Carl Baugh is a Young-Earth Creationist from Glen Rose, Texas, who claims that fire-breathing dragons are living dormant at the bottom of the sea, awaiting Armageddon.
[Speaking of things lying deeper than “dragons at the bottom of the sea,” Henry Morris (founder of the Young-Earth creationist Institute for Creation Research) stated in his book The Bible Has the Answer: “So far as we can tell from Scripture, the present hell, Hades, is somewhere in the heart of the earth itself. It is also called ‘the pit’ (Isa. 14:9, 15; Ezek. 32:18-21) and ‘the abyss’ (Rev. 9:2). Jesusʼ description of Hades (Luke 16:23) indicates it to be a place of conscious suffering. Many people today consider this simplistic view of Hades to be somewhat naive and amusing. If hell exists at all, they think, it is some kind of intangible state of existence, in another dimension. They consider Biblical references to hell to be either figurative or else just ‘pre-scientific.’ However, the Biblical descriptions are quite matter-of-fact. The writers certainly themselves believed hell to be real and geographically ‘beneath’ the earthʼs surface. To say this is not scientific is to assume science knows much more about the earthʼs interior than is actually the case. The great ‘pit’ would only need to be about 100 miles or less in diameter to contain, with much room to spare, all the forty billion or so people who have ever lived, assuming their ‘spiritual’ bodies are the same size as their physical bodies. None of our present seismic equipment, or other means of studying the earthʼs core, could detect a non-homogeneity of such size deep in the interior.” (Morris, p.220) In a later ICR tract, Morris suggested that Hell was far away from Earth, possibly in a black hole.]
The Bible and Science:
Are Dinosaurs Mentioned in the Bible?
A Must Read! Lots of excellent photos!
See Also: The Index to Creationist Claims
CH710. Man and dinosaurs coexisted.
(see also CC100: Human fossils out of place)
(see also CB930.3: Dinosaurs may be in the Congo.)
CH710.1. Ica stones show humans and dinosaurs coexisted.
CH710.2. Dinosaur figurines from Acambaro show human/dino association.
CH711. Behemoth, from the book of Job, was a dinosaur.
CH711.1. Leviathan, from the book of Job, was a dinosaur.
CH712. Dragons were dinosaurs.
CH712.1. Some dinosaurs breathed fire.
Flying Fire-Breathing Dragons?
Please let me know what you think of this creationist hypothesis regarding flying fire-breathing dinosaurs.
I have no idea if the guyʼs a Christian or not, but I would hate to cite his hypothesis in a debate and discover it was a poor argument to the embarrassment of Christians everywhere, since there are a lot of bad arguments out there. Thanks, Andy
I donʼt know exactly how an animal could store that much hydrogen inside its body in huge sacs. Seems to me it would take quite a lot of hydrogen to lift even a really small bat. It would have to be at least the size of a beach ball, no? Talk about huge round animals, would probably make puffer fish look slim by comparison. And all references to the bombardier beetle aside which only expels some heated chemicals, no known animal expels flames, and for good reason, would probably burn down its habitat, or in the case of lots of hydrogen-filled dragons floating round the roofs of caves, would make each other explode. Not to mention the heartburn, or lung burn (if it hiccuped or inhaled while trying to flame on), or nostril burn, or gum and tongue and lip burns that would result.
Also a note on bombardier beetles, there are related species that can only squirt their own backs, they lack the ability to aim the heated chemicals. And there are other related beetles that have the chambers in the rear for the chemicals and have the quinone chemicals, but they donʼt produce the heated mixture. So thereʼs a spectrum of near variations, close cousins of the bombardier beetle, with varying degrees of similarities. Is there anything like that in the world of fire-breathing dragons?
I debated Kent Hovind, Dr. Dino, on this topic a while back, and sent him a printed response to his argument that the dinosaurs with the long nasal passages, the duck billed dinos, stored-fire producing chemicals inside their elongated nostril passages. The evolutionists say the long nostrils were simply empty nostrils and probably gave the duck billed dinos a unique sound. If Kent is right their nostrils were clogged with irritating chemicals. I canʼt even stomach water up my nose. And the chemicals would have burned their nostrils if they were breathing fire out of their nostrils, or burned their tongue and lips if fire came out their mouths. Or what if the opening to the back of their throats from their nostrils opened up and the chemicals dripped down into their lungs or stomach?
