Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sea serpent

Planning a sea trip to America?
 Carta Marina, Scandinavia
Olaus Magnus Venice, 1539
image wikimedia
Isaiah Chapter 27 is commonly dated to the Assyrian period and has rather archaic language  in describing Leviathan

 ביום ההוא יפקד יהוה בחרבו הקשׁה והגדולה והחזקה על לויתן נחשׁ ברח ועל לויתן נחשׁ עקלתון והרג את־התנין אשׁר בים׃

the Lord will punish with his sword—
his fierce, great and powerful sword—
Leviathan the gliding serpent,
Leviathan the coiling serpent;
he will slay the monster of the sea. Is 27:1 NIV

King James Version translated התנין אשׁר בים׃ dragon of the sea.

In modern Hebrew tannim is a word used for whales.

Wikipedia informs us
Sea serpents feature prominently in the mythology of the Ancient Near East, attested as early as the 3rd millennium BC in Sumerian iconography depicting the myth of the god Ninurta overcoming the seven-headed serpent.

Examples of the storm god vs. sea serpent trope in the Ancient Near East can be seen with Baʿal vs. Yam (Canaanite), Marduk vs. Tiamat (Babylonian), and Atum vs. Nehebkau (Egyptian) among others, with attestations as early as the 2nd millennium as seen on Syrian seals.

In the Ugaritic texts Lotan, or possibly another of Yam's helpers, is given the epithets "wriggling serpent" and "mighty one with the seven heads."

Isaiah 27:1 uses the first of these phrases to describe Leviathan (although in this case the name "Leviathan" apparently refers to an unnamed historical/political enemy of Israel rather than the original serpent-monster).

In Psalm 104, Leviathan is not described as harmful in any way, but simply as a creature of the ocean, part of God's creation.

It is possible that the authors of the Job 41:2-26, on the other hand, based the Leviathan on descriptions of Egyptian animal mythology where the crocodile is the enemy of the solar deity Horus (and is subdued either by Horus, or by the Pharaoh). This is in contrast to typical descriptions of the sea monster trope in terms of mythological combat.

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