Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The creation of the great sea monsters

The creation of the great sea monsters


In the first story of creation in Genesis 1, we can see the usage of the verb "to create" (bārā') in two critical and important points in the story- the creation of heaven (this is a general title for the creation of the world) and earth and the creation of man (see Genesis 1:1, 1:27).

However, those two occurrences are not the only ones. In genesis 1:21, on the fifth day of creation, we can see another usage of the same verb, as written:

וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-הַתַּנִּינִם הַגְּדֹלִים;"

וְאֵת כָּל-נֶפֶשׁ הַחַיָּה הָרֹמֶשֶׂת אֲשֶׁר

שָׁרְצוּ הַמַּיִם לְמִינֵהֶם,

וְאֵת כָּל-עוֹף כָּנָף לְמִינֵהוּ,

" וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים, כִּי-טוֹב

"And God created the great sea-monsters, and every living creature that creepeth, wherewith the waters swarmed, after its kind, and every winged fowl after its kind; and God saw that it was good".

The question that should arise is why the author of this chapter decided to use this verb in connection to the creation of the great sea monsters? Other questions are: who were those creators and why is it important to tell us that they were great?

Genesis 1 describes a very clean and sterile picture of the creation; there were no wars, and we can't see any battles with other gods, like we see in other stories such as Mesopotamian or Greek mythologies. In fact, the picture portrayed in every day of creation is almost the same. God thinks to himself, what should be created on this particular day? Then he commands it to be done, and satisfied with the result, he names his creation. This is how the days of creation went by.

However, other verses from the bible show us a different picture. If you want to understand the creation of the great sea monsters, you must pay attention to those verses.

"The Taninim" appear in The Bible in two contexts: the Egyptian one,

which is mostly related to the exile from Egypt, when Moses' staff becomes a "Tanin" (see Exodus 7:9-12, here the meaning of the "Tanin" is a serpent), or the imagery of king pharaoh as one (see Ezeikiel 29:3- this is his nickname here).

The second context is important for our discussion today.
When Job is speaking with God about his destiny, he asks him, as a human-being:

"הֲיָם-אָנִי, אִם-תַּנִּין: כִּי-תָשִׂים עָלַי מִשְׁמָר."

"Am I a sea, or a sea-monster, that Thou settest a watch over me? (Job 7:12)

Job meant that God shouldn't guard over him like he had to do with the sea and the sea monsters. This verse brings to mind an obvious question- why does God need to watch over the sea monsters?

If you look in the book of psalms, you'll find the answer. The verses from this book that speak about "Tanin" create a picture of the war, or great battle between The Almighty and the great sea monsters, as we can see in Psalm 74:13-

"אַתָּה פוֹרַרְתָּ בְעָזְּךָ יָם; שִׁבַּרְתָּ רָאשֵׁי תַנִּינִים, עַל-הַמָּיִם"

"Thou didst break the sea in pieces by Thy strength; Thou didst shatter the heads of the sea-monsters in the waters"

Apparently, God needs to watch over the sea and the sea monsters, because he had a battle with them in the past. The question is when and where did it take place?

Furthermore, in Psalm 91:13 there is a reference to "The Tanin" and we can once more see that God is battling with it and other creators.

In order to solve this mysterious riddle, we should pat attention to two more occurrences of "The Taninim" in the book of Isaiah.
In Isaiah 51:9, Isaiah calls on the arm of The Lord to wake up and fight like it fought in the past, with the great sea monsters-

עוּרִי עוּרִי לִבְשִׁי-עֹז, זְרוֹעַ יְהוָה--עוּרִי כִּימֵי קֶדֶם, דֹּרוֹת עוֹלָמִים"

" הֲלוֹא אַתְּ-הִיא הַמַּחְצֶבֶת רַהַב, מְחוֹלֶלֶת תַּנִּין

"Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in the days of old, the generations of ancient times. Art thou not it that hewed Rahab in pieces that pierced the dragon?

This verse reveals to us a great war in the old ages, between two sides: The arm of God, and sea monsters, Rahab and Tanin. Another thing that we can say is that God won this war and that one of the meanings of Tanin could be a dragon.

This war, my friends, could only have taken place during the creation of the world. There was a war between God and the sea and its monsters, which the author of the first chapter didn't want us to know about. This is the reason that he chose to use the same root and verb in the creation of man, the world and the sea monsters. From his point of view, there was no war. God is the only one that creates. No gods or sea monsters can battle him.

What about the future?
According to Isaiah 27:1, another war in the sea is yet to happen, as written:

בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא יִפְקֹד יְהוָה בְּחַרְבּוֹ הַקָּשָׁה וְהַגְּדוֹלָה וְהַחֲזָקָה"

עַל לִוְיָתָן נָחָשׁ בָּרִחַ, וְעַל לִוְיָתָן, נָחָשׁ עֲקַלָּתוֹן;

" וְהָרַג אֶת-הַתַּנִּין, אֲשֶׁר בַּיָּם

"On that day, the LORD with His great and strong sword will punish leviathan the slant serpent, and leviathan the tortuous serpent; and He will slay the dragon who is in the sea".

This is the reason why "The Tanin" should praise The Lord (see Psalm 148:7); this is the reason why the enormous kings of this area are being compared to "The Tanin" (see Isaiah 51:34, Ezekiel 32:2). The picture is clearer now: the great sea monsters were great, but they couldn't fight with The Lord or with the pen of the author of Genesis 1!

I wish us all "no more wars", as "Anwar El Sadat" proclaimed.

Main phrases of the post + transcription + translation
Hebrew Transcription Translation
חִידָה hîdāh Quiz, riddle
פָּתַר pātar Solved
שָׁלוֹם šālôm Peace
תַּנִּין tannîn Sea monster
גָּדוֹל gādôl Great
סוֹפֵר sôpēr Author
מַטֶּה matteh Staff, rod
מִלְחָמָה milhāmāh War

More about the great sea monsters

A song for peace/Miry Alony

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