are many references to dinosaur-like creatures, or if you prefer the older name, dragons, in
the Bible. This is not unique to
Scripture. Ancient literature from
around the world is filled with references to these frightening monsters, which
display many striking similarities to one another, as well as to modern scientific
descriptions of dinosaurs and other extinct reptiles. These
globe-spanning similarities are hard to explain if the creatures mentioned in
these ancient texts are purely mythological. How did ancient peoples around the world know about these animals, and
how they looked and acted, if they had never seen them alive? Modern science has been dramatically wrong
about dozens of so-called living fossils—animals supposedly extinct for
millions of years, but still happily living today. Might it also be dramatically wrong about the
dinosaurs? Could some dinosaurs have become
extinct only in relatively recent times?
most detailed description of a dinosaur in the Bible appears in Job
40:15-24. The creature
mentioned here, Behemoth, is a huge, herbivorous,
four-footed beast with bones as strong as bronze (40:15,18). The obvious clue that this is not a hippo or
an elephant (as often interpreted) is the description of its tail, which "he
bends...like a cedar tree" (40:17). The cedars of the Middle East, such as the famous cedars of Lebanon, were very large trees. That's hardly an appropriate description for
the tail of a hippo or an elephant. But
it matches perfectly with several different species of sauropod dinosaurs, such as the apatosaurus (previously identified as the brontosaurus). His
great height is indicated by the phrase, "the mountains lift up food to him"
(40:20). This implies that he stood
taller than the trees. And he seems to
have spent much of his time in the water: "Under the lotus plants he lies down, in the shelter of the reeds and
the marsh" (40:21). His size and power do not match any living
species: "Will anyone capture him while
he is on watch; will he pierce his nose with snares?" (Job 40:24).
Just after this, Job mentions Leviathan
(Job 41:1-34), which closely matches some kind of plesiosaur or other aquatic, seagoing reptile of great
mass and strength, but of limited mobility on land. That this is not an alligator (as often
interpreted) is clear from the impossibility of killing him even with many
harpoons and other weapons (41:7,26-29). This, too, was a huge creature, as can be
seen by the crashing sound he made when he beached himself, and the violent
stirring of the water when he returned to the deep ("He causes the deep to boil as a pot; he makes the sea as a pot of ointment," 41:31). Once in the water, he trailed a large, white wake
behind him ("After him he causes a wake to shine; one would think the deep to be white-haired," 41:32). The fire that sprang from his mouth is a standard part of dragon legends
from around the world (41:18-21, "From his mouth burning torches go out; sparks of fire escape"). It's
hard to explain such uniform testimony unless it is based on some actual
characteristic of certain species of ancient reptiles. (See below for a detailed analysis of these descriptions in Job.)
for Dinosaurs and other Extinct Reptiles in the Bible
primary word for dinosaur-like creatures* or dragons in the Hebrew Scriptures (the Hebrew Old
Testament, also known as the Masoretic text or MT) is tannin
or in the plural tanninim.** The Hebrew root of
this word (tanan) indicates that these animals made a howling sound
(that they were "howlers"). Tannin is translated in the Old Greek (the Septuagint
or LXX***) with the Greek word drakon (drakontes
in the plural; the source of our English word "dragon") or with the Greek word keetos
(keetee in the plural).**** Artistic
representations of the keetos that
swallowed Jonah made by early Greek-speaking Christians show
it as a large, dragon-like aquatic reptile (see photos
* "Dinosaur-like creatures" is used here to include dinosaurs themselves as well as other large extinct reptiles popularly associated with the term dinosaur. These categories are not distinguished in the Bible.
** Sometimes translated "monster" or "sea monster." In some contexts (such as Exodus 7, see below), modern versions prefer the translation "snake." But there is no contextual necessity for this variation. Hebrew has other, distinct words for snakes.
*** The Septuagint (LXX) is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old
Testament) made in Alexandria in the 3rd cent. BC. It was often quoted by the authors of the New Testament.
**** These two Greek words (drakon and keetos) were used interchangeably in the Septuagint and other ancient Greek translations by Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion.
controversial Hebrew word for these creatures is the similar-sounding tannim. This is often presumed to be the plural
of the word for jackal (tan; a mammalian "howler"). But in several places, the context clearly
indicates that dragons are being referred to. Either tannim in these places is a
corruption of the longer tanninim, or the
word had its own independent association with dragons. The Septuagint frequently translates tannim as dragon (drakon).
It's likely that other
Hebrew words of uncertain meaning (such as kephirim, see Job 4:10 below) originally referred to dinosaurs (or other extinct species), but these
can no longer be identified with any certainty. The flying serpents (seraphim) mentioned in Isaiah 14:29 and 30:6 (and possibly also in Num. 21:6,8 and Deut. 8:15) should also be mentioned here, though they merit their own independent investigation due to the large number of literary references in ancient authors and depictions in ancient art (see links at Wisdom 16:10 below).
following verses are either a translation of the Hebrew text (with the relevant Greek
[LXX] terms in parentheses); or of the Greek text (with the relevant Hebrew
[MT] terms in parentheses). This
way, you can compare the way the verse was understood in both of these ancient
versions. Passages from the books of the Apocrypha in the old Greek (LXX) are also included. Entries are categorized under
different headings by type of use and ranked by the amount of descriptive information
they give about these ancient creatures (###,
the highest ranking, indicates the most detailed descriptions).
first set of references contains descriptions of living, dinosaur-like animals. These are the clearest and most distinct
references to dinosaur-like creatures as living animals in the Bible. The second set contains descriptions about
which there is some uncertainty as to whether they are a physical description
of a living animal or a symbolic use of dinosaur-like imagery. In either case, valuable information can be
gleaned, since symbolic descriptions rely on commonly known physical
characteristics of the animal being described. The third set contains
what are clearly symbolic uses of dinosaur-like imagery, rather than a description of a living animal. And the final set contains verses understood in the Greek (LXX) to refer to dinosaur-like creatures, but for which some other identification appears in the Hebrew text (MT).
