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Leviathan (pronounced /lɨˈvaɪ.əθən/; Hebrew: לִוְיָתָן, Modern Livyatan Tiberian Liwyāṯān ; "twisted, coiled"), is a sea monster referred to in the Tanakh and the Bible. In Demonology, Leviathan is one of the seven princes of Hell and its gatekeeper (see Hellmouth). The word leviathan has become synonymous with any large sea monster or creature. In modern literature (such as the novel Moby-Dick) it refers to great whales, and in Modern Hebrew, it means simply "whale."

Scriptural references

Leviathan, Behemoth and Ziz

The word "Leviathan" appears in four places in the Bible, with the Book of Job, chapter 41 being dedicated to describing Leviathan in detail:

  1. Book of Job 3:8 "Let them curse it that curse the day, who are ready to raise up their mourning." KJV "May those who curse days (or curse daily) curse that day, those who are ready to rouse Leviathan." NIV
  2. Book of Job 41:1-34 "Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down? Canst thou put an hook into his nose? or bore his jaw through with a thorn? Will he make many supplications unto thee? will he speak soft words unto thee? Will he make a covenant with thee? wilt thou take him for a servant for ever? Wilt thou play with him as with a bird? or wilt thou bind him for thy maidens? Shall the companions make a banquet of him? shall they part him among the merchants? Canst thou fill his skin with barbed irons? or his head with fish spears? Lay thine hand upon him, remember the battle, do no more. Behold, the hope of him is in vain: shall not one be cast down even at the sight of him? None is so fierce that dare stir him up: who then is able to stand before me? Who hath prevented me, that I should repay him? whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine. I will not conceal his parts, nor his power, nor his comely proportion. Who can discover the face of his garment? or who can come to him with his double bridle? Who can open the doors of his face? his teeth are terrible round about. His scales are his pride, shut up together as with a close seal. One is so near to another, that no air can come between them. They are joined one to another, they stick together, that they cannot be sundered. By his neesings a light doth shine, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning. Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out. Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron. His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth. In his neck remaineth strength, and sorrow is turned into joy before him. The flakes of his flesh are joined together: they are firm in themselves; they cannot be moved. His heart is as firm as a stone; yea, as hard as a piece of the nether millstone. When he raiseth up himself, the mighty are afraid: by reason of breakings they purify themselves. The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold: the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon. He esteemeth iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood. The arrow cannot make him flee: slingstones are turned with him into stubble. Darts are counted as stubble: he laugheth at the shaking of a spear. Sharp stones are under him: he spreadeth sharp pointed things upon the mire. He maketh the deep to boil like a pot: he maketh the sea like a pot of ointment. He maketh a path to shine after him; one would think the deep to be hoary. Upon earth there is not his like, who is made without fear. He beholdeth all high things: he is a king over all the children of pride."KJV
  3. Psalms 74:14: "Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness." KJV
  4. Psalms 104:24-26: "O LORD, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts. There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein." KJV
  5. Isaiah 27:1: "In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish the leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea. " KJV

Johan Espinza Sammel

The word Leviathan is also mentioned in Rashi's commentary on Genesis 1:21: "God created the great sea monsters - Taninim." Jastrow translates the word "Taninim" as "sea monsters, crocodiles or large snakes". Rashi comments: "According to legend this refers to the Leviathan and its mate. God created a male and female Leviathan, then killed the female and salted it for the righteous, for if the Leviathans were to procreate the world could not stand before them."

The festival of Sukkot (Festival of Booths) concludes with a prayer recited upon leaving the sukkah (booth):

"May it be your will, Lord our God and God of our forefathers, that just as I have fulfilled and dwelled in this sukkah, so may I merit in the coming year to dwell in the sukkah of the skin of Leviathan. Next year in Jerusalem."

