No, The Leviathan Is Not A Crocodile


I have heard many pastors and church leaders attempt to link the leviathan with a real animal which could be recognized by humans. This idea that the Leviathan was a crocodile or similar creature is a very popular teaching. I can still recall being in youth group discussing the possible animals that could be the mythical creature. The teaching is probably best displayed by the popular Christian website “gotquestions.org“. Below I will demonstrate why scholars believe this view is flawed. keep in mind that I am not picking on this online resource. I have a lot of respect for the work done by gotquestions.org. However, the site represents a very traditional and unscholarly view of this topic, which needs to be corrected.

The leviathan is a large aquatic creature of some kind. The Bible refers to it as a fearsome beast having monstrous ferocity and great power. The Hebrew word for “Leviathan” has the root meaning of “coiled” or “twisted.” Isaiah 27:1 speaks of “Leviathan the fast-moving serpent, Leviathan the squirming serpent; . . . the sea monster” (NET). Whatever this monster of the sea is (or was), its strength and wild nature were well known.

There are a handful of references to the leviathan in the Old Testament. Most passages describe the leviathan as a real creature, familiar to people (who, of course, kept their distance) by reputation if not by sight. In Psalm 104:25–26 God is praised as the One who created the habitat for the leviathan: “There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number—living things both large and small. There the ships go to and fro, and Leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.” Only a great God could have created Leviathan and then made a place big enough for it to “frolic” safely.

In Isaiah 27:1 the leviathan is used as a symbol for the wicked kings of the earth who withstand God’s people. The great power that wicked nations wield can be terrifying, but God assures His children that evil, no matter how monstrous, will be defeated: “In that day, 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.” Psalm 74:14 contains a similar reference to God’s victory over Leviathan; in that psalm, the pharaoh of Egypt is most likely meant.

Job 41 gives the most detail about Leviathan as an actual sea creature. In that chapter, God describes Leviathan, emphasizing the animal’s size, strength, and viciousness. The leviathan cannot be tied down or tamed (Job 41:1, 5); it is frightening to even look at (verse 9); it is best left alone (verses 8, 10). The leviathan has a graceful form (verse 12) but is incredibly well protected with scales (verses 13, 15–17). Its chest is as impenetrable as its back (verses 15, 24). It has fearsome teeth (verse 14), and death awaits anyone who approaches its mouth (verses 18–21). Even mighty men are terrified of the leviathan (verse 25). No sword, spear, dart, javelin, arrow, stone, club, or lance can defeat it (verses 26, 28–29). It cannot be caged, because it breaks iron like straw (verse 27). On land, the leviathan leaves a trail of ruts; in the water, it produces a deep, churning wake (verses 30–32). God’s description of the leviathan concludes with a statement that it is the true king of the beasts: “Nothing on earth is its equal—a creature without fear” (verse 33).

So, what animal is Job 41 describing? Some commentators believe Leviathan is a crocodile. Others believe it is a whale or a shark. Based on the biblical description, it seems more likely that Leviathan is a large sea reptile, possibly a species of dinosaur such as the plesiosaurus. Job’s acquaintance with a dinosaur is not far-fetched at all, given that the book of Job is set in a very early time of history.

The point God makes in Job 41 is that Leviathan is under God’s sovereign control. Job had been questioning God (Job 26—31), but God turns the tables and uses the leviathan’s might to emphasize Job’s weakness and frailty. If God created Leviathan (an animal Job cannot stand before), then how great is God? Why is Job even trying to grapple with the Almighty?

Leviathan was a dangerous creature that caused seasoned warriors to turn and run. Leviathan is no myth, but rather a real creature of the sea, subject only to its Creator. As God says in His description of Leviathan, “Who then is able to stand against me? Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me” (Job 41:10–11).
(What Was The Leviathan?)

Admittedly, the explanation above is somewhat convincing if one doesn’t read the texts carefully, especially if one is not familiar with Canaanite and Mesopotamian folk-lore. However, the Leviathan was much more than a living animal in the mind of the ancients. Keep in mind that we have to interpret the passage from the view point of the original audience, not from our own perspective. The modern mind want’s to rationalize the texts about the Leviathan because we know it doesn’t exist. But to the ancients, it was very real. The problem arises mostly with biblical literalists because clearly God cannot speak of a creature that doesn’t exist…. right? But this reading eisegesis, not exegesis.


Leviathan in the Ancient Near Eastern Texts


I contend that the Leviathan was, in fact, a mythical creature. This fact is easily determined by looking at the same passages that are listed in the explanation from gotquestions.org, and then interpreting the language through the lens of the ancient audience.

In that day the Lord will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent,
with His fierce and great and mighty sword,
Even Leviathan the twisted serpent;
And He will kill the dragon who lives in the sea.
(Isaiah 27:1)

The prophetic oracle delivered through Isaiah envisions events that will take place during the “day of the Lord”. This is even more evident if we read the passage in context, which for some reason, people rarely do. Let us also examine Isaiah 26:21.

For behold, the Lord is about to come out from His place,
to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity;
And the earth will reveal her bloodshed,
And will no longer cover her slain.
In that day the Lord will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent,
With His fierce and great and mighty sword,
Even Leviathan the twisted serpent;
And He will kill the dragon who lives in the sea.
(Isaiah 26:21-27:1)

Does it make sense that in the day of the Lord, Yahweh is going to punish all the alligators or serpents? Or is it more probable that something more is being communicated? Clearly, the oracle is about something much more significant.