Descriptions of Living Dinosaur-like
##Gen. 1:21: "And God
created the great tanninim (keeteeLXX) and every living creature
that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind." These "great tanninim"
must have been the most remarkable creatures in the sea to be singled out this way in the Creation account. They are the great sea monsters of which legends abound around the world. The word "great" indicates that many of them grew to enormous sizes. (NAS has here "great sea monsters"; NKJ has "great
The tanninim are clearly listed in Genesis among the creatures that live in the water, even though some of these great beasts, like Behemoth (see Description in Job and Job 40 below), had feet and could walk on the earth. This identification, as we will see below, comes from the considerable amount of time these creatures spent in the water, as did Behemoth himself ("under the lotus plants, in the shelter of the reeds and the marsh," Job 40:21).
# Gen. 3:1: "Now the serpent was crafty, more than any animal of the field." The serpent in the Garden of Eden must
originally have been some kind of dinosaur-like creature. Why? Because he only began to slither on the ground after the
curse ("on your belly you will go," Gen. 3:14). Before that, he must have had some other way
of getting around, likely feet. This is how the ancient rabbis understood the story. They said that before the curse, the serpent "stood upright like a reed,
and he had feet" (Gen. Rab. 19:1, 20:5). An upright snake with legs is a good description of certain types of
dinosaurs. By the way, Scripture says
nothing about the snake being in the tree, as we usually picture
Ex. 7:9: "Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a tannin (drakonLXX)"
(also ). While most of us are used to thinking of
Aaron's rod turning into a snake, both the Greek and Hebrew agree that it
turned into some kind of dinosaur-like creature. The size of the creature, though, isn't mentioned. (Many types of dinosaurs were quite small.)
# Ex. 7:12: "Each one threw down his staff and they turned into tanninim (drakontesLXX). And the staff of Aaron swallowed their
staffs." Swallowing whole is a distinctly
reptilian way to eat a meal. And it's
just possible that this might indicate cannibalism among certain species of
dinosaurs, though it's hard to tell from the context if this was considered
normal or abnormal behavior for tanninim.
## Job 7:12: "Am I the sea, or a tannin (drakonLXX),
that you set a guard over me?" Here, tannin is in poetic parallel with the sea, with both
referring to large, unstoppable forces that only God can control. A "guard" over the sea most likely refers to
the divinely ordained limit imposed on the sea after the Flood (Psa. 104:9). The parallel "guard" over the tanninim therefore implies a divine limitation to
the range of dinosaur-like creatures. This is another indication
that most types of tanninim
did not stray far from the water.
### Job 40:15-24:
"15 See now Behemoth
(wild beastsLXX) which I made with you; He eats grass like an ox. 16 See now his strength in his loins, And his vigor in the muscles of his belly. 17 He bends his tail like a cedar (tree), The sinews of his thighs are (tightly) intertwined. 18 His bones are tubes of bronze, His bones are as bars of iron. 19 He is the first of the ways of God, May his Maker bring near his sword! 20 For the mountains lift up their produce to him, And every animal of the field plays there. 21 Under the lotus plants he lies down, In the shelter of the reeds and the marsh. 22 Lotus plants cover his shadow; Poplars (along) the river surround him. 23 If a river presses (against him), he is not alarmed, He is confident though the Jordan bursts forth against his mouth. 24 Before his (watchful) eyes will anyone seize him? With lures will he pierce his nose?"
This remarkably detailed description of a dinosaur (see Description in Job above) begins by identifying this huge beast as a herbivore ("He eats grass like an ox," vs. 15). The strength of the muscles in his loins and belly (vs. 16) is awesome because of his size and the great weight they move about. It also indicates the view of an observer looking up at the belly of this immense creature, and thus its great height. The tail like a cedar tree (vs. 17), one of the largest known trees in the lands of the Bible, clearly identifies Behemoth as a huge, dinosaur-like creature. No other type of animal, living or extinct, matches this description. The remarkable strength of his bones (vs. 18), together with the description of the muscles in his belly and loins (vs. 16), not only indicate a huge size and weight, but also that it had legs and feet.
That Behemoth is "the first of the ways of God" (vs. 19) means from a Biblical point of view not that he is large, as some interpret this phrase, but that he is one of the tanninim listed first among the animals
in the Creation account (Gen. 1:21).* The impossibility of killing him with the weapons of that time period is indicated by the phrase "May his Maker bring near his sword!" Only God was able to kill him, which the writer thinks would be a good idea.
* The word tanninim is used of dinosaur-like creatures both with and without feet (dinosaurs and large marine reptiles).
That "the mountains lift up their produce to him" (vs. 20) implies that he stood taller than the trees. Yet he would retire "under the lotus plants" (vs. 21), indicating that he spent quite a bit of time not only in the water, but also under the water. "Lotus plants cover his shadow" (vs. 22) is a good description of the dark shadowy shape of such a monster moving hidden under the water. But the main point of vs. 22 is that in spite of his huge frame, he could readily hide himself. Also important to us is that this describes a fresh water environment, confirming that tanninim could be found not only in the sea, but also in fresh water lakes and rivers, including the Jordan River (vs. 23).* In this passage, dinosaur-like creatures with feet, or at least this one type of tannin, are associated with fresh water.
* The Jordan Valley was once home to all kinds of interesting creatures, including the hippopotamus and the elephant. In ancient times, the water was much deeper than it is today, especially in the springtime, when the river flooded. Today the water is controlled by a dam at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee, and most of the water is pumped out for agriculture.
