוָ יו יֵ ֶלך ָד ֶבר‬ before him went pestilence (Deber), (5a)
ָ ‫וְ יֵ ֵצא ֶר ֶׁשף ְל ַר‬ fever (Resheph) marched behind him. (5b)

‫ֲה ְבנְ ָה ִרם ָח ָרה יהוה‬ Is it burning against the rivers (Nĕhārim), o Yhwh, (8aA)
‫ִאם ַבּנְ ָה ִרים ַא ֶּפָך‬ is your anger against the rivers (Nĕhārim), (8aB)
‫ם־ּבּיָ ם ֶע ְב ָר ֶתָך‬ַ ‫ִא‬ or your wrath against the sea (Yām), (8aC)
ֶ ‫ִּכי ִת ְר ַּכב ַע‬ that you ride on your horses, (8bA)
ָ ְ‫ַמ ְר ְּכב ֶֹתיָך י‬ on your chariots of victory? (8bB)
‫ֶעריָ ה ֵהאֹור ַק ְׁש ֶתָך‬ You removed your bow (from its case), (9aA)
‫ְׁש ֻבעֹות ַמּטֹות ָת ֵמר‬ you poisoned your seven arrows.10 (9aB)
‫ע־א ֶרץ׃‬ ָ ‫נְ ָהרֹות ְּת ַב ַּק‬ With rivers (Nĕhārot) you ripped open the earth. (9b)
‫ָראּוָך יָ ִחילּו ָה ִרים‬ The mountains saw you and trembled, (10aA)
‫זֶ ֶרם ַמיִ ם ָע ָבר‬ an overflowing of water passed by, (10aB)
‫נָ ַתן ְּתהֹום קֹולֹו‬ the flood (Tĕhōm) raised his voice, (10bA)
‫רֹום יָ ֵדיהּו נָ ָׂשה ֶׁש ֶמׁש‬ The sun11 (Shamash) lifted its hands to the height. (10bB)
‫יָ ֵר ַח ָע ַמד זְ ֻב ָלה‬ the moon (Yarēaḥ) stood still in (its) exalted place. (11a)
‫ְלאֹור ִח ֶּציָך יְ ַה ֵּלכּו‬ Your arrows went around like the light, (11bA)
‫ְלנֹגַ ּה ְּב ַרק ֲחנִ ֶתיָך׃‬ like daylight the lightening of your javelin. (11bB)

ֶ ‫ָּד ַר ְכ ָּת ַּבּיָ ם‬ You trampled the sea (Yām) with your horses (15a)
‫ח ֶֹמר ַמיִ ם ַר ִּבים‬ churning the many waters. (15b)

8  For the translation of “horns” as “rays,” see Francis I. Anderson, Habakkuk (AB), New York,
NY 2001, 297–298.
9  In spite of earlier suggestions, the Masoretic text and traditional translation of 4b can be
maintained. In that case, however, it is most natural to read 4b–5b as a tricolon. Cf. Robert
D. Haak, Habakkuk (VT.S, 44), Leiden 1992, 83, 90.
10  For this translation, reading ‫ ָת ֵמר‬instead of ‫א ֶֹמר‬, see M.L. Barré, “Yahweh Gears Up for
Battle: Habakkuk 3:9a,” Bib 87 (2006), 75–84.
11  Most scholars rightly argue that ‫ ֶׁש ֶמׁש‬is part of 10aB due to its parallel with ‫ יָ ֵר ַח‬in 11a.
58 van Bekkum

So the text bears the suggestion of mentioning six to eight Canaanite divine
beings, while verses 8b and 15 clearly allude to the epithet “Rider of the clouds,”
a divine figure “shattering his enemies” that is also found in the tablets from
These observations are not without consequences for the question to what
extent biblical descriptions of Yhwh’s rage against rivers and sea resemble
the ancient Near Eastern motif of a battle between the god of the thunder-
storm and the sea from which this god emerges victoriously. At the begin-
ning of the 20th century, many scholars were convinced that Babylon was
the source of this divine combat imagery in the Bible, because of the promi-
nence of the god Tiâmat in the epic Enūma eliš, and its interpretation by the
German scholar Hermann Gunkel in his book Schöpfung und Chaos in Urzeit
und Endzeit (1895).13 The initial publication of the Baal Cycle in 1935, however,
raised doubts about this solution. Now, the Syrian coast also appeared to be a
potential original environment to have produced this motif, mainly for meteo-
rological reasons, although it seemed too “early to reach any definite conclu-
sion with regard to the motif and original provenience” of the battle between
the storm-god and the sea and its monsters.14 Soon articles comparing Hab 3
with the Canaanite myth appeared.15 In 1950 William Foxwell Albright even
made a reconstruction of what he thought to be the original version of the
ancient poem that was used by the prophet Habakkuk.16 More than sixty years
later Albright’s emendations in Hab 3 creating the most explicit evidence of a

12  K TU 1.5:V.6–11. For a nuanced discussion of the Ugaritic epithet rkb ʿrpt, “Rider of the
clouds” for Baal and its most direct parallel ‫ר ֵֹכב ָּב ֲע ָרבֹות‬, “Rider of the wilderness”
for Yhwh in Ps 68:5, see W. Herrmann, “Rider Upon the Clouds,” in: K. van der Toorn,
B. Becking, P.W. van der Horst (eds.), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (DDD),
2nd rev. ed., Leiden 1999, 703–705.
13  H. Gunkel, Schöpfung und Chaos in Endzeit und Urzeit. Eine religionsgeschichtliche
Untersuchung über Gen 1 und Ap Joh 12, Göttingen 1895. Cf. JoAnn Scurlock, Richard H.
Beal (eds.), Creation and Chaos. A Reconsideration of Hermann Gunkel’s Chaoskampf
Hypothesis, Winona Lake, IN 2013.
14  W.F. Albright, “Zabûl Yam and Thâpiṭ Nahar in the Combat between Baal and the Sea,”
JPOS 16 (1936), 18.
15  T.L.H. Gaster, “The Battle of the Rain and the Sea. An Ancient Semitic Nature-Myth,” Iraq
4 (1937), 21–32; U. Cassuto, “Il capitolo 3 di Habaquq e i testi di Rash Shamra,” Annuario di
studi Ebraici 2 (1935–1937) [1938], 7–22 (= “Chapter III of Habakkuk and the Rash Shamra
texts,” in: idem, Biblical and Oriental Studies. Vol. 2, Jerusalem 1975, 3–15).
16  W.F. Albright, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” in: H.H. Rowley (ed.), Studies in Old Testament
Prophecy, Edinburgh 1950, 6–18.
“ Is Your Rage Against the Rivers, Your Wrath Against the Sea ? ” 59

battle-like conflict between Yhwh and Mot are rejected.17 But opinions are still
widely divided on the question how the relation between the battle of Yhwh
and the waters and that of Baʿlu with Yammu is to be interpreted. In present
research with regard to Hab 3, three general options dominate the scene.

1. Baal and Eloah/Yhwh are in fact identical. Israel’s god has a different
name, but passages like Hab 3:3–15 make it clear that originally he was
the Israelite version of the West Semitic storm-god Hadad or Baal. Only
later, the mythical imagery was historicized under the influence of a
more monotheistic form of Yahwism.18
2. The imagery derives directly from Canaanite tradition, but the texts also
reflect a split that once occurred in Canaanite religion, in which Yhwh
is identified with El, takes over Baal’s epithets and degrades the other
members of the Canaanite pantheon to his warriors.19
3. Yhwh is described as a warrior king fighting with enemies symbolized by
destructive waters. Accordingly, the texts are primarily metaphorical and
reflect battle imagery rather than a certain Canaanite myth.20

17  E.g. the reading ‫מֹות‬, “Mot,” instead of ‫ ִמ ֵּבית‬, “of the house,” in Hab 3:13. Cf. J.F. Healey,
“Mot,” DDD2, 602.
18  E.g. Carola Kloos, Yhwh’s Combat with the Sea. A Canaanite Tradition in the Religion of
Israel, Amsterdam–Leiden 1986, 94–124, 191–212. Cf. John Day, God’s Conflict with the
Dragon and the Sea. Echoes of a Canaanite Myth in the Old Testament, Cambridge 1985,
104–109; idem, Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan (JSOT.S, 265), Sheffield
2000, 226–233; A.R.W. Green, The Storm-God in the Ancient Near East (BJS, 8), Winona
Lake, IN 2003, 258–280; Reinhard Müller, Jahwe als Wettergott. Studien zur althebräischen
Kultlyrik anhand ausgewählter Psalmen (BZAW, 387), Berlin 2008, 237–250.
19  E.g. Johannes de Moor, The Rise of Yahwism. The Roots of Israelite Monotheism (BEThL,
91), Leuven 19972, 198–206, 370–376; Marjo C.A. Korpel, A Rift in the Clouds. Ugaritic and
Hebrew Descriptions of the Divine (UBL, 8) Münster 1990, 621–631. A highly influential ear-
lier version of this view was offered by Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew
Epic. Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel, Cambridge, MA 1973, 147–169, and fur-
ther developed with regard to Hab 3 in Theodore Hiebert, God of My Victory. The Ancient
Hymn in Habakkuk 3 (HSM, 38), Atlanta, GA 1986, 136–139, and Smith, Origins of Biblical
Monotheism, 23–24, 145–148, 157–159.
20  E.g. David Tsumura, Creation and Destruction. A Reappraisal of the Chaoskampf Theory
in the Old Testament, Winona Lake, IN 2005, 164–181; idem, “The ‘Chaoskampf’ Motif in
Ugaritic and Hebrew Literatures,” in: Jean-Marc Michaud (ed.), Le Royaume d’Ougarit
de la Crète à l’Euphrate. Nouveaux Axes de Recherches (Proche-Orient et Littérature
Ougarithique), Sherbrooke, Québec 2007, 492–499.
60 van Bekkum

This article reviews these options by bringing together the results of three
scholarly debates. First, the discussion regarding the comparison of biblical
and non-biblical texts is moving in a convergent direction after having consid-
ered the postmodern critique of comparative religion. More common ground
is reached in asking the question what criteria should be applied in order to
come to a convincing contextual interpretation of individual texts. Second,
new interpretations of Enūma eliš and the Baal Cycle in their own religious-
political contexts have greatly contributed to the understanding of these texts
in their own right. Third, it is still very hard to offer a convincing reading of
Hab 3, but some progress has been made after the overreliance on poetic par-
allelism in its interpretation has been corrected and more attention has been
paid to the organization of the poem as a whole and to its place in the book of
The following three sections explore what elements from these scholarly
discussions can be used in looking for a contextual interpretation of Yhwh’s
rage against the rivers and the sea in Hab 3. The article closes with some con-
cluding remarks and considerations with regard to the identity of Yhwh.

2 Between Magic and Method

As the history of research shows, comparison of the biblical depictions of

Yhwh as a divine warrior and its possible ancient Near Eastern counter-
parts is extremely complex. It not only involves the idea of cosmogony and
Chaoskampf, as inspired by tablet IV of the Mesopotamian creation story of
Enūma eliš and developed by Gunkel in relation to biblical texts, but is also
related to the interpretation of the Baal Cycle and to other attestations of
storm-gods in the Ancient Near East in general. Gunkel’s evocative conclu-
sion that biblical motifs in Genesis and Revelation both referred to two related
events happening at the beginning and at the end of creation, seemed to
offer a convincing explanation of the wide range of monster bashing that is
common to many mythologies of the ancient world. Its aftermath, however,
revealed that Gunkel’s theory not only made a connection between biblical
and Assyriological materials, but also forced them into a framework that fit
perfectly into the Zeitgeist of his own time. Eventually it even turned out to be
one of the steps in the direction of an anti-Semitic interpretation of Scripture
in the Babel-Bibel Streit.21 In a similar way the Ugaritic tablets were interpreted

21  Steven Lundström, “Chaos and Creation. Hermann Gunkel between Establishing the
‘History of religions School,’ Acknowledging Assyriology, and Defending of Faith,” in:
Scurlock, Beal (eds.), Creation and Chaos, 147–171; Bill T. Arnold, Daniel B. Weisberg,
“ Is Your Rage Against the Rivers, Your Wrath Against the Sea ? ” 61

within the well-known Israel-versus-Canaan paradigm of the Albrightean

School, with its depiction of the Canaanite religion being an extreme fertility
cult and a polytheist and mythic religion with its rituals and stories described
in poetry, while the Israelite version having a clear preference for narrative was
monotheistic and historical in nature. This paradigm reflected a certain view
of the relation between biblical and non-biblical material and also served as a
cornerstone in a scholarly polemic with the Chicago Oriental Institute about
the cultural identity of the United States.22 Accordingly, it was no surprise that,
as more material showed up, this appeared to be an unnatural interpretation
of the sources. No religion in and surrounding the Levant, whether Ugaritic,
ancient Israelite or something else, “had a monopoly of fertility or cult or myth
or epic or historiography or polytheism.”23
Interestingly, these observations perfectly reflect the general develop-
ment in comparative religion during the last decades of the 20th century.
Postmodernism denounced order and ordering principles in favour of other­
ness and difference and created a substantial distance between language
and reality. Hence, it was highlighted that cross-cultural comparison is often
implicitly imperialistic, because it takes the compared objects from their origi-
nal cultural matrix and construes an abstraction, which often can be decon-
structed as a political act aimed at domination. Needless to say, scholars still
trying to connect religion and history rightly countered with the claim that
such criticism, based on the assumption that “everything human is foreign to
me,” easily leads to intellectual relativism, for as a consequence there can be
no real communication between religions, cultures and even among human
beings. This, however, did not mean that the issues raised by the postmodern
approach of anthropology and the history of religions were dealt with in a sat-
isfactory way. Therefore, the methodological question arose, how comparison
could be more than just a kind of magic or an affair of recollection of similarity.24
In a famous essay addressing this quest for method in comparative studies,
the historian of religion Jonathan Z. Smith intriguingly refers in a positive
way to the Pan-Babylonian School of the Babel-Bibel debate. This school was

“A Centennial Review of Friedrich Delitzsch’s ‘Babel und Bibel’ Lectures,” JBL 121 (2002),
22  See e.g. Neil A. Silberman, “Power, Politics, and the Past,” in: Thomas E. Levy (ed.),
Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land, London 1995, 16–17; Bruce Kuklick, Puritans in
Babylon. The Ancient Near East and American Intellectual Life, Princeton 1996, 176–195.
23  Mark S. Smith, “Recent Study of the Israelite Religion in the Light of the Ugaritic Texts,” in:
K. Lawson Younger (ed.), Ugarit at Seventy-Five, 5.
24  For an overview of the debate, see K.C. Patton, B.C. Ray (eds.), A Magic Still Dwells.
Comparative Religion in the Postmodern Age, Berkley, CA 2000.
62 van Bekkum

definitely wrong on both a factual and a theoretical level. But at the same time
its intuition was right that a good comparison of religious phenomena offers
an integration of systematic patterns and concrete historical situations, and a
view of the process of transmission. According to Smith, the debate showed
that it is important

to ground comparison and patterns in a historical process, to develop a

complex model of tradition and the mechanisms for its transmission, to
balance generalities and particularities in a structure which integrates
both, and to prioritize comparative systematics over the catalogue of iso-
lated comparative exempla, and to see the power of pattern as a device
for interpretation. This creates a rich range of possibilities and also makes
us familiar to the problems as well.25

During the last century, the research of ancient Near Eastern religions and
cultures indeed developed slowly in this direction. This already started in
1926 with a dense and often misunderstood essay by the Assyriologist Benno
Landsberger on the Eigenbegrifflichkeit of the Babylonian world.26 Many years
later, it was followed by the development of a two-sided comparative method
and the more fine-tuned and multifocal contextual approach.27 As a result, it
is generally acknowledged nowadays that all textual (and iconographic) phe-
nomena should be studied in their own context first, while a cross-cultural
comparison should reckon with both differences and similarities, genre, func-
tion, geographical and chronological distance, and with spheres of cultural
contact and channels of transmission.28 With regard to literary similarities
this means that they are more often explained successfully by assuming a

25  Jonathan Z. Smith, “In Comparison A Magic Dwells,” in: Imagining Religion. From Babylon
to Jonestown, Chicago, IL 1982, 28–29 (= Patton, Ray [eds.], A Magic Still Dwells, 33–34).
26  B. Landsberger, “Die Eigenbegrifflichkeit der babylonischen Welt,” Islamica 2 (1926),
27  See e.g. S. Talmon, “The ‘Comparative Method’ in Biblical Interpretation: Principles and
Problems,” in: Congress Volume Göttingen 1977 (VT.S, 29), Leiden 1978, 320–356; M. Malul,
The Comparative Method in Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical Legal Studies (AOAT, 227),
Neukirchen-Vluyn 1990; W.W. Hallo, “Compare and Contrast: the Contextual Approach
to Biblical Literature,” in: W.W. Hallo et al. (eds.), The Bible in the Light of the Cuneiform
Literature (Scripture in Context, 3), Lewiston, NY 1990, 1–30; idem, “Sumer and the Bible.
A Matter of Proportion,” in: W.W. Hallo, K.L. Younger (eds.), The Context of Scripture.
Vol. 3. Archival Documents from the Biblical World, Leiden 2003, xlix–liv.
28  See e.g. K.L. Younger, “The ‘Contextual Method.’ Some West Semitic Reflections,” in: Hallo,
Younger (eds.), The Context of Scripture. Vol. 3, xxxv–xlii; John H. Walton, Ancient Near
“ Is Your Rage Against the Rivers, Your Wrath Against the Sea ? ” 63

common cultural heritage or cognitive environment than by presupposing lit-

erary borrowing. Thus, the option that the scribes of biblical texts made use of
Mesopotamian and Canaanite literary motifs and texts cannot be excluded.29
Yet, it is very important to take a look at the larger cultural environment and to
consider the possible modes of transition before such an hypothesis is raised.
Consequently, in order to avoid the trap of assuming a linear development
from one type of literature to another, the next section concentrates on the
spectrum of storm-gods in the Ancient Near East and on the specific meaning
of Enūma eliš and the Baal Cycle in their own cultural and historical context.

3 Ancient Near Eastern Storm-Gods in Context

The study of ancient Near Eastern religions has revealed that the contacts
between its regions and cultures led to the propinquity and co-existence of
diverse religious systems and thus to identifications of and syncretism between
typologically similar deities with different names. In addition, local forms of
the same god could be worshiped under different names or epithets within
the same context. The warrior storm-gods of the Ancient Near East not only
should therefore be studied on their own, but also need investigation within
the realms of a typologically coherent group.
The most important gods that, on the basis of their basic profile, can be
characterized as storm-gods are the West Semitic gods Hadda, Haddu and
Hadad from Syria-Palestine and Upper Mesopotamia, the Akkadian gods Adad
and Addu from Babylonia and Assyria, the Syro-Palestinian god Baʿl(u), the
Hurrian god Teššub along with the Urartian god Teiseba as attested in Syria,
Mesopotamia, the Kurdish mountains and in Anatolia, the Hattian god Taru,
and the Hittite-Luwian god Tarḫun(t) from Anatolia. Due to the lack of sources,

Eastern Thought and the Old Testament. The Conceptual World of Hebrew Bible, Grand
Rapids, MI 2006, 19–28.
29  It has even been argued that differences between literary texts falsify the idea of a direct
or indirect relation between them, because in that case, the hypothesis of literary bor-
rowing presupposes large-scale revision and reinterpretation of the story or poem, which
is very unlikely and not attested in the Ancient Near East. Thus e.g. A.R. Millard, “A New
Babylonian ‘Genesis’ Story,” Tyndale Bulletin 18 (1967), 17. The study of peripheral versions
of Mesopotamian literary texts, however, has shown not only that they differ from the
Mesopotamian versions in detail, but also that they abbreviate them and modify them in
accordance with their own ideology and local interests. See J. Tigay, “On Evaluating Claims
of Literary Borrowing,” in: M. Cohen et al. (eds.), The Tablet and the Scroll, Bethesda, MD
1993, 250–255.
64 van Bekkum

it is hard to offer a detailed profile of these deities. Nevertheless, recent com-

prehensive overviews of research lead to the following considerations.30
The storm-gods venerated in regions characterized by rainfall agriculture
and dry farming, that is, in Upper Mesopotamia, Assyria, Syria, Anatolia,
indeed obtain a more significant position among the great gods than those
in Babylonia. In a similar way, images with regard to seafaring can be demon-
strated only of the storm-god in the Levantine harbour-city of Ugarit, while a
connection between storm and mountain gods seem typical for landscapes in
which cloud-topped mountains can be observed. At the same time, however,
the particular significance of a storm-god is dependent on many other factors,
such as cultural influence and political environment. So the relation between
the immediate experience of natural phenomena and the ideas associated
with the divine manifestation perceived in these phenomena is complex. As
a consequence, it is almost impossible to trace the exact origin of the Semitic
storm-god, which appears in several contexts from the third millennium BCE
With regard to some elements, however, a few general trends can be recon-
structed. The literary motif of the victory of the storm-god over the sea, for
instance, is certainly old. It is questionable whether it was already attested in
Ebla, but it can be found early in connection with different gods of Babylonia,
who bear epithets praising them as victor over monsters living in the sea. The
motif of the struggle against the powers of chaos also took shape in the Old
Babylonian mythology of Ninurta. Later, it became an essential part of the
Marduk theology in Babylon, most likely due to the influence of a very simi-
lar literary motif as attested for Old Babylonian Haddu of Aleppo in his vic-
tory over the primeval ocean, for there were close relations between the royal
houses of both cities. This is all the more interesting, because traditionally,
Marduk—having a spade as his symbol—was most likely conceived as a god
associated with agriculture, specifically with the building and maintenance of
canals. It is only in order to become the new young king of the gods that he
defeats the sea, rules over the winds and is identified as a Ninurta redivivus.
So the motif of the victory of the new king of the gods over the chaotic sea
probably originated in the eastern Mediterranean. But it travelled so early
and became so widespread that the myths in which the motif occurs are quite

30  For this and the following three paragraphs, see Daniel Schwemer, “The Storm Gods in the
Ancient Near East. Summary, Synthesis, Recent Studies,” JANER 7 (2007), 121–168; 8 (2008),
1–44. Schwemer’s overview and review of other studies, among them Green, Storm-God
in the Ancient Near East, is mainly based on his monograph Die Wettergottgestalten
Mesopotamiens und Nordsyriens im Zeitalter der Keilschriftkulturen. Materialien und
Studien nach den schriftlichen Quellen, Wiesbaden 2001.
“ Is Your Rage Against the Rivers, Your Wrath Against the Sea ? ” 65

heterogeneous. In addition, the individual lines of transmission often remain

unclear and its actual meaning can be different in each context.
A similar observation can be made with regard to the storm-god Baʿlu of
Ugarit and late second and first millennium Syria. It is unlikely that the epithet
“Baʿlu” as found in the Early Dynastic texts from Ebla, Tell Beydar and Tell Abū
Ṣalābīḫ represents its immediate precursor. The overall evidence rather points
to Baʿlu developing in the course of the late 16th and 15th centuries BCE on
the Syro-Palestinian coastal strip from an epithet of the storm-god Haddu to
his primary name, because of its prominent position as “lord (of the gods)” in
the Syrian realm. As a result, Haddu serves as an epithet of Baʿlu in Ugaritic
mythology. Conversely, the motif of Baʿlu of Ugarit struggling with Motû can-
not be connected to the Haddu of Syria and Upper Mesopotamia. This idea is
more likely related to stories about other dying and rising vegetation gods. This
observation again shows how easily diverse contexts stimulated a different use
of similar motifs and epithets.
Interestingly, this approach coincides and converges with the trend of
studying ancient Near Eastern mythological texts from the perspective of
political theology, because of the fact that before the Copernican revolu-
tion, there often seems to be a parallel between the actual political hierarchy
and the ideas about cosmological order. The late 12th century BCE poem of
Enūma eliš is considered to be one of the best examples of this. As was already
observed above, it is a very specific text, reflecting Babylon’s sudden rise to
power in southern Mesopotamia in the second half of the second millennium
BCE. The story of Marduk’s defeat of Tiâmat (the primordial waters) and of his
creation of a hierarchy in the universe depicts the world as structured accord-
ing to a fixed order. The general acceptance of his kingship among the gods
establishes his rank, while the cosmogonic act of Marduk also lays the foun-
dation of Babylon’s position at the top of the world. In order to achieve these
goals, the authors of Enūma eliš drew together many literary motifs from older
Babylonian myths and stock phraseology, including even whole lines. The
myth itself, however, and the theology behind it were new. The rich reception
history of the text during the first millennium BCE shows that it was quite suc-
cessful in ousting the previous conceptions.31 Yet, Enūma eliš cannot be viewed
as a kind of archetypal version of other ancient Near Eastern creation myths
and it would be mistaken to assume that a battle among the gods or a struggle

31  See e.g. Thorkhild Jacobsen, “The Battle between Marduk and Tiamat,” JAOS 88 (1968),
104–108; W.G. Lambert, Babylonian Creation Myths (Mesopotamian Civilization, 6),
Winona Lake, IN 2013, 447–465; Karin Sonic, “From Hesiod’s Abyss to Ovid’s rudis indi-
gestaque moles. Chaos and Cosmos in the Babylonian ‘Epic of Creation’,” in: Scurlock, Beal
(eds.), Creation and Chaos, 19–25.
66 van Bekkum

with water(monsters) always coincides with creation. Accordingly, it becomes

harder to establish a direct relation between the myth and Genesis 1–3.
The only connection between Tiâmat and tĕhōm, the Hebrew designation
of the primeval flood, is the Semitic term *tihām. Moreover, there is no conflict
at all in Gen 1, although it cannot be excluded that this omission was deliberate
in order to create an antithesis with views in which creation was connected to
a cosmic battle and a creation of gods.32
Similar remarks can be made with regard to the political readings of the Baal
Cycle. Over the years, it has become clear that a so-called cosmogonic interpre-
tation of the Ugaritic myth fails to see that the battle between Baal and the Sea
in this 13th century BCE poem does not imply creation and also does not lead
to a restructuring of the universe. Moreover, the “olden gods” are not overcome
by the “younger gods.” Hence, the combat motif clearly functions as a descrip-
tion of a recurring struggle in the current world order. So far, no evidence was
found that the poem was used in the cult. Rather the Baal Cycle appears to
be the creation of the ingenious scribe and priest ʾIlimilku, who used well-
known motifs and a wide range of seasonal and ritual information in order to
compose a literary work mirroring the actual political-theological situation in
Ugarit. There is no consensus about how exactly the divine characters in the
cycle run parallel to worldly political relationships. Some view the poem as a
story of royal succession in the palatial city, others connect it to the vassalage
of Ugarit to both Egypt and Hatti during the Bronze Age. Nevertheless, scholars
agree that the ideological spin of the story is more concerned with Ugarit than
with Canaan as a whole.33 This raises another issue, namely, to what extent

32  Tsumura, Creation and Destruction, 42–53; John H. Walton, “Creation in Genesis 1:1–2:3.
Order out of Disorder after Chaoskampf,” Calvin Theological Journal 43 (2008), 52–53;
Lambert, Babylonian Creation Myths, 460–461; Richard Averbeck, “The Three ‘Daughters’
of Baal and the Transformation of Chaoskampf in the Early Chapters of Genesis,” in:
Scurlock, Beal (eds.), Creation and Chaos, 248–250; JoAnn Scurlock, “Chaoskampf Lost–
Chaoskampf Regained. The Gunkel Hypothesis Revisited,” in: Scurlock, Beal (eds.),
Creation and Chaos, 264–265, 267–268. Gunkel’s view—with adaptations—is still main-
tained by Batto, who offers a critical review of its deconstruction by Rebecca S. Watson,
Chaos Uncreated. A Reassessment of the Theme of Chaos in the Hebrew Bible (BZAW, 341),
Berlin 2005, in Bernard F. Batto, “The Combat Myth in Israelite Tradition Revisited,” in:
Scurlock, Beal (eds.), Creation and Chaos, 217–236.
33  See e.g. Mark S. Smith, The Ugaritic Baal Cycle. Vol. 1. Introduction with Text, Translation
and Commentary of KTU 1.1–1.2 (VT.S, 55), Leiden 1994, 74–114; Pardee, Ugaritic Texts and
the Origin of West Semitic Literary Composition, 72–77; Aaron Tugendhaft, “Unsettling
Sovereignty: Politics and Poetic in the Baal Cycle,” JAOS 132 (2012), 367–384; idem, “Babel-
“ Is Your Rage Against the Rivers, Your Wrath Against the Sea ? ” 67

the Baal Cycle can be considered as being representative for the perceptions
of the storm-god in the Southern Levant. Was the text indeed, as has been
argued quite persuasively, inscribed once and once only by ʾIlimilku?34 Lexical
affinities with other tablets do not falsify this hypothesis, but at the same time
suggest that there might have been other versions as well.35 Nevertheless, the
lack of evidence of a cultic use of ʾIlimilku’s poems, his exceptional creativity
as a scribe and the content of the tablets should make scholars hesitant to
assume that the specific religious views of the Baal Cycle reflected Canaanite
common sense.
As a result, it should be noted that the vast connection that Gunkel took
for granted between theomachy, cosmogony and the struggle with the waters
in biblical and non-biblical texts is a clear case of illegitimate totality transfer.
Both Enūma eliš and the Baal Cycle are of great help in getting a picture of
the cognitive environment of the ancient Near Eastern literary motif of divine
rage against the (primeval) waters. But it is also clear that the combat motif is
used in a very different way in Ugarit and Babylon and that these uses reflect
entirely different understandings of the relationships among politics, history,
and the divine. Accordingly, a different use and understanding possibly occurs
in Hab 3 and other biblical texts as well, despite the close similarities in poetic
forms and imagery with Ugaritic literature. In any case, there is no reason to
assume that the stories have common historical origins and it seems best not
to assume a direct form of transmission of the storm-god imagery from the
Baal Cycle to its use in the ancient Israelite poems. The historical fact that
Israel was in all probability only in part autochthonous in the land of Canaan
also puts this assumption into perspective.36 Other factors, such as Israel’s own

Bible-Baal,” in: Scurlock, Beal (eds.), Creation and Chaos, 193–196; Wayne T. Pitard, “The
Combat Myth as a Succession Story,” in: Scurlock, Beal (eds.), Creation and Chaos, 199–
205. For a different view, see Nicholas Wyatt, “Ilimilku’s Ideological Programme: Ugaritic
Royal Propaganda, and a Biblical Postscript,” UF 29 (1997), 775–796; idem, “The Religious
Role of the King in Ugarit,” UF 37 (2005), 695–727.
34  Pardee, Ugaritic Texts and the Origins of West-Semitic Literary Composition, 42–49. Notably,
the information regarding the authorship of ʾIlimilku is unique in its ancient Near Eastern
35  Cf. KTU 1.3:V.32–41 and 1.4:I.4–16, 1.4:IV.43–55 with 1.117, and KTU 1.5:I.14–22 with 1.133:1–11.
Jeremy M. Hutton, “Review of Dennis Pardee, The Ugaritic Texts and the Origins of West-
Semitic Literary Composition, Review of Biblical Literature” []
36  For the literary and historical debate, see e.g. Koert van Bekkum, From Conquest to
Coexistence. Ideology and Antiquarian Intent in the Historiography of Israel’s Settlement
68 van Bekkum

historical vicissitudes and its claim that Yhwh revealed himself, play a signifi-
cant part as well. So most likely, all three traditions make use of the combat
motif, but in very different ways. In order to make the distinctions apparent,
a typological approach and a comprehensive interpretation of the motif in its
own literary and religious context seem to be more fruitful than a primary
concern with transmission and influence.37

4 Yhwh’s Garment of the Storm-God in Habakkuk 3

As mentioned above, Hab 3 alludes to several Canaanite deities. A quick look

in, for instance, the Dictionary of Demon and Deities in the Bible and related
literature helps in getting a general impression of the cognitive environment
of the text with regard to these divine beings.38 Thereafter, the question is to be
asked regarding the function of these allusions in the poem as a whole.
At the beginning of the description of the theophany in Hab 3 the imag-
ery of the sunrise is very important. This does not mean that a hymn to the
sun-god is connected to Yhwh. Poetic comparison with the sun is a general
resource, a natural commonplace in language of theophany, describing God’s
appearance in terms of splendid radiance and shining light. In addition, sev-
eral phenomena are mentioned in Yhwh’s entourage. Hebyon (4b), also men-
tioned in Isa 26:20, seems to be a force that is personified as a terrible entity,
the “wrath” or “strength,” like the Ugaritic deity hby.39 This force is accom-
panied by Deber, “pestilence” (5a), which besides its empirical meaning is
also attested in biblical texts in a personified sense as a demon or evil deity
(Ps 91:3,6; cf. Hos 13:14). According to Ps 91, Yhwh liberates his faithful from the
fear of this master of epidemics. But in Hab 3 it clearly occurs at his side as a
helper. There are no direct non-biblical parallels of this use of “pestilence.” The
Ugaritic literature, however, mentions its counterpart as assistant, Resheph,
“plague” (5b), the god of destruction.40 Together, “plague” and “pestilence” are

in Canaan (CHANE, 45), Leiden—Boston 2011, and idem, “Coexistence as Guilt. Iron
I Memories in Judges 1,” in: G. Galil et al. (eds.), The Ancient Near East in the 12th–10th
Centuries BCE: Culture and History (AOAT, 392), Münster 2012, 525–548.
37  Cf. Tugendhaft, “Babel-Bible-Baal,” 197–198.
38  See note 12.
39  K TU 1.114:19–20. See P. Xella, “Haby,” DDD2, 377.
40  K TU 1.14.I:18–19; 1.82:3, cf. Deut 32:24; Ps 76:4; Job 5:7. Deber is possibly attested in KTU
“ Is Your Rage Against the Rivers, Your Wrath Against the Sea ? ” 69

present in Mesopotamia as part of the entourage of Marduk. In its turn, Hab 3

depicts both entities as cosmic forces, demonized versions of Canaanite gods,
functioning as executors of Yhwh’s will.41
The next lines in the poem mentioning phenomena that can be associated
with ancient Near Eastern divine beings are found in the context of the cos-
mic upheaval in reaction to Yhwh’s appearance and of the following combat.
Rhetorical questions define the adversaries as Nĕhārim, “the rivers” (8aAB),
and Yām, “the sea” (8aC,15a). In addition, the divine appearance and weap-
onry are described with help of the well-known imagery of the storm-god: the
rider of the clouds (8bAB,15a) makes the mountains (10aA) and deep waters
(10bA) tremble in fear by means of lightening (9aAB,11bAB), thunder (10aA),
and heavy rains (9b,10ab), while the heavenly bodies are astonished by the glo-
rious theophany (10bB,11a). In the Baal Cycle and other ancient Near Eastern
texts, rivers do not occur as direct adversaries of the gods. Interestingly, how-
ever, the poem of Hab 3 makes an explicit distinction between rivers caused
by heavy rainfall (‫נְ ָהרֹות‬, 9b) and rivers actually being Yhwh’s opponents
(‫ּנְ ָה ִרים‬, 8aAB). This peculiarity calls to mind the fact that in Ugaritic texts,
the god Yām is often called “Ruler of the Sea” and “Prince of the River.”42
Accordingly, the reverse poetic sequence in the pair Naharim and Yām in Hab
3 is one of the indications that the Ugaritic and ancient Israelite traditions are
not identical. Nevertheless, the text contains a clear allusion to the combat of
Baʿlu and Yammu.43 At the same time, however, its context is fairly different.
Yhwh is called “the Holy One,” an epithet that applies only to the god El in
Ugaritic literature, just like the notion that he is old, as expressed in the phrase
that “the ancient routes are his.”44 Moreover, the gods are referred to in such a
way that their submission to Yhwh is more prominent than the fact that these
creational phenomena also operate as divine beings.
This is also the case with regard to the pair Shemesh, “sun”(10bB) and
Yareaḥ, “moon” (11a), which are depicted as being part of the entourage of the
divine warrior. In Josh 10:12–14—the text’s closest parallel—and Judg 5:20,

41  G. del Olmo Lete, “Deber,” DDD2, 231–232; P. Xella, “Resheph,” DDD2, 703; Maciej M.
Münnich, The God Resheph in the Ancient Near East (Orientalische Religionen in der
Antike, 11), Tübingen 2013, 215–237, 264–265.
42  F. Stolz, “River, Nahar,” DDD2, 708.
43  Andersen, Habakkuk, 317.
44  F. van Koppen, K. van der Toorn, “Holy One,” DDD2, 418; Smith, Origins of Biblical
Monotheism, 141.
70 van Bekkum

the heavenly bodies fight from heaven as if they are animate beings.45 It is very
hard to identify a specific background for this symbolism, despite the fact that
the Mesopotamian, West Asiatic and Egyptian traditions of solar worship and
lunar cult in the Levant are considerably well documented and span several
centuries. It is noteworthy, though, that the non-biblical texts from the Levant
and Syria refer frequently to the divine council as the “assembly of the stars”
and to the stars as the slaves of Baʿlu. So again, Hab 3 comes in some way close
to the language of Ugaritic literature, although without picturing them as gods.
Sun and moon seem to be part of his vast host, helping Yhwh in battle and
belonging to his cosmic army.46 This idea is confirmed by the general critical
biblical view of heavenly bodies as members of the ‫הּׁש ַמיִ ם‬
ָ ‫ ְצ ָבא‬. Natural phe-
nomena are personified and perceived as members of the army of the God of
Israel. But they are subordinate to him as creatures.47 In the case of Hab 3, the
sun lifts his hands in panic or to praise God, while the moon stands in its place,
stunned by the magnificent manifestation of Yhwh.
What does this mean for the function of Yhwh’s rage against river and sea
in Hab 3 as a whole? Both the content and the formal aspects of the poem,
such as inclusio as an important means in structuring it, shed light on this
question. Apart from a colophon (3:1), three possible (‫ ֶס ָלה‬in 3:3,9,13) and one
clear liturgical remark (3:19b), four units or stanzas are normally demarcated:
a prayer (3:2), a theophany (3:3–7), a hymn (3:8–15) and a confession of trust
(3:16–19a).48 The imagery of the storm-god is concentrated in the second and
third units.

45  See e.g. Van Bekkum, From Conquest to Coexistence, 279–295; Jack M. Sasson, Judges 1–12
(AB), New York, NY 2014, 303–304. Cf. F. Lelli, “Stars,” DDD2, 812.
46  Hiebert, God of My Victory, 92–93, 100; De Moor, Rise of Yahwism, 203–204; Korpel, Rift in
the Clouds, 270, 293, 513, 570–573. Cf. E. Lipinski, “Shemesh,” DDD2, 764–766; B.B. Schmidt,
“Moon,” DDD2, 587–591.
47  Cf. Korpel, Rift in the Clouds, 610–613. Interestingly, a study of the same aspects from the
perspective of the iconography of the ancient Near Eastern divine warrior shows that
biblical poetry fills well-known images with a new and slightly different content, creating
a dichotomy between the one God and the many gods. Martin Klingbeil, Yahweh Fighting
from Heaven. God as Warrior and as God of Heaven in the Hebrew Psalter and Ancient Near
Eastern Iconography (OBO, 169), Fribourg—Göttingen 1999, 301–310.
48  Cf. e.g. Theodore Hiebert, “The Use of Inclusion in Habakkuk 3,” in: Elaine R. Follis (ed.),
Directions in Hebrew Poetry (JSOT Supplement, 40), Sheffield 1987, 119–140; Andersen,
Habakkuk; G.T.M. Prinsloo, “Reading Habakkuk 3 in the Light of Ancient Unit Delimiters,”
HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 69 (2013), Art. #1975, 11 pages.
“ Is Your Rage Against the Rivers, Your Wrath Against the Sea ? ” 71

The second stanza (3:3–7) describes the majestic arrival of Eloah/Qadoš in

heaven and earth and the response to this appearance. There is some discus-
sion with regard to its exact delineation. But undoubtedly, the outer boundar-
ies of the unit are marked by the concrete geographical designations “Teman”
and “Mount Paran,” and “Kushan” and “land of Midian” (3:3ab,7bc), while there
is also a correspondence between the creational elements of heaven and earth
that are filled with divine glory (3:3–4), and the mountains, hills and other ele-
ments that are shattered by this event (3:6–7). These parallels are highlighted
by assonance and in the middle stands the already mentioned chiasm depict-
ing the divine entourage of “Pestilence” and “Plague” marching out before and
behind (3:5ab). These lines function as a hinge in the unit as a whole, which
focuses entirely on Eloah, “the Holy One,” who is described in the third person.
All attention is directed to his magnificent radiance and power and at the shiv-
ering of creation in reaction to it.
Important changes take place in the third unit (3:8–15) due to the fact that
the theophany is now connected to the perspective of the first stanza, in which
the petitioner declares to be in awe because of Yhwh’s works and compas-
sion shown over the years (3:2). Accordingly, God himself is addressed and now
called by name in the use of the vocative “Yhwh,” by asking him questions and
by depicting his actions in the second person singular. The unity of the stanza
is highlighted by the repetition of the divine name, a series of perfect forms
and a number of inclusios both with regard to form and content, depicting the
preparation of the divine warrior for battle and the battle itself. The outer parts
of the stanza are connected by mentioning the river and sea as the objects of
Yhwh’s anger and the targets of his chariotry, and by the actual victory over
the sea and the many waters (3:8ab,15ab). A second parallel is the unfolding
of the divine weaponry in preparation for battle, on the one hand, and the
actual flashing of the arrows and javelin, laying bare the enemy and smashing
the head of the wicked, on the other (3:9a,11b,13a–14a). Finally, the motifs of
creation and the role of the divine entourage in the previous stanza are picked
up in the description of the cracking and heaving of earth and mountains, the
agitation of the waters, and in the reaction of sun and moon (3:9b–11a).49

49  According to some scholars, the attestation of several pairs of Canaanite deities in Hab 3,
such as “pestilence and plague”, “river and sea”, and “sun and moon” would imply that it
is conceivable that “the mountains and the deep” (3:10aA,bA) are originally another such
pair. This pair is probably indeed attested in a few Ugaritic texts. But it must also be noted
that in the Old Testament the mountains are associated with the gods, but are never
gods themselves, while there is also no evidence that tĕhōm was a personal mythological
character. For a discussion, see e.g. D. Pardee, P. Xella, “Mountains and Valleys,” DDD2, 605;
B. Alster, “Tiamat,” DDD2, 869; Tsumura, Creation and Destruction, 139–140.
72 van Bekkum

So apparently, the waters are very prominent in the poem, not only because
of their frequent attestation and resemblance with other ancient Near Eastern
literary traditions, but also with regard to their function in the larger structure
of Hab 3 as a whole. Storm and rain serve as divine weapons, the deep is part
of creation reacting to the theophany, while finally the rivers and sea clearly
function as Yhwh’s counterparts. All these elements underscore the magnifi-
cent nature of the heavenly appearance and battle, and contribute to the lively
depiction of the experience of the divine presence. The first and fourth parts
of the poem (3:2,16–19) show that the immediacy of this mysterium tremendum
is really terrifying. But remarkably, it also creates the recognition of divine
grace and support in great distress. It is this experience that leads to the beau-
tiful confession of awe and trust (3:16–17) and the conviction that Yhwh,
“the God of my victory,” guarantees the final triumph over the enemy, despite
all violence, viciousness, misery and grief in the present (3:18–19).
The way the descriptions of water are embedded in Hab 3 as a whole sheds
light on several thorny issues regarding the interpretation of this chapter.
First, what is the range of the poetic personifications that are being used in
the description of the theophany? It is certainly important to realize that “a
metaphorization of an ordinary word should be carefully distinguished from
a demythologization of a divine name.”50 At the same time, it has to be noted
that Hab 3 contains a thorough pattern of designations suggesting a Yahwistic
use of the storm-god imagery with a specific view of the divine entourage.
Yhwh, who is also “Eloah” and the “Holy One,” wears the garment of the storm-
god. In addition, the ancient Near Eastern cognitive environment of the text
clearly creates the possibility of understanding “Plague and Pestilence”, “River
and Sea”, and “Sun and Moon” as degraded divine beings. Nonetheless, such an
interpretation is not necessary in order to appreciate that the text makes use
of metaphorical language unfolding a reality far exceeding daily experience:
When Yhwh appears, all material and spiritual powers turn out to be subject
to his majesty. He is victorious and even the greatest dangers in the universe
are not able to withstand him.
The attestation, however, of personifying metaphors reflecting a transcen-
dent dimension does not imply that the reality they refer to has no concrete
historical component. The poem associates Yhwh’s compassionate deeds
with the poet’s and Israel’s experience (3:2), denotes concrete geographical
entities (3:3ab,7bc) and mentions an army attacking and devastating the land
(3:16–17). Accordingly, the possible historical background addressed by the
poem is a second important issue in interpretation. Who are the “people” and

50  David Toshio Tsumura, “Ugaritic Poetry and Habakkuk 3,” Tyndale Bulletin 40 (1989), 48.
“ Is Your Rage Against the Rivers, Your Wrath Against the Sea ? ” 73

“your anointed” who are to be delivered (3:13a)? Who is the “wicked” who was
once slain? Who is personified by the “rivers and sea” (3:13b,8a) and who is the
poet’s present enemy (3:16)? The description of human experience with God
and the poetic nature of the text have given rise to all kinds of interpretations.51
Both the name Yhwh and the fact that the poem has its place in the book of
Habakkuk, however, offer some constraints to its possible understanding. The
text clearly concerns the fate of the people of Israel and its primary perspective
is the threat of the conquest of Judah by the Babylonians. In addition, most
interpreters seem to be right to see a connection, at least in the present con-
text, between the “anointed” and the Davidic dynasty (cf. Ps 89:39,52; 132:10).
The combination of these two elements suggests that the message of divine
deliverance in Hab 3 finds its inducement in the religious-political reality of
a monarchy being under divine judgment. For the rest, however, the open,
metaphorical nature of the text prevents ruling out too many options. Within
the context of the literature of ancient Israel, elements in the poem evoke the
stories and poetic depictions of the Exodus from Egypt and the crossing of the
Sea of Reeds (Exod 14), the revelation of Yhwh at Sinai (Exod 19), the crossing
of the Jordan River (Josh 3–4) and the conquest of Canaan (Josh 10). Possibly,
the battles against Sihon and Og (Num 21) and the Davidic conquests (2 Sam 5
and 8) also come into play. The poem as a whole implies neither cosmogony
nor theomachy, but refers to divine intervention in history. What is high-
lighted, however, is not so much a specific battle, but the very fact that Yhwh’s
transcendent involvement and interference in unjust human affairs is so over-
whelming that it vanquishes all mortal and heavenly powers. Accordingly, the
metaphorical designations for the enemies can be read as ‘antithetical annexa-
tions’ of the names of ancient Near Eastern divine beings: what is thought to
be supernatural falls short in the light of Yhwh’s supremacy. Yet, such an inter-
pretation is not necessary in order to understand the text.
Interestingly, this pattern of a flexible use of storm-god imagery entirely
fits analogous passages in ancient Israelite poetry. Psalm 29, for instance, once
seen as a former Canaanite hymn in the Old Testament par excellence, clearly
uses motifs and themes from the Baal tradition in order to highlight the supe-
riority of Yhwh over his Canaanite competitor. Nonetheless, it is no longer
considered to be a consensus that the poem itself depends on a Canaanite
original, praising Baal. Yhwh’s kingship is celebrated as being triumphant

51  For an overview, see Peter Jöcken, Das Buch Habakuk. Darstellung der Geschichte seiner
Erforschung mit einer eigener Beurteilung (BBB, 48), Köln—Bonn 1977, ad loci. See also
the reflections by Hiebert, God of My Victory, 120–124; Haak, Habakkuk, 98–99; Andersen,
Habakkuk, 319, 334–335.
74 van Bekkum

over all forms of chaos (Ps 29:1–2). The psalm as a whole represents this world-
filling and -dominating majesty. It is only within this framework that certain
characteristics of the storm-god and the royal god El are transferred to him.
Accordingly, scholars nowadays assume that the poem was Yahwistic from the
A similar, but also entirely different undertaking—not transforming
Canaanite metaphors into Yhwh-theology, but intensifying Israel’s historical
traditions of Exodus, Conquest and the foundation of the Davidic Monarchy
with help of using storm-god imagery—can be found in Ps 114. Erich Zenger
has shown that instead of looking for the possible background of the language
of theophany in this psalm, it is more fruitful to explore its exegetical corre-
lation with the kingship of Yhwh Psalms 29 and 96–98, which also contain
language of theophany. The most striking element in his analysis is that the
canonical embedding of these psalms highlights their antithetical nature. The
waters in Ps 114 have no specific mythological meaning. But the close relation
with the other psalms evokes the idea that the foundation of the world order
and Yhwh’s choice for Israel as apparent in his theophany definitely results in
the deprivation of the divine beings. The Hallel Psalms 113–118 offer a further
elaboration of this motif: Ps 114 explicates the incomparability and uniqueness
of the God of Israel as proclaimed in Ps 113, while Ps 115 draws the consequences
in showing that the nation’s gods are powerless idols with respect to Yhwh.53

5 Yhwh’s Identity According to Habakkuk 3

Several conclusions follow from this comparative and exegetical analysis of

Yhwh’s rage against the river and sea in Hab 3. First, it seems hard to main-
tain that texts like Hab 3 reuse or reformulate older polytheistic narratives
about the divine warrior, or that the poem fits into the entire mythic pattern
depicting the divine warrior’s march into battle as a first element and his

52  For a discussion see e.g. Dennis Pardee, “On Psalm 29: Structure and Meaning,” in: Peter W.
Flint, Patrick D. Miller (eds.), The Book of the Psalms. Composition and Reception (VT.S, 99),
Leiden 2005, 153–183; Lowell K. Handy (ed.), Psalm 29 Through Time and Tradition (PTMS,
110), Eugene, OR 2009.
53  Erich Zenger, “A Poetic Etiology of Israel: Psalm 114 Against the Background of the
Kingship-of-Yhwh-Psalms 29 and 96–98,” in: Moshe Bar-Asher et al. (eds.), Shai le-Sara
Japhet. Studies in the Bible, its Exegesis and its Language, Jerusalem 2007, 381*–396*.
“ Is Your Rage Against the Rivers, Your Wrath Against the Sea ? ” 75

enthronement as a second element.54 Second, the issue at hand is too complex

to be explained by the assumption of a gradual adaptation of the Canaanite
descriptions of the divine in ancient Israel or of a fundamental religious
schism between Canaanites and Israelites.55 In light of the abovementioned
methodological reflections and political-religious interpretations of the texts
in sections 3 and 4, these historical reconstructions still focus too much on
the parallels with the Baal Cycle. It seems more fruitful to start with the many
factors that play a part in Hab 3: the cognitive environment of the descrip-
tions and conceptions of the ancient Near Eastern storm-god and the heav-
enly realm, Israel’s historical experiences at Yhwh’s revelation at Sinai and
at other occasions, traditional language of theophany and battle, and last but
not least, the oracles and visions of the prophet. Historically, the presence of
these diverse influences in the text is not surprising, given the fact that the
Iron Age Southern Levant can be characterized as an ethnically and religiously
“mixed multitude.”56 All the more striking, however, is the poem’s well-defined
view of Yhwh’s identity. The presupposition of a unique divine sovereignty
and power dominates this and related texts to such an extent that they simply
redefine the ancient Near Eastern storm-god imagery from the perspective
of Yhwh’s kingship. Of course, Hab 3 differs from the previous two chapters
in many aspects and reflects ancient motifs and archaic features, in particu-
lar in 3:8–15. It must also be noted, however, that apart from this passage, the
orthography is entirely classical, and that the poem shares not only vocabulary,
but also literary topics with Hab 1–2, such as the arrogance of the enemies
(3:14b, cf. 1:10), the devastating power of horses in battle (3:15, cf. 1:8), and the
final destruction of the wicked (3:13b, cf. 1:13; 2:9–11). Moreover, the notable
presence of the prophet in the expression of his desires and emotions (3:2,16)
and the depiction of his experiences (3:7,8ab,14a) remarkably suits the por-
trayal of his personal struggle in Hab 2.57

54  Cross, Canaanite Myth, 155–156. Cf. Smith, Origins of Biblical Monotheism, 23, 145–146;
idem, Poetic Heroes. Literary Commemorations of Warriors and Warrior Culture in the Early
Biblical World, Grand Rapids, MI 2014, 560–561.
55  Thus e.g. Korpel, A Rift in the Clouds, 621–624.
56  Cf. Van Bekkum, From Conquest to Coexistence, 564, 584–587; idem, “Coexistence as Guilt.
Iron I Memories in Judges 1,” in: Gershon Galil et al. (eds.), The Ancient Near East in the
12th–10th Centuries BCE: Culture and History (AOAT, 392), Münster 2012, 530–547.
57  For an enumeration of differences, see e.g. Hiebert, God of My Victory, 139–141; Andersen,
Habakkuk, 285, 314.
76 van Bekkum

Accordingly, it seems likely that ancient poetic material is used, in particu-

lar in 3:8–15, in order to paint the prophetic vision.58 At the same time, Hab 3
is an integral part of the book suggesting a transition from a prophet “hearing”
Yhwh’s answer to his questions (2:2) to a situation in which he has actually
“seen” his power (3:7). In this way, the crucial lines stating that “the righteous
shall live by his faith” (2:4) are illustrated dramatically. Totally overwhelmed by
divine supremacy, the prophet can only be in awe, tremble, and rejoice in the
God of his salvation, despite the fact that the land is destroyed (3:2,16,17–18).
According to the text, Yhwh’s transcendent identity as king of the universe is
the only source of this joy. In other texts, meta-historical storm-god language
transforms the image of the past or is used to describe the impact of this iden-
tity on the divine realm. But here, a similar description of Yhwh’s mastery over
the nature, history and the spiritual world is applied in order to transcend the
horrific political-religious reality of the presence and to create eschatological
hope. For in the end he will rescue his people, some “anointed” Davidic king
will reign and none of the brutal Chaldeans will escape judgment.
So with regard to the use of personified descriptions of water in the Ancient
Near East, Hab 3 again highlights the importance of variation and adaptation,
since it is not the storm-god imagery defining the God of Israel, but Yhwh, the
totaliter aliter, who determines its meaning.

58  For opposing views regarding the poem’s origin, see e.g. Andersen, Habakkuk, 259–264;
John E. Anderson, “Awaiting an Answered Prayer: The Development and Reinterpretation
of Habakkuk 3 in Its Contexts,” ZAW 123 (2011), 57–70.

The Monster as a Toy

Leviathan in Psalm 104:26

Gert Kwakkel

1 Introduction

In Ps 104 the psalmist exhorts himself to praise Yhwh because of his great-
ness (vv. 1a and 35b). The main body of the psalm elaborates on this greatness
as it can be seen in the creation of the world and in the way in which Yhwh
provides for his creatures, which depend on him for food and life (for the last
element, see esp. vv. 27–30). Verses 1b–4 describe Yhwh’s heavenly splendour.
Verses 5–9 set forth how he made the earth a secure place to live, by relegat-
ing the waters of the deep (‫ ) ְּתהֹום‬to their own limited place. Next, verses 10–18
relate how he uses the water to quench the thirst of animals, plants and trees.
In doing so, he also arranges for the food of cattle and humans (vv. 14–15). By
means of the moon and the sun, he brings about night and day, the former as
the time in which predators get their food, the latter as the time for human
labour (vv. 19–23). In verse 24 the description gives way to an exclamation, in
which the psalmist glorifies Yhwh in view of the multiplicity of his creative
works and the wisdom displayed in them.
After this exclamation, the psalm does not immediately proceed to its con-
clusion. In verses 25 and 26 the account of God’s greatness in creation contin-
ues with a description of the sea and of elements living and moving there. In
this connection Leviathan turns up, alongside maritime animals—large and
small—and ships.
Given the peaceful mood that seems to characterize the preceding parts
of the psalm, the presence of Leviathan may come as a surprise. Why does
the name of the monster with its mythological connotations appear in this
context? Why is it mentioned not only in connection with animals but also
with ships? According to most English versions, verse 26b says that Yhwh
formed Leviathan “to sport in it;” that is, in the sea (thus, e.g. NASB and NRSV).
However, ‫ ּבֹו‬at the end of verse 26 may also refer to Leviathan, while Yhwh
could be the subject of ‫“ ְל ַׂש ֶחק‬to sport” or “to play.” In that case Yhwh would be
the one sporting or playing with Leviathan (thus, e.g., NJPS). In both cases the
question arises as to why this element figures in the text. To sum up, how does

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi ��.��63/9789004337961_006

78 Kwakkel

the comment on Leviathan fit the rest of the psalm and what does it contribute
to its message?
The rest of this study can be outlined as follows. Section 2 analyses the
description of the sea in Ps. 104:25–26a, the immediate context of the reference
to Leviathan in verse 26b. In this connection, special attention is paid to
the ships figuring in verse 26a. Section 3 focuses on verse 26b. A large part of the
section is devoted to the question whether the colon speaks about Leviathan
sporting in the sea or about Yhwh playing with Leviathan. Section 4 discusses
the function of the statement about Leviathan in Ps 104 as a whole, against the
backdrop of its Ancient Near Eastern context. Finally, section 5 summarises
the results and formulates conclusions.

2 The Sea in Ps 104:25–26a

ֶ ‫זֶ ה ַהּיָ ם ּגָ דֹול ְּור ַחב יָ ָדיִ ם ָׁש‬25

‫ם־ר ֶמׂש וְ ֵאין ִמ ְס ָּפר ַחּיֹות ְק ַטּנֹות ִעם־ּגְ ד ֹלֹות‬
‫ ָׁשם ֳאנִ ּיֹות יְ ַה ֵּלכּון‬26a

25There is the sea, great and wide, therein are swarming creatures,
without number, animals, both small and great.
26aThere ships go to and fro . . .
(author’s translation)

Verse 25 points to the sea as yet another example of Yhwh’s works, which are
made in wisdom, and of his creatures,1 which fill the earth (v. 24). This func-
tion of the reference to the sea fits the most common interpretation of ‫ זֶ ה‬at
the beginning of the verse. According to this interpretation, ‫ זה‬is an adverb
of place with a deictic function: “Here” or “there” (is the sea).2 Alternatively,
one may consider the possibility to translate ‫ זה‬by “such,” as is often done in
Ps 24:6, where ‫ זה‬holds a position similar to Ps 104:25.3 In that case, it would

1  John Goldingay, Psalms Volume 3: Psalms 90–150 (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament
Wisdom and Psalms), Grand Rapids, MI 2008, 191, translates ‫ ִקנְ יָ ן‬by “possession,” which is
indeed its usual sense; cf. also NASB; HAL, 1041a. Others prefer “creatures;” see, e.g., W.H.
Schmidt, “‫ קנה‬qnh erwerben,” THAT 2:657; Wilhelm Gesenius, Hebräisches und Aramäisches
Handwörterbuch über das Alte Testament (18th ed.; ed. Rudolf Meyer et al.), Berlin 1987–2012,
1176b; cf. also NIV; NRSV.
2  See HAL, 254a, sub 14; Gesenius, Handwörterbuch, 295a, sub 3. Cf. also A.S. van der Woude,
“Das hebräische Pronomen demonstrativum als hinweisende Interjektion,” JEOL 18 (1964),
307–311; Th. Booij, Psalmen deel III (81–110) (PredOT), Nijkerk 1994, 226, n. 63. For some other
interpretations, see GKG, §136d, n. 2; Joüon, §143i.
3  See also Ps 48:15; 49:14; Job 18:21; Song 5:16. Cf. HAL, 253a, sub 2.
The Monster As A Toy 79

express even more clearly that the sea is introduced as an outstanding example
of God’s creative works, which testify to his wisdom.
Verse 25 further articulates two impressive aspects of the sea. First, it draws
attention to its great dimensions and extensiveness.4 Second, it mentions
the uncountable number (‫ ) ֵאין ִמ ְס ָּפר‬and different types (‫ ) ְק ַטּנֹות ִעם־ּגְ ד ֹלֹות‬of
animals swarming (cf. ‫ ) ֶר ֶמׂש‬in the sea.5 All these aspects and particularly the
fact that the maritime animals are innumerable suggest that the sea surpasses
human control. Yet man is able to take advantage of the sea, as the reference to
the ships in verse 26a makes clear.
The ships, however, have often been considered a problematic element in
the psalm. Why do they appear in a psalm that praises Yhwh because of his
work in nature? As ships are made by men, they seem out of place in a section
of the psalm that elaborates upon verse 24, which speaks about the manifold
works of Yhwh. Moreover, they do not fit verse 27, which says that “all these”
(‫ ) ֻּכ ָּלם‬look to Yhwh that he may give them food at the proper time. Obviously,
“all these” refers to subjects mentioned in the previous verses, but ships evi-
dently do not get food from Yhwh.
In favour of the appropriateness of a reference to ships in verses 25–26, sev-
eral scholars have pointed to a number of parallels from the Ancient Near East.
The most outstanding textual parallel is provided by the Egyptian Great Hymn
to the Aten. The hymn has a conspicuous number of points of agreement with
Ps 104, which led previous research to assume that the psalm has used the
hymn as a source text.6 Just like Ps 104, the hymn mentions ships next to fish.7
In iconography, ships are frequently depicted alongside maritime animals,

4  In other texts ‫ רחב ידים‬describes the vast dimensions of a land (Gen 34:21; Judg 18:10;
Isa 22:18; 1 Chr 4:40), a city (Neh 7:4) or rivers (Isa 33:21). For further discussion of the expres-
sion, see Annette Krüger, Das Lob des Schöpfers. Studien zu Sprache, Motivik und Theologie
von Psalm 104 (WMANT 124), Neukirchen-Vluyn 2010, 55.
5  For more details on ‫רמׂש‬, see Krüger, Das Lob des Schöpfers, 308–309.
6  More recent research has commonly abandoned the idea that Ps 104 directly depends on
the Egyptian hymn; see, e.g., Odil Hannes Steck, “Der Wein unter den Schöpfungsgaben:
Überlegungen zu Psalm 104,” in Wahrnehmungen Gottes im Alten Testament: Gesammelte
Studien (TB, 70), Munich 1982, 244–245, n. 9; repr. from TTZ 87 (1978); Christoph Uehlinger,
“Leviathan und die Schiffe in Psalm 104,25–26,” Bib 71 (1990), 501–512; Krüger, Das Lob des
Schöpfers, 403–422.
7  For the text of the hymn, see COS 1.28:44–46, esp. 45. Since the parallel was found, Gunkel’s
proposal to read ‫“ ֵאימֹות‬terrors” instead of ‫“ ֳאנִ ּיֹות‬ships” has become obsolete; see Hermann
Gunkel, Die Psalmen (4th ed.; HKAT II.2), Göttingen 1926, 456; cf., e.g., Steck, “Wein,” 250,
n. 20; John Day, God’s Conflict with the Dragon and the Sea: Echoes of a Canaanite Myth in the
Old Testament, Cambridge 1985, 73–74. Additional critical comments on Gunkel’s conjecture
can be found in Uehlinger, “Leviathan und die Schiffe,” 500–501.
80 Kwakkel

for example on coins.8 Furthermore, ships are described as horses, or they are
depicted with animal features such as an eye.9
Within the scope of this study it can be left undecided which of the argu-
ments taken from ancient Near Eastern parallels are convincing and which
are not.10 It suffices to concentrate on Ps 104 itself. Careful reading of the
psalm reveals that it does not sharply distinguish between nature and human
activities. Man’s work figures twice in the psalm, in verses 14 and 23. While
verse 14 focuses on agriculture, verse 23 may also include other human activi-
ties such as construction and trade. Apparently, the opportunity for humans to
do their work is one of the things made by Yhwh in his wisdom, for which he
is praised in verse 24!
This suffices to show that ships can indeed be mentioned next to animals
in a song praising Yhwh’s wonderful works of creation. Even so, one is still left
with the problem resulting from verse 27, which seems to count ships among
the creatures that look to Yhwh to get their food. It should be noted, however,
that Ps 104 lists several other elements of creation that strictly speaking cannot
be referred to in verse 27 and verses 28–30 (which also have ‫“ כלם‬all these” from
v. 27a as their grammatical subject). This surely holds true for, among others,
the moon and the sun mentioned in verse 19. Furthermore, it seems doubtful
that the plants and trees mentioned in verses 14 and 16 can be reckoned to
the creatures that receive their food from Yhwh, as described in verses 27–28.
Anyway, they certainly were not considered to be elements in creation whose
breath (‫רּוח‬
ַ ) could be taken away, as verse 29 has it. Clearly, ‫“ כלם‬all these” in
verse 27 does not include all things figuring in Ps 104, but concentrates on ani-
mals and humans.11 Accordingly, the ships in verse 26a can be left as they are.12

8  Krüger, Das Lob des Schöpfers, 312–314; cf. also Uehlinger, “Leviathan und die Schiffe,”
512–522, with respect to an old Syrian cylinder seal, which has a ship next to a monster
similar to Leviathan.
9  Uehlinger, “Leviathan und die Schiffe,” 522–526; Krüger, Das Lob des Schöpfers, 314–317.
10  Critical evaluations of the idea that the presence of ships in Ps 104:26 can be accounted
for in terms of dependence on the Egyptian hymn can be found in Uehlinger, “Leviathan
und die Schiffe,” 506–512; Krüger, Das Lob des Schöpfers, 413–414.
11  Cf. Bernd Janowski, Annette Krüger, “Gottes Sturm und Gottes Atem: Zum Verständnis
von ‫ֹלהים‬
ִ ‫רּוח ֱא‬
ַ in Gen 1,2 und Ps 104,29f,” Jahrbuch für Biblische Theologie 24 (2009), 20.
On the relationship between vv. 27–30 and the previous parts of the psalm, see also Steck,
“Wein,” 248–249.
12  This also implies that the purported discrepancy between the ships in v. 26 on the
one hand and v. 27 on the other can no longer be used as an argument for ascribing
vv. 25–26 to a later redaction, as, among others, Spieckermann, has done; see Hermann
Spieckermann, Heilsgegenwart: Eine Theologie der Psalmen, Göttingen 1989, 41–42; cf. also
The Monster As A Toy 81

If this is correct, what does the mention of the ships positively contrib-
ute to the message of the psalm? In this connection, it is interesting to note
that verse 26 merely pictures the movement of ships at sea. Obviously, the
Israelites, although by no means specialists in maritime transport, in contrast
to the Phoenicians, were well aware of the fact that ships are built and sailed by
man.13 Nevertheless, man’s contribution to the navigation of sea-going ves-
sels is passed over without comment in verse 26.14 As a result, all attention
is given to Yhwh’s involvement in the ships’ going to and fro. Thus verse 26
makes the point that he is to be praised as the Creator, who also demonstrates
his control and wisdom in making the sea a safe route of transport.15
Before proceeding to verse 26b and Leviathan, it may be helpful to compare
the profile of the sea as developed in verses 25 and 26a with what can be found
in other texts of the Old Testament.16 The psalm and other texts share a num-
ber of characteristics. These include the vast dimensions of the sea (v. 25a)
and its being used as a means of transport by shipping (v. 26a).17 Inasmuch
as the sea figures as yet another example of Yhwh’s works mentioned in
verse 24, verses 25–26a correspond to texts that affirm that he has made it.18
Furthermore, the innumerable creatures living in the sea (v. 25aβ–b) might
evoke the abundance meant in Deut 33:19; Isa 60:5.

