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Author Topic: The Leviathan  (Read 3668 times) Average Rating: 0
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« on: December 11, 2011, 12:27:56 AM »

So can anyone explain to me the relevance of the Leviathan as used in Job in the light of Orthodoxy? What was the purpose of inserting this mythical creature into the narrative? Why do we see themes throughout the OT regarding God battling with the sea and its inhabitants? Did the ancients of the time believe that the sea was some sort of breeding ground of chaos and danger?

Trying to piece this together and somehow making it into the light of Christ. Maybe throw in the Behemoth while we are at it. Or are these two things supposed to express some sort of allegorical spiritual understanding?

Going through the OT is like swimming through some murky waters. Alot of the myths thrown into Genesis for example are bizarre.
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« Reply #1 on: December 11, 2011, 12:43:44 AM »

So can anyone explain to me the relevance of the Leviathan as used in Job in the light of Orthodoxy? What was the purpose of inserting this mythical creature into the narrative? Why do we see themes throughout the OT regarding God battling with the sea and its inhabitants? Did the ancients of the time believe that the sea was some sort of breeding ground of chaos and danger?

Trying to piece this together and somehow making it into the light of Christ. Maybe throw in the Behemoth while we are at it. Or are these two things supposed to express some sort of allegorical spiritual understanding?

Going through the OT is like swimming through some murky waters. Alot of the myths thrown into Genesis for example are bizarre.

Give your faith, you ought to see John Adam's Dr. Atomic. That line from the Bhagavad Gita is used hauntingly in Oppenheimer's mouth.

People should read the OT more. Especially Orthodox. It does seem like almost none one knows it very well, although it was the Scripture of the Early Church.

The fact the OT got nixed in the DL sucks. Also a reason I love the Royal Hours and am so glad our parish offers them even if no one shows up except our Priest and me and two others.

Yes, I know it gets works into other parts of the Orthodox liturgy, but most folks probably ain't getting much more than a Great Vespers and a DL per week maybe in this country.

To your question, you are right.

What is interesting is the "spin" put on those very common Near Eastern mythologies within Genesis. Sometimes comparative "religion" can be helpful. And knowing a little about what the Hebrew were responding to in their own understanding of themselves and the origins of things gives one an interesting perspective. One of many.

That is why de-mythologizing them whether through literalism or "mere symbolism" robes them of their mythic power. Myths are complexly and finely wrought tales of the struggle of a people to understand themselves and how they relate to the order of things.

Nick is "big" into Near Eastern stuff and probably could give you a decent primer on what to read to get an idea of what the other similar myths were.

I could only refer to you Greek Classical literature which doesn't inform the mythology of the Hebrews much however though does stand in some interesting similarity and contrast.

So read Hesiod.

More importantly read the OT.
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« Reply #2 on: December 16, 2011, 01:32:40 PM »

In regards to God battling the sea, in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms, the waters/sea/Leviathan (as personification of the ocean) are seen often as an enemy to be subdued.  (see Ps. 74:12-14,16 and Ps. 89:9-10, 11, 13.)  As Fr. Paul Tarazi notes in his book on the Psalms, "the sea raging with its waves acts as God's enemy in threatening the world established by Him."  So God is described as battling the seas and waters (see Hab. 3:8 for example.)  The depiction of God conquering the sea should give us an image of the Almighty Lord Who is victorious over all enemies.  In other Psalms, the sea is depicted as praising God with its waves, etc...So the enemy is brought under God's rule, and then joins in the chorus of praise to the Lord. 

Psalm 93 is a good example of these themes.
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« Reply #3 on: December 16, 2011, 03:17:20 PM »

So can anyone explain to me the relevance of the Leviathan as used in Job in the light of Orthodoxy? What was the purpose of inserting this mythical creature into the narrative? Why do we see themes throughout the OT regarding God battling with the sea and its inhabitants? Did the ancients of the time believe that the sea was some sort of breeding ground of chaos and danger?

Trying to piece this together and somehow making it into the light of Christ. Maybe throw in the Behemoth while we are at it. Or are these two things supposed to express some sort of allegorical spiritual understanding?

