Leviathan (/lɪˈvaɪ.əθən/; Hebrew: לִוְיָתָן,
Modern Livyatan, Tiberian Liwyāṯān) is a sea monster
referenced in the
Hebrew Bible in the Book of Job, Psalms, the Book of
Isaiah, and the Book of Amos.
Leviathan of the
Book of Job
Book of Job is a reflection of the older
Canaanite Lotan, a primeval monster defeated by the god Hadad.
Parallels to the role of Mesopotamian
Tiamat defeated by
long been drawn in comparative mythology, as have been wider
comparisons to dragon and world serpent narratives such as Indra
Thor slaying Jörmungandr, but
figures in the
Hebrew Bible as a metaphor for a powerful enemy,
Isaiah 27:1), and some scholars have pragmatically
interpreted it as referring to large aquatic creatures, such as the
crocodile. The word later came to be used as a term for "great
whale" as well as of sea monsters in general.
1 Etymology and origins
2 Hebrew Bible
5 Modern reception
5.1 Satanic Bible
6 See also
9 External links
Etymology and origins
See also: Lotan, Tannin (monster), Tiamat, Tehom, and Chaoskampf
The name לִוְיָתָן is a derivation from the root לוה lvh
"to twine; to join", with an adjectival suffix ן-, with a literal
meaning of "wreathed, twisted in folds". Both the name and the
mythological figure are a direct continuation of the
monster Lôtān, one of the servants of the sea god
Yammu defeated by
Hadad in the Baal Cycle. The
Ugaritic account has gaps, making
it unclear whether some phrases describe him or other monsters at
Yammu's disposal such as
Tunannu (the Biblical Tannin). Most
scholars agree on describing Lôtān as "the fugitive serpent" (bṯn
brḥ) but he may or may not be "the wriggling serpent" (bṯn
ʿqltn) or "the mighty one with seven heads" (šlyṭ d.šbʿt
rašm). His role seems to have been prefigured by the earlier
serpent Têmtum whose death at the hands
Hadad is depicted in Syrian
seals of the 18th–16th century BCE.
Sea serpents feature prominently in the mythology of the Ancient Near
East. They are attested by the 3rd millennium BCE in Sumerian
iconography depicting the god
Ninurta overcoming a seven-headed
serpent. It was common for Near Eastern religions to include a
Chaoskampf: a cosmic battle between a sea monster representing the
forces of chaos and a creator god or culture hero who imposes order by
force. The Babylonian creation myth describes Marduk's defeat of
the serpent goddess Tiamat, whose body was used to create the heavens
and the earth.
Leviathan is mentioned six times in the Tanakh, in Job 3:8, Job
40:15–41:26, Amos 9:3, Psalm 74:13–23, Psalm 104:26 and Isaiah
Job 41:1–34 is dedicated to describing him in detail: "Behold, the
hope of him is in vain; shall not one be cast down even at the sight
of him?" In Psalm 74, God is said to "break the heads of Leviathan
in pieces" before giving his flesh to the people of the wilderness. In
Psalm 104, God is praised for having made all things, including
Leviathan, and in
Isaiah 27:1, he is called the "tortuous serpent" who
will be killed at the end of time.
The mention of the Tannins in the Genesis creation narrative
(translated as "great whales" in the King James Version) and
Leviathan in the Psalm do not describe them as harmful but as
ocean creatures who are part of God's creation. The element of
competition between God and the sea monster and the use of Leviathan
to describe the powerful enemies of Israel may reflect the
influence of the Mesopotamian and Canaanite legends or the contest in
Egyptian mythology between the
Apep snake and the sun god Horus.
Alternatively, the removal of such competition may have reflected an
attempt to naturalize
Leviathan in a process that demoted it from
deity to demon to monster.
Leviathan the sea-monster, with
Behemoth the land-monster and
air-monster. "And on that day were two monsters parted, a female
monster named Leviathan, to dwell in the abysses of the ocean over the
fountains of the waters. But the male is named Behemoth, who occupied
with his breast a waste wilderness named Duidain." (1 Enoch 60:7–8)
Later Jewish sources describe
Leviathan as a dragon who lives over the
Sources of the Deep and who, along with the male land-monster
Behemoth, will be served up to the righteous at the end of time. The
Book of Enoch
Book of Enoch (60:7–9) describes
Leviathan as a female monster
dwelling in the watery abyss (as Tiamat), while
Behemoth is a male
monster living in the desert of Dunaydin ("east of Eden").
When the Jewish midrash (explanations of the Tanakh) were being
composed, it was held that God originally produced a male and a female
leviathan, but lest in multiplying the species should destroy the
world, he slew the female, reserving her flesh for the banquet that
will be given to the righteous on the advent of the Messiah.
