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Towards the end of Job are two passages which describe beasts that resemble dragons:

Job 40:15-20: “Behold, Behemoth, which I made as I made you; he eats grass like an ox. Behold, his strength in his loins, and his power in the muscles of his belly. He makes his tail stiff like a cedar; the sinews of his thighs are knit together. His bones are tubes of bronze, his limbs like bars of iron. “He is the first of the works of God; let him who made him bring near his sword! ...

And then also here:

Job 41:21: His breath kindles coals, and a flame comes forth from his mouth.

Are these passages describing a fire-breathing dragon?

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  • Leviathan is a spiritual being. It's not an actual dragon. There are many such examples of descriptions of spiritual beings in terms of fire in their eyes or limbs. The bible is also clear that this not a physical thing (e.g. in Genesis)
    – Robert
    Commented Aug 11, 2022 at 19:20
  • I am not sure how the description of a spiritual being, which Job would have no reference for, would have made sense in God’s refutation.
    – wcochran
    Commented May 27 at 15:29

3 Answers 3

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There is no suggestion that the ancient Hebrews believed in the fire-breathing dragons of medieval lore, but they did believe in supernatural monsters loosely described as 'chaos monsters'. These were mythological creatures that inhabit creation stories and had to be defeated in order to bring order to the world.

Behemoth literally means 'great beast' and God defeated Behemoth, who now eats grass. Leo G. Perdue (Wisdom in Revolt: Metaphorical Theology in the Book of Job, page 226) says that Behemoth is a creature that God made and that, in the theopoeic realm of myth and ritual, symbolises the power of chaos. If God can defeat such an awesome creature, how much more easily can he deal with the feeble challenge of a mortal Job.

Leviathan is the fire-breathing monster of Job chapter 41. Unlike the medieval dragons, he was a sea monster and had many heads that God broke (Psalm 74:-14). Leviathan is well known in Canaanite mythology, associated with names such as the seven-headed Litan.

Robert Sutherland (Putting God on Trial: The Biblical Book of Job) says the Behemoth is a Hebrew chaos monster similar to Rahab (Psalm 89:10, Isaiah 51:9), Yam and Leviathan. In fact, he believes that Behemoth is Leviathan, although he agrees that some scholars see otherwise.

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  • +1, you beat me to the chaoskampf punch. Good answer.
    – Robert
    Commented Aug 24, 2022 at 2:52
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Leviathan - liv-ya-tan - is the Hebrew version of Litan, which is a Canaanite god that was an enemy of Baal. It was not a physical thing like a dragon.

In the old testament, Leviathan appears in multiple places and is one of the tannin -- which comes from the Ugaritic "tunnanu" meaning "serpent", and these were also Gods that were enemies of Baal(1):

Ugar. tunnanu as “serpent.” In the mythological literature of Ugarit, the tunnanu appears in two texts as an opponent of the storm-god Baal and his consort Anat. One7 describes the tunnanu together with yammu and nahar and other mythological beings as enemies of Baal vanquished by ʿanat, who muzzles the mouth of the tunnanu.8 The other9 describes the tunnanu and arš as denizens of the sea.10 These texts may allude to a calm sea voyage, which is associated with the craftsman-god Kothar-u-Khasis, Baal’s ally,11 who drives away the sea monster.12 Behind the motif of enmity between the storm-god and a serpent stands the Old Hittite Illuyanka myth,13 which originally described the victory of the serpent over the storm-god and a subsequent defeat of the serpent by the weather-god.14 Illuyanka is a precursor of ltn and tunnanu.15 Even closer to the Ugaritic myth is the Hurrian Kumarbi cycle,16 which is dominated by the antagonism between the gods Kumarbi and Teshub. Kumarbi, who belongs to the old generation of dethroned gods, has lost his kingdom and battles the storm-god Teshub with the aid of the sea. The mention of Mt. Hazzi (Zaphon) in the Song of Ullikummi,17 which belongs to the Kumarbi cycle, places it in northern Syria. The motif of the battle between the storm-god and the sea appears for the first time in one of the Mari letters,18 with reference to Hadad of Aleppo. The battle between the storm-god and the serpent represents a later development of this motif.19 In the Mari letter the context for the motif of the battle between the storm-god and the sea is a king’s seizure of power, a context that can be traced subsequently at Ugarit20 and in the OT.21 The tunnanu appears in magical texts as well as in mythological literature. The first three lines of a collection of magical formulas22 call on Baal to destroy (mḫṣ) the tunnanu and collect (?)23 the arrows of Rashap. This marks the beginning of the demonization of the tunnanu. A spell in another text also refers to Baal’s battle with the tunnanu.24 The mention of the tongues (dual?) of the tunnanu shows that it had more than one head,25 and the mention of tails (dual) indicates that it had one (or several) pair(s) of tails.26 Here too27 the tunnanu is muzzled.28

