Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Bible and the Paranormal Part 3: Cryptozoology

I have mentioned it before, my view of approaching the Bible and any of its given subjects is first and foremost: Context.

What exactly does the Bible say in its original language? What do the words mean in the original language?

Say for example I wrote on a wall that lasts a few thousand years the phrase “Color me blue”.

What will people think about my meaning of that phrase two or three thousand years in the future?

What exactly am I saying?

Put yourself in the shoes of someone out of our stream of consciousness that we happen to share in the year 2008.

Let your imagination take root.

Do I want people to paint me?

Is this a command to color a missing pictograph in that particular shade?

Since blue is the color of water, there must be some connection to the water. Do I need a drink?

Or in a more cryptic light, perhaps I am referring to an amphibious Lovecraftian pretext and Cthulhu is indeed nigh.

Wait by the seaside; he will eat the chosen ones first.

It is easy for us in our particular context (Well at least to those in my generation, in the United States) to know I am saying by the phrase “Color me blue” that you can think of me as moderately sad or depressed. And in this particular context there may be a song or story coming that will refer to this sadness, depending on what generation in the last century (in USA) you were born in.

Pretty specific huh?

The Bible was written thousands of years ago.

But what was life like a couple of thousand years ago, in the region where the Bible was written?

What idioms of everyday language thousands of years ago elude us?

How can we know?

Written History.

Words mean something.

When it comes to English translations of the Bible, one of the primary versions we have if the King James Version. After all these years and various other translations out there many still rely on it as the ‘authoritative’ version. The problem is that it was translated over 400 years ago for people of that time to understand.

What does all of this have to do with the mysterious creatures of cryptozoology and the Bible?

When you read the King James Version (KJV)of the Bible, you will run into an assortment of mythical creatures that the Bible seems to refer to as real and living in the then contemporary world of the writers. A list of these creatures includes Cockatrice, Basilisks, Leviathan, Satyr, Dragon and even the Unicorn. Many will point out these examples to further their belief that the Bible is nothing but myth, others will point to these examples to support the idea that these creatures did exist. To fully examine either of these claims let’s look at each mysterious creature in the Biblical context in which they appear and examine them.

1) The Cockatrice (Basilisk)

The Cockatrice was winged serpentine creature with the head of a rooster, tail of a snake and wings of a bat. It’s glance could turn someone to stone or kill them instantly.

The Basilisk was again a mythical serpentine creature but has various descriptions from being many legged, just a large snake to a description mirroring the cockatrice.

Biblical (KJV) references: Isaiah 11:8, 14:29,59:5; Jeremiah 8:17

Isaiah 11:8 “And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den.”

The original Hebrew word translated as ‘cockatrice’ by the translators in the mid 17th century is tsepha and tsiphoniy which comes from an unused root word meaning ‘to extend’ or to ‘hiss’ as in a snake’s tongue. In all modern translations this word is translated as a venomous snake such as a viper or adder.

So why in the world did the KJV translators translate this term as Cockatrice? In all these verses the use of the words tsepha and tsiphoniy are used as an extreme example of a poisonous snake. To accurately translate it for the common man to get the idea you could think of the worst example of a dangerous snake. So in the minds of 17th century clerics what was the most wicked of poisonous serpents? The Cockatrice. Even though no one had actually seen them, these legendary creatures were well known to the general public at the time as a very deadly snake creature. But was this the intent of the original Hebrew authors? No. The translators altered the meaning of the word to more readily apply it to their context.

2) The Unicorn

A powerful and magical horse with one horn on its head.

Biblical (KJV) references: Numbers 23:22; 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9,10; Psalms 22:21; 29:6; 92:10; and Isaiah 34:7

Numbers 23:22 “God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.”

