Dragons and the Sufficiency of Scripture: Dragons in Culture and the Bible

The long-awaited Dragon post. Well, the beginning of 4 – I meant to write something short-ish, but had an extensive amount of resources, scripture, and words to say, so in the end it was 10 pages – not one blog post… this series will probably be finished with a fifth post, refuting final opposition… Please bring up any objections you have along the way!
Some parts of this aren’t as polished as I would like, and other parts too polished.
This first part is the simplest and shortest, just a presentation of facts, to get us all on the same page.

Disclaimer: I know this can be a controversial issue, and one that I have a different opinion on than most people. I ask that you read this with a mind to learn and be shaped by the sufficiency of scripture, rather than refute everything and be proven right for your own sake. I know that I may have made mistakes; I ask that if I have, you point them out graciously. If you wish to argue, please do so with humility, and support your argument with scripture. If my theology is right, and having searched scripture, I believe it is, then if something makes you uncomfortable, search scripture to make sure I am right, and then search your heart. There is nothing wrong with the Infallible Word of God, but there is much wrong in our hearts. I refer to a lot of scripture here, so have your Bible out. Most of it I quote in the ESV, but some of the shorter passages I mention and do not quote here.
I will not get into issues of ‘good magic’ in the following posts, as I think that is a much clearer issue, and Mr. Phillips has already done a brilliant job of examining that in his article, “Harry Potter and the Lavender Brigade.”

“…as the watchman went round the walls of Selene, he felt upon the air a most poisonous vapor that came from without the walls. And even as he wondered, the fumes of the poison became too much for him, and he fell over, and in a little time expired.
Now he had not long been lying there when a knight passed that way, and he had gone but a short distance beyond the spot where the body of the watchman lay, when he felt upon the air an odor most subtle and unpleasant. And it seemed to him that it came from without the city walls, where lay bogs and marshes and damp grounds. But even as the thought passed through his brain, the poisonous fumes became too much for him, and he, too, fell to the ground.
And in the morning another watchman, making his round, found his fellow dead beside the city wall, and, a little distance from him, the dead knight. And upon the air was a faint odor that was unpleasant to the nostrils.
Then the watchman scaled the wall, and, having glanced over, he perceived a huge beast which crawled away from the city and toward the marshes. As it crawled it flapped two great black wings, and from its nostrils belched out a black flame which contained those poisonous fumes of which the watchman felt the trace. Its body was covered with scales, so strong and smooth that they were like a knight’s armor; and in shape it was half crawling beast, half loathsome bird. As the watchman observed it, the dragon crawled into the farther part of the marshes, and lay still…”[1]


Dragons in Cultures and the Bible

The above excerpt is taken from the famous tale, “St. George and the Dragon,” probably one of the most famous stories about dragons. However, unlike some would say, dragons are not simply misinterpretations of dinosaurs. O’Brien writes, “Some modern mythologists… attempt to explain dragons as an inheritance from the age of dinosaurs, a kind of fossil-memory lingering on in the subconscious. But this theory does not explain why the image of the dragon is so universal when, say, that of the mastodon is not.”[2] Dragons appear in many cultures, which I find highly interesting – how did all of these cultures come up with fire-breathing, scaly monsters? (I think it’s because dragons aren’t made up but were real beasts before the flood, and, like dinosaurs, died out afterwards. They may have died out before, however, I don’t know. I think it may also be because Satan is sometimes described as a dragon – more on that later – and he propagates his lies all over). Whatever the cause, Dragons appear in many cultures.
“In Egyptian religion, Apophis was the great serpent
of the realm of darkness, vanquished by the sun god
Ra. In Chaldea the goddess Tiamat, symbol of primeval
chaos, took the form of a dragon. A close relation exists
especially between dragon myths and the mother goddess
cults, which explains in part the persistence of human
sacrifice in such religions. The dragon god devours human
blood and is placated, which is the diabolical reverse image
of Christ’s sacrifice… In some Asian cultures, dragons
are considered good luck…”[3]
To the Medievals and earlier civilizations, dragons were bad, but in other cultures, they are good luck. Why the difference? In earlier cultures, they may have even seen dragons, living and breathing. They may have died out before the flood, I don’t know. But I don’t think anyone who saw a dragon would call it good and associate it with good luck. To be honest, I don’t know really know why there was a difference, only that there was.
These cultures differed on many aspects of ‘dragon,’ but the place that I find the best description of our modern idea of ‘dragon’ comes from Job 41:12ff, when God tells Job of the Leviathan:

“I will not keep silence concerning his limbs,
or his mighty strength, or his goodly frame.
Who can strip off his outer garment?
Who would come near him with a bridle?
Who can open the doors of his face?
Around his teeth is terror.
His back is made of rows of shields,
shut up closely as with a seal.
One is so near to another
that no air can come between them.
They are joined one to another;
they clasp each other and cannot be separated.
His sneezings flash forth light,
and his eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn.
Out of his mouth go flaming torches;
sparks of fire leap forth.
Out of his nostrils comes forth smoke,
as from a boiling pot and burning rushes.
His breath kindles coals,
and a flame comes forth from his mouth.
In his neck abides strength,
and terror dances before him.
The folds of his flesh stick together,
firmly cast on him and immovable.
His heart is hard as a stone,
hard as the lower millstone.
When he raises himself up the mighty are afraid;
at the crashing they are beside themselves.
Though the sword reaches him, it does not avail,
nor the spear, the dart, or the javelin.
He counts iron as straw,
and bronze as rotten wood.
The arrow cannot make him flee;
for him sling stones are turned to stubble.
Clubs are counted as stubble;
he laughs at the rattle of javelins.
His underparts are like sharp potsherds;
he spreads himself like a threshing sledge on the mire.
He makes the deep boil like a pot;
he makes the sea like a pot of ointment.
Behind him he leaves a shining wake;
one would think the deep to be white-haired.
On earth there is not his like,
a creature without fear.
He sees everything that is high;
he is king over all the sons of pride.”

That sounds like a dragon to me. Closer to a dinosaur would be the Behemoth (Job 40:15-18). Of course, we won’t know for sure until we get to heaven, but I read about the Leviathan and see our modern-day image of a dragon, and read about Behemoth and think of how we portray, say, the Loch Ness Monster. It’s possible they’re both dinosaurs. We don’t know if dinosaurs breathed fire or what their skin was like and exactly what they ate and so on and so forth. We can’t really know, and it’s not really important. But we do know that there is a difference between Leviathan and Behemoth, and in our modern descriptions of dragons and dinosaurs, they seem to be those, respectively.

While either conclusion is possible, I would argue that although the dragon could be a dinosaur, I don’t believe that it was simply a dinosaur, in our modern usage of the word.

——————————————————————————–
[1] St. George and the Dragon, http://www.kellscraft.com/stgeorge.html
[2] Michael D. O’Brien, A Landscape with Dragons. Ignatius, 1998. Page 31
[3] Ibid. Page 30-31

Up next: Biblical Dragons – Good or Bad?

– Kyleigh

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7 thoughts on “Dragons and the Sufficiency of Scripture: Dragons in Culture and the Bible

  1. Laura Elizabeth says:

    Hi, Kyleigh! I am so glad to see that someone else thinks like I do about dragons…in fact, it’s disturbing to me to see so many fantasy books nowadays that show dragons as good, even Christian fantasy (such as L.B.Graham’s The Binding of the Blade series). Even the ‘good’ dragons look evil in pictures. God bless you in this endeavor!

    Laura

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  2. pen2sword says:

    Kyleigh, this is very interesting. It sounds like it took a lot of research… And whether people end up agreeing with you or not, they’ve gotta respect the amount of thought and time you’ve put in.
    My patron is Saint George… No matter to dragons in books, he has fought many real “dragons” right alongside me! So I think I have to find that book now. 🙂
    Looking forward to more on this topic,
    Hannah W.

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  3. James says:

    Hmmm…
    To be forthright and upfront: I’m skeptical.
    Nonetheless, I appreciate your courage to address controversial things.
    One thing that I think you need to elaborate on, though, is your assertion that dragons are not misrepresentations of dinosaurs (I would rather describe this view, which I hold, as dragons being handed-down memories of the creatures we now call dinosaurs). I do not think that you supported your claim. O’Brian’s quote, “Dragons… appear spontaneously in much of the literature of the ancient world, long before paleontology gave us knowledge of dinosaurs,” is irrelevant to your argument, as those who have the dragon=dinosaur view (such as myself) have never argued that dragon legends arose from the discovery of dinosaur fossils in the 1800s.
    Also, you seem to define a difference between dragons and dinosaurs as firebreathing vs. non-firebreathing. Yet, there are legends of dragons that didn’t include firebreathing, and one cannot tell from dinosaur bones whether a dinosaur could breathe fire or not.
    Finally, in accounting for why the Chinese culture views dragons as good luck, while the European culture views them as evil, you attributed it to the influence of the gospel. But from what I’ve read, European myths and legends have viewed dragons as evil since B.C. — before the influence of the gospel reached them. There are also other ancient cultures around the world that have not been influenced by the gospel (until recently, anyway) that view dragons as evil menaces.
    Sorry I went long…I guess I’m not objecting to your conclusion as much as to your reasoning.