A further note on dragons or monsters mentioned in the Bible. There are places in the Bible were Yahweh fights or subdues great monsters, some appear to be personifications of the primeval waters of creation. Rahab is one such monster. Another is the “dragon who lives in the heart of the sea” as mentioned in Ezekiel. Behemoth and Leviathan are ancient types of such monsters as well. Myth of larger-than-life gods and monsters fighting are quite old, but prove nothing. Some ancient cultures were also acquainted with the bones of mammoths and dinosaurs, and believed in the case of the mammoth skull that it represented a “cyclops” since it has a large hole in the middle for the nasal opening which they took for an eye opening. Even modern giraffe bones have a dragon-like resemblance with the long neck and weird shaped skull.
Here are some websites by Christians and educators, as well as one research paper that I googled up…
From a Research Paper on the Internet
Today when a person hears the word “dragon,” he will think of some fire-breathing serpent, covered in thick reptilian scales, adorned with two bat-like wings, perhaps in combat with some knight in shining armor, but perhaps it would be false to attribute such characteristics to the dragons people imagined in the 1st century when Revelation was written. The first aim of this paper will be to investigate the various images and tales associated with dragons during ancient times by examining passages containing dragons in the Old Testament as well two additional myths, one Babylonian and the other Ugaritic . Later on the scope of this investigation will broaden to include not only dragons from other time periods in the Judeo-Christian line of myths, but also dragons from different cultures the world.
Dragons in the Old Testament
In order to come to know the imagery and tales that ancient readers of Revelation would have associated with the dragon described in chapters 12 and 13, we turn first to the literature of the Old Testament. Here we find a rich body of material dealing with dragons, most notably in the verses of Psalms, Job, and the apocryphal work of Bel and the Dragon. The Ancient Cosmos and Creation To understand the passages discussed below it is important to know the world view shared by Israelites along with other people of the ancient near east, for they believed that before creation the entire universe consisted of nothing but a vast and chaotic cosmic sea. The act of creation thus involved splitting these waters apart to create a space within which the heavens and the earth could reside. This conception of the nature of the cosmos is reflected in the account of creation contained within the first chapter of Genesis, where it is stated:
“And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters’. And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so.” (Genesis 1:6-7) Rain was believed to be water fallen from the cosmic sea above the firmament, and the oceans and seas of the earth were believed to be connected with the lower half of the cosmic sea. References to dragons within the Old Testament relate to a chaotic creature associated with the cosmic sea (Day 4).
The Continuing Divine Conflict
In Psalms this theme occurs in passages that make more explicit the conflict between God and the watery dragon as the cause of the creation of the heavens and earth. For example, in Psalms we read, “Thou didst divide the sea by thy might; thou didst break the heads of the dragons on the waters” (Psalm 74: 13). This verse is followed by a brief description of the manner in which God established the bounds of the earth, the sun, and the seasons. The speakerʼs motivation in this passage is to point out to God how victorious he has been in battle in the past, while pleading at the same time for Him to come down in battle again for the Temple, Godʼs sanctuary and the holy meeting place of His people, has been desecrated. Why, asks the psalmist, does God not bring justice down upon the enemy, “Why dost thou hold back thy hand, why dost thou keep thy right hand in thy bosom” (Psalm 74:11)? (Day 22-5)
In another passage from Psalms we read, “Thou didst rule the raging of the sea: when its waves rise, thou stillest them. Thou didst crush Rahab like a carcass” (Psalm 89:9-10). The mention of the slaying of the watery dragon is again followed by praise to God for creating the heavens and earth, before the psalmist moves on to describe the anointment of Daniel as Godʼs chosen king. It is interesting to note in Godʼs prophecy that he says of Daniel, “I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers (Psalm 89:25,”) as if the ability to control these bodies of water was both a sign that Daniel was Godʼs chosen ruler and indicative of Danielʼs competence in governing. It is debated among scholars whether the occasion for this passage is a specific historical calamity or merely a cultic event, but it is clear that the Davidic covenant has been violated. God is called upon to aid in the restoration of the covenant, bringing order to the world as he did in the very beginning of time with its creation. (Day 25-6) Another occasion within the literature of the Old Testament where we find the theme of God restoring order among his chosen people by piercing the watery dragon, as he did in the beginning of time with the creation, is found in the Exodus story as the Israelites cross the Red Sea (Van Seters 145-7). “Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord… made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided (Exodus 14:21)”. There is no specific mention made of a dragon, but it seems that the image of the splitting apart of the sea by Moses with his piercing staff was sufficient to bring to the mind of a later biblical author the slaying of the dragon, for he writes in Second Isaiah in his account of the crossing, “Was it not thou that didst cut Rahab in pieces, that didst pierce the dragon? Was it not thou that didst dry up the sea, the waters of the great deep; that didst make the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to pass over?” (Isaiah 51:9-10) What becomes clear upon reading this passage is that the crossing event is meant to signify a new beginning for Godʼs chosen people, those who have out of their dedication towards Him have been “redeemed.” Assuming that the author of Revelation had access to this body of literature, we can expect that he likewise would recall the Israelites crossing the Red Sea as he wrote of the dragon centuries later. Later we shall see that this is true.
