Yahweh v Leviathan
One of the oldest surviving battles in ancient mythology is the struggle of the Hebrew god Yahweh against the chaos dragon Leviathan. Though somewhat crowded out of the Bible in favor of more boring stories of the Hebrews wandering around the desert, the fish tale can be pieced together through bits found in Isaiah, Job, and Psalms.
The book of Job has the most detailed description of Leviathan, dedicating an entire chapter to the fire breathing sea dragon that boils the waters.
Canst thou draw out leviathan with a fishhook? Or press down his tongue with a cord? Canst thou put a rope into his nose? Or pierce his jaw through with a hook?
His sneezings flash forth light, And his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning. Out of his mouth go burning torches, And sparks of fire leap forth. Out of his nostrils a smoke goeth, As of a boiling pot and burning rushes. His breath kindleth coals, And a flame goeth forth from his mouth.
Isaiah 27:1 further extrapolates on the battle between Leviathan and Yahweh.
In that day Jehovah with his hard and great and strong sword will punish leviathan the swift serpent, and leviathan the crooked serpent; and he will slay the monster that is in the sea.
This curious passage in Psalm 74 speaks of Leviathan’s many heads
Yet God is my King of old, Working salvation in the midst of the earth. Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength: Thou brakest the heads of the sea-monsters in the waters. Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces; Thou gavest him to be food to the people inhabiting the wilderness.
This many headed version of Leviathan may point to the creature’s origin in the Baal Cycle in Ugaritic mythology, in which Ba’al Hadaad fights the seven headed dragon Lotan. Geographically, Ugarit is to the Northwest of the ancient Kingdom of Israel, close enough for a sharing of cultural ideas.
The Ugaritic texts we have appear to have been written around 1300 BCE and Psalm 74 is attributed to the era of the Babylonian Captivity (586 BCE). But, the seven headed dragon not only survived those 7 centuries; it was still being refereed to in the Christian era where it is mentioned in the New Testament book, Revelations from 100CE:
and he stood upon the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns, and seven heads, and on his horns ten diadems, and upon his heads names of blasphemy. -Revelation 13:1
The dragon is obviously more than just a monstrous creatures, but it seems to symbolize fear, evil , and even the state of chaos itself. In Job, Leviathan is described as “king of the sons of pride”. Is this referring to his followers in an age in which he had his own religion? Or could he have been a pre-Satan devil figure, the one to blame for all evil in the world?
And this does not appear to be a literal creature in the sea, but rather a heavenly being in the cosmic sea above the Firmament. In Job it reads, “On earth there is not his like” and “He maketh a path to shine after him”, a reference to the Milky Way?
…we may therefore unhesitatingly affirm that Levi means Serpent. Mythology speaks of a serpent that devours the sun, of a Storm-Serpent, which the Sun assails with his rays … the monotheistic ideas of later times substituted Jahveh [Yahweh] who with his might lashes the sea, and who with his intelligence pierces the monster …
-Ignaz Goldzihek, Mythology Among the Hebrews