Also interesting is that Behemoth was well able to resist flash floods, still common today in the Jordan River Valley during times of heavy rain (vs. 23).* Perhaps some species were hardy enough to survive in the water of the much greater Flood of Noah.**
* One of my professors described a wall of water he had seen crashing down one of the dry streambeds leading to the Dead Sea. The road along the western edge of the Dead Sea often washes out at the time of the winter rains.
** Freshwater fish were able to survive the Flood. Why not freshwater dinosaurs?
### Job 41:1-34:
Will you draw out Leviathan
(drakonLXX) with a (fishing) hook? And with a (fishing) line will you make his tongue hang down? 2 Will you put a reed in his nose? And with a ring will you pierce his cheek? 3 Will he multiply supplications to you? Or will he speak timidly to you? 4 Will he make a covenant with you? Will you take him into life-long servitude? 5 Will you play with him as with bird? And will you tether him for your girls (to play with)? 6 Will (your trading) partners bargain over him? Will they trade him between merchants? 7 Will you fill his skin with harpoons? And his head with a fishing spear? 8 Put your hand on him, remember the battle; You will not do it again. 9 See, his hope (to capture him) has been proved false; Even by the sight of him he will be thrown down. 10 (There are) none (so) fierce that they rouse him; And who is he (that) will stand before me? 11 Who has confronted me that I must pay compensation (to him)? Under all the heavens, it is mine. 12 I will not be silent (about) his limbs; And (will say) a word (about his) mighty deeds and the beauty of his proportions. 13 Who has removed the outer layer of his clothing? Within the doubling of his jaw, who will go? 14 The doors of his face, who has opened? Surrounding his teeth is terror. 15 The furrows between his scales are his pride; They are shut with a tight seal. 16 One with another they come near; And wind does not come between them. 17 Like a man with his brother they cleave; They grasp each other and do not get separated. 18 His sneezes flash forth light; And his eyes are as the gleam of the dawn. 19 From his mouth (burning) torches go out; Sparks of fire escape. 20 From his nostrils goes forth smoke; As a pot that is blown at and (its smoking) reeds. 21 His breath kindles coals; And a flame goes forth from his mouth. 22 In his neck abides strength; And dismay dances before him. 23 The folds of his flesh cling (to him); It is cast on him (like metal), it cannot be removed. 24 His heart is cast as a stone; And cast as a lower millstone. 25 On account of his rising up the gods are afraid; Because of the crashing (sounds) they are beside themselves. 26 He who overtakes him will not fix a sword (in him), Nor a spear, a dart, or a javelin. 27 He considers iron (as) straw; Copper (as) rotten wood. 28 The arrow does not cause him to flee; Slingstones are turned into stubble for him. 29 Clubs are considered as stubble; And he laughs at the shaking of a short sword. 30 Under him are sharpened potsherds; He spreads out a trench on the mud. 31 He causes the deep to boil as a pot; He makes the sea as a pot of ointment. 32 After him he causes a wake to shine; One would think the deep to be white-haired. 33 There is nothing on the dust (of the earth) like him; One made without fear. 34 He looks (boldly) at every exalted (thing); He is king over all the sons of pride."
This amazing description of Leviathan, a huge, marine reptile (see Description in Job above), begins with the impossibility of catching him like a fish with a hook and line (vs. 1). Nor could you keep him on a leash like a pet or farm animal (vs. 2; a reed in the nose or a ring in the cheek were a way to control an animal--just like the ring in the nose of a bull). He would not weakly beg you to leave him alone (vs. 3). Nor would he make an agreement with you; nor could you make him a slave (vs. 4). He was not like a little bird you could keep as a pet for yourself or your children (vs. 5). Nor could he be traded in the market (vs. 6).
Apparently, Leviathan was impervious to harpoons and other weapons (vs. 7, also vss. 26-29), either because of the strength of his armored skin (see vss. 15-17), or because he would agressively fight back (vss. 8,10). If a mere creature is so fierce and mighty, how much more his Creator (vss. 10,11)?
If Leviathan is in fact a plesiosaur-type marine reptile, its "limbs" (vs. 12) refer to its flippers, of which plesiosaurs had four. It also had strong skin ("clothing") and a huge jaw (vs. 13). (The "doubling of his jaw" might refer to two rows of teeth, as some mosasaurs had, or perhaps simply to the large size and strength of its jaw.) The "doors of his face" also refer to the large mouth of the animal, which opened to reveal its huge teeth (vs. 14). The armour-like skin of the creature also gets attention, which is described as scaley, with no gaps between the scales (vss. 15-17).
One of the most interesting characteristics of Leviathan was his ability to breathe fire (vss. 18-21). Several physical mechanisms have been proposed that could create this effect, most of them powered by methane gas released from the decomposition of material in the stomach of the creature. The effect was quite dramatic, and was noted by cultures around the world that preserve similar memories of fire-breathing dragons.
Vs. 18 also mentions a light gleaming from the animal's eyes ("as the gleam of the dawn"). This most likely refers to the tapetum lucidum, the layer of tissue found in the eyes of many animals that causes their eyes to shine. This reflective tissue enhances night vision, and often indicates that the animal is noctural. It is found on carnivores that hunt at night, as well as deep sea animals, both of which describe Leviathan. Different animals' eyes reflect different colors. The description of the eyes of Leviathan indicates a reddish or yellow-orange glow. Crocodiles, rodents, and birds also have a reddish eyeshine.
Vs. 23 returns to the strength of the creature's skin, that it was like a metal covering ("cast on him [like metal]"). The idea that his "heart is cast as a stone" (vs. 24) may refer to the great weight of the animal's chest, as does the comparison with "a lower millstone" (the heavier stone in a mill). The crashing sounds of "his rising up" (vs. 25) seem to refer to his beaching himself, when his sharp scales (like "potsherds") leave a trench dug out in the mud (vs. 30).