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    • kyleian says:

      Thank you for being forthright and upfront in pointing out my errors, James. I really appreciate it.
      As you can probably tell, this is the part I did the least amount of
      research on. I now realize that I should have spent more time researching
      it, and did so this afternoon.
      I should have replaced my first quote with another quote:
      “Some modern mythologists… attempt to explain dragons as an inheritance
      from the age of dinosaurs, a kind of fossil-memory lingering on in the
      subconscious. But this theory does not explain why the image of the dragon
      is so universal when, say, that of the mastodon is not.”
      Yes, it’s possible that dragons and dinosaurs are the same thing. I have not
      read many legends with dragons in them, and did not intend to make the
      firebreathing/non-firebreathing a diffrentiation. My intention was more
      Leviathan/Behemoth. I read about the Leviathan and see our modern-day image
      of a dragon, and read about Behemoth and think of how we portray, say,
      Nessie. It’s possible they’re both dinosaurs. And yes, we don’t know if dinosaurs breathed fire or what their skin was like and exactly what they ate and so on and so forth. We can’t really know, and it’s not really important. But there IS a difference between Leviathan and Behemoth, and in our modern descriptions of dragons and dinosaurs, they seem to be those, respectively.
      As for your final objection, I am entirely at fault… I made a statement – more of a hunch – backed up by no research but the small knowledge I have of a handful of medieval legends and Greco-Roman mythology.
      And if you went long… what did I do? But did it clear things up, even just a bit?

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  4. James Dunn says:

    Yes, that helped clear it up, especially the O’Brian quote. I have to admit, even though I don’t exactly agree with your conclusions, your arguments have sparked my interest in the issue — a lot. I was up late last night looking up things about dragon legends and such… I need to do some in-depth research before coming to a solid conclusion.
    There are some things to keep in mind when discussing dinosaurs/dragons/behemoth/leviathan.
    1. There are many widely different basic types of dinosaurs: some walked on two legs, some on all four; some had beaks, others bills or plain-old snouts; some had long necks, others short necks; some had horns, some had plates, some had knobby armor and tail-clubs. In short, as dinosaur types varied, so would the legends and ancient descriptions of them. This would complicate attempts to distinguish between a dragon and a dinosaur if the two really are different.
    2. Behemoth was probably a Sauropod — the largest type of dinosaur, having pillar-like legs, a long neck and a long tail. Reports of Nessie fits more with an elasmosaur description — long neck, short tail, and flippers instead of legs.
    3. Leviathan is a fire-breathing sea-dragon; this doesn’t account well for legends of fire-breathing land-dragons. Either Leviathan could also go across the land and terrorize people, or there was some sort of dinosaur-type creature that could breath fire, or somehow the traits got mixed up over time in peoples’ legends — perhaps further research could give a good indication of the case. All that to say, there seems to be more than one kind of dragon.
    4. I don’t think the Mastodon can be compared to the dinosaur situation. A Mastodon is a variety of the Elephant kind, which isn’t extinct. Creatures very similar to the mastodon still exist, just slightly less huge (though still huge) and without hair. Thus, any legends of mastodons would probably have been taken as tales of living elephants. Dinosaurs, on the other hand, represent a whole bunch of kinds of animals, which all went extinct (we think) — there aren’t any creatures left to confuse them with. Most assuredly such colossal creatures would have left legends behind them . . . and we find “dragon” legends and ancient reports all around the world. I suspect that if we researched these legends further, the descriptions of these creatures would turn out to be as varied as the dinosaurs we dig up today.
    5. Semantics and Linguistics bear a lot of weight. Our word dragon supposedly comes from the Greek “Drakow.” What creature did it originally describe in the Greek? Was the definition later broadened? Is it fair to call the creature associated with good luck in China a dragon, as dragon is not even a Chinese word? Is the Chinese “dragon” a completely different creature all together? Do the Chinese legends say anything about fire-breathing? Wings? The same questions could be asked about any cultural legends not associated with Europe. If Dragons and Dinosaurs really weren’t the same creatures (I think they were), how do we know that other cultures (especially China) aren’t remembering dinosaurs?

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    • kyleian says:

      My interest is piqued as well, James. I’d love it if you shared what things you find. I know that my argument isn’t air-tight – I don’t really think either of them are. I don’t know if either can be proven here on earth. Both things are possible. There definitely is wide variety in tales of dragons and dinosaurs and it’s hard to distinguish fable and truth. But there was something that breathed fire, whether a dinosaur or a dragon or just a kind of a dinosaur… This evening I thought of how I might better say it: While the dragon could be a dinosaur, I don’t believe it was simply a dinosaur.
      There’s so many good questions to be answered. I’d love to join you in your research, but have no idea where to begin or where to look. I’ll keep my eyes and ears open for anything I read/hear.
      And while I think that there is a right answer, I don’t think it’s one that at all affects salvation – as long as in everything we do we remember the sufficiency of scripture.

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  5. pen2sword says:

    James: Chinese dragons (to my knowledge) don’t have wings, and they have very long, thin bodies much like a snake’s. It is European dragons that are more like what we think of today, with wings and a body much like a dinosaur’s. Dragons legends from around the world differ on what a dragon looks like. I am not entirely sure what that means for a conclusion’s sake, but it is interesting.
    And I, too, wonder if Chinese dragons are really to be considered “dragons” at all. I wonder what the Chinese call them, and how exactly it would translate. Perhaps they’re more like “spirits” or something.

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