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Are there dragons in the Bible? Many bible-translations talk about such odd creatures as “dragons”, “unicorns” and “satyrs”, and some have even “flying serpents” and more. Is that for real – have such fabulous creatures actually existed?
Also: What kind of an animal was or is the leviathan? Further: Is Satan a “dragon”?
This article takes a closer look at those questions. It will be studied what the relevant Hebrew and Greek words in the passages in question really might mean and refer to.
Even the seraphs (Hebrew saraphim) will be considered here. (Many people have been caused to think that they were angels, but a closer study indicates that it is not so.)
As we all know, there are no “dragons”. Nor are such fabulous creatures mentioned in the Scriptures, even though a number of bible-translators have put such things into their texts. The relevant passages in the Hebrew OT and Greek NT texts simply refer to snakes.
The English word “dragon” comes via Latin from the old Greek noun drakôn which meant “a snake” – a large snake, sometimes a water-snake. (Even a certain fish was called drakôn.)
It may be that the word “dragon” began to be used more widely in the English language after the publication of the 1395 Wycliffe bible. Example passage:
Exodus 7:12 and alle castiden forth her yerdis, whiche weren turned in to dragouns; but the yerde of Aaron deuouride the yerdis of hem. (WYC, highlighting added)
In modern-day language:
Exodus 7:12 Each of them threw his staff down, and they all became large snakes. But Aaron’s staff swallowed theirs. (GWV, highlighting added)
In the Hebrew text of that verse, the relevant noun is tanniyn which meant “snake”. In the Septuagint version (LXX), the word tanniyn in that verse is translated into Greek as drakontes, plural of drakôn which meant “snake”. It appears that the makers of the Latin Vulgate version based much of their work on the Septuagint. However, they did not translate the Septuagint’s drakontes in Exodus 7:12 but merely “latinised” that word, as dracones. Wycliffe copied that into his translation as “dragouns”.
In short: “Dragon” is merely a transcribed form of the old Greek noun δράκων (drakôn) which meant “a snake”.
Regarding the thought that Satan was or is a “dragon”, see appendix 1.
Satyrs, in Greek saturoi, were beings in Greek myths, connected to the worship of the idols Dionysus and Pan. And, as we all know, there are no satyrs in the real world. So, how did the word “satyr” come to appear in English bible-translations?
It appears that the 1560 Geneva bible is the first translation that contained the word “satyr”. The whole thing may have been a simple printing error. Clarification:
The Hebrew word in question is שָׂעִיר, saiyr. It could be that the translators of that 1560 edition did not know how to interpret that Hebrew word but simply wrote it into their text, in the transcribed and pluralised form “saiyrs”. And that then, the printer/typesetter by mistake read the translators’ hand-written word as “satyrs”, instead of “saiyrs”.
It was in Isaiah 13:21 and 34:14 that the 1560 Geneva bible came to have “satyrs”. But, earlier translations did not have that. For instance the 1395 Wycliffe bible had in the last part of Isaiah 13:21 “and heeri beestis schulen skippe there” (“and hairy beasts shall jump there”). In the 1535 Coverdale version, those “hairy bests” were defined as apes – “apes shal daunse there”.
It appears that when the old Hebrew word saiyr was used as an adjective, it meant “hairy”. Genesis 27:11 and 23 show that Esau was said to be saiyr, “hairy”. When it was used as a noun, it referred to hairy creatures such as a goat. For instance the NKJV renders saiyr mostly as “goat” or “kid”.
Isaiah 13:21 But wild beasts of the desert will lie there, And their houses will be full of owls; Ostriches will dwell there, And wild goats [Hebrew saiyr] will caper there. (NKJV, highlighting and comment added)
Isaiah 34:14 The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the jackals, And the wild goat [saiyr] shall bleat to its companion; Also the night creature shall rest there, And find for herself a place of rest. (NKJV, highlighting and comment added)
Again, it may be that the Geneva bible’s “satyrs” came into existence through a simple typesetting error. Unfortunately, that was then copied to a number of later translations.
In some bible-translations, there appears even a creature called “unicorn”. As we all know, there are no unicorns in the real world, not of the type that look like a horse with a horn at the middle of the forehead. Nor does the Bible (the Hebrew text) talk about such creatures. So, how did “unicorns” come to appear in some English bibles?
This has to do with the word reem [a] in the Hebrew text of Numbers 23:22 and 24:8, Deuteronomy 33:17 and Job 39:9, Psalms 22:21, 29:6, 78:69 and 92:10 and Isaiah 34:7.