Rashi's commentary on Genesis 1:21 repeats the tradition:
"Leviathan" (1983) a painting by Michael Sgan-Cohen, the Israel Museum
the...sea monsters: The great fish in the sea, and in the words of the
Aggadah (B.B. 74b), this refers to the
Leviathan and its mate, for He
created them male and female, and He slew the female and salted her
away for the righteous in the future, for if they would propagate, the
world could not exist because of them. הַתַּנִינִם is
written. [I.e., the final “yud,” which denotes the plural, is
missing, hence the implication that the
Leviathan did not remain two,
but that its number was reduced to one.] – [from Gen. Rabbah 7:4,
Midrash Chaseroth V’Yetheroth, Batei Midrashoth, vol 2, p. 225].
Baba Bathra 75a it is told that the
Leviathan will be
slain and its flesh served as a feast to the righteous in [the] Time
to Come, and its skin used to cover the tent where the banquet will
take place. The festival of
Sukkot (Festival of Booths) therefore
concludes with a prayer recited upon leaving the sukkah (booth): "May
it be your will, Lord our God and God of our forefathers, that just as
I have fulfilled and dwelt in this sukkah, so may I merit in the
coming year to dwell in the sukkah of the skin of Leviathan. Next year
The enormous size of the
Leviathan is described by Johanan bar
Nappaha, from whom proceeded nearly all the aggadot concerning this
monster: "Once we went in a ship and saw a fish which put his head out
of the water. He had horns upon which was written: 'I am one of the
meanest creatures that inhabit the sea. I am three hundred miles in
length, and enter this day into the jaws of the Leviathan'".
Leviathan is hungry, reports Rabbi Dimi in the name of Rabbi
Johanan, he sends forth from his mouth a heat so great as to make all
the waters of the deep boil, and if he would put his head into
Paradise no living creature could endure the odor of him. His
abode is the Mediterranean Sea; and the waters of the Jordan fall into
In a legend recorded in the
Midrash called Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer it
is stated that the fish which swallowed
Jonah narrowly avoided being
eaten by the Leviathan, which eats one whale each day.
The body of the Leviathan, especially his eyes, possesses great
illuminating power. This was the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer, who, in the
course of a voyage in company with Rabbi Joshua, explained to the
latter, when frightened by the sudden appearance of a brilliant light,
that it probably proceeded from the eyes of the Leviathan. He referred
his companion to the words of Job xli. 18: "By his neesings a light
doth shine, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning" (B. B.
l.c.). However, in spite of his supernatural strength, the leviathan
is afraid of a small worm called "kilbit", which clings to the gills
of large fish and kills them (Shab. 77b).
In the eleventh century piyyut (religious poem), Akdamut, recited on
Shavuot (Pentecost), it is envisioned that, ultimately, God will
slaughter the Leviathan, which is described as having "mighty fins"
(and, therefore, a kosher fish, not an inedible snake or crocodile),
and it will be served as a sumptuous banquet for all the righteous in
Leviathan in the fresco The Last Judgment; painted by Giacomo
Rossignolo, c. 1555
Leviathan can also be used as an image of Satan, endangering both
God's creatures—by attempting to eat them—and God's creation—by
threatening it with upheaval in the waters of Chaos. St. Thomas
Leviathan as the demon of envy, first in punishing
the corresponding sinners (Secunda Secundae Question 36). Peter
Binsfeld likewise classified
Leviathan as the demon of envy, as one of
the seven Princes of Hell corresponding to the seven deadly sins.
Leviathan became associated with, and may originally have referred to,
the visual motif of the Hellmouth, a monstrous animal into whose mouth
the damned disappear at the Last Judgement, found in Anglo-Saxon art
from about 800, and later all over Europe.
Revised Standard Version
Revised Standard Version of the Bible suggests in a footnote
to Job 41:1 that
Leviathan may be a name for the crocodile, and in a
footnote to Job 40:15, that
Behemoth may be a name for the
Earth Creationists have also identified Leviathan
Behemoth with dinosaurs.
Leviathan has come to refer to any sea monster, and from the
early 17th century has also been used of overwhelmingly powerful
people or things (comparable to
Behemoth or Juggernaut), influentially
so by Hobbes' book (1651).
As a term for sea monster, it has also been used of great whales in
particular, e.g. in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. In Modern Hebrew, the
word now simply means "whale".
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote a sonnet, "The Kraken" (1830), which
describes the massive creature that dwells at the bottom of the
Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber'd and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.
Anton Szandor LaVey
Anton Szandor LaVey in his Satanic Bible (1969) has Leviathan
representing the element of Water and the direction of west, listing
it as one of the Four Crown Princes of Hell. This association was
inspired by the demonic hierarchy from The Book of the Sacred Magic of
Abra-Melin the Mage. The Church of
Satan uses the Hebrew letters at
each of the points of the
Sigil of Baphomet
Sigil of Baphomet to represent Leviathan.