A commentary on this prayer in the Artscroll prayer-book (p. 725) adds: "The Leviathan was a monstrous fish created on the fifth day of Creation. Its story is related at length in the Talmud Baba Bathra 74b, where it is told that the Leviathan will be slain and its flesh served as a feast to the righteous in [the] Time to Come, and its skin used to cover the tent where the banquet will take place."

There is another religious hymn recited on the festival of Shavuot (celebrating the giving of the Torah), known as Akdamut, wherein it says:

"...The sport with the Leviathan and the ox (Behemoth)...When they will interlock with one another and engage in combat, with his horns the Behemoth will gore with strength, the fish [Leviathan] will leap to meet him with his fins, with power. Their Creator will approach them with his mighty sword [and slay them both]." Thus, "from the beautiful skin of the Leviathan, God will construct canopies to shelter the righteous, who will eat the meat of the Behemoth [ox] and the Leviathan amid great joy and merriment, at a huge banquet that will be given for them."

Some rabbinical commentators say these accounts are allegorical (Artscroll siddur, p. 719), or symbolic of the end of conflict.

In a legend recorded in the Midrash called Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer it is stated that the fish which swallowed Jonah narrowly avoided being eaten by the Leviathan, which generally eats one whale each day. In a hymn by Kalir, the Leviathan is a serpent that surrounds the earth and has its tail in its mouth, like the Greek Ouroboros and the Nordic Midgard Serpent.

Legend has it that in the banquet after the end of conflict, the carcass of the Leviathan will be served as a meal, along with the Behemoth and the Ziz. Leviathan may also be interpreted as the sea itself, with its counterparts Behemoth being the land and Ziz being the air and space.

The Biblical references to Leviathan have similarities to the Canaanite Baal cycle, which involving a confrontation between Hadad (Baal) and a seven headed sea monster named Lotan. Lotan is the Ugaritic orthograph for Hebrew Leviathan. Hadad defeats him. Bibilical references also resemble the Babylonian creation epic Enûma Elish in which the storm god Marduk slays his grandmother, the sea monster and goddess of chaos and creation Tiamat and creates the earth and sky from the two halves of her corpse.

Leviathan in rabbinic literature

Creation of Leviathan

According to most ancient Jewish midrash, the Leviathan was created on the fifth day (Yalkut, Gen. 12). Originally God produced a male and a female leviathan, but lest in multiplying the species should destroy the world, He slew the female, reserving her flesh for the banquet that will be given to the righteous on the advent of the Messiah (B. B. 74b).


The enormous size of the Leviathan is thus illustrated by R. Johanan, from whom proceeded nearly all the haggadot concerning this monster: "Once we went in a ship and saw a fish which put his head out of the water. He had horns upon which was written: 'I am one of the meanest creatures that inhabit the sea. I am three hundred miles in length, and enter this day into the jaws of the Leviathan'" (B. B. l.c.). When the Leviathan is hungry, reports R. Dimi in the name of R. Johanan, he sends forth from his mouth a heat so great as to make all the waters of the deep boil, and if he would put his head into paradise no living creature could endure the odor of him (ib.). His abode is the Mediterranean Sea; and the waters of the Jordan fall into his mouth (Bek. 55b; B. B. l.c.).

The body of the Leviathan, especially his eyes, possesses great illuminating power. This was the opinion of R. Eliezer, who, in the course of a voyage in company with R. Joshua, explained to the latter, when frightened by the sudden appearance of a brilliant light, that it probably proceeded from the eyes of the Leviathan. He referred his companion to the words of Job xli. 18: "By his neesings a light doth shine, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning" (B. B. l.c.). However, in spite of his supernatural strength, the leviathan is afraid of a small worm called "kilbit", which clings to the gills of large fish and kills them (Shab. 77b).[1]

Talmudic references

In the Talmud, the Leviathan is mentioned a number of times:

B. Avodah Zarah (3b): "Rav Yehuda says, there are twelve hours in a day. ... the fourth three hour period God plays with the Leviathan as it is written: "the Leviathan which you have created to play with"".[2][not in citation given]

Moed Katan (25b): "Rav Ashi said to Bar Kipok: what will be said at my funeral? He answered: "If a flame can fall a cedar, what hope does a small tree have? If a Leviathan can be hooked and hauled to land, what hope has a fish in a puddle?" [3][not in citation given]


Man sitting on Carcharodon megalodon jaws.
Restoration of fossil shark. Carcharodon megalodon. Basal Miocene South Carolina. 60 ft. in length.

