Identifying Leviathan

Identifying Leviathan

Looking through the Bible, we occasionally find mention of strange creatures with names unknown to modern man. Few details are given about them, as they are not the focus of the text. Instead, they are used to provide examples for the reader of an idea or principle the writer under inspiration of God is trying to illustrate. Such is the case with Leviathan, a creature mentioned on four occasions in Scripture, all in the Old Testament.  This article will focus on taking what the Bible tells us about Leviathan and attempting to identify it under its modern name.

The Leviathan is identified in four places in Scripture. Three of those four places associate the leviathan with the water, specifically the ocean. The Hebrew word used for leviathan is the word “livyathan” which has a couple of meanings but is used specifically in four passages to refer to a wreathed animal that lives in the ocean.  The word wreathed here seems to imply some form of crest or hood on the head. Isaiah 27:1 gives us some more details about leviathan. ” In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.” It is called a piercing, crooked serpent and a sea dragon.  This description is augmented in Job 41:1 “Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down?” This implies that leviathan was quite large, too large to be fished out of the sea with a rope and hook.  Psalms 104:26 further notes that leviathans were somewhat social creatures, in that they were observed playing near the surface of the water.

With all of that information at my disposal, I spent some time researching the internet, seeking a creature that matched that description perfectly. There was no exact fit. The hardest part was finding a creature with a sail or hood on its head. This may be due to the composition of this structure. If the sail or hood was made of cartilage, instead of bone, or even flaps of skin in the case of a hood, it would have been unlikely to fossilize. Generally only the hardest tissues such as bone, fossilize. Ignoring the requirement for a hood or crest for this reason left me with a few more creatures to look at. Now they merely had to fit the description of a large serpentine sea creature. Plesiosaurs came to mind immediately.  Plesiosaurs are sea dwelling reptiles with long necks and somewhat serpentine figures, though some are significantly less serpentine.  However, other creatures also had some of the characteristics requires. Mosasauruses had the strength required to avoid being hooked, but lacked the serpentine body shape. I also considered marine crocodiles but they too lacked the serpentine body shape so in the end, I rejected them as well. One particular genus of extinct sea creature,  Tanystropheus, stood out to me. However, this reptile was only semi-aquatic, a feature not described in the Scripture so I rejected it as well. In the end, I settled on leviathan being some form of plesiosaur.

Stopping at the order Plesiosauria was not good enough for me. I wanted to nail down what genus, and, if possible what species Leviathan was. Fortunately, there is an excellent, if evolutionary website devoted to plesiosaur research and information. I’ll link to it at the end of the article.  There are a lot of different genera among Plesiosaurs so I will not go through the entire process of elimination I used to determine which genus is most likely. However, I eliminated the short necked plesiosaurs out of hand as they did not have the required serpentine shape. That left the long necked plesiosaurs and the longer the neck, the better. In the end, I settled on Elasmosaurus as the most likely candidate for leviathan.

I chose Elasmosaurus as the most likely leviathan for a couple of reasons. The most obvious reason was its size. Elasmosaurus was a massive thirty-four feet long, with a neck making up nearly twenty-three feet of that length. This massive length, and a serpentine appearance make Elasmosaurus a good potential candidate for Leviathan. That, combined with its powerful jaws makes it fit the description as well or better than any other plesiosaur. However, since there is not a lot of evidence to draw on, and the hood is not present, it is not wise to be dogmatic regarding this issue.

One issue I have skirted until now is the fact that the writers of the Scripture, whom no one disputes lived only a few thousand years ago, used leviathan as an example. If leviathan is a plesiosaur as is likely, then, by evolutionary dogma, they died out millions of years ago. Yet the writers of the Scripture referenced them as an example. Good examples use the known to illustrate the unknown. Therefore, since leviathans are used as examples, they must have been known to the people the original Scripture was written to. This means they could not have died out millions of years ago, but must have lived alongside man only a few thousand years ago, a dent in evolutionary dogma.

Whether leviathan was an Elasmosaurus is subject to debate, but it certainly presents a challenge to evolution since the Bible clearly presents it living alongside man. Since this is presented outside the creation account,  liberal Christian critics of that account must explain its occurrence. Leviathan is an interesting puzzle and may not be solved yet, as a fossil may yet be found which better fits its description. Never the less, it stands out in the Bible as an example of the power God built into some of His creatures.

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