In the time of Isaiah, many thought that a mythical serpent-like dragon dwelled in the seas. Did the animal actually exist in reality? Of course not. But that didn’t stop people from believing that it existed. In this sense, the name Leviathan was both figurative and literal. However, the ancient audience would have taken it to be completely literal. 

The passages from Isaiah 26 and 27 about the Leviathan are alluding to the Canaanite and Mesopotamian myth that there was a sea deity that was defeated by a god, or even THE God. Ancient Mesopotamia and Canaan abounded in sea deity lore. The prophet Ezekiel alludes to the sea deities in his oracle against the king of Tyre.

“Because your heart is lifted up
And you have said, ‘I am a god,
I sit in the seat of gods
In the heart of the seas’;
Yet you are a man and not God,…”
(Ezekiel 28:2)

The Mediterranean sea was the home of an entire Pantheon of Greek deities, including a Leviathan-like creature. However, he older sea deity legends, from Ugarit, are likely the object of reference for the Isaiah’s Leviathan. The section of Isaiah’s message  that mentions the Leviathan immediately proceeds an oracle against the northern Canaanite city of Tyre. Tyre was a neighbor of Ugarit, along the coast of the Mediterranean sea. 

The Leviathan of Ugarit was named Lotan and Lotan is a Ugaritic word that means “coiled” or “twisted” or “slanted”, just like Isaiah said, “Leviathan the twisted serpent“.

If thou smite Lotan, the serpent slant,
Destroy the serpent tortuous,
Shalyat (šlyṭ) of the seven heads,

Crushed I not El’s Belov’d Yamm?
Destroyed I not El’s Flood Rabbim?
Did I not, pray, muzzle the Dragon?
I did crush the crooked serpent,
Shalyat the seven-headed.

According to Canaanite legend, Lotan was a servant of the Canaanite sea deity Yam/Yamm/Yammu. Yam was the watery adversary to Ba’al. Ba’al was the great sky god and son of the god most high, El/Elyon. This is also where the name El and Elohim derive from in the Hebrew scriptures, hence the name of the northern tribes of Jacob, Israel (Isra-El, god-contends). It should be noted also that Yam is the Hebrew word for sea (יאם/יָם). The fact that the Hebrew people inherited much of it’s culture and language from northern Canaan should not be a surprise. The proto-Hebrew script was identical to the Phoenician script (NW Semitic).

In the NW Semitic cultures (Pnoenician) Ba’al (Ba’lu) goes to war with the serpent.

When you smite Lôtan, the fleeing serpent,
finish off the twisting serpent,
the close–coiling one with seven heads,
The heavens wither and go slack
like the folds (?) of your tunic.
(Then) I, with groans, am devoured,
(like) a piece of dung I die.
So) you must (for your part) descend into the throat of Môtu, son of ʾIlu,
into the watery depths of the beloved warrior of ʾIlu.

Yam and the Leviathan are considered wicked fugitives in most Canaanite and Mesopotamian lore. In Canaanite lore, Yam and Lotan rebelled against the pantheon, kidnaped El’s wife, Asherah, and even tried to usurp El’s throne. Outraged, Ba’al leads a fight against Yam and Lotan and is victorious.  Once Yam is defeated, he is imprisoned to the sea, no longer capable of rebelling against the gods. The story is usually referred to as the Epic of Ba’al or the Ba’al Cycle. Of course, multiple variations of this epic exist in neighboring territories. 

A similar battle exists in the mythology of the Mesopotamian peoples. All of the great Mesopotamian peoples had their own version of a powerful deity going to battle with the god of the sea. In Assyria and Babylon it was Marduk defeating Tiamat by blowing into her mouth so that she expands and then Marduk explodes Tiamat with an arrow. 

We see also in the book of Genesis, God’s spirit hovering over the face of the deep waters. Here in Genesis, the primordial waters of chaos is represented by the name Tahom. It has been suggested by myself and others that since Tahom has no definite article (the) then it should be used as a title or name. This, however, is not true of “the waters”, expressed with the definite article as “הַמָּיִם”. 

Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of [the] deep; and the spirit of Elohim hovered over the face of the waters.
וְהָאָרֶץ, הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ, וְחֹשֶׁךְ, עַל-פְּנֵי
תְהוֹם; וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים, מְרַחֶפֶת עַל-פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם.
(Genesis 1:2)

In earlier Sumerian mythology, Tiamat and Apzu had offspring named Lahmu and Lahamu. They were born from the merging of the salt water and the fresh water, where the Persian gulf met the rivers of fresh water. Apsu represented the fresh water thought to be from below the earth and Tiamat the salt water from the Persian gulf. The silt left behind by the mingling waters was rippled like a slithering snake which is perhaps the origin of the water serpent myths. 


Leviathan in Biblical Texts


Thus, having briefly explored the mythologies of the sea in the Ancient Near East, it’s easy to see that the Leviathan is no small matter, as it represents the rebellious primordial serpent monster that is trapped in the sea, whom nearly usurped the entire pantheon of Assyria, Babylon, and Canaan. No wonder it is prominently featured in the biblical oracles that relate to the Assyrian and Babylonian periods. 

