Thursday, January 13, 2011

Dragons

To whoever reads this:
As you probably guessed from the title, this is a piece on dragons.


                Dragons are the stuff of fantasy. They fly because it is majestic for them to do so, not because there is any way that their puny wings (at least in most pictures) could possibly lift their massive bodies from the ground. The breath fire because it is impressive, they have razor sharp teeth and claws because it is fearsome, and they have tough scales to make them impenetrable. In essence, dragons are everything that people hope to be; beautiful and majestic, but at the same time impressive, fearsome, and untouchable. But is it possible that there is any truth to the legends about dragons? Could their fire breathing and sharp claws be based on reality? What about their fire breathing and impenetrable scales?
            As with the majority of questions on the world, the best place to start on this one is in the Bible. The Bible has insight on moral issues, it records a great amount of ancient history, it is useful for religious purposes, and it even delves into science when it tells us how the world began, but is it of any use for a fantastical topic such as dragons? To answer this question, grab a Bible, any translation should do, and turn to Job 41. For anyone unfamiliar with the Bible, Job is just before Psalms, the book the exact center of the Bible. Read through the entire 41st chapter of Job. It’s a little surprising what you’ll find in the Bible, isn’t it?
            Well, if you read Job 41, you’ve probably already determined that the Bible has something to say about dragons. The beast mentioned in this passage is called the leviathan, and boy does it sound like a dragon. Does it breathe fire?

18 Its snorting throws out flashes of light; 
   its eyes are like the rays of dawn. 
19 Flames stream from its mouth; 
   sparks of fire shoot out. 
20 Smoke pours from its nostrils 
   as from a boiling pot over burning reeds. 
21 Its breath sets coals ablaze, 
   and flames dart from its mouth. (NIV)

If “flames stream(ing) from its mouth” doesn’t sound like a fire-breather, I really don’t know what does. So this leviathan breathes fire. That sounds an awful lot like a dragon already, but what else does the Bible say about it.

 12 “I will not fail to speak of Leviathan’s limbs, 
   its strength and its graceful form. 
13 Who can strip off its outer coat? 
   Who can penetrate its double coat of armor
[b]? 
14 Who dares open the doors of its mouth, 
   ringed about with fearsome teeth? 
15 Its back has[c] rows of shields 
   tightly sealed together; 
16 each is so close to the next 
   that no air can pass between. 
17 They are joined fast to one another; 
   they cling together and cannot be parted. (NIV)

Also

24 Its chest is hard as rock, 
   hard as a lower millstone. 
25 When it rises up, the mighty are terrified; 
   they retreat before its thrashing. 
26 The sword that reaches it has no effect, 
   nor does the spear or the dart or the javelin. 
27 Iron it treats like straw 
   and bronze like rotten wood. 
28 Arrows do not make it flee; 
   slingstones are like chaff to it. 
29 A club seems to it but a piece of straw; 
   it laughs at the rattling of the lance. (NIV)

It appears that the creature also has scales. Or at least it has an “outer coat” that no one can “strip off”, a “double coat of armor” that no one “can penetrate”, and “rows of shields” on its back “tightly sealed together” so “that no air can pass between” them. Well, if that isn’t scales, it’s definitely close enough for a layman to mistake for scales especially when javelins, arrows, sling stones, iron, and bronze have no effect on him.
            The leviathan has the ability to breathe fire and an impenetrable hide that sounds an awful lot like scales. Those are two of the trademarks of a dragon, but what about the not so obvious traits that dragons have? Dragons are strong, they have sharp teeth, they have spikes, they are graceful and majestic. How does the leviathan live up to these traits? Verse 14 of Job 41 says that the leviathan’s mouth is “ringed about with fearsome teeth,” so obviously It’s teeth fit the bill. Verse 12 speaks of the creature’s “graceful form,” so it has the grace of a dragon. As to strength, the Bible has a bit more to say about it.

8 If you lay a hand on it, 
   you will remember the struggle and never do it again! 
9 Any hope of subduing it is false; 
   the mere sight of it is overpowering. 
10 No one is fierce enough to rouse it. 
   Who then is able to stand against me? (NIV)

Finally, the Bible has a small passage on its spikes.

30 Its undersides are jagged potsherds, 
   leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing sledge. (NIV)

It is pretty obvious that the translators of the New International Version of the Bible were simply in denial when they inserted the footnote saying that the leviathan might be a crocodile.
            So it’s true that dragons existed; however, there are a few things that are not mentioned and few that are mentioned in Job 41 that do not line up with a traditional view of dragons. First and foremost, there is no mention of wings or flying in connection with the leviathan. Second of all, there is a very strong implication that it was a water creature.

1 [a]“Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook 
   or tie down its tongue with a rope? (NIV)
7 Can you fill its hide with harpoons 
   or its head with fishing spears? (NIV)

31 It makes the depths churn like a boiling caldron 
   and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment. 
32 It leaves a glistening wake behind it; 
   one would think the deep had white hair. (NIV)

Finally, verse 18 says that “its eyes are like the rays of dawn.” I have heard this explained as the dragon having some sort of eye beams. While this is possible, I believe that the wording of the verse simply implies a bright, possibly intelligent look in the creature’s eyes.
            So, does the Bible have verses about dragons? Yes; however, they do not confirm a classic view of the dragon. Is it possible that flying, four legged dragons existed? Of course it is; however, they are not alluded to in the Bible. And finally, what was the point of this long, drawn out piece on dragons? Most obviously it was to give Biblical proof of the existence of dragons. Not as obviously but more importantly, this argument on dragons hopefully has shown you that you should not take anyone’s word on a subject. Instead, you should read the Bible for yourself (you’ll be surprised what is in it) and read it with an open mind. Only by doing this can you know what God says in His word. And if you do this, you will not be easily led astray.


I hope that you enjoyed this article, and as always, thank you for reading my blog.

Sincerely,
Peter Last

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed reading your post. I didn't know there were so many verses in Bible talking about dragons and somehow they do coordinate how dragons are pictured in our world. well, there is a change that the first dragon portrait might be done by a Christian or a person who simply read Bible. The point of your post is very clear. Thanks for sharing.

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