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

Israel Should Try to Defang Hamas without Toppling It

Feb. 22 2019

For the time being, Hamas has chosen to avoid outright war with the Jewish state, but instead to apply sustained, low-intensity pressure through its weekly border riots and organizing terrorist cells in the West Bank. Yet it is simultaneously engaged in a major military build-up, which suggests that it has not entirely been deterred by the previous three Gaza wars. Yaakov Lappin considers Jerusalem’s options:

In recent years, the Israel Defense Force’s southern command, which is responsible for much of the war planning for Gaza, identified a long-term truce as the best of bad options for Israel. This is based on the understanding that an Israeli invasion of Gaza and subsequent destruction of the Hamas regime would leave Israel in the unenviable position of being directly in charge of some two-million mostly hostile Gazans. This could lead to an open-ended and draining military occupation. . . .

Alternatively, Israel could demolish the Hamas regime and leave Gaza, putting it on a fast track to a “Somalia model” of anarchy and violence. In that scenario, . . . multiple jihadist armed gangs lacking a central ruling structure would appear, and Israel would be unable to project its military might to any single “return address” in Gaza. This would result in a loss of Israel’s deterrent force on Gaza to keep the region calm. This scenario would be considerably worse than the current status quo.

But a third option, in between the options of leaving Gaza as it is and toppling Hamas in a future war, may exist. In this scenario, the IDF would decimate Hamas’s military wing in any future conflict but leave its political wing and police force in place. This would enable a rapid Israeli exit after a war, but avoid a Somalia-like fate for Gaza with its destructive implications for both Israelis and Gazans. . . .

On the one hand, Hamas’s police force is an intrinsic support system for Gaza’s terrorist-guerrilla forces. On the other hand, the police and domestic-security units play a genuine role in keeping order. Such forces have been used to repress Islamic State-affiliated cells that challenge Hamas’s rule. . . . Compared to the alternative scenarios of indefinite occupation or the “Somalia scenario,” a weakened Hamas might be the best and most realistic option.

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security