How to Read Biblical References to Dragons

Oct. 12 2018

Dragons, or dragon-like sea monsters, play an important role in the creation stories of many ancient Near Eastern peoples. In all of these stories, the dragon represents both primeval chaos and the sea, and is slain by a chief god of the sky or storms who thereby brings order to the world. Apparent references to such creatures, either with the term tanin or Leviathan, also occur in the Hebrew Bible. Genesis 1:21 states that “God created the great sea monsters [taninim],” while Psalm 74 states of God, “Thou didst divide the sea by Thy strength: Thou brakest the heads of the dragons [taninim] in the waters. Thou brakest the heads of Leviathan in pieces.” Robert Miller II explains the meaning of these verses:

[T]he dragon-slaying myth is a metaphor trying to say something about the nature of the universe and the political force that kept order on earth. . . . Many societies with dragon imagery—India, the Hurrians [of ancient Syria], Hittites, Israelites—were never seagoing people, so for them the sea was terrifying. The sea is huge, and you don’t know what’s out there, and when it (or she) gets kicked up into a storm, the result is utter chaos.

And that’s what life is for most people: existence on the verge of chaos. The storm god—and your king—fight against that chaos. . . . [A]t the same time, the myth is political propaganda because in every case the human king is the representative of the storm god in his victorious aspect on earth. The king is your guarantee of security. . . .

When Israel says God defeated the dragon, they use this myth in two ways. Most of the time, . . . they are saying, “Whatever you Canaanites mean when you say, ‘Our god defeated the dragon,’ it’s true of our God, not yours.”

The other way biblical authors use the myth is to say to their neighbors, “Your god had to fight this battle against the dragon. You think it’s his greatest accomplishment, whatever that dragon is. For our God, it’s actually nothing at all.” [Thus], at the end of the book of Job (41:1-5), God says about the Leviathan: “Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook or tie down its tongue with a rope? . . . Can you make a pet of it like a bird or put it on a leash for the young women in your house?” To God, the Leviathan is nothing.

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More about: Babylon, Hebrew Bible, Leviathan, Paganism, Religion & Holidays

Zionists Can, and Do, Criticize Israel. Are Anti-Zionists Capable of Criticizing Anti-Semitism?

Dec. 12 2018

Last week, the New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg defended the newly elected anti-Israel congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, ostensibly arguing that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism aren’t identical. Abe Greenwald comments:

Tlaib . . . has tweeted and retweeted her enthusiasm for terrorists such as Rasmea Odeh, who murdered two American students in a Jerusalem supermarket in 1969. If Tlaib’s anti-Zionism is of the Jew-loving kind, she has a funny way of showing it.

Ilhan Omar, for her part, once tweeted, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” And wouldn’t you know it, just because she believes that Zionist hypnotists have cast global spells masking Israeli evil, some people think she’s anti-Semitic! Go figure! . . .

Goldberg spends the bulk of her column trying very hard to uncouple American Jewishness from Israel. To do that, she enumerates Israel’s sins, as she sees them. . . . [But] her basic premise is at odds with reality. Zionists aren’t afraid of finding fault with Israel and don’t need to embrace anti-Zionism in order to [do so]. A poll conducted in October by the Jewish Electorate Institute found that a majority of Americans Jews have no problem both supporting Israel and criticizing it. And unlike Goldberg, they have no problem criticizing anti-Semitism, either.

Goldberg gives the game away entirely when she discusses the discomfort that liberal American Jews have felt in “defending multi-ethnic pluralism here, where they’re in the minority, while treating it as unspeakable in Israel, where Jews are the majority.” She adds: “American white nationalists, some of whom liken their project to Zionism, love to poke at this contradiction.” Read that again. She thinks the white nationalists have a point. Because, really, what anti-Semite doesn’t?

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel & Zionism, New York Times