What is the Leviathan?
The Leviathan is an enormous sea-monster: three hundred miles worth of armored scales and hot temper. The beast has always had terrifying destructive potential, but it has received an even worse rap in the Christian doctrine, which names it as one of the seven princes of hell.
The Leviathan is one of the largest monsters that swims in the ocean—so large, in fact, that no single eye witness can describe the beast from head to tail. It has been called everything from a serpent to a whale to a giant fish.
The Leviathan’s huge body is covered in a double-layer of armored scales, which are
“shut up as with a tight seal, one so close to another that no air can get through.”
He has a gaping mouth rimmed in sharp teeth and several powerful fins. Horns sprout from his head, and a terrifying message is etched into the horns:
“I am one of the meanest creatures that inhabit the sea. I am three hundred miles in length, and enter this day into the jaws of the Leviathan.”
Added to the Leviathan’s obvious strength is an eerie fluorescent property. His eyes are filled with a dim light, and his flippers have a fluorescent halo. When he swims near the surface of the ocean, he leaves a glowing wake behind him.
The earliest prototype of the Leviathan was a god unto himself. He was not necessarily evil, but he did relish chaos, and he could be highly destructive when he wanted to shake things up a bit.
When Christians first laid claim to the Leviathan, they demoted him from a god to a demon and described him as inherently evil, a servant of the devil, and one of the seven princes of hell. He was greedy, proud, destructive, and lived in defiance of God.
Later, Christians lowered the Leviathan even further. He became merely a ferocious animal instead of a supernatural demon. This version of the Leviathan was one of God’s creations, and he could easily be tamed, and even slaughtered, by God. His own power was merely a symbol of God’s greater power.
As if brute strength was not enough, the Leviathan has several other dangerous abilities.
Although he lives underwater, he is a fire-breather. When he lifts his head above the waves, flames shoot from his mouth, nostrils, and eyes. When he is swimming in the depths of the ocean, he can make the water around him boil to kill his prey.
The Leviathan’s breath also has a foul odor, so strong that it is effectively poisonous to people who smell it. In one Biblical passage, it is stated that
“if he would put his head into paradise, no living creature could endure the odor of him.”
Stories of a giant sea-serpent, acting as a chaos-deity, are common in western Asia. These monsters appear in myths and artwork as early as the 18th century BCE.
In Canaan, a sea monster named Lotan is controlled by a chaos-deity named Yammu. Eventually, both Lotan and Yammu are defeated by Ba’al, a benevolent deity who imposes order on the world. Syria, Sumeria, and Babylon all have similar myths, with monstrous serpents being overthrown by benevolent gods.
Christianity probably adopted the sea monsters of western Asia in an attempt to make the transition from ancient beliefs to Christianity easier.
Like the early Asian sea monsters, the Leviathan is posed as an obstacle for God to overcome, thus demonstrating his awesome power. The tale of slaughter begins early in the Bible, when God creates two Leviathans (a male and a female), then decides that the Leviathans are too powerful and would “devour the world” if they were allowed to reproduce. Accordingly, God slaughters the female Leviathan, saves her flesh for a feast at the end of time, and uses her skin to create “garments of light” for Adam and Eve.
At the end of time, God will also face-off with the male Leviathan. When he kills the Leviathan, he will serve its flesh at a banquet for the righteous, underneath a glowing canopy made from its skin.
Although the Leviathan is alive and well in spiritual circles, including both Christianity and Satanism, he has not made great strides into the realm of fantasy literature. A poem about sea monsters, written by Alfred Loyd Tennyson, mentions the Leviathan, and a small horror film, called Leviathan spotlights the creature’s brutal nature.