Urzeit wird Endzeit
In the passages discussed above we see how the theme of divine conflict with the dragon surfaces throughout the history of Godʼs chosen people. Now we will discuss what was first recognized by the scholar Gunkel, that the events of the beginning of times become those of the end as well. We find the first eschatologization of this theme in Daniel 7 where four beasts representing four great kingdoms arise out of the sea to make war with the earth. God sends “one like the son of man,” the angel Michael, to defeat these beasts and establish an everlasting kingdom on earth. (Batto 175-7)
It has long been recognized by many scholars that Revelation is a commentary of the authorʼs times. Thus, one level of interpretation involves pinpointing the actual references of the characters and objects that emerge within the text. For example, in the 13th chapter the universal authority accorded to the beast would have brought to the mind of an ancient the seeming universal authority of the Roman Empire. The emperor Nero died a violent death, but was rumored to have come back from the dead. This explains the significance of the mortal wound to the head that is healed in verse 3. The accusations of verses 5-6, bear resemblance to the emperor cult, and the beast making war on the saints would then seem to make reference to the execution of Christians at the hands of Nero. (Collins 88-90) The second beast which rises from the earth is taken to represent those who hold power delegated by the Roman emperor, as it is the second beast that “exercises all authority of the first beast.” But it is also those who performed the rituals of the emperor cult, those who would be in a position to perform “great signs.” Those who did not have the mark of the beast, a mark taken metaphorically to mean a show of support for the Roman authorities, would be disadvantaged socially. It is also possible that a reference is being made to coins issued by Rome which bore the image of the emperor on them. Anyone who refused to used these coins would not be able to “buy and sell.” (Collins 90-93)
Several conclusions may be made from the above discussion of dragons in Old Testament literature and the political circumstances the author of Revelation found himself. It was not infrequent for Godʼs original slaying of the dragon in the creation myth to be alluded to during times that His people felt it necessary for Him to return to restore order to that creation, especially during episodes of disobedience and political oppression. The author must have seen in his own times a growing tendency to disregard the new covenant with God that had been established with the coming of the Messiah. The seven letters to the seven churches in the opening of the text offer ample evidence to this effect. Moreover, as the author looked back on the history of Godʼs chosen people he would be confronted with a series of successive imperial takeovers as power and territory was swallowed up first by the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and finally the Romans. In must indeed have seemed to the author as though a flood of evil was engulfing the entire world in the same way seas engulf the shore at high tide.
At the center of this deluge lay no ordinary being, but the same chaotic watery dragon whom God had conquered in the very creation of the world. In Chapter 13 the dragon delegates authority to another beast that arises from the sea, taken to be a human figure, but it is still the dragon that is understood to be ultimately responsible for the temptation and deception of Godʼs followers. For the author of Revelation, nothing short of a battle at the scale of the divine conflict that had established the original bounds of the cosmos could restore order once and for all among Godʼs chosen people.
We find from the very beginning of the text that the conflict with the watery dragon and the sea will be an important theme. When John, the speaker of Revelation, ascends into heaven he finds that around the divine throne “there is as it were a sea of glass, like crystal” (Rev. 4:6). This image foreshadows the events that will come, for as God imposes the most orderly structure of a crystal onto the ordinarily choppy, shifting waters of the chaotic sea, he demonstrates the power which He has over it and its inhabitant dragon.
Before the final battle between the God and the dragon in Revelation, we find a group of people gathered before a sea just as the Israelites were gathered at the sea as the Egyptians approached. These people are Godʼs chosen. They are those who have remained devoted to Him, who have not fallen prey to the deceit and trickery of the dragon, and who have realized the dragon to be the devil. The author of Revelation writes that he has a vision of: “What appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands.” (Rev. 15:2)
This sea and fire mentioned together make an image that clearly refers to the dragon, for we know from the Book of Job that dragons were believed to breathe fire. (“Out of his mouth go flaming torches (Job 41:19).”) We might imagine God comforting these people with the same words used in Second Isaiahʼs reinterpretation of the Israelite sea crossing: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (Isa. 43:1-3) It is made clear that during the final battle between God and the watery dragon Godʼs chosen people will be kept safe from harm. In Revelation God sends an angel to chain the dragon and throw him into a bottomless pit in the ground for 1,000 years (Rev. 20: 1-3). This punishment is especially disagreeable to the dragon considering its natural habitat to be the sea. After this period God allows the dragon to be set loose in preparation for the final battle in which He throws the dragon into a lake of fire and sulfur (v.10). Death and all those who have betrayed God are also thrown into this lake (v. 14). God has purged the world of evil, establishing order as he did in the beginning. The author writes: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” (Rev. 21:1-2) The dragon and all things associated with it, such as the sea, death, and the wicked, have been banished from the cosmos. A new creation has been formed where they are absent.