Matthias Köckert, “Literargeschichtliche und religionsgeschichtliche Beobachtungen zu

Ps 104,” in Schriftauslegung in der Schrift: Festschrift für Odil Hannes Steck zu seinem 65.
Geburtstag (ed. Reinhard G. Kraft et al.; BZAW, 300), Berlin 2000, 262, 276; Frank-Lothar
Hossfeld, Erich Zenger, Psalmen 101–150 (HThKAT), Freiburg 2008, 74–75. For critical notes
on Spieckermann’s view, see Paul E. Dion, “YHWH as Storm-god and Sun-god: The Double
Legacy of Egypt and Canaan as Reflected in Psalm 104,” ZAW 103 (1991), 61, n. 68.
13  Cf. 1 Kgs 9:26–28; 10:22; 22:49–50; 2 Chr 20:35–37.
14  Pace Richard Whitekettle, “A Communion of Subjects: Zoological Classification and
Human/Animal Relations in Psalm 104,” BBR 21 (2011), 174: “The presence of human
beings is implied in the mention of ships.” According to Krüger, Das Lob des Schöpfers, 55,
the masc. 3rd pers. pl. verbal form ‫יְ ַה ֵּלכּון‬, which does not agree with the fem. pl. ‫אניות‬,
might be taken as referring to the sailors. This is not impossible, but very uncertain, given
the numerous deviations from the rules of grammatical agreement in biblical Hebrew;
cf. Joüon, §150b,c.
15  Cf. J. Ridderbos, De Psalmen II: Psalm 42–106 (COT), Kampen 1958, 492.
16  On the sea (‫ )ים‬in the OT, see Helmer Ringgren, “‫ יׇ ם‬jām,” TWAT 3:649–656 (=TDOT 8:91–
98); Krüger, Das Lob des Schöpfers, 307–308.
17  For the former element, see, e.g., Ps 139:9; Job 11:9; Lam 2:13; for the latter, see, e.g., 1 Kgs
9:26–27; 10:22; Isa 18:2; 23:2; Ezek 27:25,33; Ps 107:23.
18  Exod 20:11; Jonah 1:9; Ps 95:5; 146:6; Neh 9:6.
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However, there are also points of difference. Psalm 104:25–26a does not
make mention of the roaring of the sea, as several texts do.19 It does not refer
to the sea’s capacity of threatening human life, either,20 nor does it present
the sea as a mighty or even hostile power, which is rebuked, restricted, shut in
or stilled by Yhwh.21 Admittedly, verses 6–9 of Ps 104, though they do not use
the noun ‫ים‬, do indeed relate how Yhwh tamed the waters. Obviously, verses
25–26a presuppose Yhwh’s having performed this act. Yet it catches the eye
that in contrast with several other texts, they merely picture the sea as quiet
and peaceful. How does the entrance of Leviathan in verse 26b relate to this
state of affairs?

3 Leviathan in Ps 104:26b: Playing or Played with?

ָ ְ‫וְ ִלו‬b )‫( ָׁשם ֳאנִ ּיֹות יְ ַה ֵּלכּון‬a26

‫יָתן זֶ ה־יָ ַצ ְר ָּת ְל ַׂש ֶחק־ּבֹו‬

(There ships go to and fro) and Leviathan, which you formed to play with.
(author’s translation)

Syntactically, Leviathan in Ps 104:26b is the second subject of ‫“ יהלכון‬go to and

fro,” next to ‫“ אניות‬ships.” Just like the ships, Leviathan moves around “there”
(‫ ;)ׁשם‬that is, in the sea mentioned in verse 25. The location corresponds to
Isa 27:1 and Ps 74:13–14, referring to Leviathan in connection with maritime
monsters, and to Job 40:25; 41:23–24, in which Leviathan is most probably
pictured as being at home in the water.22 In addition, Isa 27:1; Ps 74:14 and
Job 40:25–41:26 describe Leviathan as a terrifying monster, which is far
beyond human control and can only be subdued by Yhwh (cf. also Job 3:8).23
It may be assumed, then, that on reading or hearing Ps 104:26b every Israelite
associated Leviathan with a frightening creature. Yet the text does not devote

19  Isa 5:30; 17:12; 51:15; Jer 5:22; 6:23; 31:35; Ps 65:8; 93:4; cf. also Isa 57:20.
20  Jer 51:42; Ezek 26:3; Jonah 1:4–15; Ps 107:23–27.
21  Isa 50:2; Jer 5:22; Nah 1:4; Ps 89:10; Job 26:12; 38:8–11; Prov 8:29; cf. also Ps 74:13.
22  In Job 40:25 Yhwh asks Job if he can draw out Leviathan with a fishhook (‫ ; ַח ָּכה‬cf. Isa 19:8;
Hab 1:15). According to Job 41:23, Leviathan makes the deep (‫צּולה‬ ָ ‫ ) ְמ‬boil and he makes the
sea (‫ )יָ ם‬like a pot of ointment. According to Job 41:24, the trace left behind by Leviathan
evokes the idea that the deep (‫ ) ְּתהֹום‬is white-haired.
23  For Isa 27:1, see section 4 of the contribution to this volume by Jaap Dekker, and for
Job 40:25–41:26, the contribution of Nicholas Ansell.
The Monster As A Toy 83

a single word to that aspect of Leviathan, nor does it present any indication as
to its appearance.
Instead, it says that Yhwh has formed (‫ )יצר‬Leviathan. At first sight,
Ps 104:26b is the only text in the Old Testament to make this claim. However,
there may be two exceptions, namely Gen 1:21 and Job 41:25. The former text
relates that God created the great sea monsters (‫) ַּתּנִ ינִ ם‬. These monsters might
include Leviathan, although its name does not figure in the text.24 The latter
text describes Leviathan as “a creature” (NIV, NRSV) or “one made” (NASB; the
Hebrew text reads ‫“ ) ָעׂשּו‬without fear” (‫י־חת‬ָ ‫) ִל ְב ִל‬. It does not point out who
made Leviathan, but if one entertained the question, Yhwh would obviously
be the only candidate, the more so because in Job 40:15 he claims to have made
(‫ )עׂשה‬Behemoth, the other monster figuring in Job 40–41.
Psalm 104:26b describes Yhwh’s purpose in forming Leviathan as ‫ ְל ַׂש ֶחק־ּבֹו‬.
In the Pi‘el stem, the verb ‫ ׂשחק‬often refers to joyful dancing, singing or playing
on musical instruments.25 In addition, it denotes the play of children (Zech
8:5) or animals (Job 40:20).26 In some cases, it might have a malicious ring, but
this is by no means certain in any of the texts concerned (i.e. Jer 15:17; Job 40:29;
Prov 26:19).27 Accordingly, it can plausibly be assumed that in Ps 104:26b ‫ׂשחק‬
Pi‘el also has a positive, neutral or harmless sense, such as “to play joyfully.”28
If so, who is the one playing? Is Yhwh the subject of the infinitive or
Leviathan? Does the masculine third person singular suffix in ‫ בו‬refer to ‫לויתן‬
in verse 26b or to ‫ הים‬mentioned in verse 25a? In short, is Yhwh playing with
Leviathan, or is Leviathan playing in the sea?
Syntactically, both options are possible. In favour of the former option, one
may argue that Yhwh is the subject and Leviathan the object of the phrase

24  See Isa 27:1 and Ps 74:13–14; in these texts, Leviathan is mentioned in connection with
‫ ַה ַּתּנִ ין‬and ‫ ַּתּנִ ינִ ים‬respectively. On ‫ ַּתּנִ ין‬, see also the contributions of Dekker and Ben van
25  1 Sam 18:7; 2 Sam 6:5,21; Jer 30:19; 31:4; 1 Chr 13:8; 15:29.
26  Cf. also Prov 8:30–31; it is not absolutely clear what Lady Wisdom is alluding to by using
‫ ׂשחק‬Pi‘el to describe her attitude or behaviour when God created the world; it may be
joyful playing or dancing as in 1 Sam 18:7 etc., or playing as children do.
27  In this respect, ‫ ׂשחק‬Pi‘el differs from ‫ ׂשחק‬Qal, which often means “to laugh at” (in
contempt or derision); see Hab 1:10; Ps 2:4; 37:13; 52:8; 59:9; Job 5:22; 30:1; 39:7,18,22; 41:21;
Prov 1:26; Lam 1:7; cf. HAL, 1226.
28  Consequently, it seems less probable that the verb refers to Yhwh’s poking fun at
Leviathan. Texts describing a similar act of God (i.e. Ps 2:4; 37:13; 59:9) have ‫ ׂשחק‬Qal.
84 Kwakkel

immediately preceding ‫( לׂשחק־בו‬i.e. ‫)זה־יצרת‬, whereas ‫ הים‬is further removed.29

However, a counter-argument could be that ‫ הים‬is also the antecedent of ‫ׁשם‬
at the beginning of verse 26 (and in v. 25a), which would yield a nice inclusio.
As regards the context, Booij prefers the latter option, because it agrees with
the idea that in the order of creation everything has received its place and
function, according to its nature. In Booij’s view, this is a leading motif in the
psalm.30 This is certainly correct (see esp. vv. 11–15, 17–18; cf. also vv. 19–24),
but not decisive, since the psalm likewise points to creatures whose function
is to serve Yhwh, for example as his messengers or servants (v. 4; cf. also v. 3b).
The psalm also speaks about the pleasure taken by Yhwh in what he has made
(v. 31b).31 Besides, the question arises as to what would be the function and
consequences of Leviathan’s playing in the sea. Could not this monster’s play
jeopardize the ships moving around in its proximity?
As for parallels in the Old Testament, Job 40–41 is a very interesting text,
since it extensively pictures Leviathan (Job 40:25–41:26) and also has two
occurrences of ‫ ׂשחק‬Pi‘el. In Job 40:20 the verb is used for the play of animals
in the mountains. This might be considered an argument for taking Leviathan
as the subject of ‫ ׂשחק‬in Ps 104:26b.32 In Job 40:29 God challenges Job by ask-
ing him the rhetorical question whether he can play with Leviathan as with a
bird. This is a more significant parallel, for unlike Job 40:20 (which is not about
Leviathan), it has both a reference to Leviathan and ‫ ׂשחק‬Pi‘el. Furthermore,
as John Day has pointed out, Job 40:10b presents a close parallel to Ps 104:1b.33
In the former text Yhwh challenges Job to clothe (‫ )לבׁש‬himself in glory and
splendour (‫)הֹוד וְ ָה ָדר‬, while the latter says that Yhwh has clothed (‫ )לבׁש‬him-
self with these attributes (i.e. ‫)הֹוד וְ ָה ָדר‬. Admittedly, it is hard to establish the
relationship between both texts. Yet the parallel might suggest that Ps 104:26b
attributes to God the very thing that Job 40:29 denies to Job; that is, being able
to play with Leviathan.

29  Thus J.P.M. van der Ploeg, Psalmen deel II: Psalm 76 t/m 150 (BOT), Roermond 1974, 194;
William P. Brown, “The Lion, The Wicked, and the Wonder of it All: Psalm 104 and the
Playful God,” Journal for Preachers 29 (Easter 2006), 20, n. 7.
30  Booij, Psalmen deel III, 221.
31  Pace Ridderbos, Psalmen II, 492, who asserts that no reference to what God is doing for
his own diversion can be found in the context. The opposite view is defended in Krüger,
Das Lob des Schöpfers, 56: the relationship between Yhwh and his creatures is a charac-
teristic element of what is predicated in the psalm.
32  Cf. Ridderbos, Psalmen II, 492.
33  Day, Conflict, 73.
The Monster As A Toy 85

In the Septuagint and the rabbinic tradition, verse 26b is interpreted as an

affirmation about Yhwh’s playing with Leviathan.34 The Babylonian Talmud
quotes Rab Judah, who said in the name of Rab that every day God takes three
hours to do so (b. ʿAbod. Zar. 3b).
On balance, the more probable option seems to be that Yhwh is the subject
of ‫ ׂשחק‬and that the suffix in ‫ בו‬refers to Leviathan. In other words, Ps 104:26b
claims that Yhwh formed Leviathan to play with it.
Against this interpretation, some authors have objected that the idea of
playing with Leviathan is not worthy of God.35 However, similar objections
may be raised against several other passages in the psalms. To mention two
examples: in Ps 44:24 God is asked why he is sleeping (which, according to
Ps 121:4, he never does); in Ps 78:65 his awakening is compared with that of a
warrior overcome by wine. Apparently, the psalmists felt free to include daring
statements about God in their texts, when such statements could help them
to express themselves as clearly as possible. In this case, the textual evidence
seems to be in favour of the idea that Ps 104:26b refers to Yhwh’s playing with
Leviathan. This textual evidence should be given priority over theological con-
siderations, provided that a meaningful function can be found for the daring
statement of verse 26b, in relation to the purport of the psalm as a whole. This
will be investigated in the next section.

4 salm 104:26b: Ancient Near Eastern Context and Function in the


As has been observed in section 2, the Egyptian Great Hymn to the Aten pres-
ents interesting parallels to several parts of Ps 104. Whatever the historical rela-
tionship between both texts may be, it is beyond doubt that Ps 104 ascribes
things to Yhwh that neighbours of the psalmist such as the Egyptians ascribed
to other gods. This is true not only for verses 19–30, in which most parallels
to the Egyptian hymn have been detected,36 but certainly also for verses 3–9

34  L XX reads: ὃν ἔπλασας ἐμπαίζειν αὐτῷ. Cf. also Vg.: “quem formasti ad inludendum ei.” For
the rabbinic literature, see Day, Conflict, 73.
35  Franz Delitzsch, Biblischer Kommentar über die Psalmen (5th ed.; Biblischer Kommentar
über das Alte Testament 4/1), Leipzig 1894, 645; Ridderbos, Psalmen II, 492.
36  Cf. Uehlinger, “Leviathan und die Schiffe,” 501; Dion, “Storm-god,” 58–60; Krüger, Das Lob
des Schöpfers, 403.
86 Kwakkel

and 13–14.37 Thus, for example, the Canaanite god Baal was known as “Cloud-
Rider,” which could be compared with Ps 104:3.38 Yhwh’s intervention against
the waters in verses 6–9 reminds one of Baal’s battle with Yam (the god of the
sea) in Ugaritic myths.39 According to Ps 104:13–14, Yhwh sends the rain so that
the land can produce food. The Canaanites ascribed this blessing to Baal; in
Mesopotamia it was attributed to Adad/Hadad.40
It follows that in ascribing all these things to Yhwh, the psalmist takes a
clear stand in the religious world of his own days. His firm decision and will-
ingness to bless Yhwh and to sing his praise as long as he lives (vv. 1, 33, 35)
distinguishes him from all those among his contemporaries who preferred to
venerate other gods. The psalm thus has a polemical overtone, which is clearly
reflected in the psalmist’s wish that sinners and the wicked may vanish from
the earth (v. 35a). The psalmist does not elaborate upon the attitude or the acts
of these fellow humans, but in any case they must have been people who made
other choices in life and whom he abhorred.41
Against this backdrop, Yhwh’s intervention against the waters in verses 7–8
and the reference to Leviathan in verse 26b gain depth. In the Ugaritic myth,
Baal had to wage a hard fight against Yam. He succeeded in defeating his oppo-
nent only with the help of special weapons prepared by Kothar-wa-Hasis.42 By
contrast, Ps 104:7–8 affirms that Yhwh merely had to rebuke the waters and to
let the sound of his thunder be heard. As soon as he did so, the waters fled and
hurried away, “over the mountains,” “down into the valleys.”43 Obviously, the
easy fight testifies to Yhwh’s superiority vis-à-vis Baal.

37  For an extensive discussion of ancient Near Eastern parallels to Ps 104, see Krüger, Das Lob
des Schöpfers, 88–422; cf. also Dion, “Storm-god.”
38  See, e.g., KTU 1.3:II.40; COS 1.86:251.
39  K TU 1.2:IV; COS 1.86:248–249. Cf. also Marduk’s fight against Tiamat (representing the
primeval ocean) and his subsequent creative acts in the Babylonian epic Enūma eliš
IV.93–V.66; COS 1.111:398–399. See also the contribution of Marjo Korpel and Johannes de
Moor to this volume.
40  C OS 2.34:153; cf. Dion, “Storm-god,” 52–53.
41  According to Brown, “The Lion,” 18–19, the wicked of Ps 104:35 are primarily those who do
not share the psalmist’s perspective of dependence on God, as it is expressed in particular
in v. 27.
42  K TU 1.2:IV.7–27; COS 1.86:248–249.
43  Cf. v. 8 in niv. For this interpretation of v. 8, which can also be found in KJV, see Richard
J. Clifford, “A Note on Ps 104: 5–9,” JBL (1981), 87–89; Leslie C. Allen, Psalms 101–150 (WBC),
Waco, TX 1983, 26–27; Booij, Psalmen deel III, 217.
The Monster As A Toy 87

As for Leviathan, his counterpart Lotan may have been one of Yam’s helpers
in the Ugaritic myths.44 Lotan is described as “the fleeing serpent,” “the twist-
ing serpent” and “the close-coiling one with seven heads,” which has been
smitten by Baal.45 Several of these terms recur as epithets of Leviathan in Isa 27:1
(cf. also Ps 74:14, on Leviathan’s “heads”). The Ugaritic myth does not specify
what efforts Baal had to take in order to beat Lotan. Yet Lotan/Leviathan evi-
dently was a fearsome opponent, according to both the myth and the bibli-
cal texts Isa 27:1 and Ps 74:14 alike. If, then, Ps 104:26b states that Leviathan is
merely a creature formed by Yhwh to be played with in the sea, the monster is
evidently no match for him. Thus the verse affirms once more Yhwh’s superi-
ority, not only over Leviathan, but also over other gods such as Baal, who prob-
ably had to struggle much harder to defeat the monster.46
If this is correct, the provocative statement that Yhwh has formed Leviathan
to play with it is full of irony and derision. As such it fulfils a meaningful func-
tion in the psalm. Yhwh is not only the God who has made the sea a quiet
place for animals and ships. In his dealings with Leviathan he also magnifi-
cently demonstrates his superiority over all other divine beings, most particu-
larly every time when he is playing with the monster as with a toy. This is yet
another reason to praise him and no other as the true God, who is very great
and clothed with splendour and majesty (v. 1).
Since praising this God is anything but self-evident, it makes sense to pro-
duce such arguments. This is the more necessary, because the harmony in cre-
ation, to which several verses of the psalm testify, cannot be taken for granted,
either. According to verses 6–9, Yhwh has set a boundary to the waters of the
flood. However, that does not alter the fact that they are still there, with all
their potential destructive power. Yhwh has made the sea a safe route of trans-
port. Yet the fact that he even plays there with Leviathan does not mean that
humans can do the same, nor that the monster is lacking any power to threaten

44  Cf. C. Uehlinger, “Leviathan,” DDD2, 512. As for the relationship between the names
Leviathan and Lotan, see the contribution of Korpel and De Moor, section 2.
45  K TU 1.5:I.1–3,28–30; quotations taken from Dennis Pardee, COS 1.86:265. In KTU 1.3:III.
41–42 the goddess Anat pretends having slain a similar monster; however, she does not
cite Leviathan’s name in that connection; see COS 1.86:252.
46  A more extensive discussion of agreements and differences between Baal’s and Yhwh’s
fight against maritime monsters can be found in Marjo C.A. Korpel, A Rift in the Clouds:
Ugaritic and Hebrew Descriptions of the Divine, Münster 1990, 553–559. See also the contri-
butions of Korpel and De Moor (section 4), Dekker, Van Werven and Koert van Bekkum to
this volume.
88 Kwakkel

them.47 Yhwh gives food and life (vv. 27–28, 30), but he also takes away the
breath of his creatures and they die (v. 29). He has set the earth on its founda-
tions, so that it should never be moved (v. 5). At the same time, just a look on it
suffices for him to make it tremble (v. 32a).
The harmony in creation does not imply that all dangers and risks have van-
ished forever. The main reason for this is revealed in verse 35: it is the con-
tinuing presence of sinners and the wicked. The result of their behaviour may
be that Yhwh will stop rejoicing in his works (cf. v. 31b), which could have
devastating consequences for the earth and all creatures.48 Accordingly, the
presence of sinners and the wicked is the most important threat to creation,
and that is why the psalmist, at the end of his poem, voices the wish that they
may disappear from the earth and be no more.49 The ironic statement made
in Ps 104:26b addresses all those who feel tempted to side with them. It should
stimulate them to follow the psalmist’s example of dependence on Yhwh and
his desire to praise him as the God of creation.

5 Conclusion

The results of this study can be summarized as follows.

1. Psalm 104:25–26 presents the sea as a clear example of Yhwh’s creative

works, testifying to his greatness and wisdom. Verse 25 illustrates the
greatness of the Creator by drawing attention to the extensiveness of
the sea and the huge amount of animals living in it. Verse 26a mentions
the movement of ships as another reason why Yhwh should be praised
for his work in the creation of the sea. Thanks to his control and wisdom,
the sea can be used as a safe route of transport.
2. Verse 26b points out that even the maritime monster Leviathan is made
by Yhwh and is under his control. He does not allow the terrifying mon-
ster to disturb life at sea. On the contrary, he has called it into being as

47  Pace Day, Conflict, 74–75, and Spieckermann, Heilsgegenwart, 41, who both state that in
Ps 104:26 Leviathan is stripped of its power.
48  Cf. the story of the Flood in Gen 6–8: because of man’s sinful behaviour, God decided
to remove the boundaries set to the waters on the second and third day of creation
(Gen 1:6–10).
49  Cf. Steck, “Wein,” 245–246; Brown, “The Lion,” 18–19.
The Monster As A Toy 89

his own toy, “in order to play with it” (as the end of verse 26b should most
probably be read).
3. In all this and especially in his dealings with Leviathan, Yhwh shows his
supreme power. He out-classes other gods such as Baal, who could only
defeat the god of the sea and his helpers (probably including Lotan or
Leviathan) by means of a hard fight.
4. By stating that Yhwh has formed Leviathan to play with it, verse 26b
provides a powerful argument in support of the central message of the
psalm. Yhwh really deserves to be served as the true God and to be
praised forever. There is no reason whatsoever to side with the wicked,
who in their unwillingness to submit themselves to Yhwh present the
most important threat to the harmony and stability of creation pictured
in Ps 104.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find

The(ir Wisdo)m”
Behemoth and Leviathan in the Book of Job

Nicholas Ansell

1 Introduction

The real Bible of modern Europe is the whole body of great literature in
which the real revelation and inspiration of Hebrew Scripture has been
continued to the present day. Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra is less
comforting to the ill and the unhappy than the Psalms; but it is much
truer, subtler, and more edifying. The pleasure that we get from the rheto-
ric of the book of Job and its tragic picture of a bewildered soul cannot
disguise the ignoble irrelevance of the retort of God with which it closes,
nor supply the need for such modern revelations as Shelley’s Prometheus
or The Niblung Ring of Richard Wagner.1

Thus wrote Irish playwright and critic, George Bernard Shaw a little over hun-
dred years ago. In our own “present day,” a non-European Zoroaster might get
to speak for himself.2 And, given such an open-ended canon, some would dis-
cuss offsetting Wagner’s “Ring” with that of Tolkien, or allowing the Promethea
of Moore to supplement the Prometheus of Shelley.3 But whatever else might
change, the disappointment with God’s “response” to Job would, sad to say,
likely remain.
Periodically, literary critics and biblical scholars refer to Shaw’s verdict. “No
wonder” that the end of the book should elicit such a judgment, comments

1  Bernard Shaw, “The Bible,” in A Treatise on Parents and Children. The Collected Works of
Bernard Shaw. Vol. 13, New York 1930, 99. My emphases.
2  For an attempt that drew on scholarship available in Shaw’s lifetime, see R.C. Zaehner,
The Teaching of the Magi: A Compendium of Zoroastrian Beliefs, London 1956.
3  Whether despite or because of his antipathy to Wagner’s opera, the place of Tolkien’s
The Lord of the Rings in such a canon would likely be secure. On Moore, see Tracee L. Howell,
“The Monstrous Alchemy of Alan Moore: Promethea as Literacy Narrative,” Studies in the
Novel 47 (2015), 381–398.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi ��.��63/9789004337961_007

“ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find The(ir Wisdo)m ” 91

Northrop Frye: the “poems on [the] two beasts, Behemoth and Leviathan,. . . .
are remarkable poems, but we wonder about their relevance to Job’s boils and
murdered children.”4 Similarly, Hebrew Bible scholar David Wolfers notes
that although the reader looking for some sense of resolution might expect a
“conclusion” at this point in the narrative, this is not what we find:

Instead, after a promising opening, [the second divine speech] tails away
into a wordy description of two beasts . . . whom the majority of scholars
identify as hippopotamus and crocodile, celebrating their strength and
invulnerability. So read, Bernard Shaw’s description of the speech as a
“noble irrelevance” [sic] is perhaps the best that can be said of it.5

Admittedly, Wolfers says this about the speech “as currently understood,” and
as a preface to offering a rather different reading from that of his contempo-
raries. In that context, his reference to a “noble irrelevance,” though a misquo-
tation, has proven to be rather perceptive, as Frye’s description of this part
of the book, which has the Creator “triumphantly display[ing] a number of
trump cards that seem to belong to another game,” is, for its advocates today,
no longer the precursor to an “ignoble . . . retort,”6 but instead all part of what
we might call a “noble non sequitur.” For where most interpreters once saw
the Creator as well within his rights to put an “impertinent” Job in his place, a
view that can still be seen in the exegesis of Hartley, Longman, and Whybray,7
it has now become increasingly common to see the God who speaks from the
whirlwind as exercising a kind of divine freedom—the “freedom to refuse
rules and rationality and principles of utility, even aesthetics”8—that belongs
to a very different paradigm, wisdom, and (in that sense) “game” from the one

4  Northrop Frye, “Blake’s Reading of the Book of Job (1),” in Angela Esterhammer (ed.), Northrop
Frye on Milton and Blake. The Collected Works of Northrop Frye. Vol. 16, Toronto 2005, 369.
5  David Wolfers, Deep Things out of Darkness: The Book of Job; Essays and a New English
Translation, Grand Rapids, MI—Kampen 1995, 161.
6  Frye, ibid. His reference to God’s “ignoble and impertinent retort” here expands on Shaw’s
7  See John E. Hartley, The Book of Job (NICOT), Grand Rapids, MI 1988, 534–37; Tremper
Longman III, Job (BCOT), Grand Rapids, MI 2012, 450–51; and Norman Whybray, Job, Sheffield
2008, 19–20, 190–191. Historically, the “impertinent” Job reading is often sympathetic to Elihu,
though this only applies here to Hartley, ibid., 485–486. Given the positive view of Elihu in
C.L. Seow, Job 1–21: Interpretation and Commentary, Grand Rapids, MI 2013, 97–101, it will be
interesting to see his exegesis of 42:6.
8  David J.A. Clines, Job 38–42 (WBC), Nashville, TN 2012, 1184.
92 Ansell

that Job has been living within. Whether in the “wild beauty”9 it reveals or
in the bewildering irony it makes use of, God’s answer is “irrelevant” to Job’s
questioning, for Alter, Clines, Gutiérrez, O’Connor, and Vawter, inter alia,10 pre-
cisely because the Creator wants to subvert, relativize, and expand Job’s view
of the cosmos.
While this may have the merit of seeing Job as not so much sinful in his
protest as finite in his perspective, the ironic/noble non sequitur reading of
Behemoth and Leviathan, arguably, still makes the text conform to standard
theological expectations (such as divine inscrutability) that do not do it jus-
tice. But here, as elsewhere, the book of Job will prove to be full of surprises.
To see how this is the case for the fantastic beasts of Job 40–41, we will need to
pay close attention to how the positive wisdom that they disclose from within
God’s second response to Job serves to provoke and evoke Job’s own (frequently
misunderstood) final words in the verses that follow.11
Before we look at the Behemoth and Leviathan in more detail, it will first
be instructive to explore some issues of interpretation that come to the fore in
the book’s opening and closing chapters as these provide the main narrative
with possibilities of meaning that are all-too-easily overlooked. This will alert
us to the kinds of thematic coherence and development that will be vital for
relating the portrayal of the beasts not only to the rest of God’s speech from the
whirlwind in Job 38–41 but also to a motif that is central to the book’s narrative
movement: Job’s remarkable determination to take the Creator to court.
This will allow us to explore two different, though complementary, ways
of probing the role that the beasts play within the book as read in its final
form, and within the canon of the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament. The first will
explore whether the book of Job asks to be read against the backdrop of the
salvation history we know elsewhere from the Hebrew Bible. The second will
seek to understand the Behemoth and Leviathan not as creatures that a sover-
eign Creator uses to put Job in his place (whether as sinfully proud or as blind
to his finitude) but as beings that symbolically disclose, and thus help us dis-
cern, what it means for humanity to face its fear of God and thus find wisdom.

9  Kathleen M. O’Connor, Job (NCBC), Collegeville, MN 2012, 96.

10  See Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry, 2nd rev. ed., New York: 2011, chap 4, especially
137–138; Gustavo Gutiérrez, On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent, Maryknoll,
NY 1987, chap 9, and Bruce Vawter, Job and Jonah: Questioning the Hidden God, New York
1983, chap 8.
11  As J. Gerald Janzen puts it in Job (IBC), Atlanta, GA 1985, 241: we should see “deconstruc-
tion” here as “a function of irony which may serve reconstruction.” See n. 37 below.
“ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find The(ir Wisdo)m ” 93

So while the first angle of interpretation will ask whether the beasts of the
book of Job can be related intertextually to the beasts of the book of Daniel, for
example, the second will conclude by bringing Job 40–41 into an intratextual
conversation with the Wisdom discourse of Job 28.

2 The Beginning and the End

Far from being appreciated for their aesthetic subtlety or ethical sensitivity,
the opening and closing chapters of Job are usually read as straightforwardly
and disconcertingly symmetrical given the way Job’s cattle, camels, oxen, and
donkeys are numbered in the beginning to be doubled in the end, while the
ten sons and daughters who are introduced in 1:2 just before losing their lives
in verses 18–19 are seemingly “replaced” by the ten sons and daughters of 42:13.
For those looking for some kind of response (let alone solution) to the prob-
lem and challenge of evil, it is no wonder that the conclusion to the book is
experienced as “underwhelming” in the extreme. One way we can see that
there might be more going on here than meets the eye, however, is by noting
that Job’s three new daughters are not only named (unlike his sons) but, con-
trary to the stipulations of the Mosaic law, are given an inheritance along with
their brothers (42:15, cf. Num 27:1–11). While this is a surprising development
right at the end of the narrative, it also fits with a close reading of the begin-
ning as there is an intriguing parallel to be drawn between Job’s seven sons
and his seven thousand “sheep” (and/or goats, ‫) ִמ ְקנֵ הּו‬,12 and between his three
daughters and his three thousand “camels” (see 1:2–3). Because a camel would
have been worth far more than a sheep or goat,13 this suggests that Job’s daugh-
ters are valued in a way that defies patriarchal expectations.14 Furthermore,
the six thousand camels at the end bear witness to the value of all six of Job’s
daughters just as the fourteen thousand sheep remind us that he has had born
to him fourteen sons and not only the seven that survive.

12  The ET I cite will be the NRSV unless otherwise indicated.

13  Hartley, The Book of Job, 68–69, notes that “[t]he camel was a prestigious animal.” While
the sheep/goats are destroyed by fire in 1:16, the camels are carried off after a carefully
orchestrated raid by the Chaldeans in 1:17, a tri-partite orchestration (contrast the carry-
ing off of oxen and donkeys by the Sabeans in 1:15) that suggests their value.
14  The parallel allows us to read 1:2 differently from Clines, Job 1–20 (WBC), Nashville, TN
1989, 13, when he claims, “the ratio of seven sons to three daughters reflects the superior
worth attached to sons.”
94 Ansell

Similarly, while the numerous servants—or slaves—might seem to be clas-

sified with the animals rather than with the sons and daughters in 1:2–3, the
book’s own understanding is sufficiently nuanced to call this into question
by the time we reach the final chapter. Here we should note that when Job
does eventually experience blessing again, the fact that he is now said to have
“fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and
a thousand donkeys” (42:12), should lead us to expect that his “very many ser-
vants” (‫ )וַ ֲע ֻב ָּדה ַר ָּבה ְמאֹד‬of 1:3 will also be doubled. But at the end of the story,
servants receive no mention whatsoever. This suggests that the reason they
alone are unnumbered in the opening section is because the author (or final
editor) knows that even though Job’s fortunes will be restored, slavery and ser-
vitude will not.
Although this point is rarely observed,15 it does cohere with the negative
references to the plight of the slave that occur throughout the book. When
Job pictures how much better it would have been if he had died at birth, it is
hardly incidental that in 3:18–19 he sees the grave as a place where “captives . . .
no longer hear the slave driver’s shout (‫( ”)קֹול נֹגֵ ׂש‬NIV, cf. Israel in Exod 3:7)
and “slaves (‫ )וְ ֶע ֶבד‬are freed from their masters.”16 Later, again in the midst of
his own suffering, he speaks of being “like a slave (‫ ) ְּכ ֶע ֶבד‬who longs for the
[evening] shadow” (7:2).
Consistent with this evaluation is the fact that Job’s servants are not actually
classified with his livestock and possessions but, like the servants of Abraham
(see Gen 17:23, 27, cf. Deut 15:16), belong to “his house(hold)” in line with the
fuller understanding of 1:10a concerning the “hedge” that surrounds (i) his per-
son, (ii) “his house,” and (iii) “all that he has,” (i.e. the “possessions” and fruits
of his labour as elaborated in verse 10b)—this being the three-fold distinction
(‫ל־א ֶׁשר־לֹו‬
ֲ ‫ּוב ַעד ָּכ‬
ְ ‫ד־ּביתֹו‬
ֵ ‫ּוב ַע‬ ְ ‫ ) ַב ֲעדֹו‬presupposed by God in the “permission” that is
given in verse 12 with respect to the third, “all that he has” (‫ל־א ֶׁשר־לֹו‬ ֲ ‫ ) ָּכ‬category
What happens though, is that the Satan, in order to claim divine sanction
for taking the lives of Job’s servants and children, chooses to construe the sec-
ond use of this phrase (‫ל־א ֶׁשר־לֹו‬ ֲ ‫ ) ְּב ָכ‬in verse 11 as comprehensive so that God
might be heard as making a two-fold distinction separating Job from every-
thing and everyone else in his life in verse 12. Sadly, interpreters have followed
suit. However, bearing in mind that the Hebrew Bible does not assume our

15  See Nik Ansell, “Commentary: Job 1:1ff and 42:12–15,” Third Way 19.7 (1996), 20.
16  For allusions to national Israel in bondage in Egypt and Babylon here, see John Burnight,
“The ‘Reversal’ of Heilsgeschichte in Job 3,” in: Katherine Dell and William Kynes (eds.),
Reading Job Intertextually, (LHBOTS, 574), 2013, 35–38.
“ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find The(ir Wisdo)m ” 95

atomistic view of the self, if Job’s household and the children “born to him”
(‫וַ ּיִ וָ ְלדּו לֹו‬, 1:2) are included in the “do not stretch out your hand against him”
(‫ ֵא ָליו‬, 1:12), then the verb that God attributes to the Satan in 2:3—“you incited
me against him (‫)וַ ְּת ִס ֵיתנִ י בֹו‬, to destroy him (‫ ) ְל ַב ְּלעֹו‬for no reason”—likely refers
to deception (as in 1 Sam 26:19; 2 Kgs 18:32; Isa 36:18; Jer 38:22; 2 Chr 18:21; and
32:11, 15). Far from their deaths being part of (what systematic theologians
might call) God’s “permissive will,” I suggest, Job’s children, and his servants
too, are thus seen as part of the “him” (‫ )בֹו‬that has been destroyed for “no
[justifiable] reason” (2:3, cf. 1:9; contra NJB).17 Their deaths are literally “for
nothing” (‫) ִחּנָ ם‬.
Nevertheless, while there are children in the end, there are no servants.
Although the book itself gives us no reason to doubt the sincerity of Job’s
insistence that he has never been unjust to his own “male or female slaves”
(‫ ַע ְב ִּדי וְ ֲא ָמ ִתי‬, 31:13), redemption here is not construed as the restoration of the
household that is considered acceptable in the beginning. Exile (to anticipate
the discussion below) is not simply negated by return. It not only makes way
for, but makes the way for, the new. For in the asymmetrical movement from
the first chapter to the last, the implication is that it is Job’s own suffering that
leads him to recognize the unhappy life of the slave and thus do without ser-
vants altogether.

3 My Servant Job; My Servant Israel

Although attending to the book’s macrostructure in this way may seem to

take us away from wrestling with the significance of Behemoth and Leviathan
in Job 40–41, this will actually help us better to come to terms with their place in
the overall plot and purpose of the narrative. The same goes for attending to
the kind of writing with which the book of Job is typically associated.
One of the most frequently made claims about the “wisdom literature” of
the Hebrew Bible concerns its lack of concern for “salvation history” and bibli-
cal narrative. As Roland Murphy puts it:

The most striking characteristic of this literature is the absence of

what one normally considers typically Israelite and Jewish. There is no
mention of the promises to the patriarchs, the Exodus and Moses, the
covenant and Sinai, the promise to David (2 Sam 7) and so forth. . . .

17  On the implications for 38:2 and 42:3, see n. 51 below.
96 Ansell

Wisdom does not re-present the actions of God in Israel’s history; it deals
with daily human experience in the good world created by God.18

Although this claim might seem undeniable with respect to Proverbs, Job, and
Ecclesiastes, it has not gone unchallenged. Murphy’s own argument for seeing
the self-description of Wisdom in Prov 8:30 as reflecting the double “I am” of
Exod 3:14a is a most interesting, and telling, case in point.19 Elsewhere, I have
argued that with respect to Prov 30:10–33, this “absence” is more apparent than
real due to the intertextual relationship that connects this chapter with the
book of Jeremiah.20 It is most interesting, therefore, that it is Jeremiah—along
with Genesis, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Lamentations, and several Psalms—that
has been identified as being especially present in the book of Job according to
recent studies of intertextuality.21
As for the alleged absence of motifs and concerns most often associated
with biblical narrative, mention too should be made of Jamie A. Grant’s help-
ful discussion of “Wisdom and Covenant,” in which he makes the important
observation that, “Wisdom communication is always subtle and skilful, and
so a lack of conspicuous reference does not necessarily indicate the absence
of a theme.”22 What Grant refers to as “contemplative techniques” geared to
engendering serious thought, I have characterized as the indirect, evocative-
provocative way in which “wisdom calls for/th wisdom.”23 Job will provide us
with several examples of this sapiential pedagogy.
One reason why positing a rigid separation between biblical wisdom and
biblical narrative is unhelpful is that it does not do justice to the way in which

18  Roland E. Murphy, The Tree of Life: An Exploration of Biblical Wisdom Literature, 3rd rev.
ed., Grand Rapids, MI 2002, 1.
19  Roland E. Murphy, Proverbs (WBC), Nashville, TN 1998, 52–53.
20  Nicholas Ansell, “For the Love of Wisdom: Scripture, Philosophy, and the Relativisation of
Order,” in Gerrit Glas et al. (eds.), The Future of Creation Order, Dordrecht, forthcoming.
21  See Yohan Pyeon, You Have Not Spoken What Is Right About Me: Intertextuality and the
Book of Job, (StBibLit, 45), New York 2003; Dell and Kynes (eds.), Reading Job Intertextually;
Hartley, The Book of Job, 11–15; and Seow, Job 1–21, 41–42. On Deut, see Wolfers, Deep Things
out of Darkness, 111–18.
22  J.A. Grant, “Wisdom and Covenant,” in Tremper Longman, Peter Enns (eds.), Dictionary of
the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry and Writings, Downers Grove, IL 2008, 859. Emphasis
23  See Nicholas Ansell, “This Is Her Body . . . : Judges 19 as Call to Discernment,” in Andrew
Sloane (ed.), Tamar’s Tears: Evangelical Engagements with Feminist Old Testament
Hermeneutics, Eugene, OR 2011, 112–70, especially 160.
“ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find The(ir Wisdo)m ” 97

the story of Job seems to be set in the time of the Patriarchs.24 That in itself
is an invitation to read it alongside the Pentateuch—a feature that fits well with
an intertextual connection between the Abraham narrative and the Job narra-
tive concerning the “dust and ashes” theme, to be discussed below, and the par-
allel and contrast that the reader is surely expected to draw between Job 42:15
and Num 27:1–11, referred to above. That it is natural within the Hebrew Bible
itself for Job to be associated with Noah, as he is in Ezek 14:14,20,25 underlines
the same point as does the parallel that is drawn between Uz, the geographi-
cal location mentioned in 1:1, and Edom according to Lam 4:21. The Edomite
nature of the names of the three “friends” in 2:11 (a fascinating contrast with
the Hebrew names of the three daughters of 42:14) also bears mention.26
However ancient its narrative setting, scholars tend to assume that the book
of Job took shape, and certainly achieved its final form, during (or soon after)
the time of the Exile. As two other figures associated with innocent suffering,
Isaiah’s “Servant” (Isa 40–55) and Daniel’s “Son of Man” (Dan 7:13–14, NIV, NJB,
ESV), are also closely associated with this period,27 one can see the inherent
plausibility of this proposal.28 For here, diachronic concerns with the com-
plexities of relative dating should not lead us to overlook the fact that this kind

24  See Clines, Job 1–20, lvii. Cf. his comment on the camels of 1:3 in ibid., 14.
25  See Paul M. Bryce, “ ‘Even if Noah, Daniel, and Job Were in It. . .’ (Ezekiel 14:14): The Case
of Job and Ezekiel,” in Dell and Kynes (eds.), Reading Job Intertextually, 118–28, especially
26  On Uz and the Edomite names of the friends, see Clines, Job 1–20, 10, 57–59.
27  Read in its narrative setting, Daniel’s “Son of Man” motif (understood as Israel/Adam
regaining sovereignty over the beasts/nations—cf. Daniel’s compatriots and the beasts
of Dan 3—on which see n. 29 below) is exilic. Furthermore, many scholars for whom a
second century BCE date for the final form of Daniel is beyond doubt, are open to Dan 7
coming from an earlier period, not least because of its (Aramaic and thematic) con-
nections to Dan 2. See the cautious conclusion along these lines, plus an openness to
there being a sixth century BCE kernel to Dan 2, in P.R. Davies, Daniel (OTG), Sheffield
1998, 58–60 and 48. That an exilic version of what we now know as Dan 2–7 could have
been known to the final editor/author of Job is not implausible. Cf. Seow’s comments, in
Job 1–21, 41, on “earlier antecedents” to Dan 1–6, which he combines with caution regard-
ing “direction of influence.” Cf. n. 58 below.
28  Noting that most scholars date Job between the seventh and second centuries BCE,
Clines, Job 1–20, lvii, also remarks that many favour the sixth century BCE due to the inno-
cent suffering theme associated with Isaiah’s Servant and the Book of Jeremiah. On the
reference to Job (and Daniel) in Ezek 14:14, 20, also a sixth century text, see Bryce, “ ‘Even if
Noah, Daniel, and Job Were in It . . .’ (Ezekiel 14:14),” 12–22. For a cumulative argument for
late sixth/early fifth century, see Seow, Job 1–21, 39–46.
98 Ansell

of argument for a (broadly) “exilic” backdrop to Job rests on, or appeals to, a
resonance with Isaiah and Daniel that is thematic and narratival.
The connection, in other words, is not simply one of topic or subject matter
thinly conceived. Arguably, the suffering “Servant” and “Son of Man” were orig-
inally terms for Israel (or for a representative group within Israel, hence the
connection between Dan 7:13–14 and the “holy ones” of 7:18, 21–22, 25–27) in
its special calling to the nations.29 Read in this light, one can see Job as another
suffering servant with whom Israel—and not simply the individual sufferer—
was called to identify.30 This makes sense of the parallel between the priestly
role that Job plays at the end of the story (see 42:8) and Israel’s ancient calling
to represent God to the world and the world to God (see Exod 19:5–6).31
Thus, even if 42:6 is understood as saying that Job “repent[s]” in some
sense—we will return to the translation and thus interpretation of the relevant
phrase below—the overall picture supports the claim that the Israelites in (or
recently returned from) Exile were to see their role in the world in the light of
Job’s suffering and restoration. Given the lament and protest literature we find
in the psalms, it is not hard to imagine that there were faithful Israelites who,
like Job, individually and communally refused to explain away their suffering
as a punishment for sin (contra the perspective of Job’s “friends”). It is surely no
coincidence, therefore, that the same Scriptures that focus on the redemptive
power of a certain kind of innocent suffering, notably Isa 40–55—read within
Isaiah as a whole—parallel the restoration, and more, of Job’s fortunes by fore-
seeing a return from Exile and even the dawn of a new age or new creation.
All of which allows us to return to the slavery theme, as discussed above,
in greater depth. For if the Israelites, currently or recently in Exile in a Gentile
land, experienced a kinship with the Edomite Job,32 and if they noticed the

29  For this reading of Dan 7, see the very full discussion in N.T. Wright, The New Testament
and the People of God, London 1993, chap 10, especially 280–299. On the “Servant,” see
H.G.M. Williamson, Variations on a Theme: King, Messiah and Servant in the Book of Isaiah,
Carlisle 1998, and Hartley, The Book of Job, 15.
30  See Nik Ansell, “Commentary: Job 40:15–19; 42:1, 6,” Third Way 26.9 (2003), 19, and N.T.
Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, Downers Grove, IL 2006, 62–72. For Job as alluding to
Isa 40–55 rather than vice-versa, see Will Kynes, “Job and Isaiah 40–55: Intertextualities in
Dialogue,” in Dell and Kynes (eds.), Reading Job Intertextually, 94–105.
31  On seeing Exod 19:5b–6a as: “(Because) the whole earth is mine, (. . .) you shall be for me a
priestly kingdom and a holy nation,” see Nik Ansell, “Commentary: Exodus 19:5–6,” Third
Way 25.9 (2002), 22.
32  This would have been a challenge for those Israelites who were aware that Edom
took delight in the destruction of the Temple, according to Ps 137:7. At the same time,
however, Jacob (Israel) was the brother of Esau, the progenitor of Edom according to
“ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find The(ir Wisdo)m ” 99

absence of slaves at the end of the book, they would have been reminded of
their own history and thus their suffering in Egypt which led, in God’s grace, to
the birth of their nation in the Exodus. Moses had told them that the experi-
ence of being slaves under Pharaoh was to teach them to show compassion to
the alien (Exod 22:20 [ET v. 21]; Lev 19:33–34) and to be generous to their own
slaves when they freed them (Deut 15:12–15,18). So far so good, we might say.
But there is evidence that the book of Job, which is often thought to be in con-
versation with Deuteronomy,33 wants to push its readers beyond the limits of
the Mosaic Law here. After all, the same passage from Deut 15 also recognizes
that some slaves may not want to be set free (vv. 16–17). So provision is made
for the male slave “who loves you and your household” to become “your slave
forever” (‫עֹולם‬
ָ ‫—) ְלָך ֶע ֶבד‬an arrangement that may also hold good for “your
female slave” or “slave-girl” (REB) (‫) ַל ֲא ָמ ְתָך‬. To see how the book of Job offers
a response to this, we will have to take note of how this theme actually shows
up (in an unexpected and overlooked way) in the section on Behemoth and
Although the two beasts are often seen as exemplifying God’s sovereign
freedom in a way that functions to undermine human hubris, one alternative
interpretation of their significance within the second speech (to be explored
further below) is that they are invoked by God to mirror back to Job something
of the greatness to which humanity is called. If this reading can be sustained,
it is very telling, given the present discussion, that part-way through a series
of questions designed to underline how easily the beasts can resist all human
attempts to rule them, God asks Job in 40:28–29 (ET 41:4–5):

Will (Leviathan) make a covenant with you

to be taken as your servant forever (‫עֹולם‬ ָ ‫?) ְל ֶע ֶבד‬
Will you play with it (‫ ) ַה ְת ַׂש ֶחק־ּבֹו‬as with a bird,
or will you put it on leash for your girls (‫רֹותיָך‬ ֶ ‫?) ְלנַ ֲע‬

Of special interest here are two brief but deliberate intertextual echoes, the
first of which cites a key phrase from the voluntary servitude pattern found
in Deut 15:17,34 while the second refers back, again via a short quotation, to
Ps 104:26 in which a description of the sea and its creatures concludes either

Gen 36:1,8,19,43. For God as Esau, see the analysis of the Jacob/Esau encounter in Gen 32
in Nicholas Ansell, The Annihilation of Hell: Universal Salvation and the Redemption of
Time in the Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann, Milton Keyes, 2013, 353–359.
33  See n. 21 above.
34  Apart from Deut 15:17 and Job 40:28 (41:4), this phrase appears only in 1 Sam 27:1.
100 Ansell

with a reference to “Leviathan that (Yhwh) formed to [play] in it” (NRSV),

or, if we translate differently, with a reference to “Leviathan that you (Yhwh)
formed so that you could play with it (‫( ”) ְל ַׂש ֶחק־ּבֹו‬see NJB, NJPS).35 It is the latter
understanding that is echoed here in Job 40:29a (ET 41:5a). Furthermore, the
two quotations are integrated as the “male servant” from Deuteronomy fea-
tures in the first in verse 28b, while the “female slave/slave girl” from the same
passage is thematically present, after the second citation, in the reference to
Job’s “girls” in verse 29, though the poet has here substituted ‫ נַ ֲע ׇרה‬for the ‫ׇא ׇמה‬
of Deut 15:17 so that, thanks to a homonym, the Leviathan is not only a slave
among the slave-girls but also “a bird” among the “sparrows.”36
Although the imagery is humorous, part of the meaning seems to be that
if the Creator knows how to play with Leviathan “in wisdom” (Ps 104:24, cf.
Job 40:19/Prov 8:22; 8:30, ‫ ְמ ַׂש ֶח ֶקת ְל ָפנָ יו‬, ‘Wisdom playing before Yhwh’]), then
is there not a wisdom available for humans that would make our fearful and
futile attempts at mastering Leviathan beside the point? If so, placing Job in the
role of God playing with Leviathan in verse 40:29a (ET 41:5a) is not an instance
of satire but rather a provocative invitation!37 As for 40:28 (41:4), God’s think-
ing here, if read in the light of the slavery critique we have been examining,
seems to be that if such servitude is not merely unacceptable to, but actually
out of place for, a creature that is “king over all that are proud” (41:26 [41:34]),
should we not see this form of servitude (contrast 42:7–8) as unacceptable
for a human being made as God’s image? Does the text only mean to tell us
that there is something absurd about Leviathan letting itself become a slave
among slaves—more specifically an older male slave that is “put . . . on a leash
for (Job’s) (young slave-)girls”? Or is this also—as I would argue—an (intertex-
tual) invitation to now see even the slave-girl of verse 29b (5b) as made in the
image of the God of Ps 104?
In other words, the Mosaic Law may say that you should not force
someone to leave your service—or your household—against their will in the

35  See Gert Kwakkel’s contribution to this volume. For evidence of this and other allusions
to Ps 104 in Job, see Christian Frevel, “Telling the Secrets of Wisdom: The Use of Psalm 104
in the Book of Job,” in Dell and Kynes (eds.), Reading Job Intertextually, 157–68.
36  There is probably an echoing here of Job’s reference, in the Hebrew word-play of 12:7, to
“Behemoth” and “the birds.”
37  Thus Janzen, Job, 244–246, in the light of 241, where Janzen rightly sees that the “beauti-
fully wild freedom” of the animal kingdom in 38:39–39:30 is not a confounding non sequi-
tur, but a divine “enticing [of] Job into a transformed understanding of his vocation as
lord of the animal kingdom.” My emphasis.
“ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find The(ir Wisdo)m ” 101

seventh year. Likewise, Israel should not forget to be generous to those who do
accept their freedom. But in both scenarios, slavery as an institution is seen as
continuing—its limited nature and capacity to offer hospitality notwithstand-
ing. However, if the people of God were to follow Job’s lead the other side of
Exile, they could go one step further than Deut 15. In this line of thought, as
the new age dawned and God’s people returned to their land (seen as a second
Exodus in Isa 40:1–21; 43:16–19; 51:9–11, and elsewhere), slavery was not to be
restored or even redeemed (cf. Job 42:7–8).38 Instead—and here we may think
of the expanded Jubilee language of Isa 61:1–2—it was to become a thing of
the past.

4 Job’s Day in Court?

If the themes of Exile and Return and old age/new age may be detected in the
macrostructure of the narrative, it will be fruitful to see how a reading that is
attuned to redemptive-historical motifs, echoes, and connotations might shed
light on the way the book’s central plot comes into focus and finds resolution.
We will then be well placed to see how Behemoth and Leviathan play their
particular role.
I have already suggested that Job’s desire to take God to court, which begins
tentatively but becomes forthright (see 9:3,3914–20,32–35; 13:3, 22b; 16:19; 19:27;
23:3–7; and 29–31, especially 31:35–37), plays a central role in the way the
story unfolds.40 This intensely covenantal form of protest (cf. Ps 44:9–26) also
coheres well with the fact that Job, whilst refusing to curse God (1:22; 2:9–10,41
contra 1:11), also tenaciously maintains his innocence throughout (see 9:15;
23:10–12; and 31:1–40). This is a stance that would seem to find support in 42:7,
when God says to Job’s friends: “You have not spoken of [or to]42 me what is
right, as my servant Job has”—a point that is reiterated in the very next verse.

38  Read within the Christian canon, the book points beyond the “servant” language of 42:7–8
as the household of God in which Job serves freely is understood in the New Testament as
a household for sons and daughters who inherit (Gal 4:1–7; Rev 21:7).
39  For ‫ ׇל ִריב‬as “contend” legally, see Isa 3:13.
40  For a helpful summary of this motif, see David J.A. Clines, Job 21–37 (WBC), Nashville, TN
2006, 1033. Cf. Norman C. Habel, The Book of Job (OTL), Philadelphia 1985, 54–57.
41  On the interpretation of Job’s wife in 2:9–10, see Carol A. Newsom, “The Book of Job:
Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections,” in NIB, Vol. 4, Nashville, TN, 355–356.
42  See Seow, Job 1–21, 91–92. Cf. n. 46 below.
102 Ansell

For the interpreter open to the possibility that Job does finally have his day
in court, in contrast with those more traditional readings that would see him
being put in his place by a Creator he has no real right to question, there is at
least one major objection that has to be faced. For what are we to make of the
fact that Job himself, in 42:6, responds to God’s words by saying, “Therefore I
despise myself (‫) ֶא ְמ ַאס‬, and repent in dust and ashes (‫ל־ע ָפר וָ ֵא ֶפר‬
ָ ‫?”)וְ נִ ַח ְמ ִּתי ַע‬
Does this retraction not mean that there must be something wrong with Job’s
protest against the Creator? Convinced that this is the case, Hartley goes as far
as to say that Job “surrenders to God the last vestige of his self-righteousness—
he withdraws his avowal of innocence.”43 If this “self-righteous” reading is
correct, this certainly drives enough of a wedge between Job and Daniel’s Son
of Man, and between his character and that of the Servant of Isaiah, that the
reading that would see in Job’s suffering the perseverance of the faithful (see
Dan 7:25–27, cf. 12:10–12), and thus a “narrative prefiguring”44 of Israel’s Exile
and return, would be called into question.
Much, then, depends on how we interpret 42:6. But that is how it should
be, I suggest, because here, in accordance with the kind of “wisdom calls for/
th wisdom” pedagogy referred to above, we have a Hebrew sentence that has
been deliberately written such that it can be translated in no fewer than three
different ways. In other words, 42:6 functions as a kind of wisdom test—or
aporia (cf. 1 Kgs 3:5–28)—that all readers are called to negotiate in the light of
(their reading of) the rest of the book and the discernment it discloses, calls
for, and calls forth.
In responding to this call of/for wisdom, not all interpreters, and thus not
all translations, answer that challenge in the same way. Thus while so many
contemporary versions, despite different theological sensitivities, understand
Job to say “I repent in dust and ashes” (ASV, ESV, GNT, KJV, NASB, NET, NIV, NJB,
NKJV, NRSV, WEB, cf. REB), it is most interesting that the NJPS reads, “Therefore
I recant and relent, Being but dust and ashes,” thus shifting the focus to his
smallness before God. While, in one sense, this does not provide us with a
reading that would unambiguously vindicate Job and thus break with inter-
pretations that would have him put in his place after all, it does help us take a
major step in that direction both by indicating that ‫ ׇמ ַאס‬, the verb translated as
“despise myself” in the NRSV, NET, and NIV (cf. “I abhor myself” in the ASV, KJV,

43  Hartley, The Book of Job, 537.

44  As a prefiguring set narratively long before the Exile, the Book of Job parallels the pre-
figuring of Exile and Return in Deut 28:36–69 and 30:1–10, respectively. The links to Job’s
suffering in Deut 28:31, 32, 35 are noteworthy.
“ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find The(ir Wisdo)m ” 103

NKJV), frequently means reject or repudiate.45 Although the NJPS is closer to

those translations that understand Job to be referring to his own words rather
than to himself here (e.g., NJB: “I retract what I have said” cf. NLT2), it seems
preferable to see the object as shared with ‫נׇ ַחם‬, the accompanying verb in the
sentence. This dovetails nicely with the second thing that the NJPS brings out:
the fluidity of the Hebrew preposition ‫ ַעל‬, which it takes to mean “as” rather
than “in” here, although this overlooks the fact that when ‫ ַעל‬follows ‫ נׇ ַחם‬else-
where in the Hebrew Bible, it means to change one’s mind about (or attitude
concerning) something (see Exod 32:12, 14; Jer 18:8, 10; 26:13, 19; Amos 7:3, 6; and
Jon 3:10).
In putting these points together, we can appreciate that while Job does
admit that there is much he did not understand (42:3), he is not expressing
contrition. If we take the words of 42:4—“Hear, and I will speak; I will ques-
tion you, and you declare to me (‫הֹוד ֵיענִ י‬
ִ ְ‫—”)ו‬as Job retracting his vow of silence
made in 40:4–5 by quoting God’s words of 38:3 and 40:7 back to the Creator in
verse 4b, then Job can now be heard to “declare” to God in 42:5:

I once knew you only by hearsay,

now my eyes have seen you;

In this movement from hearing to seeing, we have a clue to understanding the

“Hear, and I will speak” of verse 4a as these words, like verse 4b, seem to be
a quotation although they are not attributed to God elsewhere in the book.
However, the theme of “hear” and “speak” combined with the contrast between
hearing and seeing does suggest that Job is echoing God’s words in Num 12:6–8
(cf. the parallel between the two-fold “my servant Moses” and four-fold “my
servant Job” in Num 12:7–8 and Job 42:7–8 and the divine anger followed by
human mediation of Num 12:9–13 and Job 42:7–9), thus suggesting that there is
a parallel between Job and Moses with respect to the “face to face” relationship
with God that comes to the fore in that passage.46 This fits extremely well with
what Job says next in 42:6:

45  According to H. Wildberger, ‫מאס‬, THAT, Bd. 1, 881, “The rather rich spectrum of usages
indicates that one can assume the basic meaning ‘to want nothing to do with.’” (ET: TLOT,
Vol. 2, 653).
46  See Nicholas Ansell, “ ‘If Her Father Had but Spit in Her Face’: Rethinking the Portrayal
of Miriam in Numbers 12,” Canadian Theological Review 3 (2014), 28–51, esp. 46–47, 50.
A literal translation of Num 12:8 refers to a “mouth to mouth” relationship. This would fit
taking Job 42:7–8 as referring to Job speaking in truth “to” God rather than “of” God. See
n. 42 above.
104 Ansell

Therefore I repudiate
and repent [not in, nor as, but] of dust and ashes.47

Here, far from “withdraw[ing] his avowal of innocence,” Job’s decision to

renounce “dust and ashes,” means he is now free from the outlook and status
to which he feels reduced in 30:19!48
This also fits well with the intertextual presence of Gen 18:27, where we
find the only other occurrence of the phrase “dust and ashes” in the Hebrew
Bible apart from Job 30:19 and 42:6. Here, Abraham, just prior to asking
whether Yhwh will spare Sodom if forty-five rather than fifty righteous people
are found there, prefaces his request by saying, “Let me take it upon myself
to speak to the Lord (‫ל־אד ֹנָ י‬
ֲ ‫) ֶא‬, I who am but dust and ashes (‫) ׇע ׇפר וׇ ֵא ֶפר‬.” As
Janzen has argued, the bold refrain and exclamation of verse 25—“Far be it
from you. . . . that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall
not the Judge of all the earth not do what is just!”—fits the book of Job so well,
as does the witness of the Tiqqune Sopherim to an ancient version of Gen 18:22
that has Yhwh waiting before Abraham—i.e., in the posture of submission or
intercession—to see what Abraham might have to say on the subject. Read in
the light of Gen 18:27, as framed by the complementary “standing before” texts
of 18:22 and 19:27, Job’s repentance involves not only liberation from humilia-
tion, but a proper recognition of the “face to face” relationship that being cre-
ated as God’s image entails. To repent of “dust and ashes,” in other words is
to radically change one mind and attitude concerning what it means to be a
human being.
As all three of these translations—the repenting in, as, and of dust and
ashes—are linguistically possible, my final argument for preferring the third
option will appeal to a certain way of understanding what might account for
such a change in Job’s vision of and for life at this point in the narrative. This
will have everything to do with a certain way of hearing God’s speech in Job
38–41, on Job’s part and ours. And central to that way of hearing is the role that
is played by Behemoth and Leviathan.

47  For helpful analyses, see Samuel E. Balentine, Job (SHBC), Macon, GA 2006, 692–99;
Gutiérrez, On Job, 82–87; Janzen, Job, 254–56; and Newsom, “The Book of Job,” 628–29.
Because I take the in/as/of choice as deliberate test/challenge for the reader, understand-
ing ‫ וְ נִ ַח ְמ ִּתי‬in 42:6 as “I am consoled” can at best be a secondary meaning, contra Clines,
Job 38–42, 1218–1221.
48  See Gutiérrez, On Job, 87.
“ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find The(ir Wisdo)m ” 105

5 Behemoth and Leviathan—Redemptive-Historical Connotations?

Although God’s two speeches from the whirlwind are often heard as a rebuff to
Job, they constitute a genuine response to his protest, repeating at least sixty
key terms from Job’s first speech in 3:3–26.49 It is worth noting, therefore, that
the Leviathan who takes up the greater part of God’s second speech, is first
mentioned by Job himself in 3:8, when he wishes that the night of his con-
ception had been negated by the primordial dragon swallowing the moon. So
when the Creator does “rouse up Leviathan” (3:8), so to speak, in 41:1, whether
Job still wishes to curse the day of his birth is being treated as a live question.50
Arguably, one important key to what God is saying from the whirlwind lies
in understanding what the NRSV and NIV take to be the two references to
God’s “counsel” that frame God’s speech in 38:2 and 42:3, as references to God’s
“intentions” (see NJB)—‫ ֵע ׇצה‬being a term that may indicate God’s purposes in,
and plans for, history (e.g. Isa 5:19).51 This, of course, fits very well with the ear-
lier discussion about how the book of Job is written in a way that can resonate
with the sufferings of (a faithful group within) Israel during the Exile. And this,
in turn, suggests that the Behemoth and Leviathan are, at least in part, a refer-
ence to Israel’s enemies.
The description of the two beasts, in other words, may be read on at least
two levels. With this possibility in mind, the next section will focus on their
symbolic significance with respect to Job’s final rejection of his “dust and
ashes” status, while the present section will ask whether some aspects of their
description may be said to have redemptive-historical echoes or connotations
in keeping with the idea that the book of Job was always supposed to be read
alongside, and in relation to, the salvation history central to other parts of the
Hebrew Bible.