The original Hebrew word translated as unicorn is re’em. It is a reference to the extinct ancestor of domesticated cattle the wild ox (urus or aurochs) In Assyrian base reliefs the Urus is shown from the side showing only one horn. When the first Greek translation of the Bible was made around 250B.C. the animal was already rare and no one would have had direct experience with the animal so the word re’em was translated monokeros meaning ‘one horn’ to reference the animal as depicted in the ancient Assyrian reliefs and Egyptian art.(To read more about this topic see the book Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible Volume 1 pp186-187)

The end result again is an interpretation error, this time they did get the right animal but misnamed it by reliance and misinterpretation of the 2 dimensional visual depictions that were contemporary of the animal.

3) The Satyr

The Satyr is a half man-half horse/goat creature of Greco-Roman mythology. They were the companions to the god Bacchus.

Biblical (KJV) references: Isaiah 13:21 and 34:14

Isaiah 13:21 “But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there.”

Once again a translation problem arises in the King James version. The word translated Satyr is the Hebrew word sa’ir, from the Hebrew word se’ar which means to reference a hairy creature. In the Hebrew Old Testament the word sa’ir is used 52 times, and only in these two instances are they mistranslated as satyr in the KJV. In the context of Isaiah 13 and 34 the word sa’ir refers to the hairy mountain goat that was commonly seen roaming the ancient ruins of Edom and Babylon.

4) The Dragon

Biblical (KJV) references: 34 of them from Deuteronomy 32:33 until Revelation 20:2

Revelation 20:2 “And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,”

The Hebrew word tannin (plural tannim) is used throughout the Bible and in many different versions to refer to a divergent bestiary. Tannin occurs 14 times in the Old Testament and in English Versions of the Bible it can be seen translated as "dragon," "whale," "serpent" or "sea-monster".

In Exodus 7:9,10,12 tannin is used of the serpents which were produced from Aaron's rod and the rods of the Egyptian magicians.

What exactly was a Tannin? Obviously it referred to a variety of creatures, but not one specifically. They are all ‘dragonesque’ or dinosaur like. They can live in the water or on the land. Since most of ancient Hebrew culture is a mixture of the fertile crescent civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia the Babylonian creation myth of the conflict of Marduk and Tiamat immediately spring to mind. The legend of the Dragon is indeed an old one.

Do they point to surviving Dinosaur like creatures into the ancient human era?

Many creationists will point to these references to support their idea that man and Dinosaurs were contemporaries.

Or is it just the references to fossilized dinosaur bones that the ancients attributed to recently dead creatures even though they had never seen one alive?

Either way the Old Testament references to the Tannim do raise a lot of questions.

It does look like the Old Testament is referencing some type of “Terrible Lizard”.

When it comes to the New Testament Biblical references to the Dragon it is much more definitive. The Dragon is used as a metaphor for Satan. That the Dragon is commenly depicted as a fiery serpent the creature is a wonderful allegory to the Devil as described in the Christian tradition. From the Garden of Eden he is described as a snake and his ultimate destination of Hell is a lake of fire. So you could hardly get a better match for a description of Satan than a fiery serpent of supernatural origin.

4) The Leviathan

Biblical (KJV) references: Job 41; Psalm 74:14; Psalm 104:26; Isaiah 27:1

Job 41:1 “Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down?”

The Hebrew word livathan (Literally meaning ‘coiled’ or ‘wreathed’) refers to an aquatic creature of great size or strength. There are 3 various interpretations of what a Leviathan was:

a) A surviving dinosaur like sea creature or sea serpent

b) A whale

c) A crocodile

Each argument has its pluses and minuses.

The sea serpent is certainly more romantic but it is bringing our specific cultural concepts to the text instead of bringing the text itself to life.

The whale is arguably the most logical suspect for livathan because Psalm 104:25, 26 describes it as cavorting in the sea where ships travel, a trait commonly associated with whales. Also the Modern Hebrew translation of livathan is literally ‘whale’.

That the Leviathan was simply a Nile Crocodile is a common argument from most Biblical scholars and it has a long scholarly tradition. That Job 41 seems to reference a crocodile in some of its description and the commonality of the creature to the Biblical writers lends credence to this argument.