Origins of the Divine Conflict with the Dragon
Many scholars have debated the origins of the theme of creation and the divine conflict between God and a sea dragon. Earlier scholars such as Gunkel have proposed that the Old Testament was influenced by the ancient Babylonian myth Enuma Elish. The myth begins in primordial times, before the creation of the world, with the mingling of the sweet waters of Apsu and the salt waters of Tiamat, whose union produces a series of divine pairs of high gods. These gods multiply to such an extent that their activity begins to disturb the divine rest of Tiamat, who thus decides to make war against her progeny and so creates a host of chaotic beasts, including dragons, to prepare for battle. The text itself says little as to the appearance of Tiamat herself, yet we know from a representation of her on an engraving that she possessed a thick serpentine body covered in scales (Dragons and Dragon Lore 21). This description is compatible with other descriptions of the sea dragon found in the Old Testament. In the Book of Job we find that the dragonʼs “back is made of rows of shields, shut up closely as with a seal (Job 41:15).” From among the gods arises Marduk, who proclaims that he will go into battle and restore order in the cosmos. He fashions a net made of the four winds to ensnare Tiamat. When she opens her mouth to swallow him down he sends a fierce wind into her mouth that swells up her intestines, then shoots an arrow that pierces and splits her belly open. This use of wind as a weapon to conquer the dragon surfaces in passages of the Old Testament as well. In the Book of Job we read, “By his wind the heavens were made fair; his hand piercing the fleeing serpent” (Job 26:13). In the crossing of the Red Sea a wind dries up the sea so that the Israelites may pass (Ex. 14:21). And before the opening of the seventh seal in Revelation we find, “Four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. Then I saw another angel ascend from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, ‘Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads.’” (Rev. 7:1-3) The message here is that before God unleashes the winds that will destroy the dragon, those who have been obedient to Him must be marked so that they will be safe during the battle. After Marduk defeats Tiamat he slices her in half. Out of one portion of her body he fashions the arc of the sky to hold back the waters of the cosmic sea above, and out of the other portion he establishes the firmament. We have seen already how this conception of the creation event incorporates itself into Genesis and other books such as Psalms, and then emerges once again in Revelation with the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. The frequent occurrence throughout the bible of this theme of the act of creation being dependent upon the slaying of a watery dragon suggests strongly that both Old and New Testament literature draw heavily upon the Babylonian Myth Enuma Elish.
Baal vs. Yaam
Later scholars since the discovery of the Ugaritic texts in 1929 have argued that the mythology in question can be proved to be specifically Canaanite rather than Babylonian in origin. In the Ugaritic myth Baal vs. Yaam, Baal defeats the rebellious sea-god Yam, as a result of which he is proclaimed king. The language used to refer to Yaam is very close to the language of the Old Testament. It is suggested that the use of “L_t_n”, “the twisting one,” referring either to a consort of Yaam or Yaam himself, approximates the use of “Leviathan” in the bible. Furthermore, there are instances of the phrase, “the crooked serpent (Job 16:12-13),” that seem to rely upon the Ugaritic text. The seven heads of Yaam appear in passages in Psalms where the “several heads (Ps. 74:14)” of Leviathan are crushed, and both the dragon Rev. (12:3) and the beast that arises from the sea in Revelation possess seven heads (Rev. (13:1). (Day 4-6) In Canaanite mythology El was the father of all the lesser gods. So it is on his behalf that Baal sets out to conquer Yaam. The heavenly warrior going out to conquer the dragon for the sake of the ruling god is another theme carried into Revelation from the ancient Ugaritic. In Daniel we read that God takes his seat and as he speaks “the beast was slain, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire (Dan. 7:11). God then confers authority on “one like the son of man,” representing Michael, Israelʼs patron angel to do battle against the rest of the beasts in the same way that El seats the storm god Baal at his side to wage battle against Yaam. In Revelation we find this same conferring of authority upon the Lamb, Jesus Christ, to do battle against the chaotic watery dragon. (Batto 175-6) The appropriation of this theme of God appointing an individual to fight the dragon becomes quite confusing in Revelation, as it is not always clear whether it is Michael or Jesus who is battling. In Revelation 5 God bestows authority on Jesus: “‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’ And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all therein, saying, ‘To him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever!” (Rev. 5:12-13) These passages seems to indicate that God has given Jesus the authority to go into battle against the forces of chaos, and so we might imagine that Jesus is the rider of the horse in Revelation 6 who is given a crown and sets out to conquer, but in a later passage we read: “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world--he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” (Rev. 12:7-9) In subsequent passages where we find a figure battling with the dragon or the beasts associated with Him it becomes difficult to discern whether that figure is Michael or Jesus, but the theme of an associate to God who aids him in the divine conflict with the watery dragon remains unarguably present.