It all began with the Septuagint (LXX). For some reason, the makers of that ancient Greek version translated the Hebrew noun reem [a] in the above-mentioned passages except for Isaiah 34:7, into Greek as monokerôs which meant “one-horned”. Perhaps they thought that the Hebrew noun reem referred to rhinoceroses. (Some rhinos look like as if they had only one horn.)
That was then copied into the Latin text of the Vulgate version – it has rinoceros in Numbers 23:22 and 24:8, Deuteronomy 33:17 and Job 39:9–10. In Psalms 22:21, 29:6, 78:69 and 92:10 and Isaiah 34:7, it has unicornis which means “one-horned”.
And then, in the 1395 Wycliffe bible where many things are based on the Vulgate, all those verses came to have “vnicorn” or “vnycorn”. That has then been copied to many later English translations.
a Today, it is assumed that the old Hebrew noun reem referred to the great aurochs (wild ox) which became extinct in the 1600s. For instance the NKJV translates reem as “wild ox”. Example:
Job 39:9 “Will the wild ox [Hebrew reem] be willing to serve you? Will he bed by your manger? 10 Can you bind the wild ox [reem] in the furrow with ropes? Or will he plow the valleys behind you? (NKJV, highlighting and comments added)
A side-note, regarding the above-mentioned passages: In the Septuagint and Vulgate the numbering of verses and even chapters is sometimes different from what appears in modern-day English bibles.
The unicorn is something that occultists and satanists use as an esoteric symbol with a sinister meaning. On one level, it apparently refers to what is called “the third eye” of the “initiated” ones (that is, those who have dedicated themselves to Satan). The unicorn-symbol is also connected to “the queen of heaven” and “the mother of god”. (Please note that that “mother of god” is not Jesus’ mother Mary but the mother or a symbol of someone else, a sinister figure.)
Deceiving “religious art” uses the myth-animal unicorn as a symbol for Jesus, but that does not refer to the true Jesus. Again, the unicorn-symbol refers to wicked powers, ultimately Satan.
This has to do with Isaiah 27:1, Psalms 74:14 and 104:26 and Job chapter 41, and even Job 3:8.
The creature “leviathan” (Hebrew livyathan) which is mentioned and in poetic words described in Job 41 and Psalms 104, was a water-reptile of some kind (there is more on this, later in this article). But, it appears that in the case of the below-quoted prophetic passage in the book of Isaiah, the livyathan-reptile is used as a symbol of Satan.
Isaiah 27:1 On that day the Lord will use his fierce and powerful sword to punish Leviathan, that slippery snake, Leviathan, that twisting snake. He will kill that monster which lives in the sea. (GWV, highlighting added)
In that verse, the livyathan-reptile is described as a snake. The Hebrew text calls it nachash and tanniyn; both words mean “a snake”. In the Greek text of the Septuagint version it is called drakôn and ophis which likewise mean “snake”.
A side-note: Revelation 12:3 records a vision where the apostle John saw a snake with seven heads. But, that was a symbolic thing in a vision. As we all know, there are no creatures with seven heads. Regarding the big snake of Revelation 12, see appendix 2.
Some have talked about “the seven-headed leviathan”, but there is no biblical basis for that. As to Psalms 74:13–14 where some translations have “heads”, plural – it is obvious that the words of that psalm do not refer to literal snakes. It appears that the symbolic livyathan-snake of that psalm pointed to the pharaoh of Egypt (or his kingdom), the one whom the Lord forced to let the Israelites go. Read on:
In the days of the Exodus, when the Lord freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, the kingdom and land of Egypt became a ruin, through the plagues which the Lord sent upon that land. – Having noted this, let us see the psalm in question.
Psalms 74:13 Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength: thou brakest the heads of the dragons [b] in the waters. 14 Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, thou gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness. (EngRV, note sign added)
b Verse 13, “dragons” – the Hebrew text has tanniyn, referring to a snake (water-snake).
In verse 14, the EngRV has “gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness”. So, did the Lord feed some desert people with snake-meat? Of course not. Again, it is obvious that the poetic words of that song do not refer to a literal livyathan. But, the pharaohs used a snake as their symbol, and through this, it was also a symbol for Egypt. In the days of the Exodus, the Lord put an end to the kingdom of a certain pharaoh. It appears that in the above-quoted passage in Psalm 74, the Israelites’ former enslaver is symbolically pictured as a livyathan-snake which the Lord killed and then gave as “food” to desert dwellers. Read on:
Desert dwellers – the above-quoted EngRV has “the people inhabiting the wilderness”. The Hebrew text could refer to hyenas and other creatures which eat corpses, but it could also refer to desert-dwelling peoples, such as the Amalekites who after the Exodus invaded Egypt and “consumed” whatever there was left of Egypt after the plagues.