When he returned to the water, it caused "the deep to boil as a pot" (vs. 31), another indication of his massive size. As he swam away, he trailed a large, white wake behind him (vs. 32), which also indicates a large size and great speed (the waves in the wake of a small, slow-moving animal will not "break" to produce a white crest). It also implies that he could swim with his head out of the water, which would extend the wake over a great distance ("One would think the deep to be white-haired," vs. 32).
## Ps. 74:13,14:
"You have broken apart the sea by your strength; You crushed the heads of the tanninim (drakontesLXX) on the waters. You dashed the heads of Leviathan (the drakonLXX); You gave him as food for a people of desert-dwellers (of the EthiopiansLXX)."
theme of a battle between God on one side and the dragon(s) and the sea on the
other appears in several places in the Bible. The imagery in these passages often points to the Flood, which could
easily be interpreted as a battle between God and the sea. And why dragons? The association of dragons with the sea, as
mentioned above, is the result of their being the most notable inhabitants of
the sea, and therefore uniquely identified with it (as in Gen. 1:21). At the time of the Flood, millions of
dinosaurs were killed. The bodies of
those not trapped in the sediments were seen floating in the water. The evidence of their widespread destruction
is the millions of bones found in Flood sediments all over the world, the
massive bands of sedimentary rock that cover much of the earth's surface. This massive destruction would naturally have
led many to see in the Flood not just a battle between God and the sea, but
also between God and the dragons or dinosaurs.
pagan nations, this originally poetic association took on an increasingly
mythological coloring. This "battle" came
to be represented as a struggle between one of the gods and a dragon goddess of
chaos (as in Babylonia, Ugarit, and Canaan). It also came to be seen as a
description of the Creation, rather than simply of the Flood. It's easy to see how this could happen: a creation out of chaos is a pretty fair
description of what the Flood was like. It was very much a regeneration in which everything was made new. This
poetic resonance between Creation and the Flood can also be seen among the
Biblical writers, as here in Psalm 74.
have attempted to trace the imagery of this cosmic battle in the Bible to an Israelite
appropriation of, or perhaps a critique of, these pagan Creation mythologies. But in the Bible, this "battle" retains a very naturalistic,
non-mythological flavor, with clear associations with the Flood. Here in Psalm 74, the
crushing of the "heads" of the dragons "on the waters" is an obvious allusion
to the massive death and destruction of the Flood. While the breaking apart of the sea may allude to both the Creation and the parting of the Red Sea (as many teach), the specific verb
chosen ("you have broken apart," from the root parar) is not associated
with either the Creation ("and God separated the waters," badal; Gen.
1:7) or the Exodus ( "and God caused the sea to go back...so the waters were divided," baqa'; Ex. 14:21). In context, it seems to refer instead to the dividing
of the Flood waters as the land rose up in some places and sank in others, breaking
the sea apart into the present oceans of the world. This left the remains of the many animals
that had avoided burial scattered about on the surface of the ground, including
many dragons or dinosaurs. These remains could be found
even in remote desert regions, prompting the comment that they were given "as
food for a people of desert-dwellers."* While the following verses do allude to the Creation and the Exodus (as well as the Flood), at least these
two verses appear to be a direct historical reference to the Flood.
It's hard to imagine what this passage could possibly have had to do with either the
Creation or the Exodus if this section does not concern the Flood, as some claim.
## Ps. 104:25,26: "Here, the sea, great and wide in both
directions; where there are creeping things without number,
living things, the small with the great. There go the ships; and here Leviathan (this drakonLXX)
that you formed to play in it." Here again is a poetic identification of
dinosaur-like reptiles and the sea. The poetic
parallelism identifies Leviathan as one of the "creeping things" of the
sea. But of most interest is the
description of Leviathan "playing" in the water. This tells us that this animal could be seen splashing
around near the surface. It also implies
quick movement and an agility in the water. The parallel with ships (going here while
Leviathan goes there) implies that it, too, could travel great distances in open water.
# Ps. 148:7: "Praise the Lord from the earth, tanninim (drakontesLXX)
and all watery depths." This identification
of dinosaur-like reptiles with water specifies deep water. The Hebrew word used here (tehom) ordinarily implies the depths of the sea. This verse tells us not only that these creatures spent a great deal of time in deep water, but may also imply that they could dive to great depths in the sea.
Jonah 1:17LXX: "And the Lord commanded a great keetos (fishMT) to swallow up Jonah;
and Jonah was in the belly of the keetos
(fishMT) three days and three nights" (also in 2:1 and 2:10). Jonah's remarkable experience requires that whatever swallowed him was
large. And he encountered it out in the
deep ocean. But beyond this no
information is given. The identification
of this large animal as a "fish" (dag) in the MT does not rule out that it was a large sea monster (as in the LXX), since dag is a general
term that can be used to refer to any kind of sea creature (see Gen. 1:26, 28).
# 3 Macc. 6:8LXX: "And having fixed your attention on Jonah, melting away in the belly of the depth-fed keetos, you, Father, presented him unharmed to all the members of his household." 3 Maccabees preserves the association of Jonah and the keetos. The most interesting part of this description is the adjective used to describe the keetos: depth-fed (buthotrephous). This compound word indicates that these marine creatures were deep divers and fed in the depths of the sea. (3 Maccabees is an apocryphal writing found in the LXX.)
Daniel 3:79LXX(Song of the Three Holy Children): "Bless the Lord, keetee and all that move in the waters; sing praise and exalt him forever." This verse, based on Gen. 1:21 (see above), does not add any new information.
(The Song of the Three Holy Children is an apocryphal addition to the book of Daniel found in the LXX.)