The myth of Bel and the Dragon, found in the Old Testament apocrypha, seems to draw upon both of the ancient myths we have discussed, although it has been alleged by some scholars to be a plain case of dependency upon only the Ugaritic myth. In this myth Daniel is commanded to worship “a great dragon which the Babylonians revered” (Bel 1:23). Daniel refuses to do so, and instead receives permission to kill the dragon with a mixture of pitch, fat, and hair boiled together to make cakes, which cause the dragon to burst open after Daniel feeds them to it. The fact that the dragon is Babylonian and dies by being ruptured apart points to its reliance on the Enuma Elish. Daniel slaying the dragon in the place of God, however, is a theme which clearly draws upon Ugaritic roots. Many scholars continue to assert that the relationship between biblical literature and ancient myths must be exclusive to either the Babylonian or the Ugaritic myth. It is the opinion of this writer that such debate is counterproductive to studies of the dragon in the bible, but not only because it seems clear that elements from both of the myths appear to surface in the accounts of dragons in the bible, including those found in Revelation. It is my contention that the figure of the dragon exists as a universal psychological phenomena throughout all times and across all cultures, what the psychologist Carl Jung would call an archetypal figure, and thus any dragon mythology is relevant to studies of dragon in the bible.
The Archetypal Dragon
Jungian psychology posits the existence of a collective unconsciousness whose contents, psychological archetypes, are identical in all individuals throughout all time. Archetypes, although they frequently emerge in the form of traditional myths, fairy tales, and works of art, are independent from experience or passed down tradition for their existence, but are instead imbedded in the psyche of a human being from birth. As human beings are naturally born with arms and legs, so they are born with the archetypes that make up the collective unconsciousness. If all of the myths that civilization has produced were to vanish from memory, human beings would reinvent those myths in their most basic forms within a matter of several generations. The number “ 4” has frequently been pointed out to be an archetype symbolizing completeness. It emerges, for example, in the four cardinal directions of North, South, East, and West. Often we find in a quaternity one of its elements to be different that the others and therefore repressed. The dimensions of space are generally conceived to be composed of length, width, depth, and time, time being the element that is different and repressed. If we step back from the world of the ancient near east we find dragons emerging in cultures all over the world in all periods of history, from ancient China to Medieval Europe to the Inca Civilization, suggesting that the figure of the dragon may also exist as an archetype within the collective unconsciousness of the human psyche. An investigation of this archetype as it appears in various contexts, including those outside the biblical canon and the myths that immediately shaped it, should thus be able to shed new light on the figure of the dragon in Revelation.
Dragons in Other Mythologies
There does not seem to be any defining characteristic of dragons through different cultures and time, although most dragons possess one or two of the features listed below. Dragons are large reptilian creatures with tough skin or scales, their bodies twisting and serpentine, sometimes possessing bat-like wings. Often they have the ability to breathe fire through their mouths and nostrils. Perhaps the only characteristic common to all dragons is the twisting, serpentine body. Yet beyond these details of description there is one association made with dragons that is constant throughout the various emergences of the dragon archetype that we may focus on to gain a deeper understanding of the dragon archetype, and that is the association between dragons and the sea. We have seen this connection made in Babylonian and Canaanite myths, as well as in the literature of the Old Testament. We can see it made again in Greek myths as well. In the myth of Perseus and Andromeda, Perseus rescues a young girl who has been chained to a rock as an offering to appease the dragon who lives out at sea. One of the sharpest images of the myth is that of the dragon skimming across the sea to come take his offering: “Look out to sea! Swift as a diving, tossing, Knife-sharp-nosed-ship that cuts the waves, propelled By seat-soaked arms of galley slaves, the dragon Sailed up while churning waters at its breast Broke into spray. “ (Gregory 133) Chinese dragons are also associated with the sea, beginning their lives as water snakes before they mature into full adults. Worshiped for their ability to bring rain, Chinese dragons are also believed to be able to control the rivers. During the winter, the dragon descends from the heavens to reside in the ocean, then returns again during summertime to return the rains.