With some background out of the way, let us return to the biblical passages at hand, namely, Isaiah 26:21, Isaiah 27:1, Psalm 104:25–26, Job 41:1–11, Job 3:7-9, and Psalm 74:12-15.

There is the sea, great and broad,
In which are swarms without number,
Animals both small and great.
26 There the ships move along,
And Leviathan, which You have formed to sport(play) in it.
(Psalm 104:25-26 NASB)

The psalmist mentions the Leviathan as separate from the animals listed in verse 25, “both great and small”. Why is the Leviathan excluded from the animals both small and great? Seems like a strange way to single out another animal. It’s because the Leviathan was no ordinary beast, as we already discovered. Psalm 104 also uses Leviathan as a title and is a singular object. This is in contrast with “animals” which is a plural form. There was just one Leviathan. Although, each body of water could possibly contain its own Leviathan, depending on the local mythologies. Nevertheless, we can see in the book of Job that the Leviathan was no crocodile.

“Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook?
Or press down his tongue with a cord?
2 “Can you put a rope in his nose
Or pierce his jaw with a hook?
3 “Will he make many supplications to you,
Or will he speak to you soft words?
4 “Will he make a covenant with you?
Will you take him for a servant forever?
5 “Will you play with him as with a bird,
Or will you bind him for your maidens?
6 “Will the traders bargain over him?
Will they divide him among the merchants?
7 “Can you fill his skin with harpoons,
Or his head with fishing spears?
8 “Lay your hand on him;
Remember the battle; you will not do it again!
9 “Behold, your expectation is false;
Will you be laid low even at the sight of him?
10 “No one is so fierce that he dares to arouse him;

Who then is he that can stand before Me?
11 “Who has given to Me that I should repay him?
Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.
(Job 41:1-11)

The very first line of chapter 41 opens with a question. Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook? What we know of crocodiles from various inscriptions and artifacts is that the ancients actually did capture the river crocodiles. The term “river crocodile” is important to take note of because most crocodiles in the ANE were found in rivers, not seas. This is not to say that open water crocodiles didn’t exist, just that the home of the crocodiles was usually a smaller waterway or body of water. Nevertheless, the Egyptians were known to capture the crocodiles and even domesticate them as pets for the temple and palace. In fact, the Egyptians were so good at it that they later supplied Rome with crocodiles for the Roman games.  Moreover, the Egyptians captured so many crocodiles that some of them were mummified. This practice of mummification was predicated on the Egyptian belief that the crocodile could act as an intermediate between the mortal and the gods. The famous Greek historian, Herodotus, also gave a description on how crocodiles were hunted and capture, via hook.

“They bait a hook with a chine of pork and let it float out into midstream, and at the same time, standing on the bank, take a live pig and beat it. The crocodile, hearing the squeals, makes a rush toward it, encounters the bait, gulps it down, and is hauled out of the water. The first thing the huntsman does when he has got the beast on land is to plaster its eyes with mud; this done, it is dispatched easily enough – but without this precaution it will give a lot of trouble.”
(Herodotus, The Histories)

Thus, the crocodile is already a difficult fit for the speech delivered to Job, as capturing crocodiles with hooks was somewhat routine. They would house crocodiles as pets, mummify them for the afterlife and offerings, and even select some for idol worship.

The next detail in the speech that should alert the reader that it’s not a crocodile is the phrase “can you put a rope in his nose or pierce his jaw with a hook?” This phrase is shouting to the reader that the Leviathan is even greater than a crocodile. In fact, at many points in the poet warning God compares the impossibility of capturing the Leviathan as if it were a crocodile and every time He reiterates the impossibility. 

5 “Will you play with him as with a bird,
Or will you bind him for your maidens?
6 “Will the traders bargain over him?
Will they divide him among the merchants?

The text speaks specifically of the crocodile trade between the Egyptians and the Mediterranean world. Yet, the Lord finishes the message with the following description of a non-crocodile.

“Behold, your expectation is false;
Will you be laid low even at the sight of him?
10 “No one is so fierce that he dares to arouse him;

Clearly, the message being delivered is a taunt, telling Job that man may be able to capture the crocodile but what of the Leviathan? Only God can master the Leviathan. If there was any doubt as to the mythical nature of the Leviathan, one only needs to read the rest go Job 41, which describes a monster who is akin to a fire breathing dragon.

“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?
14 Who dares open the doors of its mouth,
ringed about with fearsome teeth?
15 Its back has 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.
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.
22 Strength resides in its neck;
dismay goes before it.
23 The folds of its flesh are tightly joined;
they are firm and immovable.
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.
30 Its undersides are jagged potsherds,
leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing sledge.
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.
33 Nothing on earth is its equal—
a creature without fear.
34 It looks down on all that are haughty;
it is king over all that are proud.”
(Job 41:12-34)

Are we to believe that the crocodile breathes fire and snorts smoke? That a weaponized club is like a piece of straw beating on it? That it can stir up the sea like a cauldron? That nothing on earth compares to it? Of course this description would have been rather silly since crocodiles were easily captured in the ANE. Moreover, crocodiles were not native to the location of the writer of Job. Hence, why most nations imported them from Egypt. Some Mesopotamian regions had crocodiles but they were not featured in much of the culture or lore because they were rare.

The next passage from Job that mentions the Leviathan compares rousing it to a person who wishes for death or to never have been born (something Job is currently doing). 