Psalms 104:26 mentions a (literal) livyathan-snake, but that passage only shows that it lived in water.
Concerning Job 41 which colourfully and poetically describes the livyathan, see appendix 3. Even Job 3:8 is considered in that appendix.
Saraph, plural saraphim, is a Hebrew word. Unfortunately, some bible-versions merely transcribe it into the English alphabet, instead of translating it into English. That has then been combined with myths and dogmas of Catholic and similar origin, leading to confusion and many misunderstandings.
The following considers some of the passages in question.
Some bible-versions have “fiery serpents” in those passages. In the Hebrew text, the relevant word is the noun nachash which refers to snakes, combined with the word saraph which refers to those snakes’ “fieriness” – either their burning poison or their colour, or both.
Numbers 21:6 So the Lord sent poisonous snakes [Hebrew saraph, nachash] among the people, and many were bitten and died. 7 Then the people came to Moses and cried out, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 Then the Lord told him, “Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!” 9 So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed! (NLT04, highlighting and comment added)
(This happened towards the end of the Israelites’ desert sojourn which followed after the Exodus. They were about to enter the Promised Land. But, the king of Edom did not allow them to pass through his land, Numbers 20:18. This meant that the Israelites had to make an extra tour of several hundred kilometres. They complained against the Lord, Numbers 21:4–5, and were then punished for that. And, as you can see in the scripture-quote above, that is when the Lord told Moses to make a copper- or bronze-replica of those fiery [saraph] snakes which bit the people.)
Even in Deuteronomy 8:15, the word combination saraph + nachash refers to snakes.
Deuteronomy 8:15 Do not forget that he led you through the great and terrifying wilderness with its poisonous snakes [Hebrew saraph, nachash] and scorpions, where it was so hot and dry. He gave you water from the rock! (NLT04, highlighting and comment added)
Above, it was noted that in Numbers 21:6 and 8 and Deuteronomy 8:15, the Hebrew words nachash and saraph refer to snakes which were “fiery”, either in regard to their burning poison or in regard to their colour (or both). – The word saraph is found even in Isaiah 14:29 and 30:6, Hebrew text. A number of bible-translators have put into those verses “flying serpents” or something similar, but some have different wordings. An example:
Isaiah 14:29 Don’t be so happy, all you Philistines, just because the club that beat you has been broken! For a viper will grow out of the serpent’s root, and its fruit will be a darting adder. (NET, emphasis added)
Isaiah 30:6 This is a message about the animals in the Negev: Through a land of distress and danger, inhabited by lionesses and roaring lions, by snakes and darting adders, they transport their wealth on the backs of donkeys, their riches on the humps of camels, to a nation that cannot help them. (NET, emphasis added)
In those verses, the Hebrew word which some translators have made into “flying”, is the verb uwph. It might be that that verb idiomatically referred to “lifting” and “rising”. Birds lift and rise (cf. Genesis 1:20, Hebrew uwph). Sparks from a fire lift upward (cf. Job 5:7, uwph). Swords are lifted or brandished (cf. Ezekiel 32:10, uwph). So, what does the word uwph refer to, in the case of Isaiah 14:29 and 30:6? Snakes do not fly – but, many of them lift up a part of their body, before they strike. So, it could be that the verb uwph in the Hebrew text of those two verses refers to a snake’s act of lifting up a part of its body, before it strikes. Or, perhaps it refers to the strike itself. “Darting adders”, as the above-quoted NET has it.
Again, the word saraph had to do with “burning”. So, the vision which is recorded in Isaiah 6:2 and 6, talks about “fiery ones”, or eventually “brazen ones” (flame-coloured).
Please note that the “fiery” and apparently winged creatures of Isaiah 6:2 and 6 were something the prophet saw in a vision. Things seen in visions do not always have any literal or exact counterparts in the real world.
But still, regarding the “fiery” creatures of that vision – did they represent angels as some have thought, or something else? And, did those creatures in that vision actually talk, as some bible-translators have made it seem? Perhaps not. The article nda010.htm, which is about the keruwbim, has also some notes on the saraphim of the vision of Isaiah 6.
See also the “recommended reading” section, after the appendixes below.
Please keep in mind that the old Greek noun drakôn simply meant “a snake”. Also: When the word “satyr” was introduced in the 1560 Geneva bible, that probably was a typesetting mistake. These things are discussed in the main part of this article.
It is true that in many scriptures, Satan is called “snake”. But, that probably is a reference to his ways and personality, and not a description of his looks.