Conclusion: Most mysterious cryptids from the Bible are just mistranslations of the original words by translators who have let their own context precede that of the original writer’s intentions. However in reference to the Dragon and the Leviathan the original writers seem to be referring to creatures of unknown specificity that still fuel our imagination today.

I have often wondered why if cryptozoological creatures like the ‘wild man’ and Sasquatch are so prevalent in various corners of the world why the Biblical writers never mentioned them even in the slightest degree.

But then again you have Esau, the grandson of Abraham.

Genesis 25:24-25 (NKJV)“So when her days were fulfilled for her to give birth, indeed there were twins in her womb. And the first came out red. He was like a hairy garment all over; so they called his name Esau.”

The name Esau literally means ‘hairy’, and Esau lived in the fields as a hunter who liked savory meat. Hmm.

However the Bible does tell us that the line of Esau eventually became the Edomites, a paganistic Canaanite tribe that was a constant source of idolatry for Ancient Israel.

But the physical description of Esau is still striking.

I guess we will have to look for ancient support for the Sasquatch in other regions!

update 8/28/2008
A new video from Sweden shows the legendery Great Lake Sea Monster captured on film. Looks very 'livathan-esque'. Warning it's a Swedish newscast with no translation.

Here's the web site for the monster: http://www1.webpublish.se/storsjoodjuret_en/introduction~6.php?refpage=0

Update 8/29/2008

Cryptomundo has linked the video with a translation here:


Thanks Loren and Xeno!

Till next time,

Pastor Swope


cryptidsrus said...

Awesome post, Pastor.

I could write a whole mound of stuff here but I'll limit myself to 1-3 observations.

1) The first mention ever of the Basilisk/Cockatrice occurs in Pliny the Elder's works. He refer to it as a kind of "serpent," not a rooster/snake hybrid. Many people assume that as the centuries rolled on, the original description of the Beast was "Changed" and "elaborated" on to suit the times. Same for the Unicorn.

2) The Unicorn reference may be related to the Karkadann, the Persian version of the Unicorn, who was fiercer and wilder than the "meek" creature of medieval tapestries.

3) The Leviathan reference may be tied to a Giant Squid sighting---and the Giant Squid has been PROVEN real.

I gottas go now but just wanted to put some thoughts out there, Pastor.

Pastor Swope said...

Thanks for the comment Cryptidsrus,

Great insight!

Kooljanik said...

Hi, This is really interesting Pastor. This is in reference to the comment by cryptidsrus: In Job, Leviathan is said to have very tight scales and also breathed fire. So it might not be squidlike. Either way, I'm sure I don't know as much bout cryptids but the myths have to come from some truths I would hope.

cryptidsrus said...

Lisa A. Shiel in her book "Backyard Bigfoot" also references the Esau tale. She tends to give it credence. She also goes for this being more of a possible "alien hybrid" gone wrong. I recommend the book to you, though. She has a great website, too.

Have you thought about the fact that these mentions might also reference creatures that once existed but might not anymore???
Stuff to think about. Call me a "hopeless romantic." :)

You made a good point about the translations, Swope. Adding to the ambiguity of translating this is the fact that the Original Greek that the New Testament was written on is the Greek that one speaks now---it's not even the Greek that was used nine centuries ago. Greek language was changed drastically during the Middle Ages. The scrolls of the New Testament that we have now are copies of copies. I don't think anybody knows the true ancient Greek. For example---I once read that experts in this sort of thing said the phrase "In the Beginning was the Word" actually meant "In the Beignning was the Thought" in the original Greek. Go figure. This might actually go for the OT, too.

Anonymous said...

So what about the "giants" referred to in the Bible? Some think they were Sasquatch. (I don't happen to agree with that, but what do you think?

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't attach a giant squid to Leviathan as cryptidsrus suggests here so much as I would to the Kraken.

Jewish mythology also included two other primordial beasts of earth and sky, Behemoth and Ziz, respectively. Perhaps the thunderbird or some varient could be tied to Ziz?

cryptidsrus said...