The Christian tradition has seen several interpretations of the Leviathan.

Leviathan as an animal

In the book of Job, both Behemoth and Leviathan are listed alongside a number of other animals that are clearly mundane, such as goats, eagles, and hawks, leading some Christian scholars to surmise that Behemoth and Leviathan may also be mundane creatures. Some propose Leviathan was a Nile crocodile. Like the Leviathan, the Nile crocodile is aquatic, scaly, and possesses fierce teeth. Job 41:18 states that Leviathan's eyes "are like the eyelids of the morning". Others suggest that the Leviathan is an exaggerated account of a whale. However, Job also goes on to describe Leviathan as "breathing fire". Megalodon has also been proposed.

Some Young Earth Creationists have alleged that Leviathan was either a dinosaur, such as Parasaurolophus (despite being a herbivore and a non-aquatic animal), or a giant marine reptile, such as Kronosaurus (despite lacking armor and a serpentine body).[4] Other Young Earth Creationists say that the giant crocodilian, Sarcosuchus, best fits the description in the Bible.[5]

Leviathan also appears in the Book of Enoch, giving the following description of this monster's origins there mentioned as being female, as opposed to the male Behemoth:

And on that day were two monsters parted, a female monster named Leviathan, to dwell in the abysses of the ocean over the fountains of the waters. 8. But the male is named Behemoth, who occupied with his breast a waste wilderness named Duidain...
1 Enoch 60:7-8, among the Book Of Noah fragments[6]

Metaphorical interpretations

Some suggest that Leviathan symbolizes mankind opposed to God and, therefore, that it and the beasts mentioned in the books of Daniel and Revelation should be interpreted as metaphors. This interpretation comes from the apparent use of Leviathan in the Hebrew scriptures (e.g., Isaiah 27:1) to refer to a Semitic mythological beast mentioned in literature of Ugarit, a city-state in North Syria. According to Canaanite thought, the Leviathan was an enemy of order in Creation and was slain by the Canaanite god Baal. Therefore, for the ancient Jews, the word Leviathan became synonymous with that which warred against God's kingdom. This usage especially included nations warring against Israel, such as Assyria and Egypt.

However, Leviathan has also been said to have been of the order of Seraphim. According to the writings of Father Sebastien Michaelis, Balberith, a demon who allegedly possessed Sister Madeleine at Aix-en-Provence, obligingly told the priest not only the other devils possessing the nun, but added the special saints whose function was to oppose them. Leviathan was one devil that was named and was said to tempt men into committing sacrilege. Its adversary was said to be Saint Peter.

In Christian literature, the Leviathan has often been used as an image of Satan, endangering both God's creatures—by attempting to eat them—and God's creation—by threatening it with upheaval in the waters, its native element.[7] A similar view was taken by St. Thomas Aquinas, who described Leviathan as the demon of envy and the demon who is first in punishing the corresponding sinners.

Hellmouth or the Mouth of Hell, by Simon Marmion, from the Getty Les Visions du chevalier Tondal, detail.

