Friday, October 22, 2010
October 22, 2010 : Leviathan (Myth)
Leviathan (pronounced /lɨˈvaɪ.əθən/; Hebrew: לִוְיָתָן, Modern Livyatan Tiberian Liwyāṯān ; "twisted, coiled"), is a sea monster referred to in the Bible. In Demonology, Leviathan is one of the seven princes of Hell and its gatekeeper (see Hellmouth). The word has become synonymous with any large sea monster or creature. In classical literature (such as the novel Moby-Dick) it refers to great whales, and in Modern Hebrew, it means simply "whale."
Leviathan and similar serpent-demons have a long history in ancient Near Eastern mythology, with a seven-headed serpent being overcome by a hero-god being attested as early as the 3rd millennium BCE in Sumerian iconography. The same chaos-combat theme appears on 2nd millennium Syrian seals, where the storm-god is shown in combat with a serpent, and in the Ugarit tablets, where the sea-monster Lotan was one of the helpers of the sea-god Yamm in his battle with the weather-god Haddad Baal. In the Ugaritic texts Lotan, or possibly another of Yamm's helpers, is given the epithets "wriggling serpent" and "mighty One with the seven heads," and Isaiah 27:1 uses the first of these phrases to describe Leviathan, although in this case the name "Leviathan" apparently refers to an unnamed historical/political enemy of Israel rather than the original serpent-monster. In Psalm 104 Leviathan is not described as harmful in any way, but simply as a creature of the ocean, part of Yahweh's creation. In Job 41:2-26, on the other hand, he is definitely a crocodile-monster to be feared - the author appears to have based the passage on Egyptian animal mythology, where the crocodile is the enemy of the sun-god, but in contrast both to this source and to the Syrian chaos-battle he does not represent the image in terms of mythological combat.