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Leviathan

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The Oxford Companion to the Bible What is This? Provides authoritative interpretive entries on Biblical people, places, beliefs, events, and secular influences.

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    Leviathan

    A mythological sea monster who is one of the primeval adversaries of the storm god. In the Ugaritic texts, Baal defeats Lothan (ltn, a linguistic variant of Leviathan), described as a seven‐headed serpent, apparently identified with Baal's adversary Prince Sea. In the Bible Leviathan is also identified with the Sea (Job 3.8) and has many heads (Ps. 74.14), and his defeat by God is a prelude to creation (Ps. 74.15–17). According to apocalyptic literature, that battle will be rejoined in the end time when the evil Leviathan will be finally defeated (Isa. 27.1; Rev. 12. 3; 17.1–14; 19.20; 21.1), and, according to later tradition, given along with Behemoth as food to the elect (2 Esd. 6.49–52), another recalling of creation (Ps. 74.14). In Job 41, Leviathan is described as fully under God's control, a divine pet (vv. 4–5; cf. Ps. 104.26). Many commentators have equated the Leviathan of Job 41 with the crocodile, and some elements of the description seem to fit this identification. But others, like his breathing fire (vv. 19–21), do not; in light of the other biblical references as well as the Canaanite antecedents it is better to understand Leviathan as a mythological creature.

    In Thomas Hobbes's work by this title (1651), Leviathan is the symbolic name for the absolute power of the political commonwealth, to whose sovereign people must be subordinate but which is ultimately subject to divine control.

    Michael D. Coogan

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