Leviathan became associated with, and may have originally been referred to, the visual motif of the Hellmouth, a monstrous animal into whose mouth the damned disappear at the Last Judgement, found in Anglo-Saxon art from about 800, and later all over Europe.[8][9]

One of the most famous literary references to Satan comes from this passage in William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

But now, from between the black & white spiders, a cloud and fire burst and rolled thro' the deep black'ning all beneath, so that the nether deep grew black as a sea, & rolled with a terrible noise; beneath us was nothing now to be seen but a black tempest, till looking east between the clouds & the waves, we saw a cataract of blood mixed with fire, and not many stones' throw from us appear'd and sunk again the scaly fold of a monstrous serpent; at last, to the east, distant about three degrees appear'd a fiery crest above the waves; slowly it reared like a ridge of golden rocks, till we discover'd two globes of crimson fire, from which the sea fled away in clouds of smoke; and now we saw, it was the head of Leviathan; his forehead was divided into streaks of green & purple like those on a tyger's forehead: soon we saw his mouth & red gills hang just above the raging foam tinging the black deep with beams of blood, advancing toward us with all the fury of a spiritual existence.

Leviathan in literature

Leviathan is the title of Thomas Hobbes' 1651 work on the social contract and the origins of creation of an ideal state, and his proper name for the Commonwealth.

In Paradise Lost, Milton uses the term Leviathan to describe the size and power of Satan, the ruler of many kingdoms.

Leviathan is mentioned throughout Herman Melville's classic, Moby-Dick, in reference to the sperm whale.

Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan is a steampunk novel, released in October 2009. It is the first in a young adult fiction trilogy set in an alternate history World War I, wherein the Central Powers (Clankers) are characterizes by their use of mechanized war machines, while the Entente Powers (Darwinists) are characterized by their use of living creatures evolved specifically for war. The main character is the teenage son of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The Leviathan airship for which the book is named is a Darwinist 'beastie' that is prominently a whale, with other animals joining with it to make up a sort of ecosystem of a ship.

Leviathan in Satanism

In Satanism, according to occult author Anton LaVey, Leviathan represents the element of Water and the direction of West. The element of Water in Satanism is associated with life and creation, and may be represented by a Chalice during ritual. In the Satanic Bible, Leviathan is listed as one of the Four Crown Princes of Hell. This association was inspired by the demonic hierarchy from The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage.

Additionally, the Church of Satan uses the Hebrew letters at each of the points of the Sigil of Baphomet to represent Leviathan. Starting from the lowest point of the pentagram, and reading counter-clockwise, the word reads "לִוְיָתָן". Translated, this is (LVIThN) Leviathan.[10]

See also


Some or all of this article is forked from Wikipedia. The original article was at Leviathan. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, a publication now in the public domain.

  1. Hirsch, Emil G.; Kaufmann Kohler, Solomon Schechter and Isaac Broydé. "Leviathan and Behemoth". Retrieved 3 September 2009. 
  2. Abrams, Judith Z. (26 June 2005). "Time Management: God's Example". Retrieved 3 September 2009. 
  3. Chrysler, Eliezer. "Answers to Review Questions for Moed Katan 25". Dafyomi Advancement Forum online. Retrieved 3 September 2009. 
  4. Gish, Duane (1977). Dinosaurs those Terrible Lizards. San Diego: Creation-Life Publishers. pp. 30, 51-54. 
  5. "Was Leviathan a Parasaurolophus?". Creation on the Web. Retrieved 3 September 2009. 
  6. Book of Enoch, R.H. Charles translation, hosted on the Internet Sacred Text Archive
  7. Labriola, Albert C. (1982). "The Medieval View of History in Paradise Lost". in Mulryan, John. Milton and the Middle Ages. Bucknell University Press. pp. 115–34. ISBN 9780838750360.  P. 127.
  8. Link, Luther (1995). The Devil: A Mask Without a Face. Reaktion Books. pp. 75–6. ISBN 0948462671.,M1. 
  9. Hofmann, Petra (2008) (PDF). Infernal Imagery in Anglo-Saxon Charters (thesis). St Andrews. pp. 143–4. 
  10. "The History of the Origin of the Sigil of Baphomet and its Use in the Church of Satan". Church of Satan website. Retrieved 3 September 2009. 

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Leviathan. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.