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Mythology in the King James Version

  • Unicorns – 9x in KJV
  • Further comment by Chuck Pike (not in the podcast): Unicorn = rhinoceros, as mentioned by Webster. This is not far-fetched at all. Jerome rendered the term "rinoceros" in the Vulgate, for example in Dt. 33:17. And even today, there is an Asian rhino with the official name, Rhinoceros unicornis.
  • Satyr – (e.g. Isa 13:21; 34:14) – 52x
  • Cockatrice (Hebrew tsepha') - 5x (it should be rendered “poisonous/fiery serpent or viper” in four of its five occurrences: Isaiah 11:8; 14:29; 59:5; Jeremiah 8:17.
  • Dragons 34x in KJV.
  • Influence on hymnody: Psalm 148:7
  • Even when we use modern versions, avoiding mistranslation and superstition, there is still mythology in scripture.

Mythology in the Bible

  • Even in better, more modern translations, we still find some mythological creatures: Rev 12; 13; 16; 20.
  • We still find references to dragons, and to constellations—which suggests astrology: Amos 5:8; Job 9:9; 38:31.
  • Rahab
    • The chaos monster in ancient mythology: Psalm 87:4; Isaiah 30:7; 51:9-10; Job 9:13; 26:12.
    • It is used for Egypt in Isaiah 30:7 and Psalm 87:4. Malignant foreign powers are often represented as beasts, especially in poetry and apocalyptic literature (Daniel, Revelation, etc).
    • Psalm 89:8-13
    • Psalm 74:1-14
    • Background
      • Baal establishes his kingship by overcoming Yam, the Sea. The god Mot speaks to Baal: "When you smote Litan (=Leviathan) the fleeing serpent, made an end of the twisted serpent, the tyrant with seven heads (Tablet 5 [CAT 1.5 i 1-3]).
      • Genesis 1 – separation of waters below and above
      • Tiamat cut in two – heaven/earth -- although some OT scholars doubt that the ancient dragon association was still present at the time of the writing of Genesis.
    • John T. Willis, Insights from the Psalms III (Abilene: Biblical Research Press, 1974), 33: According to Ugaritic mythology, the god Ba’al broke the seven-headed monster Lotan (Hebrew Leviathan) with a magic club. The authors of Psalm 74 affirm that it was the Lord (not Marduk or Ba’al) who created the world. It was he who “divided the sea,” who “broke the heads of the dragons on the waters” (v.13), and who “crushed the heads of Leviathan” and “gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness” (v.14); in other words, it was he who brought order out of chaos (see Genesis 1:1-2). He made the waters covering the earth recede, caused the dry land to appear, and made the various waterways on earth (v.15). He made the sun and moon as luminaries for the day and the night (v.16), and established the seasons, “summer and winter” (v.17).
    • The slaying of Rahab often appears in connection with the vanquishing of God's enemies, and especially with imagery pointing to the primeval subjugation of the deep.
  • Leviathan - Job 3:8; 31:34; 41:1,12; Psalm 74:14; 104:26; Isaiah 27:1.
    • Discussions of whether these are whales or crocodiles, hippos or fantastical beasties, are somewhat misguided.
    • Leviathan is the serpent (feminine) from the sea. Behemoth (masculine) is from the desert. These reptilians are mentioned in popular Jewish literature (4 Ezra, 1 Enoch, 4 Apocalypse of Baruch).
    • There’s a point being made: theological, not zoological. It's political—about who’s wielding true power. And it’s not the Egyptians, Canaanites, Babylonians, Romans, or any other power that opposes God.
    • The primeval sea monster points to pre-creation chaos… Yahweh is more powerful still.
    • Rev 12 -- serpent portrayed as enemy (also Gen 3), real though not literal. The point is that the true God is sovereign!


  • Does this bother you? Does it feel wrong that the Bible would use sources – and pagan sources at that? Willis again (p.33): It is not surprising to find these poets borrowing language from neighboring peoples to convey truths about God, because this is done elsewhere in the Old Testament (see e.g. Psalm 89:9-12; Isaiah 14:12-14; 51:9-11) and in the New (see Paul’s quotations from pagan authors in Acts 17:28; 1 Corinthians 15:33; and Titus 1:12).
  • What do we learn from our study of dragons?
    • The Bible does not accept the mythology of the ancient world; it rejects it. And yet it’s more complicated than that.
    • Ancient mythology has been coopted – pressed into service, not for superstition, but for serious theology!
    • We need not fear or be manipulated by the enemies of God, whether foreign powers or monstrous dictators or even monstrous ideologies.
    • When we are fearful, whether frightened by the raging tempestuous waters of life's chaos, or faced with a totalitarian regime or persecution, we need to remember that he is the one who vanquished the primeval waters.
  • How can we be so sure, so confident of this view? Because YAHWEH is the true dragon-slayer!