Going through the OT is like swimming through some murky waters. Alot of the myths thrown into Genesis for example are bizarre.
Nick is "big" into Near Eastern stuff and probably could give you a decent primer on what to read to get an idea of what the other similar myths were.
In order to defend my ever-increasing ego, I will reply:

A good place to start would be the Enûma Eliš, the famous Babylonian creation myth. In Babylonian cosmology, as well as OT cosmology, the earth was conceived of as flat, covered by a dome made of a substance often compared to metal (the Sumerians called it tin), over which a vast sea was fixed. That is why God "opened" the firmament to let the waters through in the great flood.

The sky-sea, personified by the serpent deity Tiamat, was envisioned as an ancient chaotic element that had to be conquered by Marduk, a storm god the babylonians inserted into the mesopotamian pantheon of gods as the new head god.

Thus, as Sakran said, the sea represents a primordial destructive force that is only held back by the cosmic and/or terrestrial forces who struggle to maintain it. In the case of the Hebrews, this God was eventually YHWH Elohim, rather than one of many fate-subordinate deities that were identified with or controlled a particular cosmic or terrestrial force.

For a basic introduction to some mesopotamian myths and practices, I recommend History Begins at Sumer: Thirty-Nine Firsts in Recorded History by the late Dr. Samuel Noah Kramer.
« Last Edit: December 16, 2011, 03:22:02 PM by NicholasMyra » Logged

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« Reply #4 on: December 16, 2011, 05:08:59 PM »

I've always liked the part of Psalm 104 about the sea:

"There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein."
« Last Edit: December 16, 2011, 05:09:13 PM by Ebor » Logged

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« Reply #5 on: December 16, 2011, 08:59:52 PM »

So, did it look like Cthulhu?
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« Reply #6 on: December 17, 2011, 03:24:02 AM »

Thank you all for the responses. I'll try to respond to each here...

So it seems like the demythologizing aspect extends more than Genesis then. I figured there was some sort of myth or tradition circulating around that time which holds as to a god in the waters. The OT is just one big battle for the true God it seems like.

I'll look into Hesiod when I get the time.

What is interesting is the "spin" put on those very common Near Eastern mythologies within Genesis. Sometimes comparative "religion" can be helpful. And knowing a little about what the Hebrew were responding to in their own understanding of themselves and the origins of things gives one an interesting perspective. One of many.

That is why de-mythologizing them whether through literalism or "mere symbolism" robes them of their mythic power. Myths are complexly and finely wrought tales of the struggle of a people to understand themselves and how they relate to the order of things.
See I'm not interested in the similarities of things in Genesis versus other culture/beliefs/etc. While the Noah's Ark tradition found in many areas is fascinating, but it's the spin made in Genesis which makes it even better. If only the Genesis cosmology was better. Then again I love reading it as poetry.

A good place to start would be the Enûma Eliš, the famous Babylonian creation myth. In Babylonian cosmology, as well as OT cosmology, the earth was conceived of as flat, covered by a dome made of a substance often compared to metal (the Sumerians called it tin), over which a vast sea was fixed. That is why God "opened" the firmament to let the waters through in the great flood.
Was it you that posted a link about the ancients cosmology in association with Genesis? That article was extremely fascinating. But nevertheless a material compared to metal? That's something I've never heard of.

Quote
The sky-sea, personified by the serpent deity Tiamat, was envisioned as an ancient chaotic element that had to be conquered by Marduk, a storm god the babylonians inserted into the mesopotamian pantheon of gods as the new head god.

Thus, as Sakran said, the sea represents a primordial destructive force that is only held back by the cosmic and/or terrestrial forces who struggle to maintain it. In the case of the Hebrews, this God was eventually YHWH Elohim, rather than one of many fate-subordinate deities that were identified with or controlled a particular cosmic or terrestrial force.
So whenever the Leviathan is employed in Job it is more about demythologizing and YHWH being above these false gods. That's what I take away from this above.