49  See David A. Dorsey, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament: A Commentary on
Genesis–Malachi, Grand Rapids, MI 1999, 171. For links beyond Job 3, see Habel, The Book
of Job, 530–532.
50  For a helpful discussion of the “life” versus “death-wish” imagery in God’s response, see
Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry, chap 4.
51  Al Wolters, ‫יָ ַעץ‬, yā‘aṣ, NIDOTTE, Vol. 2, 483, argues regarding Job 38:2; 42:3, “Here ‫ֵע ׇצה‬
does not refer to “counsel” in the sense of advice, but rather to the providential plan of
God . . . in ruling the world.” Unfortunately, ahistorical understandings of providence may
be attributed to the text. Clines, Job 38–42, 1096, in seemingly opposing the cosmic to the
historical here, prefers to speak of “the divine Design.” If God has been deceived in 2:3, as
suggested above, then a Design reading makes less sense than a focus on God planning
and working to put things right in history.
106 Ansell

To that end, we will first briefly explore the way God introduces us to the
first beast, courtesy of Alter’s translation of 40:15–18:

15 Look, pray: Behemoth, whom I made with you,

grass like cattle he eats.
16 Look, pray, the power in his loins,
the virile strength (‫ )וְ אֹנֹו‬in his belly’s muscles.
17 He makes his tail stand (‫ ;יַ ְחּפֹץ זְ נָ בֹו‬LXX: ἔστησεν οὐρὰν) like a cedar,
his balls’ (‫ ) ַפ ֲח ָדו‬sinews twine together (Vulg.: nervi testiculorum eius
perplexi sunt).
18 His bones are bars of bronze,
his limbs like iron rods.52

Although Alter subscribes to the common (but debatable) identification of the

Behemoth with the hippopotamus, and like other exegetes, tends to allow this
identification to drive his exegesis, his comments on the cedar tree reference in
verse 17 do raise an important issue for that approach when he observes, “the
exiguous tail of the hippopotamus scarcely fits the bill, but in all likelihood,
‘tail’ is a euphemism for a different part of the male animal’s anatomy.”53
Although the notion of a euphemism (cf. the “feet” in Exod 4:24) implies
that “tail” is the correct translation if not the literal referent, some scholars
have argued that the meaning of ‫ זׇ נׇ ב‬here, in line with its (“colloquial”) usage
in extra-biblical Hebrew, may well denote the “different part” that Alter has
in mind in a fairly straightforward way.54 A third alternative (to be explored
further in the next section) is to argue that, in keeping with the reference to its
“virile strength” (‫ )וְ אֹנֹו‬in 16b (cf. Gen 49:3; Deut 21:17) and the probable reference

52  Robert Alter, The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes; A Translation with Commentary,
New York 2010, 169–170.
53  Alter, The Wisdom Books, 170, n. 17.
54  Thus Robert Gordis, The Book of Job: Commentary, New Translation, and Special Studies,
New York 1978, 447, invoking ‫ אֹון‬at 16b (cf. “virile strength” above). In the poetic transla-
tion of Stephen Mitchell, The Book of Job, New York 1992, 40:17 is rendered: “His penis
stiffens like a pine/ his testicles bulge with vigor.” Mitchell justifies his translation in ibid.,
126–27, by claiming not only that ‫ זְ נָ בֹו‬is a “euphemism” here, as Aquinas’ teacher, Albert
the Great recognized (i.e., of Vulg.: “caudam suam”), but also that ‫“ זְ נָ בֹו‬stands for the geni-
tal member” in the rabbinic work, Tanhuma 10). HALOT, 274, infers “phallus” as a possible
meaning for ‫ זׇ נׇ ב‬but offers no examples from the Hebrew Bible. F. Delitzsch, Commentary
on the Book of Job II, trans. Francis Bolton, Edinburgh 1866, 359, n. 2, cites a Tg. that under-
stands ‫ זׇ נׇ ב‬as “penis” here. Curiously, DCH: 6: 676, lists ‫ ַּפ ַחד‬v as “penis” with reference to
v. 17b. This would presumably leave “tail” as the meaning in 17a.
“ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find The(ir Wisdo)m ” 107

to its testicles in 17b,55 the way in which this nonchalant, yet virile creature
stiffens its tail in 17a has phallic connotations.56
If there is a reference to the membrum virile of the Behemoth in 17a, regard-
less of whether this is the result of straightforward denotation, euphemistic
denotation, or connotation, what is its significance? Given the interest of the
present section, one way of connecting Job 40:17 to the concerns of salvation
history present elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible would be to say that this erection
of the Behemoth fits well with the explicit references to the phallic aggression
of Israel’s enemies found in Ezek 23:20 and 16:26 (see NJB). That an allusion
to the kind of fertility religion that is highlighted and denounced in Ezekiel’s
imagery has been detected in Job 40:20–21 also merits attention at this point.57
To be clear: my argument here is not that a phallic interpretation is the only,
or even the primary, meaning of verse 17 (on which more will be said in the
next section); it is simply that the description of the first beast might call for
the kind of intertextual sensitivity that will be missed by reading strategies
that sever Wisdom literature from the rest of the Hebrew Bible. The intriguing
possibility that the reference to the Behemoth “eating grass like an ox” (v. 15)
might allude to the bestial behaviour of Babylon’s Nebuchadnezzar that we
know from Dan 4:25, 32; 5:21 (or vice versa) should not be rejected a priori.58

55  This is well attested here: in Vulg., also Syr., and Tg. Ket. (cf. Lev 21:20 in Tg. Onq.) See
also ‫ ַפ ַחד‬VI as “testicle” in DCH 6: 676, and the discussion of the “dual” form in Delitzsch,
Job, 359–60.
56  That a literal tail here has “sexual connotations” is the view of Marvin H. Pope, Job:
Introduction, Translation, and Notes (AB), New York 1965, 272, my emphasis. I concur. In
his 3rd ed., New York 1973, 323–24, he adds: “The term ‘tail’ is inevitably suggestive of
sexual sense in the light of similar euphemisms in several languages.” But “suggestive”
is the key term for the Hebrew, not “euphemism.” His introductory remarks on 17a still
assume a literal tail.
57  Wolfers, who sees in Behemoth and Leviathan, the story of Job/Judah and Assyria, respec-
tively, translates 40:20a and 21a as: “For the hills provide [the Behemoth] his god. . . . Under
the thorny lotus he prostitutes himself,” in Deep Things out of Darkness, 371. The medi-
eval interpretation, also present in the Church Fathers (see Manlio Simonetti and Marco
Conti [eds.], Job [ACCS], Downers Grove, IL 2006, 208–17), that the beasts symbolize the
Devil, could also lead to seeing the portrayal of Behemoth as sexual, thanks in part to
the Vulgate, as cited above at 40:17b. See Thomas Aquinas, The Literal Exposition on Job:
A Scriptural Commentary Concerning Providence, trans. Anthony Damico, Atlanta, GA
1989, 449–51.
58  Seow, Job 1–21, 41, refers to “certain affinities” between Job and Dan 1–6, noting that “the
story of Nebuchadnezzar’s madness in Daniel 4 . . . has tantalizing links with the Elihu
speeches.” Cf. Northrop Frye, The Great Code. The Bible and Literature, Toronto 2014, 232:
“Daniel’s story of Nebuchadnezzar’s turning into a variety of the behemoth is clearly
a parallel to Ezekiel’s earlier identification [see Ezek 23:1–8] of the leviathan with the
108 Ansell

If the case for seeing salvation-historical connotations here has promise, the
case for seeing the second beast in such a light is greatly helped from the out-
set by the fact that “Leviathan” is clearly used to refer to a historical enemy in
Isa 27:1 and perhaps also in Ps 74:1–14.59
While much of the description of the Behemoth implies invulnerabil-
ity (40:17b,18,24) and fearlessness (v. 23) rather than aggression, the far more
extensive description of Leviathan, which forms the conclusion to God’s
speech, highlights the terror it inspires (41:1, 17 [ET 41:9, 25]) and the extreme
danger that it represents (vv. 12–13,23 [20–21,31]). If we put together 40:18 and
41:19 (41:27), then even Behemoth’s “limbs of iron” and “bones of bronze” are
“as straw” and “rotten wood” to Leviathan. This suggests that drawing a parallel
between the two beasts of Job and the four beasts of the book of Daniel is not
inappropriate as the latter’s description of Israel’s all-too-historical enemies
(see Dan 7:3–8, 19–21) not only associates bronze and iron with the fourth beast
(see 7:7,19), but also moves in the direction of increasing danger and terror.
In the case of Job 40:15–41:26 (–41:34), taken as a whole, we might also
describe the movement that brings God’s second speech to a close as one of
apocalyptic intensification. Thus what seems intended as a description of two
fantastic but real creatures, due to their placement at the end of a long list
of well-known, (mostly) wild animals in 38:39–39:30, begins (i) in a relatively
low-key fashion with an invulnerable yet not overtly aggressive creature that in
some, but not all, respects resembles a hippopotamus,60 and then (ii) moves
on to describe a far more aggressive creature that initially seems to be a croco-
dile, until (iii) the language used to describe it starts to take on an apocalyptic
tone (cf. Dan 7), when we see that the Leviathan sneezes lightening, breathes
fire and smoke (41:11–13 [41:19–21]), and makes the sea around it “boil like a pot”
(v. 23 [31]). Far beyond the strictures usually imposed on Wisdom literature, we
have a divine revelation from a whirlwind (an “open heaven”61) in which the

Pharaoh of Egypt.” On the possibility that a “proto-Daniel” could predate and thus be
alluded to in an exilic Job, see nn. 27–28 above.
59  In the case of Isa 27:1, it refers to Tyre (cf. Isa 23). See also the contribution of Jaap Dekker
in this volume. In the case of Ps 74, Egypt and the Exodus are at least connoted.
60  The internal testicles of the hippopotamus, noted by Clines, Job 38–42, 1151, are at odds
with 17b. Wolfers, Deep Things out of Darkness, 191n7, points out that in addition to lack-
ing a large tail, it does not chew the cud, and is not associated with the mountains or the
Jordan. Similarly, the crocodile does not have a sharp underside, breathe fire, or swim in
the sea.
61  Here I allude to Christopher Roland, The Open Heaven: A Study of Apocalyptic in Judaism
and Early Christianity, London 1982.
“ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find The(ir Wisdo)m ” 109

reader, like Job, is given a vision of two real yet fantastic creatures in terms of
which an apocalyptic future is beginning to dawn.62
While Behemoth and Leviathan stand out as especially fantastic beasts, the
earlier parts of God’s answer to Job also make much of the other wild animals
that humanity clearly cannot control.63 Once read in the light of Gen 1, we can
discern an implicit reference to the human inability, since the Fall, to live in the
light of the primordial benediction (cf. the parallelism of 1:28a: “God blessed
them/said to them . . .”) to “fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion. . . .”
Yet the God who can wisely negotiate the wildness of creation can also deal
with the forces of evil—these two related but distinguishable foci each being
present in 40:19:

[The Behemoth] is the first of the great acts of God (‫י־אל‬ ִ ‫—)הּוא ֵר‬
ֵ ‫אׁשית ַּד ְר ֵכ‬
only its Maker can approach it with the sword.

Because of the sharp juxtaposition of the themes of creation and fall in this
verse, reading it in the light of Gen 1–3 is instructive. Remarkably, “the first of
the great acts of God”—better translated as: “the beginning of God’s ways”—
is a phrase that, without doubt, connotes God’s creation of, or acquiring of,
Wisdom as the Hebrew here is very close indeed to what we find in Prov 8:22
(‫אׁשית ַּד ְרּכֹו‬
ִ ‫)יְ הוָ ה ָקנָ נִ י ֵר‬. So while this “Wisdom echo” supports taking 40:19a as
referring to a “good wildness” with respect to the Behemoth’s creation, the ref-
erence in verse 19b to the sword, which begins a potentially dangerous hunting
theme that continues into the passage concerning Leviathan (see the refer-
ence to sword in 41:18 [41:26] and the impenetrability of the beasts in 40:24 and
40:25–41:21 [ET 41:1–29]), suggests that in a fallen world, God can effectively
confront and subdue those powerful realities that human beings cannot.
Given this line of interpretation, on one level, God is saying that the present
forces of chaos, which in the worldview(s) of the Ancient Near East are so pri-
mordial that they had to be conquered before a harmonious civilization could
have been established in the beginning, are actually good creatures of God that

62  “It is intriguing,” wrote Frank Moore Cross, in Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays
in the History of the Religion of Israel, Cambridge MA 1973, 345, with reference to finds at
Qumran (for current details, see Seow, Job 1–21, 5), “that Job’s importance was not forgot-
ten in apocalyptic circles.” That Behemoth and Leviathan lie behind the beast from the
land and from the sea in Rev 13 also fits the proto-apocalyptic tone I am arguing for here.
63  The only non-wild animal is the war-horse in 39:19–25. Its fearlessness before sword
and spear (vv. 22–23) link it to Leviathan (41:18 [41:26]). The horse/locust connection in
vv. 19–20 also shows up in Jer 51:27 and, apocalyptically, in Rev 9:7.
110 Ansell

have gone awry, not least because humanity has lost its God-given power to
guide the rest of creation in and towards shalom.64 Thus Job’s Canaanite and
somewhat “Babylonian” reference to the raising of a primordial Leviathan in
3:8 is countered. In God’s speech, there is no reference to a Chaoskampf motif;65
rather there is the assurance that the Creator will regain the authority over
creation and over history that humanity has lost.
For an Israel in Exile, or for an Israel facing the hostility of surrounding
nations and empires, God’s authority over the forces that had gone awry, like
God’s authority over the Behemoth and Leviathan—seen as those fantastic
beasts from (before) the time of Job in terms of which the readers of Job might
view not only (i) the most powerful or dangerous creatures of their own day
(such as the crocodile) but also (ii) those history-shaping forces that threat-
ened Israel’s survival as a people—is grounded in the fact that God is the
Creator of all things.

6 Behemoth and Leviathan—Symbolic Significance

At a theological level, the idea that God’s plans for history (38:2; 42:3) involve
regaining the authority over creation—which naturally includes creation’s his-
tory—that humanity has lost need not mean that human beings, as imagers of
God, are excluded from such divine rule. Nevertheless, one might still object
that, with respect to the book of Job, invoking the imago Dei has little if any-
thing to do with reading the text on its own terms. In this section, therefore,
I will argue that this motif does come to the fore both intertextually and in the
symbolic significance that the Behemoth and Leviathan have for Job. To this
end, my argument will begin with a closer look at 40:17 and will then examine
what is arguably a parallel symbolism present in 40:25–41:26 (ET 41:1–34). This
will then lead, via a discussion of the intertextual presence of Ps 8—the imago
Dei psalm par excellence—to noting how the same motif might cohere with a
particular reading of Job 28.

64  The often overlooked theme of the non-human creature that might “forget wisdom” with
the consequence that it “deals cruelly with its young” (39:16–17) merits further attention
as a reference not to a (modern) “nature” or “natural history” that just is what it is, nor to
the Creator’s inscrutability (contra Clines, Job 38–42, 1126–27 and Habel, The Book of Job,
546–47), but to a creation-wide need for redemption and eschatological fulfilment.
65  To find chaos in the sea of Job 38:9–11 and to see this echoed and balanced by Leviathan
in Job 41, as suggested tentatively by Janzen, Job, 245, does not establish the presence of a
primordial chaos here. Cf. Ansell, The Annihilation of Hell, 372, n. 27.
“ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find The(ir Wisdo)m ” 111

In the previous section, I briefly referred to the discussion concerning

whether the reference to the “tail” of the Behemoth in Job 40:17 is a mistrans-
lation or a euphemism for the phallus. My own preference for seeing ‫ זׇ נׇ ב‬as
a term that has phallic connotations (not denotations) here is three-fold: (i)
this allows us to take ‫ זׇ נׇ ב‬as denoting the “tail” in line with its usage elsewhere
in Exod 4:4; Judg 15:4, etc.; (ii) as the common identification of the Behemoth
with the hippopotamus is at best conjecture, the in/sufficient size of its tail (or
phallus) should not drive our exegesis,66 and (iii) the tail reading, at the level of
denotation, allows us to better make sense of the metaphor of the cedar tree.
To elaborate further on the third point, given the fact that the cedar was the
largest and most majestic of the trees visible in the promised land (cf. 1 Kgs
4:33), it is likely that the metaphor of Job 40:17 refers to more than just stiff-
ness as we are probably expected to imagine a cedar tree growing in its natural
environment. While this certainly befits the tail of a four-footed animal as this
may be easily pictured as standing upright when erect, this is at odds with a
phallic denotation for the Behemoth as the latter would present us with a far
more horizontal image.
Furthermore, this vertical dimension is central to tree symbolism elsewhere
in the Hebrew Bible as trees, like temples and mountains, are seen as connect-
ing heaven and earth (see Gen 2–3; 18:4, 8; 21:33; 1 Sam 22:6; 31:13; 1 Kgs 13:14;
19:5; Prov 3:18). It is an intriguing possibility that the parallel that is sometimes
drawn between trees and human beings rests on the fact that the heaven-earth
connection, as expressed via an “upright posture,” is seen as part of the mean-
ing of the imago Dei.67 Thus when the Israelites arrive at Elim (‫ ֵא ִילם‬, meaning:
gods, mighty men, terebinth trees, temple pilasters) in Num 33:9, we are told
that “there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees” there, which
Tg. Neof. and Tg. Ps.-J. connect to the twelve tribes and to the seventy wise men
of Num 11:16.
That Job is being provoked and encouraged to get up from the ash heap and
face the Creator is evident once we connect the request of Job 38:3 and 40:7:

Gird up (, pray, ‫ )־נָ א‬your loins like a man (‫) ְכגֶ ֶבר‬,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

66  The same goes for the elephant preferred by older commentators. While it is a better
candidate for the phallic interpretation, the possibility that ‫ יַ ְחּפֹץ‬in v. 17 means “arches” in
the sense of “bending” (rather than NRSV: “makes . . . stiff”)—on which see Pope, Job, 1st
ed., 272; 3rd ed., 324—has led, historically, to a focus on its trunk.
67  This need not be construed as mere physical resemblance, contra J. Richard Middleton,
The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1, Grand Rapids, MI 2005, 20, n. 19.
112 Ansell

with the invitation of 40:15a, 16a:

Look (, pray, ‫ ) ִהּנֵ ה־נָ א‬at Behemoth,

which I made just as I made you;
. . . .
(Look, pray, ‫( ) ִהּנֵ ה־נָ א‬i)ts strength is in its loins.

Here the divine intention is not to intimidate, but to encourage Job, after his
demoralized response to the first divine request and speech (see 40:3–5), to
see something of his own status and standing in the power of the Behemoth.
So while the word for “loins” differs, there is a parallel between the “strength”
of Job 40:16a and the strong, virile term ‫ ּגִ ּבֹר‬that is used instead of ‫ ָא ָדם‬in 40:7.
The movement of the Behemoth’s tail into an upright position in verse 17 is
thus humorously and graphically symbolic of the call to stand up and face the
Perhaps the most compelling evidence that this is central to the meaning
here is that a parallel movement can be seen in the long discourse concerning
Leviathan at 41:17 (41:25), where we read:

When [the Leviathan] raises itself up the gods (‫ ) ֵא ִלים‬are afraid;

at the crashing they are beside themselves.

On the assumption that the first readers are expected to see in the second beast
the crocodile of their own experience, Clines captures well its abrupt vertical
moment when catching low-flying birds and bats, noting that:

[First, i]t positions itself with the tail underneath the body and the head
pointing up into the air. [Then, t]hrusting with the tail and paddling with
its back feet, it swims up and projects itself into the air, until half or more
of its body is out of the water.68

Also helpful is his suggestion that the reference to “the gods” here utilizes
the “mighty men” meaning of ‫ ֵא ִלים‬and thus refers to the hunters.69 What is
useful for my reading is that the crocodile launching itself out of the water with
its head pointing straight up to the heavens is an image of standing up to the
“gods” for Job, who is again being encouraged to stand and face the God of
the covenant.

68  Clines, Job 38–42, 1198.

69  Clines, Job 38–42, 1161. The reference to “gods” in 41:1 (ET 41:9) does not reflect the MT.
“ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find The(ir Wisdo)m ” 113

Finally, we should note how well this fits with the imago Dei theme that
may be detected in 40–41 once we become aware of the intertextual presence
of Ps 8:7–9 (ET 8:6–8). Following Janzen, the pertinent echoes may be set out
as follows:

7 You have given (humanity) dominion (‫ ) ַּת ְמ ִׁש ֵילהּו‬over the works of your
you have put all things under their feet
8 all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts (‫— ַּב ֲהמֹות‬bahamôt) of the field,
9 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

Here, the dominion theme of verse 7 is present in the royal imagery used pro-
vocatively of Job in Job 40:10–13, the bahamôt of verse 8 are echoed in 40:15–24,
while the creatures of the sea and the birds of the air of verse 9 are elaborated
with reference to Leviathan in 41:23–24 (41:31–32) and with reference to the
bird/sparrow theme of 40:29 (41:5), as discussed above in relation to Ps 104.70
Particularly important for the argument that Ps 8 is being affirmed here,
in contrast to the negative treatment the same verses receive in Job 7:17–18,71
is the way in which Ps 8:6a is present in Job 41:25a (41:33a). Although this is
hard to see in most English versions—the NRSV is typical: “On earth (‫ל־ע ָפר‬ ָ ‫) ַע‬
(Leviathan) has no equal (‫—”) ָמ ְׁשלֹו‬, awareness that ‫ מ ֶֹׁשל‬has a homonym allows
us to understand the Hebrew to mean: “there is not one to have dominion over
it.”72 As Janzen is quick to note, this is not a put-down but a “challenge.”73 That
it is presently “king over all that are proud” (v. 26b [34b]) and is “without fear”
(v. 25b [33b]) suggests that true rule over Leviathan is to be found not in a yet
more arrogant kind of kingship, but in a very different way of relating to power,
and to fear. Which brings us to Job 28, as the kind of dominion that is being
proposed is one of wisdom not force.
The surprise of the second divine speech is that although “the proud wild
animals” of Job 28:12 (and thus 40–41) do not know the way to wisdom’s origin,
they can disclose wisdom to human fear, rightly understood, in accordance

70  See Janzen, Job, 245.

71  See Michael Fishbane, “The Book of Job and Inner Biblical Discourse,” in Leo G. Perdue
and W. Clark Gilpin (eds.), The Voice from the Whirlwind: Interpreting the Book of Job,
Nashville 1992, 86–110.
72  Thus Janzen, Job, 246. Cf. NJPS and NEG 79.
73  Janzen, Job, 244, cf. 240–41.
114 Ansell

with 28:28, where humankind (‫ ) ָל ָא ָדם‬is told that “Truly, the fear of the Lord
(‫)יִ ְר ַאת ֲאד ֹנָ י‬, that is wisdom.” Elsewhere, building on Clines’ argument that such
fear does not mean religious awe but the experience of being afraid,74 and
drawing upon the paradigmatic narratives that tell us of Abraham and Moses
journeying beyond their initial fear of God to becoming friends with God, I have
argued that 28:28, and the parallel texts outside Job (such as Prov 9:10), mean
to tell us that it is in facing our fear of Yhwh (here ‫ ֲאד ֹנָ י‬, cf. Gen 18:27) that we
find (the beginning of) wisdom.75
To be sure, this is not the revelation that modernity has been so impatient
to transcend. Job’s encounter with the Behemoth and Leviathan represents
neither an “ignoble . . . retort”76 nor a “noble non sequitur.” Instead, in keeping
with what I have called their “redemptive-historical connotations,” the beast of
the land and the beast of the sea together serve to assure Job that the Creator
of all things has the wisdom to address all that has gone awry. At the same time,
and in keeping with their “symbolic significance,” knowing where to find these
fantastic beasts today—by facing our fear of beings and realities that make
our own apocalyptic imaginations run wild—is to know where to find their
wisdom,77 their pointing us in the way of Life (cf. Prov 3:18; 8:35), if, like Job,
we are provoked beyond our fear of the divine—whether of ’elohīm (‫ֹלהים‬ ִ ‫ ֱא‬, Job
1:1,8,9; 2:3), or “the Almighty” (‫ ַׁש ַּדי‬, 6:14; 37:23–24) or “the Lord” (‫ ֲאד ֹנָ י‬, 28:28)—
to find the faith and freedom to stand up to God, so that we may stand with
God in the “face to face” of covenant.78

74  See David J.A. Clines, “ ‘The Fear of the Lord is Wisdom’ (Job 28:28): A Semantic and
Contextual Study,” in Ellen Van Wolde (ed.), Job 28: Cognition in Context, Leiden 2003,
75  See Ansell, “ ‘If Her Father Had but Spit in Her Face’,” 47, 51.
76  See n. 6 above.
77  The title of this essay deliberately alludes to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,
a fictionally real book within J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,
London 1997, that aims to deal wisely with the wildness of the fantastic.
78  As noted in Ansell, “ ‘If Her Father Had but Spit in Her Face’,” 47, n. 65: “The first instance
of covenant language in Scripture (Gen 2:23, cf. 2 Sam 5:1) is creational and intimate, not
redemptive or hierarchical.”
Special thanks to Koert van Bekkum, Gerry Janzen, Al Wolters, and Danielle Yett for
their perceptive and helpful comments on an earlier draft of this essay.
Part 3
Early and Rabbinic Judaism


Leviathan on the Menu of the Messianic Meal

The Use of Various Images of Leviathan in Early Jewish Tradition

Michael Mulder

1 Introduction

As far as we know, within early Jewish tradition after the Old Testament, the
image of Leviathan (sometimes together with Behemoth) occurs in three
pseudepigraphical texts that are usually dated in the period shortly after
the destruction of the Second Temple: (a) 4 Ezra (6:49–52); (b) 2 Baruch (Syriac
Apocalypse) (29:4); and (c) 1 Enoch (60:7–10,24). Furthermore, it appears in two
apocalyptic works that are dated a little later: in (d) the Apocalypse of Abraham
(10:10, 21:4), and (e) the apocalyptic text of the Ladder of Jacob. Subsequently
the Leviathan emerges now and then in rabbinic literature, mostly briefly,
sometimes a bit more elaborately. In this article we will first examine the pas-
sage in 4 Ezra. Here we encounter two aspects of the image of Leviathan, which
in the next paragraphs will both be pointed out briefly in the other texts that
were just mentioned.

2 4 Ezra

The fourth book of Ezra is an apocalyptic text that originated after the fall of
Jerusalem at the end of the first century CE. According to the Greek Church it
was not part of the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Yet, in the opinion
of a large part of the church it has higher standing than other pseudepigraphi-
cal works. The council of Trent, for example, added the book to the Vulgate
as an appendix, for which reason some would locate this work among the

1  Like e.g. J.T. Nelis, “De joodse literatuur uit de periode tussen Oude en Nieuwe Testament,” in
M.J. Mulder et al. (eds.), Bijbels Handboek 2b, Kampen 1983, 137, a much used handbook to the
Bible in Dutch.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi ��.��63/9789004337961_008

118 Mulder

4 Ezra contains seven visions, seen by someone who introduces himself as:
“I Salathiel, who am also called Ezra” (3:1).2 A reference to Leviathan is found in
the third vision, which partially has the shape of a supplication. Ezra asks God
how it is possible that God’s people have to watch how other nations trample
them. “If the world has indeed been created for us, why do we not possess our
world as an inheritance? How long will this be so?” (6:59–60). Ezra appeals to
God’s power as Creator in the context of this prayer. He describes how God
spoke and created, and subsequently traces the creation days of Gen 1. Within
this passage the desire for the restoration of the order of creation is strongly
felt. In this context 4 Ezra 6:47–52 says:

47 On the fifth day you commanded the seventh part, where the water
had been gathered together, to bring forth living creatures, birds, and
fishes; and so it was done. 48 The dumb and lifeless water produced liv-
ing creatures, as it was commanded, that thereafter the nations might
declare thy wondrous works.
49 Then you kept in existence two living creatures; the name of one you
called Behemoth and the name of the other Leviathan. 50 And you sepa-
rated one from the other, for the seventh part where the water had been
gathered together could not hold them both. 51 And you gave Behemoth
one of the parts which had been dried up on the third day, to live in it,
where there are a thousand mountains; 52 but to Leviathan you gave the
seventh part, the watery part; and you have kept them to be eaten by
whom you wish, and when you wish.

The description of God’s activity on the fifth day as depicted in Gen 1 has been
radically extended. The tanninîm from Gen 1:21 are explained to be two mon-
sters. Their creation is not explicitly mentioned. The dumb water produced all
birds and fish, a sort of indirect creation by God. He then kept Leviathan and
Behemoth, and held them apart, each in its own place until the moment when
they would be useful for God’s purpose. It is a unique feature in this apoca-
lypse that God himself gives them their names.3 This demonstrates their spe-
cial position, perhaps outside or above the power of Adam. Because of this and
because of the fact that their creation is not described separately, K. William

2  Transl. by B.M. Metzger in James C. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. I,
Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, New York, NY 1983, 528. Subsequent passages will be
quoted from the same translation.
3  Usually, the Jewish tradition highlights that Adam named the animals in order to emphasize
his wisdom.
Leviathan On The Menu Of The Messianic Meal 119

Whitney presumes that the author suggests that these monsters existed before
creation.4 That is not explicitly stated, but a comparison with the mythology
from Ugarit can raise the assumption that a tradition has been taken over, in
which these monsters were indeed present before creation.5
The similarity with mythological texts from Ugarit becomes even more
obvious in the next sentence: “And you separated one from the other.” We do
not find this image of Leviathan and Behemoth in the Bible, but it is attested
in Ugarit, in the context of a fight between gods.6 The interests of 4 Ezra 6,
however, are not focused on the battle. God is almighty, after all. The text
shows the certainty that God is above these monsters. Subsequently Behemoth
and Leviathan are kept in separate places. Behemoth gets the land with the
thousand mountains, corresponding to the Masoretic text of Ps 50:10: the
“Behemoth” (sometimes just translated as “cattle”) on a thousand hills.7
Leviathan is placed in the sea, an image that returns in the following pas-
sages. By keeping the beasts apart, God creates room for life and literally keeps
the world balanced. However, the description of the preservation of Leviathan
and Behemoth gets a different focus at the end. Why are they kept in a kind of
custody? This aspect from verse 49 receives a specific purpose in verse 52. God
has kept these monsters from the beginning of his Creation to serve as nourish-
ment during the end of times. They form the pièce de résistance of the escha-
tological banquet that will be arranged for God’s chosen ones, at the moment
when God has determined. In this way the appeal for the restoration of the
creation order receives an eschatological answer. At the time God sees fit,
the flesh of the monsters who threaten his order will be served up to enlarge the
festive joy of the meal prepared for the chosen ones.
The Leviathan text contains some reminiscences to biblical texts, mostly
to Gen 1 and to Ps 50:10b. There is also an implicit echo of Ps 74:14 in the motif
of giving Leviathan as food.8 The image, however, also contains non-biblical

4  K. William Whitney, Two Strange Beasts. Leviathan and Behemoth in Second Temple and Early
Rabbinic Judaism, Winona Lake, IN 2006, 36.
5  See the contribution by Marjo Korpel and Johannes de Moor.
6  Cf. William W. Hallo, K. Lawson Younger (eds.), The Context of Scripture. Vol. 1. Canonical
Inscriptions from the Biblical World, Leiden 2003, 270 (transl. Dennis Pardee).
7  This way, the monster ends up as a land animal, while it nonetheless is mentioned on the
fifth day with the creation of the fish and the birds (and as it is described in Job 40 as a water
animal among the lotus plants and the reed).
8  The crushing of the heads of Leviathan in order to offer him as food to the creatures in
the desert can—within the context of Ps 74:14—be seen as a mythological expression by
which God’s might in creation and history are reflected in one image. Thus Steffen Uwe,
Drachenkampf: Der Mythos vom Bösen, Stuttgart 1984, 126: “Hier wird auf eine für das Alte
120 Mulder

motifs of which people apparently had memories or which were known from
oral traditions. As far as we recognize images from Ugarit, there are some simi-
larities, but the tone is altogether different. The superior power of the one and
only God sets the tone, and no attention is paid to the battle, as in Ugarit. That
the monsters are kept to be served up at an eschatological banquet is an inher-
ent aggravation which we cannot trace from our sources with exactness, but
which does remain and continues to have influence in the Jewish tradition.9
This image forms the summit here, which was prepared by the peculiar state-
ment that God did not create these monsters, but kept them. This idea of them
being kept does not have to be an allusion to the idea that these animals (as
primeval monsters) were not real creatures. In the context of 4 Ezra this is an
answer to the prayer of the seer: How long do we have to watch the world not
being ours, while You did create it for us? The most specific realization of the
Leviathan image forms the exact answer that the vision gives to this question
of Israel after the destruction of the Temple.

3 2 Baruch (Syriac Apocalypse)

We can also find the image of being kept, with a messianic meal in mind,
in 2 Bar., which was also written in the period after 70. The verse (29:4) on
Leviathan and Behemoth can be found in a description of the events before
the coming of the Messiah. The style of this verse gives rise to the assumption

Testament charakteristische Weise Schöpfungs- und Heilgeschichte miteinander verknüpft

und so der Mythos (i.e. der ugaritische Mythos vom Kampf Baals gegen Jam (= Meer) und
dessen Helfer, zu denen die siebenköpfige Schlange Lotan gehört, 125) heilshistorisch aktu-
alisiert.” Bob Becking mentions this verse as an important link to the development of the
banquet motif in later pseudepigraphic literature. Bob Becking, De Leviathan toen en nu.
Herkomst, geschiedenis en functie van een monster, Vught 2015, 5, 11.
9  Remarkably the Tg. Ps.-J. renders Gen 1:21 in a way which presumes a comparable interpreta-
tion of the creation of the tanninim: “God created the great sea-monsters, Leviathan and his
partner who are destined for the day of consolation.” I thank prof. dr. Dineke Houtman who
indicated to me the discussion on the different sources of this motif in Robert Hayward,
Targums and the Transmission of Scripture Into Judaism and Christianity, Leiden etc. 2010,
177–178. The motif can also be found in the Targum on the Song of Songs, 8:2: “I will lead
you, O King, and bring you up to my Temple. And you will teach me to fear before YY and to
walk in His ways. And there we will partake of the feast of Leviathan and will drink old wine
preserved in its grape since the day the world was created and from the pomegranates and
fruits prepared for the righteous in the Garden of Eden,” transl. H. Pope, Song of Songs: A New
Translation and Commentary (AB), New York, NY 1977, adapted by Jay C. Treat.
Leviathan On The Menu Of The Messianic Meal 121

of being a later insertion. Verse 4 starts with a keyword (revelation) that is con-
nected to the previous verse, which could be the reason for the insertion at this
place. From verse 5 on, the theme of nourishment is elaborated in a different
way than in the verse about Leviathan. So we find a thematic association and
a link via a keyword.
The Leviathan image in verse 4 does not contain all the features of the tra-
dition from 4 Ezra that we just mentioned: There is no talk of dividing, or of
the assignment of a place. Also contrary to the text of 4 Ezra, 2 Bar. mentions
explicitly the creation of the monsters. This indicates a certain independence
of the tradition that is being used in this text. In any case there is no takeover
or copying; apparently there might be a common dependence from another
tradition that is assumed to be familiar and well known:

And Behemoth will reveal itself from its place and Leviathan will come
from the sea, the two great monsters which I created on the fifth day of
creation, and which I shall have kept until that time. And then they will
be nourishment for all who are left.10

Apart from the mentioned differences, there are also similarities with 4 Ezra:
the creation on the fifth day, the residential places the monsters come from,
and most of all: that they must be kept with the Messianic banquet in view.
That is again the summit and focal point, as consolation for the righteous in a
chaotic era: they will eventually be satiated with the flesh of the monsters that
God kept in their place for this very purpose. There lies the focus of the apoca-
lypse: the hope of the resurrection of the righteous at the time God sees fit.

4 1 Enoch

The Book of Parables of Enoch,11 which could still have originated in the 1st
century CE, contains a number of visionary discourses on the final judgement
of the Son of Man. In the third discourse a vision of Noah is described. It con-
nects the expectation of the end of times with the history of the Flood. Several
images from 4 Ezra return in 1 En. 60:7–10: the monsters are kept, they are sepa-
rated and are assigned to reside in different areas in the sea and on the land. In
this way God created order out of chaos. The Leviathan subsequently helps to

10  2 Bar. 29:4, transl. by A.F.J. Klijn in Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha,
Vol. I, 630.
11  A part of the Pseudepigraphical work 1 En. (37:1–71:17).
122 Mulder

maintain this order, by being thrown into the abyss as a monstrous plug in the
whirlpools of the great deep waters of Gen 7:

7 On that day, two monsters will be parted—one monster, a female

named Leviathan, in order to dwell in the 8 abyss of the ocean over the
fountains of water; and (the other), a male called Behemoth, which holds
his chest in an invisible desert whose name is Dundayin, east of the gar-
den of Eden, wherein the elect and the righteous ones dwell, wherein my
grandfather was taken, the seventh from Adam, the first 9 man whom the
Lord of Spirits created. And I asked the second angel in order that he may
show me (how) strong these monsters are, how they were separated on
this day and were cast, the one into the abysses 10 of the ocean, and the
other unto the dry desert. And he said to me: “You, son of man, according
(to the degree) to which it will be permitted, you will know the hidden

1 En. places this primeval image within an eschatological framework. In a formal

way this appears from the beginning of verse 7: “on that day” is a usual expres-
sion for the great day of the Lord. The substance of the use of the Leviathan
motif points to this eschatological intention as well. The author relates to the
specific expectations that belong to the tradition of Leviathan, that is, that the
monster is kept on its place until the end of the world, in order to serve as
nourishment. That is the essence of the answer that is given to the seer: “These
two monsters are prepared to the great day of the Lord (when) they shall turn
into food.”13
Prehistoric eras and the end of time are connected this way. What happened
in prehistoric times becomes a guarantee of a certain ending of the chaotic era
in which men are living once more, with as its climax: the Messianic meal. In
this way, the Leviathan image becomes relevant for the time when the author
hands down this apocalypse.

5 The Motif of an Eschatological Meal in Rabbinic Literature

Each of the images mentioned in these three pseudepigraphical texts reoc-

curs in later Jewish writings, both in apocalyptic works originating a little later,

12  Transl. by E. Isaac, in Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. I, 40–41.
13  1 En. 60:24, transl. E. Isaac, in Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. I,
Leviathan On The Menu Of The Messianic Meal 123

such as the Targumim, and in rabbinic literature.14 These motifs, which are
apparently familiar to non-biblical traditions, are typically related to the situ-
ation of the authors of these works, as a source of comfort for their respective
needs. Sometimes there are attempts to connect these images to specific bibli-
cal passages.
The eschatological meal is a well-known motif in rabbinic literature. It
mostly appears in the Amoraic period (ca. 200–500 CE). In the Talmud, Rabba,15
in the name of rabbi Jochanan,16 connects the Messianic banquet to Job 40:30.
The way in which he refers to Leviathan being dished up at this banquet sug-
gests that he was familiar with this tradition apart from its connection to the
biblical text.

Rabbah said in the name of R. Johanan: The Holy One, blessed be He,
will in time to come make a banquet for the righteous from the flesh
of Leviathan; for it is said: Companions will make a banquet of it
(Job 40:30). Kerah must mean a banquet; for it is said: And he prepared
for them a great banquet and they ate and drank (2 Kings 6:23).17

So Rabba connects the way Leviathan is dished up to the word yikru, usually
translated as “they sold” (from the root krh). He, however, also makes a link
with kerah, “festive meal.” The image of Job 40:30, that Leviathan is appor-
tioned and sold, stays in his mind and is still mentioned separately as an
explanation of this verse, which demonstrates that the connection to the ban-
quet-motif is a secondary reflection.18 Accordingly, the idea that (a part of the
flesh of) Leviathan will be eaten in a festive meal is a traditional element that
existed prior to its connection to Job 40:30. The image of the chaos monster
being dished up for the righteous at the Messianic meal is just too wonderful
and comforting not to be true. So there was good reason for the rabbis to look
for a biblical text to connect to this tradition, in order to incorporate some of
these apparently common beliefs into their reading of Scripture. The typical
rabbinic way of doing so was through key-word association.

14  Cf. the Targum passages in footnote 9.

15  Rabba, Amorite of the third generation, died 330 CE.
16  R. Jochanan, Amorite of the second generation, died around 250 CE.
17  B. Bat. 75a, ed. I. Epstein.
18  “The rest [of Leviathan] will be distributed and sold out in the markets of Jerusalem; for
it is said: They will part him among the Kenaanim,” B. Bat. 75a, ed. I. Epstein (transl. Israel
Slotki). The element of being “sold out” can only be hinted at because he is aware of the
original meaning of yikru as well, which he validates by this additional explanation.
124 Mulder

It is surprising, though, that this motif is not found directly in Tannaitic

sources. The only allusions to the eating of Leviathan at the end of time can
be found in a Tannaitic discussion about the question whether or not this fishy
monster can be considered a kosher animal.

Rabbi Jose ben Durmasqit19 says: Leviathan is a clean fish, for it is

written: “His scales are his pride” (Job 41:7) and “sharpest potsherds are
under him” (Job 41:22). “His scales are his pride”, these are the scales;
“sharpest potsherds are under him”, these are the fins.20

If the question is asked whether Leviathan can be considered kosher, the sug-
gestion could be made that in Messianic times it will be eaten in reality by the
righteous ones.21 Evidently this was not the focus of this passage in Sifra for
Rabbi Jose’s remark is only a comment in a discussion about finding out the
right limits of the biblical instructions of kashrut. The fact, however, that it
is mentioned without explicitly referring to a Messianic banquet could imply
that the rabbis simply assumed that Leviathan would actually be eaten.
In a later discussion, in Wayyiqra Rabba, similar ideas about Leviathan being
kosher are connected to reflections about the Messianic time. Here the discus-
sion is not only about the fins and scales, but also about the way in which
Leviathan is supposed to be slaughtered by using the horns of Behemoth. This
kind of butchering at this exceptional moment will be declared kosher by a
special ordinance of the Holy One.22 In this way the questions about kashrut
are put in the context of the hope for a new world, thus giving a new impe-
tus to the command of keeping kosher, one of the main concerns of the sages
in these discussions. Interestingly, the rabbis use the image of Leviathan as a
means to connect these two issues.
The other element of the biblical text in Job 40:30, referring to the ‘division’
of Leviathan, was not forgotten by Rabba, as mentioned above. After alluding
to the Messianic banquet, he speaks of what will happen with ‘the leftovers’
of Leviathan. The motif of the Messianic banquet is woven into some other

19  Jose, son of the Damascene, Tannaite of the second generation.

20  Sifra Sjemini 3:5, 49c/d. This saying of Rabbi Jose ben Durmasqit is brought up literally in
Hullin 67b, and is alluded to in Wayyiqra Rabba 13:3, elaborating on Lev 11, which states
that only fish having scales and fins can be considered kosher.
21  Thus Harry Sysling, Teḥiyyat Ha-Metim: The Resurrection of the Dead in the Palestinian
Targums of the Pentateuch and Parallel Texts in Classical Rabbinic Literature (TSAJ 57),
Tübingen 1996, 53.
22  Wayyiqra Rabba 13:3, cf. Sysling, Teḥiyyat Ha-Metim, 60.
Leviathan On The Menu Of The Messianic Meal 125

reflections on Leviathan, connected to the motif of maintaining the world

order, which will be discussed in the next section. As the immediate context
of the saying of Rabba links this idea back to the Messianic banquet, we will
discuss this midrash first.

Rab Judah said in the name of Rab: All that the Holy One, blessed be He,
created in his world, he created male and female. Likewise, Leviathan the
slant serpent and Leviathan the tortuous serpent he created male and
female; and had they mated with one another they would have destroyed
the whole world. What (then) did the Holy One, blessed be He, do? He
castrated the male and killed the female, preserving it in salt for the righ-
teous in the world to come; for it is written: And he will slay the dragon
that is in the sea (Isa 27:1).23

By combining Isa 27:1 with the division of Leviathan in Job 40:30, the rabbis
offer a nuanced image of their reality.24 Leviathan is under the control of the
Holy One, who in a certain sense can be said to have killed him. At the same
time, however, elements of the monstrous anti-power are still there.25 The sep-
aration of the Leviathans (plural) prevents them from mating and begetting
progeny. The idea that Leviathan, just like Behemoth in this midrash, forms a
couple, male and female, is not undisputed. In Ber. Rabba rabbi Pinchas ben
Chama denies that they would have partners.26 What is commonly described,
though, is God’s power that prevails over these monsters. He prevents them
from having the opportunity to destroy the world and even plays with

23  B. Bat. 74b, ed. I. Epstein (transl. Israel Slotki).

24  Harry Sysling supposes that the rabbinical discussion about one Leviathan killed, while
the other was preserved in salt for the banquet, originated in exegetical reflections regard-
ing Isa 27:1, which mentions two monsters, although God only kills one, that is, the mon-
ster in the sea, Teḥiyyat Ha-Metim, 58. This, however, does not explain the elements of
this midrash sufficiently. It is connected to older traditions about the partition of two
monsters, as mentioned above. At the same time, the rabbis use these images in order
to present their view of the distresses of their time and to highlight the future of the
25  Regarding the context, see Whitney, Two Strange Beasts, 151: “Leviathan, and to a lesser
degree, Behemoth, can be seen to function as symbols of the ‘monstrous,’ i.e., that against
which the community of the ‘righteous’ (the practicing Jews) seems helpless. The mon-
sters thus stand in an allegorical relationship to the oppressive power of the Byzantine
26  Ber. Rabba 7:4, cf. Sysling, Teḥiyyat Ha-Metim, 50.
126 Mulder

them (Baba Bathra 74b, cf. Ps 104:26).27 So in a certain sense, these powers are
still present. The comforting thought that what is left of Leviathan is preserved
in salt connects the motif of the next section with the perspective of the festive
meal, which nourishes the hope of the righteous ones. The maintenance of the
cosmos receives a focal point in this very hope.

6 Motif of Preserving World Order

The preservation of the world order was mentioned as a second motif in the
analysis of 4 Ezra’s use of Leviathan. In 1 En. this element is reflected in
the image of Leviathan’s body closing the churning water depths and thereby
protecting the world from disasters. Something similar can be found in two
other apocalyptic works: the Apoc. Ab. and the Lad. Jac.28

6.1 Apocalypse of Abraham

In a quite suggestive image,29 Leviathan is described in Apoc. Ab. as the one
who lies beneath the world, causing the earth to quake when it moves (21:4).30

27  The Targum on this verse connects this “sporting” again with the banquet, as it is inter-
preted as a play to entertain those who are seated at the table of God’s dwelling place,
tgPs 104:26: “There the ships go; (and as for) Leviathan, that you created to sport at the
banquet of the righteous, (it is) his dwelling house,” David M. Stec, The Targum of Psalms
(Aramaic Bible, 160), London/New York, 2004, 189, cf. Sysling, Teḥiyyat Ha-Metim, 57.
Related to this is the tradition that Behemoth and Leviathan will perform a kind of bull-
ring fight for the righteous in the world to come (Wayyiqra Rabba 13:3). In the context
of this midrash watching this fight is a reward, similar to the banquet motif comforting
the righteous: “Behemoth and Leviathan are going to do battle with one another in the
animal contests for the righteous in the Coming Future. Anyone who did not watch
the animal contests of the gentiles in this world will merit to see them in the world to
come.” For this element of reward for the restraints and observance of the command-
ments in Wayyiqra Rabba, see Burton L. Visotzky, Golden Bells and Pomegranates
(TSAJ, 94), Tübingen 2003, 150.
28  Both perhaps originated at the end of the first or in the second century. Lad. Jac. is admit-
tedly handed down in an 8th to 9th century CE Christian expansion (in church-Slavic, in
the Palaea). But the largest part of it is formed by a Jewish source from the first half of the
2nd century.
29  For the image of Seth thrusting his spear into the mouth of the great serpent Apophis and
the way this monster is imagined as lying beneath the world, see Figure 10 in the contribu-
tion of Korpel and De Moor.
30  “And I saw there the sea and its islands, and its cattle and its fish, and Leviathan and his
realm and his bed and his lairs, and the world which lay upon him, and his motions and
Leviathan On The Menu Of The Messianic Meal 127

The apocalypse mentions an angel with the name of Yahoel, who is sent to
Abraham to bless him and protect him from threatening creatures. In this con-
text, the angel promises to restrain the Leviathans (10:10).31 Here we can see
that the plural, “Leviathans,” has older roots. Maybe this encompasses both
Leviathan and Behemoth, or perhaps the monster is thought of as a pair, as in
1 En. On the other hand, it could have to do with another tradition, in which a
male and a female Leviathan existed, as seen in rabbinic literature. In any case,
the Leviathans need to stay in place to prevent the menacing powers in heaven,
on earth, and under the earth from being released. Yahoel has control over the
powers at the crossroad of the worlds, where the Leviathans are placed.

6.2 Ladder of Jacob

The same kind of menacing powers return in the Lad. Jac., here described as
the threats of reptiles and of earthquakes. Together with the Leviathan they
pose a threat to God’s people on earth. In the Lad. Jac. God himself banishes
these powers by releasing his wrath on Leviathan, after these anti-powers (rep-
tiles, earthquakes) have first ravaged the land.32 Apparently these are now seen
as signs of the approach of the day when God shall wield his sword against the
Leviathan in definitive retaliation. This decisive victory, through which God
can create a new, eschatological order, is described with words directly derived
from Isa 27:1.

the destruction he caused in the world,” transl. by R. Rubinkiewics, rev. by H.G. Lunt, in:
Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. I, 699.
31  “I am Iaoel and I was called so by him who causes those with me on the seventh expanse,
on the firmament, to shake, a power through the medium of his ineffable name in me.
I am the one who has been charged according to his commandment, to restrain the threats
of the living creatures of the cherubim against one another, and I teach those who carry
the song through the medium of man’s night of the seventh hour. I am appointed to hold
the Leviathans, because through me is subjugated the attack and menace of every reptile.
I am ordered to loosen Hades and to destroy those who wondered at the dead. I am the
one who ordered your father’s house to be burned with him, for he honored the dead.
I am sent to you now to bless you and the land which he whom you have called the Eternal
One has prepared for you. For your sake I have indicated the way of the land,” Apoc. Ab.
10:8–14, transl. Rubinkiewics, Lunt, in Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha,
Vol. I, 694.
32  “And afterward the Lord will fight for your (i.e. Israel’s) tribe through great and terrible
signs against those who made them slaves. . . . Their land swarmed with reptiles and all
sorts of deadly things. There will be earthquakes and much destruction. And the Lord
will pour out his wrath against Leviathan the sea-dragon . . .,” Lad. Jac. 6:9–13, transl.
by H.G. Lunt, in James C. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. II,
Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, New York, NY 1985, 410.
128 Mulder

6.3 Rabbinic Literature

The idea that Leviathan’s place in creation was to maintain the world order is
attested in several places in the Talmud. Ps 104:26 was mentioned already in
this context, to show the power of God playing with Leviathan. The same verse
is cited in a reflection on the activities of the Holy One in Aboda Zara 3b.

Rab Judah said in the name of Rab: The day consists of twelve hours;
during the first three hours the Holy One, blessed be He, is occupying
Himself with the Torah; during the second three He sits in judgment on
the whole world, and when He sees that the world is so guilty to deserve
destruction, He transforms Himself from the seat of Justice to the seat of
Mercy; during the third quarter, He is feeding the whole world, from the
horned buffalo to the brood of vermin; during the fourth quarter He is
sporting with the Leviathan, as it is said: “There is Leviathan, whom Thou
hast formed to sport therewith” (Ps 104:26).33

Keeping the world order is related to God’s mercy and to his power over the
chaos monster, which is still there, but tamed.34 Another midrash underlines
that Leviathan is kept in its place, which is symbolically the opposite to every
living creature, the Dead Sea.

Rab Judah further stated in the name of Rab: The Jordan issues from the
cavern of Paneas . . . and rolls down into the great sea from whence it rolls
on until it rushes into the mouth of Leviathan; for it is said: “He is confi-
dent because the Jordan rushes forth to his mouth” (Job 40:23).35

It seems that the idea of Leviathan dwelling in the depth of the Dead Sea was
older than this midrash, which shows traces of later efforts to connect this
tradition with Job 40:23. The comment in that verse about being “confident”
actually refers to Behemoth, and not to Leviathan. This is observed by Raba

33  A Z 3b, ed. I Epstein (transl. A. Mishcon).

34  The idea of ‘playing’ shows how these monsters were respected and at the same time
in an occasionally humorous way put in their place, in order to overcome the fear of
these monsters. This kind of humor can be understood as the background of the witty
remark about Leviathan in Shabbat 77b. Five examples serve to show what can be called
the greatest fear: “The fear of the mafgia (a gnat) over the lion; the fear of the mosquito
upon the elephant; the fear of the spider upon the scorpion; the fear of the swallow upon
the eagle; the fear of the kilbith (stickle-back) over the Leviathan,” ed. I. Epstein (transl.
H. Freedman).
35  B. Bat. 74b, ed. I. Epstein (transl. Israel Slotki).
Leviathan On The Menu Of The Messianic Meal 129

b. Ulla who remarks: “This verse is written of Behemoth on a thousand hills!”

Nevertheless he skilfully continues to show that Rab Judah was right in con-
necting this verse with Leviathan. He asks: “When is Behemoth on a thousand
hills confident?” And he answers: “When the Jordan rushes into the mouth of
Leviathan.”36 So Job 40:23 finally confirms the dwelling place of Leviathan in
the depths of the Dead Sea, although it is a statement about Behemoth. As
noted before it seems that traditional motifs that are comforting to the rabbis
are taken up and connected to a biblical text.
The notion that Leviathan was used to keep a certain balance in the world
order is also brought forward in later rabbinic literature. According to the
medieval midrash Aseret ha-Debirot, the world is surrounded by Leviathan and
rests on its fins.37 Rabbi Samuel ben Meir (Rashbam, 12th century CE) con-
nects this image to the description in Isa 27:1 of the Leviathan as a twisting
snake (nachasj aqallathon), which is as far away from God as possible, under
the world. It surrounds the entire world like a dragon.38 This resembles a
familiar image from iconography, namely the dragon as ouroboros, tail-eater.39
It is speculative yet appealing to perceive a certain analogy in this image to
the legend of St. George and the Dragon, which originates in Eastern Europe
and became extremely popular in Europe during the later Middle Ages. Does
Rashbam offer a Jewish answer to this legend with his use of the Leviathan

7 Conclusion

We can state that the fascinating image of Leviathan is used especially in the
context of reflections on the world order, when it is thought to be threatened.
The mythological image is used to express the conviction that the chaotic
powers will not succeed in overcoming God’s order, neither in creation nor in

36  B. Bat. 74b, ed. I. Epstein (transl. Israel Slotki).

37  “The Holy one (blessed be He) wished to create the world. Immediately its length was a
journey of five hundred years and its breadth a journey of five hundred years. And the
great sea surrounded the whole world like an arch of a great pillar. And the whole world
was encircled by the fins of Leviathan, who dwells in the lower waters. In them he was like
a little fish in the sea,” Midrash Aseret ha-Debirot 1:63, transl. by A. Jellinek, Bet ha-Midrash,
Jerusalem 19673, as quoted by Whitney, Two Strange Beasts, 117.
38  See Figure 3 in the chapter by Korpel and De Moor.
39  This image, which turns up late in Jewish literature, could have old roots as well. Origenes
disputes a gnostic cult (the Ophites) that described Leviathan as a circle around the earth.
For a discussion, see Whitney, Two Strange Beasts, 121.
130 Mulder

history. Although the chaotic powers stay close by for the time being, God him-
self will banish them in his own way. They will even serve to enlarge the festive
celebrations of God’s victory at the Messianic meal.
To stress the certainty about God’s unique power, elements from different
traditions can be reused and even connected to biblical texts, in order to make
the old images relevant in the particular situation in which a new audience
experiences the threatening chaos again. By using the images of Leviathan,
these authors within Jewish tradition expressed their confidence in the one
and only God, whose mighty deeds in the past are formative for their eschato-
logical hope.
Part 4
New Testament and Early Christianity


Romans 16:17–20a: Imminent Danger and Victory

Theo van Spanje

1 Introduction

According to Richard Bauckham, Rom 16:20a contains a ‘hint’ of the identi-

fication of Satan with Leviathan (see §5). However, after having assessed the
evidence, it appears that Bauckham’s suggestion is improbable. Even though
the final conclusion of this present contribution is a negative one, it is still very
worthwhile to investigate how the remarkable reference to Satan in Rom 16:20a
functions within the final section of the letter to the Romans. To this end,
I provide some (mainly exegetical) material and give attention, though very
briefly, to the literary integrity of Rom 16 (§2), an overview and a few distinc-
tive features of the final section of Romans, conveniently using Jeffrey Weima’s
study (§3), the function of Rom 16:20a within the argument of Rom 16:17–20a,
with special attention to the identification of the agitators (§4), and the back-
ground of Paul’s wording in Rom 16:20a (§5). In the last section, I comment on
Bauckham’s remarks.1

2 The Literary Integrity of Romans 16

Within the history of NT textual criticism, the two concluding chapters of Paul’s
letter to the Romans are regularly viewed as not being original.2 A well-known
and indeed famous example is Marcion who, according to Origen, regarded
Rom 14:23 as the original ending of the letter.3 Much later, in 1829, David Schulz

1  Not being a native English speaker, I am all the more grateful to Peter W. Ensor for checking
my English. The final version is, of course, wholly my own responsibility.
2  See for a balanced view of the arguments, e.g., Werner Georg Kümmel, Einleitung in das
Neue Testament, Heidelberg 1980, 275–280. For a discussion of the textual history of Romans,
see Harry Gamble, Jr., The Textual History of the Letter to the Romans: A Study in Textual and
Literary Criticism (SD, 42), Grand Rapids, MI 1977.
3  Kümmel, Einleitung, 275.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi ��.��63/9789004337961_009

134 van Spanje

systematically argued that Rom 16:1–20 is addressed to the church in Ephesus,4

and many scholars have adhered to the ‘Ephesian hypothesis.’5 Surprisingly,
however, apart from the so-called ‘grace benediction’ in Rom 16:24 (cf. Rom
16:20b) and the ‘wandering doxology’6 (Rom 16:25–27), a consensus about the
literary integrity of Rom 16, including Rom 16:17–20,7 has been reached within
modern NT scholarship, at least by the majority.8

3 n Overview and a Few Distinctive Features of the Final Section of

Romans (Rom 15:33–16:27)

In his well-documented study, Jeffrey A.D. Weima describes and compares the
final sections of Paul’s letters, especially those of the commonly undisputed
Pauline letters (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 and 2

4  See his review of Eichhorn’s Einleitung in das Neue Testament and De Wette’s Lehrbuch der his-
torisch-kritischen Einleitung in die kanonischen Bücher des Neuen Testaments, in: Theologische
Studien und Kritiken 2.3 (1829): 563–636, esp. 609–612. Schulz argues on the integrity of
Rom 16:1–20 (cf. 609): “Dürfte man annehmen, daß Paulus das Kapitel nach Ephesus
geschrieben hätte, so erschiene dessen Inhalt in allen einzelnen Puncten eben so anspre-
chend und angemessen, als uns derselbe nach Rom hinsehend unangemessen und wid-
erstrebend vorkommen will” (612) (“If we assume that Paul has addressed the chapter to
Ephesus, then its content appears to be appealing and appropriate in all its single respects,
whereas the same chapter, with reference to Rome, happens to be inappropriate and con-
flicting”). See for a detailed discussion: Gamble, Textual History, 36–55, who correctly finds
the designation ‘Ephesian hypothesis’ an oversimplification.
5  Jeffrey A.D. Weima, Neglected Endings: The Significance of the Pauline Letter Closings (JSNT.S,
101), Sheffield 1994, 216 esp. n. 1, 2 and 3.
6  Weima, Neglected Endings, 218.
7  The authenticity of these verses has been questioned, based mainly on the idea that the stern
polemical warnings in Rom 16:17–20 interrupt the overall irenic tone in Romans and that
Paul launches an entirely new topic in this section (see §4, however, for my own understand-
ing). For a brief discussion on the authenticity, along with references, see, e.g., Thomas R.
Schreiner, Romans (BECNT), Grand Rapids, MI 1998, 801, and Arland J. Hultgren, Paul’s Letter
to the Romans: A Commentary, Grand Rapids, MI 2011, 591.
8  Cf. Karl P. Donfried, “Introduction 1991: The Romans Debate Since 1977,” in: The Romans
Debate (ed. Karl P. Donfried, rev. and enl. ed.), Peabody, MA 1995, lxx (also quoted by Weima,
Neglected Endings, 217 n. 3): “An especially significant shift has occurred with regard to the
understanding of Romans 16, which is now viewed by the majority as being an integral part
of Paul’s original letter.” Weima, Neglected Endings, 142–144, 217–219, argues that Rom 16:24
is not original, whereas Rom 16:25–27 belongs to the original letter. For more support of the
literary integrity of Rom 16:25–27, see, e.g., D.A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the
New Testament (2nd ed.), Grand Rapids, MI 2005, 398–401.
Romans 16:17–20a: Imminent Danger And Victory 135

Thessalonians, and Philemon).9 According to Weima, “Rom. 15.33–16.27 con-

tains all the epistolary conventions typically found in the letter closings of
Paul’s letters, plus some additional closing forms.”10 On the basis of an appar-
ently common pattern in the final sections of Paul’s letters, Weima detects
seven components in the final section of Romans:11

15:33 Peace Benediction

16:1–2 Commendation of Phoebe
16:3–16 First Greeting List
16:17–20a Hortatory Section
16:20b Grace Benediction
16:21–23 Second Greeting List
16:25–27 Doxology

In comparison with the other endings of the undisputed Pauline letters, there
appear to be several distinctive features in Rom 15:33–16:27, such as:12

(1) This section is the longest final section.

(2) The peace benediction (Rom 15:33) is followed by a commendation.
(3) The final section contains two greeting lists (Rom 16:3–16 and 16:21–23).
The first list is remarkably long and comes already before the hortatory
section, whereas the second list comes no sooner than after the grace
(4) The hortatory section (Rom 16:17–20a) is long and concludes with
words that are apparently similar to those of the peace benediction (cf.
Rom 16:20a with Rom 15:33).

9  Weima, Neglected Endings, 77–78.

10  Weima, Neglected Endings, 220. The endings of the undisputed Pauline letters con-
sist of four items: (1) the “peace benediction” (with the exception of 1 Corinthians and
Philemon); (2) the hortatory section (with the exception of 2 Thessalonians); (3) the
greetings (with the exception of Galatians), and (4) the “grace benediction” (all Paul’s
letters, including those whose authenticity is questioned). Although these four items
describe the sequence of a “typical Pauline letter closing,” the hortatory section can also
come before the peace benediction. See Weima, Neglected Endings, 78, 87, 104, 145, 154.
11  Weima, Neglected Endings, 222, with detailed overview. There are good reasons to regard
Rom 15:33 as the beginning of the final section of Romans. See Weima, Neglected Endings,
12  Cf. Weima, Neglected Endings, 220–222.
136 van Spanje

(5) The grace benediction (Rom 16:20b) comes immediately after the horta-
tory section and does not constitute the last part of the final section of
the letter.
(6) Rom 16 concludes with a unique doxology (Rom 16:25–27).

There is no need here to illustrate and interpret all the separate distinctive
features listed above. It may suffice to observe that Rom 16:20a is the conclud-
ing part of the hortatory section (Rom 16:17–20a) and that this verse should
not necessarily be construed as a common peace benediction, since the peace
benediction in the sense of an epistolary convention typical of the final sec-
tions of Paul’s letters has already been given in Rom 15:33 (see overview above).

4 Romans 16:20a within the Argument of Romans 16:17–20a

A plausible conclusion of Weima’s study is that the final sections of Paul’s

letters are carefully formulated, especially with respect to the main body of the
respective letter.

Every one of Paul’s letter closings, in fact, relates in one way or another to
the key issue(s) taken up in their respective letter bodies. The summariz-
ing or recapitulating function evident in Paul’s letter closings is of herme-
neutical significance . . . The closings serve as an hermeneutical spotlight,
highlighting the central concerns of the apostle in his letters and illumin-
ing our understanding of these key themes and issues.13

Consequently, Weima interprets all the items of the final section of Romans
by taking into full consideration the main body of the letter, particularly the
reason why Paul has written the letter.14
It may indeed justifiably be argued that there exists a significant relation
between the reason why Paul wrote his letter to the Romans and its care-
fully constructed epistolary ending. However, within NT research a variety of

13  Weima, Neglected Endings, 238–239.

14  See Weima, Neglected Endings, 222–230. Weima believes that Paul wrote Romans “to
establish further the authority of his apostleship and gospel over the Roman Christians”
whom he had never met before writing the letter (222). To illustrate his point, e.g., with
regard to the first greeting list (Rom 16:3–16), Weima argues: “Paul has constructed his
closing greetings in such a way that they further establish his apostolic authority over the
Roman churches and guarantee their acceptance of his gospel” (227–228).
Romans 16:17–20a: Imminent Danger And Victory 137

reasons has been proposed for the writing of Romans.15 Yet it may well be
argued, as many scholars indeed do, that there was a specific historical reason
for the writing of Romans and that there are important relevant exegetical data
that allude to internal conflicts within the Roman church, particularly between
the ‘weak’ and the ‘strong’ (Rom 14:1–15:13). The fact that these exegetical data
appear to be consistent with our knowledge of Rome’s contemporary history
makes a historical reason for the writing of Romans all the more persuasive.16
It is very well possible to interpret various items of the final section of
the letter by considering the historical context of the internal conflicts in the
Roman congregation17—including the hortatory section (Rom 16:17–20a), as
will now be shown.
In line with the character of the hortatory section, Paul opens this section
with the appropriate verb παρακαλέω (‘appeal to,’ verse 17; cf. 1 Cor 16:15). The
apostle urges the Roman Christians to ‘mark’ (σκοπέω, here: ‘mark [so as to
avoid]’18) those who cause divisions—note that Paul uses the plural διχοστασίαι
(‘divisions’), as in Gal 5:20—and ‘occasions of stumbling’ (σκάνδαλα) contrary
to the Christian ‘doctrine’ (διδαχή) that they have learned (ἐμάθετε, ‘you have
learned’). At first sight, it seems that Paul is referring to the doctrine that the
Roman Christians have learned from other Christians, not from Paul, since
the Roman Christians have not yet met Paul in person (Rom 1:8–15). It is also
possible that Paul is hinting at the doctrine that he has just pointed out in the
main body of the letter. However, it should be noted that, in Paul’s view, there
is no difference between ‘his gospel’ and the doctrine the Roman Christians
adhere to, since he has indeed “labored to demonstrate in this letter that his
gospel is ‘the gospel,’ for his teaching is simply a reminder of what they already
know and treasure (Rom. 15:14–15).”19 Likely, Paul is referring to the period
when his readers received the Christian doctrine and came to faith (note the

15  See my “De ‘zwakken’ en de ‘sterken’ (Romeinen 14,1–15,13) en de pastorale reden voor
het schrijven van de brief van Paulus aan de Romeinen,” in: Exeget[h]isch (ed. P.H.R. van
Houwelingen et al.), Kampen 2001, 61–83 (“The ‘Weak’ and the ‘Strong’ in Rom 14:1–15:13
and the Pastoral Reason for Romans”). This study includes an overview of different views
with references (61–64).
16  This is suggested at length in my “De ‘zwakken’ en de ‘sterken’ (Romeinen 14,1–15,13).”
17  For instance, with regard to the first greeting list (Rom 16:3–16), it may well be argued
that by his rather unusual manner of greeting, Paul is intending to establish mutual
acceptance between opposing groups in the congregation. See my Inconsistency in Paul?
A Critique of the Work of Heikki Räisänen (WUNT, 2,110), Tübingen 1999, 164 n. 7.
18  C.E.B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (ICC),
Edinburgh 1975–1990, 798.
19  Schreiner, Romans, 802.
138 van Spanje

aorist ἐμάθετε). With his warning about stumbling blocks against the Christian
doctrine, Paul probably has in mind those people who intend to let members
of the Roman congregation stumble, so that these members are tempted to
abandon the Christian teaching. The Greek grammatical structure shows that
it concerns one single group:20 to cause divisions goes hand in hand with caus-
ing occasions of stumbling in opposition to the sound Christian doctrine.
The phrase ἐκκλίνετε ἀπ’ αὐτῶν clarifies and strengthens σκοπέω:21 Paul’s
readers should not only mark the agitating troublemakers but also ‘avoid’
(ἐκκλίνω) them. For (cf. γάρ, verse 18) such troublemakers hold a despicable
outlook: they do not serve Christ but merely their own ‘belly’ (κοιλία). (The
interpretation of ‘belly’ will be postponed and taken up in the discussion on
the identity of the troublemakers.) These agitators ‘deceive’ (ἐξαπατῶσιν) the
hearts of ‘the innocent [in the sense of ‘simple’22 or ‘unsuspecting’23] people’
(τῶν ἀκάκων) by their χρηστολογία (‘deceptively smooth talk’24) and εὐλογία
(here: ‘false fine-speaking/plausibility’25). These two terms should probably
be construed as a hendiadys: through their deceitful smooth-talking, the
troublemakers easily deceive the simple-minded and credulous members of
the congregation.26 Heretical doctrines (cf. verse 17) are propagated mostly
by impressive arguments and smooth-talking that eventually turn out to be
misleading.27 It appears to be Satan’s strategy (see verse 20a) to stimulate
troublemakers to engage in smooth talking with members of the congregation.
Paul, however, has already urged his readers to stay away from such deceitful
flatterers: they should not converse with them but distance themselves from
them (verse 17).28

20  The long phrase τὰς διχοστασίας καὶ τὰ σκάνδαλα παρὰ τὴν διδαχὴν ἥν ὑμεῖς ἐμάθετε depends
on τοὺς . . . ποιοῦντας (adjectival participle) as a reference to the people concerned.
21  Cranfield, Romans, 798 (“they are actually to avoid them, to keep out of their way”).
22  Cranfield, Romans, 800–801.
23  Schreiner, Romans, 803.
24  Barclay M. Newman, Jr., e.g., captures the meaning of this NT hapax legomenon quite
well with his rendering “smooth talk.” See his A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the
New Testament, Stuttgart 1993, 199. It should be emphasized that this “smooth talk” is
deceptive, lacking integrity, in that the fine words constitute a sheer contradiction to the
concomitant destructive deeds of the speaker. Verse 18 is not so much concerned with
rhetoric skills as well as with fine words that appear to be deceitful.
25  Cranfield, Romans, 801 n. 1.
26  Cranfield, Romans, 751, renders “high-sounding plausibility.”
27  Cf. Jakob van Bruggen, Romeinen: Christenen tussen stad en synagoge (CNT-3), Kampen
2006, 236.
28  Cf. C. den Boer, De brief van Paulus aan de Romeinen IX–XVI (Vol. 2), Kampen 1990,
Romans 16:17–20a: Imminent Danger And Victory 139

The most difficult problem in this verse is the identification of the trouble­
makers. Many commentators believe that identifying them is virtually
impossible.29 Yet gathering the exegetical data may provide us with some
important clues. At least two things are implied by the accusation that they do
not serve Christ but their own belly: (1) the reference to Christ suggests that
the troublemakers considered themselves to be Christians, and (2) the men-
tioning of serving something other than Christ indicates some sort of idolatry
(they serve their ‘belly god’).30 Further identification depends mainly on the
way ‘belly’ (κοιλία) is understood.31 James D.G. Dunn, however, is very reluctant
to identify any particular characteristics of the agitators on the basis of Paul’s
accusation that they serve their own belly. Dunn argues that

. . . the line of attack seems to have become well established around this
period in Jewish polemic against what was perceived as apostasy (Philo,
Virt. 182; 3 Macc. 7.11; T. Mos. 7.4). Here too the language is not sufficiently
targeted and smacks too much of an already conventional polemic to
enable us to identify particular viewpoints.