May those who curse days curse that day,
those who are ready to rouse Leviathan.
May its morning stars become dark;
may it wait for daylight in vain,
(Job 3:8-9)

The Leviathan in Job 3 is a creature that is so dreadful that arousing it as king to wanting to die or having never been born. As we already know from previous examination this description does not fit the crocodile. However, it does fit the mythical Leviathan. 

The most striking reference to the mythical creation that was the great sea monster, comes from Psalm 74. Psalm 74 nearly quotes from the Assyrian myth where Marduk defeats Tiamat.

But God is my King from long ago;
he brings salvation on the earth.
13 It was you who split open the sea by your power;
you broke the heads of the monster in the waters.
14 It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan
and gave it as food to the creatures of the desert.
15 It was you who opened up springs and streams;
you dried up the ever-flowing rivers.
(Psalm 74:12-15)

The passage from Psalm 74:12-15 echoes the ending of the Marduk VS Tiamat battle. After Marduk defeated Tiamat by blowing his wind into her and popping her with and arrow, Marduk proceeded to split her in half and used the two peaces to create the heavens and the earth. Her eyes were used to create the Tigris and Euphrates. Also notice that the Leviathan is said to have “heads” not single “head”. Crocodiles only have one head. The Leviathan has multiple depending on the region that tells the water serpent mythology. 

However, the Psalm adds something to the mythology that only appears in the Bible. It’s probably not meant to be read literally but the heads of the Leviathan are said to have been crushed and then given as food to some desert creatures. Given that the rest of verse 15 seems to be about the wandering of the Israelites in the desert, it’s possible that the reference is vaguely alluding to manna. But that is merely a guess.


Conclusion


While more can said on this topic, I believe the evidence presented already is enough to put this myth away. Crocodiles were not so scary that they would evoke fear in the hearts of men. The description from Job 41 about catching a leviathan with a hook is clearly an allusion to the fact that the Leviathan cannot be captured as a crocodile can be. Only God can tame the Leviathan.

The Leviathan as a serpent of the seas is a deeply held ancient mythology that was certainly the object of reference in the relevant passages in this article. The Bible is steeped with ANE mythologies and the Leviathan is no different.


James Bennett Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament , 3rd ed. with Supplement. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 137-138

William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger, The Context of Scripture (Leiden;  New York: Brill, 1997–), 265.

10 thoughts on “No, The Leviathan Is Not A Crocodile”

  1. Hello Sir!

    I’ve never considered any of the Bible to be myth, so I’ve got some reading to do. I love your articles. I’m a computer guy by trade, but I love ancient Mesopotamian history. The Sumerians especially, since they created the first cities along with writing, but also the Babylonians and Assyrians. I wanted to point out something in your comments that is either an innocent mistake, or I am mistaken.. :-) You post the “Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi”, but call it “Man and His God”. I believe “Man and His God” is a different work, and what you posted – which is the Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi – is otherwise known as “The Poem of the Righteous Sufferer”. I also think you didn’t post the whole thing. Looks to me like you posted tablets II and III of the 4 tablets. At least that’s what it looks like according to my copy of “Before the Muses” by Benjamin Foster, which translates it a little differently.

    Anyway, awesome website! Keep up the good work!

    Reply
    • Thanks for the assistance! I was not able to access my sources since I wasn’t home, so I relied to heavily on the Google. Thank goodness someone with good eyes and a sound mind caught my mistake. I’ll be fixing ASAP!

      Reply
  2. I find your article interesting, but noted how firmly you put Leviathan into the “myth” category; there are ancient records ranging geographically from China to England to South America about a very similar creature to the one described in Job 41. The fact is that while we today consider dragons a myth, they could very well have been a recognizable, very real animal in ancient times, and as such were used to make story points, just like we do with known animals today. Just as dinosaurs no longer roam the earth, fire-breathing dragons were likely just as real, wide spread, and died out. It doesn’t diminish the veracity of God’s Word; on the contrary, it’s just another example of God’s creation and his sovereignty.

    Reply
    • I certainly understand where you’re coming from but fire breathing dragons definitely defy the known laws of physics. Is it possible that the Leviathan was an ancestor of the dinosaurs and was somewhat similar to the mythical creature? I suppose it’s possible but it creates more questions that need answered. Did a real 7 headed version exist? Did it actually breather fire? How much about it’s biblical description is fact and how much is story building?

      Moreover, what do we make of the biblical parallels with the Mesopotamian and Canaanite battle legends? Are these meant to be allusionary or historical? And why does nearly every ancient near Eastern culture record a story in which a deity slays the beast to restore cosmic order?

      Also, what do we make of psalm 89 and Isaiah 51 which compare the splitting if the sea (exodus) to the battle between God and the Sea serpent? Is this a metaphor or did God actually kill a giant serpent?

      Was it not you who cut Rahab to pieces,
          who pierced that monster through?
      Was it not you who dried up the sea,
          the waters of the great deep,
      who made a road in the depths of the sea
          so that the redeemed might cross over?

      Reply
        • So, the theory is that ancients speak of creatures that are believed to be real. Almost nothing in the link you posted is historical. There is 0 scientific evidence that giant lizards existed alongside humans, other than stories taken out of context or stories that are misinterpreted.