Genesis 3:14 mentions a nachash, a snake, but all details are not made clear. It is obvious that ultimately, it must have been Satan who was behind the evil that was done by that snake. But, was he literally there, in the form of a snake? Or, was he merely controlling that snake? We do not know.
Then, let us consider in the book of Revelation a passage where Satan is called “snake”.
Revelation 12:9 The huge serpent was thrown down. That ancient snake, named Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world, was thrown down to earth. Its angels were thrown down with it. (GWV)
“Serpent” and “snake” – the Greek text has drakôn and ophis which both mean “a snake”. And again, this probably refers to Satan’s ways and personality and is not a description of his looks.
A note: The matter of the “cherubs”, Hebrew keruwb plural keruwbim, is sorted out in the article nda010.htm. The article nda050.htm considers what and whom Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 actually refer to. The article nda070.htm takes a closer look at what the Scriptures tell us about angels and “archangels”.
A note: That passage is mentioned here, because even in it, the Greek text contains the noun drakôn, “snake”.
Revelation 12:3 Another sign appeared in the sky: a huge fiery red serpent with seven heads, ten horns, and seven crowns on its heads. (GWV, highlighting added)
“Serpent” – the Greek text has drakôn which means “snake”.
Please note that the apostle John was describing something he had seen in a vision. Things seen in visions are often symbolic, without any exact or literal counterparts in the real world. Clearly, this is so, also in the case of Revelation 12:3.
But of course, it is obvious that the multi-headed snake-symbol which John saw in that vision, was somehow connected to Satan and his cronies, and their rule here on Earth.
It could be that those seven “heads” symbolised different revivals – eras, periods – of the “beast”. That might refer to the political, financial and military power system through which this world is controlled by wicked spirit powers and ultimately Satan.
Stories and myths, and wordings in bible-translations, may have caused some people to think of the leviathan as a “fire-breathing dragon”.
The word “leviathan” is a transcribed form of the old Hebrew noun livyathan which referred to a water-reptile of some kind.
In the case of Isaiah 27:1, the livyathan-reptile obviously served as a symbol of Satan. In the case of Psalms 74:14, it may be that the livyathan is used as a symbol of Egypt and the pharaoh. (Those passages are discussed in the main part of this article.) Psalms 104:26 mentions in passing a literal livyathan-reptile which lived in water.
The following considers how chapter 41 in the book of Job describes the livyathan. Even Job 3:8 will be considered here.
But first: What did the old Hebrew word livyathan actually mean and refer to? One lexicon-maker interpreted it as a “wreathed animal, i. e. a serpent”. One dictionary-maker suggested that it meant “twisted”, “coiled”. Those suggestions are probably correct. A number of scriptures make it clear that the (literal) livyathan was a large coiling reptile which lived in water. Some have thought that it was a crocodile, but a number of things indicate that it was a large water-snake.
Now, to Job 41. Please note that that chapter contains poetic words and expressions which are not to be taken literally, and even hyperbole.
Let us begin in verse 1.
Job 41:1 Canst thou draw out leviathan with a hook or with the cord which thou lettest down on his tongue? (JB)
Again, several Old Testament passages make it clear that the literal livyathan was a reptile which lived in water. The above-quoted verse mentions its tongue. Some might perhaps connect that verse to a crocodile. On the other hand: What is it that one often especially notes on snakes? Their twisting tongue.
Then, the teeth of that creature are mentioned.
Job 41:14 Who can open the doors of his face? Round about his teeth is terror. (ACV)
“Who can open the doors of his face?” Those words might fit to a crocodile, but it could just as well be that that writer’s point was that no man in his sound mind would go and look into the mouth of a poisonous snake. The same applies to the words “round about his teeth is terror”, for what is it that one fears, in a poisonous snake? Its teeth, of course. The fangs.
The livyathan had scales:
Job 41:15 His scales are his pride, shut up together as with a close seal. 16 One is so near to another, that no air can come between them. 17 They are joined one to another, they stick together, that they cannot be sundered. (AKJV)
That could refer to crocodiles, but even snakes are covered by scales, tightly joined together.
In the next verse, the AKJV has this wording:
Job 41:18 By his neesings a light does shine, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning. (AKJV)
(“Neesings” = an older spelling for “sneezings”.)
Regarding the above-quoted translation of Job 41:18 – we know that some amphibious animals can, when they come up to the surface, in a sneezing-like manner blow out old air from their lungs. But, do sneezings produce light? The Hebrew word which the AKJV renders as “neesings”, is not found elsewhere in the Bible. Also: Ancient Hebrew was written mostly with only consonants. In Job 41:18, some have added to the Hebrew word in question such vowels that it became atiyshah. Some have then thought that that must refer to a sneezing. But, is that correct? Sneezings do not shine – but eyes can do that (see the last part of Job 41:18, quoted above). So, it could be that even in the first part of that verse (above), the poetic wording refers to that reptile’s eyes.