Therefore, he concludes that

. . . the language belongs to the category of disinformation propaganda

or the imaginative caricature of a polemic of suspicion such as both
Christianity and Judaism suffered from in subsequent centuries . . .32

However, even though Philo of Alexandria indeed uses similar language to des-
ignate apostasy (Virt. 182), he does not accuse the apostates of ‘serving their
own belly’ but of being willing to sell their liberty for “the pleasures of the
belly and of the parts below the belly” (τε τὰς γαστρὸς ἀπολαύσεις καὶ τῶν μετὰ
γαστέρα). In fact, he does not even use the term κοιλία but γαστήρ (‘stomach’).33
Philo’s terminology, thus, differs. In addition, Philo’s accusation is expressed
in a long list of other very specific accusations, so that it seems imprecise to

29  Thus, e.g., Cranfield, Romans, 802 (“If Paul had one particular group in mind, we can-
not be at all certain which it was”); Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (NICNT),
Grand Rapids, MI 1996, 929 (“Identifying these false teachers is almost impossible”), and
Schreiner, Romans, 803 (“certainty is impossible”).
30  Schreiner, Romans, 803.
31  See for supporters of different views, e.g., Karl Olav Sandnes, Belly and Body in the Pauline
Epistles (SNTSMS, 120), Cambridge 2002, 169.
32  Both quotations from James D.G. Dunn, Romans 9–16 (WBC), Dallas, TX 1988, 903. Similarly
Hultgren, Romans, 593.
33  Similarly in 3 Macc 7:11 (γαστήρ).
140 van Spanje

argue, with reference to Philo, that Paul’s accusation betrays ‘already conven-
tional polemic,’ let alone that his language belongs to ‘the category of disin-
formation propaganda’ (see above). In other words, Philo’s language (Virt. 182)
does not exclude the possibility that Paul’s wording is sufficiently informative
to reveal specific views of the troublemakers.
A close parallel to verse 18 is Phil 3:18–19. Here Paul says about the enemies
of the cross of Christ that ‘their god is the belly’ (ὥν ὁ θεὸς ἡ κοιλία). The par-
allel shows that Paul was presumably facing similar problems in Rome and
Philippi. The phrase ‘they serve their own belly’ (Rom 16:18) should be inter-
preted, though, within its own particular context.
If κοιλία is used in Rom 16:18 metaphorically or figuratively, then Paul intends
to say that the overall attitude and conduct of the troublemakers may be char-
acterized as greedy egocentrism: they are concerned merely about themselves,
in all situations guided by self-centredness and selfishness, and oriented on
satisfying the desires of the flesh. In this interpretation, ‘serve one’s own belly’
simply means ‘serve oneself,’ in fact practising an idolatrous religion of “being
the willing slave of one’s egotism”34 concealed in smooth talk.35
However, the possibility of taking ‘belly’ in a somewhat literal sense should
not be ruled out too quickly (1 Cor 6:13; cf. Gal 1:15) and may be even more plau-
sible. In principle, such an interpretation gives us reason to consider at least
two options. (1) A ‘legalistic-literal’ interpretation. In this view, ‘serve one’s own
belly’ is understood in the sense of ‘observe Jewish food laws,’ thereby betray-
ing some sort of legalistic stance. This interpretation is defended in particular
by Johannes Behm, who believes that it is supported by patristic evidence, such
as Ambrosiaster.36 In his Latin commentary on Rom 16:17–18, Ambrosiaster

Hoc loco de personis prorupit pseudoapostolorum, quos in tota epis-

tola cavendos monuit, sicut et nunc; sed sine manifestatione traditio-
nem illorum compressit. Hi enim cogebant credentes Judaizare, ut Dei
beneficium circa se inanirent, sicut supra memoravi; compositis enim
genealogiae verbis, tractatus sibi coaptabant ad commendationem tradi-
tionis suae, per quos simplicium corda deciperent (“Now Paul goes on to

34  Thus Cranfield, Romans, 800.

35  Many respectable commentators incline to take ‘serve one’s own belly’ in this sense. See
references in Sandnes, Belly and Body, 169.
36  Behm believes that “Paul is alluding to the observance of laws of food and that he is pour-
ing bitter scorn on the Judaisers with their belly god,” TDNT 3:788.
Romans 16:17–20a: Imminent Danger And Victory 141

mention the false apostles, whom he warns against throughout the epis-
tle, just as he does here as well, but he attacks their teaching without say-
ing what it was. They were forcing believers to become Jews, and thereby
making the benefits of God worthless, as I said above. They compiled
long genealogies and used them to support their teaching, by which they
were deceiving the hearts of the simple”).37

Ambrosiaster, however, neither comments on κοιλία nor refers explicitly to

food laws. Yet it is not totally impossible that he indeed has the observance of
Jewish food laws in mind. But this is by no means certain.38
Considering much early Christian material, Karl Olav Sandnes argues that
Behm’s position that belly worship was a reference to food laws in the early
church is not tenable, since, in Sandnes’ view, a ‘legalistic-literal’ interpretation
indeed lacks patristic evidence. According to Sandnes, it is even a

. . . misreading of the evidence to argue that observing the food laws

as such meant belly-worship . . . Jewish preoccupation with food laws is
an example of a carnal attitude; hence it is called belly-service.39

Even though there might be some patristic evidence to support a ‘legalistic-

literal’ interpretation,40 at a minimum it can be argued that this interpretation
seems to be relatively poorly attested in the early church.
(2) Alternatively, a ‘libertine-literal’ interpretation. In this view, the same
phrase (‘serve one’s own belly’) is understood to refer to some sort of libertine
way of life characterized by greedy gluttony. This interpretation is attested, for
instance, by Chrysostom who may seem to interpret Rom 16:18 slightly differ-
ently from Phil 3:19 (note, e.g., the Greek ἐνταῦθα δέ in his clarification, perhaps
indicating a shift of meaning). After having referred to the latter, he clarifies
Rom 16:18:

Ἐνταῦθα δέ μοι τοὺς ἐξ Ἰουδαίων αἰνίττεσθαι δοκεῖ, οὓς μάλιστα ἀεὶ διαβάλλειν
εἴωθεν ὡς γαστριμάργους (“But here he [Paul] appears to me to intimate

37  P L 17, col. 181. Translation by Gerald L. Bray, Commentaries on Romans and 1–2 Corinthians:
Ambrosiaster (ACT), Downers Grove, IL 2009, 116.
38  Cf. Cranfield, Romans, 799 n. 2.
39  Sandnes, Belly and Body, 262.
40  See the discussions on Theodore of Mopsuestia and Gennadius of Marseilles in: Sandnes,
Belly and Body, 256–258, 259–260.
142 van Spanje

those of the Jews, whom he ever uses particularly to find fault with as

Similarly Theodoret of Cyrrhus who identifies the troublemakers with glutton-

ous Jews:

Καὶ ἐντεῦθεν δῆλον, ὡς περὶ Ἰουδαίων ταῦτά φησιν· ἀεὶ γὰρ αὐτῶν τῆς
γαστριμαργίας κατηγορεῖ· καὶ ἀλλαχοῦ φησιν· Ὥν Θεὸς ἡ κοιλία (“It is clear
from this that he says these things about Jews: he is ever accusing them of
gluttony, saying elsewhere, ‘Whose god is their belly’ ”).42

Sandnes believes that Cyprian, for instance, also interprets Rom 16:18 in this
way: “gluttony or gourmandizing and the way of life associated with it.”43
Patristic evidence is, of course, not conclusive. It is more important to note
that a ‘libertine-literal’ interpretation of the phrase ‘serve one’s own belly’
as such appears to fit well with the remainder of the letter, especially if the
troublemakers are identified with some of the ‘strong’ (Rom 14:1–15:13) who
eat everything (vegetables and meat) and also drink wine, in opposition to the
‘weak’ who obviously observe food laws by not drinking wine and eating veg-
etables only (Rom 14:2,6,21).44 It appears that several aspects of Rom 16:17–20a
find their parallel in Rom 14:1–15:13:

(1) Paul urges his readers to be on guard against the troublemakers who
cause διχοστασίαι (‘divisions,’ Rom 16:17). Also according to Rom 14:1–15:13,
the Roman congregation faces an imminent threat of divisions (e.g., Rom
14:1–5,10,13,15,19,21; 15:6–7).
(2) The agitators cause ‘stumbling blocks’ (σκάνδαλα) contrary to the
Christian doctrine (Rom 16:17), and this may have reminded Paul’s readers
especially of Rom 14:13: τὸ μὴ τιθέναι πρόσκομμα τῷ ἀδελφῷ ἤ σκάνδαλον
(cf. Rom 9:33; 11:9).
(3) It appears to be rather easy to persuade the ‘weak’ (cf. διακρίσεις
διαλογισμῶν, ‘disputes over opinions’ [Rom 14:1]), and Paul urges his
readers not to adopt views against their own conscience, let alone to act

41  P G 60, col. 676 (NPNF1 11:560). Cf. Cranfield, Romans, 800.
42  P G 82, col. 224. Translation by Robert Charles Hill, Theodoret of Cyrus: Commentary on the
Letters of St. Paul (Vol. 1), Brookline, MA 2001, 137.
43  Sandnes, Belly and Body, 232.
44  See also my “De ‘zwakken’ en de ‘sterken’ (Romeinen 14,1–15,13).”
Romans 16:17–20a: Imminent Danger And Victory 143

against it (Rom 14:5,22–23). These data seem to be further indications

that some of the ‘strong’ indeed used deceitful smooth-talking in order to
succeed in persuading the ‘weak’ (cf. Rom 16:18).

It may, therefore, be argued on good grounds that Rom 16:17–20a is not unre-
lated to the rest of Romans, especially to Rom 14:1–15:13—a point already
demonstrated by Philip F. Esler by clarifying the above (and other) parallels,45
Francis Watson,46 Karl P. Donfried,47 and Paul S. Minear,48 though it is con-
tested by several respectable commentators.49 In commenting on Sandnes,
A. Andrew Das probably frames it well:

Paul is not warning against the sort of Jewish Christian opponents he

encountered in the East. He has in mind, rather, the most vocal and
stubborn advocates among the ‘strong’ of Rom 14–15, who were selfishly
insisting on their freedom from Jewish food laws at the expense of their
weaker neighbors. The issue here is not the weak’s adherence to food
laws, but rather the selfishness of the strong.50

45  Philip F. Esler, Conflict and Identity in Romans: The Social Setting of Paul’s Letter,
Minneapolis, MN 2003, 125–128: “From this analysis I conclude that 16:17–20 relates
directly to affairs in Rome and that the problems it warns against relate directly to issues
Paul has ventilated earlier in the letter, notably in 14:1–15:13” (128).
46  Francis Watson, Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles: A Sociological Approach (SNTSMS,
56), Cambridge 1986, 101–102, and his Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New
Perspective (rev. and enl. ed.), Grand Rapids, MI 2007, 186–188.
47  Donfried, The Romans Debate, 51–52.
48  P.S. Minear, The Obedience of Faith: The Purposes of Paul in the Epistle to the Romans (SBT,
2.19), London 1971, 27–29.
49  Such as Moo, Romans, 929; Schreiner, Romans, 801; Dunn, Romans, 901 and 904, and
Hultgren, Romans, 592. Alternatively, Sandnes, Belly and Body, 165–180, suggests that Rom
16:17–20 is related not so much to Rom 14:1–15:13 but to Rom 3:8: “Belly-devotion is . . . pri-
marily a reference to their kinship with Satan. In Rom. 16:18 belly-worship is about to
become a pejorative term for an apostasized life. No reference to food matters or an indul-
gent life is forthcoming in this passage. The warning is, however, issued against those who
are responsible for the objection voiced in Rom. 3:8, probably Jewish Christians” (179).
50  A. Andrew Das, Solving the Romans Debate, Minneapolis, MN 2007, 47. See also my “De
‘zwakken’ en de ‘sterken’ (Romeinen 14,1–15,13).” Here I argue that the ‘strong’ are to be
identified with the Gentile Christians in Rome. I am well aware of the fact that I apply the
suggested interpretation of ‘serve one’s own belly’ to the attitude of the Gentile Christians
in Rome (cf. the patristic evidence).
144 van Spanje

It is my understanding that in Rom 16:17–18 Paul does not issue a generic warn-
ing about a potential threat that might ever endanger the Roman Christians,51
but that he earnestly reflects on the imminent danger of disunity and false
teaching caused by agitators who are in some way affiliated with the ‘strong.’
Perhaps they are, to use the above words of Das, indeed the most vocal and
stubborn advocates among the ‘strong.’52 The troublemakers use deceit-
ful smooth-talking to indoctrinate the simple-minded among the ‘weak’
(cf. Rom 14:23a) with their false teaching of a libertine lifestyle that is obsessed
by the ego’s desires of the flesh and notable for its gluttony. As stated above,
patristic evidence is not conclusive. Yet research on Paul’s belly-dicta (Rom
16:18 and Phil 3:19) in patristic literature shows that the figurative mean-
ing (selfishness, self-centredness) is “entirely subordinate to the critique of
gluttony.”53 Weima has convincingly demonstrated that the final sections of
Paul’s letters are of hermeneutical significance (see the quotation at the begin-
ning of this section). This also applies to the hortatory section (Rom 16:17–20a)
that appears to be related to Rom 14:1–15:13.54 There seem to be too many indi-
cations in favour of the above identification to conclude otherwise.55
The apostle provides the reason why (cf. γάρ, verse 19) the Roman Christians
should heed the exhortations in verse 17 and following: their obedience is
well-known in the entire world, so that Paul rejoices over them (cf. Rom 1:8:

51  Pace, e.g., Moo, Romans, 929 (“teachers who might make their way to Rome”); Schreiner,
Romans, 801 (“Paul envisions a potential danger”), and Dunn, Romans, 904 (“possible
52  It is, of course, impossible to identify all the ‘strong’ with the troublemakers. According
to Rom 15:7, Paul encourages the ‘weak’ and the ‘strong’ to accept one another, whereas in
Rom 16:17 he urges his readers to avoid the agitators. This was discussed only marginally
at the conference on Leviathan (12 April 2013).
53  Sandnes, Belly and Body, 261.
54  Taking up Minear’s idea to study Romans backwards (Minear, The Obedience of Faith, 6),
in 2001, I have suggested that Rom 14:1–15:13 is of hermeneutical importance to under-
stand Romans. See my “De ‘zwakken’ en de ‘sterken’ (Romeinen 14,1–15,13),” 76.
55  Some other exegetical indications may be added to those already mentioned in the main
text, such as: Paul’s use of the definite articles τάς and τά (verse 17), the present tense
ἐκκλίνετε (verse 17), the parallel between δουλεύων τῷ Χριστῷ (Rom 14:18) and τῷ κυρίῳ
ἡμῶν Χριστῷ οὐ δουλεύουσιν (Rom 16:18), etc. If such indications are considered separately,
then their relevance could be played down. Taken together, however, they suggest that
the troublemakers are already present in the Roman congregation and that the divisions
and stumbling blocks are indeed known to the Roman Christians. Furthermore, if Paul
would have wanted to allude to merely potential dangers, then conditional sentences
with potential conditions and/or indefinite pronouns would have been at his disposal.
Romans 16:17–20a: Imminent Danger And Victory 145

faith is obedience). Therefore, to prevent the loss of their good reputation,56

they should seriously listen to his exhortations. Paul wishes that they should
be ‘wise’ (σοφός), viz. have insight, for the purpose of, or with respect to
(cf. εἰς),57 ‘that which is [moral] good’ (τὸ ἀγαθόν) so that they will continue
to be renowned for their obedience, and ‘pure’ (ἀκέραιος) with respect to ‘what
is evil’ (τὸ κακόν) so that they avoid the troublemakers.

Paul is recognizing and encouraging the Roman Christians’ ‘obedience’

in one sense—their freedom from sin as a result of their obedience to
the gospel message—while he subtly warns them about another kind of
‘innocence’—the kind that lacks wisdom and discernment about truth
and error. As Bruce puts it, they should not be “so ‘simple-minded’ as
to swallow whatever is offered.” Understood in this way, Paul probably
alludes to Jesus’ saying about being ‘wise as serpents and innocent as
doves’ (Matt. 10:16), for the meaning is much the same.58

‘The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet’ (ὁ δὲ θεὸς τῆς εἰρήνης
συντρίψει τὸν σατανᾶν ὑπὸ τοὺς πόδας ὑμῶν ἐν τάχει, verse 20a).59 The phrase ὁ
θεὸς τῆς εἰρήνης also occurs in Rom 15:33 (as in 2 Cor 13:11 [ὁ θεὸς τῆς ἀγάπης καὶ
εἰρήνης], Phil 4:9, and 1 Thess 5:23; see also Heb 13:20). Since Paul has written
his common peace benediction already in Rom 15:33 (see §3), it is unlikely to
view Rom 16:20a as such. Thus the phrase ὁ θεὸς τῆς εἰρήνης must be interpreted
on its own terms within the thrust of the argument of Rom 16:17–20a. Already
in Rom 16:17, Paul alludes to the threat of dissensions among the Roman con-
gregation. Mutual peaceful acceptance is imperative. Now it should be real-
ized that the genitive τῆς εἰρήνης is not just descriptive (God characterized by
peace) but that it also refers to God’s gift: God will impart his peace to the
Roman Christians, so that they may be able to restore and maintain mutual

56  Interestingly, Schreiner explains the γάρ in verse 19 in the sense that the Roman Christians
must be on their guard because their obedience is known in the entire world. Therefore,
they will easily attract the attention of troublemakers (Romans, 804). This explanation is,
of course, consistent with his view that there is only a potential danger.
57  Cranfield, Romans, 802.
58  Moo, Romans, 932.
59  A few witnesses (according to NA-28: A 365. 630 f g t vgcl; Spec) read in the place of
συντρίψει (indicative future of συντρίβω, ‘crush’) the variant συντρίψαι. The external evi-
dence is too weak to support this variant. The secondary reading did not grasp the idea
that verse 20a is meant as a promise (see main text) and has consequently weakened the
intended firm promise into a mere wish (‘may crush’).
146 van Spanje

acceptance within the Roman congregation.60 In this way, it becomes clear

that verse 20a is an appropriate ending of the hortatory section: ‘the God of
peace’ will empower Paul’s readers in order to prevent dissensions.
Remarkably, Paul refers to ‘Satan.’ In Paul’s view, those who cause divisions
and occasions of stumbling contrary to the Christian doctrine (verse 17) hap-
pen to be servants of God’s adversary and archenemy (cf. 1 Cor 5:5; 7:5; 2 Cor
2:11; 11:14; 12:7; 1 Thess 2:18; 2 Thess 2:9; 1 Tim 1:20; 5:15).61 “The presence of
adversaries is due to the Adversary, Satan.”62 In his very person, Satan intends
to demolish the unity of the congregation and to attack sound Christian doc-
trine by using human troublemakers who resemble Satan in deceiving others
(cf. ἐξαπατῶσιν, verse 18, and Gen 3).
Again remarkable is Paul’s view that God will crush Satan ‘under your feet’
(ὑπὸ τοὺς πόδας ὑμῶν). The apostle emphasizes the idea that Satan and, of
course, also those who cause divisions and stumbling blocks, will be subjected
to the Roman Christians.63 Then Paul’s readers will not be agitated anymore
in any way by Satan. They will even rule over him and eventually share in God’s
final defeat of the Adversary. This promise will ‘soon’ (ἐν τάχει) be realized:
Paul’s readers will witness such (cf. the emphatic ὑμῶν). By this apocalyptic
wording, Paul undoubtedly alludes to an eschatological event. Yet by using the
term ‘soon,’ he does not want to refer to a particular moment but to stress
the fact that final victory will be achieved in the not-too-distant future. “God
has planned nothing to occupy the space between the ascension and the par-
ousia. The parousia is the very next event on his calendar.”64

60  Similarly 2 Cor 13:11. See Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (NIGTC),
Grand Rapids, MI 2005, 935, and my commentary (in Dutch) 2 Korintiërs: Profiel van een
evangeliedienaar (CNT-3), Kampen 2009 (2nd ed. Utrecht 2013), 323.
61  According to Cranfield, Romans, 803, it is not very likely that Paul, in verse 20a, has in
mind those who are mentioned in verse 17: verse 19 has completed “what Paul wants to
say concerning the matter raised in v. 17.” However, in this way he does not sufficiently
indicate the meaning of verse 20a within the argument of its immediate context. Cf.
Schreiner: “Verse 20a should not be separated from the rest of the text,” Romans, 804.
62  Schreiner, Romans, 804.
63  Significantly, the Dutch New Bible Translation (2004–2005) adds the clarifying phrase “en
aan u onderwerpen” (“and will subject [the Satan] to you”). On the basis of Paul’s termi-
nology, it is indeed likely to interpret the phrase ὑπὸ τοὺς πόδας ὑμῶν in terms of subjec-
tion and victory (cf. 1 Cor 15:25,27; Eph 1:22). See also §5.
64  John R.W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s good news for the world (BST), Leicester
1999, 401.
Romans 16:17–20a: Imminent Danger And Victory 147

Conclusion (1)
Within the argument of Rom 16:17–20a, verse 20a forms the very climax and is
meant to be a promise to encourage Paul’s readers. The congregation seems to
be in imminent (not: potential) danger of disunity, due to Satan’s destructive
strategies and his human agents, viz. the agitators. Already in Rom 14:1–15:13
Paul has described the same threat of divisions. However, God promises that
the Roman Christians will soon rule over Satan and witness God’s peace, as a
gift to them that guarantees and enables them to establish the congregation’s
unity. Not only is the danger of disunity imminent, but so also is God’s escha-
tological victory.

5 The Background of Paul’s Wording in Romans 16:20a

Many exegetes argue that Paul’s wording in Rom 16:20a is influenced by God’s
words spoken to the serpent (Gen 3:15), especially by God’s judgment that the
head of the serpent will be crushed. The influence of (the Greek translation
of) Gen 3:15 on Paul’s wording seems obvious, even though there appear to be,
after a close reading, terminological and conceptual differences, such as:

(1) The Septuagint translates the Hebrew verb ‫‘( ׁשּוף‬crush,’ Gen 3:15) as τηρέω
(‘guard’), whereas in Rom 16:20a, Paul uses the verb συντρίβω. Presumably,
having the Hebrew text in mind, Paul has his own Greek rendering (the
LXX may have even misunderstood the Hebrew verb).65
(2) Paul does not refer to the ‘head’ of the serpent.
(3) In Paul’s view, it is not ‘the seed of the woman’ (Gen 3:15) but ‘the God of
peace’ (not: Christ, as in Christological interpretations) who is the agent
of Satan’s destruction.66

In his profound and useful study The Climax of Prophecy, Richard Bauckham
has served NT scholarship by sharing his insights into the book of Revelation.67
However, in referring to Rom 16:20a, he has missed a minor yet relevant fact.
Discussing Rev 12:9, he argues that ‘the great Dragon’ (ὁ δράκων ὁ μέγας) as

65  For a discussion on the translation of ‫ ׁשּוף‬see: Marten H. Woudstra, “Recent Translations
of Genesis 3:15,” CTJ 6 (1971): 194–203, esp. 200–203.
66  Cf. Daniel G. Reid, “Satan, devil,” DPL 862–867, esp. 866.
67  Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation, London
148 van Spanje

image of ‘the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan’ (ὁ ὄφις ὁ
ἀρχαῖος, ὁ καλούμενος Διάβολος καὶ ὁ Σατανᾶς) has been made possible by

. . . the identification of Leviathan, the dragon who is destined to escha-

tological defeat by God, with the serpent of Genesis 3 . . . The serpent of
Genesis 3 was certainly already associated or identified with the devil
in Jewish interpretation . . ., but for any hint, outside Revelation, of an
identification of this serpent with Leviathan we have only two Christian

The two ‘Christians texts’ are, in Bauckham’s view, Rom 16:20 and Odes Sol. 22:5.
(In this present contribution, only Rom 16:20 will be discussed.) According to
Bauckham, Paul’s use of the Greek verb συντρίβω in Rom 16:20a suggests that

. . . behind this text may lie an association of Psalm 74:13–14 (“ . . . you

broke [‫ ;ׁשברת‬LXX συνέτριψας] the heads of the dragons in the water; you
crushed [‫ ;רצצת‬LXX συνέτριψας] the heads of Leviathan . . .”) with Genesis
3:15, perhaps in connexion also with Psalm 91:14.69

In sum: considering the terminology of the Greek translation of Ps 74

(LXX Ps 73), especially the usage of συντρίβω, Bauckham believes that we find
a ‘hint’ in Rom 16:20a that betrays the identification of Satan (the serpent,
Gen 3:15) with Leviathan.
Several objections may be brought against Bauckham’s suggestion, such as:

(1) Bauckham argues that the Septuagint translates the Hebrew verb ‫רצץ‬
(‘crush,’ Ps 74:14), indicating the destruction of the heads of Leviathan, as
συνέτριψας (aorist of συντρίβω). This is incorrect. In fact, the Septuagint
(Ps 73:14) translates the Hebrew verb as συνέθλασας (συνθλάω, ‘crush’).
(Bauckham correctly observes that the Septuagint [Ps 73:13] translates the
Hebrew verb ‫‘[ ׁשבר‬break,’ Ps 74:13] as συνέτριψας.) Thus, the Septuagint’s
terminology in Ps 73 does not connect the verb συντρίβω directly with the
destruction of Leviathan’s heads.

68  Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, 193. See also the contribution of Henk van de Kamp
to this volume.
69  Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, 193–194. Bauckham refers to Ps 91:14, but obviously
has in mind Ps 91:13. Bauckham is not the first who has interpreted Rom 16:20 by referring
to Ps 73:13 (LXX) and Ps 91:13. See, e.g., Georg Bertram, “συντρίβω κτλ.,” TDNT 7:919–925,
esp. 924 with n. 31.
Romans 16:17–20a: Imminent Danger And Victory 149

(2) What purpose within the argument of Rom 16:17–20a would the alleged
identification of Satan (the serpent) with Leviathan serve? Moreover, it
is difficult to imagine what Paul would have had in mind with such an
(3) The question may be raised whether the Roman Christians would have
grasped the identification, since the image of Leviathan in Ps 74:14 stems
from a completely different and much older cultural-religious tradition
than the one with which the Roman Christians were familiar. Many exe-
getes have demonstrated that the ancient Israelites borrowed the image
of Leviathan and the battle myth (cf. Isa 27:1) from already existing non-
Biblical texts (see the vast literature on Leviathan).70

The last two objections are not conclusive: Paul may not have been aware
of using terminology that mingled certain traditions. But the first objection
shows that Bauckham simply overlooks the verb συνέθλασας (LXX Ps 73:14).
Even though συντρίβω is indeed used to describe the destruction of ‘the heads
of the dragons in the water’ (LXX Ps 73:13), Bauckham’s evidence is just too thin
to support the idea that Paul’s wording in Rom 16:20a contains a hint of the
identification of the serpent with Leviathan.71 In addition, it would still be a
long stretch to conclude from one single terminological parallel (viz. the occur-
rence of συντρίβω) to a conceptual parallel.
Worthy of consideration is the suggestion of Daniel Reid who argues that in
Rom 16:20a, Paul seems to be blending the famous verse Gen 3:15 with Ps 110:1
(‘. . . until I make your enemies your footstool’) and/or Ps 8:6 (‘You have given
him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his

The latter is the more likely text being echoed here, since it speaks of
God placing the created order under the superintendence of humankind.
On this reading Paul would be saying that in defeating Satan, who leads
and epitomizes creation in rebellion, God will be restoring to the children
of the last Adam (the ‘seed of the woman’) their role of dominion and
eschatological shalom.72

70  See for references to literature on Leviathan: Marjo C.A. Korpel, Johannes C. de Moor,
Adam, Eve, and the Devil: A New Beginning (HBM, 65), Sheffield 2014, 54–69, and their
contribution to this volume.
71  This is not to say, of course, that there are no biblical traces that identify the serpent with
Leviathan (cf. Isa 27:1). See Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, 194.
72  Reid, “Satan, devil,” 866.
150 van Spanje

The Roman Christians will share in God’s final victory, namely at the time—
and that will be soon—when the troublemakers (Rom 16:17–18) and Satan are
defeated. This interpretation also takes into full account the significant word-
ing that God will crush Satan ‘under your feet’ (ὑπὸ τοὺς πόδας ὑμῶν).

Conclusion (2)
In Rom 16:20a, Paul seems not to make use of the ancient mythical image of
‘Leviathan, the dragon’—at least, not consciously. He seems to refer to Gen 3:15
in combination with a metaphor that also occurs elsewhere, for instance, in
Ps 8 and/or Ps 110. Nonetheless, despite the improbability that the wording of
Rom 16:20a is influenced by the image of Leviathan, the libertine troublemak-
ers may have experienced Paul’s wording, so to speak, as a ‘monstrous’ threat.

The Air Combat between Michael and the Dragon

Revelation 12:7–12 in Relation to Similar Texts from the New Testament

Rob van Houwelingen

1 Introduction

The dragons of the ancient world are quite different from the drones of the
beginning of the twenty-first century. Yet, in some respects there are also simi-
larities: they are invisible for a long time and they can become suddenly fatal.
In chapter 12 the book of Revelation reports a visionary experience of John on
the isle of Patmos: he witnessed an air combat between the archangel Michael
and Satan. Satan appears in the form of a dragon, having features of the mon-
ster Leviathan (Rev 12:3; cf. 13:1; 17:1, 7, 9). Two otherworldly armies faced each
other; they represent the good and the evil forces that are in the air. As a result
of this air combat the dragon was cast out. An enigmatic vision! What pro-
phetic message did the first audience hear in this passage by the end of the 1st
century? They were Christians in the seven churches of Asia Minor. As later
Bible readers how can we connect this passage with similar texts from the New
Testament, in which the elimination of Satan is announced?

2 Structure of Revelation 12

2.1 A Cosmic Conflict

First we must view chapter 12 of the book of Revelation as a whole.1 Here the
conflict between the Dragon and the Woman is mapped out. They are two fig-
ures who had appeared to the visionary eye of John at the very beginning of the
chapter. Verses 7–12 interrupt this line, putting the conflict into a framework:
it is a cosmic conflict, full of significance for the inhabitants of both heaven
and earth.2

1  See also the contribution of Henk van de Kamp to this volume. He deals particularly with
Rev 12:3–6 and 13:1–10, while the present contribution focuses on 12:7–12.
2  Peter Antonysamy Abir, The Cosmic Conflict of the Church. An Exegetico-Theological Study of
Revelation 12, 7–12 (European University Studies: Series; 23, Theology, 547), Frankfurt 1995,
65–67. See Paul B. DeCock, “Images of War and Creation, of Violence and Non-Violence in

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi ��.��63/9789004337961_010

152 van Houwelingen

Verses 10–11 are usually considered to be a brief hymnic interlude about the
consequences of the appearance of the Dragon for believers (cf. 13:9–10). They
are threatened by a great danger. According to Van Henten, different historical
contexts are possible: a lawsuit in a Roman court, or mandatory participation
in religious festivities, requiring a sacrifice or demonstration of loyalty to the
The vision from Revelation 12 can be structured as follows:4

Introduction Two signs: the Woman and the Dragon verses 1–3
A Fleeing of the Woman persecuted by the verses 4–6
B War in heaven verses 7–9
C Hymn verses 10–12
A’ Fleeing of the Woman persecuted by the verses 13–16
B’ War on earth verse 17

2.2 Observations
The proposed structure leads to two primary observations:

a. The hymn in verses 10–12 is no interlude, but provides essential back-

ground information, background music and interpretation. One could
think of the function of a chorus in a Greek drama.5 According to Van
de Kamp, we are here as close as one can get to the experience of the
early Christian community. They could ask why they were experiencing

the Revelation of John,” in: Pieter G.R. de Villiers, Jan Willem van Henten (eds.), Coping with
Violence in the New Testament (STAR-series, 16), Leiden 2012, 185–200.
3  Jan Willem van Henten, “The concept of martyrdom in Revelation,” in: Jörg Frey, James A.
Kelhoffer, Franz Tóth (eds.), Die Johannesapokalypse: Kontexte—Konzepte—Rezeption
(WUNT, 287), Tübingen 2012, 587–618.
4  This structure is based on the analysis by Edith M. Humphrey, “To Rejoice or Not to Rejoice?
Rhetoric and the Fall of Satan in Luke 10:17–24 and Revelation 12:1–17,” in: D. Barr (ed.),
The Reality of Apocalypse: Rhetoric and Politics in the Book of Revelation, Atlanta 2006,
113–125 [119].
5  Humphrey, “To Rejoice or Not to Rejoice?,” 121, referring to Aune’s commentary (see foot-
note 23).
The Air Combat Between Michael And The Dragon 153

so much opposition despite the victory of the Lord.6 The duel between
Michael and the Dragon is a prelude to the final defeat of the opponent(s)
in 19:11–21 [and 20:10].
b. The battleground moves from heaven to earth. First there was war in
heaven: Michael with his angels against the Dragon with his angels. The
Dragon is defeated and cast down to earth. At his defeat the sequel is
(announced with “rejoice, heaven, but woe unto earth and sea” [the sea
is mentioned because of the beast from the sea]): War on earth, because
the Dragon fights against the offspring of the Woman. This battle is still
raging. Yet, a temporal aspect is now introduced: he has little time.

2.3 Fighting Monsters

Since the rise of the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule, scholars have looked for
parallels with myths from pagan religions.7 Parallels with a Babylonian,8 or an
Egyptian-Greek9 background were proposed. Nowadays, especially American
exegetes like Yarbro Collins prefer a purely Greek background: Python, the
dragon of Delphi, even occurring in the Bible: in Philippi a slave was possessed
by a python spirit, as the text literally says (Acts 16:16).10 In any event, studies
like these have shown that the description of the mythical battle against mon-
sters followed a particular pattern:11

1. The enemy is of divine origin

2. The enemy has a distinctive habitation (typically that of a monster)
3. The enemy has extraordinary appearance and properties
4. The enemy is vicious and greedy
5. The enemy conspires against heaven
6. A divine champion appears as his opponent

6  H.R. van de Kamp, Openbaring. Profetie vanaf Patmos (CNT), 5th rev. ed., Kampen 2012,
7  See in this volume also the contribution of Van de Kamp, section 2.2. and 2.3.
8  H. Gunkel, Schöpfung und Chaos in Urzeit und Endzeit. Eine religionsgeschichtliche
Untersuchung über Gen 1 und Ap Joh 12, Gottingen 1895.
9  W. Bousset, Der Antichrist in der Überlieferung des Judentums, des neuen Testaments und
der alten Kirche. Ein Beitrag zur Auslegung der Apocalypse, Göttingen 1895.
10  A. Yarbro Collins, The Combat Myth in the Book of Revelation. Diss. Harvard, Missoula, MT
11  See for this pattern, described by Fontenrose: Jan Willem van Henten, “Dragon Myth and
Imperial Ideology in Revelation 12–13,” in: D. Barr (ed.), The Reality of Apocalypse: Rhetoric
and Politics in the Book of Revelation, Atlanta, GA 2006, 181–203.
154 van Houwelingen

7. The champion fights the enemy

8. The champion nearly loses the battle
9. The enemy is ultimately defeated and destroyed
10. The champion disposes of the enemy and celebrates his victory

To what extent can this pattern be identified in Revelation 12?

Ad 1–2: Satan falls from heaven; the Dragon fights against celestial bodies
(Rev 12:4); and a monster is located in the sea (Rev 12:15,18; 13:1). However, the
Dragon does not live in heaven; he only appears there.12
Ad 3–5: The Dragon-snake has gigantic dimensions, multiple heads and
horns, fights against the heavenly armies, and is destructive in nature. But
where is the battlefront? That does not become clear from the text; or does
perhaps the battle take place on multiple fronts?
Ad 6–10: Michael does overcome the Dragon in heaven, however, without
almost losing the battle. The result though is that the Dragon continues his
battle on the earth. Elimination and final victory are omitted until 19:11–21 and
And who is the champion? The text always uses passive verbal forms.
Ultimately, God determines the outcome. He is the champion, by conquering
the Dragon. John, however, does not explicitly mention this. God can make use
of various means, also of Michael and his angels.
In conclusion: Revelation 12 does not exactly fit into a particular pattern;
though there are obvious similarities, there are also key differences; and not
all elements of the proposed pattern are present. The air combat receives a
relatively short description. It is remarkable that within the vision the battle-
ground shifts from heaven to the earth. This change also affects the uniqueness
of the Christian message: what John gets to see in a visionary way is not an
elusive myth, but the story is set within the world of the readers/hearers. This
means that they receive a Christian perspective upon their reality. The air com-
bat takes place in history, and thus within the daily actualities.
Finally, verse 17 speaks of the faithful followers of Jesus. They are the off-
spring of the Woman who had appeared at the beginning of Revelation 12. She
symbolizes the Israel from whom the Messiah comes, the people of God. There
is one group that has two characteristics, however: her offspring observes the
commandments of God (a typical Jewish feature) and her offspring holds to
the testimony of Jesus (a typical Christian feature). Could this combination
imply that perhaps Jewish Christians are meant?

L.J. Lietaert Peerbolte, The Antecedents of Antichrist. A Traditio-Historical Study of the
Earliest Christian Views on Eschatological Opponents. Diss. Leiden 1995, 140 n. 1.
The Air Combat Between Michael And The Dragon 155

3 Exegesis of Revelation 12:7–12

3.1 Translation (ESV)13

7.–8. Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the
dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and
there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9. And the great dragon
was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the
deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels
were thrown down with him.
10. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying:

Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the
authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has
been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.
11. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the
word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
12. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe
to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath,
because he knows that his time is short!

3.2 Battle in Heaven

In the book of Revelation, fighting has been mentioned previously. Christ
threatens the church of Pergamum because of the heretical teaching of the
Nicolaitans: “Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against
them with the sword of my mouth” (2:16). But also “the beast that rises from the
bottomless pit” will engage in war, as the two witnesses have experienced (11:7:
fight, victory, death). In those cases it concerns, however, a battle on earth.

Warring Parties and the Course of the Battle

War now erupts in heaven. Two characters had appeared in verses 1–4: first a
woman (her appearance reminds us of Song of Songs 6:10) and then a dragon.
The Dragon will resurface in 13:1. His appearance is reminiscent of Daniel 7–8.
It is a political and aggressive animal, wearing crowns and blood-red in color.
The term δράκων is also used in the Septuagint for mythical monsters, such as

13  Unless otherwise indicated, all Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version
14  L XX Job 7:12; 40:20; Ιsa 27:1. According to James H. Charlesworth, The Good and Evil
Serpent. How a Universal Symbol Became Christianized, New Haven and London 2010, 454,
156 van Houwelingen

Michael (his name means “Who is like God?”) is the guardian angel of Israel.
He is also combative in Jude 9, where he takes on the devil. In Revelation 12
he is the one who goes to battle the Dragon.15 Thus it was Michael who started
the war. He initiates the attack; from the beginning the Dragon is on the defen-
sive. Hence, the translation of the ESV is to the point: “he fought back.” Both
heavenly commanders have an army of angels; the soldiers, therefore, are of
the same kind. The course of the battle is not revealed in the text. It seems to
be a foregone conclusion that the battle is a lost cause for the Dragon.
He (singular) as the captain got the worst of it; they (plural) as the entire
army lost their position in heaven. As angels they apparently had a legitimate
place in heaven, but now no longer. The activity of the captain in particular
will be mentioned in the sequel, viz., accusing.

Thrown Down
Being “thrown down” or “hurled down” (NIV) appears three times in the
description of Revelation. The Dragon was thrown down, thrown down to the
earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. This repetition emphasizes
the shameful demise of the Dragon and his army (the Greek verb βάλλειν will
return in 20:10, as the evil forces are eventually thrown into the lake of fire and
Remarkable is the accumulation of names in the text.17 The different names
tell something about the character of the Dragon. We should note, however,
that those names are mentioned after the first instance of being “thrown
down”. That event makes one realize how dangerous the opponent of Michael

the Greek noun δράκων may develop from δέρκομαι: “to see clearly,” because of the fire
that flashes from the eyes of the monster. The author of Revelation would have inherited
the concept of the serpent as a negative symbol from the Old Testament [353].
15  This is the only time in Rev that an angel is mentioned by name. Moreover, Michael will
not reappear in the book. This means that his victory is dependent on Christ’s. Michael’s
victory seems to be the heavenly counterpart of Christ’s sacrificial victory on earth, as
recorded in verses 4b–5. See Darrell D. Hannah, Michael and Christ: Michael Traditions
and Angel Christology in Early Christianity, Tübingen 1999, 127–130.
16  Abir, The Cosmic Conflict of the Church, 137–140. Cf. Gerhard Maier, Die Offenbarung
des Johannes. Kapitel 12–22 (HTA), Witten 2012, 47; Michael Koch, Drachenkampf und
Sonnenfrau (WUNT, 184), Tübingen 2004, 264.
17  For this reason Koch, Drachenkampf und Sonnenfrau, 274–280, coined the phrase
“Panopticum des Bösen” to characterise the content of chapter 12. See on his approach
as a whole, however, the critical comments of Marjo C.A. Korpel, Johannes C. de Moor,
Adam, Eve, and the Devil. A New Beginning (HBM, 65), Sheffield 2014, 228–230.
The Air Combat Between Michael And The Dragon 157

had actually been. Those names are, in Campbell’s words, ironic anti-titles (cf.
9:11 and 20:2); the Dragon finds himself diametrically opposed to the Creator.18

• “Ancient serpent,” or “the serpent of old” (also in 20:2): this designation

refers to the prehistory described in Genesis 3. The Greek noun ὄφις is com-
monly [15x] used for snake in the New Testament. It is perhaps onomato-
poeic, since it sounds like the hissing of a snake.19
• “Devil:” Διάβολος is the Greek equivalent of ‫שטן‬, here followed by the
transcription of the Hebrew. Something similar happens in 9:11. He is the
Adversary, Accuser, or Prosecutor (see κατήγωρ and κατηγορῶν in verse 10).
• “Deceiver:” according to the letters of John, seduction is an anti-Christian
element within the congregation (1 John 4:6; 2 John 7). But in the book of
Revelation the seduction is always from outside, except in 2:20. Here the
devilish seducer of the whole civilized world is meant.

The Dragon is thrown down to the earth, perhaps partly in retaliation for the
sweeping with his tail, which indeed resulted in throwing down to the earth of
a third part of the stars (12:4). So, in Revelation 12 the battlefield moves from
heaven to earth.

3.3 Voice in Heaven

Then John reports about hearing a loud, multiform voice in heaven. Whose
voice is that? Is it from angels or from martyrs? Considering that in verse 10 the
voice identifies itself with “our brothers [and sisters]”, either way the martyrs
are meant. Thus, we have here an echo of the martyr prayer from 6:9–11: the
souls under the altar, of those who had been slain, crying for revenge. They
were told to be patient a little longer, but now there is cause for celebration.
Therefore, in chapter 12 the voice heard is not exactly the same one as in chap-
ters 4, 5 and 11, where the four living creatures are speaking. The relationship
between these two voices is not entirely clear; are they separate or do we hear
a small choir, a selection from a larger collection of singers?

Victory Song
In any event, what they are singing is a victory song in the style of Psalm 98.
This could be called liturgical support from heaven. Three times a statement

18  W. Gordon Campbell, Reading Revelation. A Thematic Approach, Cambridge 2012, 81.
19  Charlesworth, The Good and Evil Serpent, Appendix II: A Lexicon of Words for “Serpent”
in Ancient Greek, 452–460.
158 van Houwelingen

is made, followed by the cause or at least an explanation.20 “Before ever the

hurled-down Satan comes to stalk the earth, this ceaseless heavenly praise is
his defeat”, says Campbell.21 Already in 11:18 the elimination of the destructive
forces of evil was indicated.
The argument of verses 10–12 runs like this:

10. Salvation etc. have become reality—because thrown down has

been the accuser.
11. They have conquered him, [Greek: καὶ] they did not love their lives.
12. Rejoice and woe, because the devil is furious.

The situation on earth is ambivalent. There, one cannot participate as yet in

the jubilation, although the earth is also the place where the ministry of the
Messiah will fight against the devil and defeat him. Thus, the downfall of Satan
coincides with the victory of the Lamb: his sacrificial blood seals precisely the
victory (12:11). As its result, no accusation of the devil will have enough weight
or basis to deprive believers of God’s presence. Campbell puts it as follows:

Among Messiah’s royal functions is his right to execute God’s eschato-

logical judgment; accordingly the allusion to the accuser’s fall (12:10) may
be understood as Michael’s legal triumph over him, in anticipation of
another victory won by the Faithful Witness against his enemies (19:11) in
ratification of the verdict of the cross. This also explains why the victory
of the other witnesses, on earth, can be proleptically presented here as
being already complete (12:11): there can be no hope of future success for
their adversary’s stubborn attempts to arraign them in a mock trial, now
that the Satan’s role as accusing counsel in heaven is no more (12:10).22

We hear in the text a heavenly doxology because of the coming of God’s king-
dom. The verb used here has the aspect of the Greek aorist (ἐγένετο): the time
has come. Thus, the kingdom is already realized in heaven, though on earth
the fight still continues. It is typical of the book of Revelation that God and his
anointed one are both acting in unity as a pair.

20  Jan A. Du Rand, ‘‘‘Now the Salvation of our God has come . . .’ A Narrative Perspective on
the Hymns in Revelation 12–15,” Neotest 27 (1993), 313–330.
21  Campbell, Reading Revelation, 82.
22  Campbell, Reading Revelation, 181.
The Air Combat Between Michael And The Dragon 159

In addition to continuous worship (4:8; 7:15), there is a continuous accu-

sation in heaven. Because of the context, the participle κατηγορῶν must be
translated in the past tense: “who used to accuse them”.23 The word κατήγωρ
(prosecutor) is unique in the New Testament, where normally κατήγορος seems
to be used in a legal context (Acts 23:30,35; 25:16,18).24
Here is given, then, a substantive description of what Satan is customarily
doing in heaven. But his charges shall henceforth be proven to be unfounded,
unjustified accusations in the heavenly court. Satan loses not only the power
struggle that he performs as a violent opponent, but also the fight he per-
forms as a malicious prosecutor.25 Conversely, for believers Jesus Christ is
an Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1–2; Heb 7:5). When the prosecutor
has fallen, the advocate, so to speak, remains standing.26 Therefore, every-
thing has changed for believers. There is no one left to contradict their testi-
mony anymore, and there is nothing that can take away their victory. It is not
likely that these brothers and sisters (verse 10) would be the Old Testament
believers (see also 19:10).27 Their martyrdom seemed a defeat, but ended in vic-
tory. “To overcome” is a key term in Revelation. Even the Dragon turns out not
to be invincible. There must be a divine power behind Michael and his angels,
and so also behind persecuted Christians.

Who are the Victors?

The special feature of verse 11 is that believers may share in the victory. They
themselves belong to the victors. The voice from heaven gives a double testi-
mony of their innocence: the blood of the Lamb, together with their sacrificed
lives. The blood of the Lamb brings salvation, i.e. forgiveness of sins through
the sacrifice of Christ (5:9; 7:14). Believers articulated the testimony of Jesus
(verse 17) and passed it on. Moreover, they were willing to die: see 2:10 about
remaining faithful until death, and 2:13 about the violent death of witness
Antipas.28 This motif goes back to the Jesus tradition (Matt 16:25; Mark 8:35;
Luke 17:33; John 12:25), with the two witnesses from chapter 11 as a contextual

23  David E. Aune, Revelation 6–16 (WBC), Nashville 1998, 655.

24  To accuse: 1 Kgs 22:19–23; Job 1:6–12; Zech 3:1.
25  J. de Vuyst, De Openbaring van Johannes. Het laatste bijbelboek ingeleid en, voorzien van
aantekeningen, vertaald, Kampen 1987, 97.
26  Campbell, Reading Revelation, 133.
27  Contra Van de Kamp, Openbaring, 298.
28  They sacrificed their lives, see 2 Macc 6:19 about Eleazar.
160 van Houwelingen

Great Danger to the Earth

Since the heavenly battle ended in this way, heaven with all residents (both
angels and deceased people) is directly addressed and called to rejoice; such
an exhortation is an Old Testament motif (Ps 96:11; Isa 44:23; 49:13). In the Old
Testament, though, heaven and earth rejoice together. Here, heaven is opposed
to the earth and the sea. The sea is mentioned separately in the text, because of
the beast that soon will emerge from the sea (12:18; 13:1).
But the Dragon does not give up. After being thrown down to the earth,
as a passive defeated one he takes the initiative from now on and this makes
the situation dangerous. The Greek verb καταβαίνειν has been used here: he
descended (in John 6 this verb is used of Jesus who descended from heaven),
he has gone down to you, in order to focus on the earth and the sea. Hence the
“woe,” which is a foreign element in this liturgical context (3x earlier this “woe”
was used in the trumpet judgments: 8:13; 9:12; 11:14; the only other occurrence
in the book of Revelation is at the fall of Babylon, chapter 18). “Woe” is a typical
Old Testament note. In most cases it is expressed because of the wrath of God
on those who have rebelled against him.29
The text is somewhat asymmetrical: while the sky is addressed directly, a
woe is sounded upon the earth; and while the inhabitants of heaven are explic-
itly mentioned, the inhabitants of the earth seem to be missing. Bauckham
draws attention to this contrast in the text: heaven and residents = angels ver-
sus earth and residents (13:12).30 Be that as it may, the party on earth, held at
the death of the two witnesses, apparently seemed to have been premature
(11:10). The heavenly voice laments.
The devil is “filled with fury” (verse 12, NIV). The book of Revelation fre-
quently speaks about the wrath of God (for example, in 15:1; 16:1; 19:15), which
is a reason to fear greatly. That reason to fear is also present because of a raging
monster. However, the Dragon cannot rage indefinitely. A temporal element
is added here. He was already restricted in a spatial sense (not in heaven any-
more), and in a legal sense (cannot accuse anymore), and now a time limit has
been set. The devil knows that his time is short. Here the length of time is not
specified as at other moments in Rev: three and a half years or 42 months or
1260 days (11:2; 12:6,14; 13:5). In line with Dan 7 and 12 the time of tribulation
is limited. And not only does the Dragon know that he has little time, but the
readers/hearers know it too, thanks to the voice from heaven that John has

29  Grant T. Osborne, Revelation (BECNT), Grand Rapids, MI 2002, 478.

30  Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, Edinburgh 1993, 240. See also Campbell,
Reading Revelation, 50–53.
The Air Combat Between Michael And The Dragon 161

heard. As they very well know, this time frame fits within the framework of the
book of Revelation: “the time is near” (1:3; 22:10).

4 Similar Texts from the New Testament

There are two similar texts that deserve a brief discussion in view of Revelation
12. We find the only reference to a vision in the Synoptic Gospels in Luke 10.
There Jesus sees Satan fall like lightning from heaven. In addition, John 12 tells
about a voice from heaven, to which Jesus responds with a statement concern-
ing the elimination or dethroning of the ruler of this world, which title refers
to Satan as well.

4.1 Satan as Lightning Bolt

Luke 10:18: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”

Jesus reports about a prophetic vision that had been accorded to him. Today’s
interpreters do agree about that. It concerns something that he “beheld”, as
the Greek verbal form could be translated: to watch, to observe, to behold
(Greek: ἐθεώρουν).31 The vision cannot be interpreted as being retrospective:
the demons are subjected (verses 17 and 20), but nothing shall hurt you (verse
19). In a flash, Jesus saw Satan fall from heaven. His fall apparently affects
mainly the future.32 Jesus had sent a large group of ambassadors, the seventy
(or seventy-two), to all the towns and villages where he himself would come.
They had to prepare for the coming of the Lord. After some time they enthu-
siastically returned and said: “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your
name;” to which Jesus responds: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”
Often this statement is interpreted as a report about the fall of Satan, with
which Jesus would confirm the enthusiasm of his disciples. Satan is not an
invincible opponent, he seems to be saying; in a vision I saw him falling from
heaven; his power is broken and hence the demons as his servants are sub-
jected to you.

31  Julian V. Hills, “Luke 10.18—Who Saw Satan Fall?,” JSNT 26 (1992), 25–40, considers the
demons to be the grammatical subject.
32  Susan R. Garrett, The Demise of the Devil. Magic and the Demonic in Luke’s Writings.
Minneapolis, MN 1989, 49–50.
162 van Houwelingen

Opinions differ about when that fall of Satan occurred. Some interpreters
think of a fall in the angelic world that preceded the fall of Adam and Eve
in Paradise. A few church fathers linked this idea to the pre-existence of the
Son of God: in his heavenly pre-existence he would have seen how Satan
was removed from heaven. However, that interpretation is questionable. In
the Old Testament it happens more than once that Satan appears again in
heaven in order to slander believers, to turn them to sin and to denounce them
(Job 1:6–12; Zech 3:1; cf. Rev 12:7–9).
Others argue, therefore, that the fall of Satan happened simultaneously
with the coming of God’s Son into the world and the preaching of the king-
dom: Jesus’ birth, his performance as the Son of Man, his victory on the cross or
his ascension.33 These events could not have occurred without Satan’s defeat.
Nevertheless, nowhere in the Bible do as many demons appear as in the four
Gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles. Wherever Jesus and his disciples are
becoming active, the area starts to swarm with evil spirits. Jesus even warns
that Satan has targeted not only Judas but also Peter and the other disciples
(Luke 22:31).34
A third and final group of interpreters prefer to think of a future fall of
Satan, which Jesus prophetically foresaw. The submission of the demons would
anticipate that fall. Now, regarding the devil the following is also said: that he
prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Pet 5:8).
Considering that position, the question arises: Would there be any reason for
joy, which Jesus seems to confirm here, as long as the fight was not over and
Satan has not been eliminated permanently?
It may well be that Jesus did not want to confirm but to temper the enthu-
siasm of his disciples. In that case he means to say: although you are excited
about the submission of the demons, but in a vision I have seen Satan falling
from heaven, so the earth is still under great threat.35 There are two exegetical
evidences in this direction:

33  Samuel Vollenweider, “ ‘Ich sah den Satan wie einen Blitz vom Himmel fallen’ (Lk 1018),”
ZNW 79 (1988), 187–203; Theodor Zahn, Das Evangelium des Lukas ausgelegt. Dritte und
vierte durchgesehene Auflage (KNT), Leipzig 1920, 419–420, followed by S. Greijdanus,
Het heilig evangelie naar de beschrijving van Lucas I (KNT), Amsterdam 1940, 478, who
thinks of the victory of Jesus over Satan during the temptations in the desert.
34  This is precisely the role of a persecutor, Simon Gathercole says. “Jesus’ Eschatological
Vision of the Fall of Satan: Luke 10,18 Reconsidered,” ZNW 94 (2003), 143–163 [153].
35  Thus rightly Jakob van Bruggen, Lucas. Het evangelie als voorgeschiedenis (CNT), 4th rev.
ed., Kampen 2012, 218–220.
The Air Combat Between Michael And The Dragon 163

1. Jesus is not talking about a fall of Satan as such, but about falling like
lightning. Lightning is energy above the earth in the sky that discharges
in a flash. The sudden moment of the flash of lightning might indicate
the coming of the Son of Man (Matt 24:27 // Luke 17:24), but also a down-
ward movement of Satan that generates high voltage tension; be warned:
danger! (He knows how to disguise himself as an angel of light: 2 Cor
2. The sequel (verses 19–20) also has a tempering character: the ambas-
sadors of Jesus need power in order to tackle all enemy forces that are
employed so that they are able to trample poisonous snakes or scorpi-
ons along with their poisonous sting (Mark 16:18),36 and they should not
rejoice in the subjection of the demons, but in the fact that their names
are written in the heavenly books.

This interpretation would fit well with the vision of John on Patmos, about the
war in heaven between Michael and his angels with a red dragon—also called
devil or Satan—with his angels (Rev 12:7–12). The Dragon could not win this
air combat; since then, he was hurled to the earth along with his accomplices.
A loud voice from heaven then calls the following warning: “But woe to you,
O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he
knows that his time is short!”
In comparison could be referred to a quote from the Testament of Solomon,
a popular Jewish treatise on demons dated in the first centuries of our era. It
is a rare parallel with, or a reference to, Luke 10:18. One of the demons, called
Ornias, explains their activity in pointing to the absence of a permanent home
in heaven: “We fall because of our weakness and, since there is nothing on
which to hold, we are dropped like flashes of lightning on the earth. We burn
cities down and set fields on fire.” (T. Sol. 20:17).37 Again, there is a dangerous
discharge of demonic energy on earth.

4.2 The World Leader Banished

John 12:31: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this
world be cast out.”

36  Korpel, De Moor, Adam, Eve, and the Devil. A New Beginning, 206: “The treading upon
serpents and scorpions is symbolic for the battle against demonic powers.”
37  James H. Charlesworth (ed.), The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Vol. 1: Apocalyptic
Literature and Testaments, London 1983, 983.
164 van Houwelingen

In John 12, the arrival of the Greeks is told as a highlight in the Fourth Gospel.
They would like to meet Jesus. For Jesus, this is the signal that his time has
come (on previous occasions he said that his time had not yet come: 2:4; 7:30;
8:20). So, this is the momentum (notice the repetition of a nun placed first in
verse 31). This indication is not only negative, because his hour has struck, but
also positive: the Son of Man will be glorified. His death is as fruitful as a grain
that you tuck away in the ground, but later it brings forth an abundant harvest.
For Jesus his hour means a difficult task, but he will not run away from it. His
approach is: let the name of the Father be glorified. At that moment, like a
thunderclap out of the blue, a voice sounds: “I have [my name] not only glori-
fied, I will [my name] also glorify again.” In both Jesus’ life and Jesus’ death the
glory of God shines forth.
Jesus especially responds to those words from heaven. A time of crisis has
come, he says. The judgment of this world is ripe. So for humanity it is high
time to take stock. Since God will glorify his name in Jesus’ death and resur-
rection, everyone has to make a decisive choice. A world crisis occurs, because
the time has come when the current world leader will be cast out. He is power-
hungry, holding people in his grim grip; this is true of Satan as “the ruler of this
world” (14:30; 16:11; cf. 8:44; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2). Time and again this evil world
leader has tried to eliminate Israel’s great king. But right now he will be “cast
out”: put out, excommunicated (the Greek text has 2x νῦν, plus future tense).
Does this mean that Satan is banished from heaven? We have to note that
Jesus does not speak about casting down, but about casting out (ἐκβληθήσεται
ἔξω, also in 6:37; 9:34; 15:6). This expression seems to correspond with the words
“from the earth” (ἐκ τῆς γῆς) in the following part of the verse: the prince of this
world, therefore, is banished from the world.38 Jesus’ glorification unleashes a
kind of centrifugal force that will cast the prince of this world from his throne.
His rule is broken; the power is taken from him; he loses his grip on humanity.

38  P.H.R. van Houwelingen, Johannes. Het evangelie van het Woord (CNT), 4th rev. ed., Kampen
2011, 260–261. This point is often neglected by scholars who advocate the existence of a
cosmic battle motif behind the text of John 12:31–32. Judith L. Kovacs, “”Now Shall the
Ruler of This World Be Driven Out”: Jesus’ Death as Cosmic Battle in John 12:20–36,” JBL
114 (1995), 227–247; John Dennis, “The “Lifting Up of the Son of Man” and the Dethroning
of the “Ruler of This World”: Jesus’ Death as the Defeat of the Devil in John 12,31–32,”
in: G. Van Belle (ed.), The Death of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel (BEThL, 200), Leuven 2007,
The Air Combat Between Michael And The Dragon 165

This demise ultimately will result in his total elimination from the world
(Rev 20:10).39
Thus a change of power occurs.40 While the current world ruler is dethroned,
the Son will be raised through the cross (cf. 3:14–15; 8:28). Removing Satan cre-
ates space for a new centre point: Christ proves to be absolutely superior. Being
pushed away from the world, he is lifted up above the earth. The son of man
proves to be the Son of God. The Father does not let his Son down; on the con-
trary, he exalts him. By dying on the cross Jesus will acquire the highest author-
ity on earth and become the new ruler of the world.
From heaven, then, his rule will attract many people. According to 6:44
the Father “pulls” some (individually) to Jesus, but Jesus himself will “draw all
men to himself”. He will pull the whole of humanity, both Jews and Greeks, to
him. This does not mean that his heavenly appeal will be so irresistible that all
opposition from unbelieving and unwilling people is excluded; that is why in
12:35–36 an urgent call to faith follows upon Jesus’ words of verse 31. What mat-
ters is that people are overwhelmingly drawn by means of his exalted position
as king of all creation. After Pentecost numerous Jews and non-Jews will come
to him, by confessing their faith in the saving significance of his crucifixion.
According to 12:33, the evangelist heard in Jesus’ words an indication of
how Jesus would die, namely, on the cross (cf. John 21:19). Once it becomes
clear in the confrontation with Pilate that not the Jews but the Romans will
put him to death, John realizes that Jesus’ remarkable statement is fulfilled
(John 18:31–32). He indeed will die by crucifixion. And by describing repeat-
edly his impending death as a kind of “lifting up” Jesus also had previously
indicated how he would be put to death: by crucifixion, and not by stoning.
The pole of the cross will elevate him literally and figuratively above the earth.
From Golgotha he would be lifted up, going upward higher and higher: the Son
of Man is highly exalted into the heavens. Since Christ would be able to rule
universally from heaven, he specifically had to go the upward way on the cross
in order to be able to draw all men to himself.

39  The phrase “ruler of this world” as entitlement for Satan is remarkably common in the
letters of Ignatius, bishop of Antioch in Syria: Eph. 17:1; 19:1; Magn. 1:3; Trall. 4:2; Phld. 6:2;
Rom. 7:1. Ignatius wrote his letters from Asia Minor, where he met bishop Polycarp of
Smyrna who had seen John. Perhaps he borrowed this expression through his colleague
from (the Gospel of) John.
40  Jürgen Becker, Das Evangelium nach Johannes. Kapitel 11–21 (ÖTK), Gütersloh 1984, 392.
166 van Houwelingen

5 Closing Remarks and Overview

The overall picture of the vision of Michael and the Dragon, together with
the similar texts from Luke 10 and John 12, shows the elimination of Satan in
phases.41 Below, these phases are summarized point by point. Not as a histor-
ical-temporal scenario, in order for use in determining at what stage we are
now living. Rather, it indicates a cosmic conflict that according to the New
Testament data is in the process of occurring and that cannot be fixed in one
image or one moment. It is a conflict between divine and satanic forces in
which both heaven and earth with all their residents are involved. Although
in this world the battle has not yet been fought through to the end, Christians
may already celebrate the victory, because a decisive air combat has occurred:
the definitive elimination of Satan, and consequently of Leviathan, is only a
matter of time.

1. Satan is defeated and cast out from heaven to earth

οὐκ ἴσχυσεν, οὐδὲ τόπος εὑρέθη αὐτῶν ἔτι ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ (Rev 12:8)
αὐτοὶ ἐνίκησαν αὐτὸν (Rev 12:11); ἐβλήθη εἰς τὴν γῆν (Rev 12:9)

2. Satan strikes from heaven like lightning / rages on earth

• Ἐθεώρουν τὸν Σατανᾶν ὡς ἀστραπὴν ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ πεσόντα (Luke 10:18)

• κατέβη πρὸς ὑμᾶς [=τὴν γῆν καὶ τὴν θάλασσαν] (Rev 12:12)
3. Satan will from now on be banished [ from the world]
ἐκβληθήσεται ἔξω (John 12:31; cf. “thrown into the outer darkness”: Matt 8:12;
22:13; 25:30)

4. Satan is finally thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur

ἐβλήθη εἰς τὴν λίμνην τοῦ πυρὸς καὶ θείου (Rev 20:10)

41  In Isa 14:12–15, we find a prophecy about the eliminating of ‘the King of Babylon’ (Isa 14:4),
but without occurring in phases. The Babylonian king seems to be mockingly designated
in the Hebrew text as Hēlēl, suggesting that he was like a god who because of his inflated
ego had been punished by removal from the realm of the celestials; the Vulgate translates
Hēlēl with “Lucifer.” For a comparison with Canaanite mythology, see Korpel, De Moor,
Adam, Eve, and the Devil, 141–152.

Leviathan and the Monsters in Revelation

Henk van de Kamp

1 Introduction

The preceding chapters have dealt with Leviathan in texts of the Old Testament
and in Early Judaism. Direct and indirect representations of this sea mon-
ster can also be found in the New Testament.1 Leviathan returns to life most
explicitly, however, in the book of Revelation. In Chapters 12–13, at the transi-
tion from trumpet disaster number seven to the series of plagues of the seven
bowls,2 the powers of evil appear in the form of three monsters: the “great red
dragon” (12:3), the “beast coming up out of the sea” (13:1) and the “beast coming
up out of the earth” (13:11).3 In this devilish trinity4 Leviathan is recognizable in
two of them: the red dragon, reviving the dragon of Isa 27:1 as a visionary figure
and the sea monster.5 In this short study we will discuss them separately.