Dragons Representing the Unknown
This last detail of the Chinese dragon moving in between the heavens and the sea should remind us of the ancient near eastern conception of the cosmos as being composed of the heavens and earth within a gap made by splitting apart the cosmic sea. What we can begin to see here is the dragon constantly being related with that which is beyond the bounds of human experience, that which is both unknown and unknowable. The earth and sky were all the ancients ever thought they would know through perception, and yet they questioned what lay beyond the horizon of their experienced world. That water seemed to lie underneath the firmament, as was evidenced by the vast oceans, and above the heavens, as was evidenced by the fall of rain from the sky, seemed naturally to suggest the existence of a cosmic sea enveloping the entire world. Dragons, as archetypes representing the unknown, became associated with that cosmic sea. In medieval times, unexplored areas and the oceans at the rims of the earth were marked with the phrase, “Here Be Dragons.” Sometimes a small dragon icon could be found in such areas of the map as well. (Niggs 109) Here again we find dragons emerging in places that are beyond the means of knowledge. Notice that again the dragon appears to be not only associated with the unknown, but with the unknown surrounding the known, familiar world.
The Dragon and Revelationʼs Political Message
Now we may turn once more to examine the dragon as it appears in Revelation to see what new insights may be discovered, remembering that the dragon represents the unknown surrounding a known, familiar world. What is already brought to mind is the series of empires that were steadily engulfing each other and as a result the Christian community during the recent history of the author who wrote Revelation. Earlier we discussed how it must have seemed for those living in the ancient near east as if some force was steadily rising and taking over the land. What we may infer now from the fact that a dragon was associated with this force, namely the Roman Empire, is that members of the Christian community must not have known how the Roman Empire existed or how exactly came to power.
During our times we find it difficult to trust the motives of the politicians who rule over us, even when we have a policy of transparent governing and a rampant media acting as a watchdog over those in power. In ancient times it must have been next to impossible to know the reasons behind certain political decisions unless one was directly involved. Members of the Christian community felt themselves to be a minority group in the midst of a vast sea of people who they believed to be unknowable because they were not part of the Christian network as they were. To make matters worse, the center of power of this vast sea of people was growing stronger and stronger. These sentiments erupted in the form of Revelation, in which the Roman Empire was subtly associated with the mythical watery dragon, the threatening unknown surrounding everywhere.
Dragons and the Person
The last tale of dragons that will be examined in this paper is contemporary to our own times and is found in a book by C.S. Lewis entitled, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, in which a young boy named Eustace, who is disliked by his peers because of his greediness and callous attitude, is turned into a dragon as a result of placing a huge gold bracelet over his arm while in a dragonʼs lair. The most striking imagery of the tale is the passage where Eustace describes how he was turned back into a boy. A lion appears as if in a dream, surrounded by light pale like the moon, and Eustace is terrified of what the dragon will do. The Lion asks the dragon to undress whereupon Eustace begins to scratch himself so that first his scales come off and then his entire skin peels away the way a snake sheds its skin, but every time he sheds his skin a new one reappears to replace it. Finally the Lion says he will have to undress him. “I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now… The very first tear he made was so deep that I though it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything Iʼve ever felt.. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off” (Lewis 89).
When the lion is done he leaves Eustace in his original form as a boy, the thick skin of the dragon laying like a carcass by in the grass. From this point on Eustaceʼs personality changes, as if he is a new person. In this tale it is as if the unknown fringes of the outer cosmos where the dragon lies have become the very outer skin of the cosmos of the individual. And here we have what might be a key for unlocking the appearance of the dragon in the Book of Revelation. Eustace becomes a dragon because of his sinful nature, and only the appearance of a terrifying and violent figure of authority can restore him to a normal state of order. Perhaps this is why the Book of Revelation has captured the interest of readers over so many centuries, because beyond its message of a God who comes to restore moral order during times when the masses are disobeying his established covenant, or political order during times of outside political oppression, the Book of Revelation portrays a God who will descend violently from the heavens to pierce through the dragon-like shell of sin that surrounds us as individuals to restore order within our souls, just as He pierced the dragon in the beginning to establish heaven and earth, revealing beneath that watery skin new people made in the likeness of Him. That dragonʼs skin, furthermore, is often the part of ourselves that is unknown to us. To know it is to conquer it.
