Dinosaurs in the Book of Job?

Dinosaurs in the Book of Job? November 29, 2011

A question came up on Facebook about the genre of the Book of Job in the Bible. It is mostly poetry. You can tell in most English Bibles by the formatting on the page. The two line units, with the second line indented, and “thought rhymes” (matching or contrasting ideas) in both of the two, are the parallelism that is the most characteristic feature of Hebrew poetry.

I have yet to meet someone who truly thinks that the book is a historical report of Job and his friends sitting around actually speaking to one another in poetic verse. But I’m sure such people are out there, somewhere.

In the discussion I mentioned on Facebook, it also came up that creationists have claimed that dinosaurs are mentioned in the Bible, in particular in the Book of Job.

That’s not impossible, but it doesn’t mean the creationists are right. Let me explain.

Adrienne Mayor, in her book The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times, suggests that stories of mythical creatures such as dragons may have arisen in ancient times as a result of humans happening across enormous skeletons of dinosaurs and other such creatures.

If she is right, it could well be that the references to Leviathan and Behemoth in the Book of Job do owe something, directly or indirectly, to dinosaurs. One can entertain this possibility without treating the Flintstones as historical reporting in the way young-earth creationists do. It could be that discovery of fossils of dinosaur bones led to the myths about such creatures.

On a related note, one dinosaur that tends to get mentioned nowadays in this context is one that has lovingly been dubbed dracorex hogwartsia, and it has been on display in recent years at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. One look at it and you’ll immediately notice the resemblance to the mythical dragon which resulted in it getting this name:

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  • Michael Wilson

    I did a paper a couple of semesters ago addressing Mayors book. basicly you can trace the evelotion of dragons and grifons in art, and it only happens that at one point it looks like a dinosaur. I was thinking of polishing it up submiting it to the achedemic study of monsters you mentioned. I could send it to you if you like, it’s a about a 20 pager. i would like to hear your opinion on it.

  • Sounds interesting! I’d love to take a look at it, and if you end up publishing it somewhere that I can link to from here, let me know!

  • Robert

    Leviathan (LWYTN) is the Hebrew equivalent of the Canaanite LTN, a river monster destroyed by Baal. In Ps 74:13-14 and Isaiah 27:1, we have a primitive version, basically the standard ANE creation myth, where Yahweh destroys Leviathan, the chaos monster. Isaiah places the struggle in the future, with Leviathan functioning as a symbol for Tyre. Maybe a forerunner of later apocalyptic beasts?

    In other texts, God has got bigger, Leviathan smaller, and in Ps 104:26, for instance, Leviathan is a creature created to sport in the sea.

    Behemoth only turns up in Job, at least as far as the Protestant canon is concerned, and is either an ‘improved’ version of some real large animal or a mythincal beast. There’s not enough data to pin him down.

  • “I have yet to meet someone who truly thinks that the book is a
    historical report of Job and his friends sitting around actually
    speaking to one another in poetic verse.”

    That was how I was taught Job in private school in 8th grade. I really didn’t get Job at all then, but I’m looking forward to being able to read from it in the Hebrew. Needless to say, I don’t agree with how I was taught.

    Michael, at what one point did they look like dinosaurs? That seems super interesting.

    (On a somewhat side note, do you have any thought about the use of ανωθεν in the NT? Specifically in context like John 3:3? We’re reading through it in my Greek class, and it’s making the back of my head scream ‘mystery religion’-related stuff.)

  • Earthlings Make Me So Angry

    There is a new edition of Mayor’s book. I haven’t seen it, but I did run across an ad.

    And Jesus rode a T. Rex. I saw the pictures. 

  • Gary

    Interested in the book, and checked my library under the author. They had it, plus another by her, “Fossil Legends of the First Americans” (what Native Americans thought of fossils). I think I will take a look at both.

  • Hi Kerry! What in particular are you wondering about in relation to John 3:3? John loves this form of dialogue in which Jesus says something that could be understood more than one way (ανωθεν could mean “from above” or “again), his conversation partner understands it one way (“again”) and then Jesus is depicted as offering a monologue with a lengthy explanation of his meaning being the other meaning, interpreted in a more spiritual/less mundane manner.

  • I’m wondering about how the ανωθεν might have been thought by ancient readers. The meaning of ‘from above’ struck me as something that sounded like one of the mystery religions and I didn’t know whether an ancient reader would think anything strange about it. My professor didn’t know either.

  • Kerry, that’s an interesting question. C. H. Dodd’s The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel explores some parallels in Hermetic literature. The truth is that the idea of “rebirth” is widespread in human religion, and so it is difficult to trace direct lines of influence at times. But the idea of rebirth certainly was not new with John (see too Matthew 19:28, which perhaps highlights one shift in John, presumably as a result of his dealing with the delay of the Parousia by moving in the direction of a more realized eschatology – in John, the focus is more on individual rebirth, not recreation of the cosmos). 

  • Tim Gilleand

    Dr. McGrath is insinuating that because the book of Job is poetic, that the creatures must be mythical.  What Dr. McGrath fails to recognize is that poetry can be written historically factual.  Keep in mind that the written word was the only form of maintaining their history.  They had no internet, no movies, music, etc.  Just the written word.  So, it seems absolutly plausible that they would become creative in their writings. 

  • Mr. Gilleand, your comment does not accurately reflect my reasoning. The reason for considering the creatures mythical is that the references we have to creatures such as Leviathan suggest they are mythical. That is a conclusion that is drawn quite independently of the discussion of the genre of Job.

  • Professor McGrath, I grabbed the book you recommended from the library, and I’ve been doing some hunting on Diogenes. (Not that it’s been particularly fruitful, but it seems that it was used at least somewhat in antiquity, so I’m going to see what translations use it as…and ask the professor of the Afterlife class I’m taking next semester what he thinks. He kept asking me when I was going to take Greek last semester.) Diogenes seemed to suggest that from above was more common than again.

    My questions never seem to be simple…