2 Leviathan and the Red Dragon (Rev 12:3–6)

After having depicted a first sign, namely, a pregnant woman in heaven sur-
rounded by sun, moon and twelve stars (12:1–2), John describes the appearance
of a second sign consisting of “a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten
horns, and upon his heads seven diadems” (12:3). The dragon is waiting for the
child that is about to be born, in order to devour it (12:4). The language of this

1  See also the article of Rob van Houwelingen in this volume. He focuses particularly on
Rev 12:7–12, while my contribution centres around 12:3–6 and 13:1–10.
2  For the place of Chapter 12 in the structure of the Apocalypse as a whole, see H.R. van de
Kamp, Openbaring. Profetie vanaf Patmos (CNT-3), 6th rev. ed., Utrecht 2013, 278.
3  All translations of biblical texts are taken from the American Standard Version (ASV).
4  The expression ‘devilish trinity’ is used by e.g. W. Gordon Campbell, Reading Revelation.
A Thematic Approach, Cambridge 2012, 45–70. See also Otto Böcher, Die Johannesapokalypse
(EdF, 41), Darmstadt 19883, 76: “Die teuflische Trinität.” Many commentators adopt this kind
of terminology.
5  Bob Becking, Zonder monsters gaat het niet. Een geschiedenis van de Leviathan. Vught 2015,
32 also identifies the red dragon of Rev 12:3 with the Leviathan. The name Leviathan is not
mentioned, but the dragon has the same function as the Leviathan.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi ��.��63/9789004337961_011

168 van de Kamp

confrontation between woman, child and dragon strongly recalls Gen 3,6 a
story about the enmity between a woman and a serpent, which also mentions
pregnancy and the pain of giving birth to a child (Gen 3:16). These elements
reappear in Rev 12:2 and 12:17, describing respectively the labour pains of the
woman and the dragon making war with her offspring. The woman appears to
be the mother of the king of the earth mentioned in Ps 2:9, who is identified in
the book of Revelation as Jesus Christ (12:5). At the same time, she appears to
be the mother of all Christians as well, for the rest of her offspring “keep God’s
commandments and hold the testimony of Jesus” (12:17). Accordingly, she rep-
resents God’s congregation in ancient and modern times.7

2.1 The Second Sign (Rev 12:3) in Relation to Old Testament Metaphor
The general relationship between the imagery of Rev 12:3–6 and Gen 3 evokes
the question: To what extent can the second sign, as described in Rev 12:3, be
explained satisfactorily from Gen 3? Unmistakably, Rev 12:9 equates the dragon
with the serpent of this story.8 Yet, referring to Gen 3 is in itself insufficient to
elucidate the choice for a dragon as a visionary image. In the literary environ-
ment of the book of Revelation, dragons are not only “outgrown serpents.”9
Consequently, more potential references are to be considered. In addition, a
canonical perspective on Rev 12 suggests that in the sign of the great dragon
the reader is confronted with the perpetual adversary of the people of God.
In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, δράκων, the
designation for the second actor of the breath-taking drama, is frequently
used to denote sea monsters such as Leviathan (e.g. Ps 74:14) and Rahab (e.g.
Job 26:12).10 It is in Rev 12 that the serpent of Gen 3 is identified with the

6  Lucien Cerfaux, “La vision de la femme et du dragon de l’Apocalypse en relation avec le

Protévangile,” in: E. Neirynck (ed.), Recueil Lucien Cerfaux. Études d’Exégèse et d’Histoire
Religieuse de Monseigneur Cerfaux réunies a l’occasion de son soixante-dixième anniver-
saire (Tome III Supplément) (BEThL, 18), Gembloux 1962, 237–251. The relation between
Rev 12 and Gen 3 is often demonstrated and discussed by commentators.
7  For the details of this exegesis, see Van de Kamp, Openbaring, 279–281.
8  As against James H. Charlesworth, The Good and Evil Serpent. How a Universal Symbol
Became Christianized (The Anchor Yale Bible reference library), New Haven–London
2010, who argues against the clear identification of the dragon and the serpent of Gen
3, stating that the serpent of ancient times was associated with positive attributes more
often than with negative ones.
9  K. Schilder, “Openbaringsnamen voor Satan,” in: Tussen “Ja” en “Neen.” Verzamelde
Opstellen, Kampen 1929, 17–86 (quotation from p. 25).
10  Cf. the contributions of Nicholas Ansell, Gert Kwakkel, Jaap Dekker and Ben van Werven
to this volume.
Leviathan And The Monsters In Revelation 169

dragon Leviathan for the very first time. As long as counterevidence is miss-
ing, it might be that John has been the first one to connect the two creatures
from the Old Testament, though it could also be argued from the perspective
of the book that the connection goes back to the vision itself and to the Spirit
of the prophecy who is the source of John’s visionary experiences. The basis
for this identification can be found in Isa 27:1, where in the Greek translation
Leviathan is called “serpent” (ὄφις) as well as “dragon” (δράκων).11 This refer-
ence to Isa 27:1 is supported by the fact that the visionary image of the people
of God as a woman in labour is attested also in the book of Isaiah, that is, in Isa
26:17–18, close to 27:1. So the book of Revelation revives the dragon of Isa 27:1
as a visionary figure. In a similar way, the text in Rev 12 possibly reawakens the
tannin of the Nile Delta area that is mentioned in Ezek 29 and 32.12 John gives
a new life to these monsters by alluding to passages from the Old Testament.

2.2 Mythological Imagery in Revelation 12

Apart from these biblical references, Rev 12 also seems to allude to mythologi-
cal symbols known to the inhabitants of the Mediterranean region. In par-
ticular, since Hermann Gunkel published his epoch-making study Schöpfung
und Chaos in Urzeit und Endzeit. Eine religionsgeschichtliche Untersuchung
über Gen 1 und Ap Joh 12 (Göttingen 1895), various scholars have argued that
the imagery of the red dragon in Rev 12 is derived from a specific mythology.13
The chapter would reflect the Baal myth of Ugarit,14 the Greek myth of Leto,
Apollo, and the dragon; the Egyptian myth of Isis, Horus and Typhon; the
Babylonian myth of Damkina and Marduk; and the Persian myth of Ormuzd
and Ahriman. Another option would be that the story is not derived from one
myth in particular, but from a mythological pattern: a myth about a woman, a
child, and a dragon, known throughout the entire ancient world. In that case,

11  Richard Bauckham, “The Lion, the Lamb and the Dragon,” in: The Climax of Prophecy.
Studies on the Book of Revelation, Edinburgh 1993, 174–198 (esp. 194).
12  See the article of Van Werven in this volume.
13  For a survey of research, see H.R. van de Kamp, Israël in Openbaring. Een onderzoek
naar de plaats van het joodse volk in het toekomstbeeld van de Openbaring aan Johannes.
Kampen 1990, 219–233; Van de Kamp, Openbaring, 284–287; Böcher, Johannesapokalypse,
68–76; L.J. Lietaert Peerbolte, The Antecedents of Antichrist. A Traditio-Historical Study of
the Earliest Christian Views on Eschatological Opponents (JSJ.S, 49), Leiden–New York–
Köln 1996, 138–141.
14  See the contribution of Marjo Korpel and Johannes de Moor to this volume. Jaap Dekker,
Van Werven and Koert van Bekkum also pay some attention to the Ugaritic myth.
170 van de Kamp

diverse cultures would offer their own specific representation of the basic form
of this myth.15
During recent decennia the hypothesis of Adela Yarbro Collins and others
has found acceptance, which argues that mythical dragon stories were native
to Asia Minor.16 This region, well equipped with harbour cities, functioned as a
meeting point of many nations which stimulated an openness in the exchange
of cultural and theological information.
Against this background the question arises if it can be supposed that mem-
bers of the Christian churches in the towns of Asia were also acquainted with
mythological concepts widespread at the time. Busch and Bauckham present
material showing that the Greek myth, in which the dragon Python follows
Leto in order to kill one of the children to which she will give birth, was known
in the Asian region.17 This myth is depicted by a frieze on the famous altar of
Zeus in Pergamum. Patmos was one of the islands claiming to be the myth-
ological Ortygia, the island where the twins Apollo and Artemis were born.18
The description of the woman and the dragon in Rev 12 seems to recall the
myth of Leto and the dragon intentionally.19

2.3 John’s Way of Writing Suitable for Jew and Greek

Against the background of Old Testament metaphor and Greek mythology, the
text of Rev 12 constitutes a vision with a unique design. What the risen Christ

15  For a survey and assessment of these theories, see Van de Kamp, Israël in Openbaring,
16  A. Yarbro Collins, The Combat Myth in the Book of Revelation (HDR, 9), Missoula, MT 1976,
57–100; Steven J. Friesen, Imperial Cults and the Apocalypse of John. Reading Revelation in
the Ruins, Oxford 2001, 167–179; J.W. van Henten, “Dragon Myth and Imperial Ideology in
Revelation 12–13,” in: D.L. Barr (ed.), The Reality of Apocalypse: Rhetoric and Politics in the
Book of Revelation, Atlanta, GA 2006, 181–203.
17  Peter Busch, Der gefallene Drache. Mythenexegese am Beispiel von Apokalypse 12, (TANZ,
19). Tübingen–Basel 1996, 75–85; Bauckham, “The Lion,” 197–198; Van Henten, “Dragon
Myth,” 185–191.
18  H.D. Saffrey, “Relire l’Apocalypse à Patmos,” RB 82 (1975), 385–417, esp. 410–417.
19  The myth of Leto, Apollo, and the dragon is the most well-known of the Greek dragon
stories (see e.g. Gaius Julius Hyginus, Fabulae, 140). Leto, daughter of the Titans Coeus and
Phoebe, is pregnant by Zeus with Apollo and Artemis. The dragon Python had learned
from an oracle that a son of Leto would kill him. Accordingly, he pursues Leto who is car-
ried off to Poseidon, the god of the sea, by the north wind Boreas. Poseidon brings her into
safety on the isle of Ortygia, which he lets disappear into the waves, in order to prevent
Leto’s discovery by Python. Apollo and Artemis are born as soon as the isle is lifted up
above the water again by Poseidon. Apollo reaches full manhood in only four days and
kills Python by means of arrows of Hephaestus, the god of the fire.
Leviathan And The Monsters In Revelation 171

reveals to John appears to be nothing less than a grand actualization of the

famous promise of Gen 3:15. In that context the book of Revelation intention-
ally incorporated the mythological concept of the dragon, making use of the
rich dragon imagery of Old Testament texts. At the same time, elements from
Greek mythology could be referred to, which were known to Christian readers.
As he writes down the things that were shown to him in his vision, John is thus
playing with the mythological material in a creative way.20
In several respects the vision of Rev 12 is marked by clear differences with
Greek myth:

(1) The woman and the dragon are presented as signs; they do not have
names, as in the myth. The typical mythological sphere of antagonism
to the gods and of dualism is absent. In the myth the struggle between
gods and dragons occurs outside everyday life, while the woman and the
dragon in Rev 12 clearly represent entities acting within earthly reality. In
this way, the book of Revelation encourages its readers to be unafraid of
mythical dragons, but really to beware of this dragon, who is the enemy
of the people of God. Reality is expressed in language that is derived from
mythological sources.
(2) Initially John stays close to the myth in a creative way, but then he devel-
ops it in a totally new direction. As soon as his audience reads about a
dragon, it expects its defeat by a dragon killer. Needless to say, it is the
fate of dragons to be defeated, especially when they attack godly heroes.
In the myth of Leto, Apollo, and the dragon, deliverance is brought by one
final blow, when Apollo, only four days old, kills Python with the arrows
of Hephaestus. But in the book of Revelation, the defeat of the dragon is
featured in three stages (12:1–6; 7–12; 13–17), and the finishing stroke the
audience is waiting for is postponed until later (Chapter 20).

As a consequence, it can be concluded that the author of the book of

Revelation follows a similar method in order to persuade his Jewish and Greek
readers. This method can already be observed in the combination of both
Greek and Hebrew affirmation spoken by God in the phrase “Yes and Amen”
in Rev 1:7 and in the double Hebrew and Greek designation for the king of the
locusts, “Abaddon and Apollyon” in 9:12. In these cases both listeners equipped
to understand the Hebrew Scriptures and those more acquainted with the
Hellenistic culture of Asia Minor are addressed. The use of both Old Testament

20  Cf. Bauckham, “The Lion,” 198: “creative exploitation of the myth.”
172 van de Kamp

prophecy and traditional Anatolian myths in the story about the woman and
the dragon fits perfectly into this pattern.

3 Leviathan and the Sea Monster (Revelation 13:1–10)

Leviathan revives for the second time in the form of the “beast that comes up
out of the sea” (13:1). This is a second example of John’s “innovative mythical
method,”21 in which he finds new ways for interlacing the text of the Scriptures
with a mythological pattern in the Graeco-Roman world. The text that func-
tions as a source for the symbolic and metaphorical language that John is using
is Dan 7, where Daniel reports about four world-empires that precede God’s
eschatological intervention. Within the book of Daniel these empires are pic-
tured as animals, one as a lion, a second one as a bear, a third one with the
looks of a panther, and a terrible fourth animal with ten horns. Rev 13 does
not try to fit the Roman Empire of his time within the apocalyptic scheme of
Dan 7, but describes the appearance of a new beast that comes up out of the
sea. This beast undoubtedly represents the Roman Empire. It has the seven
heads and the ten horns of Daniel’s animals and looks like a fusion of all of
them. This monster is like a panther and has the paws of a bear and the jaws
of a lion, thus presenting itself as an extreme makeover of the four monstrous
animals of Dan 7. The characteristics of four empires are brought together in
this single one, being the height of political arrogance and bestial aggression,
a super-empire.

3.1 Source and Function of the Imagery in Revelation 13

The new beast of Rev 13 seems to result from a combination of the animals
in Dan 7 with a mythological pattern that is known in several Mediterranean
The metaphor of a sea monster is derived from the Leviathan symbolism
of the Old Testament and related traditions from the Levant. In the book of
Job Leviathan, as a sea monster, constitutes a pendant to Behemoth, an earth
monster (e.g. Job 3:8; 41:3–4). Within the context of the book of Revelation the
origin of the beast from the sea (13:1) can be explained only in connection with
the origin of the second beast, coming up out of the earth (13:11). The descrip-
tion of this hideous pair contains an echo of the well-known pair of monsters

21  Terminology used by Friesen, Imperial Cults, 175.

Leviathan And The Monsters In Revelation 173

in the book of Job.22 Behemoth rules the earth (Job 40:15–24) and Leviathan
rules the sea (Job 40:25–41:26). Elsewhere in the Old Testament, especially in
the prophetic writings, the symbolism of the sea monster is used to character-
ize enemy countries like Egypt (Isa 51:9–11; Ezek 29:3–5; 32:2–8) and Babylon
(Jer 51:34–37).23
In Revelation 13 John links the metaphor of a Leviathan-like sea monster, full
of political symbolism, with the hostile world-empires of Daniel 7, resulting in
an unmistakable sharp characterization of the contemporaneous Roman sys-
tem. So again, biblical and mythological themes and patterns flow together.24
Rome is labelled as the personification of all suppressors in history, the height
of all evil powers.
John in fact actualizes the two dreadful monsters as the representatives of
the political and religious adversaries, who are opposing the power of God.
He uses a mythological pattern (combat-myth) that is known in the eastern
region of the Mediterranean. By making use of metaphors and symbols that
are not simply derived from Israel’s own religious inheritance, but are them-
selves deeply rooted in the mythological patterns of the surrounding nations,
the book of Revelation appeals to both Jew and pagan. Its mythological dis-
course functions as a severe challenge to the Roman Empire.

3.2 ‘Parodying Revelation’

In describing the sea monster John makes extensive use of vocabulary from
the book of Daniel. Clearly recognizable are expressions like “speaking great
things and blasphemies” (13:5, cf. Dan 7:8,20), the “authority to continue forty
and two months” (13:5, cf. Dan 7:25) and the “war with the saints” (13:7, cf.
Dan 7:21,25). However, in view of his actualization, certain parts in the text
material of Daniel are also omitted. For instance, the element of the “four
wings of a bird” of Daniel’s third animal (Dan 7:6) is not used.
In Rev 13:3–4 and 13:7–8 John utilizes the themes of praise/worship and
warfare in a way that is characterized by Gordon Campbell as “parodying
Revelation” or “antithetical parallelism.”25 Rev 13:1–10 in fact describes the
antitype to the victorious Lamb of Rev 5. Although having been slaughtered
initially, the Lamb appeared to be victorious by his resurrection and therefore
is proclaimed to be the only one worthy to be honoured and to receive power.

22  Lietaert Peerbolte, Antecedents of Antichrist, 153; R. Bauckham, “The Lion,” 195–198; Steven
J. Friesen, Imperial Cults, 175.
23  Also see the studies of Dekker and Van Werven in this volume.
24  Friesen, Imperial Cults, 175.
25  Terminology used by the Irish New Testament scholar Campbell, Reading Revelation, 21.
174 van de Kamp

The Leviathan-like sea monster is pictured as his antitype, for he strives to get
power over the world and is honoured because he is to be able to defeat all his
The theme of John’s parody is fully worked out, as shown by the following
examples. “God who sitteth on the throne” (5:13; 7:10) has the Lamb (5:7) and
the Spirit of the prophecy (1:4; 4:5) acting as his agents and executors; the red
dragon has the sea monster and the false prophet functioning as his servants
(13:2,12). God is honoured together with the Lamb (5:13; 7:10); the red dragon
is honoured together with the sea monster (13:4). The 144.000 servants of God
are sealed on “their foreheads” (7:3–4); the followers of the beast are marked
on “their right hand, or upon their forehead” (13:16). The slaughtered Lamb
lives; the deadly wound to one of the heads of the beast heals (13:3). These
and other examples show that evil powers can only imitate the true God. So
too the emperor cult of the Roman Empire is nothing but a slanderous imita-
tion of the worship that is deserved only by him who is seated on the throne.
Within the context of the book of Revelation the sea monster reveals itself as
the antitype of the already victorious Lamb. Its position has been lost already
from the outset.

4 Conclusions

1. The sea monster Leviathan, which is known from the Old Testament, is
also attested in the book of Revelation. The red dragon of Rev 12:3 evokes
reminiscences of Leviathan from the prophecies of Isa 27:1, Ezek 29:3 and
32:2. The picture of the beast from the sea in Rev 13:1–10 also shows details
reminding of this sea monster.
2. The identification of the red dragon of Rev 12:3 with the old serpent of
Rev 12:9 indicates that the struggle between the woman and the dragon
is to be understood against the background of the story of Gen 3. Yet the
reference to Gen 3 is insufficient for explaining the figure of the dragon.
After all, a dragon is more spectacular and terrifying than a serpent. In
the account of his vision John refers to the prophetic scriptures of the
Old Testament, in which foreign, hostile powers like Egypt and Babylon
are characterized as terrible dragons. The author of the book of Revela-
tion probably is the first one who compares the serpent of Gen 3 to these
3. Apart from the reuse of the dragon image of the biblical scriptures
another factor is involved. The inhabitants of the towns in Asia were
acquainted with mythological dragon stories. The composition of the
Leviathan And The Monsters In Revelation 175

book of Revelation adopts these mythological motifs by way of antithesis.

The description of the woman and the dragon in Rev 12 seems to recall the
myth of Leto and the dragon intentionally. By using this unique design of
intermingling biblical and mythological material, the author succeeds in
reaching out to the people in his audience who were equipped to under-
stand the scriptures of the Old Testament, as well as those who were
more familiar with the language of mythological symbols.
4. The sea monster Leviathan also returns to life as the beast from the sea
in Rev 13:1–10. Here, John links the metaphor of a Leviathan-like sea mon-
ster, full of political symbolism, with the hostile world empires of Dan 7,
resulting in an unmistakable sharp characterization of the contempo-
raneous Roman system. So again, biblical and mythological themes and
patterns flow together.
The chapter again uses a procedure that is based on antithetical paral-
lelism. Previously, the slaughtered Lamb had been described as a Con-
queror (Rev 5:5–6), who is worthy to be honoured by the redeemed ones
from every people and nation (Rev 5:9). The beast from the sea is depicted
as the adversary of the Lamb: one of his heads also looked like it had
been slaughtered (Rev 13:3). This beast receives worship (Rev 13:4) from
humans of “every tribe and people and tongue and nation” (Rev 13:7–8).
The fundamental antithesis between these two main characters becomes
clear in the presentation of the sea monster as both a parody and an imi-
tation of the Lamb.
5. The description of the revival of Leviathan in the beast from the sea is
full of irony. Leviathan arrives on the scene to represent the power of
the Roman Empire with which the readers of the book of Revelation are
struggling. It is revealing and comforting at the same time that this power
is depicted as only a copy, being nothing but a manifestation of sheer
arrogance. John thus revives Leviathan in order to help his audience to
discover that the real power and glory belong to God and the Lamb and,
in this way, he encourages them to persevere in faith.
Part 5
Theological Reflections


God and the Suffering of Animals

Gijsbert van den Brink

1 Introduction

In the Old Testament the figure of Leviathan is depicted both as a terrifying

sea monster (e.g. Isa 27:1), reminding us of primordial evil powers, and as a
domestic creature with which God plays for fun (Ps 104:26).1 This duplicity may
bewilder us, and, as has been demonstrated in various earlier contributions
to this volume, we have to delve deeply into ancient Near Eastern religious
history to find an explanation. In the biblical literature, however, there is no
clear fault line between animals that are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ from an anthropo-
centric perspective. It is not unique that animals appear in a way that shows
indifference as to whether in our human view they are threatening or tame.
For example, in Ps 104 animals that don’t do any harm to humans, and ani-
mals that may attack and in some cases even devour them, are mentioned
almost interchangeably: wild animals and wild asses (vs. 11), the birds of the air
(vs. 12), the cattle (vs. 14), the stork (vs. 17), the wild goats and the conies (or rock
badgers, vs. 18), all the animals of the forest (vs.20), the young lions that roar
for their prey (vs. 21), living things both small and great (vs. 25) and—yes, even
the dreaded Leviathan (vs. 26). Human beings are mentioned only in passing
(vs. 23). Whereas from an anthropocentric perspective it would make sense
to give humans some special place and to divide animals into those that are
harmful and those that are helpful (or neutral) to them, from the psalmist’s
theocentric perspective this is less self-evident. Rather, from God’s point of
view all animals alike praise and glorify him by the sheer fact of their wonder-
ful existence. It is God who created them all and keeps them alive, not because
of their usefulness to human beings, but apparently because God wanted to
have a relationship with them as well, instead of only with us humans. Psalm
104 gives us humans a modest place amid the enormous variety of living
beings, and displays the variegated ways in which these other beings can flour-
ish to the honour of God, each in their own way testifying to his greatness and

1  See the arguments adduced by Gert Kwakkel in his contribution to this volume in favour of
this interpretation of Ps 104.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi ��.��63/9789004337961_012

180 van den brink

In this contribution we first highlight in some more detail the positive theo-
logical view of animals in the Bible (§2). In light of this, we will then ask how
the massive suffering of animals throughout evolutionary history should be
approached from the perspective of Christian systematic theology. First, we
ask whether pain and suffering can indeed be attributed to animals (§3). If
so, is all animal suffering, death, starvation, etc. to be explained as a result of
human sin (§4)? Or should we rather ascribe it directly to God’s will and pur-
poses (§5)? Or should we endorse a third option, according to which animal
suffering is due to non-human evil forces that somehow infiltrated God’s work
(§6)? Finally, we draw a conclusion (§7).

2 God and Animals in the Bible

In the history of Christian theology the relationship between God and animals
(or more broadly the non-human part of creation) has often been neglected.2
Influential interpretations of the creation story (esp. of Gen 1:28 and 2:19) and
Psalm 8 defined animals exclusively in terms of their instrumental value for
the well-being of human beings. As Lukas Vischer has helpfully pointed out,
such views can hardly be labelled anthropocentric but should more properly
be called anthropomonistic.3 That the Bible is anthropocentric in the sense
that human beings fulfil a unique task in creation and are of central impor-
tance in the salvific purposes of God, cannot and should not be denied. This is
not to say, however, that only human beings play a role in God’s plan, and ani-
mals—if at all—only for humans’ sake. This kind of anthropomonism, accord-
ing to which the rest of creation exists merely to serve our human interests, is
clearly at odds with many strands of biblical literature. In more recent decades
theological discussions have highlighted the pervasive presence of animals
throughout the Bible, also in contexts and narrative plots where they are not
directly connected to humans and their well-being. In line with this, many
have argued for a more positive evaluation of animal life from a Christian theo-
logical perspective.4

2  By ‘animals’ I mean non-human animals. I won’t add this modifier all the time (nor retreat
to such equivalents as ‘beasts’) since despite the fact that, strictly speaking, human beings
are animales as well, the connotation of animals as referring to non-humans continues to be
strongly embedded in everyday language and is clearly functional.
3  Lukas Vischer, “Listening to Creation Groaning: A Survey of Main Themes in Creation
Theology,” in: Lucas Vischer (ed.), Listening to Creation Groaning, Geneva 2004, 21–22.
4  Cf. e.g. Andrew Linzey, Animal Theology, London 1994; Charles Birch, Lukas Vischer, Living
with Animals. The Community of God’s Creatures, Geneva 1997; Andrew Linzey, Dorothy
god and the suffering of animals 181

As to the Bible, it speaks to the relative independence of land animals,

that in the creation story of Genesis 1 they are created prior to us humans on
the very same sixth day. The first human beings did not have animals as their
food—the eating of animals began after the state of peace with them was bro-
ken by sin.5 The story of Noah (Gen 6–8) shows how God provides for the pres-
ervation of all animal species that were threatened with extinction as a result
of the flood. In the wake of the flood, a new covenant was made not only with
Noah and his offspring, but also with “every living creature of all flesh that is
on the earth” (9:16).6 So the very category of a covenant, which is prominent
in the history of salvation, is applied to animals as well. In the Mosaic law,
special attention is given to livestock; lest they be abused, they should rest on
the Sabbath day like their human possessors (Exod 20:8, 23:12; Deut 5:13–14).
Also, “when you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden
and you would hold back from setting it free, you must help to set it free”
(Exod 23:5). The interests (or, if one wishes, ‘rights’) of animals were further
protected by rules forbidding the Israelites to plough with a donkey and an
ox together (Deut 22:10)—presumably because that would cause them a lot
of physical pain—and to harvest their lands every seventh year since its fruits
should then be left for every living being who needs it, including “the wild ani-
mals in your land” (Lev 25:6–7; cf. Exod 23:10). Thus, the farmer does what God
does: giving food to the beasts (Ps 147:9) and “satisfying the desire of every liv-
ing thing” (Ps 145:16). Especially telling is, as we saw, Ps 104, as are the chapters
in the book of Job (39–41) where God’s creative and sustaining relationship to
even the most monstrous animals is professed.

Yamamoto (eds.), Animals on the Agenda. Questions about Animals for Theology and
Ethics, London 1998; Stephen Webb, On God and Dogs. A Christian Theology of Compassion
for Animals, New York, NY 1998; Michael J. Gilmour, Eden’s Other Residents. The Bible and
Animals, Eugene, OR 2014. A nuanced account of the biblical data, also acknowledging texts
that seem to disregard the value of animals—such as Mark 5:13 par. and 2 Cor 9:9–10—is pro-
vided by Robert N. Wennberg, God, Humans, and Animals. An Invitation to Enlarge Our Moral
Universe, Grand Rapids, MI 2002, 285–308. By now animals have also entered ‘official’ surveys
of Christian doctrine; cf. e.g. David Fergusson, “Creation,” in: John Webster, Kathryn Tanner,
Iain Torrance (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, Oxford 2007, 84–86, and
Gijsbert van den Brink, Cornelis van der Kooi, Christian Dogmatics. An Introduction, Grand
Rapids, MI (in press), § 6.6. Intensifying the tendency to rehabilitate animals theologically,
David Clough, On Animals: Volume 1, Systematic Theology, London 2012, argues that the purely
instrumental view of animals stems mostly from non-biblical Greek sources that were uncrit-
ically adopted into the Jewish-Christian tradition.
5  G. Patzig, “Animals,” in: The Encyclopedia of Christianity Vol. 1, Grand Rapids, MI 1999, 62.
6  Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version.
182 van den brink

Even the Old Testament practice of animal sacrifice need not necessarily
be seen as degrading animals. As a matter of fact, that animals could make
reparation for human sin in a sense shows their high value; accordingly, there
is a clear sense of reverence for the blood of animals in the Old Testament
(Lev 17:10–16).7 As to the prophets, we have the famous Isaianic visions of a
peaceful world in which predators will live in harmony not only with human
beings but also with their usual prey (Isa 11:6–9 and 65:25). We have the prom-
ise of a new covenant “with the wild animals, the birds of the air, and the creep-
ing things of the ground” (Hos 2:18). And we have, to mention only a couple of
things, the climactic closing of the book of Jonah, in which God’s grace extends
not only to the human inhabitants of Nineveh but also to its ‘“many animals”
(Jonah 4:11). This idea that animals along with humans are the object of God’s
saving actions is echoed in Ps 36:6: “You save humans and animals alike,
O Lord!”
Coming to the New Testament, in Jesus’ teachings the animals are never far
away. In fact, he wasn’t far away himself from the wild animals at the beginning
of his earthly ministry, when he stayed with them in the desert (Mark 1:13).8 In
the Sermon on the Mount Jesus uses birds as an example for proper human
conduct (Matt 6:26), because of the fact that they do not plan and calculate
their lives in advance (which ironically became a sign of human superiority in
later philosophical and theological anthropology!),9 but spontaneously seem
to trust God without worrying. Later on in the Gospel of Matthew, some spe-
cific animals are praised for their prudence and innocence (10:16). Also, we
hear that not even a bird as common as a sparrow will fall to the ground apart
from the involvement of the heavenly Father (10:29). That such involvement
is not to be identified with God’s will (an identification that was often made
based on a loose and incorrect translation of this text), is suggested by the story
about the herd of swine drowning in the Sea of Galilee (Mark 5:11–13 pp.). Here,
it is telling that it is the demons that have the herd drop down into the sea, not
God or Jesus. Is there a mysterious connection between animal suffering and
death on the one hand, and satanic powers on the other? In any case, Jesus is
only indirectly involved here, as the one who allows the demons to enter (not
to drown) the swines—and the question why he gave them this permission
remains both unasked and unanswered.

7  Cf. Wennberg, God, Humans, and Animals, 297.

8  Cf. Richard Bauckham, Living with Other Creatures. Green Exegesis and Theology, Waco, TX
2011, 111–132.
9  Patzig, “Animals,” 62.
god and the suffering of animals 183

As to the New Testament letters, Rom 8:19 has received special attention
in recent theological and eco-theological reflection.10 Presumably, animals are
included here in the whole of creation, which is now groaning but which “will
be set free from its bondage to decay” (8:21,22)—as they are also included in
Col 1:20. Finally, the book of Revelation is replete with animals, both bad ones
and good ones, which apparently play an important role in the apocalyptic end
of time and beyond. Though such passages no doubt contain a lot of literary
symbolism, it is nevertheless significant that animals figure so prominently in
them, not only in the present era but also in portrayals of the eschatological
If we summarize a couple of biblical texts on animals in this way, and remind
ourselves of the predominantly positive way in which they portray animals as
the objects of God’s ongoing care and concern, we cannot but be bewildered
by the enormous amount of suffering that animals apparently have had—and
still have—to undergo in the natural world. After all, Genesis 1 ends its render-
ing of the creation of animals with the comment that “God saw that it was
good” (Gen 1:25). How can a natural world that contains such a widespread
‘waste’ of life as well as often horrible forms of suffering and predation, death
and extinction, be called good? Or did things change over time, so that God’s
positive appraisal of the life of animals applies only to a bygone golden era? It
is to this problem of animal suffering that we turn our attention in the remain-
der of this chapter. Given the fact that in the Jewish and Christian traditions
the Creator of the earth is maximally good, wise and powerful, how is it pos-
sible that billions of animals have had to suffer from parasites and predators,
and die from starvation and diseases throughout the ages—often in appar-
ently gruesome ways?

3 Is There a Problem at All?

Before we discuss these questions, however, we should first pause a moment to

consider whether the situation is really as drastic as suggested above. Perhaps
we should be careful not to consider phenomena like animal pain, death and
extinction as evils. For isn’t that a grossly anthropomorphic way of thinking?
When it comes to extinction, for example, it might be argued that there are no
animals that suffer from it; it is just that we humans may regret the loss of so
many species. But why shouldn’t we be satisfied with the view that God has

10  Cf. e.g. Christopher Southgate, The Groaning of Creation. God, Evolution, and the Problem
of Evil (Louisville, KY 2008), passim.
184 van den brink

apparently allotted a limited span of time to each of the species he created?

And when it comes to animal death, there is perhaps no need to see this as an
evil either. The evangelical theologian Henri Blocher thinks that the ancient
Epicurean arguments against the fear of death apply here:

(. . .) atoms that were combined for a time now part company—so
what? Epicurean reasoning has cogency for animals, although it must be
rejected in the case of human death because of the human difference, the
transcendence of the imago Dei (. . .). The death of animals that are our
close companions (may) make us sad, but this is a subjective projection
and must be kept within bounds.11

Blocher is a little more hesitant with regard to animal pain and suffering, but
considers that here as well our late-modern Western sensitivity might not be
the most reliable guide. Scripture doesn’t always seem to care much about the
suffering of animals (Blocher points to 1 Cor 9:9 in this connection, and he could
also have referred to Matth. 8:32 pp.). Moreover, where should we draw the line?
Should we also feel concern “for the ‘suffering’ of rats, flies or lice?” And finally, it
is far from self-evident that we should attribute ‘selves’ to animals: perhaps even
the higher animals do not possess self-consciousness to such an extent that
they are able to realize that what they experience is pain. “None can say ‘I’.”12
Without mentioning this, Blocher is tying in here with what has been called
the neo-Cartesian denial of animal pain. This denial is named after Descartes
because Descartes reputedly held that animals do not experience pain at all,
since, lacking rational minds, they are unconscious automata rather than sen-
tient beings. Leaving aside the question whether this rendering of Descartes’
views is accurate, neo-Cartesians usually do not go as far as that. Rather, while
acknowledging that animals as a matter of fact are sentient beings, they
deny that animals can suffer, because they lack something else, namely self-
consciousness over time. As a result, animals can at best go through momentary
sentient states of pain, but they cannot realize that they do so since there is
no ‘I,’ no self-conscious subject, to realize anything at all. Therefore, presum-
ably, their momentary physical sensations of pain are not morally relevant.
C.S. Lewis, one of the first to explore and (tentatively) defend this view with
regard to the category of ‘merely sentient’ animals, put the point this way: the
nervous system of such animals “(. . .) delivers all the letters A, P, N, I, but since

11  Henri Blocher, “The Theology of the Fall and the Origins of Evil,” in: R.J. Berry, T.A. Noble
(eds.) Darwin, Creation and the Fall, Nottingham 2009, 167.
12  Blocher, “Theology of the Fall,” 168.
god and the suffering of animals 185

they cannot read they never build it up into the word PAIN.”13 The fact that
many animals seem to learn from their past experiences, can anticipate pain,
avoid situations in which they might feel pain, etc., does not show that they
have continuity of consciousness; it shows only that they behave as if they
learn from what they recollect (i.e., as if they remember their past), whereas in
fact they might just as well be responding instinctively to potentially damaging
stimuli at a purely physiological level—as we do when we blink our eyes at the
approach of an object.
It is notoriously difficult to show that the (neo-)Cartesian approach of animal
suffering is incorrect.14 The approach cannot easily be dismissed as “absurd,”
as Peter van Inwagen does.15 Still, a couple of observations make it at least
implausible.16 First, animals of many species display non-reflexive behaviour
in avoiding the return of painful sensations to which they have previously been
exposed. This so-called ‘pain guarding’—e.g. limping, standing on one leg—
continues for some time after the damaging stimulus has ceased. Second, the
neural similarities between humans and other mammalian species (including
the presence of a prefrontal cortex) offer further confirmation that our spon-
taneous inclination to conclude from certain types of animal behaviour to the
existence of animal suffering may be correct. Third, for all we know, even ver-
tebrates that lack the brain structures responsible for ‘real’ pain in mammals
(or at least in humans), like birds, can have other brain structures that are func-
tionally equivalent. Fourth, the level of self-consciousness that is needed to

13  C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, New York, NY 1962, 138. In response to criticisms by C.E.M.
Joad, Lewis maintained his view, but emphasized that his chapter on animal suffering
in The Problem of Pain was “confessedly speculative” and “guesswork about Beasts;” cf.
C.E.M. Joad, C.S. Lewis, “The Pains of Animals. A Problem in Theology,” Month 189 (1950),
95–104; repr. in C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock. Essays on Theology and Ethics, Grand Rapids,
MI 1970, 161–171. The neo-Cartesian response has been refined and elaborated by Peter
Harrison, “Theodicy and Animal Pain,” Philosophy 64 (1989), 72–92. For an illuminating
discussion, see Michael Murray, Nature Red in Tooth and Claw. Theism and the Problem of
Animal Suffering, Oxford 2008, 43–49.
14  Murray, Nature, concludes his extensive discussion of neo-Cartesianism (41–72) by stating
that “the evidence against the neo-Cartesian position is quite weak” (71).
15  Peter van Inwagen, The Problem of Evil, Oxford 2006, 131.
16  Cf. for this list Robert Francescotti, “The Problem of Animal Pain and Suffering,” in: Justin
P. McBrayer and Daniel Howard-Snyder (eds.) The Blackwell Companion to the Problem of
Evil, Chichester 2013, 117–121. One might also add the ethical consideration that if neo-
Cartesianism is true, it is difficult to see why we should be opposed to (and have laws
against) animal abuse and maltreatment (cf. Wennberg, God, Humans, and Animals,
186 van den brink

experience not only damaging sensory stimuli but also real suffering need not
be very high. Even invertebrates may experience conscious pain. Fifth, recent
research in ethology and primatology has brought to light that animals are
much closer to us humans than we used to think, in that they exhibit (behav-
iour easily connected to) a whole range of emotions, including happiness,
joy, empathy, sympathy, fear, grief, depression, jealousy, etc.17 In light of this,
it doesn’t seem unduly anthropomorphic to also attribute pain and suffering
to them.
To be sure, none of these considerations (nor their cumulative force) is deci-
sive. Despite all efforts to understand animals, they continue to be strange to
us at least to some extent, since we cannot feel what it is like to be one of them.
Thus, we cannot say for sure in which ways their experiences of pain and suf-
fering are comparable or incomparable to ours. At the very least, however, it
is reasonable to suppose that there is a continuum here, with animals having
increased capacities of experiencing conscious pain to the extent that their
neuro-anatomy and neuro-physiology more closely resemble ours.18 Although
it is difficult to know where exactly to draw the line here, it seems irresponsible
to take for granted that no other species than we humans can consciously and
continuously experience severe pain and suffering. In any case, denying the
existence of animal suffering is too easy a way out of the problem—a way that
the Christian tradition has rarely taken and that we won’t take, either.

4 The Cosmic Fall Theory I: Animal Suffering and Human Sin

In the Christian tradition, a far more influential line of thinking with regard to
the question that concerns us here is that animal pain and death are the result
of human sin.19 This answer is sometimes labelled “the cosmic fall theory:”
after the first human beings lapsed into sin, God’s originally perfect creation
was distorted to such an extent that the natural world fell into disarray. As a
result, animals gradually came to suffer from predation and other forms of nat-
ural evil. This cosmic fall theory has at least two important advantages. First,
it forcefully underlines the seriousness of human sin in relation to the strong

17  Cf. e.g. Mark Bekoff, The Emotional Life of Animals, Novato, CA 2007.
18  Cf. Lewis, “The Pains of Animals,” in: God in the Dock, 168: “It will hardly be denied that
the more coherently conscious the subject is, the more pity and indignation its pains
19  See for recent statements of this view several contributions in Norman C. Nevin (ed.)
Should Christians Embrace Evolution?, Nottingham 2009, e.g. 23, 67, 79–83.
god and the suffering of animals 187

interconnectedness of all forms of life on earth. It highlights the disconcerting

fact that many wrong and short-sighted choices we humans make affect not
only our own species but also the wider realm of the natural world. It even gen-
eralizes this point: it is because of us humans that the entire animal world has
to suffer. Second, the cosmic fall theory keeps God ‘one step removed’ from the
production of animal pain.20 To be sure, God has somehow permitted animal
suffering (to the extent that it occurs); but God did not want it to occur in the
first place. He is not the direct cause of it, which lines up with the traditional
caveat that God is not ‘the author of evil.’
On the other hand, however, the cosmic fall theory has significant defects.
First, it is at odds with common notions of justice; for clearly it seems unfair
that animals have to suffer so badly from the consequences of human wrong-
doing. Thus, even if God only permitted animal pain rather than intention-
ally willing it, the problem of theodicy still stands: How can a good God allow
innocent creatures of all sorts to be so drastically affected by the wrong choices
of one other species? Second, the cosmic fall theory seems to presuppose that
all animal species were originally herbivores and that many of them changed
into carnivores and became predators after the human fall into sin. It is hard,
however, to see how such a change could have taken place—and even harder
to imagine how the species involved could still be considered to be the same
species. But even if we would invoke some special divine interventions here in
order to explain how this might have happened, we still have to face a further
problem. For third, it is hard to reconcile the cosmic fall theory with all that
we know from contemporary science about the history of the natural world.
Already in the course of the seventeenth century (i.e., long before Darwin),
the discovery of fossils in apparently ancient geological formations suggested
that animals must have been suffering and dying long before human beings
appeared on the scene. It is especially this consideration that makes it hard to
hold to the cosmic fall theory in its traditional form. Therefore, one of the first
responses to the discovery of fossils was to deny their authenticity: perhaps,
some unknown geological processes had produced animal-like structures in
seemingly old strata—or perhaps even God had done so in order to mislead
conceited scientists (or for some other reason). However, in the course of time
most of those who examined the (ever-increasing) fossil discoveries came to
the conclusion that such escape-theories were contrived, since the geological
and paleontological evidence made clear that as a matter of fact animals had
been suffering and dying—and even entire species had gone extinct—from
ancient times onward.

20  Wennberg, God, Humans, and Animals, 332.

188 van den brink

The situation turned out to be even worse: the death of animals has always
been the condition for the emergence of new life and the sustenance of exist-
ing life forms, so that animal suffering and death are not only inextricably
linked with, but even an integral part of, the whole fabric of life. As Christopher
Southgate posits, “[T]he very processes by which the created world gives rise to
the values of greater complexity, beauty and diversity also give rise to the dis-
values of predation, suffering, and violent and selfish behaviour.”21 Even if we
may question whether these processes can be fully explained by (or described
in terms of) Darwinian natural selection,22 they definitely predate the appear-
ance of homo sapiens on the scene by many millions of years.23 Thus, the idea
that human sin is responsible for such phenomena in the natural world is
highly incongruous, to say the least, given the scientific picture of the develop-
ment of the biosphere. Arthur Peacocke put this point more straightforwardly
when he wrote: “Biological death can no longer be regarded as in any way the
consequence of anything human beings might have supposed to have done in
the past.”24
But doesn’t this view go against the grain of the Jewish and Christian
canonical Scriptures? That remains to be seen. Indeed, some have argued
that, upon closer scrutiny, the Bible does not suggest a cosmic fall at all. Old
Testament scholar John Bimson, for example, contends that “most of the Bible
is completely silent on the matter, and the doctrine [of the cosmic fall] actu-
ally depends on the interpretation of a few key texts”—texts that he is then
keen to interpret differently himself.25 Now no doubt the idea of a cosmic
fall gained much more traction and was elaborated in much more detail in
various stages of church history—a process that started already in pseude-

21  Southgate, The Groaning of Creation, 29.

22  Cf. for some important reservations on the explanatory scope of natural selection,
Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos. Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature
is almost certainly False, Oxford 2012, and Ronald Meester, Arrogant. Waarom wetenschap-
pers vaak minder weten dan ze denken, Utrecht 2013.
23  Indeed, the view that animal suffering and death must have preceded the Fall emerged
already before 1859 (the year in which Darwin’s Origin of Species was published). E.g.,
in 1839 the English theologian and geologist William Buckland (1774–1856) preached a
famous sermon in which he argued that the sentence of death pronounced at the Fall of
humankind did not include the realm of animals (where death was already prevalent)
but was restricted to the human race. Cf. William Buckland, An Enquiry Whether the
Sentence of Death Pronounced at the Fall of Man Included the Whole Animal Creation or
was Restricted to the Human Race, London 1839.
24  Arthur Peacocke, Theology for a Scientific Age, enlarged edition, Oxford 1993, 222.
25  John J. Bimson, “Reconsidering a ‘Cosmic Fall’,” Science and Christian Belief 18 (2006),
63–81 (quote on 67).
god and the suffering of animals 189

pigraphical texts of Second Temple Judaism.26 From this later perspective a

full-fledged cosmic fall theory was often read into the Scriptures (especially
the Old Testament). Still, although F.F. Bruce (writing in 1963) surely over-
stated the issue when he claimed that “[the] doctrine of the cosmic fall is
implicit in the biblical record from Genesis 3 (. . .) to Revelation 22,”27 it is
at least intimated in various layers of the biblical texts. As Michael Murray
writes in his thoroughgoing philosophical study on the problem of animal
suffering, “[T]here is little doubt that the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures
provide encouragement to accord (. . .) greater explanatory scope to the Fall”
than only seeing its consequences in terms of human guilt and proclivity to
sin.28 Especially noteworthy is the suggestion that the wrongdoing of the first
human beings had consequences for their natural environment as well.
The idea that the Fall ushered in a curse that affected the natural order is
prevalent in the Fall narrative in Gen 3. Even when we follow Bimson in trans-
lating the key text here (in 3:17; cf. 5:29) as “Cursed is the ground in regard to
you” rather than as “Cursed is the ground because of you,” the reason for the
curse clearly must be found in the disobedience of the first couple. A simi-
lar connection between human sin and a cursed earth (or land) is made in
Isaiah 24:

The earth dries up and withers

the world languishes and withers;
the heavens languish together with the earth
The earth lies polluted
under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws
violated the statutes
broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore a curse devours the earth
and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt.
(Isa 24:4–6)

26  Especially telling here is The Life of Adam and Eve; cf. The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha
of the Old Testament, trans. R.H. Charles, Oxford 1913. In addition to this, Bimson
(“Reconsidering,” 63–4) also points to some of the church fathers (e.g. Theophilus of
Antioch, To Autolychus II 17) and further suggests that the idea of a cosmic fall “was par-
ticularly influential in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,” referring here to Milton’s
Paradise Lost as an example.
27  F.F. Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (TNTC), London 1963, 169.
28  Murray, Nature, 74 (my italics).
190 van den brink

First of all, however, these texts do not imply that human sin has somehow
distorted the biological laws.29 And second, the reference in these texts is to
the flora (“thorns and thistles,” etc.) rather than to the animal world. Where the
animal world is involved, such as in Gen 3:14 and in eschatological passages like
Isa 11:6–9 and 65:25, there is no indication that the suffering, death and extinc-
tion of animals in the present dispensation is seen as the result of human sin.30
And where death is seen as a result of human sin—as is famously the case in
both Gen 2–3 and Rom 5, where Paul considers death as the “wages of sin”—it
can be sensibly argued that it was human death that the authors had in mind.31
When we apply such texts to the animal world as well, it seems that we are
extending their meaning beyond what they intend to say within their original
context. In the past it was not unreasonable to do so, since, clearly, not only
human death but also animal death is often an evil for the creature that has
to undergo it, because it prevents that creature from flourishing and thus goes
against its natural good. As a result, it is hard to conceive how the death of ani-
mals could be part of God’s original plan, and therefore it was most plausible
to consider it as a consequence of human sin, just like the death of humans.32
However, knowing what we now know about the inconceivable amount of ani-
mal suffering and death that preceded our human existence (i.e., having other
‘background beliefs’), we should be more cautious in making such extensions
that go beyond sober exegesis.
Now some of those who have argued that animal suffering (as part of natu-
ral evil) is the result of human sin, have realized that this should not be spelled
out in terms of the establishment of a new order for life on earth—including
changed laws of nature—after the Fall. Rather than suggesting that animal suf-
fering and death entered creation only after human sin, they have hinted at the

29  Cf. C. John Collins, Genesis 1–4. A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary,
Phillipsburg 2006, 164 (speaking of Gen 3:17–19): “The text (. . .) does not imply that the
pain results from changes in the inner workings of the creation.”
30  Murray, Nature Red in Tooth and Claw, 75, overlooks this point; moreover, although Rom
8:19–22 does not mention the Fall, without giving a justification for this move Murray
reads a reference to the Fall into this passage as well, arguing that Paul “extends the scope
of the effects of the Fall from the cursed ground (. . .) to the entirety of creation” here
(76; of course the passage has often been interpreted as referring to the Fall—but that’s
another matter).
31  Cf. Collins, Genesis 1–4, 165–6.
32  Cf. on the theodicean function of the cosmic fall theory in the early church, David
Fergusson, Creation, Grand Rapids, MI 2014, 43.
god and the suffering of animals 191

possibility that the Creator, being omniscient, might have structured creation
in such a way that it included carnivory, death and decay right from the begin-
ning. As Emil Brunner writes:

If then God knew beforehand that the Fall of man would take place,
should not His creation of the world have taken this sort of man into
account? Is it unallowable to think that the Creator has created the
world in such a way that it corresponds with sinful man? Is not a world in
which, from the very beginning, from the first emergence of living crea-
tures, there has been a struggle for existence, with all its suffering and its
“cruelty,” an arena suitable for sinful man? We cannot assert that this is
so; still less have we any reason to say that it is not so.33

This suggestion can be elaborated in terms of a ‘retroactive Fall,’ according

to which the punishment for sin already precedes the actual committing
of it.34 It can also be fleshed out, however, in a less ‘harsh’ way, according to
which animal suffering is not so much a direct consequence of human sin,
but part of a natural environment that is suitable for sinful human beings who
have to learn by living in a dangerous environment. They have to struggle to
subdue the earth and can fall prey to wild animals—just as well as tame ani-
mals can.
The problem with this view, however, is that it may make sense of a scenario
in which the human species was created almost simultaneously with the ani-
mals, but it can hardly account for the evolutionary scenario in which animals
had to suffer for millions of years before humans appeared on the scene. For
why would God choose such an extremely long route full of pain and suffering
just to teach human beings their lessons? “Wouldn’t God secure all the relevant
goods and avoid a massive array of evil simply by creating the universe in much
the way the young-universe creationist believes it was created?”35

33  Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption, Philadelphia, PA 1950,
131. There is also an allusion to this view in Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics III: Sin
and Salvation in Christ, Grand Rapids, MI 2006, 182: God took account of the Fall already
in creating the world by including the possibility of “futility and decay;” it was only after
the Fall, however, that “(. . .) nature gradually became degraded and adulterated and
brought forth thorns and thistles (. . .) and carnivorous animals” (181).
34  This is done by William B. Dembski, The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil
World, Nashville, TN 2009.
35  Murray, Nature Red in Tooth and Claw, 96.
192 van den brink

Thus, it seems to me that, given its manifold problems and perplexities, the
cosmic fall theory can no longer be reasonably upheld. This leads us to wonder
whether God may have had other reasons for taking such a long and trouble-
some route with animals.

5 Animal Suffering as Part of God’s Plan

Many of those who try to make sense of our evolutionary history from a theo-
logical perspective think that, indeed, God must have had other reasons for
creating our evolutionary world than punishing us humans for our sins. But
what reasons might these plausibly be? In his aforementioned study on “God,
evolution, and the problem of evil” Christopher Southgate argues that there
can be only one such reason: there must have been no other way for God to
create a world containing so many valuable things than by allowing animal
suffering in all its gruesome dimensions as well:

I hold that the sort of universe we have, in which complexity emerges in

a process governed by (. . .) Darwinian natural selection, and therefore by
death, pain, predation, and self-assertion, is the only sort of universe that
could give rise to the range, beauty, complexity, and diversity of creatures
the Earth has produced.36

Note that there is no anthropomonism in this formulation, as there seems to

be in Michael Murray’s otherwise similar view. Murray argues that the most
persuasive “morally sufficient reason” for animal suffering is that values such as
freedom and moral goodness may require a cosmos that is ordered by the regu-
larity we owe to the laws of nature, and that for all we know such a cosmos could
only have the history it has had, including its painful evolutionary development
from “chaos to order.” In doing so, he seems to consider the emergence of human
beings as the only good reason God can have had to create our cosmos:

Adopting this position opens the door to a CD of animal suffering accord-

ing to which that suffering is a necessary condition for securing outweigh-
ing goods, namely, the emergence of organisms capable of imaging God
in the way Christians think human beings do.37

36  Southgate, The Groaning of Creation, 29 (the italics are original).

37  Murray, Nature, 184. A “CD” is a causa Dei, a phrase Murray borrows from Leibniz for a
possible case to be made on behalf of God over against evil, as in a trial (40).
god and the suffering of animals 193

It seems to me that Southgate has a stronger case here because he explicitly

includes the values of nonhuman forms of life in his argument.
It is not so clear, however, why God would need and allow so much pain and
evil in order to achieve the goods he wanted to emerge—creation’s beauty in
all its diversity, including (but not restricted to) human freedom and flourish-
ing. To be sure, it is true that we ourselves do similar things—things against
which virtually nobody objects. For example, we all know that car driving inev-
itably costs many casualties each year, many of whom die suddenly, at a young
age, and also sometimes under heinous circumstances and in painful ways.
Still, nobody proposes that for that reason we should abolish car driving; at
best, we take measures to reduce the number of casualties—but even limiting
maximum speeds often raises protest among the public. Apparently, we almost
unanimously consider the gains of car driving so much more important than
its losses, that we endorse the system as a whole almost without reflection. So
perhaps we should pause a bit before claiming that it would be morally wrong
for a perfectly good God to create a world that includes so many pains along-
side its gains.
Nevertheless, there are two important dis-analogies that make this compari-
son inadequate. Firstly, in the case of car traffic nobody is required to take part
in it; it is up to the individual person to decide whether or not to take the risk
of becoming involved in a serious accident. Therefore, except for situations
in which the authorities have been negligent in road-maintenance or proper
signposting, etc., we usually do not blame the government when accidents
happen. Animals, on the other hand, never chose to become part of the bio-
logical cycle with all its hazards; many of them involuntarily became victims of
the system. Second, in the mainstream of the Jewish and Christian traditions
God is confessed to be almighty. Whereas humans would presumably see to it
that car traffic led to no casualties at all, if only they had the power to do so, it
is difficult to see why an almighty God would have to accept (reluctantly?) so
many casualties in creating the world we inhabit.
Moreover, as has recently been elaborated by Robert Francescotti, it is doubt-
ful whether the laws of nature as we have them are metaphysically necessary
or whether they (or some of them) could just as well have been different. Even
when they are necessary, however, it is not clear why the development from
chaos to order as regulated by the natural laws could not have been different
in relevant ways.

So even if the laws of nature are not contingent (. . .) it seems highly likely
that some of the ways the universe might have progressed contain less
animal distress. The fawn could have followed a slightly different path,
194 van den brink

thereby avoiding that horrible fire. The gazelle might have lost conscious-
ness before being torn apart by the cheetahs. The bear cub might have
been found by its mother before it starved to death. And with different
initial conditions, fewer carnivorous species and more herbivores might
have evolved.38

It seems that ‘only way arguments’ like those of Southgate and Murray can
work only if such alternative scenarios can be ruled out. The rejoinder that
the regularity of nature might become endangered if God would from time to
time prevent animals (or humans, for that matter) from pointless suffering or
reduce the amounts of suffering they have to undergo, is not convincing, since
presumably enough regularity would remain for the natural world to be gener-
ally reliable and predictable.39 Especially for those who believe that God does
intervene from time to time in the world, for example by performing miracles,
it is difficult to see why he could not do so more often.
However this may be, ‘only way arguments’ (like their close cousin: ‘greater
good arguments’) ascribe everything that happens in nature, no matter how
horrendous it may seem, to the will of God. By ‘baptizing’ in this way what
strikes us as highly troubling and disconcerting in the natural world (like forms
of predation that involve the predator’s slow devouring of, or extended play-
ful engagement with, its prey), they deeply implicate God in the causation of
suffering and evil. Theologically, that is a high price to pay. Therefore, we must
consider yet another interpretation of animal suffering—one that throws less
doubt on God’s goodness.

38  Francescotti, “The Problem of Animal Pain and Suffering,” 124; the reference to the
fawn hints at a famous example used by William Rowe (“The Problem of Evil and Some
Varieties of Atheism,” American Philosophical Quarterly 30 [1979], 335–341) to show that
some severe animal suffering is absolutely pointless. The example concerns a fawn that
is trapped in a forest fire, “horribly burned,” and lying “in terrible agony for several days
before death relieves its suffering” (337)—all this without any human being around who
could possibly learn some lesson from the terrible event.
39  Pace Van Inwagen, Problem of Evil, 125–126. Cf. 123: “(. . .) we have no reason to accept the
proposition that an omniscient and omnipotent being will be able so to arrange matters
that the world contains sentient beings and does not contain patterns of suffering mor-
ally equivalent to those of the actual world.”
god and the suffering of animals 195

6 The Cosmic Fall Theory II: Non-Human Evil Forces

Although, as we have seen above (§4), the traditional way of explaining animal
suffering by an appeal to Adam’s Fall has become highly problematic, it does
not follow that every interpretation of the natural world as fallen is out of the
question. On the contrary, when there are sound reasons to see the suffering
of animals neither as non-existent (§3) nor as morally unproblematic (§5), the
idea that the natural world in its present form has somehow fallen out of God’s
perfect intentions comes to mind again. As a matter of fact, many theologians
(as well as some Christian philosophers) continue to view our world as fallen,
also when they realize that we can no longer explain such fallenness in terms
of the consequences of an Adamic Fall. But what could it then possibly mean
to say that our world is fallen, and that much animal suffering is a sign of that?
Here, two answers have been given in theological reflection that may look
different, but that as a matter of fact are identical from a conceptual point of
view. The first answer has the form of a vivid and highly pictorial, almost myth-
ical narrative that reminds us of the ancient narratives on Leviathan discussed
elsewhere in this volume: all that is awful in the natural world is brought about
by a group of nonhuman spirits headed by Satan—Satan being the head of
those angels who were created by God before all ages, but who already before
the dawn of human (and animal) history rebelled against their creator. Here is
Alvin Plantinga:

Satan, so the traditional doctrine goes, is a mighty nonhuman spirit who,

along with many other angels, was created long before God created man.
Satan rebelled against God and has since been wreaking whatever havoc
he can. The result is natural evil.40

So animal suffering, being part of natural evil, might be seen as due to the
free actions of Satan and other fallen angels. Indeed, C.S. Lewis, Michael Lloyd
and others have explicitly applied this view to animal suffering.41 Lewis, for

40  Alvin C. Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil, Grand Rapids, MI 1974, 58. Plantinga not
merely describes this view but makes clear that he takes it seriously (also thirty years
later in “Supralapsarianism, or ‘O Felix Culpa’ ”, in: Peter van Inwagen [ed.], Christian Faith
and the Problem of Evil, Grand Rapids, MI 2004, 1–25). Cf. for a similar view Clark Pinnock,
Most Moved Mover. A Theology of God’s Openness, Carlisle 2001, 133–134.
41  Lewis, Problem of Pain, 134–136; Michael Lloyd, “Are Animals Fallen?,” in: Linzey,
Yamamoto (eds.), Animals on the Agenda, 147–160. Cf. also Gregory Boyd, Satan and the
Problem of Evil, Grand Rapids, MI 2001. In the Bible, the idea of an angelic Fall is supported
196 van den brink

example, argued that it is “a reasonable supposition, that some mighty created

power had already been at work for ill on the material universe, or the solar
system, or, at least, the planet Earth, before ever man came on the scene. (. . .) If
there is such a power, as I myself believe, it may well have corrupted the animal
creation before man appeared.”42 To those who find such a view fanciful Lewis
replies that “the doctrine of Satan’s existence and Fall is not among the things
we know to be untrue; it contradicts not the facts discovered by scientists but
the mere, vague ‘climate of opinion’ that we happen to live in.”43 In any case,
from the perspective of the biblical worldview it is not strange to connect
animal suffering and death with the demonic. We saw already how according
to the synoptic story of the healing of the Gerasene demoniac demons were
responsible for the drowning of a herd of swines in the Sea of Galilee.
Second, a more abstract and sophisticated version of what is basically the
same response has been put forward by some theologians who have been influ-
enced by Karl Barth, such as Thomas Torrance and Neil Messer. Here, the intu-
ition that evil forces have somehow intruded into God’s creation is articulated
in a more muted way. Torrance, for example, took with great seriousness the
scientific picture of nature as being “red in tooth and claw”, and he concluded
from that picture that “far from evil having to do only with human hearts
and minds, it has become entrenched in the ontological depths of created
existence.”44 Torrance realized that given the second law of thermodynamics,
important parts of the evolutionary process (e.g. death, decomposition, etc.)
could hardly be other than what they are, but he thinks things are different
when it comes to such troubling aspects which are at the heart of this pro-
cess, such as the predator-prey relationship and “indeed sheer animal pain.”45
Hence, “it is difficult not to think that somehow nature has been infiltrated by
an extrinsic evil,” which gave its functions and features “a malignant twist.”46
Rather than representing these evil forces as fallen angels, however, Torrance,
following Karl Barth, speaks more abstractly about “anti-being,” which because
of God’s rejection can have only an “improper existence.” In this way, Torrance

by two relatively late texts (both of which draw on earlier Jewish sources): 2 Pet 2:4 and
Jude 6. Murray, Nature, 97–98, ignores these texts and instead quotes at length two Old
Testament passages (Isa 14:12–15 and Ezek 28:12–19) that, in my view, have been less influ-
ential in Christian theological thinking.
42  Lewis, Problem of Pain, 134–135.
43  Lewis, Problem of Pain, 134.
44  Thomas F. Torrance, Divine and Contingent Order, Oxford 1981, 116.
45  Torrance, Divine and Contingent Order, 122.
46  Torrance, Divine and Contingent Order, 123, 122; cf. Southgate, The Groaning of Creation, 32,
and Paul D. Molnar, Thomas F. Torrance. Theologian of the Trinity, Farnham 2009, 88.
god and the suffering of animals 197

is more reticent with regard to the origins of the dreadful distortions of nature,
acknowledging that “[e]vil remains an utterly inexplicable mystery.”47 Similarly,
Neil Messer argues that “[w]hatever in the evolutionary process is opposed to
God’s creative purpose is to be identified with ‘nothingness’; it is an aspect of
the chaos and disorder threatening the creation.”48
In her rich recent monograph on animal suffering, Nicola Hoggard Creegan
combines both lines of thinking, carefully arguing for what she calls the “modi-
fied dualism” to which the New Testament in her view bears witness. Finding
Barth’s talk about nothingness (das Nichtige) too abstract and impersonal, she
points to the personal nature of the temptation that Jesus encountered in the
wilderness and of the demons he exorcised.49 The template she uses for inter-
preting the close co-inherence of good and evil in the evolutionary process is
Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43). Surely the
evolutionary process contains many good and valuable things—aspects that
have largely been obscured by the materialist picture of evolution as a ruth-
less, randomly directed process, a picture that held us captive for quite some
time. Hoggard Creegan points to recent developments in evolutionary theory
that highlight the important role of cooperation, symbiosis, empathy and even
sacrifice (65) among animals. As a result, the picture of a cruel nature “red in
tooth and claw” is changing “in ways that are more conducive to theological
insight” (97). Despite all of nature’s tragedies, we can sense the sheer beauty
and goodness of the highly variegated forms of life that inhabit our planet.
In this way, believers have always discerned and can still discern the hand of
God in nature, and see why creation was called “good.” Their belief is not com-
pletely at odds with the evidence.
At the same time, however, there are deeply troubling aspects to the mecha-
nisms of the evolutionary process, such as the harshness and callousness of
natural selection and the relentless carnage that has gone on since pre-human
times (53). When we have become sensitive to these dark aspects of evolu-
tion we “need some way of understanding animal suffering as more than just
a means to a higher order of different creatures” (49). It will not do to suggest
that God will ultimately redeem nature from these afflictions as long as God is
regarded as their creator, since in that case “the values God reveals in creation
are completely opposed to those shown in redemption” (53). Whoever baptizes

47  Torrance, Divine and Contingent Order, 118.

48  Neil Messer, “Natural Evil after Darwin,” in: Michael S. Northcott, R.J. Berry (eds.), Theology
after Darwin, Milton Keynes 2009, 139–154 (149).
49  Nicola Hoggard Creegan, Animal Suffering and the Problem of Evil, Oxford 2013, 76.
Henceforth, numbers between brackets in the body of the text refer to pages of this book.
198 van den brink

all of life’s modes of being as “God’s will” runs the risk of minimizing evil and
acquiescing to it (66). Instead, we should acknowledge that distinct from the
wheat there are also tares in the natural world. Both resemble each other so
much that we are ill-advised to try to separate them from one another. It takes
so much discernment to tell the difference (apparently, the degenerate seed
mimics the good seed and becomes intertwined with it), that this will be pos-
sible only in the eschatological future (73, 87). Still, the difference is real, and
we should not be tempted to call good (because of its supposed contribution
to some higher order good) what is evidently horrendous.
Who or what is responsible for the tares? Somehow, the ontology of evil
will always remain inscrutable to us (93). The Bible is full of images and
metaphors, however, that help us to take these evil forces seriously. Animal
suffering, like much human suffering (cf. Luke 13:16), is part of the corrupted
world, “caused in some sense by the evil known variously in Scripture as the
Evil One, powers and principalities, or ‘shadow sophia’.”50 Hoggard Creegan is
keen to grant that these demonic forces don’t have any independent authority
or life in themselves (76). Such a radical dualism would indeed be sub-Chris-
tian. Still, the New Testament suggests what might be called a “provisional”
or “modified” dualism, with evil, though elusive and hidden in its agency
and ontology (52), as a very real destructive force that transcends the human
dimension. In this way, Hoggard Creegan argues for the rehabilitation of a the-
ology of fallenness. “(. . .) why discard the element of the demonic when the
Scriptures are so full of it? A theology of fallenness enables us to say ‘no’ to
the idea that suffering is necessary or a part of God’s kingdom in some way.”51
In sum, a revised version of the cosmic fall theory, as developed by thinkers
like Lewis, Torrance and Hoggard Creegan, enables us to account for (the most
troubling aspects of) animal suffering without somehow having to endorse it
or explain it away. But it also helps to see that God is opposed to it, working
all the time to redeem creation from its evil intruders. This made the Psalmist
exclaim, “You save humans and animals alike, O Lord” (Ps 36:6). As Torrance
reminds us, this has become most clear at the cross of Christ where the powers

50  Hoggard Creegan, Animal Suffering, 137. The reference to “shadow Sophia” is based on
Celia Deane-Drummond, Christ and Evolution. Wonder and Wisdom, London 2009, 185–
186, who in turn draws on the work of Sergii Bulgakov. It is not clear to me where this
notion is mentioned in Scripture (as Hoggard Creegan suggests). Bulgakov uses the term
in a way that calls to mind Barth’s notion of das Nichtige: the dark side of creation that is
not willed by God but as such nevertheless exists.
51  Hoggard Creegan, Animal Suffering, 148. The famous ‘ecological’ passage in Rom 8:19–20
might also be interpreted along such lines, the futility to which nature is subjected in the
present era being due to “the devil and his fallen angels.” Cf. Robert Jenson, Systematic
Theology 2, Oxford 1999, 151.
god and the suffering of animals 199

of this world were decisively conquered (Col 2:15). It is from the vantage point of
the “sheer physicality” of the incarnation, crucifixion, descent and resurrec-
tion of Jesus Christ, that we come to see how God got at the heart of evil in
order to destroy it from within its ontological depths and started to rebuild
what he had once made to be good.52 This is the hopeful story of the Christian
gospel, which invites us to become God’s fellow-workers in this struggle until
the final victory will be disclosed.