16:10LXX: "But not even the teeth of venomous drakontes conquered your sons; for your mercy passed by and healed them." The context of this passage is the attack of serpents against the children of Israel during their wilderness wanderings (Num. 21:4-9, see also Deut. 8:15). In Numbers (and Deut.), these serpents are called seraph serpents. The only other places this word is used in the Bible are in Isa. 14:29 and 30:6, which speak of flying seraphim, often translated "flying serpents." (And there is one other passage, in Isa. 6:2,6, which speaks of seraphim as a type of angel.) The abundance of references in classical authors and art to these flying serpents, including Herodotus and Josephus, make it quite possible that the word was commonly used of some kind of extinct flying reptile. This would help explain the unusual nature of the attack in Numbers, which doesn't match the behavior of ordinary snakes. Wisdom is not alone in this understanding; more recent commentators like Matthew Henry also see this as an attack of flying serpents.
Also important is the name of the bronze serpent Moses made to heal the people under attack: Nechushtan may be a compound of nechushah (bronze) and tan, short for tannin, with the meaning "bronze dragon" (2 Kings 18:4). For more on this fascinating topic, see these outside articles "The Bible and Pterosaurs" and "The Fiery Flying Serpent." (Wisdom, also known as the Wisdom of Solomon, is an apocryphal writing found in the LXX.)
25:16LXX: "I would prefer to live with a lion and a drakon than to live with a wicked woman." Here the drakon is associated with the lion as a dangerous and fierce animal. This is another indication that dinosaurs were dangerous and could be deadly. (Ecclesiasticus, also known as Sirach, is an apocryphal writing found in the LXX.)
43:24,25LXX: "Those sailing the sea tell (of) its danger; and at (the) report of our ears, we marvel. And there the works are remarkable and marvelous; a diversity of every (kind of) animal, a world of keetee." The phrase "a world of keetee" means that the sea is the realm of the keetee. This is additional evidence that the primary habitat of these huge creatures was in the water. (Ecclesiasticus, also known as Sirach, is an apocryphal writing found in the LXX.)
Matt. 12:40: "For just as Jonah was
three days and three nights in the belly of the keetos." The New Testament follows the LXX in
identifying the animal that swallowed Jonah as a large sea monster of some kind. Early
Christian art depicts it as a dragon-like marine reptile (see photos here, or here, or here, or here). This was a
popular artistic theme during the time of Roman persecution of Christianity,
because it was a hidden reference to Jesus' burial and resurrection (the "sign
of Jonah;" Matt. 12:39).
The idea of a dragon-like creature attacking
a type (or foreshadowing) of Messiah traces all the way back to the first
Messianic prophecy of the Bible, in Gen. 3:16 ( "And I will put enmity between
you [the serpent*] and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he will bruise
you on the head, and you will bruise him on the heel"). This theme is picked up again in Revelation
12:4, where a great red dragon tries to devour the woman's child, Jesus (see
Rev. 12:3 below). The idea that Jonah was swallowed by a whale was introduced much later, and breaks the prophetic symmetry with Gen. 3 and Rev. 12.
* Which before the curse had legs, like a dinosaur; see Gen.
Either Physical or
Symbolic References to Dinosaurs and other Extinct Reptiles
# Job 3:8: "May they curse it who curse a day, those who are ready to rouse Leviathan (keetosLXX)." The description of the huge dinosaur-like Leviathan in Job 41 (see, too, the Description in Job above) makes
the meaning clear: rousing Leviathan is
suicidal, the undertaking of fools (41:8). Here, this suicidal behavior is used to describe those "who curse a
day," implying that enchanters, who deal with similarly dangerous forces, are
# Job 9:13: "God
will not turn back his anger; the helpers of Rahab
(the keetee under
heavenLXX) lie prostrate beneath him."
is an expression of the awesome power of God, who reigns over (or has defeated)
even the dinosaurs. Rahab is a controversial dragon that resembles
the dragon goddess of chaos found in the mythology of surrounding nations (Babylonia, Ugarit, and Canaan; though the specific name Rahab for this dragon has not been found
outside the Bible). The defeat of this
divine chaos dragon served in these other cultures as a description of the Creation. This took place through a battle between one
of the gods and this dragon goddess and her "helpers" (as the helpers of Tiamat
in the Enuma Elish). Because of this,
some have imagined that the Rahab of the Bible is also a divine personality,
and that Job and others have either appropriated the pagan myth as their
own, or at least adopted its language as commonly understood. Another explanation is that they were using
the language of these ancient myths to confront the surrounding pagans. Isaiah,
according to this interpretation, proclaims that it was YHWH (and not Baal) who
defeated Rahab (see Isa. 51:9 below).
that Rahab was understood in this way is not certain. As described above, this pagan Creation myth
is rooted in an originally poetic description of the Flood, as a battle between
God on one side and dinosaur-like creatures and the sea on the other. While the references to Rahab are the
closest the Bible comes to the pagan myth, in the Bible they still have a poetic,
naturalistic flavor, and remain strongly
connected with the Flood (see the other Rahab passages below).
piece of evidence for identifying Rahab with the Flood rather than the Creation
is that the Biblical writers who mention Rahab, including Job, were not
ignorant of a Creation preceding the Flood. Job often alludes to Creation and Flood themes in naturalistic, non-mythological
language. Later writers had access to
the Creation account in Genesis. This
makes it highly unlikely that Rahab had for them the fully developed
mythological character of the dragon goddess found in surrounding
cultures. A more likely explanation, and
more consistent with the Biblical evidence, is that Rahab is a poetic personification
of the dinosaurs killed in the Flood, similar to the use of Leviathan in Psa.
evidence for identifying Rahab with the Flood rather than the Creation is her
name: "Rahab" means "pride" (see also Job 41:34, where Leviathan is described as "king over all the sons of pride"). This brings to mind the rebellion that preceded the Flood. This was not just a rebellion of angels (Gen. 6:2), but of men and animals ("all flesh") that had become corrupt and filled with
violence (Gen. 6:5-7). As a result, the
Flood was sent to destroy them all (Gen. 6:11-13).* Violent attacks by dinosaurs would have
been a notable part of this rebellious violence that the Flood came to
punish and stop.
