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- This page is about the biblical creature; for other uses, see Leviathan (disambiguation).
Leviathan (לִוְיָתָן "Twisted; coiled", Standard Hebrew Livyatan, Tiberian Hebrew Liwyāṯān) was a Biblical sea monster referred to in passing in the Old Testament (Psalms 74:13-14; Job 41; Isaiah 27:1).
The word leviathan has become synonymous with any large monster or creature.
The Leviathan comes from the Book of Genesis chapter 1: 20-21 (also cited by Rashi) , in recounting the fifth day of Creation: "God [thus] created the great sea monsters - Taninim" in Hebrew, which could also mean whales or dragons, and see also the Book of Exodus 7:9 , where it is a viper or serpent.
Some rabbinic midrash state that the Genesis account alludes to a pair of particularly great sea creatures, the Leviathan and its mate. (See Book of Isaiah 27:1; Psalms 74:14 and 104:26; Book of Job 3:8 and 40:25.) .
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).
Leviathan may also be interpreted as the sea itself, with its counterparts behemoth being the land and ziz being the air and space.
The Christian interpretation of Leviathan is often considered to be a demon associated with Satan or the Devil, and held by some to be the same monster as Rahab (Isaiah 51:9). The Biblical references to Leviathan appear to have evolved from a Canaanite legend involving a confrontation between Hadad (Baal) and a seven headed sea monster which Hadad defeats, and they also resemble the Babylonian creation epic "Enuma Elish" in which the storm god Marduk slays his mother, the sea monster and goddess of chaos and creation Tiamat and creates the earth and sky from the two halves of her corpse.
Some biblical scholars considered Leviathan to represent the pre-existent forces of chaos. In Psalm 74:13-14 it says "it was You who drove back the sea with Your might, who smashed the heads of the monsters in the waters; it was You who crushed the heads of Leviathan, who left him as food for the creatures of the wilderness. (JPS edition)" God drove back the waters of the pre-existent Earth (Genesis 1:2 "the earth being unformed and void with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water-" [JPS edition]) and destroyed the chaotic marine monster Leviathan in order to shape the unformed and void Earth in his liking.
Some interpreters suggest that Leviathan is a symbol of mankind in opposition to God, and is no more literal than the beasts mentioned in Daniel and Revelation.
Use as a generic term for sea monster
During sea-faring's Golden Age, European sailors saw Leviathan as a gigantic whale-like sea monster, usually a sea serpent, that devoured whole ships by swimming around the vessels so quickly as to create a whirlpool.
Leviathan is also the title of Thomas Hobbes' seminal work on the social contract and the creation of an ideal state - the Commonwealth. A lot of work has gone into deciding why he named his book the "Leviathan" and one of prime causes of this is the influence and fear in England of the mighty Spanish Armada that ruled the seas before being successfully defeated by Elizabeth's navy in 1588.
Partly due to the influence of Herman Melville's classic, Moby Dick, the Leviathan has come to be associated by many with the Sperm Whale. An example of this is in Disney's depiction of Pinocchio's being swallowed (a la Jonah in the Bible) by a Sperm Whale, despite the fact that in the original, Pinocchio was swallowed by a "Pesce-cane", translated as "dog-fish" or "shark".
In his book, In Search of Prehistoric Survivors , cryptozoologist Dr. Karl Shuker considers the Leviathan to be a myth inspired, at least in part, by sightings of a Mosasaur-type sea monster. Bernard Heuvelmans, in his book In the Wake of Sea Serpents (Dans le sillage des monstres marins) considered the entity to be of the "Marine centipede" type.
- Putting God on Trial- The Biblical Book of Job contains a major section on the literary use of Leviathan.
- Enuma Elish (Babylonian creation epic)
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