7 Conclusion

In the foregoing, we did not have space to discuss every attempt to come to
terms with animal suffering from a Christian theological perspective. For
example, we paid no attention to kenotic ways of approaching the issue, which
emphasize that the ‘cruciformity’ of nature should not surprise those who have
the cross of Christ as the centre of their faith. Nor did we discuss skeptical
theism—the view that we should be skeptical of our ability to discern God’s
reasons for acting or refraining from acting in any particular instance—as a
possible response to the problem of animal suffering, or the notion of eschato-
logical compensation for animals that had to suffer deeply on earth (“a heaven
for pelicans”).53 What we have seen, however, is that considering our natural
world as fallen is far from obsolete even after Darwin. Whereas the traditional
cosmic fall theory (drawing on Adam’s sin and its supposed consequences) has
serious drawbacks from a scientific as well as from a moral perspective, a modi-
fied dualism, while not in conflict with what we know about our planet’s evolu-
tionary history, might best be able to do justice to the Bible and the theological
tradition as well as to our deepest moral intuitions. Alternatively, those who
have a high view of God’s inscrutibility may consider the one way argument as
a sound response.
It is intriguing that this conclusion brings us back to the beginning of this
chapter. For doesn’t the figure of Leviathan in all its mysteriousness reflect
this deep-seated ambiguity of good and evil which we experience in creation
at large? As has become clear in other contributions to this volume, Leviathan

52  Torrance, Divine and Contingent Order, 116.

53  Cf. for this phrase Southgate, Groaning of Creation, ch. 5; Southgate draws on Jay McDaniel,
Of God and Pelicans, Louisville, KY 1989, who in turn derived it from Holmes Rolston III,
Science and Religion: A Critical Survey, New York, NY 1987, 138–140. White pelicans typi-
cally lay two eggs, but use the second one only as a spare copy; if all goes well with the
first hatched chick, the second chick is driven out of the nest and usually dies of abuse or
200 van den brink

is an ambivalent creature. On the one hand, it bears the traces of the over-
whelming beauty and diversity of the created order, being created in all its
monstrosity by its Maker to play with it (cf. esp. the contributions of Kwakkel
and Nicholas Ansell). On the other hand, it symbolizes the threatening and
deeply disturbing side of creation, the evil forces that intruded into creation
in ways we will never be able to fully fathom (see e.g. the chapters by Marjo
Korpel and Johannes de Moor, Rob van Houwelingen, and Henk van de Kamp).
It belongs to the heart of the Christian gospel, however, that thanks to the work
of Christ these forces, like Leviathan in most of its ancient interpretations,
have already lost the battle and will ultimately be exposed as defeated in the
eschatological future.

“God Deals More Roughly with His Creature than

We Would Like”
Leviathan in the Work of Arnold A. van Ruler

Dirk van Keulen

1 Introduction—Fascination with a Biblical Monster

Arnold Albert van Ruler (1908–1970) is considered to be one of the most

original theologians in the Netherlands in the twentieth century. He is often
mentioned in one breath with O. Noordmans and K.H. Miskotte: they were
the three most important theologians that the Netherlands Reformed Church
(Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk) provided in the previous century. After two
seven-year stints as a minister—from 1933–1940 in Kubaard, a small town in
Friesland, and from 1940–1947 in Hilversum—Van Ruler was appointed profes-
sor of theology by the Netherlands Reformed Church at Utrecht University. He
would remain a professor until his death in 1970. He taught various subjects
but became most well-known for his work in dogmatics.1
Van Ruler liked to articulate his views in short, provocative statements and
had the gift of announcing his opinions in one-liners. To give a few examples:
“Football is just as important as prayer;”2 “In terms of the gospel, my cigar is
just as important as my relationship to my neighbours;”3 “Reality is funny—a
joke by God.”4
The title of this chapter is also a one-liner: “God deals more roughly with
his creature than we would like.” Whoever Googles this saying (in Dutch) will
find a number of websites where this saying is cited and ascribed to Van Ruler.

1  An edition of Van Ruler’s collected works is being prepared. So far, four parts in five volumes
have appeared: A.A. van Ruler, Verzameld Werk, Deel 1–6B, ed. by D. van Keulen, Zoetermeer
2007–2016. Hereafter I will refer to the parts of the Verzameld Werk as VW, followed by
the number of the part. For a short biography of Van Ruler, see Van Keulen, “Inleiding,” in:
A.A. van Ruler, VW1, 17–45.
2  Van Ruler, “De verhouding van de mens en de wetenschap in het licht van de theologie,” in:
idem, VW1, 138.
3  Van Ruler, “Jezus als voorbeeld,” in: idem, VW4A, 122.
4  Van Ruler, “De vreugde als wezenlijk christelijk levensgevoel,” in: idem, VW3, 440.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi ��.��63/9789004337961_013

202 van keulen

I learned it from Harry Kuitert’s book Het algemeen betwijfeld christelijk geloof
(English translation: I Have My Doubts), where it is cited approvingly in a sec-
tion on “The Dark Course of Providence.”5 I do not know where the saying is
found in Van Ruler’s work, but that does not mean that he did not come up
with it. Given how he wrote about the Leviathan, it is possible to demonstrate
that the title of this paper could very well have originated in Van Ruler’s mind.
Three texts indicate that Van Ruler became interested in the figure of
Leviathan in the first half of the 1950s. On Sunday, 31 August 1952 he preached
a sermon on Psalm 104:26 called “Het spel met de Leviathan (‘Playing with
Leviathan’).” About the same time he published a meditation on the same text
called “Het spel met de chaos (‘Playing with Chaos’),” which was published in
a volume of meditations called Vertrouw en geniet (“Trust and Enjoy”). Some
years later (1958) Leviathan resurfaced in his essay “God en de chaos (‘God and
Chaos’)”—one of Van Ruler’s most controversial texts.6 After that, there was no
further mention of Leviathan in any of his works.7
Van Ruler’s interest in Leviathan lasted a relatively short time, but his inter-
est, while it lasted, was intense. Van Ruler was fascinated, one could claim, by
this monster in the Bible. We know this from another source, in addition to
the texts cited. When I wrote his daughter Janneke that I would be speaking
at a conference about Leviathan in her father’s work, she mailed me that he
also talked about Leviathan to his family: “Leviathan had been portrayed to
me as something very scary. . . . But Dad could get very enthusiastic about it.

5  H.M. Kuitert, Het algemeen betwijfeld christelijk geloof: Een herziening, Baarn 1992, 108: ‘Waar
komt het kwaad vandaan? Het klassieke antwoord van de christelijke traditie schiet tekort.
Niet alleen van de zonde, er is meer aan de hand. Er is een raadsel in de omgang tussen
God en Zijn schepping. De uitspraak van Van Ruler dat God ruiger met Zijn schepsel omgaat
dan ons lief is, valt mij hier opnieuw te binnen. Er is ook kwaad dat niet op ons conto staat,
maar op dat van de Schepper.’ In the English translation of Kuitert’s book—‘Where does evil
come from? The classic answer of the Christian traditions falls short. Not just from sin; there’s
more to evil than that. There’s an enigma in the dealings between God and his creation. I
think once again of Van Ruler’s statement that God is more involved in his creation than we
would like. There’s also evil which is not to be put to our account, but to the Creator’s’ (H.M.
Kuitert, I Have My Doubts: How to Become a Christian without Being a Fundamentalist, trans.
J. Bowden, London 1993, 93)—the point of Van Ruler’s quote is missed. Instead of “God is
more involved in his creation than we would like” I would prefer to translate: “God deals more
roughly with his creature than we would like.”
6  For the disputed character of Van Ruler’s “God en de chaos,” see Van Keulen, “Inleiding,” in:
Van Ruler, VW3, 19–24.
7  Aside from the three texts mentions, Leviathan does appear one other time in Van Ruler’s
work, namely, in an oblique remark in a lecture in 1953: “De vreugde in bijbels perspectief
(Joy in Biblical Perspective),” in: Van Ruler, VW3, 433–434 (note q).
“ god deals more roughly with his creature than we would like ” 203

He talked about it with his eyes glowing with excitement and pleasure. Maybe
he wanted to teach Leviathan a lesson or understand it in any case.”8
I will now first explore what Van Ruler said about Leviathan. Because there
are no essential differences between the sermon and the meditation, I will
limit myself to the meditation and the essay. I will then take stock of what Van
Ruler is doing.

2 Het spel met de chaos (“Playing with Chaos”) [1955]

In his meditation “Het spel met de chaos”—most probably a radio talk on the
AVRO network in the first half of the 1950s—Van Ruler portrays Leviathan as
a mythical conception: Leviathan is “the primeval sea, the personification of
chaos, the fury of the chaotic power of water.” For all those who are not at sea
every day and fear its dangers, this remains perhaps somewhat far removed
and foreign. But that changes with his second description: the Leviathan is also
“the bristling, twisting, unmanageable entity that shambles and slides under
everything.” In one sentence Van Ruler puts us right in the middle of a scary
film, a film from which we cannot escape, for “That is what reality is like. That
is what life is like. That is what we ourselves are like.” The mythical image of
Leviathan expresses what “we all still have within us.”9
According to Van Ruler, God does two things with Leviathan. First, he fights
with it. On the basis of Isa 27:1 and Ps 74:13–14, we can say: God is engaged in
struggle with the primeval monster—in a life-and-death struggle. The other
thing God does with Leviathan is to play with it. In Van Ruler’s view, that strikes
“more deeply” than the struggle, for “in the end, we can live through the whole
of reality only as if it were a play. The deepest thing here is not seriousness.
Seriousness is deadly. The deepest thing is laughter and jesting, dance and
song, art and joy, pleasure and freedom.” Unlike God, we humans cannot play
with Leviathan. The reason why we should not do this can be learned from Eve
in the Garden of Eden. She engages in “an easy-going conversation but in the
end comes off badly.” We are thus afraid of the primeval monster.10
Van Ruler takes it a step further at the end of the meditation. At that point
he says that God “formed” Leviathan so he could play with it. This has major
consequences for humans. God “does not only set the creature roughly against

8  E-mail from Janneke van Ruler to Dirk van Keulen (February 12, 2013).
9  All quotes in this paragraph are from: Van Ruler, “Het spel met de chaos,” in: idem,
Vertrouw en geniet, The Hague, n.d. [1955], 88.
10  All quotes in this paragraph are from: Van Ruler, “Het spel met de chaos,” 89–90.
204 van keulen

the nothingness. He also calls—even more roughly—the element of chaos

into existence.” Thus, in Van Ruler’s view, God took great risks. Everything in
creation is in a state of “touch and go,” of uncertainty. In our fear of chaos, we
humans can do only one thing: live by trusting in God, for “he can play with
what we are afraid of.”11
Van Ruler describes that living by trusting in God with the image of the
human being as a “skipper alongside God.” “We thus sit in the boat and sail
on the sea of life. We know about the danger of the abyss. But we also know
about God’s playing. That is why we keep on sailing. That is our faith.”12 In other
words, even though God sometimes plays with the chaos, in all that chaos God
is our ally and travelling companion.

3 God en de chaos (“God and Chaos”) [1958]

“God en de chaos” was originally a lecture that Van Ruler gave in the summer of
1958 at a conference of the Nederlandse Christen Studenten Vereniging (Dutch
Christian Student Society). In the fall of that year and in the spring of 1959 he
would deliver the lecture three more times: during congregational evenings in
Voorburg and Harderwijk and at the Studenten Sanatorium in Laren. In the
summer of 1959 the lecture became very well-known because of its publication
in the widely read magazine Wending.13
“God en de chaos” displays characteristic features of Van Ruler’s way of
theologizing. There are challengingly formulated one-liners, such as this, for
example: “The devil is God’s servant, at most God’s monkey.”14 We come across
his associative way of thinking. The text consists of eighteen paragraphs that
are not always connected or arranged logically. Van Ruler sometimes makes
associative leaps in thought. He also neglects to define terms clearly—such as
the terms “chaos” and “spel” (“play”). As a result, the argument is not easy to

11  All quotes in this paragraph are from: Van Ruler, “Het spel met de chaos,” 90–91.
12  Van Ruler, “Het spel met de chaos,” 91.
13  Van Ruler, “God en de chaos,” Wending. Maandblad voor evangelie en cultuur 14/5–6
(July/August 1959), 336–351. The lecture was also published earlier in Vox Veritas 30/3
(October 25, 1958). The text would also appear later in Van Ruler, Theologisch Werk, deel
5, Nijkerk 1972, 32–45, and in idem, VW3, 159–172. I will refer below to the edition VW3.
14  Van Ruler, “God en de chaos,” 165.
15  Cf. G.C. Berkouwer, “Over de theologie van A.A. van Ruler (IV),” Gereformeerd Weekblad
26/45 (May 14, 1971, 313; cf. also idem, De zonde, deel 2. Wezen en verbreiding der zonde,
Kampen 1960, 202 (note 351): “. . . not transparent in all respects.”
“ god deals more roughly with his creature than we would like ” 205

The perspective in “God en de chaos” is wider than that of the previously

discussed meditation. If the mythical conception of Leviathan forms the occa-
sion to mediate on the relationship between God and the chaotic side of exis-
tence, in “God en de chaos” the relationship between these two becomes the
central question and Leviathan is part of the argument.
Van Ruler begins with the notion that we cannot be satisfied with saying
that God permits the chaos of life. The inadequacy of that idea is that chaos
could then be a surprise for God and God would be no match for it.16 The idea
of permitting it is, in other words, in conflict with two traditional aspects of the
Christian concept of God, namely God’s omniscience and omnipotence. Then
the text falls roughly into four parts:

a) In the first part Van Ruler describes the relationship between God and
chaos in three steps. He begins with the thesis that God himself makes
the things in the world chaotic now and then. He explores this thesis by
showing how, on the one hand, God creates chaos but, on the other, also
orders it. Finally, he elaborates more closely on the idea that God creates
chaos by arguing that God wanted to be able to play with it.17
b) In the second part Van Ruler poses the question of the causes of the cha-
otic aspect in God’s actions. He attributes it to: 1) the plurality of creatures,
2) human freedom, 3) the being of the human, which is characterized by
two contradictory principles, i.e., a cosmic, ordering principle and a cha-
otic principle,18 and 4) sin.19
c) In the third part Van Ruler combines the results of the first and second
part of his argument. On the one hand, it can be said that the chaos is
connected with human sin. On the other hand, there is always a divine
element in it.20
d) In the fourth and final part he presents this thesis: “Love is the solution
to the problem!” and works this out by looking at it from various angles.21
In his argument he asserts, among other things, that chaos does not par-
alyze love and that we need to have the courage to see in chaos more

16  Van Ruler, “God en de chaos,” 159. This idea can be found often in Van Ruler’s work. See, for
example, Van Ruler, “Gods voorzienigheid,” in: VW3, 130; idem, “Wij staan als christenen in
Gods hand,” in: VW3, 134; idem, “De leer van de uitverkiezing,” in: VW4A, 749, 752–753.
17  Van Ruler, “God en de chaos,” 159–161.
18  Van Ruler wrote about this earlier in his 1943 work, “Orde en chaos,” in: VW3, 146–147.
19  Van Ruler, “God en de chaos,” 161–164.
20  Van Ruler, “God en de chaos,” 164–166.
21  Van Ruler, “God en de chaos,” 166–170.
206 van keulen

than a dispute between God and the nations of the earth and more than
labour pains on the way to the coming of the Kingdom of God. Chaos is
also God playing.

Leviathan appears twice in the argument: in the first and fourth parts. In the
first part Van Ruler describes Leviathan as “the mythical summation of all cha-
otic elements in created reality.”22 That Leviathan was created by God is very
important here. This implies, namely, that chaos is not absolute, not divine,
not eternal, and not self-sufficient.23
Whoever is quite familiar with Van Ruler’s theology is reminded of a paral-
lel with his view of sin. It is also true of sin, in his view, that it is not absolute,
divine, eternal or self-sufficient. Sin was called into existence from noth-
ing by human beings. Because sin has come into existence, we can also be
redeemed.24 Nevertheless, the parallel between the chaotic and sin ultimately
does not work. Whereas Van Ruler repeatedly emphasizes in his work that sin
is accidental in character,25 he argues in “God en de chaos” that the chaotic ele-
ment in the world is “not something purely accidental in created being.” That
is what we often think intuitively: the world and our life should be harmoni-
ous and not chaotic. Our intuition is of no use to us here, however: “Chaos is
more essential than we . . . thought.”26 That explains why Van Ruler also calls
Leviathan “chaos as such, as a primeval element and permanent substratum
of all being.” Permanent substratum?—that raises the question: Is the chaotic
then also eternal? Is there a tension in Van Ruler’s thinking here?

22  Van Ruler, “God en de chaos,” 161.

23  Van Ruler, “God en de chaos,” 161.
24  Van Ruler, “Zonnigheden in de zonde,” in: VW3, 361–362; idem, “De mens als zondaar,” in:
VW3, 365–366.
25  See, for example, Van Ruler, “De beperktheid van het theologische kennen,” in: VW2, 139;
idem, “Vormen van omgang met de bijbel,” in: VW2, 341; idem, “De christelijke kerk en het
Oude Testament,” in: VW2, 471; idem, “De ontmoeting van de mens met God,” in: VW3,
211; idem, “De reformatorische visie op de mens,” in: VW3, 243; idem, “De mens, de zin
van de geschiedenis,” in: VW3, 314; idem, “De zonde in het besluit,” in: VW3, 351; idem,
“Zonnigheden in de zonde,” in: VW3, 361; idem, “De mens als zondaar,” in: VW3, 366;
idem, “De waardering van het aardse leven,” in: VW3, 413; idem, “De vreugde als wezen-
lijk christelijk levensgevoel,” in: VW3, 440; idem, “De verhouding van het kosmologische
en het eschatologische element in de christologie,” in: VW4A, 151; idem, “De noodzake-
lijkheid van een pneumatologie,” in: VW4A, 418; idem, “Ván de Heilige Geest náár een
christelijke cultuur,” in: VW4A, 482; idem, “Schepping en wedergeboorte,” in: VW4B,
303; idem, “De vocatione,” in: VW4B, 318; idem, “Gerechtigheid en rechtvaardigheid,”
in: VW4B, 488.
26  Van Ruler, “God en de chaos,” 161.
“ god deals more roughly with his creature than we would like ” 207

Van Ruler then returns in this context to the idea borrowed from Ps 104 that
God created Leviathan to play with it. He does indicate that the Bible also
speaks about God fighting Leviathan, but then immediately turns back to the
idea of God playing. Apparently, Van Ruler is more fascinated by that than by
the struggle. From the fact that God is said to play with Leviathan he deduces
that God is not afraid of chaos. Van Ruler then follows this with some specula-
tion: “[God] does not want to be done with it as quickly as possible. He plays
with it. Everything that plays also loses itself in the game. There is something
of eternity in the game. Can we say that God plays with chaos and loses himself
in it from eternity to eternity?”27 A comparable speculation is also found, by
the way, in the meditation “Het spel met de chaos.” There Van Ruler says that
God creates chaos and follows that with: “He needs it. Permanently.”28 The
question arises anew: Is the chaotic then eternal? Van Ruler leaves the ques-
tion hanging: “If we ask this question, we should not look for answers.”
At the end of his argument Van Ruler returns to the notion of God playing
with Leviathan, with chaos. He holds that this playing is “the most profound
thing” that can be said about the chaos. That does not mean that everything
has become comprehensible and transparent, for “perhaps we will never com-
pletely understand everything. Neither with our reason nor with our heart.”29
There is something mysterious about chaos. But that does not prevent Van
Ruler from emphasizing that chaos is determinative for our human life, for
“We are the chaos” and “We are the play of God.” In that play “not only does it
come down to the courage to be” (an allusion to Paul Tillich’s Courage to Be)30
“but even more to the willingness to play. May I dance with you?31 God asks us,
and the core of our existence hangs on the question whether we are prepared
to do so.” But that is not at all simple, according to Van Ruler. “Being as divine
playing, as the play of divine love, is an investigation of being, also of the chaos
in being, which could even satisfy and delight reason and the heart. But that,
however, demands far-reaching maturity and a great silence before God’s face.
That may be completely true only if we are on our deathbeds.”32 Trust and sur-
render seem to be key words here for Van Ruler.

27  Van Ruler, “God en de chaos,” 161 (italics his).

28  Van Ruler, “Het spel met de chaos,” 90.
29  Van Ruler, “God en de chaos,” 170.
30  Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be, New Haven 1952.
31  This idea is found often in Van Ruler’s work. See, for example, Van Ruler, “De wonderlijk­
heid van het bestaan,” in: VW3, 105; idem, “Evangelie en nihilisme,” in: VW4B, 110. He some-
times also uses the image of a marriage proposal—see: idem, “De positie van de mens
in het heilsproces,” in: VW4B, 118; idem, “Ultragereformeerd en vrijzinnig,” in: VW4B, 740.
32  Van Ruler, “God en de chaos,” 170.
208 van keulen

4 “God Deals More Roughly with His Creature Than We Would Like”

Let us now take stock of the discussion so far. In three texts—a sermon, a med-
itation, and a lecture—Van Ruler develops his thinking concerning Leviathan.
As far as I know, he is one of very few systematic theologians in whose work
Leviathan plays a prominent role.
He considers this biblical primeval monster to be a mythical conception
of chaos or of the elements of chaos in created reality. In all three texts he
neglects to define what he means by that chaos or the elements of chaos. In
the second part of “God en de chaos,” he does mention four aspects: 1) the
plurality (of creatures), 2) human freedom, 3) the tension between an ordering
principle and a chaotic principle in human beings, and 4) sin. Those are very
different things. Chaos can have a positive side: plurality, freedom, and the cha-
otic in human beings can point to encounter, creativity, and energy. When God
plays with that, something can happen, new ways can be opened. On the other
hand, sin points to the explicit negative side of chaos: evil, the shadow side of
the creation. Chaos is, in short, variegated: light and dark.33
Three Bible passages play a role in Van Ruler’s argument: Isa 27:1, Ps 74:13–
14, and Ps 104:26.34 Using those three texts, he emphasizes in the sermon
and in the meditation that God does two things with Leviathan: he fights it and
plays with it. Van Ruler then pays more attention to the playing. In “God en de
chaos” he simply calls it an element of the fight against Leviathan, but puts
all the emphasis on God’s playing with Leviathan. That shows that Van Ruler
was especially fascinated by Ps 104:26 for a few years. In “God en de chaos”
Isa 27:1–14 and Ps 74:13–14 do not play any significant role in the argument.
The titles of the sermon, the meditation, and the talk reflect a continuous
line. This line moves from “Het spel met de Leviatan,” via “Het spel met de
chaos” to “God en de chaos.” The order of these three titles shows that Van
Ruler initially started with the idea in Ps 104:26 that God created Leviathan to
play with it and then reflected on this in a meditative way. Later, in “God en de
chaos,” he wrote a systematic-theological text in which the idea of playing in
Ps 104 plays an important role. Leviathan is given a place within a more com-
prehensive argument.

33  Rothuizen therefore correctly states that the “internal connection” between God and
chaos that Van Ruler describes is not entirely the same as the bitter mystery of the good
creation (G.T. Rothuizen, “Azen op de vreugde,” in: Woord en werkelijkheid over de theo-
cratie. Een bundel opstellen in dankbare nagedachtenis aan Prof. Dr. A.A. van Ruler, Nijkerk
1973, 67).
34  Job 3:8, where Leviathan also appears, does not play any role in the argument.
“ god deals more roughly with his creature than we would like ” 209

The sermon, the meditation, and the talk are not always easy to understand.
The heart of Van Ruler’s argument seems clear, however. Human sin plays a
role in the chaos—the shadow side—of our reality. But we cannot stop there:
there is also a divine element in it. We have thus now arrived at the question
of theodicy.
Van Ruler distinguishes between two aspects in this divine dimension
of chaos. First, he emphasizes, on the basis of Ps 104:26, that God created
Leviathan. That means that chaos has an inbuilt place in creation.35 There
are shadow sides in creation that God has called into existence and that
God is responsible for.36 This is expressed by means of a striking sentence
from the meditation, God “does not only set the creature roughly against the
nothingness. He also calls—even more roughly—the element of chaos into
existence.”37 That comes close to the one-liner I used as a title for this chapter:
“God deals more roughly with his creature than we would like.” The same say-
ing comes through even more strongly perhaps in the second aspect of that
divine dimension in the chaos: God created Leviathan to play with it. By speak-
ing about playing, Van Ruler is seeking—and let us recall what I quoted above
from his daughter Janneke—for a way to fathom the shadow sides of reality.
Or, in his own words, to search “for God through the confusion of reality.”38
If we survey what Van Ruler wrote about Leviathan, it is clear that he pres-
ents us with extraordinarily original, intriguing, and daring ideas. That fits with
his way of theologizing. Throughout the years Van Ruler always went his own
way and was never afraid to go against the grain.39 On the one hand, that is the
strength of his theology. When we read Van Ruler we are constantly exposed
to points of view that we would not come up with on our own. He thus pro-
vokes us to think. On the other hand, the original and challenging character of
his theology often evokes questions and opposition. That is also the case with

35  Cf. P.F.T. Aalders, “De scheppingsnotie bij Van Ruler,” Wapenveld 24 (1974), 185.
36  CF. H. Berkhof, Christelijk geloof. Een inleiding tot de geloofsleer, Nijkerk 1985 (reprint),
173: Van Ruler “[seems] to view the shadow side (including guilt) entirely as the positive
and definitive will of God . . .”; W.H. Velema, Confrontatie met Van Ruler. Denken vanuit het
einde, Kampen 1962, 69: “[. . .] that the relation between creation and vanity, destruction
or loss is to be attributed not only to the guilt of human beings but also to God.”
37  Van Ruler, “Het spel met de chaos,” 90.
38  Van Ruler, “De vreugde, in bijbels perspectief,” in: VW3, 433 (note q).
39  His relation to Karl Barth’s theology illustrates this. On this see Dirk van Keulen, “Van ‘His
Master’s Voice’ naar respectvolle kritiek. A.A. van Rulers verhouding tot de theologie van
Karl Barth,” in Dirk van Keulen, George Harinck, Gijsbert van den Brink (red.), Men moet
telkens opnieuw de reuzenzwaai aan de rekstok maken: Verder met Van Ruler, Zoetermeer
2009, 94–111.
210 van keulen

his ideas on Leviathan—Miskotte was even said to be unable to sleep because

of it.40 That is why, by way of conclusion, I will formulate three questions.
My first question concerns the speculative character of some of his ideas.41
In particular I think of the statement formulated as a question: “Would God
play with the chaos and lose himself in the chaos from eternity to eternity?”
I also think of the idea in the meditation that God creates chaos, after which
Van Ruler adds: “He needs that. Permanently.”42 How does Van Ruler know
that? Where does he get that from? And how does that help us? I do not want
to suggest by this that we should never speculate in theology. To the contrary—
without speculation theology would be boring. But I do ask myself if the specu-
lation in this case does not overshoot its goal. When Van Ruler emphasizes that
chaos is not absolute, not divine, not eternal, and not self-sufficient, he suggests
that we do not have to be afraid of chaos. The human being is a “skipper along-
side God.” When he then adds his speculations, do they not undermine the
trust in and surrender to God that he is fundamentally concerned with?
The second question is more methodological in nature: Can systematic-
theological conclusions be drawn so directly from a poetic text like Ps 104 as
Van Ruler does? Indeed, he himself almost concludes in a poetic vein when
he writes figuratively about God inviting human beings to dance. That does
not take away from the fact that, especially in “God en de chaos,” the figura-
tive language of the psalm is very smoothly transformed into the language of
conceptual thought.
Finally, let us look at the terms “play” and “playing.”43 These terms appear
often in Van Ruler’s work. Thus, for example, the last part of his “Theocratische

40  Kuitert once said in an interview conducted by Puchinger: “I remember that [Van
Ruler] . . . wrote his article God en de chaos, and that I said to him after reading it: ‘Since
I read your article, I can once again sleep peacefully, professor.’ To which he answered,
‘Miskotte couldn’t sleep because of it!’ ” (G. Puchinger, Is de gereformeerde wereld veran-
derd?, Delft 1966, 352–353).
41  Others have also been disturbed by the speculative character of “God en de chaos” or have
raised questions on that issue. Velema, for instance, places “the drunkenness of ideas”
over against the “sobriety of reflection,” whereby the first expression refers to Van Ruler
and the second to himself (see Velema, Confrontatie met Van Ruler, 69). Aalders writes
“ ‘God en de chaos’ . . . reveals a wide panorama, in which all moments are set up in a row
in a theological reflection that could also be called gnosis (Aalders, “De scheppingsnotie
bij Van Ruler,” 185).
42  Van Ruler, “Het spel met de chaos,” 90.
43  Berkouwer emphasizes that Van Ruler’s speaking of play is “least of all intended as an
excuse for our making the world chaotic in so many ways.” But, Berkouwer asks, “What
does play then mean and why can chaos not be expressed only in the metaphors of
“ god deals more roughly with his creature than we would like ” 211

grondlijnen (‘Theocratic Baselines’)” is devoted to “play moments.”44 Although

Van Ruler does not make any explicit connection anywhere, we have to see
that against the background of what the historian Johan Huizinga wrote in
1938 in his Homo ludens about playing and play.45 Both in the time that Van
Ruler spoke and wrote as well as now, most people are not ready for what
Huizinga meant. In the terms “playing” and “play” they hear associations like
children, freedom, relaxation, amusement, having fun, and enjoying oneself.
That is also heard when Van Ruler speaks about God playing with Leviathan,
and God playing with chaos. But can one then still speak in terms of “playing”
with regard to God? Does that do justice to human suffering? And does that
do justice to God? Shortly after the Second World War, Van Ruler wrote a few
times: “God is in the war.”46 He thereby suggested that the war was part of the
will and acts of God. That goes quite far. It goes even further to think of God
playing. God does not amuse himself with war; God does not take any pleasure
in war. Or we could take the case of the person who died recently at the age
of forty-one after struggling with a brain tumour for eleven years. Can we say
to him or his wife and children: “Yes, that is simply God playing—God invites
you to dance with him”? No, that will not do. That does not do any justice to
the suffering of people. Leviathan is hideous.47 Should Van Ruler then not have
devoted much more attention to the struggle of God with Leviathan, the strug-
gle that Isa 27:1 and Ps 74:13–14 speak of?

quarrel and strife?” (Berkouwer, “Over de theologie van A.A. van Ruler (IV),” 313). Miskotte
writes: “Great hesitation should overcome us, in my view with respect to the thesis: ‘in
the end, we can only live through the whole of reality as if it were play . . .” (K.H. Miskotte,
review of: A.A. van Ruler, Vertrouw en geniet, in NTT 10 (1955–1956), 360).
44  Van Ruler, “Theocratische grondlijnen,” §§ XIII and XIV, in: VW6A, 266–293.
45  J. Huizinga, Homo ludens. Proeve eener bepaling van het spel-element der cultuur, Haarlem
46  Van Ruler, “Wij staan als christenen in een wereld in Gods hand,” in: VW3, 134; idem,
“De betekenis van het christelijk geloof in deze tijd,” in: VW3, 461; idem, “De dwaasheid
gekroond,” in: VW3, 468; idem, “De leer van de uitverkiezing,” in: VW4A, 752.
47  Roozenboom correctly accentuates that: “What is remarkable is that Van Ruler does not
mention anything about the hideous and anti-divine character of chaos, symbolized in
the Leviathan” (S.M. Roozenboom, Naar een bestaan volkomen. Dogmatische motieven
in de fundering en verdediging van de dienst der genezing door theologen van de charis-
matische vernieuwing in Nederland en de omgang met deze motieven in de Nederlandse
hervormde en gereformeerde theologie van de laatste honderdvijftig jaar, n.p. 2007 (disser-
tation VU University Amsterdam), 273.
212 van keulen

We live—to quote the title of another essay by Van Ruler—“in a world in

God’s hand.”48 It is very possible that God deals more roughly with his creature
than we would like. Face to face with the suffering of people, I would rather
speak of a mystery (Berkouwer)49 and of caprice (Miskotte).50 It is in those
terms that we have to endure that suffering.

48  Van Ruler, “Wij staan als christenen in een wereld in Gods hand,” in: VW3, 133.
49  While Berkouwer in 1950 in his De voorzienigheid Gods (English: The Providence of God)
still attempted to understand and explain as much as possible, in his final talk as a
ninety-year-old man, on the occasion of the deaths of his daughter and granddaughter,
he said: “Here you suddenly run up against a mystery, the unfathomable . . .” (“Address by
Dr. G.C. Berkouwer,” in Dirk van Keulen, Bibliografie/Bibliography G.C. Berkouwer, Kampen
2000, 336).
50  Cf. K.H. Miskotte, Verzameld Werk, Deel 10. Antwoord uit het onweer. Het gewone leven,
Kampen 1984, 88, 126–127, 152, 179, 186, 207, 209, 267, 319.

Modern Political Society as Leviathan

Interpretation and Application of Thomas Hobbes’ Use of a Biblical Symbol

Ad de Bruijne

1 Introduction

After the 2013 disclosure of the U.S. National Security Agency’s widespread
bugging, Caspar Bowden described the NSA as a “surveillance Leviathan,”
against which non-Americans are unprotected.1 Bowden is a ‘privacy advocate,’
and a former ‘privacy expert’ employed by Microsoft. His characterization of a
public body as ‘Leviathan’ is not accidental. Leviathan is not just the name of a
mythical monster from biblical times; there also exists a classical tradition of
political reflection in which ‘Leviathan’ denotes the state. Can this be justified?
This tradition emerges, for instance, in the work of leading contemporary
moral theologian Oliver O’Donovan. He is one of the theologians who have
instigated the twentieth-century retrieval of the classic genre of ‘political
theology.’ On several occasions in his work, he deploys the characterization
‘Leviathan.’2 Among others, these include a discussion with John Milbank, one
of the main representatives of the movement known as Radical Orthodoxy.
In his magnum opus, Theology and Social Theory, Milbank offers a radical—
prophetic—critique of modernity and modern political society. The latter,
according to him, is built on an “ontology of violence.”3 Critically engaging this,
O’Donovan writes ironically:

. . . Leviathan carries Jonah in its belly. Whether Milbank has spoken

enough out of the belly of Leviathan and is ready to take on the more
routine tasks of a prophet, we shall see.4

1 (consulted December 20, 2013).

2  Oliver O’Donovan, The Desire of the Nations. Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology,
Cambridge 1996, xi, 227; Oliver O’Donovan, Joan Lockwood O’Donovan, Bonds of Imperfection.
Christian Politics. Past and Present, Grand Rapids, MI 2004, 37; Oliver O’Donovan, The Ways of
Judgment. The Bampton Lectures 2003, Grand Rapids, MI 2005, 65.
3  John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory. Beyond Secular Reason, Oxford 1990, 5–6, 380–434.
4  O’Donovan, Review of John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, in: Studies in Christian
Ethics 5 (1992), 83–86.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi ��.��63/9789004337961_014

214 de bruijne

Milbank, however, did not use this characterization himself; rather it is

O’Donovan’s way of depicting Milbank’s views of modern state and society. The
quotation makes clear that to a certain extent O’Donovan himself could accept
it. Nevertheless, he would propose different consequences for the Christian
attitude toward this ‘Leviathan-state’ than those advocated by Milbank.
In this chapter, I will consider whether there is indeed reason to charac-
terize the modern state and society as ‘Leviathan.’ A comment made during
the public defence of my thesis on O’Donovan’s political theology at Leiden
University (October 12, 2006) illustrates why this is an important question.
The title of the dissertation uses the name ‘Leviathan’ for modern society and
state.5 One of the opponents, the late systematic theologian Professor Kune
Biezeveld (1948–2008), criticized that characterization as annoying and insult-
ing to contemporary Western citizens. In the Bible, the symbol of ‘Leviathan’
refers to an utterly negative, even idolatrous and demonic power. The use of
such a designation does no justice to the character of contemporary demo-
cratic states and would wrongly tempt Christians to distance themselves from
their societies.
In the following sections, we will first turn to the political philosopher
Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), who is the main source for the characterization
of the modern state as ‘Leviathan,’ in order to uncover his aims in deploying
it. After that, we shall return to the debate between O’Donovan and Milbank
to analyse where exactly the difference between their approaches lies and to
draw conclusions about the question of whether the characterization can be
justified or not.

2 Hobbes and Leviathan

The philosophy of Thomas Hobbes is in the background of both Milbank’s and

O’Donovan’s visions of modern state and society. The seventeenth-century
philosopher and theologian’s famous book Leviathan (1651) is widely regarded
as one of the foundational works for the development of the modern concep-
tion of the state and the rise of modern political philosophy.6 For Milbank,
Hobbes’ Leviathan is a major source for the contention that modern state

5  Ad de Bruijne, Levend in Leviatan. Een onderzoek naar de theorie over ‘Christendom’ in de
politieke theologie van Oliver O’Donovan (Doctoral Thesis Leiden University), Kampen 2006,
7, 111–112 (Defence October 12, 2006).
6  Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan. Revised Student Edition. Ed. by Richard Tuck (Cambridge Texts in
the History of Political Thought), Cambridge 1996; Wolfgang Kersting (ed.), Thomas Hobbes.
modern political society as leviathan 215

and society, from their outset, are rooted in an ontology of violence.7 In turn,
O’Donovan also came to his recovery of the classical tradition of political-the-
ology after analysing this very same work.8 His characterization ‘Leviathan’ in
the heat of his debate with Milbank can then be interpreted as an allusion
to the role Hobbes plays in both of their projects.
In Leviathan, Hobbes depicts the original state of humanity as consisting of
a collection of individuals who each have a natural right to their own lives and
are therefore sovereign over themselves. Every individual is driven by the natu-
ral impulse to sustain herself and preserve her own life. As a result, from the
beginning, these individuals engage in a competitive relationship with each
other, the famous “war of all against all.” As each considers himself threatened,
fear is the basic human notion and safety the primary human need. With safety
insecure, survival remains uncertain. This original state simultaneously evokes
a rational calculation in all individuals. The only logical solution to this com-
mon uncertainty turns out to be the arranging of a collective treaty requiring
every individual to renounce their personal sovereignty and power, entrusting
these to a body representing them all. This representative body is the state,
which now bears all existing power in its domain. Therefore, it cannot tolerate
any individual or other entity still possessing public might. In return for this
sacrifice of individual power, the state offers equal protection to all citizens.
For Hobbes, the state thus forms a powerful human reality that embodies and
represents all citizens. Conceived as such, the state is typified by Hobbes as
‘Leviathan.’ The question of why he chose that symbol has been the subject of
much scholarly debate up until today. He himself writes:

Hitherto I have set forth the nature of Man (whose Pride and other
Passions have compelled him to submit himself to Government), together
with the great power of his Governour, whom I compared to Leviathan,
taking that comparison out of the two last verses of the one and fortieth
of Job; where God having set forth the great power of Leviathan, called
him King of the Proud. There is nothing, saith he, on earth, to be compared
with him. He is made so as not to be afraid. Hee seeth every high thing below
him; and is King of all the children of pride.9

Leviathan oder Stoff, Form und Gewalt eines bürgerlichen und kirchlichen Staates. Klassiker
auslegen Band 5, Berlin 1996.
7  Milbank, Theology, 9–23.
8  O’Donovan, Desire, xi.
9  Hobbes (Tuck), Leviathan, 220.
216 de bruijne

At first sight, this passage seems to imply that ‘Leviathan’ is a more or less ran-
dom and even somewhat forced metaphor. Considering the state as the most
powerful phenomenon on earth, Hobbes has found in the Bible a description
of a monster in exactly the same terms and has selected its name to denote the
state. Clearly, some interpreters judge it unnecessary to find any deeper mean-
ing behind Hobbes’ choice of what is just an unexpected metaphor.10 The fact
that even in current English, biblical names like ‘Leviathan’ and ‘Behemoth’
may be used as metaphors for something huge and overpowering seems
to support their conclusion.11 However, we can present at least four reasons to
expect that Hobbes nevertheless had a more demonstrable motive for choos-
ing this term.
First, an explanation is needed for the peculiar fact that Hobbes uses the
designation ‘Leviathan’ only three times in his lengthy book. The first of these
simply points toward the sequel and contains no clues:

For by Art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMON-

WEALTH, or STATE, (in latine CIVITAS) which is but an Artificiall Man;
though of greater stature and strength than the Naturall, for whose pro-
tection and defence it was intended; and in which the Sovereignty is an
Artificiall Soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body. . . .12

The second concerns the central passage in which the creation of the state is
at issue:

This done, the Multitude so united in one Person, is called a COMMON-

WEALTH, in latine CIVITAS. This is the Generation of that great
LEVIATHAN, or rather (to speak more reverently) of that Mortall God,
to which we owe under the Immortal God, our peace and defence.13

Only the third, which we have already encountered, offers something of a

justification. Hobbes’ line of reasoning, however, proves that at this point, he

10  B.A.G.M. Tromp, “Thomas Hobbes: Een inleiding tot Leviathan,” in: Thomas Hobbes,
W.E. Krul, B.A.G.M. Tromp, Leviathan, Meppel 1985, 7–35 (19).
11  The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, Complete Text Reproduced
Micrographically, Volume I, A-O, Oxford 1971, 1610; Walter C. Kaiser jr., “Hermeneutics and
the Theological Task,” Trinity Journal 12 (1991), 3–14 (11); Regis St. Louis, Alison Bing, Lonely
Planet USA, London 20127, 3.
12  Hobbes (Tuck), Leviathan, 9.
13  Hobbes (Tuck), Leviathan, 120.
modern political society as leviathan 217

does not intend to justify his use of this metaphor; instead, he only recapitu-
lates preceding arguments. Except for these three passages, the designation
‘Leviathan’ does not play a role in Hobbes’ book. As we saw, only the second
contains a trace of an illocutionary intention. It is remarkable that Hobbes
does not offer a direct explanation, but refers to the book of Job only in passing
as if he assumes that his readers will understand. If he really wanted to pro-
vide only an insignificant metaphor, then this explanation would have been
apt the first time. It seems more likely, therefore, that Hobbes deliberately gave
this title to his political philosophy, thereby connecting its core content to the
symbol of ‘Leviathan.’ Apparently, he expected the reader to be able to figure
out for himself what the deeper meaning of this title could be and to decode it.
Secondly, despite its reception in philosophy, Hobbes’ book contains abun-
dant biblical and theological content, which can easily be connected with the
use of the genuinely biblical symbol of ‘Leviathan.’ This too leads one to sus-
pect that the scope of the title goes beyond that of a mere metaphor. Hobbes’
Leviathan consists of four parts, the first two of which are philosophical in
character and the last two theological. The biblical symbol of ‘Leviathan,’ how-
ever, does not occur in the theological parts. He introduces and uses it only
in the philosophical sections. Some interpreters have treated the theological
parts of the book as more or less redundant. After all, Hobbes’ political vision is
already developed in the preceding philosophical passages. Such an approach
betrays the stance of our post-theological culture, in which it is considered evi-
dent that political thought should be of a philosophical character.14 However,
anyone who positions the work in Hobbes’ own context will understand that
the situation must have been very different. His main battlefront would have
been precisely ecclesiastical and theological.15 The fourth part of his work, in
fact, forms the climax. In it, he depicts “the kingdom of darkness,” referring
to a constellation in which the Church claims public authority.16 Doing so, it
sows the seed of internal conflict and civil war in the state. If we assume that
Hobbes’ main goal was indeed theological, we could interpret his loose char-
acterization in the first two parts as a subtle hint about the core content of the
work that follows in parts three and four. The characterization ‘Leviathan’ then
would be directly related to the main thesis of his work.

14  Tromp, Inleiding, 21.

15  G. Manenschijn, “Jezus is de Christus. Thomas Hobbes’ politieke theologie volgens
‘Leviathan’,” in: K.U. Gäbler et al. (red.), Geloof dat te denken geeft. Opstellen aangeboden
aan Prof. Dr. H.M. Kuitert, Baarn 1989, 119–139 (120).
16  Hobbes (Tuck), Leviathan, 417, 474, 480–482.
218 de bruijne

Thirdly, Hobbes must have been acquainted with the connotations of the
term ‘Leviathan’ that would arise among his contemporaries. The dominant
theological and exegetical traditions of the time interpreted ‘Leviathan’ as a ref-
erence to the devil or to an earthly power called forth by the devil and opposed
to God’s kingdom.17 For example, Calvin interprets the name ‘Leviathan’ in
Ps 74 as denoting the Egyptian Pharaoh in his role of powerful and threaten-
ing enemy of God and his people.18 In Isa 27 Calvin considers ‘Leviathan’ as a
qualification for Satan and his kingdom.19 In addition, the connection with
the sea, which is implied in Leviathan being a sea monster, bears political
overtones within the context of biblical revelation. The sea often symbolizes
nations that are hostile to Israel and reject Israel’s God. In line with this is the
dominant ecclesial interpretation of Rev 13, where a beast from the earth and a
beast from the sea are summoned by the dragon (the devil) to fight Christ and
his church. This beast from the sea can be identified with the Old Testament
creature of Leviathan. In the context of Rev 13, it refers definitely to the Roman
Empire. Building on this, later interpretations and applications of Rev 13 often
connected the image to empires and mighty rulers who treated the church with
hostility.20 That Hobbes certainly was aware of such connotations is shown by
the fact that after publishing Leviathan he published another work entitled
Behemoth.21 In it, he explicitly links the title to Leviathan, even presenting the
work as a kind of completion thereof. Like Leviathan, Behemoth too is found

17  Allan Menzies, “Origen’s Commentary on John, Book I, chapter 17,” in: The Ante-Nicene
Fathers. Translations of the Writings of the Father’s down to 325. Volume X, Grand Rapids,
MI 1990, 306; Philip Schaff, Henry Wace, “Exposition of the Christian Faith by St. Ambrose,
Bisshop of Milan, Book V, chapter ii,” in: A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers
of the Christian Church. Second series. Volume X, Grand Rapids, MI 1989, 288; James
Barmby, “The Book of Pastoral Rule and selected Epistles of Gregory the Great, bishop
of Rome, chapter xxiii, 50,” in: Philip Schaff, Henry Wace, A Select Library of Nicene and
Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. Second series, Volume XII, Grand Rapids, MI
1989; Augustine, The City of God against the Pagans. Edited and translated by R.W. Dyson,
Cambridge 1998, book XI, chapter 17.
18  John Calvin, Commentary on The Book of Psalms. Translated from the original Latin, and
collated with the author’s French version by James Anderson. Volume III, Grand Rapids, MI
1949, 174–175.
19  John Calvin, Commentary on The Book of the Prophet Isaiah. Translated from the origi-
nal Latin, and collated with the latest French version by William Pringle. Volume II, Grand
Rapids, MI 1948, 246–247.
20  H.R. van de Kamp, Openbaring. Profetie vanaf Patmos, Kampen 2000, 306–316; O’Donovan,
Bonds, 25–47.
21  Thomas Hobbes, Behemoth (The Clarendon Edition of the Works of Thomas Hobbes),
Oxford 2010; see also Dietrich Braun, Der sterbliche Gott. Oder Leviathan gegen Behemoth.
modern political society as leviathan 219

in Job 41, and in the ecclesial tradition has been treated as a demonic and anti-
Christian power. ‘Behemoth’ turns out to be the “beast from the earth” men-
tioned alongside Leviathan in Rev 13. Even more telling is the fact that the main
theme of Hobbes’ Behemoth is the same as that of the fourth part of Leviathan.
To Hobbes, ‘Behemoth’ represents the situation of civil war that occurs when
ecclesial power claims jurisdiction within the domain of the state.22
Fourth, Hobbes’ use of the name ‘Leviathan’ should be connected to the
illustration printed on the title page of the book, which he insisted that every
edition should contain.23 This too can be interpreted as a hint that the name
contains, albeit in a coded form, Hobbes’ message. As was made clear in the
quotes above, Hobbes considers the state to be an artificial super-human per-
son, in whom all individuals within a society are united and by whom they are
represented. In accordance with that, the title page shows a giant human figure
that, on closer inspection, turns out to be composed of countless small indi-
viduals. Already the illustration itself refers to this figure as ‘Leviathan.’ Despite
its human form, the figure indeed displays superhuman dimensions. This suits
Hobbes’ characterization of ‘Leviathan’ as both “artificial man” and “mortal
god.” Yet, this drawing also reveals that Hobbes must have meant more than
just an association with a gigantic power. When left uninspected in detail and
looked at from a distance with a casual glance, a specific optical effect occurs.
Leviathan’s body, composed of numerous individuals, gives the impression of
a skin with scales. Thus, the depiction that Hobbes insisted on including com-
municates the very same message that we have already uncovered from bibli-
cal sources, alluding to categories like ‘sea’ and ‘sea creature.’ This is confirmed
by the fact that Leviathan seems to rise up upon the land from nowhere. At
first sight, the figure looks to be located in emptiness. Closer inspection, how-
ever, leads to the association of a coastline between land and sea. Clearly, the
illustration confirms the hypothesis that Hobbes’ choice of title contained a
coded message. In this light, the interesting suggestion of the famous political
theologian Carl Schmitt, namely, that the illustration hints about England as

Erwägungen zu Ort, Bedeutung und Funktion der Lehre von der Königsherrschaf Christi in
Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, Zürich 1963.
22  Dietmar Herz, “Bürgerkrieg und politische Ordnung in Leviathan und Behemoth. Zum
Kapitel 29 des Leviathan,” in: Kersting, Hobbes, 259–281.
23  Hobbes (Tuck), Leviathan, xciii; Reinhard Brandt, “Das Titelblatt des Leviathan,” in:
Kersting, Hobbes, 29–53; Horst Bredekamp, “Thomas Hobbes’s Visual Strategies,” in:
Patricia Springborg (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan,
Cambridge 2007, 29–60.
220 de bruijne

the nation that dominates the seas, is too trivial to be seen as Hobbes’ main
intention and could at the most be a secondary connotation.24
These four considerations raise the question of exactly what message
Hobbes wanted to communicate by naming his treatise Leviathan. In the
course of time, many suggestions have been made, from which I select four as
worth considering.25
In the first place, the classic biblical and theological-exegetical tradition that
conceives of Leviathan as a hostile and even demonic power can be consid-
ered.26 This interpretation, however, offers no solution for the evident difficulty
of why Hobbes’ ‘Leviathan’ is presented as positive power, while ‘Behemoth’
still appears in a negative light in his works, when Christian tradition holds
both as evil forces.
This leads to the consideration of the second option, which suspects a rela-
tionship to the early Christian Gnostic tradition. For example, Origen discusses
the sect of the Ophites who worshipped Leviathan. In Gnosticism, the differ-
ence between right and wrong is extinguished, often causing its adherents to
treat as positive realities and symbols what the Catholic Church regarded as
evil.27 The political philosopher Eric Voegelin has raised the possibility of a
Gnostic connection in Hobbes.28 However, this hypothesis has not been veri-
fied; on the contrary, Hobbes’ philosophy tends more toward materialism and
empiricism than to spiritual Gnostic speculations.
A third possibility finds a relation to the early modern context of disen-
chantment, which formed Hobbes’ historical frame of reference. Malcolm has
uncovered an early modern tradition of thought concerning the concept of

24  Tomaz Mastnak, “Schmitt’s Behemoth,” in: John Tralau (ed.), Thomas Hobbes and Carl
Schmitt. The Politics of Order and Myth, London–New York 2011, 17–38 (31).
25  For the many aspects of the Leviathan see: Springborg, Companion; especially Johan
Tralau, “Leviathan, the Beast of Myth” (Springborg, Companion, 61–81). Tralau rightly
mentions the “strange indeterminacy” of the characterization ‘Leviathan’ given Hobbes’
passion for conceptual clarity (Tralau, “Beast,” 62). Referring to Schmitt, he reminds us of
the “taste for esoteric cover-ups” in Hobbes’ times, which makes it probable to look for a
symbolic meaning (Tralau, “Beast,” 67).
26  O’Donovan, Bonds, 37; Manlio Simonetti, Marco Conti (eds.), Ancient Christian
Commentary on Scripture. Old Testament VI: Job, Downers Grove, IL 2006, 210–218; Pieter
G.R. de Villiers, Leviatan aan ’n lintje. Woord en wêreld van die sieners, Pretoria 1987.
27  Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson (eds.), “Origen Against Celsus Book VI, chapter xxiv.
chapter xxv. chapter xxxv,” in: The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Translations of the Fathers down to
A.D. 325. Volume IV: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First
and second, Grand Rapids, MI 1994, 584.
28  Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics. An Introduction. Chicago, IL 1987, 187.
modern political society as leviathan 221

‘Leviathan,’ in which the symbol had been completely stripped of its original
spiritual content.29 Supernatural realities like the soul, angels and spirits were
increasingly denied. Hobbes’ philosophy fits into this context, as is evidenced
by the mechanical and causal anthropology with which Leviathan begins. To
Hobbes, like all expressions of human life, the state too must have developed
from material causes, and thus forms entirely and exclusively a human reality.30
He deliberately breaks with the prevailing political theology that approached
the domains of state and society as defined by transcendent or spiritual pow-
ers. With regard to the concept of ‘Leviathan,’ in the decades before Hobbes,
this disenchantment expressed itself in an—albeit erroneous—etymological
derivation of the name. It would indicate a collectivity in which the constitu-
tive parts were connected. This thought is expressed for example in a Bible
commentary on the book of Job from the Frenchman Jacques Boulduc (1619–
1637). Boulduc in turn was connected to two people who influenced Hobbes:
the latter’s friend John Selden, and his mentor Marin Mersenne. Even the
characterization ‘Leviathan’ as a metaphor for the king, in whose body all citi-
zens were thought to be incorporated, had been in use long before Hobbes.31
Keeping in mind the image on Hobbes’ title page and his reference to Job, and
realizing that the very idea of representation belongs to the heart of Hobbes’
philosophy of state,32 the conclusion seems likely that here we have found the
background of Hobbes’ title. However, Springborg correctly notes that these
connotations do not yet explain why Hobbes’ work caused so much turmoil
and opposition, and was even experienced as scandalous.33 Even if the scandal
did not originate with the title, but with the secularizing tenor of the book’s
contents, this question still remains unanswered. Secularizing moves were
afoot already before Hobbes’ book, even within his own earlier oeuvre.
For this reason, we take into consideration yet a fourth possible background
for explaining the mysterious title of the book. It consists in taking into account
the Jewish renaissance, begun in the preceding century, which reached its cli-
max in Hobbes’ own days. The Hebrew Scriptures, as well as the rabbinical

29  N. Malcolm, “The Name and Nature of Leviathan: Political Symbolism and Biblical
Exegesis,” Intellectual History Review 17 (2007), 29–58 (
full/10.1080/17496970601140196); Patricia Springborg, “Hobbes and Schmitt on the name
and nature of Leviathan revisited,” in: Tralau, Hobbes Schmitt, 39–57 (40–42).
30  Hobbes (Tuck), Leviathan, 9, 13–15.
31  Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies, Princeton 1957.
32  Quentin Skinner, Visions of Politics. Volume III: Hobbes and Civil Science, Cambridge 2002,
33  Springborg, Hobbes and Schmitt, 46.
222 de bruijne

tradition of exegesis and the Kabbalah, exercised a wide appeal. In a ground-

breaking historical study, Eric Nelson has recently shown precisely how this
disclosure of Jewish sources contributed to the development of modern politi-
cal reflection.34 He has proven conclusively that this Jewish Renaissance influ-
enced especially Hobbes.35 Among the most urgent controversies of the day
was the debate between monarchical and republican forms of government.
Nelson shows that, under the influence of this Jewish Renaissance, many con-
temporaries of Hobbes considered the Mosaic regulations for society given by
God as Israel’s king to be normative for their own context. As a result, support
for the republican position grew and the parliament became more important.
Remarkably, this theocratic emphasis led to democratic conclusions. Ancient
Israel actually possessed no king, since it was governed directly by God. God’s
explicit criticism of the people when they asked for a king in 1 Sam 8 con-
firms this. Both the rabbinic tradition since Josephus and Christian thought
highly valued this biblical passage. Though influenced by these Jewish sources,
Hobbes drew opposite conclusions.36 He pointed to the fact that although God
criticized Israel’s demand for a king, he nevertheless responded positively to
their wish. Since that moment in history, the previous state of affairs no longer
existed. Henceforth, the model of a kingdom under the unmediated rule of
God remained in the past. For Hobbes, the restoration of this situation was to
be expected only in the future reign of the Messiah. He concluded that dur-
ing the present dispensation monarchical forms of government should not
be rejected as contrary to God’s will. Moreover, on this biblical basis Hobbes
sees the view confirmed that throughout history, we should no longer strive
toward more or less theocratic systems in which God rules directly and where
the church claims a divinely legitimized public authority alongside or even in
place of the magistrate.37
Given the undeniable fact of this Jewish influence on Hobbes, it becomes
interesting that the ‘Leviathan’ motif played a significant role within Jewish
tradition.38 Judaism’s image of the eschatological future comprised a battle

34  Eric Nelson, The Hebrew Republic. Jewish Sources and the Transformation of European
Political Thought, Cambridge, MA 2010, 2–4.
35  Hugo Grotius also influenced Hobbes. Grotius too referred to Leviathan and Behemoth.
Cf. Hugo Grotius, The Truth of the Christian Religion in Six Books. Translated by John Clarke,
Whitefish 2010 (reprint of Edinburgh 1819), Book V, section xvi.
36  Nelson, Hebrew, 24.
37  Nelson, Hebrew, 26, 122–130, 153.
38  Joseph Gutman, “Leviathan, Behemoth and Ziz: Jewish Messianic Symbols in Art,” HUCA
39 (1968), 219–230.
modern political society as leviathan 223

between Leviathan and Behemoth. God would kill the hitherto invincible
Leviathan and use its skin to put up a tent cloth, which would serve as shelter
for the righteous. Its flesh would contribute to the menu of the eschatological
banquet, one of the images that Judaism used for the kingdom of the Messiah.
Even during the Passover, the ‘Leviathan’ motif played a part. Therefore, this
fourth possibility for explaining Hobbes’ choice of a title should remain in view.
In particular, the battle between Leviathan and Behemoth presents a striking
parallel between these Jewish speculations and his work. At the same time,
some problems remain. How could this possible background be combined
with the plausible elements that we noticed in the earlier motifs? Moreover,
again, how can we explain Hobbes’ positive view of Leviathan, since Jewish
interpretations also treat Leviathan as evil power?
As far as I can see, Springborg, building on the works of Malcolm, Skinner
and (especially) Schmitt, has offered the best proposal so far, optimally inte-
grating various elements from the several possibilities. She honours the dis-
enchanted interpretation, which takes Leviathan to be an already well-known
symbol for the concept of representation, and sees Hobbes as offering his
personal version of this. At the same time, she believes Hobbes consciously
alludes to the religious tradition in which Leviathan functioned as an anti-
Christian power, thereby deliberately attacking the—papal—church that
regarded itself as Christ’s body and political representative of God on earth.
Hobbes completely demythologizes this anti-Christian power to a merely
human reality (“artificial man”), which is not rejected but willed by God as his
earthly representative (“mortal god under the immortal God”). The fear that
drives people in their natural state forms the foundation of Leviathan’s total
authority. In exchange for transferring their authority, individuals receive secu-
rity and peace. Leviathan thus replaces earlier earthly representatives of God’s
power, not only Moses but also Christ. Springborg considers this reversal to
be the deepest reason why Hobbes’ contemporaries experienced his work as
provocative and shocking.
Springborg’s proposal is convincing, but needs improvement and further
substantiation. Moreover, it could profit from a closer connection to Hobbes’
use of ‘Leviathan’ as a coded and implicit theological motif in the first two
parts of the work that precede the overt political theology in the two subse-
quent sections. In this context, a closer connection to the Jewish Renaissance
is also desirable. To offer this refinement, I build on a key moment in Nelson’s
analysis. According to him, Hobbes interprets the phrase “kingdom of God”
differently from the mainstream theological tradition.39 The latter, he says,

39  Nelson, Hebrew, 24.

224 de bruijne

distinguishes two kingdoms, one worldly and the other spiritual. Hobbes, how-
ever, also interprets the spiritual kingdom of God as secular in character. He
restricts this kingdom to the period of Israel’s history in which God had been
king in an unmediated way. This secular character of God’s kingdom, therefore,
has no meaning in the present era. This, according to Nelson, is against the
usual Christian approach, which allowed the spiritual realm to influence or
even dominate the worldly sphere.
Although Nelson’s observation is right, he wrongly suggests that this
Hobbesian idea was new. To the contrary, it harks back to the original version
of the doctrine of the two kingdoms expressed by Augustine. Augustine also
interpreted God’s kingdom as an earthly political reality, but one that could not
take on genuine political forms during the present dispensation. During the
era between Christ’s ascension and his return, the kingdom exists in heaven
and takes no political form on earth. In this period, typified by him as the
“Saeculum,” the earth is governed by the civitas terrena. It must be said, how-
ever, that as a terrestrial—albeit not openly political—form of God’s kingdom,
the church can positively influence the civitas terrena. Despite this, however, it
will not transform this earthly city into a manifestation of God’s kingdom. In
line with these thoughts, Augustine even characterizes a Christian emperor as
a “spy in the camp of the enemy.”40
With his political conception of the kingdom of God Hobbes indeed dif-
fers from post-Reformation traditions, which conceived of God’s kingdom as
primarily a spiritual reality, while at the same time Hobbes remained in line
with the classical doctrine of the two kingdoms. Behind this, we may suspect
the influence of the Jewish renaissance, which led to a revival of political
interpretations of the kingdom of God. For most participants in that revival,
however, the eschatological tension, which had characterized the classical
concept, remained out of sight. This non-eschatological version of the Jewish
Renaissance led many Protestants to a theocratic ideal with democratic con-
sequences. The once again politically coloured concept of the kingdom of
God was taken as a present reality. Hobbes explicitly opposed these thoughts
by limiting a present divine earthly kingdom to the unique circumstance of
Israel’s national existence before the monarchy, and—contrary to Nelson—to
the eschatological future.41 From a political angle, we have to deal with the

40  Augustine, City, Book I, Introduction. Book V, chapter 11. Book XV, chapter 1. chapter 4.
Book XIX, chapter 26; R.A. Markus, Saeculum. History and Society in the Theology of
St. Augustine, Cambridge 1970; O’Donovan, Desire, 11.
41  Hobbes (Tuck), Leviathan, 83, 335, 411 (“The Day of Judgment is the day of the Restoration
of the Kingdome of God . . . the Great Day of our Saviours coming to restore the Kingdome
modern political society as leviathan 225

other realm only in the current dispensation of the saeculum, what Augustine
calls the civitas terrena. Contrary to the biblically based claim of Christians,
however, this is not a negative power, but rather the power by which God rules
the world politically. The civitas terrena is in accord with divine policy of post-
poning the return of his earthly kingdom until the eschatological future.
Demythologizing the symbol of ‘Leviathan’ as an evil spiritual reality there-
fore suits Hobbes’ interpretation very well. Political power should be consid-
ered as no more than natural, human and causally determined. During the
saeculum, Leviathan performs the same function that Christ and his church
exercise in the kingdom of God. His body comprises and represents the whole
of society. As Jewish tradition had already taught, this state of affairs will last
until the coming of the Messiah. Then—in mythical terms, which Hobbes
obviously does not take literally—the battle between Leviathan and Behemoth
will end up in Leviathan’s defeat, as God will overcome him.
Although this interpretation builds on Springborg, at the same time it leaves
one of her core contentions unjustified. Under this interpretation, it is no lon-
ger necessary to assume that Hobbes deliberately wanted to shock his contem-
poraries with a symbol that they saw as demonic, thereby initiating a vitriolic
attack upon the church. Within Hobbes’ own frame of reference, the choice for
the symbol of Leviathan has now become fully understandable. In fact, none
of the sources connects the shock that his work caused directly to his choice of
title.42 It is incorrect to suggest that Hobbes provocatively replaced Christ with
the Antichrist, and thereby call into doubt his genuine Christian intentions.
Such an interpretation considers the political theological passages in parts
three and four of his work, to consist of an inherently superfluous attempt to
beat the theological enemy on its own turf.43

of God in Israel”) 419; (“Which second coming not yet being. The Kingdome of God is
not yet come, and wee are not now under any other Kings by Pact, but under our Civill
Soveraigns . . .”) 421; pace Nelson, Hebrew, 24 (Nelson wrongly equates rejecting God’s
kingdom as a spiritual reality in the present to rejecting God’s kingdom as an eschatologi-
cal earthly reality. That leads him to think that Hobbes restricted God’s kingdom to the
Mosaic era); Manenschijn, “Jezus,” 128–131.
42  Samuel I. Mintz, The Hunting of Leviathan. Seventeenth-Century Reactions to the
Materialism and Moral Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, Cambridge 1962, vii–viii, 134–146,
154–156; G.A.J. Rogers, “Hobbes and His Contemporaries,” in: Springborg, Companion,
413–440; John Parkin, Taming the Leviathan, The Reception of the Political and Religious
Ideas of Thomas Hobbes in England 1640–1700, Cambridge 2007.
43  So Braun, Sterbliche; on Hobbes being a Christian or not, see A.P. Martinich, The Two Gods
of Leviathan. Thomas Hobbes on Religion and Politics, Cambridge 1992; A.P. Martinich,
“The Bible and Protestantism in Leviathan,” in: Springborg, Companion, 375–391; Nelson,
226 de bruijne

To the contrary, Hobbes’ choice of title underscores the absolute seculariza-

tion of the political domain and the denial of any public function for either
church or religion. For that position, he adduces both natural and theologi-
cal grounds. Specifically his use of theological grounds to defend such a posi-
tion contributed substantially to the turmoil that followed the publication of
his book. It should be stressed that Hobbes’ vision does not coincide with the
prevailing Erastianism of his times.44 Of course, a clear point of agreement
between both of these consists in the denial of any form of political author-
ity for the church. Even in its inner political dimensions the church has to be
governed by the state. Erastianism, however, conceived of this state as being
Christian in character, having a Christian monarch who governed his entire
domain on behalf of God himself. On the one hand, the church guided him
spiritually, while on the other he also had full jurisdictive authority within the
church. With this model, Erastianism remained true to the context of an early
modern version of the two kingdoms doctrine. Hobbes, however, stepped out-
side that framework and developed this Erastian accent within a fully secular
model, which at the same time he continued to justify theologically as willed
by God.
This also downplays the parallel that Springborg draws between Hobbes and
Carl Schmitt, who later adopted Hobbes’ title.45 For Hobbes stood in a demy-
thologizing tradition, interpreting Leviathan—the sum of all public power—
as a natural human reality. By contrast, Schmitt returned to myth, considering
state power a demonic conglomeration of evil, which God nevertheless uses
in ruling world history. Against this background, we can understand Schmitt’s
theological justification of Hitler’s Nazi regime.
Lastly, the interpretation that I propose is also able to explain the relaxed
manner with which Hobbes approached the traditional combination of
Leviathan and Behemoth and the Jewish conception of a final battle between
the two. Both Christian and Jewish visions remain dependent on a mythologi-
cal worldview in which real evil forces conspire to destroy each other. Hobbes’
demythologized conceptual framework, however, allows both to be used
for phenomena within human reality. Both defining ‘Leviathan’ to denote a

