Many theologians and teachers say that the Leviathan is a mythical sea
creature yet you state within your book that the Bible never resorts to
myth. I know that there is much picture language in the book of Job, but
this has often troubled me. I would really love to hear your thoughts.
This is a good question. I agree with the claim that there are no myths
in the Bible, which is in stark contrast to the teachings of virtually
every religion in the world. Having said that, there is some nuance to
the question of myth and the Bible. Your example illustrates this.
First of all, let us establish a definition of myth. A myth is a story,
presumably a fictional one, which is told to illustrate some aspect of the
relationship between man and his creator/god/gods. There are creation
myths, flood myths, man/god myths and so forth. Every ancient culture and
religion had such myths.
What is unique about Judaism and therefore Christianity is that it has
such myths, but they are true. For example, the Bible has a creation
“myth” which is an accurate description (assuming that modern science can
give a fairly accurate description of the history of the earth) of what
happened. Other cultures have gods and demi-gods battling and creating
one another, followed by things like a clot of blood or a lump of mud
being turned into animals and people. The Bible has a creation story
which has none of the elements of a typical fantastic, clearly
unbelievable story. The same can be said about the Bible’s god/man
“myth.” Other cultures have Isis (Egypt), Mithras (Persia) or Krishna
(India). These are fictional god-figures who come to earth to overcome
evil and to save mankind. In the Bible the God/man “myth” involves an
actual historical character who actually came to earth, died on a cross
and was raised from the dead. The Bible has a true “myth.” Does this
Now, let me discuss Leviathan. I have looked at this example fairly
carefully, but please bear in mind that I am no expert in Hebrew. It is
important to bear in mind that Job is written in the form of poetry.
There is much imagery symbol and metaphor in this poetic work. When one
reads poetry, it is wise to not apply scientific logical analysis to every
detail of the literature. We need to give the writer of poetry, even
biblical poetry some poetic license. David often talks about the hand or
the arm of God. He uses obvious hyperbole (I was a sinner from birth).
Similarly, Job uses metaphor and vivid imagery in his book. To be honest,
I am still not sure what leviathan is a reference to in Job. Some have
proposed that it represents a whale or an extinct serpent. In my opinion,
it does not really matter exactly to what Job is referring. Leviathan may
well be a “mythical,” or more accurately a metaphorical reference to any
great power which threatens to overcome us.
My answer to your question is that Job is not a myth. His use of
leviathan does not fit the definition of a myth, as it is not a full-blown
story about the relationship between God and man. However, it is
possible, in my mind, that leviathan is a poetical, metaphorical reference
to any powerful force for which we need God to intervene to save us.
Leviathan is not a myth, but it may be a metaphor.
John Oakes, PhD