01 April 2020

Mythical Beasts of the Bible

Phoenix

Job 29:18

“Phoenix” and “palm tree” come from the Septuagint. “Sand” comes from the Masoretic Text. In my opinion, the word phoenix makes more sense, as there is explicitly a “nest” in this passage and palm trees and sand do not build nests, but also because the phoenix multiplies its days in its nest through a cycle of death and rebirth. This change has a profound impact on the meaning of the passage and offers a glimmer of hope for poor afflicted Job.

Basilisk

Isa 11:8; Isa 59:5

Sometimes a snake is just a snake, unless it's a basilisk. A basilisk, or cockatrice, is a lizard with six legs and the power to turn a person to stone with its bite or gaze. It isn't actually found in the Bible, but mentions of it are still present in the King James Version, for whatever reason.

Satyr

Isa 13:21; Isa 34:14

The word here is “sa’ir” which means “goat,” but also “to wail” or “hairy.” It is sometimes translated as a kind of demon or satyr.

Unicorn

Job 39:9, 12; Psa 22:21; Psa 29:5-6; Psa 92:10; Isa 34:6-7

References to the unicorn come from the Septuagint. In Greek, the word is more reliably translated as “rhinoceros,” but the same word can be translated as “unicorn.” However, since the Bible refers to such unicorns as having one or two horns, it is more likely that it refers to Asian and African rhinos respectively. In Hebrew, the word is “reem” and means “wild ox.”

So why is this translated as unicorn? Look no further than the patron of the King James Bible, King James, himself. His coat of arms, which for the first time in history unified the coats of arms from England, Scotland, and Ireland, features both a lion and a unicorn. Thus, the unicorn is shown as a creature of great power and majesty.

Dragon

Job 30:29; Psa 44:19; Psa 74:13; Isa 13:22; Isa 27:1; Isa 43:20; Isa 51:9

The word “dragon” comes from the Hebrew word “tannin.” The name may derive from a root meaning "howling" or from coiling in a manner like smoke. In modern Hebrew, usage the word means "crocodile." A creature of the same name is referred to in Canaanite mythology as having been defeated by the god Ba'al.

Leviathan

Job 41; Psa 74:14; Psa 104:26; Isa 27:1

The leviathan is a beast unique to the Hebrew scriptures. It is a terrifying sea beast which demonstrates the power of God in that only God may overcome it. This is very similar to the Canaanite story of Ba'al, whose strength is demonstrated by his defeat of the dragon.

Behemoth

Job 40:15-24

Behemoth is a creature unique to the Book of Job. It is very similar to the Hebrew word for "wild beast."

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