Hebrew, 195 (with literature); already Hobbes’ frequent phrase “our blessed saviour” for
Christ contradicts this interpretation (Hobbes [Tuck], Leviathan, 9, 59, 79, 114, 255, 267,
331, 333, 335, 337, 376).
44  Johann P. Sommerville, “Hobbes, Selden, Erastianism and the History of the Jews,” in: G.A.
John Rogers, Thomas Sorell (eds.), Hobbes and History, London: Routledge, 2000, 73–81.
45  Carl Schmitt, Der Leviathan in der Staatslehre des Thomas Hobbes. Sinn und Fehlschlag
eines politischen Symbols, Stuttgart 1995 (1938); Springborg, Hobbes and Schmitt, 41, 49.
modern political society as leviathan 227

positive instrument of God and the qualification ‘Behemoth’ for church leaders
will have been offensive to those who still found themselves in the prevailing
mind-set. Apart from that, Tralau points to the fact that Hobbes has retained
a residual element of the classic mythological connotations. The fear, with
which the mythical symbol ‘Leviathan’ was traditionally associated, remains
real. Fear causes people to yield their sovereignty to the state, with the result
that this fear itself becomes projected onto this powerful secular and human
reality. By adhering to the ancient symbol, Hobbes manages to incorporate
effectively a necessary element of fear in his political theology.46

3 he State as ‘Leviathan’: A Difference between Milbank and


Having explored the background of Hobbes’ use of the term ‘Leviathan,’ we

now return to the debate between Milbank and O’Donovan, and to the ques-
tion to what extent it could be justified to characterize the state as ‘Leviathan.’
Both Milbank and O’Donovan agree with Hobbes on an important point.
They all fall back on the Augustinian view that the kingdom of God is a politi-
cal rather than a spiritual reality, which will become an earthly kingdom at
the eschatological end of history. However, Milbank’s and O’Donovan’s vision
of the primordial state is radically different from Hobbes’ conception. For
Hobbes, it all begins with the individual who is involved in violent conflict
with all other individuals. Thus, from the outset there exists the need for poli-
tics. O’Donovan and Milbank assume an ontology of peace, in which the origi-
nal reality displays communion and harmony among human beings under the
authority of the triune God. This original position does not allow for political
structures in which one person can exercise coercive or even violent authority
over the other. They both possess an inherent reluctance to earthly politics as
compared to the kingdom of God. For them, as for Augustine, earthly politics
belongs to the civitas terrena, of which since the fall in sin the primary ruler is
the devil, identified by the Bible as “prince of this world.” There is every reason
for the Bible depicting political structures as bodies that in the unfolding of
their power and violence are inimical toward God, his kingdom and his people.
The biblical symbol of ‘Leviathan,’ therefore, in principle fits both their visions
of the state and political society.47

46  Tralau, “Beast,” 75.

47  O’Donovan, Desire, 8; O’Donovan, Ways, 59–60, 66; De Bruijne, Levend, 72.
228 de bruijne

From this point onward, however, their paths separate. In one respect
Milbank remains closer to Hobbes than O’Donovan does, while in another
respect he opposes Hobbes even more radically. Like Hobbes, Milbank assumes
that the kingdom of God and earthly political reality are not connected.
Hobbes wants to prevent the church from exercising authority in the domain
of the state, while Milbank’s ontology of peace denies any point of contact with
the reality of violence. At the same time, however, Milbank opposes Hobbes’
positive evaluation of a genuinely secular state.48 At this point, actually, we
notice a certain affinity between O’Donovan and Hobbes. After all, both believe
that this secular state, although being a power contrary to the kingdom of God,
is willed by God and fulfils a positive function in his providential governing
of humankind during history. According to O’Donovan, when evil entered
creation, it had to be restrained by government and state. If necessary even
by force, God’s justice over evil has to be provisionally exercised. Even after
Christ ascended the throne of the heavenly kingdom, thereby dethroning in
principle all other political authorities, they still keep part of their function as
long as the saeculum lasts. O’Donovan interprets this secular reality of govern-
ment as God’s common grace to a fallen world. Siding with Hobbes and against
Milbank, O’Donovan thus leaves room for a positive place for Leviathan before
the arrival of the eschaton, albeit under God’s rule. Interestingly, O’Donovan
even comes close to making Hobbes’ theological argument. Like Hobbes, he
connects to the political-theological tradition, which considered the constel-
lation of God’s provisional earthly kingdom in Israel to be a guide for modern
political reflection. Like Hobbes, O’Donovan also avoids a theocratic derail-
ment of this insight. He also manages to uncover biblical grounds to argue that
the state in its secular character can be God’s instrument while warning against
putting this on a par with God’s eschatological kingdom.49 Yet unlike Hobbes,
and now siding with Milbank, O’Donovan at the same time remains faithful
to the classic mythical meaning of ‘Leviathan.’ In principle, the state forms an
anti-divine power, even while it has to serve God’s policies after the Fall.
O’Donovan, however, differs from both Hobbes as well as Milbank with
regard to the question of whether this secular state can be influenced by and
combined with Christian truth and morality. Milbank’s unreservedly antitheti-
cal approach excludes such a possibility and as a consequence is accompanied
with an antithetical Christian public stance. Christians should not engage in
ruling the existing societies of a fallen world, but in their way of living they

48  Milbank, Theology, 5–6, 9, 387–389, 419.

49  O’Donovan, Desire, 3–4, 12–13, 21–23, 27, 30, 35–36, 45; De Bruijne, Levend, 36–44.
modern political society as leviathan 229

should exemplify the ontology of peace for the world to see.50 Although on
other grounds, Hobbes also turned against any mixing of the authority of the
church with that of the state. O’Donovan by contrast believes that the gospel
can influence and to a certain extent even reform the state and its political
structures. As we saw, since Christ’s enthronement the secular state should
serve him. While on the one hand, Christ continues to use the state to curb evil
on earth, on the other hand, he sends his church out into the world in order to
prepare the world for his coming kingdom. This gospel is addressed not only
to individuals and communities but also to rulers and bearers of authority.
Should they come to acknowledge and worship Christ, their exercise of secular
political authority will be affected. This does not amount to a Christianization
of the state, which would contradict its secular character. Yet, it will change
the ways in which authority and justice in the state are executed. These will
be affected by the knowledge of Christ and the wisdom of the gospel, and be
reformed. A secular state can change colours in a more or less Christian direc-
tion. Although this is not the directly theocratic model that Hobbes turned
against, yet here the reign of Christ and the wisdom of his kingdom become
fruitful already in the context of secular history. Unlike Milbank, O’Donovan
does not exhort the church and Christians to withdraw from the modern state,
but to perform a threefold vocation within the state, namely, missionary, pro-
phetic and practical. Governments, too, should be confronted with the gospel
and summoned to comply. The gospel will then guide the tasks of the state. In
addition, Christians will be prepared to assume responsibility within the state
at the level of government. Such vocations could serve Christ and his kingdom,
albeit within the parameters set by a secular phenomenon that will last only
until the arrival of the eschatological future.51
This comparison between Hobbes, Milbank and O’Donovan can poten-
tially clarify O’Donovan’s quotation in which he—engaging Milbank—typi-
fies the state as Leviathan. According to O’Donovan, Milbank wrongly speaks
only negatively about the modern state and society. The church (and thus
Milbank himself with his prophetic message) is like Jonah in the belly of the
sea monster Leviathan. It exists and speaks antithetically from a marginalized,
oppressed position and it seems to accommodate itself to that. O’Donovan
does not deny that such circumstances occur sometimes, since the state is in
the end indeed equivalent to ‘biblical’ Leviathan. The modernist secular and
sometimes downright anti-religious state in particular could develop into an
exclusively antithetical reality, which leaves the church no other choice than

50  Milbank, Theology, 9, 433.

51  O’Donovan, Desire, 214–215, 251, 274; De Bruijne, Levend, 114–122.
230 de bruijne

Milbankian prophetic indictments. However, during the saeculum other con-

stellations can also occur, in which the church receives the space to influence
the state positively. According to O’Donovan, this belongs to the more regular
duties of a prophet. With its message, received in the light of God’s revela-
tion, the church can contribute to the course of history and the common good
of society. By limiting its task to an exclusively critical dimension, the church
would unjustifiably eclipse that possible consequence of its missionary calling.
This insight, finally, brings us back to the question of whether ‘Leviathan’
could be an appropriate term for modern political societies. Answering this
question, I remain faithful to the Augustinian framework that happened to
form the background of Hobbes, Milbank and O’Donovan alike. Elsewhere I
have justified why on biblical-theological grounds this framework can be con-
sidered plausible.52 Such Augustinian parameters grant the possibility that
‘Leviathan’ could be the appropriate characterization for a state, but does not
imply this to be the case necessarily. Augustine distinguishes between states
that actually are gangs of robbers, states in which justice is upheld to a cer-
tain extent, and even states where Christians reign, who insert the wisdom
of Gods kingdom into the public domain.53 Given that ‘Leviathan’ refers to a
demonic power that invests itself in the sphere of the state, the use of this
name would be entirely adequate only in case of the first category. As for the
second category, this could be apt, but would then already be one-sided, since
despite ignoring Christ, such states would still constitute instruments of God’s
common grace. The fact that the Bible is suspicious of such radical qualifi-
cations, confirms this reluctance. They remain reserved for constellations in
which a state actually functions as a harmful counterforce against Christ’s
kingdom, in particular by persecuting the church.54 In other cases, appar-
ently its usefulness to Christ weighs more heavily. Therefore, Rev 13 rather than
Rom 13 characterizes the Roman emperor as “beast.”55 Anyone who opts for

52  Ad de Bruijne, “A Banner that flies across this land . . . an interpretation and evaluation
of Dutch Evangelical Political Awareness since the end of the 20th century,” in: C. van
der Kooi, E. van Staalduine-Sulman, A.W. Zwiep (eds.), Evangelical Theology in Transition,
Amsterdam 2012, 86–130; Ad de Bruijne, “Niet van deze wereld. De hedendaagse
Gereformeerde publieke theologie en de ‘doperse optie’,” Theologia Reformata 54 (2011),
53  Augustine, City, Book II, chapter 21. Book IV, chapter 4. chapter 33. Book V, chapter 20.
chapter 24. Book XIX, chapter 6. chapter 7. chapter 14. Book XIX, chapter 26.
54  Peter J. Leithart, Between Babel and Beast: America and Empires in Biblical Perspective,
Eugene, OR 2012.
55  Gerrit de Kruijf, “The Function of Romans 13 in Christian Ethics,” in: Craig Bartholomew,
Jonathan Chaplin, Robert Song, Al Wolters (eds.), A Royal Priesthood: The Use of the Bible
Ethically and Politically. A Dialogue with Oliver O’Donovan, Carlisle 2002, 225–237.
modern political society as leviathan 231

indiscriminate using of such radical rhetoric, would undermine respect for

given rulers and would destabilize the fragile societies that God wants to pre-
serve precisely through such governments.
Of course, for political societies in the third category, the characterization
‘Leviathan’ would be even less adequate. One could say that in such societ-
ies Christ has captured a hostile domain for the service of his kingdom. Even
though at that point, earthly politics remains a temporary interim phenom-
enon, it would be outrageous to continue to consider it to still be dominated
by Christ’s defeated opponent.
From an Augustinian political-theological perspective, even in the demy-
thologized Hobbesian sense, typifying the state as ‘Leviathan’ would not be
obvious. For Hobbes, Leviathan is a state built on fear, which possesses all pub-
lic power and tolerates no rival alternative forces. An Augustinian perspective
would at least point toward the church. Unlike Hobbes (understandably, given
his context!), the church can be a public force that limits state power, without
itself becoming a form of earthly political power. The church can do so in two
ways. First, it upholds the full and exclusive authority of Christ over its own
life, which leaves the state no tutelage whatsoever. Second, through its mes-
sage it confronts and directs the existence and actions of the state as such.
Augustine praises those rulers who accept the influence of the gospel with the
result that they develop virtues like humility, service and compassion instead
of the appearance of omnipotence.56 As soon as states present themselves
according to the Hobbesian ideal, the name ‘Leviathan’ would indeed become
warranted for them. However, a genuinely Christian approach should oppose
such fear-based representations of total power. Fortunately, also in reality
many states exist, in which power is relativized and which are not based only
on fear but also on trust.
This leads to the conclusion that the characterization ‘Leviathan’ is appro-
priate for those states in which the anti-Christian nature of the exercise of
power apart from Christ actually displays itself. This can happen in two ways:
first, by deliberately frustrating and attacking Christ and his church, and sec-
ond, by acting in a way that completely contradicts both the way of Christ and
the divine justice for the service of which every state exists. In other cases,
however, such a classification does no justice to the real state of affairs, and
would be risky for its polarizing effects and the distrust that it sows toward an
institution on which the interim order of society depends. In that light, the
critical question concerning the title of a dissertation, with which this article
began, proves to be to the point.

56  Augustine, City, Book I, chapter 1.29. Book II, chapter 19.
232 de bruijne

Nevertheless, we should learn not to automatically eschew a characteriza-

tion like ‘Leviathan,’ especially in Western societies. We should at least keep it
in reserve. Western political societies can be considered the fruit of a three-
fold development: the traditional influence of the gospel in Europe’s past, the
improper mixing of God’s theocratic kingdom and earthly political preten-
sions, and the departure from Christian roots in late modernity. As a result
of this background, Western Christians will tend to be reluctant to use such
radical qualifications and to take an antithetical stance. O’Donovan reinforces
that by showing that many fruits of the gospel have become inherent charac-
teristics of modern Western societies. However, precisely this departure from
the Christian past can cause distortions, allowing ‘Leviathan’ to appear on the
scene. Milbank’s—all too one-sided—prophetic protest is useful to remind us
of that. Two features of Hobbes’ Leviathan can be noticed repeatedly. On the
one hand, we see aggressive refutations of the Christian past of Western societ-
ies. A hardboiled secular liberalism rejects any public influence of the gospel
and the church, as becomes clear in the French Laicité. The inherent logic of
this position sometimes compels its adherents to follow Hobbes’ accent on
displaying state power against (unwelcome) religiosity. On the other hand,
any state power severed from Christ’s authority tends toward state absolutism.
For the state must then perform functions that only Christ can fulfil, namely
being the representative, saviour and protector of all. Sometimes this Hobbesian
logic betrays itself in outright dictatorial regimes, which modernity has seen
on both the left and the right wings of the political spectrum. However, more
subtle forms are also possible, like our modern Western obsession with secu-
rity. This fits Hobbes’ vision of the original human condition. Individuals long
for security above all, as they experience threats to their autonomy. Therefore,
they are willing to pay the high price of delegating their sovereignty to the gov-
ernment, the only power that could guarantee public safety. This mechanism
renders western governments increasingly burdened with salvific aspirations,
which in the end even take them beyond the borders set by Hobbes himself.
In their ambition to exclude as many risks as possible, they eventually sacrifice
individual privacy. The eavesdropping of the National Security Agency reflects
this hidden Hobbesian core of Western liberalism. Perhaps, after all, this con-
temporary reality should indeed be named ‘Leviathan,’ not just as a common
metaphor, but also in all its original theological depth.

The Dragon / Snake in Myth, Religion and Mission

Fear of Death Defeated by the Message of Life

Kees Haak

1 Introduction

The dragon or primordial snake1 is a dominant figure in many myths, con-

victions and worldviews of both the animistic and world religions. This
article presents some of the myths concerning this animal in Hinduism and
Buddhism, but concentrates on those of animistic background, with special
attention to Melanesian peoples.2 Since the title of this book is Playing with
Leviathan, suggesting the pleasure of someone (God, gods, man) in dealing
with snakes, I start with an observation. The animal called the ‘Papua dragon’
is a well-known guest in the neighbourhood of villages and houses. Children
usually try to catch it, put it in cages, tie it at one of its legs, domesticate it, play
with it,3 but in the end they will eat it, although the owner will mourn and cry
about his loss. In addition, there is also a special Papua ‘Snake Dance’ used at
festivals and ceremonies.
Second, to capture the idea of a myth about the snake I use the Rainbow
Snake narrative of the Korowai tribe in the upper Ndeiram area of Middle

Xufabül lived with his elder sister and wife. His elder sister told him: Your
wife and I are going to pound sago. If you stay behind and see or hear
birds in alarm at a critter, at such-and-such places you can climb after it,
but if at this other place then don’t go up. We don’t go there. He only heard

1  Dragon or snake: some myths convey the horror and blessing of a dragon, others focus on
a snake. Both concentrate on the same primordial horrific animal with supernatural power
and wisdom. I chose ‘snake’ as a technical term for both animals, unless the source under
discussion explicitly mentions ‘dragon.’
2  I worked in the South of Papua, Indonesia for fourteen years in mission, church planting and
theological education.
3  See YouTube for videos, e.g.
4  Nahüom waxatum, “Giant Snake” or “Rainbow Snake” in Korowai language as told by Sapuru
Sendeh, at Desa Yaniruma, 22.III.96, tape 55. BI recap 13.102–104, collected by Rupert Stasch.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi ��.��63/9789004337961_015

234 haak

and stayed home. Sure enough, birds started making a lot of noise pre-
cisely at the place she had said was off limits. He went and climbed right
up, searching, but saw nothing. Then he looked near himself and there
was a small red snake coiled up. He was mad because birds were fussing
over such a small snake. He goes down, and just as he is stepping to the
ground he himself becomes a snake. He climbs back up and becomes
human. He climbs down and becomes a snake. This continues, he
climbs up and down so much that the tree grows bare.
He calls the women. They hear him calling from the forbidden place,
and leave their sago place to go to him. He is in the tree, and the sister
asks him what is going on and tells him to come down. He tells them to
watch, and as he steps to the ground he becomes a snake. The elder sister
says I told you so, and tells him that as the younger brother he is sup-
posed to listen to his elder sister. He climbs back up and becomes human,
climbs down and becomes snake. This continues, the tree getting bare.
The women go home and the snake follows between them. He sleeps
between the two of them, for three weeks. He gets big quickly. His head
is almost touching the roof and the house creaks with the strain of his
weight. He puts out his tongue, to indicate yes he will move down below.
The women go down and make a fence the length of the house, and he
sleeps inside of this for four months. He continues to grow, so much that
his backbone is almost hitting the house. He indicates for them to go to
the river. They cook food and set off.
First he goes to Wamage (difon below Yaniruma), and he digs it out and
lies down in it, but his back is visible. He moves upstream to a pool below
skom, but again his backbone is visible. He continues moving upstream,
the pools deepening, until he reaches the mouth of Manggel,5 where only
a little of his skin is visible. His elder sister tells him his skin is visible,
and he moves one bend higher and digs a deep pool and folds himself
up, and they cannot see him. He put up his head and pointed with his
tongue to indicate he will stay.
The two women went home, but the elder sister says she can’t live
away from him, and the wife says she’ll go far away. They became cica-
das, and the elder sister says è—while the wife says yum-è. The wife went
to the Eilanden,6 and comes to visit once in a while. The snake lives at

5  River in the Northern part of the Korowai region.

6  River at the West side of the Korowai region.
the dragon / snake in myth, religion and mission 235

Xonai-Mifanop,7 above Manggel. Those clans of the Korowai tribe watch

over the snake, nahüom~gumün.

2 General Features of Snake Narratives

In most narratives and myths snakes belong to the underworld and are capable
of influencing the normal and upper world. Although snakes normally have bad
intentions and show negative features, yet sometimes they assist the wellbeing
of mankind. They are involved in the creation and the reorganisation of land
and water, planes and mountains, settling in the regions where men can live.
Snakes are the ‘houses’ of jungle spirits. These spirits can leave the snake for
several reasons, both to bless and to curse, and then return to the ‘snake-house.’
Snakes are the dark part of creation, a source of all kinds of diseases and death.
The snake belongs to the world of mystery, the gods, spirits and powers.
On the other hand, snakes are welcomed as guards of the gardens in the
jungle to prevent thieves from entering and taking the fruits. They can bless
the harvest and the hunting. Also they provide the fertility of women who
have been barren for a long period of time. They protect a certain tribal ter-
ritory. Even more, they are respected as the guards of the traditional values
and norms.
In line of this view, snakes are the guards of world order. They protect the
climate, the seas, the routes of animals in the jungle, the flow and current of
rivers and oceans. If a snake enters one’s house, one is not supposed to kill it,
but to provide food and then show it the way out. Sometimes the snake can
be the partner of the creator god. Then, it is the origin of fertility, power and
wisdom. In such cases the snakes are the teachers of humankind, about how
to grow crops and perform magic. Because this primordial animal is able to
slough off its skin and be renewed, it must be the oldest of all animals. So it
becomes a symbol of regeneration and reincarnation.
Yet, mostly snakes are to be feared. Parents warn their children not to play
in dirty areas or fields with long grass because of the deadly poisonous bite
of the snake. This bite is viewed as a punishment of the gods, especially in
case of adultery or social misbehaviour. Also a snake may eat people. Some
myths narrate about heroes who slay the snake monster Ogre. After cutting the
snake into pieces all the people who had been eaten by the Ogre will come to
life again. Of course, then they will re-establish society and follow new rules
of behaviour.

7  Village in the area of the Korowai tribe, North of the upper Mapi river.
236 haak

In short, the snake is an ambiguous and ambivalent animal. It can help the
creator god to establish the cosmos and life on earth. It provides wisdom for
culture and prosperity, protecting the social order. But it also causes floods and
earthquakes, and storms at sea. It is the cause of sickness, catastrophes, calam-
ities and finally death. Men cannot fully trust the snake, because his actions
disturb the delicate balance in the cosmos. Life will easily become impossible.
So, the snake needs to be slain by a courageous man. The carved snakes at
the prow of Melanesian canoes or on their tools proclaim the man as the con-
queror of the snake. Only a dead snake is the guarantee of life, culture, society,
the universe and mankind.

3 Dragon as a Primordial Snake—Some Myths from Papua

3.1 Biak Myths

Kamma reports a dominant myth about the primordial dragon in the region
of Biak and Numfor, in the North of Papua.8 The moment the dragon entered
human society he caused death. Man needed to fight him in order to protect
and continue the social order, the structures and patterns of wisdom and
skill, and the culture of mankind. Only courageous men dared to confront the
dragon and many died as they were slaughtered and killed. The one who suc-
ceeded in conquering the dragon is glorified as the saviour of the tribe, as well
as the savior of humanity, culture and life itself. Another way to defeat the
dragon is that some woman will marry the dragon. In that case the dragon is
friendly and will tell the secret mystery of his power.
In the Windessi village the dragon is called Karubukawi, an old double-
headed snake. He once seduced a pregnant woman and they both educate the
child, as mother and grandfather. The real father finally defeats the dragon and
liberates the child. The dragon persecutes the three, transforming himself as
a canoe. When he finds the child again he is recognized as the grandfather or
father-in-law. The dragon shakes off his skin and appears to be a good man,
providing food, richness and happiness to the Biak people.9

8  F.J. Kamma, ‘Dit wonderlijke werk:’ Het probleem van de communicatie tussen oost en west
gebaseerd op de ervaringen in het zendingswerk op Nieuw-Guinea (Irian Jaya) 1855–1972: Een
socio-missiologische benadering, Oegstgeest 1976, 160. The great flood of 1864 that destroyed
many villages and caused many deaths was believed to be the work of the primordial snake
hidden in the ocean. The Biak people decorate their canoes and peddles with snake symbols
as a sign of the victory over him, at least as long as they observe the social order (adat).
9  F.J. Kamma, Messiaanse Koréri-bewegingen in het Biak-Noemfoorse cultuurgebied, Den Haag
[1955], 66–71.
the dragon / snake in myth, religion and mission 237

Yet, in many myths the dragon has not been killed, but defeated. He has
withdrawn to the jungle and the mountains, waiting to disturb humanity and
life again. In the jungle he creates the wild rivers, the waterfalls and the bays.
This is his domain and there he sleeps on the bottom of the river. He can attack
and eat the whole population of a village together with the houses (Ropokai
myth). Finally, when the dragon is killed, the people he has eaten will come
to life again. In the stomach of the dragon is his secret: all kinds of richness.
Sometimes the victory over the dragon is achieved with the aid of an eagle. At
that time, there will be a total restoration of the lost Paradise.
The only way for men to keep the dragon far from the village and to avoid the
destruction of life is by seriously following the tribe’s adat (customs and values)
and religion. So, culture, order and justice are the weapons and tools to protect
humankind from disaster. If someone trespasses the adat, the dragon will wake
up immediately and will cause floods and earthquakes. He is a hostile figure in
the myths of Papuas in Biak and Numfor.10

3.2 Citak Song

Baas has recorded a story of the snake among the Citak people from Vaw
Aranbi at the Ndeiram river in South-West Papua, that demonstrates some-
thing of the fear of snakes, although there might be positive aspects also.11 The
story is about a young girl who is slow in growing up, disobedient to her par-
ents, still urinating and defecating in the house. Her frustrated parents leave
the girl unprotected in the jungle in order to be released from her. The snake
confronts the young lady and tries to kill and eat her. Suddenly the girl realises
the danger and she recalls the education of her parents on how to handle the
machete. She succeeds in killing the snake, cuts of his head, cooks and eats
his meat, and uses his skin with the fat as ‘cloth’ to hide herself. Then she fol-
lows the river downstream. There she meets her parents and joins them again.
The parents arrange a marriage for her. On the wedding day she removes the
dirty snake’s skin and she appears to be a beautiful and powerful lady, with
smooth skin.

10  Popular stories in Biak often refer to a dragon or mysterious snake. He causes the storms
of the sea, he generates the huge waves at the beaches of the island. Known as “Konon”
or “Faknik” the dragon is compared with the (black) Cherub angel at the closing of the
Paradise in the Bible. The dragon is the dark angel, a monstrous animal who forbids man-
kind to return to Paradise. This view is related to the vision that the historical garden of
Eden was located northeast of Biak. Told by Yosef Rumasew, March 17, 2014. For similar
stories, see Ottow Rumaseb, The Papuan Kingdom of God: A Biblic-Archaeomythological
Review, Biak [2005] unpublished (digital copy available from the author of this article).
11  P.R. Baas, Verhalen en Liederen uit de mondelinge overleveringen van enkele Citakclans,
[unpublished photocopy] Vol I, part 2.2.1, Story 1, 125–130.
238 haak

This story is told to prevent young children from being disobedient to their
parents’ education and the adat of the tribe. It still has a happy ending, but
guess what happened with the disobedient children who did not return from
the jungle? Woe to them! Beware of the snake!

3.3 Yali Stories

A snake called Manû is feared and respected by the Yali people in the moun-
tain area in Mid-Papua.12 Many stories mention his name, behaviour and
actions. Generally, the stars are viewed as the eyes of animals, especially
snakes, and deceased ancestors who fly in the sky. During the night they man-
ifest themselves high up in the sky, but in daytime they withdraw from the
earth. Sometimes there is a falling star, which is a snake that flies from heaven
to earth, maybe to disturb human society and kill people.
Now, Manû is the original and primordial snake. He can be manifested as the
rainbow connecting heaven and earth, and connecting people to one another.
The rainbow is called Kaliye-ahîkal (skin of Kaliye snake). So, Yali people used
to bring a piece of a snake’s skin with them in order to stay related to their clan
wherever they might be. Via the skin they can receive messages from home
about sickness and death. Since primordial times Manû was a treacherous and
powerful animal. He created the waterfalls, carves the course of the rivers
and governs the rain. He crawls over the surface of the land cutting the earth
and creating both sides of the rivers. Since he lives high up at the top of the
mountain, he provides the water of the river for the village at the mountain’s
foot. The village people are very happy with Manû who provides prosperity
and abundant harvest. But Manû has cheated them because he added poison
to the water, so people become sick and die.
Manû is the master of day and night and governs the climate. With his rain
he causes floods, nearly drowning the villages around the mountain region.
When a hurricane comes down from the mountainside one should bring offer-
ings to Manû so he might bypass the village. Once, the village people succeeded
in conquering Manû, they cut him in pieces and eat his meat. Yet, by doing that
they brought him into the village and caused Manû to leave many little snakes
all around inside the houses. So, this was even worse than before.
On the other hand, many stories prove that Manû is not really dead. He is
asleep at the top of the mountain. When he awakens there is an earthquake
and the people must hurry to bring the expected offerings. Also they conduct

12  Siegfried Zöllner, Lebensbaum und Schweinekult: Die Religion der Jali im Bergland von
Irian-Jaya (West-New-Guinea), Darmstadt 1977, 54–57; idem, The Religion of the Yali in the
Highlands of Irian Jaya, Goroka 1988, 15–17.
the dragon / snake in myth, religion and mission 239

the rituals close to the village when there is seriously bad weather to prevent
Manû entering the village. In fact, the stories and rites will be told and retold,
and performed to guarantee the peace in the village. If not, the earth will be

3.4 Mount Kare Python13

In the highland of Papua the Huli and Paiela peoples believe that a certain
python, called Taiyundika, lives at the top of mount Kare. He is viewed as the
ancestor of the tribes. This python promotes the fertility of plant, animal, and
human species. He is to be worshiped by the offering of pigs. The python is
supposed to have a secret unknown to mankind, which is the guarantee of a
rich life in the future for all members of the Huli and Paiela tribes.
The goldrush of white people in the eighties of the twentieth century made
the tribes reconsider the power of Taiyundika. They saw the richness and
luxury of the white people sustained by the huge amount of gold and con-
cluded that the gold was the flesh of Taiyundika. In fact his long held secret was
revealed. At that time, local prophets merged biblical eschatology and mytho-
logical expectations. In the period of 1988 until 1990 this prophecy caused a
messianic movement that gave (false) hope to the peoples of the highlands.
The movement expressed the frustration of the Papua people about the
transition of time and worldview. The former sacrificial principle used to
function as a law of the human condition as such. The new context of seem-
ingly long-lasting and abundant life of the whites was a sign of the blessing
of Taiyundika that apparently had been given to the wrong people. In order
to please Taiyundika the Huli and Paiela tribes started to increase their sacri-
fices to him and encouraged one another to reform their way of (modern) life
according to the requirements of the old adat.

4 Wider Contexts of Dragon / Snake Myths14

In many cultures, both in the East (Australia, Melanesia) and in the West
(Congo, Bénin, Nigeria and Haiti), myths are told about a Rainbow Serpent
with similar features. The central view is that the snake has a dual nature.
It is associated with elements concerning creation, rebirth, and eternal life,

13  Aletta Biersack, “The Mount Kare Python and His Gold: Totemis and Ecology in the Papua
New Guinea Highlands,” American Anthropologist 101 (1999), 68–87.
14  See for more info and literature:
.htm (consulted April 4, 2015).
240 haak

but also with regard to destruction, darkness and death. So the snake is to be
loved and feared, to be adored and to be hated. The main idea is that the snake
becomes destructive when it is provoked by misbehaviour.
Originally the Rainbow Snake is a water snake. He pierces into the mud
and creates the course of (new) rivers, but when the rain falls down he will
fly and become a rainbow. He seems to be friendly, and he provides all kind of
richness, pearls and jewels. However, his nature is greedy. He holds back the
water from fertilizing the soil. He disturbs the growing vegetation, and when
he becomes angry he punishes with flood and death.
According to some scholars the Rainbow Snake is the archetype of the pri-
mordial snake, and that it is compatible with the old Oroboros and the rain
dragons of Chinese mythology. Robert Blust argues for the concept of the
Rainbow Snake as the original and realistic perception of the rational presci-
entific speculations about the world of real events.15 He explains the reason
why dragons govern the rain, guard the springs and live in caves, how it evolved
in perception from a merely ordinary snake into the dragon with horns, multi-
headed, and claws, why he is sexually ambiguous, and is in conflict with thun-
der and lightning, or even the sun. Blust relates the dragon to menstruation,
and proposes explanations as to why the dragon exhales fire, why he guards
treasures, and encircles the world (as the other half of the rainbow).

4.1 Australia
The Australian (Aboriginal) myth tells about the Rainbow Snake of the Golden
Age where everything was still new and fresh.16 The Rainbow Snake with his
many colours slid all over the earth creating rivers and mountains, He got tired
and slept in a lake. The earth became dry, the snake lost his colours and became
invisible. He was awakened by a guiltless fisherman, became angry, flew up to
the sky and caused severe rainfall and enormous flooding. Nowadays, according
to the myth, the Rainbow Snake is visible when the sun and the rain are fight-
ing one another. He jumps from the one lake and grounds (!) in another lake.

4.2 Bénin
The Rainbow Snake in Bénin is called Adio-Hwedo. In his mouth he trans-
ported the West-African creator god Nana-Buluku in order to create and form
the world. When they rested for a while the snake’s excrement became the
mountains. The valleys and the rivers were created by the course of the snake.

15  Robert Blust, “The Origin of Dragons,” Anthropos 95 (2000), 519–536.

16  Leo F. Triebels, Enige aspecten van de regenboogslang, Nijmegen 1958. See also http:// (fabeldier).
the dragon / snake in myth, religion and mission 241

When the whole world was completed Nana-Bukulu was afraid that the earth
would tilt by the weight of the creation. He asked the snake to convolve as
a rescue tube underneath the world. Because the snake could not stand the
heat of the sun, Nana-Bukulu created the ocean all around him. Every time
the snake shifted his body to be cooled down by the ocean’s water he caused an
earthquake. Also, when he eats something he gorges with spastic movements,
thereby causing earthquakes. As he eats the iron of the earth one day he will
run out of iron and start eating his own tail. At that time many earthquakes
will shake the earth. The earth will be tilted in imbalance, and disappear into
the ocean by its own weight.

4.3 Indonesia—Naga Jawa17

The famous snake in Indonesia is the Naga Jawa (= Javanese Dragon). He
is responsible for the direction of the wind on the oceans. He has a crown,
of crowns on his head, and horns. He is the guard of holy buildings, of spe-
cial regions and lakes. He hides the treasures of the golden age of paradise.
There is a secret that makes him powerful and mysterious. He loves decora-
tions and jewels. He has the pearl of knowledge of good and bad. And, he has
magical power.
In the stories of the Wayang he is assumed to be a god (dewa) called
Ananataboga who lives in the stomach of the earth. With the fire from his
mouth he destroys the environment. He is a threat for humankind. Only a
fierce man, a hero, can conquer the snake. This hero will chop the snake’s head,
or even multiple heads, and will become a famous saviour of the peoples liv-
ing in that region. The real enemy of the snake are the griffons (Ind. garuda18)
who will join the fight of the hero and conquer the snake. The symbols of the
snake are on prows of the ships and canoes as a sign of protection against
the snake. It is clear that the Naga Jawa belongs to the underworld, the dark-
ness, water, moon, other snakes, crocodiles and tortoises.
The snake is usually perceived as female. She then is the symbol of power of
life, fertility, flexibility, mobility and regeneration. She is able to shed her old
skin and will regenerate new skin by her own power, as if she resurrected from
death. That is the reason she is worshiped in holy temples (Ind. candi). Because
she is the oldest being in the cosmos she is associated with wisdom and

17  Heinrisch Zimmer, Indische Mythen und Symbole, Düsseldorf 1981, cf. http://id.wikipedia
.org/wiki/Naga_Jawa and, both sites consulted
March 21, 2014.
18  The Griffon is also the symbol of the Republic of Indonesia.
242 haak

knowledge, and the mother of nature. Farmers and fishermen are dependent
upon her knowledge of agriculture and fishing techniques.

4.4 Chinese Dragon

In opposition to Melanesian, Indonesian and more Western concepts of
dragon-like animals, the Chinese dragon is the symbol of good luck. These
dragons do not breathe fire, but are very gentle, joyful, wise, friendly and help-
ful. They do not have wings but can fly by their magical power. In their beard
they bear a pearl with magic features, the dragon’s pearl. Dragons are hospi-
table and generous. On the other hand, they are formidable animals, able to
destroy and eat their enemies and special thieves.
They are designed with a horse-like head, with horns of a stag, and a beard.
The snake’s lissom body is all covered with squamae, having four legs with
claws. Often he holds a ball or pearl as a symbol of thunder. Yet, the dragons
can make themselves invisible, or even small like a worm, or very big to fill the
space between heaven and earth. Or, they can appear in another form, like a
fish, a snake, but also a man. They are eager to kidnap young girls. The most
effective way to beat them is not by power but by wisdom and shrewdness.
The dragon is the lord of water. Every source or pool has its own dragon to
protect it. The supreme king of the dragons, Long Wang, has his palace on the
bottom of the sea. They are powerful, magical lords over the great oceans. He
embodies wisdom, power and goodness. When he is angry he causes storm,
mist and earthquakes. He is the protector of fishermen and water carriers, but
he will punish those who waste the water. The dragon belongs to the east, he is
the symbol of the sunrise, the spring, and fertility.19

5 Recapitulation

In many myths the dragon is the same as the primordial snake, an animal that
is closely connected to the origins of world, mankind and history. Some fea-
tures are very common and universal.

a. He is a being that belongs in the chthonic world, the world of darkness,

moon, underworld, together with reptiles, water, all having a feminine
character. This means that the dragon is full of seduction and temptation

19  The Korean dragon is usually also perceived as a water or ocean dragon, similar to the
Chinese dragon. The Korean fishermen speak of the dragon as a sea snake, Yo.
the dragon / snake in myth, religion and mission 243

for man. Trusting in him leads to destruction, although he or she20 prom-

ises a restored Paradise. In fact, she is the personification of death.
b. She is ambivalent: she can bring both blessing and curse, mostly curse.
c. She is perceived as the intimate partner of the creator god, usually as his
means of transport, the god riding on the back of the dragon. The dragon
also creates the mountains, valleys and rivers.
d. The dragon is supposed to have all the wisdom of culture and technique.
She made the rules for mankind to live a good life, punishing those who
destroy the laws and customs of society. She also knows the ins and outs
of agriculture, fishing and hunting techniques. She manages the rain to
supply fertility and teaches mankind the secrets of sexual life and procre-
ation. In this way she is the guardian of ethics.
e. The dragon is supposed to have eternal life because of her capability
to moult. She will be reborn again and again. She promises this gift to
humankind if people will worship her.21
f. The dragon withholds secret information and revelation. She has a sec-
ond agenda with her own purposes to betray humankind. People must
seriously plead to receive new revelation, and must sneakily manipulate
the dragon to pilfer the needed wisdom.
g. The dragon is the main source of the delicate balance of this world. She is
beyond the control of people, and will act and react at random. Nobody
can ever live in peace in this world.

Finally, the dragon has to be conquered by any and every means. One way to do
that is to beat her by having a heroic warrior chop off her head or heads. This
hero can be assisted by griffons, the powerful enemies of the dragon. A better
way to expel the dragon is to cheat her, disturb her knowledge and wisdom.
She will get confused and forget her bad purposes. So, people can banish her
and forbid her to ever come back again. Yet unfortunately, the total defeat of
the dragon will always be dubious. One day, somewhere, she can reappear and
destroy mankind’s peace and future.

20  As an ambiguous being the Dragon’s gender is also unclear. In many cases one prefers
the female dimension in connection with wisdom, guarding the ethics and education of
children, and (!) the beauty of creation. I will now use feminine pronouns to try to evoke
the reader’s (uneasy?) emotions similar to the emotions of the people who invented the
myths of snakes and dragons.
21  Many Melanesian myths teach about the coming new golden age, when the Melanesians
will also molt and receive white skins instead of the black ones, meaning that they will be
children of Paradise, like the rich and prosperous Western people they have met.
244 haak

6 The Dragon and Reformed Mission

6.1 The Problem of Trustworthy Revelation

The snake / dragon indeed is what the word ‘sneakily’ expresses. One cannot
simply trust the snake. On the one hand, he/she befriends the gods and spir-
its, even ancestors, while on the other hand, she is treacherous, misleading,
traitorous, giving false information, causing disasters and animosity between
human beings, and between the transcendent realm and this earthly world.
She is an exponent of untrustworthiness. She teaches people to suspect also
what is revealed by the gods.
One of the consequences is that according to primeval religious myths peo-
ple also cannot, and indeed do not trust their very gods. This is the seed of
suspicion that is dominant in tribal religion and mythological stories, one that
reflects the psychological and religious incertitude of people about their des-
tination. Life will always be insecure, dubious and ultimately threatened. The
myths of the dragon suggest that the powers or gods in the transcendent world
withhold some crucial information in order to betray people.
In fact, the power of the snake is supposed to be equal to the power of the
gods, since the snake herself is like a god, having neither beginning nor end.
She is a kind of ‘fellow god,’ or ‘co-god.’ She may disappear for a period of time,
apparently dead, but will become alive and powerful tomorrow. In the end
both the gods and the snake will survive in a kind of inseparable coexistence.
There will never be a future time for humankind to live in serene peace with
one another and with their gods.
Another feature of the myths is that they will mostly be renewed and retold
when a natural disaster occurs, or someone dies in a strange and unexpected
manner. At that point, the myths will be changed, updated to provide interpre-
tation of the meaning of life and death. This also causes mistrust regarding the
final certitude about the truth and realities of life.
This situation is a challenge for all who are involved in serious, long term
contacts with people holding these mythical religious worldviews, for instance
for the Dutch Reformed mission in West-Papua, in which I have been involved
since 1975, first as a missionary, then as a teacher and trainer of leaders in the
churches in this area, and finally in the theological education of Christian
missionaries from several continents. How to approach these people with the
gospel of Christ? Therefore, I would like to use the final section of this article
in offering a short description of the theological framework for a mission-
ary approach of primitive myths, such as those of the dragon, as it has been
developed by myself and other missionaries in this context on the base of a
the dragon / snake in myth, religion and mission 245

comparative study of mythological religion and the Christian faith and of a

theological evaluation of these phenomena from a Reformed point of view.22
On the one hand, situations such as in West-Papua require serious study of
these myths and of their perception in the minds of the people. On the other
hand, theological evaluation will have to deal with the similarity in persons
and figures in the myth and the Bible, such as god, powers, and snake, even
called ‘Satan’ (Rev 12:9). The snake also occurs in the Bible in a treacherous
role, causing the Fall of humankind, and the loss of Paradise (Gen 3). Yet, in
a Christian perspective the biblical concept of revelation and the historical
evidence also provide important differences. God is presented as the main
character of revelation, not the dragon. Though the dragon is the key enemy
of God, he is never his equal. According to the Christian faith, God and his
revelation in Christ completely differ from Satan in that God is fundamentally
reliable. God’s promises will always be fulfilled, because God has the supreme
power and authority, and as creator he is almighty, also in setting the course of
world history.
Again, the snake or ‘Satan’ is created and not equal to God. He receives some
power to betray people and to cause misfortune and disaster, but he is always
limited in his actions. God and ‘Satan’ are radical enemies. In the course of
world history ‘Satan’ again and again tries to frustrate God’s plan of salvation.
The culmination of this battle is Satan’s dealing with Jesus ending at the cross
and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. At the cross ‘Satan’ is exposed as the great
loser of history, while the risen Christ receives the key of Death and Hades, and
will live forever.
According to this view, the snake will be captured and thrown in the eternal
fire of hell in the final battle between God and the snake and never to return
to earth, while believers in Christ will receive new bodily life on the renewed
earth, and God will dwell among them in harmonious and peaceful commu-
nion. In this way, the Christian missiology presents the history of Jesus’ birth,
life, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return in glory as ‘good news’
in every respect over against a mythical concept of an endless recurring cycle
of events, for it offers a linear perception of time, with a final confrontation
between God of Satan and the powers of fear and death at the end. In the new
earth and heaven there will be no room for the snake or ‘Satan.’ No one will
ever recall their existence, and fear of snakes and dragons will be banished
once and for all.

22  For an elaborated view in this perspective, see C.J. Haak, Metaformose. Intercultureel
begeleiden van kerken in een niet-christelijke omgeving, Zoetermeer 2002.
246 haak

6.2 Suggestion for Comparative and Missional Approach

The diagram below presents some key issues as they have been developed in
Reformed theology that can be used by Christian missionaries in their dialogue
with people who hold to a mythical worldview and have religious suspicion
toward the invisible powers of nature and transcendent beings. It represents
two confronting worldviews and two different expected futures of the human
condition, namely, the Fear of Death versus the Gospel of Life.

Topic Primeval Fearful Myth Divine Revelation of the Gospel

 1 View of real reality Mythical illusion Historical framework

 2 Display of history Eternally cyclical ebb and flow Linear victorious strategy
 3 Ethical features Compromise between good and evil Antithesis between good and evil
 4 Relation to humanity Nations as plaything Election of Israel and church
 5 Intimacy Remote gods Incarnation as masterstroke
 6 Struggle for life Power game Cross-1: judicial defeat
 7 Decisive battle Homage for Satan Cross-2: ‘Satan’s’ ultimate shame
 8 After death Spiritually unlimited beings Jesus’ bodily resurrection
 9 View of future Eternally closed graves Jesus has the keys of death
10 Human destiny Prisoners of the old world God’s fellowship on the new earth
Part 6
Iconographic Representations


A Glimpse of the Beast

Leviathan in Late Medieval and Early Modern Art

Anique de Kruijf

1 Introduction1

Theologically, Leviathan is a broad concept. There are only a few passages in

the Bible that mention the beast. Together, they paint a diverse picture. This is
illustrated by the essays in this volume, which relate Leviathan respectively to a
biblical sea monster, the red dragon, and Satan. Art historians employ an even
wider notion of Leviathan. For centuries, the Bible was the greatest source of
inspiration for artists, who mainly used its description of Leviathan to depict
the biblical monster. Additionally, they used the beast to depict abstract con-
cepts, such as evil, chaos and the anti-divine. There were reasons for depicting
Leviathan.2 For instance, the concept was well-suited for propagandistic art.
It also lent itself for depicting moralizing messages. This chapter will focus on
the depiction of the mouth of hell in a broad variety of late medieval and early
modern artistic disciplines.3
To understand the wide range of adaptations of Leviathan’s mouth, we
need an overview of faith in the late Middle Ages. Since the early fifteenth cen-
tury CE, personal faith, mortality, and salvation had been key concepts.4 The
worldwide epidemic of the Black Death in the fourteenth century had made
people painfully aware of the transience of life. The plague was seen as punish-
ment from God. This is understandable, because the Bible says that God had
punished David’s pride with three days of plague among his people (2 Sam 24
and 1 Chr 21). The fourteenth century had been a true wake-up call. At that
time, people lived in terrible sin and God’s wrath was great. His punishment—
a plague—killed millions of people. By the late Middle Ages and early modern

1  The author would like to express her gratitude to Dr. Judith Noorman for her translation into
2  Arnold Angenendt, Geschichte der Religiosität im Mittelalter, Darmstadt 1997, 151–156.
3  On this symbolism, see: J.J.M. Timmers, Symboliek en iconografie der christelijke kunst,
Roermond 1947, 1686.
4  Frances Carey (ed.), The Apocalypse and the Shape of Things to Come, London 1999, 53–60.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi ��.��63/9789004337961_016

250 de kruijf

period, this situation must have been frightening, because it was believed that
the end of time was near.5

Imitating Christ
Then as now, transience and sin are irreconcilable concepts. We should appear
before God without sin. Late medieval religion was aimed at procuring salva-
tion. Moralising prints and publications enjoyed their heyday. Some authors
and engravers tried to support their audience on their path to virtue with moti-
vating and encouraging texts and images. A wonderful example is Thomas a
Kempis’ (ca. 1380–1471) De Imitatione Christi, which was published in the
Dutch vernacular as Over de navolging van Christus.6 The author encouraged
believers to imitate Christ by being patient, humble, modest, unprejudiced. He
also stimulated readers to love their neighbours. De Imitatione Christi shows
that devotion was becoming more and more private. Every Christian wanted
to build up a personal relationship with God.7 A Kempis met this need. He con-
tinually encouraged believers to engage in intimate conversation with Christ.8
Until the seventeenth century CE, publications such as De Imitatione Christi
made appeals to the believers’ own sense of responsibility. The immense popu-
larity of certain books—such as Via Vitae Aeternae (“Den wech des eeuwich
levens”; 1620) by Antonius Sucquet, Pia desideria (“Goddelycke wenschen”;

5  Christoph Burger, “Eindtijdverwachting aan het einde van de vijftiende eeuw en bij
Maarten Luther,” in: Theo Clemens, Willemien Otten & Eugène Honée (red.), Het einde
nabij? Toekomstverwachting en angst voor het oordeel in de geschiedenis van het christendom,
Nijmegen 1999, 181.
6  For this article, I used the 1924 edition of Thomas van Kempen, De navolging van Christus
door Thomas a Kempis voor de zevende maal uitgegeven met Oefeningen en gebeden na ieder
hoofdstuk gevolgd naar het oorspronkelijk Fransch van den E.P. Gonnelieu sj. vermeerderd met
de gebeden der H. Mis, met het Lof, den Kruisweg, den Rozenkrans en de Litanie en gebeden tot
het H. Hart van Jezus, Utrecht 1924.
7  For a succinct description of religious experience of this time, see Gerrit vanden Bosch,
Hemel, hel en vagevuur. Preken over het hiernamaals in de Zuidelijke Nederlanden tijdens de
17de en 18de eeuw, Leuven 1991, 17–21, and Angenendt, Religiosität im Mittelalter, 71–84. For a
more extensive description, see Peter Jezler, “Jenseitsmodelle und Jenseitsvorsorge—eine
Einführung,” in: idem (Hrsg.), Himmel, Hölle, Fegefeuer. Das Jenseits im Mittelalter, München
1994, 13–26. This change is also evident in the translation of most books into various vernacu-
lar languages in a relatively short period of time.
8  Van Kempen, Navolging, 146–149. An important source of inspiration for Van Kempen’s goal
to create a personal relationship with Jesus is Ps 85:9.
a glimpse of the beast 251

1629) by Herman Hugo, and Veridicus Christianus (1601) by Joannes David—

shows that people were indeed searching for such support.9

Introspection and Meditation

Based on this ardent belief in the transience of life, a new theology arose. It
centred around the so-called Last Things: death, judgment, hell, and heaven.10
Private devotion consisted of introspection and meditation on the Last Things.
Death was inevitable, regardless of one’s wealth and profession.11 More than
ever, eternity was intertwined with a virtuous life on earth. Images of vices and
virtues were immensely popular in the late Middle Ages and the early modern
era.12 Even on one’s deathbed, Christians had to overcome certain challenges.
Angels and demons fought over their souls. This idea resulted in a publication
about terminal care: the Ars Moriendi (“Sterfboeck of die conste van sterven”).13
The earliest editions of this type of book, which were attractively illustrated
with woodcuts, date to the beginning of the fifteenth century. They concen-
trated on the believer in his final hour. Devils repeatedly seduce and deceive
him, but each time an angel comes to his rescue.
In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, publications and repre-
sentations had a devotional purpose. In word and image, they showed what
one should aspire to (virtue and charity), what one should avoid at all cost
(sin). They also showed that virtue would be rewarded (heaven), whereas

9  Antonius Sucquet, Den wech des eeuwich levens, overgezet door Gerardus Zoes, Antwerpen
1620; Herman Hugo, Goddelycke wenschen verlicht met sinne-beelden, ghedichten en
vierighe uytspraecken der oud-vaeders, overgezet door Justus de Hardouin, Antwerpen 1629;
J. David, Veridicus Christianus, Antwerpen 1601. Frits Broeyer, “De Antichrist als actueel
thema in de zeventiende-eeuwse Republiek,” in Clemens, Otten & Honée (red.), Het einde
nabij?, 225–244, discusses how fear of the Antichrist was undiminished in the seven-
teenth century.
10  Of course, there were many publications dealing with the Last Things, e.g. Gerardus de
Vliederhoven, Dit sijn die vier uterste, Antwerpen 1488.
11  The publication Elckerlijc is evidence of this belief. Elckerlijc (“everyone”) is the main
character. In an allegorical story with many personifications (Possession, Virtue,
Knowledge), Christians are confronted with themselves (G. Back, Den Spiegel der sali-
cheijt van Elckerlijc, Antwerpen 1501; T. van Bueren (red.), Leven na de dood. Gedenken in
de late middeleeuwen, Turnhout 1999, 133–134).
12  C. Göttler, Last Things: Art and the Religious Imagination in the Age of Reform, Turnhout
2010, 157–215.
13  Van Bueren (red.), Leven na de dood, 50–52, 157–158, and P. van Boheemen (red.), Duivels
en demonen: de duivel in de Nederlandse beeldcultuur, Utrecht 1994, 46–51.
252 de kruijf

sinners awaited eternal damnation (hell). As mentioned above, the represen-

tation of damnation could have one of three goals: morality, propaganda, and
the depiction of a biblical narrative.

2 The Bible’s Underworld

Isa 5:14 says: “Therefore Sheol has enlarged its throat and opened its mouth
without measure.”14 Job 40 and 41 describe Leviathan extensively. The beast
has an enormous fire-breathing mouth and frightening teeth. It was not only
the Bible that described Sheol as a monster with a gaping mouth. Reports of
visions do the same. A dying monk exclaimed, for instance: “I am given to be
devoured by a dragon, who has my head in its mouth.”15 As early as 1148, a
knight named Tondalus, had a vision of an angel who showed him hell and pur-
gatory. He witnessed as inextinguishable fire and an incredible stench rising
from a mouth. He heard agonizing cries in the belly of the beast.16 Together,
these texts paint a picture of the Bible’s underworld as a huge gaping mouth.

2.1 Poor Lazarus

In Luke 16, Christ educates the Pharisees with a parable. For days, a poor beg-
gar named Lazarus had been lying near the gate of the house of a rich man.
He hoped the rich man would give him his leftovers, but his hopes were in
vain. Lazarus received nothing. Then Lazarus and the rich man died. Angels
carried Lazarus away to rest in the lap of Abraham. The rich man eventually
reached the underworld. A beautiful print by Crispijn van der Passe (ca. 1564–
1637) shows this scene (Fig. 15.1). In the upper left corner, Lazarus is reclining
on the lap of Abraham. Below this scene, the rich man is being tortured in the
underworld (ἁδες).17 Flames and terrifying monsters with hooks are torment-
ing him. The underworld is an enormous mouth, which is about to swallow the
rich man. However, Jesus does not mention Leviathan in this parable.

14  Bible quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).
15  The history of this dying monk is found in Vliederhoven, Dit sijn die vier uterste, chapter 3.
Gerardus de Vliederhoven wrote the book between 1380 and 1396.
16  This vision was documented a year earlier, but it appeared in more than forty editions
in eleven different vernacular languages throughout the next centuries. A well-known
Dutch edition is Dionysius de Kartuizer, Van de vier uuterste, te weten, van de doodt, van
het oordeel, van de pijnen der hellen, van de hemelsche glorie. Nu in onse Nederlandtsche
taele overghesedt door broeder Ian van Blitterswijck, Brussel 1628.
17  I will continue to refer to the Greek in order to demonstrate that there are different terms
describing the same place.
a glimpse of the beast 253

Figure 15.1 Crispijn van der Passe, The rich man and the poor Lazarus, c. 1595, Amsterdam,

2.2 Limbo
Where was Jesus between his death on the cross and his resurrection? This
question has been a subject of heated debate for centuries. The Bible speaks of
the underworld and the Abyss, but no specific locations are given for either
of these places. Is it a “descent into hell” (nederdaling ter helle), as advocated
by the Apostles’ Creed? This would correspond with the idea that Jesus visited
hell. Or is it purgatory or limbo, as professed by the Roman Catholic Church?18
Is it the lap of Abraham or something else entirely? Whatever its location,
artists consistently show Jesus visiting a place that has a giant mouth as an

18  On belief in purgatory, see Martina Wehrli-Johns, “ ‘Tuo daz Guote und lâ daz Übele.’ Das
Fegefeuer als Sozialidee,” in: Jezler (Hrsg.), Himmel, Hölle, Fegefeuer, 47–58.
254 de kruijf

entrance.19 We see this, for instance, on a small ivory of the early fourteenth
century (Fig. 15.2). Placing his foot in the mouth of Leviathan, Jesus tramples a
small devil-like creature. He reaches out to a man and a woman, traditionally
seen as Adam and Eve, who await the arrival of their Saviour.
A print by Pieter van der Heyden (ca. 1530–after 1572) is as excessive as the
ivory is simple (Fig. 15.3). The Antwerp engraver was clearly inspired by the work
of Jheronimus Bosch (1450–1516) and Pieter Bruegel the Elder (ca. 1525–1569).
These artists are famous for their fantasy creatures and mysterious monsters. In
Van der Heyden’s print, similar creatures swarm the edges of the underworld,
which is visited by Jesus. The creatures are subjected to all sorts of torments,
obscenities, and pests. Nevertheless, Jesus is triumphant and walks straight
to the entrance of the underworld, which is depicted as an enormous mouth.
He is surrounded by music-making angels. Amusingly, the entrance gate has
two doors, which are being trampled by the crowd of ‘captives’ mentioned in
Eph 4:8.20 They died before Christ’s crucifixion and wait for redemption in pur-
gatory. Often, most of the captives are small naked figures, but sometimes the
artist gives one of them an attribute to make him recognizable. Here we see a
captive with a rough-haired mantle: he is John the Baptist who wore a garment
of camel’s hair in the desert (Matt 3:4).
A remarkable yet completely different work of art is this so-called miniature
tabernacle. The central sphere is about the size of a golf ball (Fig. 15.4). Wealthy
Christians commissioned these boxwood carvings, which they would use for
their private devotion. The spherical part is hinged and, once opened, reveals
devotional scenes (Fig. 15.5).21 The lower half shows a miniature depiction of
the underworld. At the bottom, Jesus stands near Leviathan’s opened mouth to
free the captives. Clearly, this scene takes place underground, in the “heart of
the earth” (Matt 12:40, τῇ καρδίᾳ τῆς γῆς. Above we see the resurrection on the
right and Christ’s appearance to Mary Magdalene on the left.

19  Incidentally, Christians had more at their disposal than just the apocalyptic passages
of the Bible. Other related writings determined their ideas about heaven and hell. The
apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus was important for the “harrowing of hell.” The second
part of this late fourth century Gospel is about Christ’s descent into hell.
20  The Bible says that the underworld is a mouth, but also that it has an entrance gate (Matt
16:18: “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church;
and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it”). This passage is why images often show a
gaping mouth with two enormous doors.
21  A. Suda & L. Ellis, “Investigating miniature boxwood carving at the Art Gallery of Ontario
in Toronto,” eZine Codart 2 (2013), article 5 of 9 (see
toronto/?id=119, accessed April 4, 2015).
a glimpse of the beast 255

Figure 15.2 Anonymous, Harrowing of Hell, c. 1320, Paris, Musée du Louvre.

256 de kruijf

Figure 15.3 Pieter van der Heyden, Harrowing of Hell, c. 1561, Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans
van Beuningen.
Photo: Studio Tromp, Rotterdam.

2.3 The Revelation of John

Of course, the underworld plays a key role in the Revelation of John. His visions
have challenged theologians for centuries. The text is certainly prophetic, but
is it also symbolic, poetic, or to be taken literally? Because of its extraordinary
richness and the almost impossible challenge to explain or interpret it cor-
rectly, artists often adhere closely to the text.

The Apocalyptic Riders

The maker of the Flemish Apocalypse book (Vlaams Apokalypsboek) of ca. 1400
stuck closely to the Bible text. The manuscript includes only the Revelation
of John. The text is richly illustrated with beautiful miniatures.22 One of them

22  The term miniature derives from the Latin verb miniare, which means “to write with
minium” (a red pigment).
a glimpse of the beast 257

Figure 15.4 Anonymous, Boxwood tabernacle, c. 1520, London, British Museum,
© The Trustees of the British Museum.
258 de kruijf

Figure 15.5 Detail tabernacle with devotional scenes of the harrowing of Hell.

shows the opening of the first six seals (Fig. 15.6). With the first three seals, we
see riders on respectively a white, red, and black horse. When the Holy Lamb
breaks the fourth seal a pale horse appears. Its rider is Death, who is accompa-
nied by the underworld (ἁδες) (Rev 6:6–8). The underworld is portrayed as the
mouth of Leviathan. A sea of flames, two devils, and a snake, coiling around
the horse’s leg, rise from the mouth.
The famous artist Hans Memling (ca. 1430–1494) depicted the mouth of
Leviathan in a similar way. He painted a large triptych, which was commis-
sioned by the St. John hospital in Bruges (Fig. 15.7). As illustrated by the hospi-
tal’s name, their patron saints were John the Evangelist and John the Baptist.
This explains why Memling painted the beheading of John the Baptist on the
left wing. In the middle, we see Mary and her Child with the aforementioned
a glimpse of the beast 259

Figure 15.6 Anonymous, Opening of the first six seals, c. 1400, Facsimile Edition Flemish
© M. Moleiro Editor (
260 de kruijf

Figure 15.7 Hans Memling, Triptych for the Saint John’s Hospital, c. 1475, Bruges, Musea
©—Art in Flanders vzw. Photo: Dominique

Figure 15.8 Detail of the right panel of the triptych by Hans Memling.
a glimpse of the beast 261

namesakes on each side. The right wing shows the vision of Saint John the
Evangelist. Here too the rider of the colourless horse is accompanied by
the underworld, visualized by the mouth of Leviathan (Fig. 15.8). This master
of Flemish art also stuck closely to the Bible: to the right of the four apocalyptic
riders people hide “in the caves and among rocks of the mountains” (Rev 6:15).

The Fifth Trumpet

After opening the seven seals, angels sound seven trumpets. With every blast
the earth is struck with a catastrophe. The fifth blasts opens the “bottomless pit”
(Rev 9:1–2). Evidently, artists do not just use the mouth of Leviathan to depict
the underworld, but also the “Well of the Abyss” (τού φρέατος τής ἀβύσσου).
Locusts emerge from it (Fig. 15.9). They look like horses ready for war. They
have golden crowns, human faces, women’s hair, the teeth of lions, and iron
breastplates (Rev 9:7–9). Again, the miniaturist stuck close to the passage in
the Bible. His locusts have horse’s legs, golden crowns, long braids, and some
kind of chain mail on their chest.

Evil Defeated
Later in John’s vision, a Rider named “Faithful and True” appears (Rev 19:11).
His eyes are a blazing fire. He is dressed in a robe soaked with blood, which is
clearly visible in the miniature (Fig. 15.10). The rider seizes evil and its prophet,
and drives them into the Lake of Fire of burning sulfur (λìμνη τού πυρὸς). The
artist used the mouth of Leviathan to depict the Lake of Fire.
Whoever commissioned the handmade Flemish Apocalypse book must have
been a very wealthy man or woman. However, more affordable apocalypse
books, often illustrated with woodcuts, were also available in the late Middle
Ages. Woodcuts were made by cutting a scene from a block of wood, which
subsequently served as a stamp. This way the same scene could be reproduced
multiple times. This reproductive technique is why block books were afford-
able. A beautiful example of Netherlandish or German manufacture shows the
rider driving evil into the lake of fire (Fig. 15.11).23 We do not recognize him by
his flaming eyes or blood-drenched clothes, but by the many crowns on his
head. All monsters of evil are driven into the mouth of Leviathan. The wood-
cutter also depicted the final verse of Revelation 19: “and all the birds were
filled with their flesh” (Rev 19:21).

23  This block book is called Dutch Apocalypse, but it is not entirely certain that it was made
in the Netherlands. Today, complete editions are extremely rare. A facsimile was pub-
lished in 1961 (H. Theodor Musper, Die Urausgaben der holländischen Apokalyps und Biblia
Pauperum, München 1961).
262 de kruijf

Figure 15.9 Anonymous, Blowing the fifth trumpet, c. 1400, Facsimile Edition Flemish
© M. Moleiro Editor (
a glimpse of the beast 263

Figure 15.10 Anonymous, Rider ‘Faithful and true’ conquers evil, c. 1400, Facsimile Edition
Flemish Apocalypse.
© M. Moleiro Editor (
264 de kruijf

Figure 15.11 Anonymous, Rider ‘Faithful and true’ conquers evil, c. 1465, London, British
Museum, f.40r.

Evil Cleared Away

Just before John witnesses the new heaven and earth taking shape, God shows
him two more events. These are also often depicted as Leviathan’s mouth.
First we read how the sea released its dead. Then, Death and Hell (again, ἁδης)
turned in their dead (Rev 20:13). In the Flemish Apocalypse book, Leviathan
opens its mouth to allow people to emerge from it (Fig. 15.12). One verse
later, the score is settled: Death and Hell were hurled into the Lake of Fire
(Rev 20:14). The woodcut from the block book is an overcrowded illustration
(Fig. 15.13). In a lake of fire, we see all kinds of people and monsters who are
doomed eternally. Surprisingly, we see two mouths. Above we already saw that
artists used the mouth of Leviathan for the underworld and the Lake of Fire.
Perhaps this is why the artist chose to depict two mouths instead of one.
In conclusion, the Bible has many words for the final destination of sinful
souls: the underworld, the Abyss, and the Lake of Fire. Apparently, language is
more diverse than the visual arts. Artists use the mouth of Leviathan to depict
the Abyss, the underworld, and the place where evil hides. Furthermore, the
a glimpse of the beast 265

Figure 15.12 Anonymous, Dead rise, c. 1400, Facsimile Edition Flemish Apocalypse.
© M. Moleiro Editor (
266 de kruijf

Figure 15.13 Anonymous, Death and Hell hurled into Lake Fire, c. 1465, London, British
Museum, f.44r.

mouth of Leviathan is used for passages of the Bible that do not explicitly or
even implicitly mention the underworld. This is the case, for instance, with the
parable of the five wise virgins and the five foolish virgins (Matt 25:1–13).
The narrative is depicted on one of the wings of the breath-taking Theodosia
altarpiece (Fig. 15.14).
At the top, God the Father sits on a golden throne. Stairs ascend each side of
the throne. The five wise virgins climb the stairs on God’s right (!) hand. Angels
keep their lamps lit. On the right side (on God’s left hand), we see the five fool-
ish virgins. Each of them is accompanied by a small devil. At the bottom we see
a horrifying mouth. Black smoke rises from between its teeth and its mouth is a
lake of fire. A monster-like devil is pulling the closest foolish virgin toward the
mouth. This is surprising because Jesus does not mention the underworld in
this parable. Subsequently, however, he recounts the parable of the talents
(Matt 25:14–30). In the last verse, we read that the worthless servant would
be thrown into “the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and
gnashing of teeth” (ἐξώτερος σκότος). The parable of the talents is depicted far
a glimpse of the beast 267

Figure 15.14 Anonymous, Detail of the Theodosia-altarpiece, 1545, Utrecht, Museum

Photo: Ruben de Heer.
268 de kruijf

less often than the parable of the ten virgins. Artists seem to have linked the
mention of the “darkness” of the parable of the talents with the parable of
the virgins. Or they depicted Leviathan with the parable of the virgins because
they thought it was also about a soul’s final destination.