          For example, the author of this article tries to create the Babylonian creature Humbaba as being a dragon like creature. However, any student of the ancient near east knows that Humbaba was not a real creature. He lives in a cedar forest where the foliage of the trees are made of precious gems. He was placed on the cedar forest to protect it by the gods who dwell on mount Hermon. The older representations of Humbaba show a figure that is very human-like.

          (https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.pinterest.com%2Fpin%2F852798879411991666%2F&psig=AOvVaw2pS-EOuC4X2SxVxQvkVgxS&ust=1570057882208000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CAIQjRxqFwoTCNi98sOX_OQCFQAAAAAdAAAAABAR)

          As time went on and the Epic of Geligamesh was edited, redacted, and added onto, Humbaba got scarier and scarier. The old Babylonian version of Humbaba and the later Hittite version are very different. This is all because it’s simply not a real story and most people knew that it was an epic and not a real story. Of course, some superstitious people, I am sure, believed the tales.

          Humbaba is just one easy example I picked from the link you posted because it was so blatantly incorrect. Whoever wrote this article is playing a word association game with known historical texts, not engaging in real history.

          That being said, even if a large serpent of some nature was the genesis for the Leviathan mythology, the biblical texts are clearly not referring to the real creature. They are repeating very well known information about a mythical creature that was widely known to the biblical audience. I know this to be true for reasons that are already described above, but I will repeat here…..

          1. God split the Leviathan in 2, just like the story of Marduk.
          2. The biblical Leviathan has multiple heads, just like the Babylonian and Ugaritic stories says.
          3. It breathes fire and snorts smoke, just like the Babylonian and Ugaritic stories.
          4. The name of the creature in Hebrew is nearly identical to Phoenician and Ugaritic texts, which all describe him as mythical.
          5. The passages of the Bible where Leviathan surfaces are steeped in references to Babylonian and Canaanite mythology. Nearly all of the prophetic oracles that are not about Israel and Judah are about Babylon or written TO Babylonian rulers.

          I would also submit that Job is not an old story. It was clearly written in the exilic or post-exilic period. Nothing about the internals of the book would lead one to believe that it’s an old story. It was written while many of the Jews were still in Babylon so it’s only natural that it is littered with references to Babylonian ideas. It’s also full of semitic words that are not usual Hebrew words but are used in Akkadian (what the Babylonians spoke). Many scholars believe that Job was modeled after a famous Babylonian story which is referred to as “The Poem of the Righteous Sufferer” or “Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi”. This story is quite old but the content is nothing quite like the biblical Job and there is no mention of a Leviathan. I can post the whole thing below. It’s much shorter than Job but one can see how it could be expanded upon to be used as a fable.

          TABLET 1
          I will praise the lord of Wisdom, solicitous god,
          Furious in the night, calming in the daylight;
          Marduk! lord of wisdom, solicitous god,
          Furious in the night, claiming in the daylight;
          Whose anger engulfs like a tempest,
          Whose breeze is sweet as the breath of morn
          In his fury not to be withstood, his rage the deluge,
          Merciful in his feelings, his emotions relenting.
          The skies cannot sustain the weight of his hand,
          His gentle palm rescues the moribund.
          Marduk! The skies cannot sustain the weight of his hand,
          His gentle palm rescues the moribund.
          When he is angry, graves are dug,
          His mercy raised the fallen from disaster.
          When he glowers, protective spirits take flight,
          He has regard for and turns to the one whose god has forsaken him.
          Harsh is his punishments, he…. in battles (?)
          When moved to mercy, he quickly feels pain like a mother in labor.
          He is bull-headed in love of mercy
          Like a cow with a calf, he keeps turning around watchfully.
          His scourge is barbed and punctures the body,
          His bandages are soothing, they heal the doomed.
          He speaks and makes one incur many sins,
          On the day of his justice sin and guilt are dispelled.
          He is the one who makes shivering and trembling,
          Through his sacred spell chills and shivering are relieved.
          Who raises the flood of Adad, the blow of Erra,
          Who reconciles the wrathful god and goddess
          The Lord divines the gods´ inmost thoughts
          But no god understand his behavior,
          Marduk divines the gods´s inmost thoughts
          But no god understand his behavior!
          As heavy his hand, so compassionate his heart
          As brutal his weapons, no life-sustaining his feelings,
          Without his consent, who could cure his blow?
          Against his will, who could sin and escape?
          I will proclaim his anger, which runs deep, like a fish,
          He punished me abruptly, then granted life
          I will teach the people, I will instruct the land to fear
          To be mindful of him is propitious for ……
          After the Lord changed day into night
          And the warrior Marduk became furious with me,
          My own god threw me over and disappeared,
          My goddess broke rank and vanished
          He cut off the benevolent angel who walked beside me
          My protecting spirit was frightened off, to seek out someone else
          My vigor was taken away, my manly appearance became gloomy,
          My dignity flew off, my cover leaped away.
          Terrifying signs beset me
          I was forced out of my house, I wandered outside,
          My omens were confused, they were abnormal every day,
          The prognostication of diviner and dream interpreter could not explain what I was undergoing.
          What was said in the street portended ill for me,
          When I lay down at nights, my dream was terrifying
          The king, incarnation of the gods, sun of his people
          His heart was enraged with me and appeasing him was impossible
          Courtiers were plotting hostile against me,
          They gathered themselves to instigate base deeds:
          If the first !I will make him end his life”
          Says the second “I ousted him from his command”
          So likewise the third “I will get my hands on his post!”
          “I will force his house!” vows the fourth
          As the fifth pants to speak
          Sixth and seventh follow in his train!” (literally in his protective spirit)
          The clique of seven have massed their forces,
          Merciless as fiends, equal to demons.
          So one is their body, united in purpose,
          Their hearts fulminate against me, ablaze like fire.
          Slander and lies they try to lend credence against me
          My mouth once proud was muzzled like a ….
          My lips, which used to discourse, became those of a dead man.
          My resounding call struck dumb,
          My proud head bent earthward,
          My stout heart turned feeble for terror,
          My broad breast brushed aside by a novice,
          My far-reaching arms pinned down by flimsy matting,
          I, who walked proudly, learned slinking,
          I, so grand, became servile,
          To my vast family, I became a loner,
          As I went through the streets, ears were pricked up at me,
          I would enter the palace, eyes would squint at me,
          My city was glowering at me like an enemy,
          Belligerent and hostile would seem my land!
          My brother became my foe,
          My friend became a malignant demon,
          My comrade would denounce me savagely,
          My colleague was constantly keeping the taint to this weapons,
          My best friend would pinch off my life.
          My slave cursed me openly in the assembly of gentlefolk
          My slave girl defamed me before the rabble.
          An acquaintance would see me and make himself scarce,
          My family disowned me,
          A pit awaited anyone speaking well of me,
          While he who was uttering defamation of me forged ahead.
          One who relayed base things about me had a god for his help
          For the one who said “What a pity about him!” death came early,
          The one of no help, his life became charmed,
          I had no one to go at my side, nor saw I a champion.
          They parceled my possessions among the riffraff,
          The sources of my watercourses they blocked with muck,
          They chased the harvest song from my fields,
          They left my community deathly still, like that of a ravaged foe.
          They let another assume my duties,
          They appointed an outsider to my prerogatives.
          By day sighing, by night lamentation,
          Monthly, trepidation, despair the year,
          I moaned like a dove all my days,
          I let out groans as my song,
          My eyes are forced to look through constant crying,
          My eyelids are smarting through of tears.
          My face is darkened from the apprehensions of my heart,
          Terror and pain have jaundiced my face.
          The…. of my heart is quaking in ceaseless apprehension.
          ….. like a burning fire,
          Like the bursting of a flame false-hood beset me,
          …. lamentation, my imploring!
          The speech of lips was senseless, like a moron´s,
          When I tried to talk, my conversation was gibberish.
          I watch, that in daylight good will come upon me!
          The moon will change, the sun will shine!

