Leviathan

The leviathan is a sea monster from the Old Testament.

There is nothing which calls up as much fear of traveling the ocean as the Biblical leviathan. This giant sea creature is a fire-breathing creature that can boil the seas when it swims along the surface of the water. It is the ruler over every living thing under the sea. The scales upon its back are as large as shields. Its underbelly is covered with scales as hard and sharp as broken bits of pottery. Smoke comes from its nostrils and fire from a mouth rimmed in razor sharp teeth. Its eyes glimmer like the dawn and its fins shine with a bright light.

In Jewish literature the leviathanís size is described by R. Johanan, it is from this description that almost all other leviathan legends come from. When on a ship a fish was seen that lifted his head out of the water. Upon the fishís horns was written, ďI am one of the meanest creatures of the sea. I am three hundred miles long and now enter this day into the jaws of the leviathan.Ē When the leviathan is hungry, he can issue from its mouth a heat so great that it boils the water around it. If the leviathan were to put his head into paradise, no creature would be able to survive its odor. He lives in the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River falls into its mouth.

One story in Jewish literature tells of Liviathan, the personification of chaos at the beginning of time. He is a seven headed, fire breathing crocodile like dragon that lurks in the depths of the ocean waiting for an opportunity to reach up and snatch victims. Anat fights him and is able to bring order to the universe by chaining him. It says that the leviathan is not dead, but is merely sleeping and will return one day to destroy the world.

Later Jewish sources say God created two leviathans, a male and a female. Upon seeing them in the world, he realized that if they were to procreate they would devour the world. God kills the female, preserves the meat for the righteous in the world and fashioning clothes for Adam and Eve from its skin. The male was neutered and allowed to stay alive. At the feast after the end of the world, the leviathan will be one of the creatures to be served. Its skin will be made into a tent that will house the banquet.

In Ancient Middle East mythology, there are many tales of leviathans and similar giant sea serpents. In an Ugarit myth, a giant seven-headed sea serpent named Lotan represents the destruction of the untamed oceans and floods. He is associated with Yam, the god of rivers and seas. The most popular Middle Eastern myth involving leviathans is the battle between the leviathan Tiamat and the god Marduk. In this creation myth, Tiamatís lover is killed by the other gods. She created other leviathans, storm demons, fish-men and others to battle the deities and avenge his death. All of the gods are terrified except Marduk, a storm god. He says he will save them if they consent to make him their leader now and after Tiamat is taken care of. The gods agree to Mardukís demands and is chosen as their champion against Tiamat. Marduk challenges Tiamat to combat and destroys her. After she dies, Marduk splits Tiamatís corpse in half and creates the earth and the sky.

In the Middle Ages, the leviathan was used by Christianity to represent Satan. It endangered Godís creatures by trying to eat them and it jeopardized Godís creation by threatening it with chaos. It was considered one of the seven princes of Hell and represented the deadly sin envy. Christianity also made the leviathan into a monstrous animal that acted as a gatekeeper that the souls of the damned would be fed to after Judgment Day.