Leviathan (Livyatan Tiberian Liwyāṯān ;
"twisted, coiled"), is a sea
monster referred to in the Bible. In
Demonology, Leviathan is one of
the seven princes of Hell and its gatekeeper
The Leviathan is mentioned six times in the Hebrew Bible, with Job 41 being dedicated to describing him
- 1 Can you pull in the leviathan with a fishhook or tie down his
tongue with a rope?
- 2 Can you put a cord through his nose or pierce his jaw with a
- 3 Will he keep begging you for mercy? Will he speak to you with
- 4 Will he make an agreement with you for you to take him as your
slave for life?
- 5 Can you make a pet of him like a bird or put him on a leash for
- 6 Will traders barter for him? Will they divide him up among the
- 7 Can you fill his hide with harpoons or his head with fishing
- 8 If you lay a hand on him, you will remember the struggle and
never do it again!
- 9 Any hope of subduing him is false; the mere sight of him is
- 10 No-one is fierce enough to rouse him. Who then is able to
stand against me?
- 11 Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under
heaven belongs to me.
- 12 I will not fail to speak of his limbs, his strength and his
- 13 Who can strip off his outer coat? Who would approach him with
- 14 Who dares open the doors of his mouth, ringed about with his
- 15 His back has rows of shields tightly sealed together;
- 16 each is so close to the next that no air can pass between.
- 17 They are joined fast to one another; they cling together and
cannot be parted.
- 18 His snorting throws out flashes of light; his eyes are like
the rays of dawn.
- 19 Firebrands stream from his mouth; sparks of fire shoot out.
- 20 Smoke pours from his nostrils as from a boiling pot over a
fire of reeds.
- 21 His breath sets coals ablaze, and flames dart from his mouth.
- 22 Strength resides in his neck; dismay goes before him.
- 23 The folds of his flesh are tightly joined; they are firm and
- 24 His chest is hard as rock, hard as a lower millstone.
- 25 When he rises up, the mighty are terrified; they retreat
before his thrashing.
- 26 The sword that reaches him has no effect, nor does the spear
or the dart or the javelin.
- 27 Iron he treats like straw and bronze like rotten wood.
- 28 Arrows do not make him flee, slingstones are like chaff to
- 29 A club seems to him but a piece of straw, he laughs at the
rattling of the lance.
- 30 His undersides are jagged potsherds, leaving a trail in the
mud like a threshing-sledge.
- 31 He makes the depths churn like a boiling cauldron and stirs up
the sea like a pot of ointment.
- 32 Behind him he leaves a glistening wake; one would think the
deep had white hair.
- 33 Nothing on earth is his equal— a creature without fear.
- 34 He looks down on all that are haughty; he is king over all
that are proud.
In Psalm 74 Yahweh is said to "break the heads (sic) of Leviathan in pieces"
before giving his flesh to the people of the wilderness; in Psalm 104 God is
praised for having made all things, including Leviathan; and in Isaiah 27:1 he
is called the "wriggling serpent" who will be killed at the end of timeLeviathan and similar serpent-demons have a long history in ancient Near Eastern
mythology, with a seven-headed serpent being overcome by a hero-god being
attested as early as the 3rd millennium BCE in Sumerian iconography. The same
chaos-combat theme appears on 2nd millennium Syrian seals, where the storm-god
is shown in combat with a serpent, and in the Ugarit tablets, where the sea-monster Lotan was one of the helpers of the sea-god Yamm in his battle with the
weather-god Haddad Baal.
In the Ugaritic texts Lotan, or possibly another of Yamm's helpers, is given the
epithets "wriggling serpent" and "mighty One with the seven heads," and Isaiah 27:1 uses the first of these phrases
to describe Leviathan, although in this case the name "Leviathan" apparently
refers to an unnamed historical/political enemy of Israel rather than the
original serpent-monster. In Psalm 104 Leviathan is not described as harmful in
any way, but simply as a creature of the ocean, part of Yahweh's creation. In
Job 41:2-26, on the other hand, he is definitely a crocodile-monster to be
feared - the author appears to have based the passage on Egyptian animal
mythology, where the crocodile is the enemy of the sun-god, but in contrast both
to this source and to the Syrian chaos-battle he does not represent the image in
terms of mythological combat
Leviathan's identification as a single named monster facilitated his survival
through subsequent ages right up to the present. By the Hellenistic age he (or
she - Leviathan was now represented as female) became a dragon who lives over
the Sources of the Deep and who, along with the male land-dragon Behemoth, will be served up to the
righteous at the end of time. A little later, when the Jewish midrash (explanations of the bible) were being
composed, it was held that God originally produced a male and a female
leviathan, but lest in multiplying the species should destroy the world, he slew
the female, reserving her flesh for the banquet that will be given to the
righteous on the advent of the Messiah (B. B. 74b). Rashi's commentary on Genesis 1:21 repeats the tradition:
"God created the great sea monsters - taninim. According to legend this refers
to the Leviathan and its mate. God created a male and female Leviathan, then
killed the female and salted it for the righteous, for if the Leviathans were to
procreate the world could not stand before them."  In the Talmud Baba Bathra 74b 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. The festival of Sukkot (Festival of Booths) therefore 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 dwelt
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." 
The enormous size of the Leviathan is described by R. Johanan, from whom
proceeded nearly all the haggadot concerning this monster: "Once we went in a
ship and saw a fish which put his head out of the water. He had horns upon which
was written: 'I am one of the meanest creatures that inhabit the sea. I am three
hundred miles in length, and enter this day into the jaws of the Leviathan'" (B.
B. l.c.). When the Leviathan is hungry, reports R. Dimi in the name of R.
Johanan, he sends forth from his mouth a heat so great as to make all the waters
of the deep boil, and if he would put his head into paradise no living creature
could endure the odor of him (ib.). His abode is the Mediterranean Sea;
and the waters of the Jordan fall into
his mouth (Bek. 55b; B. B. l.c.). In a legend recorded in the Midrash called
Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer it is stated that the fish which swallowed Jonah narrowly avoided being eaten by the
Leviathan, which eats one whale each day.
The body of the Leviathan, especially his eyes, possesses great illuminating
power. This was the opinion of R. Eliezer, who, in the course of a voyage in
company with R. Joshua, explained to the latter, when frightened by the sudden
appearance of a brilliant light, that it probably proceeded from the eyes of the
Leviathan. He referred his companion to the words of Job xli. 18: "By his
neesings a light doth shine, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning"
(B. B. l.c.). However, in spite of his supernatural strength, the leviathan is
afraid of a small worm called "kilbit", which clings to the gills of large fish and kills themThe Leviathan of the Middle Ages was used as an image of Satan, endangering both God's creatures—by attempting to
eat them—and God's creation—by threatening it with upheaval in the waters of
Chaos. St. Thomas Aquinas
described Leviathan as the demon of envy,
first in punishing the corresponding sinners. Leviathan
became associated with, and may originally have referred to, the visual motif of
the Hellmouth, a monstrous animal
into whose mouth the damned disappear at the Last Judgement, found in
Anglo-Saxon art from
about 800, and later all over Europe
- 2020. All rights reserved.