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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Read more at Ancient Near East Today

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

The Struggle for Iraq, and What It Means for Israel

Oct. 17 2018

Almost immediately after the 2003 invasion, Iraq became a battleground between the U.S. and Iran, as the latter sent troops, money, and arms to foment and support an insurgency. The war on Islamic State, along with the Obama administration’s effort to align itself with the Islamic Republic, led to a temporary truce, but also gave Tehran-backed militias a great deal of power. Iran has also established a major conduit of supplies through Iraq to support its efforts in Syria. Meanwhile, it is hard to say if the recent elections have brought a government to Baghdad that will be pro-American or pro-Iranian. Eldad Shavit and Raz Zimmt comment how these developments might affect Israel:

Although statements by the U.S. administration have addressed Iran’s overall activity in the region, they appear to emphasize the potential for confrontation in Iraq. First and foremost, this [emphasis] stems from the U.S. perception of this arena as posing the greatest danger, in light of the extensive presence of U.S. military and civilian personnel operating throughout the country, and in light of past experience, which saw many American soldiers attacked by Shiite militias under Iranian supervision. The American media have reported that U.S. intelligence possesses information indicating that the Shiite militias and other elements under Iranian auspices intend to carry out attacks against American targets and interests. . . .

In light of Iran’s intensifying confrontation with the United States and its mounting economic crisis, Tehran finds it essential to maintain its influence in Iraq, particularly in the event of a future clash with the United States. The Iranian leadership has striven to send a message of deterrence to the United States regarding the implications of a military clash. . . .

A recently published report also indicates that Iran transferred ballistic missiles to the Shiite militias it supports in Iraq. Although Iran has denied this report, it might indeed attempt to transfer advanced military equipment to the Shiite militias in order to improve their capabilities in the event of a military confrontation between Iran and the United States and/or Israel, or a confrontation between [the militias] and the central government in Baghdad.

From Israel’s perspective, after years when the Iraqi arena received little attention from Israeli decision makers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have mentioned the possibility of Israel’s taking action against Iranian targets in Iraq. In this context, and particularly in light of the possibility that Iraq could become an arena of greater conflict between the United States and Iran, it is critical that there be full coordination between Israel and the United States. This is of particular importance due to [the American estimation of] stability in Iraq as a major element of the the campaign against Islamic State, which, though declared a success, is not yet complete.

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Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Israel & Zionism, U.S. Foreign policy