In the Bible, these gods were associated to Israel's enemies, Egypt and Babylon and were associated to the sea, hence some translations use "sea dragon", "sea monster", etc.

Like all gods, they are not corporeal, but like other texts that describe how YHWH humbles and overcomes the gods of Israel's enemies, so also these passages show that God controls Leviathan and all of the tannin. What makes the tannin special is that in the Genesis account, God is described as creating them on Day 5:

Genesis 1:21 (LEB)

21 So God created the great sea creatures[tannin] and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kind, and every bird with wings according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

The Masorah of Genesis 1.21 is interesting for two points, as it splits the verse into two disjoint Athnah, the first with the sea-monsters and the second with the rest of the verse. This has has interpretive effects:

  1. The tanninim do not move, e.g.

(God created the tannin), and (God created every living creature that moves..). as both are under disjoint Athnah.

Thus the tannin are not corporeal - they do not move or swim through the sea.

  1. God excluded the tannin (and only the tannin) from being
    good:

*(God created the tannin), and (God created every living creature that moves.. and it was very good):

masorah of sea monsters

Thus this is the only place in the Genesis account where anything that is not good is created, but the overall creation is very good, because the tannin serve God's purpose just as Egypt and Babylon served God's purpose. So the tannin are the opposition. They should be viewed as either actual existing spirits -- "the serpent" -- or as metaphors for the serpent, depending on how you understand the serpent in Genesis and other texts.

tannin was also the word used for snakes created by Pharaoh's magicians (and also by Aaron) in Exodus 7:9-12. They are referred to as vipers in Psalm 91.13 "you will tread on the young lion and viper [tannin]".

In Isaiah 27.1, Leviathan is declared to be one of these tannin. In Isaiah 51.9, God will kill the serpent [tannin] and in Psalm 74.4, God will crush the head of Leviathan.

Thus this is how the old testament refers to "the serpent" in a malevolent sense as the enemy of God, as opposed to a biological snake, which is nachash.


  1. H. Niehr, “תַּנִּין,” ed. G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry, trans. David E. Green, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006), 727.
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  • TIL that God created Satan on the 5th day of Genesis. I guess He probably created all the other angels on that day, too?
    – nick012000
    Commented Aug 11, 2022 at 22:30
  • @nick012000 I would think Satan as an angel is part of the heavenly host. Genesis is quite cryptic (at least for me) so I read it for themes and relations rather than specific information about the creation of angels. Fun Fact: In revelation there is a "beast from the sea" which "speaks with the voice of the dragon".
    – Robert
    Commented Aug 12, 2022 at 0:29
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In the book of job The Most High (God) describes two different animals one is the Behemoth a dinosaurs like creature and the other is the Leviathan which has the attributes of a dragon it even breath fire job 41:/19/20/21 Firebands stream from his mouth;sparked of fire shoot out. Smoke pours from from his nostrils as from a boiling pot over a fire of reeds. His breath set coal ablaze, and flames dart from his mouth. Whether or not it flew is open to interpretation. Job 41:5 Can you make pet out of him like a bird. Job 41:25 When he rises up,the mighty are terrified.

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