SPECIAL TOPIC: LEVIATHAN
"Leviathan" (BDB 531, KB 524, lit. "coiled" or "twisted") seems to be the seven-headed Ugaritic mythological sea monster, Lotan (i.e., Job 3:8; 41:19-21; Ps. 104:26). In Ugaritic poetry, the root "tnn" (Tannin, BDB 1072) is parallel to "ltn," (Lotan); both names for chaos water monsters. However, sometimes it is used as a symbol for an evil nation (cf. Ps. 74:12-17, possibly Egypt, cf. Ezek. 29:3; 32:2). It resembles a river snaking through their land. Sometimes this term is linked specifically to "Rahab," which is a way of referring to Egypt (cf. Ps. 87:4; 89:9-10; Isa. 30:7). It seems to me that in Isaiah we are talking about a river symbolizing a national enemy, either Egypt or Assyria (cf. Isa. 27:1,12). The two great river systems of the ANE were the cradles of civilization (i.e., the Nile, and the Tigris and Euphrates). Tannin (BDB 1072) is parallel with (NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 87):
1. Leviathan, Job 7:12; Ps. 74:13-14; Isa. 27:1
2. Rahab, Isa. 51:9
3. Bashan, Ps. 68:22; Amos 9:3
The reason this term can be used symbolically so
easily is that it was previously used in the mythological fertility literature
of Canaan (cf. Job 3:8; 42:1-34; Ps. 74:12-17; 104:26; see G. Archer,
Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pp. 239-240).
There is a literary parallelism between
1. the fleeing serpent (BDB 638 I, cf. Isa. 27:1; Amos 9:3)
2. the twisted sea monster (Isa. 17:1 has possibly two monsters listed, cf. Gen. 1:21)
3. the dragon who lives in the sea (BDB 1072, Isa. 27:1)
4. Rahab (BDB 923, cf. Job 9:13; 26:12-13)
This same allusion is found in (1) Ugaritic poems and (2) Isa. 51:9, using "Rahab," who is also identified by the term "dragon" (BDB 1072, cf. Job 7:12; Isa. 27:1; 51:9).
After much contemplation, I have come to the opinion that the "serpent" (BDB 638) of Genesis 3, is also to be identified with the imagery of the ancient chaos monster. A talking snake has always bothered me. In light of "Leviathan" (i.e., esp. Ps. 74:12-17), this Genesis imagery makes more ANE sense. The serpent of Genesis 3 is not identified with "the Accuser" until late in the interbiblical period (i.e., 2 Esd. 6:52; 2 Bar. 29:3-8). The first readers would have known this Canaanite imagery but would not have taken the mythology as reality (just conflict, resistance-to-God imagery).
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