* The covenant made with
Noah and his descendants, which was intended to right the wrongs of the time before
the Flood, specifically includes the death penalty for animals that take man's
life (Gen. 9:2,5,6.)
The Septuagint translators understood
this verse in Job in this naturalistic sense, taking "the helpers of Rahab" to be a poetic description of dinosaur-like creatures (keetee).
# Job 26:12,13: "He stirred up the sea by his power, and by
his understanding he shattered Rahab (keetosLXX). By his Spirit the heavens are clear; his hand
pierced the fleeing serpent (drakonLXX)." Here is another description of the power of
God, with the destruction of Rahab in a naturalistic context that suggests the
destruction of dinosaur-like creatures in the Flood. It's also a good example of the equivalence of the terms drakon and keetos for the Greek (LXX) translators.
Neh. 2:13: "So I went out at night by the Valley Gate in
the direction of the Spring of the Tannin (fig treesLXX)." This "Spring of the
Dragon" refers to the outlet of Hezekiah's tunnel at the southern tip of the
city of Jerusalem. This
was at a time when the city still lay in ruins after the destruction by the Babylonians. Why this water outlet was associated with
dragons—whether literal or symbolic—is unknown.
# Ps. 89:9,10: "You rule the swelling of the sea; at the
lifting up of its waves, you still them. You crushed Rahab (the proudLXX)
as one who is pierced; you scattered your enemies with your strong arm."Here is another description of the
destruction of Rahab in the context of the Flood, which suggests a rebellion
# Is. 51:9,10: "Awake, awake, put on strength, arm of the
Lord; awake as in the days of old, the generations of long ago. Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the tannin? Was
it not you who dried up the sea...for the redeemed to cross over?" Here the usual association of Rahab with the
Flood is poetically merged into an identification of Rahab with Egypt, which was defeated by God at the
time of the Exodus (see also Psa. 87:4, Isa. 30:7). Here, too, the defeat of Rahab is associated
with a defeat of the sea, in this case, the Red Sea. This is an early example of what came to be the common symbolic
association of dinosaur-like creatures with great empires.
Symbolic References to
Dinosaurs and other Extinct Reptiles
# Deut. 32:33: "Their wine is the poison of tanninim (drakontesLXX),
and the cruel venom of asps." This
appears in a description of Israel's enemies. It tells us that dinosaur-like creatures (or at least some
of them) were known to be poisonous.
# Ps. 44:19: "For you have crushed us in a place of tannim (cruel sufferingLXX), and you
have covered us with the shadow of death." The poetic parallel ("shadow of death") implies the threat of certain
destruction. Jackals are not that
threatening, but some dinosaurs certainly were, which is
surely the correct translation here. This means that a "place where there are dragons" was understood to be
a dangerous and threatening place, another indication that dinosaur-like creatures were
dangerous and sometimes deadly.
### Ps. 68:30: "Rebuke the animal of the reed
(the animals of the reedLXX),
The swarm of the mighty that come against the bull-calves of the peoples, The one trampling down with crushers [i.e. legs]
of silver. He has scattered peoples, they delight in
verse has suffered in many translations. But if we understand it to be> an allusion to
large, dinosaur-like creatures, all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. The association of these creatures with reeds ("animal
of the reed") is spelled out clearly in Job 40:21, as is the massive,
metal-like strength of their legs ( "crushers of silver") in Job 40:18. Young calves would be the natural prey of carnivorous
dinosaurs. That people would run away at
the attack of one of these creatures ( "he has scattered peoples") would also be
quite natural. Perhaps most interesting
of all, though, is the indication that they had a nasty disposition: "they delight in
battles." But in context, this
naturalistic sounding description of dinosaur-like creatures is used to describe Egypt and her war-like intentions.
# Ps. 91:13: "You will tread on the lion and the cobra, you will trample on the young lion and the tannin (drakonLXX)." This is a description of God's empowerment of
the righteous. The dinosaur is included
in a list of dangerous animals that could kill a man. This is another indication that dinosaurs
were dangerous and could be deadly.
# Is. 27:1: "In that day, the Lord will punish, with his
fierce and great and mighty sword, Leviathan
(drakonLXX) the fleeing
serpent, and Leviathan (drakonLXX) the twisted serpent, and he
will kill the tannin (drakonLXX) that lives in the
sea." This enigmatic prophecy preserves
the association of giant reptiles with the sea, as well as the theme that only God
can destroy these mighty creatures. But
it appears in association with the end-times judgment of God at the time of the
resurrection of the dead (Isa. 26:19-21). A prophetic interpretation of this strange image appears in the Book of
Revelation, which describes three great dragon-like empires (the Red Dragon, the Beast from
the Sea, and the Beast from the Earth; Rev. 12 & 13, see below)
that will be destroyed at Jesus' return (Rev. 19:20, 20:2). Most likely Isaiah, too, is using these creatures to represent great empires and nations.
# Jer. 51:34: "Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon...has swallowed me like a tannin (drakonLXX)." The destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army is here pictured
as a huge dragon swallowing down an "inhabitant of Zion" (vs. 35). The use of the verb, "swallowed," implies a
very reptilian mode of ingestion, with little chewing on the way down, as well
as the huge size of the beast. This is another example of great nations being
described as dinosaur-like creatures, in this case, Babylon (the Babylonian Empire), as epitomized
by Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled her.