          TABLET II

          One whole year to the next! The normal time passed.
          As I turned around, it was more and more terrible,
          My ill luck was on the increase, I could find no good fortune.
          I called to my god, he did not show his face,
          I prayed to my goddess, she did not raise her head.
          The diviner with his inspection did not get the bottom of it,
          Nor did the dream interpreter with his incense clear up my case
          I beseeched a dream spirit, but it did not enlighten me,
          The exorcist with his ritual did not appease divine wrath.
          What bizarre actions everywhere!
          I looked behind: persecution, harassment!
          Like one who had not made libations to his god,
          Nor invoked his goddess with a food offering,
          Who was not wont to prostrate, nor seen to bow down,
          From whose mouth supplication and prayer were wanting,
          Who skipped holy days, despised festivals,
          Who was neglectful, omitted the gods´ rites,
          Who had not taught his people reverence and worship,
          Who did not invoke his god, but ate his food offering,
          Who snubbed his goddess, brought her no flour offering,
          Like one possessed, who forgot his lord,
          Who casually swore a solemn oath by his god; I indeed seemed such a one!
          I, for my part, was mindful of supplication and prayer,
          Prayer to me was the natural recourse, sacrifice my rule.
          The day for reverencing the gods was a source of satisfaction to me,
          The goddess´s procession day was my profit and return.
          Praying for the king, that was my joy,
          His sennet was if for my own good omen.
          I instructed my land to observe the god´s rites,
          The goddess´s name did I drill my people to esteem
          I made my praises of the king like a god´s,
          And taught the populace reverence for the palace.
          I wish I knew that these things were pleasing to a god!
          What seems good to one´s self could be an offence to a god,
          What in one´s own heart seems abominable, could be good to one´s god!
          Who could learn the reasoning of the gods in heaven?
          Who could grasp the intentions of the gods of the depths?
          Where might human beings have learned the ways of a god?
          He who lived by his brawn died in confinement.
          Suddenly one is downcast, in a trice full of cheer,
          One moment he sings in exaltation,
          In a trice he groans like a professional mourner.
          People´s motivations change in a twinkling!
          Starving, they become like corpses,
          Full, they would rival their gods.
          In good times, they speak of scaling heaven,
          When it goes badly, they complain of going down to hell.
          I have pondered these things; I have made no sense of them.
          But as for me, in despair a whirlwind is driving me!
          Debilitating disease is let loose upon me:]
          An evil vapor has blown against me from the ends of the earth,
          Head pain has surged upon me from the breast of hell,
          A malignant specter has come froth from its hidden depth,
          A relentless ghost came out of its dwelling place.
          A she-demon came down from the mountain,
          Ague set forth with the flood and sea,
          Debility broke through the ground with the plants.
          They assembled their host, together they came upon me:
          They struck my head, they closed around my pate,
          My features were gloomy, my eyes ran a flood,
          They wrenched my muscles, made my neck limp,
          They thwacked my chest, pounded my breast,
          They affected my flesh, threw me into convulsion,
          They kindled a fire in my stomach,
          They churned up my bowels, they twisted my entrails
          Coughing and hacking infected my lungs,
          They infected my limbs, made my flesh pasty,
          My lofty stature they toppled like a wall,
          My robust figure they flattened like a bulrush,
          I was dropped like a dried fig, I was tossed on my face.
          A demon has clothed himself in my body for a garment,
          Drowsiness smothers me like a net,
          My eyes stare, they cannot see,
          My ears prick up, they cannot hear.
          Numbness has spread over my whole body,
          Paralysis has fallen upon my flesh.
          Stiffness has seized my arms,
          Debility has fallen upon my loins,
          My feet forgot how to move.
          A stroke has overcome me, I choke like one fallen
          Signs of death have shrouded my face!
          If someone thinks of me, I can´t respond to the enquirer,
          “Alas” they weep, I have lost consciousness,
          A snare is laid on my mouth,
          And a bolt bars my lips,
          My way in is barred, my point of slaking blocked,
          My hunger is chronic, my gullet constricted.
          If it be of grain, I choke it down like stink weed,
          Beer, the sustenance of mankind , is sickening to me.
          Indeed, the malady drags on!
          For lack of food my features are unrecognizable,
          My flesh is waste, my blood has run dry,
          My bones are loose, covered only with skin,
          My tissues are inflamed, afflicted with gangrene.
          I took to bed, confined, going out was exhaustion,
          My house turned into my prison.
          My flesh was a shackle, my arms being useless,
          My person was a fetter, my feet having given way.
          My afflictions were grievous, the blow was severe!
          A scourge full of barbs thrashed me,
          A crop lacerated me, cruel with thorns,
          All day long tormentor would torment me,
          Nor a night would he let me breathe freely a moment
          From writhing, my joints were separated,
          My limbs were splayed and thrust apart.
          I spent the night in my dung like an ox,
          I wallowed in my excrement like a sheep.
          The exorcist recoiled from my symptoms,
          While my omens have perplexed the diviner.
          The exorcist did not clarify the nature of my complaint,
          While the diviner put no time limit on my illness.
          No god came to the rescue, nor lent me a hand,
          No goddess took pity on me, nor went at my side.
          My grave was open, my funerary gods ready,
          Before I had died, lamentation for me was done.
          All my country said, “How wretched he was!”
          When my ill-wisher heard, his face lit up,
          When the tidings reached her, my ill-wisher, her mood became radiant,
          The day grew dim for my whole family
          For those who knew me, their sun grew dark.