Batto, Bernard F. Slaying the Dragon: Mythmaking in the Biblical Tradition.
Louisville: Westminister/John Knox Press, 1992.
Collins, Adela Yarbro. The Apocalypse. Wilmington, Delaware : M. Glazier, 1979.
Day, John. Godʼs conflict with the dragon and the sea. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
Ingersoll, Ernest. Dragons and Dragon Lore. Detroit: Singing Tree Press, 1968.
The Metamorphoses by Ovid. Translated by Horace Gregory. Hew York: Viking, 1958, pp. 131-34.
Nigg, Joe. The book of fabulous beasts : a treasury of writings from ancient times to the present. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Van Seters, John. The Life of Moses: The Yahwist as Historian in Exodus-Numbers. Louisville: Westminister/John Knox Press, 1994.
There are still hints left within the Bible that indicate that once Israel held a view of Godʼs battle with the sea that was much closer to that of her neighbors. The reason that this earlier, ‘more mythological’ language is preserved in the Bible as we now have it is probably the fact that the language of Godʼs victory over the sea was applied as well to the exodus from Egypt, and thus could not be entirely done away with. In a sense, in the P creation account in Genesis 1, and in the references to the exodus, a sort of ‘demythologization’ is taking place, as traditional mythical language is applied either to historical events or to creation understood in a more theologically sophisticated manner. Nonetheless, take a look at the following verses to see remnants of the earlier forms of these ideas, where God fights against the sea monster, called Rahab, Leviathan, or Yam (i.e. Sea):
God vs. Rahab the sea monster: Isaiah 51:9-10; Psalm 89:10-11; Job 26:12-13. (The name Rahab is applied to Egypt in Ps. 87:4)
God vs. Leviathan the sea monster: Isaiah 27:1; Psalm 74:12-17. (The former text has a very close parallel in a text discovered at Ugarit, available on-line; the latter has a clear reference to Leviathan as the multi-headed dragon). See further.
This is from a professorʼs syllabus on the web:
The Lord and the Serpent
Signs of the conflict between The Sky-God and the Waters in the Bible
- Job 26
- Psalms 74.12-15
- Psalms 89.8-11
- Isaiah 27.1
- Isaiah 51.9-10
Passages which may reflect the myth transferred to another context:
- Ezekiel 29.2-5
- Ezekiel 32.2-4
- Revelation 12 and 13.
See also: Bernard F. Batto Slaying the Dragon: Mythmaking in the Biblical Tradition (Louisville 1992). Foster R. McCurley Ancient Myths and Biblical Faith: Scriptural Transformations (Philadelphia 1983).
Then Job answered:
By his power he stilled the sea;
by his understanding he smote Rahab.
By his wind the heavens were made fair;
his hand pierced the fleeing serpent.
Lo, these are but the outskirts of his ways;
and how small a whisper do we hear of him!
But the thunder of his power who can understand?”
Thou didst divide the sea by thy might;
thou didst break the heads of the dragons on the waters.
Thou didst crush the heads of Leviathan,
thou didst give him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
Thou didst cleave open springs and brooks;
thou didst dry up ever-flowing streams.
O LORD God of hosts,
who is mighty as thou art, O LORD,
with thy faithfulness round about thee?
Thou dost rule the raging of the sea;
when its waves rise, thou stillest them.
Thou didst crush Rahab like a carcass,
thou didst scatter thy enemies with thy mighty arm.
The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine;
the world and all that is in it, thou hast founded them.
In that day the LORD with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.
Awake, awake, put on strength,
O arm of the LORD;
awake, as in days of old,
the generations of long ago.
Was it not thou that didst cut Rahab in pieces,
that didst pierce the dragon?
Was it not thou that didst dry up the sea,
the waters of the great deep;
that didst make the depths of the sea a way
for the redeemed to pass over?
“Son of man, set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt, and prophesy against him and against all Egypt;
speak, and say, Thus says the Lord GOD:
“Behold, I am against you,
Pharaoh king of Egypt,
the great dragon that lies
in the midst of his streams,
that says, My Nile is my own;
I made it.”
I will put hooks in your jaws,
and make the fish of your streams stick to your scales;
and I will draw you up out of the midst of your streams,
with all the fish of your streams
which stick to your scales.