# Ez. 29:3: "I am against you, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the great tannim
(drakonLXX) that lies in the
midst of his rivers." This is one of the
places where tannim clearly refers to
large dinosaur-like reptiles, and not jackals. Though the
use here is symbolic, it nevertheless maintains the ancient association of
dinosaur-like creatures with large bodies of water. It's
also another example of the symbolic use of these creatures to represent large human
# Ez. 32:2: "[Pharaoh] you are like the tannim (drakonLXX)
in the seas; and you burst forth in your rivers, and muddied the waters with
your feet, and fouled their rivers." This is another place where tannim
clearly refers to dinosaur-like creatures, and preserves their association with water.
EstherLXX(in an apocryphal addition at the beginning of the book): "And behold, two great drakontes, both ready to battle..." These great creatures, which appear in a
vision, are later interpreted as referring to Mordecai and Haman (in an addition at the end of the book. Both of these apocryphal additions to the book of Esther appear in the LXX.)
Psalms of Solomon 2:25LXX: "Do not delay, God, to pay them back upon their heads; to proclaim in shame the arrogance of the drakon." This occurs in a description of the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 63 BC. The drakon represents Pompey, the Roman general that led the invasion, and by extension the Roman Republic (about to become the Roman Empire). This is similar to the prophecies of Daniel (7:7) and Revelation (12:3-4) in which Rome is described as a great dragon (see below). It's also another example of the symbolic use of dragons to represent large human empires.(The Psalms of Solomon is an apocryphal writing that appears in the LXX.)
Rev. 12:3: "And another sign appeared in heaven: and
behold, a great red drakon having seven
heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems" (also
12:4,7,9,13,16,17; 13:2,4,11; 16:13; 20:2). This heavenly dragon, which attacks the child of the woman (Jesus), is
an allusion to the first Messianic prophecy in the Bible, in Gen. 3:15 ("And I
will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your seed
and her seed [the Messiah]; he will bruise you on the head, and you will bruise him
on the heel"). The connection between
these two passages is even more direct than some have imagined. Before the curse, the
serpent in the Garden of Eden had legs, like a dinosaur or dragon (see Gen. 3:1 above). And the dragon
in Revelation is directly identified with the serpent in the Garden of Eden: "the great drakon...the serpent of
old who is called the devil and Satan" (Rev. 12:9). The conflict between the dragon and the child
is therefore a symbolic picture of the spiritual battle between Jesus and
Satan. Revelation also identifies this
dragon with the Roman
fourth beast of the book of Daniel, through shared imagery and veiled allusions
(see Dan. 7:7). This is a continuation
of the ancient prophetic tradition of using dinosaur-like creatures as images of powerful
Possible Descriptions of
Job 4:10LXX: "The voice of the lioness and the exulting
cry of drakontes (kephirimMT) are brought to an
end." This description of God's
life-and-death power over strong predators such as the lion is used to
illustrate God's life-and-death power over the wicked. If it's describing a type of dinosaur (as the
LXX understands it; see also Micah 1:8), it confirms that some
dragons made loud calling sounds. But since the Hebrew is in doubt (kephirim
is usually translated "young lions"), we have put it in the "possible"
category. (Though as mentioned above, kephirim may have originally referred to a
type of dinosaur.) (Physical
Job 20:16LXX: "Let him suck the wrath of drakontes (cobrasMT)." Experiencing the wrath of drakontes is described metaphorically as sucking their poison. This may be either literal or symbolic. If literal, it's another indication
that some dinosaurs were poisonous.(Physical or Symbolic Reference.)
Job 30:29: "I have become a brother to tannim (monstersLXX) and a friend to
the daughters of the ostrich." This is a
good example of a place where tannim
may refer to jackals, which like ostriches are associated with desert places,
especially ruined cities. But then
again, certain kinds of dinosaurs may also have lived in the desert (such as the seraphim, see Wisdom 16:10 above). Similar examples
appear in Isa. 13:22, 34:13, 35:7, 43:20; Jer. 9:11 (drakontesLXX), 10:22, 14:6, 49:33, 51:37; Micah 1:8
(drakontesLXX); and Mal.
1:3. In all of these, tannim appears as
part of a stock expression used to describe desolate places, and contains no
further information. (Physical
Job 38:39LXX: "Will you hunt food for lions,
will you satisfy the desire of drakontes
(kephirimMT)?" This illustrates man's inability
compared with God's abilities. If this
is describing a type of dinosaur (as the LXX understands it), it implies that they
had a healthy appetite. (Physical Reference.)
Jer. 50:8 (27:8)LXX: "...And be as drakontes
(male goatsMT) that come upon sheep." If this is describing a dinosaur (as the LXX
understands it), it indicates that sheep were a standard part of the diet of
carnivorous dinosaurs (as were the young calves mentioned in Psa. 68:30 above). (Symbolic Reference.)
Lam. 4:3: Even a tannin
(tannim alternate reading; drakonLXX) offers the breast, they nurse
their young." Uncertainty over this
verse can be seen by the presence of an alternate reading. This may be because in later years, after dinosaurs had become extinct, it seemed
inappropriate for reptiles to be described as nursing their young (the textual
corrections in the margins of the Hebrew Bible date to the Masoretes in the 6th
to 10th centuries A.D.). But
the original Hebrew text, followed by the Septuagint (LXX) had no such
qualms. Could it be that some types of
dinosaur actually did nurse their young? This would be no stranger than the alternately reptilian and mammalian
characteristics of certain marsupial species. Then again, it may simply be a scribal error. (Physical Reference.)
Amos 9:3LXX: "And if they go down out of my sight into the
depths of the sea, there I will command the drakon
(serpentMT), and he will bite them." While there are snakes that live underwater, dinosaur-like aquatic reptiles have an even
greater claim to be associated with the depths of the sea, as here in the
LXX. But since the MT does not agree, we
have put it in the "possible" category. (Physical Reference.)