          TABLET III

          Heavy was his hand upon me, I could not hear it!
          Dread of him was oppressive, it …. me.
          His fierce punishment…. the deluge,
          His stride was…., it….
          Harsh, severe illness does not…. my person,
          I lost sight of alertness, ….. make my mind stray,
          I groan day and night alike,
          Dreaming and waking I am equally wretched.
          A remarkable young man of extraordinary physique,
          Magnificent in body, clothed in new garments,
          Because I was only half awake, his features lacked form.
          He was clad in splendor, robed in dread –
          He came in upon me, he stood over me,
          When I saw him my flesh grew numb.
          [ ] “The Lady has sent me,
          ” [ ]”.
          [ ] I tried to tell my people (Lishtar´s Note: he probably tried to tell his family)
          “[ ] sent [ ] for me”.
          They were silent and did not speak,
          They heard me in silence and did not answer.
          A second time I saw a dream
          In the dream I saw at night
          A remarkable purifier [ ]
          Holding in his hand a tamarisk rod of purification.
          “Laluralimma (Lishtar´s Note: an academic Sumerian name, meaning probably a sage), resident of Nippur,
          Has sent me to cleanse you”.
          He was carrying water, he poured it over me,
          He pronounced the resuscitating incantation, he massaged my body.
          A third time I saw a dream,
          In my dream I saw at night:
          A remarkable young woman in shining countenance,
          Clothed like a person, being like a god,
          A queen among peoples []
          She entered upon me and sat down….
          She ordered my deliverance [ ]
          “Fear not” She said, “I will……….,
          “Whatever one sees of a dream……….”.
          She ordered my deliverance, “Most wretched indeed is he,
          “Whoever he might be,….. the one who saw the vision at night”
          In the dream was Ur-Nintinugga, a Babylonian…
          A bearded young man wearing a tiara,
          He was an exorcist, carrying a tablet,
          “Marduk has sent me!
          “To Shubshi-meshre-Sakkan [the sufferer] I have brought swathe,
          “From his pure hands I have brought a swathe”.
          He has entrusted me into the hands of my ministrant.
          In waking hours he sent a message,
          He revealed his favorable sign to my people.
          I was awake in my sickness, a healing serpent slithered by [the symbol of the healing goddess]
          My illness was quickly over, my fetters were broken
          After my lord´s heart had quieted,
          And the feelings of merciful Marduk were appeased,
          And he had accepted my prayers,
          His sweet relenting ……
          He ordered my deliverance:” He is greatly tried”
          …. to extol…
          …. to worship and …..
          …. my guilt…..
          …. my iniquity….
          …. my transgression….
          He made the wind hear away my offenses
          (The exact placement of the following lines is unknown)