3 The Underworld as Propaganda

In the section entitled ‘Biblical mouths,’ we have already seen that artists use
the mouth of Leviathan to depict a broad range of places and ideas. The idea
that the mouth of Leviathan represented a place of depravation emerged as
early as the Middle Ages. Of course, this idea profited the makers of propagan-
distic images.

Leviathan as Satire
The decades around 1600 were a time of religious turmoil. The church had to
endure much criticism, which it tried to use to reform from within. It did not
succeed, as evidenced by the iconoclastic campaigns and eventually by the
Reformation. Catholics were forced to practice their faith in secret. Protestants
used prints, which were easy to reproduce and disseminate on a large scale,
to ridicule the ‘ancient faith.’24 The workshop of the world-famous engraver
Lucas Cranach (1515 in Wittenberg(!)–1586) and his sons propagated Luther’s
theology with numerous prints.25 One of their prints from the mid-sixteenth
century shows Martin Luther standing in an elevated pulpit (Fig. 15.15). The
pulpit is decorated with reliefs of the four evangelists, as if Cranach wanted
to underscore the slogan Sola Scriptura. Luther points to the left where Christ
hangs on the cross. Below him on the altar we see the Holy Lamb, holding a
victory banner. Around the altar worshippers commemorate Christ’s suffering
and death with a Eucharist celebration. On the right side of the image a cha-
otic group of Catholic ecclesiasts is trapped between the jaws of Leviathan’s
mouth. Recognizable by his headgear, the pope leads the way.26 Behind him

24  Obviously, the terms ‘Catholic’ and ‘Protestant’ are anachronistic and not very accurate in
this context. For clarity’s sake, I use them nonetheless. On political cartoons during the
Reformation, see Cécile Dupeux (Hrsg.), Bildersturm. Wahnsinn oder Gottes Wille?, Bern
2000, and Werner Hofmann (Hrsg.), Luther und die Folgen für die Kunst, München 1983.
25  Bernard McGinn, Antichrist. Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil, San
Francisco, CA 1994, 200–208, and Carey 1999, Apocalypse, 106–114.
26  Could we even recognize the features of Julius III, who was pope at the time? If so,
Cranach’s print would relate to then current events in a surprisingly direct manner.
a glimpse of the beast 269

Figure 15.15 Lucas Cranach, Luther preaching and pope hurled into the mouth of hell, c. 1550,
Dresden, Kupferstich-Kabinett.
Photo: Herbert Boswank.

are a bishop (miter), some cardinals (flat hat), and monks (tonsure). Dragon-
like monsters attack them instantaneously.
Another revealing example of this satirical use of the Leviathan’s mouth is
found in the so-called Jenna Codex. The book is also known as the Hussite Bible.
Its contents are strongly inspired by the ideas of Jan Hus (ca. 1370–1415). He was
an early campaigner against wrongs in the Catholic Church. Hus questioned
the pope’s role. This is visualized in the Jenna Codex (Fig. 15.16). An armoured
figure—could it be Christ?—throws the intimately entwined pope and devil
into the lake of fire of Leviathan’s mouth. In satirical images, Leviathan lends
itself well for depicting evil. In most of them, reformers are mocking the pope.27

27  Cf. Rosemary Muir Wright, Art and Antichrist in Medieval Europe, Manchester 1995,
270 de kruijf

Figure 15.16 Anonymous, Pope and Leviathan, Jena Codex, c. 1500, Prague, Knihovna
Narodniho Muzea, f.80r.
a glimpse of the beast 271

The Underworld as Morality

Devotion of the late Middle Ages emphasized the importance of being on good
terms with God. Because of the nature of personal faith and strong faith in the
transience of life, images of vices and virtues became incredibly popular.

Vices from the Abyss

Leviathan’s mouth occupies the right half a print by Cornelis Anthonisz.
(ca. 1499–ca. 1555, Fig. 15.17).28 A procession emerges from its fanged snout.
At the front walks Sathan, who carries a banner and skull. Behind him are so-
called personifications: men and women who visualize abstract concepts. The
labels inform us they are vices, including sloth (traecheyt), anger (gramscap),
pride (hoverdicheyt) and gluttony (gulsicheyt). Depicted in this manner, the
relation between these vices and the Lake of Fire is quite clear. This type of
image was meant as a warning. Christians should not be taken in by Satan.

Figure 15.17 Cornelis Anthonisz., Battle between good and evil, c. 1530, Amsterdam,

28  Wouter Nijhoff, Nederlandsche houtsneden, 1500–1550, ’s Gravenhage, 1933–1939, 85.

272 de kruijf

Thanks to the reproductive technique of woodcutting, this moralizing message

could reach a large audience.
Private patrons occasionally commissioned moralizing images as well. This
is exemplified by a beautiful miniature in Catherine of Cleves’ (1417–1476)
book of hours (Fig. 15.18).29 About halfway through the book, we encounter
a full-page miniature depicting the gates of hell. It consists of three mouths.
The smallest is red. Around it is a larger brown mouth. Small devils unfold its
lips. The largest mouth is black and appears to enclose a castle. Inside the red
mouth, souls are being boiled in pots, which are also poised on the castle’s tow-
ers. On the left, a devil approaches with a new barrow load of condemned men
and women. This scene was meant to encourage Catherine of Cleves to stay
away from sin. The painter mentioned which sins specifically. The lower mar-
gin contains a fourth mouth (Fig. 15.19). From this mouth, seven banderoles
name the seven sins: superbia, avaritia, ira, gula, acedia, luxuria, and invidia, or
pride, greed, anger, gluttony, sloth, lust, and envy. Again, the message is clear:
he who does not allow himself to be seduced by sin avoids the horrors depicted

Weighed and Found Wanting

The publication Veridicus christianus of 1601 contains many fascinating alle-
gorical prints. Its large number of mouths reveals the moralizing function
of this book. The print shows a personification of the world (Fig. 15.20). We
recognize her by the mask and the globe on her head. She personifies all
worldly things. In front of her are scales, which are held by a devil. On the
left side of the balance lie a scourge, a rosary, a Bible, and a crucifix. The right
scale contains a crown, a scepter, and a money pouch. The devout objects are
weighed and found wanting, while wealth and power are given much weight
on earth. In eternity, it is the other way around. A reward awaits God-fearing
people, but a person who attached importance to earthly matters ends up in
the mouth.

29  Rob Dückers, R. Priem (eds.), The Hours of Catherine of Cleves. Devotion, Demons and Daily
Life in the Fifteenth Century, Antwerpen 2009, 107. Books of hours supported lay-
men in their private devotion. The compilation of the book was taken from the breviary.
Clergymen prayed from them at specific hours of the day. With close to one hundred min-
iatures, Catherine of Cleves’ book of hours is one of the richest of the fifteenth century.
You can browse the entire manuscript online at
works/cleves/manuscript.asp (accessed April 13, 2015).
a glimpse of the beast 273

Figure 15.18 Master van Catherine of Cleves, The mouth of Hell, c. 1440, New York, The
Pierpont Morgan Library, Ms M.917/945, f.168v. Purchased on the Belle da Costa
Green Fund and with assistance of the Fellows, 1963.
274 de kruijf

Figure 15.19 Detail margin of the miniature from the book of hours of Catherine of Cleves.

Figure 15.20 Theodoor Galle, Personification of the world with scales, c. 1600,
in Veridicus Christianus by Joannes David.
a glimpse of the beast 275

A Mouth Next to the Altar

Pope Gregory I (ca. 540–604) prayed for a miracle. He wanted God to prove
the legitimacy of transubstantiation. His prayer was answered: Christ himself
appeared on the altar during mass. Depictions of this so-called Mass of Saint
Gregory were immensely popular at the end of the Middle Ages (Fig. 15.21). In
this image, Gregory kneels before the altar. He is accompanied by three west-
ern Church Fathers: Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome. Chronologically and
geographically, their encounter is impossible. Their presence serves another
purpose: Gregory’s colleagues confirm his authority as the fourth important
Church Father. The patron of this work of art is kneeling in the lower left corner.
The miracle must have occurred moments ago, because Christ is still stand-
ing on the altar. Scenes of the Mass of Saint Gregory are usually also filled with
attributes of the Passion.30 Try to find, for instance, the rooster that crowed
three times, Peter’s sword with the soldier’s severed ear, or the thirty silver
coins Judas received in exchange for his betrayal. Two streams of blood trickle
from the wound in Christ’s side. One ends in a chalice, as if Christ himself dem-
onstrates the legitimacy of the Eucharist. The second stream flows toward the
side of the altar, where we also find Leviathan’s mouth (Fig. 15.22). One soul,
with the same physical features as the kneeling patron, is holding up his hands
and looking to Christ. The scene is a remarkable piece of evidence of late medi-
eval belief in purgatory.31 Every soul spent some time there to be purged of
earthly sins. Leaving purgatory, the cleansed soul would enter heaven. A stay
in purgatory could be shortened by the prayers of surviving relatives.32 In this
sense the Mass of Gregory is a commemorative piece. It was meant to remind
relatives to pray for their deceased family member. The work was also meant as
a warning. Surviving relatives had to prepare their own salvation.

30  For more information on this work of art, see Göttler, Last Things, 58–64; B.S. Hellemans
et al., Christendom in Nederland: topstukken uit Museum Catharijneconvent, Zwolle 2006,
43, and H.L.M. Defoer et al., Goddelijk geschilderd: honderd meesterwerken van Museum
Catharijneconvent, Utrecht 2003, 18, 69–72. The Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte
in Lübeck has a comparable painting by the same hand.
31  For more information on belief in purgatory, see Philippe Ariès, Het uur van onze dood.
Duizend jaar sterven, begraven, rouwen en gedenken, Amsterdam–Antwerpen 2003, 162–
165, 481–486. For more information on the belief that the living could speed up a soul’s
transfer from purgatory to heaven, see Van Bueren (red.), Leven na de dood, 24–27, 59–62.
32  See Christine Göttler, “ ‘Jede Messe erlöst eine Seele aus dem Fegefeuer.’ Der privilegi-
erte Altar und die Anfänge des barocken Fegefeuerbildes in Bologna,” in Jezler (Hrsg.),
Himmel, Hölle, Fegefeuer, 149–164. A woodcut in this publication (catalogue number 94)
shows a soul being released from purgatory by the prayer of his relatives.
276 de kruijf

Figure 15.21 Master of the Source of Life, Mass of Saint Gregory, c. 1510, Utrecht, Museum

Leviathan in the Dumps

My final example of a ‘moralizing mouth’ is a print by Boëtius à Bolswert (1580–
1633) (Fig. 15.23).33 Its symbolism is obscure. Barlaam, a pious ascetic, educates
Josaphat, a king’s son. The ascetic tells the young man about the meaning of

33  Anique C. de Kruijf, Evelyne M.F. Verheggen, “Boëtius en Schelte à Bolswert: graveurs met
Jezus als metgezel,” in: Tjebbe T. de Jong (red.), Van Bolswert naar Antwerpen. Gouden
Eeuwgravures naar Bloemaert, Rubens en Van Dyck, Bolsward 2013, 142–143.
a glimpse of the beast 277

Figure 15.22 Detail of the Mass of Saint Gregory.

278 de kruijf

Figure 15.23 Boëtius à Bolswert, Parable of Barlaam and Josaphat, c. 1615, Amsterdam,
a glimpse of the beast 279

life. He uses a parable to strengthen his explanation. A man is fleeing from a

unicorn. Trying to escape, the man falls into in a well. At the last moment, he
grabs hold of a branch growing from the well’s wall. This is especially fortu-
nate because a horrible monster lives at the bottom of the well. But the man
is not yet safe. A white and a black mouse are gnawing the branch, while four
snakes approach the poor man. Suddenly, he notices honey running from the
branch. He reaches for it and eats the honey. The engraver labelled certain
objects, illuminating their symbolic meaning. The snorting unicorn is death
(doot), which haunts everyone. The well is the world (werelt) and all its temp-
tations. The branch in the well represents human life (’s menschen leven). The
snakes are what moves man. They are the four elements: air (locht), fire (vuijr),
water (water), and earth (aerde). Time threatens human life, as illustrated by
the black mouse representing night (nacht) and the white mouse representing
day (dach). Many people do not concern themselves with this threat, because
they are distracted by the sweet temptations of life, which are represented by
the honey (hoonich). Ineluctably the underworld awaits them. At the bottom
of the well is the monster that symbolizes this place. And so after an entire
essay on mouths, we finally catch a glimpse of the beast.

Incarnations of Death: Leviathan in the Movies

Reinier Sonneveld

Leviathan is such a strong symbol that it shows up repeatedly throughout his-

tory, from ancient times to contemporary literature, movies and games. As a
theologian and filmmaker I will present some examples of films, beginning
with the literal and explicit, moving to the abstract and obscure, analyse them
and conclude with a suggestion how the Leviathan–motif in movies (perhaps
surprisingly) can be connected to the Christus Victor model of atonement.
We experience modern-day visualizations of Leviathan more intuitively
and directly than formerly, because these are constructed in our own visual
language. In ancient times people experienced their representations just
as intuitively and directly as we do now with our contemporary ones, so
this tour is also an interesting way to understand them better, as well as the
biblical texts.1

1 Leviathan

There are hundreds of computer-games with some sort of Leviathan in it,

that is, a monster from the sea, which the player of course has to destroy or to
escape from. It appears in the popular Disgaca, Halo, Final Fantasy and Mass
Effect series and in many individual games. In film I found just one example
of such a sea monster actually called Leviathan: in the horror-movie Leviathan
(1989, directed by George Pan Cosmatos).2

1  Some important books on this topic: R.K. Johnston (ed.), Reframing Theology and Film: New
Focus for an Emerging Discipline, Grand Rapids, MI 2007; C. Marsh (ed.), Explorations in
Theology and Film: An Introduction, Hoboke, NJ 1997; R.K. Johnston, Real Spirituality: Theology
and Film in Dialogue, Grand Rapids, MI 2006; E.S. Christianson (ed.), Cinéma Divinité: Religion,
Theology And The Bible In Film, London 2005; C. Deacy, G. Williams Ortiz, Theology and Film:
Challenging the Sacred/Secular Divide, Hoboken, NJ 2008; W.D. Romanowski, Eyes Wide Open:
Looking for God in Popular Culture, Grand Rapids, MI 2007.
2  Cf. C.M. Barsotti, R.K. Johnston, Finding God in the Movies: 33 Films of Reel Faith, Grand
Rapids, MI 2004.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi ��.��63/9789004337961_017

incarnations of death: leviathan in the movies 281

The pervasive presence of explicit Leviathan-monsters in games and their

notable absence in movies tells us something about the nature of these media.
Games are interactive; not much happens anymore when the player quits
pushing the buttons. To motivate the player and in a way to stay alive, games
must present new stimuli all the time. So game-developers are constantly look-
ing for new and surprising challenges for their players. Hence all the different
monsters, hence all the Leviathans. Movies can take more time and ‘live’ on
one monster per product.
In 1989 suddenly underwater-movies were a fad. It was ‘in the air,’ so to
speak. Major releases that year were The Abyss, Deep Star Six, The Evil Below,
Lords of the Deep, and The Rift. The storyline in every case was: a group of peo-
ple in some ship disturbs an evil, unknown creature from the depths of the sea.
It attacks them, they are killed one by one—a movie must take two hours to
watch—but the hero finally escapes and destroys the creature. That’s the plot
of Leviathan. The monster looks a lot like the so-called Kraken from Clash of
the Titans as shown in the next paragraph, so here consider just one detail of it,
which holds the one interesting twist of this movie (Fig. 16.1):

Figure 16.1 The monster in Leviathan.

The Leviathan not only kills the crew members, but it merges with them! When
the terrified survivors are confronted by it, they see the faces of their loved
ones molded in the skin of this hideous creature. A similar phenomenon can
be observed in some contemporary artistic impressions of hell, and not with-
out reason, as we will see below. The one survivor Beck succeeds in killing the
Leviathan by putting a demolition charge in its mouth causing it to explode.
End of story, run the credits, let’s go home.
282 sonneveld

2 Clash of the Titans

The improvement of computer animation in the 1990s caused a renaissance of

fantasy films which is still continuing, with many new stories formerly consid-
ered ‘unfilmable,’ and many remakes that suddenly look ‘real.’ One successful
example is Clash of the Titans (2010, Louis Letterier), a remake of a film from
1981 with the same name. As the title suggests, it is loosely based on Greek
mythology. Very loosely, because the main villain is called Kraken, which inci-
dently comes from Norwegian mythology: a super-octopus threatening poor
sailors who wander too close and swallowing their entire ships. The Norwegian
Kraken is more or less comparable to the Leviathan of the Ancient Near East,3
and could be partially based on it: both are monsters from the darkness of the
sea, unbeatable by humans, born in ancient times and almost other-worldly.
Here is a screenshot of the movie (Fig. 16.2):

Figure 16.2 Clash of the Titans.

The Greek god of death Hades—to be discussed below—released this monster

against the city of Argos as a punishment. In the screenshot the king of Argos
is fighting the Kraken with some winged horses, desperately and unsuccess-
fully. But then the main hero enters: Perseus, a figure from Greek mythology,
who famously won the battle with Medusa, an angry girl whose hair consisted
of poisonous snakes, turning everyone to stone who dared to look her in the
eyes. Perseus used his reflective shield to see her with his back turned, and he

3  See the contribution of Johannes de Moor and Marjo Korpel to this volume.
incarnations of death: leviathan in the movies 283

beheads this femme fatale. With her dangerous head in a bag he returns to the
city of Argos, which the Kraken is still busy destroying, and when the monster
is close enough, our hero pulls the head of Medusa out of the bag and the crea-
ture turns to stone (Fig. 16.3):

Figure 16.3 The Kraken turns to stone.

The scene reminds us of many scenes in Indo-European mythology, with

heroes destroying snake-like sea monsters, but only if they are brave enough
to come very close and then win the battle by some trick. In Germanic mythol-
ogy we find Thor versus Jörmungandr, Sigurd versus Fafnir, Beowulf versus the
dragon. The Greeks told stories about Zeus versus Typhon, Kronos versus
Ophion, Apollo versus Python, Heracles versus the Hydra and Ladon, Perseus
versus Ceto, and Bellerophon versus the Chimera, and there are many more
examples from Indian, Mesopotamian, Persian and Slavic mythology.4 The
motif is also attested in dragon figures in Chinese restaurants, Indonesian
plays, and African statues—the theme is not limited to the rich Indo-European
mythology. It is of course also at the root of all the dragons in modern fantasy
literature and movies. The heroic destroying of these monsters is apparently a
scene that resonates deeply in the hearts of human beings and says a lot about
who we are—otherwise we would not repeat it everywhere over and over.

4  Cf. R.A. Varghese, The Christ Connection: How the World Religions Prepared the Way for the
Phenomenon of Jesus, Brewster, MA 2011.
284 sonneveld

3 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

After describing a very ‘literal’ Leviathan and many monstrous sea snakes with
other names but comparable looks and narrative functions, it is now time to
turn to a bit more ‘abstract’ Leviathan. Here we still encounter a snake-like sea
monster, but one used in a new contemporary mythology, that of J.K. Rowling
in her famous Harry Potter series, the best selling book series ever. In part 2,
The Chamber of Secrets (in 2002 as a film, adapted by Chris Colombus), some
sort of Leviathan appears, almost inevitably, given the many Leviathans in
world-mythology and the way Rowling recycles these stories. Here the figure
is called a Basilisk, derived from βασιλίσκος, “little king,” a legendary reptile
reputed to be king of the serpents, possessing the power to cause death with
a single glance (which of course recalls Medusa), and in art history depicted
mostly as a dragon.5
You would expect the killing of this Leviathan in the climactic scene and
indeed, there it is, in the final sequence of the book and the movie, hidden in the
secret chamber that the title already promised, bound to attack the young hero
Harry. A Phoenix bird has already plucked out the eyes of the Basilisk, but Harry
has to finish the job. He now can face the Basilisk without being killed imme-
diately just by its look, and like the heroes in the movies discussed earlier, he is
brave enough to come very, very close, and he kills it by stabbing a sword in its
palate, thereby piercing its brain (Fig. 16.4, echoing for example the Medieval leg-
end of Saint George who kills the dragon by thrusting his spear into its mouth):

Figure 16.4 Harry Potter killing the Basilisk.

5  Cf. R. Abanes, Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace Behind the Magick, London 2001.
incarnations of death: leviathan in the movies 285

Like Perseus in Clash of the Titans and Beck in Leviathan, Harry has to over-
come all his fears. In all three movies we have discussed there also is a girl very
near the fight, in deadly peril, almost being eaten alive by the beast, but the
hero is always just in time. Dramatically she functions as a personal represen-
tation of the otherwise abstract community the (almost exclusively male, even
late 20th century) hero is saving. Interestingly in these three stories, just like in
all the other mythological versions, the Leviathan has a weak spot. You cannot
conquer it by staying at a distance, you can find this weakness only by coming
perilously close, face to face, in direct contact with the monster, and destroy-
ing it from the inside. Killing Leviathan is always an ‘inside job’—the look of
Medusa coming ‘in’ the eyes of Kraken, or even the hero literally diving into the
intestines of the beast, as we will see later on.

4 Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

While making Leviathan a bit more abstract in every section of this essay, each
time we are learning something about its character, narrative functions, and
meaning. We now take the step from biological to technological monsters. This
is not a big step, given the many machines named Leviathan in literature, mov-
ies and games (movies like Atlantis: The Lost Empire, the Farscape series, the
Elementary series).
A good example, not actually called Leviathan, is the famous Death Star in
the first Star Wars movie (1977 by George Lucas, later released as Star Wars
Episode IV: A New Hope because in the all-embracing story line, it is part 4). The
Death Star is a gigantic and perfectly round spaceship able to destroy a whole
planet in one shot. So, just like the older versions of Leviathan, it is the most
dangerous monster the hero is acquainted with, it appears suddenly out of the
darkness of the ‘sea,’ and catches ships, in this case spaceships. But of course
there is a hero, Luke Skywalker, who finds the weak spot, which naturally is in
the very heart of the beast; so obviously the hero must get very clost to it. Luke
takes a spaceship and flies onto the surface of the enormous Death Star. Here
you see him being followed by a hostile defensive spaceship, in plain sight and
under attack (Fig. 16.5):
286 sonneveld

Figure 16.5 Luke Skywalker attacking the Death Star.

He escapes narrowly and manages to shoot explosives into some opening,

which reaches to the inner power reactor and the entire Death Star explodes.
As in many Leviathan-versions, there is here a spiritual touch to it: Luke uses
the Force, a non-personal deity-like power in the Star Wars series, with spir-
itual guidance from a guru-like creature Obi-Wan. So again we see the hero
going inside the Beast to destroy it. The same happens to Frodo in The Lord of
the Rings, with everyone walking to Mount Doom, in the very midst of the evil
empire Mordor, and only there can he eliminate this most troublesome ring.
Or the European fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood, who is swallowed by the
Big Bad Wolf just after her grandmother. Or . . .
The most explicit version of this ‘inside job’ I saw in the rather obscure
Sharknado (2013, Anthony C. Ferrante). The plot is utterly absurd: a freak
tornado hits Los Angeles, causing man-eating sharks to be scooped up in
water spouts and flooding the city with shark-infested seawater . . . Hence
‘shark-nado.’ A very concrete Leviathan-story for sure. One scene is bound to
become a cult classic. The hero spots the shark that swallowed his loved one
(the girl in deadly peril), he starts his chain saw, the shark comes flying down
with its mouth wide open, and without blinking an eye the hero jumps into it
(Fig. 16.6):
incarnations of death: leviathan in the movies 287

Figure 16.6 Sharknado.

Some friends arrive and mourn his death, but then hear the chain saw snarl—
he saws his way out of the shark (blood spatters on the screen) and behind
him follows his girl, still alive. One wonders how she survived the chain saw
and the shark did not, but the point is that we again learn something about
the Leviathan-theme: the hero may not only destroy the beast from inside-out,
but he may also rescue his loved ones from its belly. So the community the
hero is saving, like he does in most of the movies, may be in the hands of
the Leviathan not only figuratively, but also very literally (just like the ‘merged’
poor souls in the Leviathan movie, who accidently and very unusually are not
saved) and is also freed from its grip very literally.
To return to the more technological Leviathan, and one far less obscure,
this is exactly what happens in The War of the Worlds, the famous 1898 novel
by H.G. Wells, one of the first science-fiction stories ever. Numerous unstop-
pable alien robots (called Tripods, because they walk on three legs) destroy all
civilization. It was adapted to film three times, the last time in 2005 by Steven
Spielberg. In the climactic scene, one such Tripod swallows the daughter of the
hero (the by now famous girl in peril) and our hero of course does not hesitate
for one second and jumps after her into the Tripod, but with a rope on him, so
his friends can pull him back; he leaves a hand grenade inside of it, causing a
massive internal explosion, thus destroying the Tripod and at the same time
freeing the captives inside of it, again miraculously spared from the attack.
288 sonneveld

5 Shawshank Redemption

Let me again unfold the Leviathan-theme one step further and turn from the
literal monsters to the figurative ones. In movies, games and literature these
Leviathans can be just as deadly, other-worldly and unbeatable. But they also
have this weak spot, deep in their core, that can be reached by overcoming the
part that the hero fears the most, thus freeing the other ‘inmates.’
Once the viewer takes notice of this, variants of this motif can be found every-
where, but a particularly interesting one appears in Shawshank Redemption
(1994 by Frank Darabont, after a short story of Stephen King, a writer known
for his mythological references). This movie is considered by many critics to be
the best one ever made and it is ranked number 1 in many ‘best movie’ lists of
the more serious movie magazines.6 The ‘Leviathan’ in this case is the prison in
which most of the story occurs, Shawshank State Penitentiary. Our hero, Andy
Dufresne, is serving a life sentence there, completely undeserved, as we learn
later. But he is smart and gains the trust of the corrupt director, is able to set up
a library and to advise the director about his crooked finances.
Then one day Andy locks himself in the director’s office, the most ‘holy’
place of the entire prison and accordingly the most vulnerable ‘belly’ of the
Beast. He plays a part of Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro over the public
loudspeaker system, so everyone can hear it. As one inmate comments: “I have
no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. I’d like to
think they were singing about something so beautiful it can’t be expressed in
words, and it makes your heart ache because of it.”

Figure 16.7 Shawshank Redemption.

6  Shawshank Redemption is for example number one in the user-generated list of the most
popular movie-website Cf. C. Detweiler, Into the Dark: Seeing the Sacred in
the Top Films of the 21st Century, Grand Rapids, MI 2008.
incarnations of death: leviathan in the movies 289

At this moment Andy frees his fellow inmates. For a few minutes he shows
them a world outside the prison. Of course, the redemption is not for real,
and Andy is caught and receives solitary confinement for an extremely long
time. Many years later, however, he manages to regain the trust of the director
and is allowed again to work in the innermost parts of the Leviathan. There he
quietly gathers all the evidence of the director’s corruption. So when he finally
escapes, the director is caught by the police and the prison is shut down.
A complete Leviathan-theme, with all the classic elements, even with “drag-
ging the other inmates along outside.” A true hero is an altruistic one and suf-
fers for the good of the community, also saving himself (but not necessarily),
in a manner filled with surprise. So again, it is clear how to beat Leviathan:
with his own weapons. The Kraken is killed by another creature from Hades,
Medusa. The Basilisk is killed because he could not stop being bloodthirsty
even though his eyes were plucked out. The Death Star is killed through the
main reactor, the energy supply for its weapon. The Sharknado is killed through
its deadly mouth.
The Shawshank State Penitentiary is first ‘killed’ by the public loudspeaker
system, aimed at controlling the inmates, and then definitely killed by the
greed of its director—the reason why the whole system was that cruel. In a
way all these creatures of death are dying by their own hand.
A particularly interesting variant of this abstract Leviathan appears in
the Russian movie Leviathan (2014 by Andrey Zvyagintsev). Zvyagintsev is a
Christian filmmaker and is using the Leviathan-motif very self-consciously. His
story is about a modern Job-figure, Nikolay, who is losing his house, wife, health
and son to a corrupt mayor. In this case there is no happy ending—or is it? The
movie concludes with a sermon—just like the book of Job—but now by a cor-
rupt priest. The truth will set you free, he’s telling his audience, including the
main villain, the corrupt mayor, who in the last seconds whispers to his little son:
‘God sees everything’ . . . Religion is used as a weapon in this movie, but in a ironic
way the Leviathan-figure himself is invaded by this religion and ‘dies’ from it.

6 The Shadow with a Thousand Faces

The previous paragraphs used (in a creative way) the mythological model of
Joseph Campbell and his student Christopher Vogler to interpret movies. In
the middle of the twentieth century Campbell wrote his immensely influ-
ential analysis, entitled The Hero with a Thousand Faces.7 In line with the
anthropological study of religion from the late nineteenth century CE, with

7  J. Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, London 1949. Cf. J. Campbell, The Flight of
the Wild Gander, London 1951; M. Toms, An Open Life: Joseph Campbell in conversation with
290 sonneveld

notably the groundbreaking The Golden Bough by James Frazer, his main
hypothesis is that all the myths of the world follow the same basic pattern, the
so called ‘mono-myth,’ which he subdivided into seventeen steps.8 Every story
is about a journey of a hero who leaves home for an adventure, getting deeper
and deeper into trouble to the point of facing death, but finally escaping and
finding a new life for himself and his home. Shorter stories may skip some of
the steps, but the main pattern would always be recognizable.
It is not necessary to agree in every detail with Campbell—and indeed he
was heavily criticized for being too simplistic and even imperialistic—to see
many similarities between the world myths, as was shown in the previous
paragraphs. One stage in the mono-myth of particular interest for the interpre-
tation of the Leviathan-theme in movies is the Belly of the Whale, as Campbell
called it poetically. The hero on his long journey always has to descend into this
aggregate of all his fears, but suddenly manages to escape and to be reborn.
Campbell suggests that it is not only a theme, like human skin colour or cloth-
ing, but a necessary part of any story, like the lungs or a heart in a human body.
His student Christopher Vogler simplified this model into twelve steps and
applied it to the movie-industry.9 He once wrote an eight-page memo about
it for Disney Studios, a memo that in subsequent years was secretly passed
around among many Hollywood directors, with George Lucas of the Star Wars
series as his first public follower. When Vogler finally published his theory as
a book, The Writer’s Journey quickly became the most widely used guide for
screenwriters. It is especially interesting because Vogler analysed more than
10,000 screenplays, thereby testing his model thoroughly. He also found the
‘Belly of the Whale’ phase and called it ‘The Ordeal,’ preceded by a phase
he called ‘Approach to the Inmost Cave.’10 Beck, Perseus, Harry Potter, Luke
Skywalker, Frodo, Andy Dufresne—they all went there, as did all the heroes in
all the stories. This climactic scene appears near the end, most of the time at
night or in a dark place below the earth, where the hero meets the main villain,
is consumed by all his fears, but then surprisingly and unexpectedly wins.
The Leviathan is then one form of this ubiquitous dark villain. There is a
hero with a thousand faces, but also a shadow with a thousand faces, and the

Michael Toms, Grand Rapids, MI 1990. Cf. S. MacKey-Kallis, The Hero and the Perennial
Journey Home in American Film, Pennsylvania, PA 2001; L. Northup, “Myth-Placed
Priorities: Religion and the Study of Myth,” Religious Studies Review 32 (2006), 5–10.
8  James Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, London 1922, based on his
famous study The Golden Bough that appeared in twelve volumes between 1890 and 1915.
9  C. Vogler, The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers: 2nd Edition, Los Angeles, CA 1998.
10  One other researcher calls it “Descend into the underworld”: D.A. Leeming, Mythology:
The Voyage of the Hero, New York, NY 1981.
incarnations of death: leviathan in the movies 291

Leviathan is one of them. The power of this specific expression—and that is

why it is used so often in world literature—lies in the fact that it very pre-
cisely visualizes and dramatizes some necessary narrative functions. What is
this function? Why are stories so obsessed with these shadow-creatures like
Leviathan? Vogler, like his teacher, is very clear about this:

At the heart of every story is a confrontation with death. If the Hero

doesn’t face actual death, then there is the threat of death or symbolic
death in the form of a high-stake game, love affair, or adventure in which
the Hero may succeed (live) or fail (die).
Heroes show us how to deal with death. They may survive it, proving
that death is not so tough. They may die (perhaps only symbolically)
and be reborn, proving that death can be transcended. They may die a
Hero’s death by offering up their lives willingly for a cause, an ideal or a
group. (. . .)
The most effective Heroes are those who experience sacrifice. They
may give up a loved one or friend along the way. They may give up some
cherished vice or eccentricity as the price of entering into a new way of
life. (. . .) Great Heroes (. . .) gave their lives in pursuit of their ideals.11

If researchers like Vogler are on the right track, Leviathan and all his fellow vil-
lains are manifestations of the power of Death. They are ‘incarnations’ of this
Death. We see them every evening on the screen, we read about them in every
book: these servants of Death, bound to swallow the Hero. Which of course
raises the question: Does the story of Christ also fit in this scheme and could
we then still call him unique?

7 When Christ was Swallowed by the Leviathan

The Christian tradition has always felt free to compare ancient stories to the
one about Jesus. A famous example is attested in a so-called Biblia Pauperum
(‘Bible for the poor,’ an illustrated Bible): on the left Joseph, is put into the well
by his brothers; on the right, Jonah is thrown in the waters with some hungry
Leviathan-like creature in it; and in the middle, Jesus is laid down in his grave:12

11  Vogler, 38–39. Gerard Reve in Zelf schrijver worden, Leiden 1986, 12: “The deepest, essen-
tial, never absent theme of all art is Death.”
12  From Biblia pauperum, as found in The Hague, Museum Moormano Westentrianum,
fol. 33r. Dated ca. 1470.
292 sonneveld

Figure 16.8 Joseph, Christ, and Jonah in Biblia Pauperum, 15th Century.

Similar pictures can be found in many Biblia Pauperum, often with the varia-
tion that Joseph is being taken out of the well, Jonah is being spewed forth on
the beach by the sea monster, and Jesus is rising from the grave.
We can look for types of Christ in the Old Testament, but we can also
broaden the scope to all of world mythology. As we have seen, there are many
variants of the story of Jonah and Joseph to be found. All Leviathan-versions
could point in some way to Christ. Every ‘Belly of the Beast’ scene does in some
way recall Golgotha and Easter. Many were and are influenced by it and were
told in a Christian or a post-Christian culture, but many also came before the
incarnations of death: leviathan in the movies 293

story of Jesus was told in that context. These story-elements can be viewed as
some sort of ‘common grace’ (as Abraham Kuyper called it) or ‘inner light’ (as
John Calvin named it), given to all humans by the one Creator, which from
ancient times pointed to Christ.
In at least three elements the story of Christ remains unique: it involves the
most high God (no myth is about such a high god becoming human) descend-
ing to the very depth (no myth tells about the most high God actually dying)
in actual history (myths are always set in some very distant past, not in the
real contemporary world).13 That is why myths always visualize some ‘circle of
life:’ they start with chaos and end with chaos. The Christian story is the only
one that ends on an upbeat. Of course there are ‘happy endings’ everywhere,
but they are temporary victories: the all-embracing story always ends in chaos.
That’s why, for example, Joseph Campbell despises the happy ending:

The happy ending is justly scorned as a misrepresentation; for the world,

as we know it, as we have seen it, yields but one ending: death, disintegra-
tion, dismemberment, and the crucifixion of our heart with the passing
of the forms that we have loved.14

The Christian story is the only one that claims that the happy ending is more
than some sort of Aristotelian katharsis to temporarily comfort the audience;
it is part of the real all-embracing story, because the most powerful player, God,
actually ‘merged’ with mankind and even human death, and thereby elevated
all of history to his eternal self. J.R.R. Tolkien, in his famous essay On Fairy-
Stories, called this eucatastrophe, his neologism for a “good catastrophe,” a
happy turn in the story, the opposite of the dyscatastrophe, the traditional bad
turn in classical tragedies.15 As C.S. Lewis wrote:

Now as myth transcends thought, Incarnation transcends myth. The heart

of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying
God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend
and imagination to the earth of history. It happens—at a particular date,
in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We
pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a
historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. (. . .) We

13  Cf. R. Sonneveld, “Het ultieme (anti)sprookje van de kerk,” Radix 30 (2004), 247–262;
“Een recensie van duizend films tegelijk: Mythes en superhelden,” in: Bart Cusveller (ed.),
Het betoverde land achter het filmdoek, Amsterdam 2009, 33–42.
14  Campbell, 63.
15  J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories, New York, NY 2008, 56.
294 sonneveld

must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology.

We must not be nervous about ‘parallels’ and ‘Pagan Christs’; they ought
to be there—it would be a stumbling block if they weren’t. We must not,
in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome.16

The most precise mythical interpretation of our remembrance of Christ, his

death and resurrection, is to be found in the Christus Victor atonement mod-
els of the Church Fathers.17 They, for instance, compare Christ to a kind of
bait, descending into Hades (there he is again, the Hero entering Death itself)
“in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison” (just like Dufresne in
the Shawshank State Penitentiary) and thereby ‘catching’ Death and bringing
with him all the waiting spirits to the light.18 A famous illustration is this one
from the Hortus deliciarum by Herrad von Landsberg, a twelfth-century nun.
You see God ‘fishing’ with a Jesse Tree (a line of Jesus’ forefathers) with Jesus as
the bait, thereby catching Leviathan:

Figure 16.9
Christ in Hades. Herrad
of Landsberg, ‘Leviathan’,
Hortus Deliciarum folio
84 r, ca. 1170, Strasbourg,
now destroyed.

16  C.S. Lewis, Essay Collection: Faith, Christianity and the Church, New York, NY 2000, 141–142.
17  Cf. J. Pelikan, The Christian Tradition. Vol. 1. The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition,
Chicago, IL 1971, 149–152.
18  Cf. 1 Pet 3:19–20.
incarnations of death: leviathan in the movies 295

The many examples of the Leviathan-theme were fresh expressions of this all-
embracing ancient story: when we see Beck exploding the Leviathan, Perseus
turning the Kraken to stone, Harry Potter piercing the Basilisk, Luke Skywalker
entering the Death Star, Durfresne playing the opera in prison, we may feel free
to think of Christ.
Index of Ancient Sources

Enūma eliš 1.83:3–13 15

I.134–144 10 1.114:19–20 68n39
II.19–30 10 1.117 67n35
III.23–34 10 1.133:1–11 67n35
III.81–92 10 1.178 14n
IV.93–V.66 86n39 2.10:12–13 18n36
IV.104 16n28
KTU 1–3 66, 109
1.2 11 1 119, 183
1.2:I.22–23 17n33 1:21 3, 24, 83, 120n9
1.2:I.40 16n29 3 4, 157, 168, 174, 189–190, 245
1.2:IV 86n39 3:15 XXII, 147–150, 171
1.2:IV.1 16 3:16 168
1.2:IV.4–30 22 5:29 189
1.2:IV.5 16 6–8 181
1.2:IV.7–27 56n7, 86n42 7:1, 14 26, 122
1.2:IV.27–31 16 9:16 181
1.2:IV.18–26 12, 16 17:23, 27 94
1.3:II.40 86n38 18:22, 27 104, 114
1.3:III.32–IV.4 17 19:27 104
1.3:III.38–46 11 36:1, 8, 19, 43 99n32
1.3:III.41–42 87n45 49:3 106
1.3:III.45 17n33
1.3:IV.25–28 56n7 Exodus
1.3:V.32–41 67n35 3:7 94
1.4.I.4–16 67n35 3:14 96
1.4:I.38–39 6 4:24 106
1.4:III.1–6 16 7:9–12 24
1.4.IV.43–55 67n35 12:12, 13, 23 26
1.4:V.6–9 56n7 14 73
1.4:VI.7–14 16 15:7–17 56n5
1.4:VII.25–31 56n7 19 73
1.5:I.1–5 11, 22, 87n45 19:5–6 98
1.5:I.14–22 17, 67n35 20:4 6
1.5:I.28–30 87n45 20:8 181
1.5:V.6–11 58n12 20:11 81n18
1.5:VI.6 68n40 22:20 99
1.6:II.30–37 18n35 23:5 181
1.6:V.7–VI.23 18 23:10 181
1.6:VI.51–53 17 23:12 181
1.14:I.14–15 17
1.14:I.18–19 68n40 Leviticus
1.19:I.39–46 18 17:10–16 182
1.82 11, 14n 19:33–34 99
1.82:3 68n40 24:11 16n29
1.83 11n17 25:6 181
298 Index Of Ancient Sources

Numbers 18:4 21
11:16 111 18:32 95
12:7–13 103
21 73 1 Chronicles
27:1–11 93, 97 21 249
33:9 111
2 Chronicles
Deuteronomy 18:21 95
5:13–14 181 20:35–37 81n13
15:12–18 99
15:16 94 Nehemiah
15:17 100 9:6 81n18
21:17 106
22:10 181 Job
32:24 68n40 1 89, 94, 95
32:33 24 1:6–12 162
33:2 56n4 2:3 95
33:19 81 2:11 97
3:3–26 94, 105
Joshua 3:8 3, 82, 110, 172
3–4 73 5:7 68n40
10 73 7 94, 98, 113
10:12–14 69 9:13 23
11:9 81n17
Judges 26:5–13 XXV, 11, 55n3
5:4 56n4 26:12 34, 39, 168
5:12 34 28 110
5:20 69 28:12 113
28:28 114
1 Samuel 30:19 104
8 222 31:13 95
18:7 83n26 38–41 92, 104, 108
26:19 95 38:2, 3 103, 105, 111
39–41 181
2 Samuel 40–41  X XV–XXVI, 83–84, 92–93,
5 73 95, 219, 252
7 95 40:4–7 103, 111–112
8 73 40:15–18 83, 106–108, 112
24 249 40:19 100
40:20 83, 107
1 Kings 40:23 128
3:5–28 102 40:25–41:26 22, 82, 108–113, 173
9:26–28 81n13, 17 40:25 3, 82
10:22 81n13, 17 40:28–29 99, 100
22:49–50 81n13 40:30 123
41:3–4 172
2 Kings 41:7–8 10, 124
6:22 16n30 41:22 124
6:23 123 41:23–24 82
Index Of Ancient Sources 299

41:23 11, 82n22 110:1 149, 150

41:25 83 113–118 74
41:26 100 114:3, 5 55n2
42:3–5 103, 105 121:4 85
42:6–8 98, 100–104 130:1 36
42:12 94 132:10 73
42:13 89 137:7 98n32
42:14 97 139:9 81n17
42:15 89 145:16 181
146:6 81n18
Psalms 147:9 181
2:9 168 148:7 XXVI, 56n3
8 110, 113, 150
8:6 149 Proverbs
24:6 78 3:18 114
29 73, 74 8:22 100, 109
36:6 182, 198 8:30–31 83n26, 96, 100
44:9–26 101 8:35 114
44:24 85 9:10 114
50:10 119 26:19 83
68:5, 8, 9, 18 56n4, 5, 58n12 30:10–33 96
69:3, 15 36
74:1–14 108 Song of Songs
74:12–17 XVIII, XXV 6:10 155
74:13–14 22, 23, 82, 148–149, 203, 8:2 120n9
208, 211, 218
74:13–15 34 Isaiah
74:13–17 23, 55n3 5:14 252
74:14 3, 4, 87, 119, 168 5:19 82n19
76:4 68n40 6:2 21
77:15–20 56n5 10:5, 24 22
78:65 85 11:6–9 182, 190
87:4 31 13–23 24, 38
89:10–11 XXV, 56n3 14:2 22
89:10–13 XVIII, 23 14:12–15 196n42
89:11 34 14:29 22, 38
89:39, 52 73 18:2 81n17
91:3, 6 68 19:5–6 35
91:13–14 24, 148 23:2 81n17
95:5 81n18 24–27 24–25, 27, 29, 37
96–98 74 24 189
96:11 160 24:5–6 27, 38
98 157 24:21, 23 24, 28
104 77–89, 100, 113, 179, 181 25:9 24
104:25–26a 78–82 26:1, 2 24, 26
104:26  X VIII, XX, XXV, 3, 56n3, 99, 26:17–18 169
124, 128, 179, 202, 208–210 26:20–21 24, 26, 27, 68
104:26b 82–88 27:1  X IX, 3, 6, 21, 23, 24–28, 30,
107:23 81n17 37–38, 82, 87, 125, 129, 149,
300 Index Of Ancient Sources

Isaiah (cont.) 38:22 95

167, 169, 174, 179, 203, 208, 51:34–37 173
211, 218
27:2 24 Lamentations
27:12–13 24 2:13 81n17
28–33 28–29, 37 4:21 97
28:15, 17 31
30:1–5 28, 30 Ezekiel
30:5–6 28–29 14:14, 20 97
30:6–11 28 16:26 107
30:6–7  X IX, XXV, 21–22, 28–31, 23:20 107
37, 38 27:25, 33 81n17
30:8–14 28, 29 27:34 36
30:30 34 28:12–19 196n42
35:10 33 28:24–26 54
36:18 95 29  X X, XXV, 40–42, 52, 54, 169
37:25 35 29:3–6a 42–48, 50
40–55 97–98 29:3–5 31, 41, 50–51, 53–54,
40:1–21 101 173–174
40:10–11 33 29:6–21 50
40:29 83 30 50
41:1–7 32 30:8, 19, 25, 26 50
42:13, 15 34–35 32 XX, XXV, 40, 41, 42, 52, 169
43:16–19 101 32:2–8 31, 41, 42–48, 50, 53,
44:23 160 173–174
44:27 35 33:15 50
48:20 31 34:14–15 43
49–55 31, 37
49:13 160 Daniel
49:14 32 2 97n27
50:1–3 32, 35 3 97n27
50:10–11 32 4:25, 32 107
51 31 5:21 107
51:1–8 32, 34 7–8 155
51:9–11  X X, XXVI, 21, 23–24, 30, 7 97n27, 160, 173, 175
31–36, 37–39, 56n3, 101, 173 12 160
51:12–16 34, 36, 38 7:3–8 4, 108
51:15 39 7:13–14 97, 98
51:17–23 31 7:19–21 108
52 31, 34 7:25–27 102
52:11–12 31 12:10–12 102
59:16 34
59:17 32 Hosea
60:5 81 2:18 182
61:1–2 101 13:14 68
63:5, 12 34
65:25 182, 190 Jonah
1:9 81n18
Jeremiah 2:1 3
15:17 83 4:11 182
Index Of Ancient Sources 301

Habakkuk 12  X XII, 159, 161, 164–166,

1–2 75–76 168
3 XX, XXV–XXVI, 55–76 12:3–6 167–172
12:3 168–168
Zechariah 12:31 163–165
3:1 162 14:30 164
8:5 83 15:6 164
16:11 164
Matthew 18:31–32 165
3:4 254 21:19 165
6:26 182
8:12 166 Acts
10:16, 29 182 16:16 153
12:40 254
13:24–30, Romans
36–43 197 1:8–15 137, 144
16:25 159 5 190
24:27 163 8:19–22 183
25:1–13 266 14:1–15:13 137, 142
25:14–30 266 14:18 144n55
14:23 133
Mark 15:14–15 137
1:13 182 15:33–16:27 135–136, 145
3:22–26 38 16:1–20 134
5:11–13 182 16:3–16 137n17
8:32 184 16:17–20a XXII, 133–150
8:35 159 16:20 XXV, 136–147, 147–150
16:18 163 16:21–27 134

Luke 1 Corinthians
10 XXII, 166 5:5 146
10:18 161–163 6:13 140
13:16 198 7:5 146
16 252 9:9 184
17:24 163 15:25–27 146n63
17:33 159 16:15 137
22:31 162
2 Corinthians
John 2:11 146
2:4 164 4:4 164
3:14–15 165 11:14 146, 163
6 160 12:7 146
6:37 164 13:11 145
6:44 165
7:30 164 Galatians
8:20 164 1:15 140
8:28 165 5:20 137
8:44 164
9:34 164 Ephesians
12–13 10 1:22 146n63
302 Index Of Ancient Sources

Ephesians (cont.) 2:16 155

2:2 164 5 173–175
4:8 254 6:6–8 258
6:9–11 157
Philippians 6:15 261
3:18–19 140–141, 144 9:1–9 261
4:9 145 9:11 157
9:12 171
Colossians 11:2 160
1:20 183 11:7 155
2:15 199 11:10 160
11:17 158
1 Thessalonians 12–13 XXII, XXV–XXVI
2:18 146 12  151–154, 161, 169–170, 171
5:23 145 12:3 4, 151, 174
12:6 160
2 Thessalonians 12:7–12 151–166, 155–161
2:9 146 12:9 4, 27, 147, 174, 245
12:14 160
1 Timothy 13:1–10 172–174, 175, 218–219
1:20 146 13:1 151, 155
5:15 146 13:5 160
13:9–10 152
Hebrews 13:11 172
7:5 159 13:12 160
13:20 145 17:1, 7, 9 151
19:10 159
1 Peter 19:11 261
5:8 162 19:21 261
20 171
2 Peter 20:2 4, 157
2:4 196 20:10 164
20:13–14 264
1 John 22 189
2:1–2 159 22:10 161
4:6 157
4 Ezra
2 John 3:1 118
7 157 6:49–52 XXVI, 117–120, 121
6:59–60 118
6 196n42 2 Baruch
9 156 29:4 XXVI, 117, 120–121

Revelation 1 Enoch
1:3 161 60:7–10, 24 117, 121–122
1:7 171
Jubilees 5n5
Index Of Ancient Sources 303

Apocalypse of Abraham Wayyiqra Rabba

10:10 127 13:3 124n20
21:4 126–127
Aboda Zara
Ladder of Jacob 3b 128
6:9–13 127
Midrash Aseret ha-Debirot
Testament of Solomon 1:63 129n37
20:17 163

Baba Batra
74b 126, 128n35, 129n36
75a 123n17
Index of Geographical and Personal Names

Abraham 97, 104, 114, 252 Biak 236–237

Adad/Addu 63, 86 Boëtius à Bolswert 276–278
Adam 118, 122, 162, 189, 195, 199 Bosch, Jheronimus 254
Adio-Hwedo 240 Bruegel, Pieter the Elder 254
Ahriman 169 Bruges 258
Aleppo 64
Ambrosiaster 140–141 Campbell, Joseph 289
Ananataboga 241 Canaän 73, 81
Anat 11, 16, 17, 18, 22, 50, 87 Canaanites 86
Anatolia 63–64 Catherine of Cleves 272–273
Ancient Near East 3–18 Ceto 283
Anthoniszn, Cornelis 271 Chaldeans 76, 93
Antichrist 154, 251, 268 Chimera 283
Antipas 159 China XXIV, 283
Apollo 169, 170, 171, 283 Chrysostom 141
Apophis 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 126 Citak 237–238
Argos 282 Columbus, Chris 284
Arish 17 Congo 239
Artemis 170 Cosmatos, George Pan 280
Asherah 16 Cranach, Lucas 268–269
Asia Minor 151, 165, 170, 171, 174 Cyprian 142
Assyria 22, 28, 29, 37, 38, 60, 63–64 Cyprus 5
Astarte 16 Cyrus 32
Aten 79, 85
Atum 51 Damkina 169
Augustine 224–232 Daniel 93, 97
Australia XXIV, 239–240 Darabont, Frank 288
Ayyamur 12 Darwin, Charles 187–188, 192, 197–199
David 73–74, 76, 95
Baal XXI, 11–18, 22, 26, 46, 56, 58, 59, 60, 63, Dead Sea 128–129
66, 67, 69, 75, 86, 87, 89, 120 Delphi 153
Baal Cycle XX, XXVI, 58, 60, 63, 66, 67, 69, Descartes 184
75 Dufresne, Andy XXV, 288, 290, 294–295
Babel 31, 36 Dundayim 122
Babylon XX, XXVII, 26, 32, 37, 50, 53, 58,
61–65, 67, 73, 94, 110, 153, 160, 166 Ebla 64–65
Balder 293 Eden 4, 120, 122, 181, 203, 237
Baʿlu XXVI, 59, 65, 69 Edom 56, 97, 98
Bathan 14 Egypt XIX–XX, XXV, 6, 12, 22, 26, 28–31,
Beelzebul 38 37–38, 40–54, 56, 66, 70, 73, 79–81, 85,
Behemoth XXI, 90–114, 117, 172, 173, 94, 99, 108, 153
213–232 El 18, 59, 69, 74
Bellerophon 283 Eleazar 159
Benin XXIV, 239–240 Elihun 91, 107
Beowulf 283 Elim 111
Index Of Geographical And Personal Names 305

Eloah 56, 59, 71, 72 Israel XX

Ephesus 134 Israelites 81
Epicureans 184
Esau 98–99 Jeremiah 96–97
Eve 162, 189, 203 Jerusalem 24, 29, 31, 54, 117
Ezra 118 Job 215, 217, 219, 221, 289
John 151
Fafnir 283 John the Baptist 254, 258
Ferrante, Anthony C. 286 Jonah 92, 182, 213, 229, 291–292
Frazer, James 290 Jordan 73, 128–129
Frodo 286, 290 Jörmungandr 283
Joseph 291–292
George, St. George and the Dragon 129, Judah 38, 73
Golgotha 165, 294–295 Karubukawi 236
Greece 26 Kempis, Thomas a 250
Gregorius I 275 Khepri 51
Grotius, Hugo 222 King, Stephen 288
Korea 242
Habakkuk 55–76 Korowai 233–235
Hadad 59, 63, 86 Kothar 12, 16, 17, 18, 86
Hadda/Haddu 63–65 Kraken 282, 295
Hades 282, 289, 294 Kronos 283
Haiti 239 Kuntillet ʾAjrud 56
Hatti 66 Kushan 71
Helel 166
Heracles/Hercules 9, 283 Ladon XIX, XXV, 8, 9, 283
Hesiod 8 Lazarus XXIV, 252–253
Hesperiden 8 Leto 169, 170, 171, 175
Heyden, Pieter van der 254, 256 Letterier, Louis 282
Hezekiah 29 Levant 61, 64, 67, 70, 75
Himilku 66–67 Leviathan 40, 49, 55, 56, 90–114, 117–130, 133,
Hitler 226 144, 148, 149, 151, 154, 166, 167–175, 179,
Hobbes, Thomas XVII, XXIII, 195, 199, 200, 201–212, 213–232
XXVII–XXVIII, 213–232 Long Wang 242
Hollywood 290 Los Angeles 286
Hophra, Pharaoh 41, 44, 54 Lotan XIX, XXV, XXVI, 8, 9, 14, 17, 22, 23, 87,
Horus 169 89
Huizinga, Johan 211 Lucas, George 285
Hus, Jan 269 Lucifer 166
Hydra 283 Luther, Maarten 250, 268

Ignatius 165 Mahanaim 15
Illuyanka 10 Manu 238–239
Ilu 17 Marcion 133
Inara 10 Marduk XXVII, 10, 12, 16, 64–65, 69, 86, 169
Indonesia XXIV, 233–246, 283 Mary Magdalene 254
Isis 169 Medusa 282, 284, 289
306 Index Of Geographical And Personal Names

Melanesia XXIV Pilate 165
Memling, Hans 258, 260 Polycarp 165
Mesopotamia 4, 5, 22–23, 43, 63–65, 86 Potter, Harry XXIV, 114, 284–285, 290
Messiah 154, 158 Prometheus 90
Michael XXII, 151–166 Pseudo-Apollodoros of Alexandria 9
Midian 71 Python 153, 170, 171, 239, 283
Milton, John 189
Moore, Alan 90 Qumran 109
Mordor 286
Moses 95, 99, 193, 114 Rab Judah 85, 128–129
Mot 16, 17, 18, 59 Rabba 123
Rabbi Jochanan 123
Nahar 55, 57, 69 Rabbi Jose ben Durmasqit 124
Nana-Buluku 240 Rabbi Pinchas ben Chama 125
Nebuchadrezzar 50, 107 Rabbi Samuel ben Meir 129
Negeb 22, 28, 29, 30 Rahab XIX–XX, XXV, 21–39, 40, 49, 55, 56,
Nehushtan 21 168
Nibelungenring 90 Ras Shamra 18, 56
Nietzsche, F. 90 Re 6, 12, 51
Nigeria 239 Red Sea 31, 35, 36, 73
Nile 40–54 Reve, Gerard 291
Nineveh 182 Rom 133–150
Ninurta/Ningirsu 5, 64 Romans 165
Noah 26, 27, 97, 121, 181 Rowling, J.K. 284–285
Numfor 236 Russia XVII, XXVII, 289

Og 73 Sabeans 93
Okeanos 8 Salathiël 118
Ophion 283 Santorini 13
Origen 133, 220 Satan XXII, 4, 27, 94, 133, 138, 143, 145–150,
Ormuzd 169 151, 158–166, 195–196, 218, 245, 271
Ornias 163 Sennacherib 29
Ortygia 170 Seraphim 21–22, 30, 37
Osiris 18, 293 Serpent/snake 157
Ouroboros 8, 129, 240 Seth 12, 13, 126
Shaw, George Bernard 90–91
Papua, Indonesia XXIV, 233–246 Shelley 90
Paran 56, 71 Sifra 124
Passe, Crispijn van der 252–253 Sigurd 283
Patmos 151, 170 Sihon 73
Paul 133–150 Sinai 56, 73, 75, 95
Pergamum 170 Skywalker, Luke XXV, 285–286, 290, 295
Perseus 282–283, 285, 290 Smith, Jonathan Z. 61
Pharaoh 40–54, 218 Smyrna 165
Philippi 153 Sobek 51–52
Philistines 22 Spielberg, Steven 287
Philo of Alexandria 139–140 Strymon 8
Phoenicians 81 Syria 5, 58, 63, 64, 65, 70, 80
Index Of Geographical And Personal Names 307

Tannin XIX, XX, XXV, 17, 22–26, 33–38, Ugarit XIX, XXI, XXVI, XXVII, 5, 6, 7, 11, 12,
40–54, 55, 169 14, 15, 22, 23, 37, 55–76, 86, 119–120
Tarhun 63 Uz 97
Taru 63
Tehom 55, 57, 66, 71 Vogler, Christopher 289
Teiseba 63
Tell Abu Salabih 65 Wagner, Richard 90
Tell Beydar 65 Wayang 241
Teman 56, 71 Wells, H.G. 287
Tessub 63
Theodoret of Cyrrhus 142 Yahoel 127
Thor 283 Yali 238–239
Thutmosis III, Pharaoh 41 Yam XIX, XXVI, 11–17, 22, 23, 46, 50, 55, 57,
Tiamat XXVII, 9, 10, 16, 23, 58, 65, 66, 71, 86 69, 86–87, 120
Tiglath Pileser III 22 Yammu 59, 69
Titans 282–283
Tolkien, J.R.R. 90, 293 Zarathustra 90
Tondalus 252 Zeus 283
Trent 117 Zion 24, 28, 31, 33
Tunnan 17 Zoroaster 90
Typhon 169, 283 Zvyagintsev, Andrey XVII, 289
Index of Subjects

abyss 249–279 dragons XVIII, 233–246, 283

air combat 151–166 drakoon (Greek) XVIII, 3, 147, 155
animals in the Bible 179–200
animals, the suffering of XXIII, 179–200 Enlightenment XXVI
animism 233 Enoch, 1 117, 121–122
annexation, antithetical XXVII Enūma eliš XX, XXVII, 10, 58, 60, 63, 65,
anthropomonism 180–182, 212 66, 86
Apocalypse of Abraham 117, 126–127 erastianism 226
ars moriendi XXIV, 251 eschatological banquet 119–126, 130
art, Early Modern 249–279 evil, natural XXIII
art, Late Medieval 249–279 evil power XXV, XXVI, 14, 27, 38, 49, 93, 151,
Aten, the great hymn to 79, 85 179–200, 208, 249–279
evolution 186–200
Baal cycle 15, 18, 26, 49, 58, 60, 63, 66, 67, 69, Exodus 73, 95, 99, 108
75, 169 Ezekiel XX, 31, 40–54
Babel-Bibel streit 60, 61, 67 Ezra, 4 XXI, 117–120
Babylonian Talmud 85
Baruch, 2 117, 120–121 film XXIV, 280–295
basilisk XXIV, 284, 289, 295 fossils 187
black Death 249
buddhism 233 Genesis 60
gnosticism 220
Canaanite cult 15, 17, 35, 48, 52 Greek drama 152
Canaanite polytheism, mythology XXVI, griffon (garuda) 241
55–76, 109–110, 166
chaos (God and chaos) XXIII, 201–212, heaven, hell, purgatory 249–279
249–279 hinduism 233
Chaoskampf XX, XXV, 36, 48–50, 59, 60, 64, human sin 186
66, 110
Chinese mythology 240, 242–243, 283 imago Dei 110, 113, 184–186
Christus-Victor motif XXV, XXVII, 280–294 Iron Age 75
church-fathers XXV
comparative religion 61–62 Jakob, Ladder of 117, 127
computer games XXIV, 280–281 Jenna codex 269
cosmic Fall Theory 186–200 Jesse Tree 294
cosmogony XXV, 60, 67 Jewish tradition 117–130
creation XVIIIn4, XIX–XXI, XIV, 10, 23, 25, Judaism, early and rabbinic XXI
35–37, 53, 57, 65–67, 71, 77, 80, 84,
87–89, 109–110, 118–119, 128, 181–200, Kabbalah 222
201–212, 228, 235, 239
Leviathan, film XVII, 280–295
death 184–200, 280–295 Leviathan, monster XVI–XX, 21–39, 117–130,
Death Star XXIV, 285–286, 289 151, 154, 166, 179, 195, 199, 200, 249–279,
devil 4, 148, 157–158, 218 280–295
dragon, the seven-headed XIX, 151–166 limbo XXIV, 249–279
Index Of Subjects 309

martyrs 157 sea 77–89
mission 233–246 Septuagint 40, 85, 147, 148, 155
Mosaic law 181 seven-headed monster 3, 22
mouth of hell 249–279 Shawshank Redemption XXV, 288–295
movies XXIV, 280–295 sheol 249–279
myth 233–246 ships 77–89
mythology, Germanic 283 sin 205, 208
mythology, Greek 283 snake-figures 21, 233–246
mythology, Norwegian 282 storm-god imagery XX, XXV, 55–76, 81, 85
systematic theology XXIII, 179–200, 201–212
Nildrache 42
Talmud 128
Pan-Babylonian School 61 tannaitic sources 124
Papua-Dragon 233–246 targumim 120, 123
paradise 243, 245 Testament of Solomon 163
parousia 146 theodicy 209–212
phoenix 284 theomachy XXV, 67, 119
play/playing 201–212 theophany 55–76
pluralism, religious XVIII, XXVIII
post-Christian societies XXIII, XXVII Ugaritic myth 6, 26, 48–49, 56, 66, 86–87
providence 201–212 underworld 252, 268
unicorn 279
rabbinic literature 117, 122–126, 128–130
rainbow-Snake 239–240 violence 215
religionsgeschichtliche Schule 153
Roman Empire XXII, XXVII, 172–175, 218, 230 wisdom XXI, 90–114
Index of Modern Authors

Aalders, P.F.T. 209–210 Bekoff, Mark 186

Abanes, R. 284 Belle, G. Van 164
Abir, Peter Antonysamy 151, 156 Berges, U. 32
Ahituv, Shmuel 56 Berkhof, H. 209
Albright, W.F. 58, 61 Berkouwer, G.C. 204, 210–212
Allen, Leslie C. 86 Berry, R.J. 184, 197
Alster, B. 71 Bertram, Georg 148
Alter, Robert 92, 106 Beuken, W.A.M. 21, 25, 29–30, 32
Altmann, A. 36 Biersack, Aletta 239
Anderson, B.W. 25 Biezeveld, Kune 214
Anderson, Francis I. 57 Bimson, John J. 188–189
Anderson, James 218 Birch, Charles 180
Anderson, John E. 76 Blocher, Henri 184
Angenendt, Arnold 249–250 Block, D.I. 41–42, 44–45, 47, 51, 53
Ansell, Nicholas 82, 94, 96, 98–99, 103, 110, Blust, Robert 240
114, 168, 200 Boadt, L. 40, 43, 45–48, 51, 53
Aquinas, Thomas 106–107 Böcher, Otto 167, 169
Ariès, Philippe 275 Boer, C. den 138
Arnold, Bill T. 61 Bohak, G. 17
Augustine, A. 218, 224–225, 227, 230–231 Boheemen, P. van 251
Aune, David E. 152, 159 Bolton, Francis 106
Averbeck, Richard 66 Booij, Th. 78, 84, 86
Bordreuil, P. 9
Baas, P.R. 237 Bosch, Gerrit vanden 250
Back, G. 251 Bosman, H.J. 24–25
Balentine, Samuel E. 104 Botterweck, G.J. 40
Bar-Asher, Moshe 74 Bousset, W. 153
Barker, W.D. 3, 17, 45 Bowen, N.R. 52–53
Barmby, James 218 Bradshaw, Peter XVII
Barr, D.L. 152–153, 170 Brandt, Reinhard 219
Barré, M.L. 57 Braun, Dietrich 218, 225
Barsotti, C.M. 280 Bray, Gerald L. 141
Barth, Karl 196–198 Bredekamp, Horst 219
Bartholomew, Craig 230 Brink, Gijsbert van den 181, 209
Batto, Bernard F. 23, 37, 66 Broeyer, Frits 251
Bauckham, Richard 133, 147–149, 160, Brown, William P. 84, 86, 88
169–171, 173, 182 Bruce, F.F. 145, 189
Bauks, M. 35 Bruggen, Jakob van 138, 162
Bavinck, Herman 191 Bruijne, Ad de 214, 227–230
Beal, R.H. 23, 58, 61, 65–67 Brunner-Traut, E. 16
Becker, Jürgen 165 Brunner, Emil 191
Becking, Bob XVIII, 3, 21, 40, 58, 120, 167 Bryce, Paul M. 97
Behm, Johannes 140–141 Buckland, William 188
Bekkum, Koert van XIX, 39, 67, 70, 75–76, Budge, A.W. 51
87, 114, 169 Bueren, T. van 251, 275
Index Of Modern Authors 311

Bulgakov, Sergii 198 Dell, Katherine 94, 96–98, 100

Burger, Christoph 250 Dembski, William B. 191
Burnight, John 94 Dennis, John 164
Busch, Peter 170 Detweiler, C. 288
Dietrich, M. 6
Calvin, John 218, 293 Dion, Paul E. 81, 85–86
Campbell, Joseph 289–290, 293 Donaldson, James 220
Campbell, W. Gordon 157–160, 167, 173 Donfried, Karl P. 134, 143
Carey, Frances 249, 268 Dorsey, David A. 105
Carson, D.A. 134 Dückers, Rob 272
Cassuto, U. 58 Duhm, Bernhard 25
Cerfaux, Lucien 168 Dunand, F. 51
Chaplin, Jonathan 230 Dunn, James D.G. 139, 143–144
Charles, R.H. 189 Dupeux, Cécile 268
Charlesworth, J.H. 5, 118, 121, 122, 127, 155,
157, 163, 168 Ego, B. 35
Childs, B.S. 35 Eichrodt, W. 41
Christianson, E.S. 280 Ellis, L. 254
Clemens, Theo 250–251 Emerton, J.A. 8
Clements, R.E.