Of Myth and the Bible – Part 4: Leviathan, Sea Dragon of Chaos – Thus Spake GodawaThus Spake Godawa

In the previous post, I talked about how the pagan Canaanite Storm God, Ba’al was subverted by the Bible. The Biblical writers appropriated the language of storm and applied it to Yahweh in effect to claim that Ba’al was not the god of Storm, Yahweh was. But that’s not all. The Canaanite mythology contained a narrative of Ba’al fighting with Leviathan, the sea dragon of chaos. Well, guess what, the Bible subverts that too.

The Dragon and the Sea

In ancient Near Eastern religious mythologies, the sea and the sea dragon were symbols of chaos that had to be overcome to bring order to the universe, or more exactly, the political world order of the myth’s originating culture. Some scholars call this battle Chaoskampf—the divine struggle to create order out of chaos.[1] Creation accounts were often veiled polemics for the establishment of a king or kingdom’s claim to sovereignty.[2] Richard Clifford quotes, “In Mesopotamia, Ugarit, and Israel the Chaoskampf appears not only in cosmological contexts but just as frequently—and this was fundamentally true right from the first—in political contexts. The repulsion and the destruction of the enemy, and thereby the maintenance of political order, always constitute one of the major dimensions of the battle against chaos.”[3]

For example, the Sumerians had three stories where the gods Enki, Ninurta, and Inanna all destroy sea monsters in their pursuit of establishing order. The sea monster in two of those versions, according to Sumerian expert Samuel Noah Kramer, is “conceived as a large serpent which lived in the bottom of the ‘great below’ where the latter came in contact with the primeval waters.”[4] In the Babylonian creation myth, Enuma Elish, Marduk battles the sea dragon goddess Tiamat, and splits her body into two parts, creating the heavens and the earth, the world order over which Babylon’s deity Marduk ruled.

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