The next verse contains another poetic, hyperbolic description of the livyathan. Here is how the AKJV renders that passage:
Job 41:19 Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out. (AKJV)
As we all know, there are no fire-breathing animals. So, what do the poetic words of that verse refer to?
Here, it must be noted that while the English text of the above-quoted AKJV has thirteen words, the Hebrew has only six. Where the AKJV has “burning lamps”, the Hebrew text has only lappiyd, “burning”. So, it could be that that verse refers to burning which is caused by the venom of a snake.
Then, verses 20–21, with poetic words regarding “smoke”, “kindling of coals” and “flame”:
Job 41:20 Out of his nostrils goes smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron. 21 His breath kindles coals, and a flame goes out of his mouth. (AKJV)
It is clear that that is poetic language with hyperbole. And again, we all know that there are no fire-breathing creatures. So, what did the Hebrew text of those verses refer to? Some details:
What the AKJV renders as “smoke”, is in the Hebrew text the noun ashan. The related verb ashan meant such things as “to smoke” and “to be angry”. What the AKJV has as “nostrils”, is in the Hebrew text nechiyr. That word appears only in this verse, and we have no certain knowledge as to what it actually meant. But, it could be that verses 19–21 refer to burning venom which that snake was able to spray or spit forth, as some snakes do.
More poetic words regarding the livyathan reptile:
Job 41:22 Strength dwells in his neck, And sorrow dances before him. (NKJV)
Crocodiles are strong, but so are larger snakes also. For instance, if a python coils itself around one, one is in trouble.
More in that chapter:
Job 41:25 When he raises himself up, the mighty are afraid; Because of his crashings they are beside themselves. (NKJV)
“Raises himself”? Some have thought that the livyathan was a crocodile. Do crocodiles “raise themselves”? But, some snakes raise up their head, before their strike.
Regarding the “crashings” which the NKJV has in that verse – the Hebrew noun in question is sheber. One dictionary defines its meaning as “breaking”, “fracture”, “crushing”, “breach”, “crash”, “ruin”, “shattering”. Apparently, the noun sheber was related to the verb shabar which meant such things as “to crush” and “to quench”. So, does verse 25 refer to a crocodile which crushes its victims with its jaws? Or, does it refer to how larger snakes strangle and crush their victims? Or, does the word sheber in that verse refer to a strike, such as that of a poisonous snake? This is not clear. What is clear, is that that creature was a dangerous reptile.
Verses 26–34, with more poetic, hyperbolic language (the following is a translator’s interpretation, of course):
Job 41:26 The sword of him that lays at him cannot hold: the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon. 27 He esteems iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood. 28 The arrow cannot make him flee: sling stones are turned with him into stubble. 29 Darts are counted as stubble: he laughs at the shaking of a spear. 30 Sharp stones are under him: he spreads sharp pointed things on the mire. 31 He makes the deep to boil like a pot: he makes the sea like a pot of ointment. 32 He makes a path to shine after him; one would think the deep to be hoary. 33 On earth there is not his like, who is made without fear. 34 He beholds all high things: he is a king over all the children of pride. (AKJV)
Either that creature was so quick and cunning that it was hard to hit it by a sword, spear or an arrow, or then it had a special panzer skin which protected it. Or, it dived below the surface and escaped attacks in that way, a water-creature as it was. How it ever was with that matter, it is clear that the livyathan was a coiling water-reptile. And again, a number of things indicate that it was a large water-snake and not a crocodile.
Even in Job 3:8, the Hebrew text contains the word livyathan. In that verse, the Greek text of the Septuagint version has the noun kêtos which refers to sea-monsters in general. The Latin Vulgate leaves the Hebrew word livyathan in that verse untranslated, transcribing it as “leviathan”. But, some translators have made that to “mourning” (“who are ready to raise up their mourning”, or similar). Is “mourning” a proper translation of the word livyathan, in that case? Hard to say. Some bible-versions attach to that verse a note that the meaning of the Hebrew text is uncertain. Well, that applies to many parts of the book of Job.
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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → nsa090.htm
The cherubs or keruwbim, what did they look like? → nda010.htm
Do Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 refer to Satan, as some claim? → nda050.htm
What does the Bible say about Satan the Devil? A study on what the Scriptures tell us about mankind’s arch-enemy. → nda040.htm
What does the Bible say about angels? → nda070.htm
Are angels immortal, in the meaning that they cannot die? → nda020.htm
On what the Scriptures say about demons. → nda080.htm
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