Thanks for the "Swedish Sea Monster" video contribution, Swope!

cryptidsrus said...

I agree Leviathan might not be a Squid; I was just engaging in a "what-if" exercise.

Yeah, we can't forget Behemoth. Him and Leviathan are supposed to be a "couple." Leviathan is female, he male. At the end of time (so some scriptures say) the Messiah will slay Behemoth and he will become delicious food for the righteous.

Leviathan will also be defeated. I think this came from either Revelations or Jewish writings; I can't remember which. Blake also mentions them erecting twin pillars in Hell. I do know that for a fact. And you're right, Kooljanik, Leviathan supposedly breathes fire. Cute kid, BTW.:)
Believe it or not, I'm not that "knowledgeable." I just read a whole lot and remember as much as I can.

René said...

I still think Cthulhu is nigh.

Just kidding Pastor, great article and blog! I'll be sure to drop in every once in a while.
Greetings from Mexico. :)

Crusader said...

Hey Pastor could you please go into more detail of how the Hebrew word Sa'ir is related to Se'ar. And also, how we can be certain that the "hairy one" is talking about Goats?

According to Wikipedia, in Hebrew Folklore שעירים (Hairy Ones)are supernatural beings that inhabit the wastes.

I'm less interested in the Cockatrice and Unicorn and so havent put any real time into researching them, however, to say that Leviathan is a Whale goes against everything the Bible says about it. Let's recap...

Leviathan means twisted or coiled: A Whale cannot twist or coil.

Leviathan cannot be drawn out with a hook or cord (granted this is referring to the fishing tools of the day, and one would have to find if they did any whaling)so you cannot pierce its jaw with a hook.

You can't pierce his scales with Harpoons, or his head with spears.

You cannot touch him without him attacking ferociously.

He has limbs that are said to be mighty.

He breathes fire.

He has scales.

He has a neck.

etc. etc.

There is no way on God's green earth that Leviathan is a whale.

A crocodile is a slightly better fit but it doesn't even come close.

There is no doubt in my mind that Leviathan is a Dragon, which could mean a Dinosaur.

Revelations seems to link Leviathan to the Devil which is of interest since Satanist believe Leviathan is the Devil.

This could have merit, perhaps God in Job 41 is talking about how great of a creation Satan is/was but that even in all his strength (Strength that was given to him by God) he can't even come close the LORD. And thus man falls even shorter. Hmm, now I'm just thinking out loud, I'll have to read up on Job 41 (and the previous and following chapters) some more.

So yeah, about the Sa'ir, is it so easily tranlated as Goat? I don't think it is, I also think it is interesting that they are mentioned alongside the one and only reference in the Bible to lilith (a word that, like I said, only appears once and so noone really knows what it means. It is translated variously as Owl, Screech-Owl, Night-Monster, and even Vampire!).

So, there's a Cryptothingy for you! Vampire!

Yours in Christ!

Jud said...

Cool Post. I found you via Google search as I have been coming across these strange creatures in my Bible reading recently (Job and the Psalms). Previously, I had concluded that these were just translation issues from the Hebrew/Greek but I have been drilling down a bit and I have concluded that these are animals that existed in ancient history (e.g., dinosaurs) but now either no longer exist or are extremely rare (Such as the Swedish Sea Monster).

By the way, as one commenter pointed out, you omitted Behemoth (e.g., Job 40:15), and also Rahab (e.g., Job 26:12). Concerning Rahab, some references are certainly to Egypt, some are clearly to the woman of that name in the book of Joshua, but I think some are clearly to a cryptozoological beast.

Additionally, I found this book in print:
Biblical Cryptozoology Revealed Cryptids of The Bible by Dale Stuckwish

I haven’t read it but was wondering if perhaps you have?

Cryptidreader said...

Need to purchase from Amazon.com/books the book called Biblical Cryptozoology : Revealed Cryptids of the Bible. It goes with "The Bible and the Paranormal Part 3: Cryptozoology". Interesting book to read. A must have on cryptids found in the Bible.