Daniel 14:23LXX(Bel and the Dragon)
: "And there was a
great drakon, and the Babylonians
worshiped it" (also vss. 25,27,28). According to this apocryphal
addition to the book of Daniel, the Babylonians kept a living dinosaur as a
sacred animal and worshipped it. This
was not simply an idol, for as it says in the story, "he eats and drinks" (). But Daniel cleverly shows the king that it is not a god by feeding it
lumps of tar, fat, and hair, which killed it (). No details are given about the shape or appearance of the animal. And all that can be deduced about its
behavior is that it was not a picky eater.
there any historical reality behind this story, which first appears long after the time of Daniel? Though
the Greek Septuagint (LXX), compiled by Jews in Alexandria, includes it among the writings of
Scripture (as do modern Catholics), it seems not to have been as popular among
the Jewish people in Israel itself, who did not include it in their version of the book of Daniel (in the Hebrew Scriptures [MT]). Modern scholars reject its historicity because of inaccuracies in the text. But it is just possible that the story does preserve,
despite its inaccuracies, the memory of a real sacred animal
once kept in Babylon.
Babylonians' reverence for dragons is well documented: Images of a dragon can be seen
all over the ancient Ishtar Gate of the city. The presence of a living dinosaur in Babylon at some time in the past would help explain this religious devotion. Other
Middle Eastern peoples, the Egyptians for example, were known to keep sacred
animals in pens near their temples. But
because of the questionable historical reliability of this document, we have
put it in the "possible" category. (Physical Reference.)(Bel and the Dragon is an apocryphal addition to the book
of Daniel found in the LXX.)
So what were these dinosaur-like creatures like, according to the Bible? They were dangerous, deadly creatures that it was wise to avoid. A "place of dragons" was a place of death (Psa. 44:19). They were strong, aggressive fighters, fully capable of actively repelling any human attack. But they were also clever enough to conceal themselves, despite their large frames, among trees at the edge of the water or in the water itself (Job 40 and 41). That they would "play" in the water indicates that they were agile and capable of quick movement (Psa. 104:26).
It was not difficult to avoid these dangerous creatures, since they were associated with environments that were distinct from the primary areas of human habitation: the sea, large fresh water rivers, and marshes (and perhaps for certain varieties, the desert, such as the seraphim; Wisdom 16:10, Job 30:29). The Bible says that God set a "guard" over them as he had the sea, implying a limit to their range of movement (Job 7:12). This appears to refer to their need to remain near bodies of water. But their primary association was with deep water, the "depths of the sea," which implies that many of the sea-going varieties spent much of their time far from land.
They could also be avoided by steering clear of the loud howling sounds that they made (Job 4:10, and the meaning of the word tanninim).
There is no indication that these animals preyed on human beings. But they did become violent when people entered their natural habitat and disturbed or attacked them, just as with other dangerous animals that exist today (Job 3:8, Psa. 91:13). However, dinosaurs do seem to have attacked herds and flocks from time to time (Ps. 68:30, Jer. 50:8), and occasional deadly attacks on people cannot be ruled out (especially before the Flood, see discussion of Job 9:13).
Meat-eating dragons are described as "swallowing" their food whole (Ex. 7:12; Jer. 51:34); while others are described as being herbivorous (Job 40:15). At least some of these creatures seem to have been poisonous, though it's unclear whether this refers to venom or to toxins in their meat (Deut. 32:33, Job 20:16). At any rate, there is no mention anywhere of anyone eating these creatures. Some had the extraordinary ability to breathe fire (Job 41:18-21). Others may have nursed their young, though this reading is uncertain (Lam 4:3).
The question of the habitat of these creatures is an area in which the Bible can best correct certain currently popular misconceptions about dinosaurs. Though dinosaurs are often represented in natural history museums and science specials as wandering freely across the land, the Bible portrays them as closely bound to bodies of water, especially the sea, from which they did not stray far (Job 7:12).* This makes sense, especially for the larger varieties. It can't have been very comfortable moving all that mass around on land. They were probably much more comfortable in the water, coming out only when necessary. This explains why a single Hebrew word, tannin, is used both for what we would consider dinosaurs (which we identify as land animals) and large marine reptiles (which we consider sea creatures). Both spent a considerable amount of time in the water.
* The discovery of dinosaur fossils far inland from the sea in desert or mountainous areas tells us nothing about the environment in which they lived. The Flood of Noah washed ocean sediments and debris hundreds and even thousands of miles away from any modern sea. This can be seen by the abundant seashell deposits found even in the middle of continents and on the highest mountains.
The strong association of the destruction of dragons with the Flood of Noah implies that many species of dinosaurs and other extinct reptiles did not survive the Flood. Many Christian scholars have presented strong arguments to show that dinosaurs could have been included in the Ark of Noah. But if the tanninim were primarily aquatic, as described in the Bible (both what we identify as land and sea species), this would not have been necessary, since aquatic animals were not included in the Ark.*
* Some species of tanninim did survive the Flood. Job 40:23 specifically mentions Behemoth being undisturbed when trapped by the flooding of the Jordan River. Perhaps he also survived the much greater Flood of Noah by floating in the water. Herbivorous species could have eaten from the vast floating mats of leaves that rode above the waters.
interesting chronological observation that can be drawn from this study is that
original references to literal, physical dinosaur-like creatures predominate in the earlier books of
the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, and Job), whereas symbolic references predominate
in the later books of the Bible (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the other
prophets). This implies that living
dinosaur-like creatures were still common in the 2nd millennium
B.C. (before 1000 B.C.) in the Middle
East, but had
become more rare, if not extinct, by the 1st millennium
B.C. (after 1000 B.C.). Needless to say,
this is a radically different timeline for the extinction of the dinosaurs
than is currently popular among evolutionists. But it would not be the first time that several generations of
scientists proved to be radically mistaken in their beliefs. Theories about the past come and go. But written historical evidence, like the
Bible, will always have the upper hand when it comes to reliably understanding