Quote
For a basic introduction to some mesopotamian myths and practices, I recommend History Begins at Sumer: Thirty-Nine Firsts in Recorded History by the late Dr. Samuel Noah Kramer.
Thanks for the suggestion, however I raise another issue.

Let's go back to Christ for a moment. When we read ancient cosmology, as employed in Genesis, or these other mythic elements in the OT what exactly can we derive from these elements in the light of Christ? My understanding of the Orthodox position of the OT, and I am more than willing to be corrected on this, is that the entire OT is about Christ. I'm just trying to put the puzzle pieces together.
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« Reply #7 on: December 17, 2011, 10:22:02 AM »

So, did it look like Cthulhu?

I think that in that reference it means a whale
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« Reply #8 on: December 17, 2011, 10:30:02 AM »

When we say the OT is all about Christ, we have to be very careful as to what we mean by that.  It doesn't mean every single phrase or story is a prophecy about Jesus or a type or something like that; that would just be reading into the text insteading of conducting exegesis.

What we mean when we say the OT is about Christ is that we read the OT through the lens of the Cross and Resurrection.  It was Christ who explained the Scriptures (in other words, the OT) to the 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus; it is Christ who lifts the veil from the face of those who "read Moses", as St. Paul says.  It was only after the Crucifixion and Resurrection that the disciples truly began to understand who Christ was and what His life was about.

But with the particular case of God overcoming the waters, I could easily see this as Christ overcoming the powers of death.  The main point of such texts is that God is all powerful, that He subdues His enemies (personified by water/leviathan in this case), and that He is victorious over all who would oppose Him.  Do we not call Christ the Pantokrator/All-powerful?  So, as I see it, I try to read the text as it is, from the perspective of the Cross, but that doesn't mean I read things into it that aren't there.  I don't believe in being overly historical-critical in my reading of the OT, but I think it is essential to try and reconstruct the mindset and world of the original authors as much as possible to supplement and enhance our Christian reading of the text.  My OT prof in seminary was fond of saying:  "If you really want to understand the world of the OT, go and live 6 months with a traditional Orthodox Jewish family, and then 6 months with a traditional Arab family.  Then you will know."  Half said in jest, but I think there is some truth to it.   Wink
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« Reply #9 on: December 18, 2011, 01:44:48 AM »

So whenever the Leviathan is employed in Job it is more about demythologizing and YHWH being above these false gods. That's what I take away from this above.
It is about the holiness of the one who holds back all of the cosmic and terrestrial forces, IMO.
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« Reply #10 on: December 18, 2011, 01:45:38 AM »

But nevertheless a material compared to metal? That's something I've never heard of.
"Thou hast made an expanse with Him For the clouds -- strong as a hard mirror!" -Job 40:22

Let us remember that ancient mirrors were made of polished metal.
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« Reply #11 on: December 18, 2011, 02:48:11 AM »

So, did it look like Cthulhu?

I think that in that reference it means a whale

my money's on Moby Dick.
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« Reply #12 on: December 18, 2011, 11:25:39 AM »

So, did it look like Cthulhu?

I think that in that reference it means a whale

my money's on Moby Dick.

Did you know that Melville based the story on a real whale?  He was named "Mocha Dick" because of a place where he was often seen apparently.

http://books.google.com/books?id=-i6rFHdkYDwC&pg=PA375&lpg=PA375&dq=%22mocha+dick%22#v=onepage&q=%22mocha%20dick%22&f=false
page 377 is the start
http://www.melville.org/mobyname.htm
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« Reply #13 on: December 18, 2011, 02:34:48 PM »

So, did it look like Cthulhu?

I think that in that reference it means a whale

Aha! Okay then.  Smiley
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« Reply #14 on: December 18, 2011, 02:54:18 PM »

Our priest once touched this subject when he spoke of fear and superstitions manipulated by the Devil... The greek word used in the septuagint for the hebrew livyâthân is dragon... that same word is used in revelation and in other places... after reading the book of Job again a few mounths ago i could see it what the priest said, that the leviathan is the devil... livyâthân means "that which gathers itself into folds" or "that which is drawn out" and is a "wreathed animal"..

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