And I will cast you forth into the wilderness,
you and all the fish of your streams;
you shall fall upon the open field,
“Son of man, raise a lamentation over Pharaoh king of Egypt, and say to him:
“You consider yourself a lion among the nations,
but you are like a dragon in the seas;
you burst forth in your rivers,
trouble the waters with your feet,
and foul their rivers.
Thus says the Lord GOD:
I will throw my net over you
with a host of many peoples;
and I will haul you up in my dragnet.
And I will cast you on the ground,
on the open field I will fling you,
and will cause all the birds of the air to settle on you,
and I will gorge the beasts of the whole earth with you.
Slaying the Dragon: Mythmaking in the Biblical Tradition
By Bernard F. Batto
Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992. 248 pp. $15.99.
This is a thorough and imaginative analysis of the ways by which poets of the ancient Near East and of the Bible adapted prior ways of understanding reality by recasting and retelling existing myths and narratives. The Babylonian creation story Enuma Elish, for example, is shown to be a deliberate modification of prior mythic accounts (the Gilgarnesh flood story and the Atrahasis myth) that provides a fresh statement of lifeʼs fundamental meaning.
The same procedure is followed in dealing with the biblical accounts of creation and flood, first by the Yahwist and, then, by the Priestly tradition, of the crossing of the sea in the Exodus narrative, and of the dragon materials generally. Application of the thesis to the New Testament contrasts the reign of God with the reign of Satan and, again, addresses the dragon motif in Revelation.
This is a fascinating, well argued, and well-documented presentation. The process of adaptation and modification of prior myths and understandings was probably much less self-conscious than the author maintains but, even so, the adaptations did occur. And therein lies a lesson for religious leadership of any time. The sacral traditions must be reclaimed afresh and imaginatively, time after time; otherwise, they die.
Wake Forest University
Winston Salem, NC.
Secondary Readings (there is so much to consider; the following is tentative)
Clifford, Richard J. Creation Accounts in the Ancient Near East and in the Bible CBQMS 26. Washington: Catholic Biblical Association, 1994.
Batto, Bernard F. Slaying the Dragon: Mythmaking in the Biblical Tradition. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1992.
Hyers, Conrad. The Meaning of Creation: Genesis and Modern Science.
Dallas: Word, 1984.
According to Griffiths the dragon was originally seen as a somewhat peaceful earth-bound creature, whose primary function was to guard subterranean treasure hoards. Only over time did this image transmute into that of the more commonly recognized fire-breathing dragon, the cruel destructive symbol of aggression that dominates up until now. Meet the Dragon is an essay by Bill Griffiths which deals with the Beowulf dragon in great detail. By outlining the history of the dragon within the Anglo-Saxon tradition, and an analysis of the role it played within other cultures, the author persuasively argues for the all-important position the dragon held within the story-tellerʼs literary toolkit.
Meet the Dragon: An Introduction to Beowulfʼs Adversary by Bill Griffiths
Heart of Albion Press
The KJV uses the term “dragon” which comes from the Greek word drakon which means “serpent.” It refers to a monster with a scaly snake like body. The Greek New Testament uses drakon 12 times only in the book of Revelation which the KJV translates as “dragon” (Rev. 12-13, 16:13, 20:2). The dragon in Revelation has seven heads similar to the leviathan in Ugaritic and Psalm 74:14 (Gibson, 50, 68; Walace, 290). Satan is called a “dragon” in Revelation 20:2.
In the Old Testament the KJV uses the term “dragon” for the Hebrew words tannim meaning “jackals” and tannin meaning “serpent, or sea monster” (BDB, 1072; Gesenius, 868-9). It seems the KJV mistranslated these two separate words. Tannim is from the root tan meaning “to howl” and tannin is from the root tanan “to smoke” (Ibid.). Jackals are known for their howling, and are associated with desolate areas. Tannin or “smokers” probably came from seeing the spouts of whales or the snorting of animals which looked like smoke coming from a fire inside. Our warm breathe in winter looks like smoke. This is probably how the idea of fire-breathing dragons started. The Hebrew is not referring to any dinosaurs.
In the LXX the story of Bel and the Dragon is added to the book of Daniel. Daniel exposes the priests who were eating the food offered to the god Bel. Cyrus has them killed. Daniel then feeds the living dragon pitch, fat and hair so that it dies. The Babylonians force the king to put Daniel into the lionʼs den where he is delivered by God. Danielʼs enemies are cast into the den and immediately eaten. The Greek word for “dragon” means “serpent” not dinosaur. In Babylon they worshipped the god Nina in the form of a serpent (IBSE, Vol.1, 428-9). A number of monsters in ancient times were the results of finding fossil bones.