          He applied to me his spell which binds debilitating disease
          He drove back the evil vapor to the ends of the earth,
          He bore off the head pain to the breast of hell,
          He sent down the malignant specter to its hidden depth,
          The relentless ghost he returned to its dwelling
          He overthrew the she-demon, sending her off to a mountain,
          He replaced the ague in flood and sea.
          He eradicated debility like a plant,
          Uneasy sleep, excessive drowsiness,
          He dissipated like smoke filling the sky.
          The turning towards people with “Woe!” and “Alas!” he drove away like a cloud, earth….
          The tenacious disease in the head, which was heavy as a millstone,
          He raised like dew of night, he removed it from me.
          My beclouded eyes, which were wrapped in the shroud of death,
          He drove the cloud a thousand leagues away, he brightened my vision.
          My ears, which were stopped and clogged like a deaf man´s,
          He removed their blockage, he opened my hearing.
          My nose, whose breathing was choked by symptoms of fever,
          He soothed its affliction so I could breathe freely.
          My babbling lips, which had taken on a hard crust,
          He wiped away their distress and undid their deformation.
          My mouth, which was muffled, so that proper speech was difficult,
          He scoured like copper and removed its filth.
          My teeth, which were clenched and locked together firmly,
          He opened their fastening, freed the jaws.
          My tongue, which was tied and could not converse,
          He wiped off its coating and its speech became fluent.
          My windpipe, which was tight and choking, as though on a gobbet,
          He made well and let it sing its songs like a flute.
          My gullet, which was swollen so it could not take food,
          Its swelling went down and he opened its blockage
          My… which…
          …. above….
          …. which was darkened like
          (three damaged lines, then gap)

          TABLET IV

          (FRAGMENT A)

          The Lord…. me
          The Lord took hold of me,
          The Lord set me on my feet,
          The Lord revived me,
          He rescued me from the pit
          He summoned me from destruction
          …. he pulled me from the river of death,
          …. he took my hand.
          He who smote me,
          Marduk, he restored me!
          It was Marduk who made him drop his weapon.
          He …. the attack of my foe,
          It was Marduk who……
          (Two fragmentary lines, then gap. Insert here, perhaps, two lines known only from an ancient commentary)

          At the place of the river ordeal, where people´s fates are decided, I was struck on the forehead, my slave marks removed

          FRAGMENT B

          [ ] which in my prayers….
          With prostration and supplication [ ] to Esagila [ ]
          I who went down to the grave have returned to the Gate of Sunrise
          In the Gate of Prosperity prosperity was given me
          In the Gateway of the Guardian Spirit, a guardian spirit drew nigh to me,
          In the Gate of Well-being I beheld well-being
          In the Gate of Life I was granted life
          In the Gate of Sunrise I was reckoned among the living
          In the Gate of Splendid Wonderment my signs were plain to see.
          In the Gate of Release from Guilt, I was released from my bond.
          In the Gate of Petition my mouth made inquiry.
          In the Gate of Release from Sighing my sighs were released.
          In the Gate of Pure Water, I was sprinkled with purifying water.
          In the Gate of Conciliation, I appeared with Marduk,
          In the Gate of Joy I kissed the foot of Sarpanitum,
          I was assiduous in supplication and prayer before them,
          I placed fragrant incense before them,
          An offering, a gift, sundry donations I presented,
          Many fattened oxen I slaughtered, butchered many…
          Honey-sweet beer and pure wine I repeatedly libated,
          The protecting genius, the guardian spirit, divine attendants of the fabric of Esagila,
          I made their feelings glow with libation,
          I made them exultant with lavish meals.
          To the threshold, the bolt socket, the bolt, the doors
          I offered oil, butterfat, and choicest grain,
          [ ] the rites of the temple
          (large gap)

          Insert here four lines quoted in an ancient commentary

          I proceeded along Kunush-kadru Street in a state of redemption,
          He who has done wrong by Esagila, let him learn from me.
          It was Marduk who put a muzzle on the mouth of the lion that was devouring me.
          Marduk took away the sling of my pursuer and deflected the sling-stone.

          FRAGMENT C

          [ ] golden grain
          He anointed himself with sweet cedar perfume upon him,
          A feast for the Babylonians ……………..
          His tomb he had made was set up for a feast!
          The Babylonians saw how Marduk can restore to life,
          And all mouths proclaimed his greatness,
          “Who would have said he would see his sun?
          “Who would have imagined that we would pass through his street?
          “Who but Marduk revived him as he was dying?
          “Besides Sarpanitum, which goddess bestowed his breath of life?
          “Marduk can restore to life from the grave,
          “Sarpanitum knows how to rescue from annihilation,
          “Wherever earth is founded, heavens are stretched wide,
          “Wherever sun shines, fires blaze,
          “Wherever water runs, wind blows,
          “Those whose bits of clay Aruru pinched off to from them,
          “Those endowed with life, who walk upright,
          “Teeming mankind as many they be, give praise to Marduk!
          “[…] those who can speak
          “[…] may he rule all the peoples
          “[…] shepherd of all habitations
          “[…] floods from the deep..
          “[…] the gods [ ]
          “[…] the extent of heaven and netherworld
          “[…………………………………………….]
          “[…] was getting darker and darker for him”.

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