Starting from the lowest point of the pentagram, and reading
counter-clockwise, the word reads "לִוְיָתָן".
Transliterated, this is (LVIThN) Leviathan.
Book of Job
Book of Job in Byzantine illuminated manuscripts
Christian demons in popular culture
Leviathan in popular culture
This article incorporates text from a publication now in
the public domain: Singer, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906).
"Leviathan". Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls
^ Cirlot, Juan Eduardo (1971). A Dictionary of Symbols (2nd ed.).
Dorset Press. p. 186.
^ a b Wilhelm Gesenius, Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (trans.) (1879).
Hebrew and Chaldee lexicon to the Old Testament .
^ Uehlinger (1999), p. 514.
^ a b Herrmann (1999), p. 133.
^ Heider (1999).
^ a b Uehlinger (1999), p. 512.
^ a b c K. van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter Willem van der Horst,
eds. (1999). Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. Wm. B.
Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 512–14. Retrieved 13 July
2012. CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
^ a b Hermann Gunkel, Heinrich Zimmern; K. William Whitney Jr.,
trans., Creation And Chaos in the Primeval Era And the Eschaton: A
Religio-historical Study of Genesis 1 and Revelation 12. (Grand
Rapids: MI: Erdmans, 1895, 1921, 2006).
^ Enuma Elish, Tablet IV, lines 104–105, 137–138, 144 from
Alexander Heidel (1963) , Babylonian Genesis, 41–42.
^ Jewish Publication Society translation (1917).
^ Gen. 1:21.
^ Gen. 1:21 (KJV).
^ Ps. 104.
^ For example, in
^ Watson, R.S. (2005). Chaos Uncreated: A Reassessment of the Theme of
"chaos" in the Hebrew Bible. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 3110179938,
^ Babylonian Talmud, tractate
Baba Bathra 74b.
^ Chabad. "Rashi's Commentary on Genesis". Retrieved 25 October
^ Finkel, Avraham (1993). The Essence of the Holy Days: Insights from
the Jewish Sages. Northvale, N.J.: J. Aronson. p. 99.
ISBN 0-87668-524-6. OCLC 27935834.
^ a b
Baba Bathra 75a
^ Bekorot 55b;
Baba Bathra 75a
^ Hirsch, Emil G.; Kaufmann Kohler; Solomon Schechter; Isaac Broydé.
Leviathan and Behemoth". JewishEncyclopedia.com. Retrieved 3
^ Labriola, Albert C. (1982). "The Medieval View of History in
Paradise Lost". In Mulryan, John. Milton and the Middle Ages. Bucknell
University Press. pp. 115–34.
ISBN 978-0-8387-5036-0. p. 127.
^ Link, Luther (1995). The Devil: A Mask Without a Face. London:
Reaktion Books. pp. 75–6. ISBN 0-948462-67-1.
^ Hofmann, Petra (2008). Infernal Imagery in Anglo-Saxon Charters
(PDF) (Thesis). St Andrews. pp. 143–44. Archived from the
original (PDF) on 2008-10-01.
^ The Holy Bible Revised Standared Version. New York: Thomas Nelson
and Sons. 1959. pp. 555–56
^ "Genesis Park, Room 1: The Dinosaurs". Genesispark.com. Retrieved 13
July 2012. Taylor, Paul S. (13 February 2008). "Were Dinosaurs
alive after Babel?". Answersingenesis.org. Retrieved 13 July
^ ""The Kraken" (1830)". www.victorianweb.org. Retrieved
^ "The History of the Origin of the
Sigil of Baphomet
Sigil of Baphomet and its Use in
the Church of Satan". Church of
Satan website. Retrieved 3 September
Heider, George C. (1999), "Tannîn", Dictionary of Deities and Demons
in the Bible, 2nd ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing,
pp. 834–836 .
Herrmann, Wolfgang (1999), "Baal", Dictionary of Deities and Demons in
the Bible, 2nd ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing,
pp. 132–139 .
Uehlinger, C. (1999), "Leviathan", Dictionary of Deities and Demons in
the Bible, 2nd ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing,
pp. 511–515 .
Look up leviathan in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
'Sea monster' whale fossil unearthed. Named
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Putting God on Trial – The Biblical
Book of Job
Book of Job contains a major
section on the literary use of Leviathan.
Job 41:1–41:34 (KJV)
The fossilised skull of a colossal "sea monster" has been unearthed
along the UK's Jurassic Coast. 27 October 2009
'Sea monster' whale fossil unearthed 30 June 2010
Enuma Elish (Babylonian creation epic)
Philologos concordance page
Text of the
Leviathan passage from Job 40 and 41
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