Mythological Beasts in the Bible

OftheunicornThere are quite a few fanciful creatures mentioned in the Bible. Some descriptions are simply symbolic and are meant to represent certain nations, people, or ideas in prophetic visions. These creatures were probably never intended to be taken literally. Other passages, on the other hand, are indeed describing a real beast, although the names provided by translators were often borrowed from mythology. The King James Version of the English Bible, translated in 1611, contains several mentions of mythological beasts, including unicorns, dragons, satyrs and cockatrices. Unfortunately, The King James Version has a few weaknesses. One being that, when the translators of the Old Testament came across a Hebrew word of uncertain meaning, they sometimes chose a questionable English word to replace it.

The Hebrew word “re’em”, probably signified a horned animal similar to the aurochs, an extinct ancestor of modern cattle. Aurochs had two horns but for some bizarre reason, the translators of the KJV chose to substitute “unicorn” for the name of this beast each time it occurred. [See  Deuteronomy 33:17; Psalm 22:21; and Isaiah 34:7.] Unfortunately, the Bible, in its original languages, never actually mentions unicorns. Shucks, I kind of like unicorns.

There are many mentions of “dragons” in the Old Testament such as in Psalm 148:7; Isaiah 43:20 and Micah 1:8. The obscure Hebrew word “tanniyn” probably indicates some kind of large and frightening creature. This beast is mentioned over a dozen times in the Old Testament (again mostly in the KJV). It is both a land and sea dweller. Other versions translate it as “great sea creature” or in other contexts “jackals” or “wolves”. It is most likely just a generic term for any large undesirable creature. Finally, the book of Revelation calls Satan a “dragon” but that is just a metaphor [Revelation 12:9].

The KJV translates the Hebrew word, “sa`iyr” as “satyr.” In Isaiah 13:21 and Isaiah 34:14. Elsewhere, the word is usually translated simply as “he-goat” or “hairy.” However, the word was also thought to imply demon-worship associated with goats, hence the translation of “devil”  or “satyr” in the previous verses. Based on the context of the Isaiah passages, however, it is very likely that it is just wild goats that are intended by “sa`iyr”, not the goat-man creature of classical mythology.

The cockatrice is a half-rooster and half-snake, with the ability to turn people to stone at a mere glance. At the time the KJV translation was made, the cockatrice was a popular myth in Britain. The word, “cockatrice” was used to translate the Hebrew “tsepha`”, which more properly means “poisonous serpent,” in four of its five occurrences: Isaiah 11:8; 14:29; 59:5; and Jeremiah 8:17.

The leviathan is described in Job 3:8 and Job 41:1–34. Isaiah 27:1, Psalm 74:14 and Psalm 104:24–30 also mention the leviathan. The name literally means “coiled one,” and its description indicates some sort of a monstrous sea serpent. The leviathan breathes fire, has scales harder than iron, and can crush anything in its jaws. According to Psalm 74, it also has multiple heads. The book of Job certainly seems to be describing an actual beast, created by God. In other references (such as in Psalm 74), the creature is used as a symbol for the enemies of Israel.

The “behemoth” is described in Job as an example of the many things God has accomplished that Job could not even begin to fathom (Job 40:15–24). Behemoth is almost certainly meant to describe a real creature, although some Jewish scholars argue that it is merely a symbol of chaos. The beast is often identified as an elephant or hippopotamus, although some of its physical characteristics, such as the tail “like a cedar,” do not particularly apply to either animal. Young-earth creationists believe behemoth may be a dinosaur similar to the diplodocus or apatosaurus. Yeah, right.

The angels are represented throughout the Bible as spiritual beings intermediate between God and men (Psalms 8:4-5). The Bible describes the function of angels as “messengers” but does not indicate when the creation of angels occurred. Some Christians believe that angels are created beings, based on (Psalms 148:2-5; Colossians 1:16).

The New Testament includes many interactions and conversations between angels and humans. For instance, three separate cases of angelic interaction deal with the births of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. In Luke 1:11, an angel appears to Zechariah to inform him that he will have a child despite his old age, thus proclaiming the birth of John the Baptist. In Luke 1:26 the Archangel Gabriel visits the Virgin Mary in the Annunciation to foretell the birth of Jesus Christ. Angels then proclaim the birth of Jesus in the Adoration of the shepherds in Luke 2:10.

According to Matthew 4:11, after Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, “…the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.” In Luke 22:43 an angel comforts Jesus Christ during the Agony in the Garden. In Matthew 28:5 an angel speaks at the empty tomb, following the Resurrection of Jesus and the rolling back of the stone by angels.

The Bible is practically littered with demons. Demons in the Old Testament are of two classes: the “satyrs” or “shaggy goats” (from Hebrew se’irim “hairy beings” and Greek σάτυρος satyros, “satyr”; Isaiah 13:21, 34:14) and the “demons” (from Hebrew shedim, and Koine Greek δαιμόνιον daimonion; Psalm 106:35-39, Deuteronomy 32:17).

In the New Testament, The term “demon” appears 63 times. Particularly the Gospel of Mark, Jesus cast out many demons from those afflicted with various ailments. He also lent this power to some of his disciples (Luke 10:17).

The Nephilim were likely the offspring of angels (or demons) and human women (Genesis 6:1–4 and Jude 6). The Nephilim are also mentioned in Numbers 13:33, but it is possible that by this time in Israel’s history “Nephilim” was used as a generic term for any tall and intimidating people, such as those found in Canaan at the time.

Beasts in prophetic visions
The apocalyptic sections of Daniel and Revelation contain visions of many strange chimeric creatures. Both books describe  creatures with the heads, bodies, limbs, and wings of different combinations of animals such as heads of lions with wings of eagles and so forth. These are not literal but symbolic descriptions of “angelic” beings.

Revelation also prophesies “locusts” with human faces, women’s hair, lions’ teeth, scorpions’ tails and wings. I think we may actually have these in Texas. Also, in Revelation 9:13–19, an army of 200 million horsemen ride horses with the heads of lions, breathing fire and brimstone, and sporting tails like serpents with heads. The descriptions of these strange creatures are purely symbolic of real beings, persons or nations.

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