Westminster Theological Journal 40.2 (Spring 1978) 213-28.

        Copyright © 1978 by Westminster Theological Seminary, cited with permission.  




                   ELEMENTS IN THE BOOK OF JOB


                                             ELMER SMICK


THE book of Job, like a microcosm of the Old Testament

bears witness to the will and purpose of the God who created

Iand rules over nature and all creatures, especially his crowning

creature man. In Genesis 3 as a result of the work of the Temp-

ter God must put in effect the death penalty of Genesis 2:17.

But only the Tempter, the Serpent, is cursed. Man gets a some-

what suspended sentence as far as the death penalty goes but

with immediate punitive effects. The book of Job brings us a

step closer to the mystery of godliness by adding a new dimen-

sion to the concept of punitive suffering. The ancient Near

Eastern documents from Babylonia and Egypt agree with the

punitive aspect of suffering but are shallow in the way they deal

with the problem.l Man as a sinner must humble himself before

the gods who are often perverse or not interested or they are

incapacitated. But attention to both the continuities and discon-

tinuities between the worship of Yahweh and the paganisms of

the Old Testament world is an important feature of O.T.


H. W. Wolff in his chapter entitled "The Hermeneutics of

the Old Testament" in the series of essays on that subject edited

by Claus Westermann says:


The more distinctly the old Oriental religions are recon-

structed before our eyes, the more clearly we see that the O. T.

actively resists the attempt to understand it in analogy to the

cults of its environment. This is all the more surprising since

the connection of Israel with its environment in matters of a

general world view, of profane and sacral usage, of Cu1tic

institutions, yes even of prophetic phenomena, is constantly

becoming clearer" (p. 167).


1 Marvin H. Pope in the Anchor Bible 15 ( LVI-LXXIII) has a good

summary of the parallel literature.





To this may be added the observation that the mythological

elements in Job conform remarkably well with the religious

expressions from contemporary sources. But careful attention to

certain features in context will show that any special problem

these allusions may appear to pose for the monotheistic outlook

of the author of this book is superficial. Our present pur-

pose is to defend this last statement. Here we use the term myth

in its traditional sense -not as another way of expressing the

truth2 but as the way a polytheistic people understood deity.

In this sense, to see wide mythological commitment, as some

have been prone to do3, results in as much misinterpretation as

does the attempt to ignore mythological expression to protect the

scriptures from such "contamination." Reading primitive mean-

ing into a piece of monotheistic literature because the language a

is infused with the idiom of a primitive substratum is poor meth-

odology. It is true that sometimes it is impossible to tell when

the terms are mere figures and when they represent the view of

the speaker.4 We must be guided by the thrust of the context.

The language of mythology is inherent in every language from

every age and is often used in religious contexts that are strongly

monotheistic.5 The Jews in Bablyon borrowed pagan festival

names for their religious calendar. Fanatically monotheistic Jews

embellished their synagogues with zodiacal mosaics borrowed

from Roman art depicting the sun god riding his chariot.6 Mat-

thew 12:24 uses the pagan deity name Baalzebub (2 Kings 1 :3)

for Satan simply as an idiom without a thought given to its

origin. Isaiah and Ezekiel, both monotheists, were prone to using

mythological allusion as a vehicle through which they communi-

cated their messages.7

Nature is a theme which frequently evoked mythological lan-

guage: the storm, fire, the sea, the heavens and the earth and


2 John L. McKenzie in his article "Myth and the Old Testament" (CBQ

XXI, 265-282) following Cassirer defines myth in this way but it assumes

a unique set of presuppositions.

3 Pope seems to take this position. He takes issue with R. Gordis's

statement that Job takes monotheism for granted (AB 15, XXXIX).

4 See the quotation from T. H. Gaster below.

5 John Milton drew heavily on Greek mythology to enrich his poetic

imagery even in his picture of creation.

6 BASOR 228, 61 fl. i

7 Isaiah 14 and 27, Ezekiel 28.



creatures in both spheres. Job 3:8 begins with a reference to

an occult practice involving the celebrated Leviathan. Regarding

the day of his birth Job says:


May those who curse days curse that day,

those who are ready to arouse Leviathan (NIV).


Dhorme says "those who curse days" may refer to other suf-

ferers like Job who also cursed the day of their birth. But in light

of the parallelism the expression more likely refers to profes-

sional cursers like Balaam. Job appears to be making a play on

the similar sound of the words yam, "sea," and yom, "day," and

the parallel between Leviathan, the sea monster and the Yamm

as a deity in Canaanite mythology.

Job, in a cursing mood, employs the most vivid and forceful

proverbial language available to call for the obliteration of that

day.8 The figure then is of an awakened monster of chaos who

could ,swallow that day. According to some mythological notions

such swallowing of the sun and moon brought about an eclipse!

There is no way of knowing how valid Job considered the work

of such cursers but in his negative confession Job presents him-

self as a monotheist who rejected current mythological concep-

tions of the sun (31:26-28). Job s error, for which he can

scarcely be excused, was in damning the day of his birth, ques-

tioning the sovereign purpose of God. Job in his attempt to

understand his theology in the light of his immediate experi-

ence, while constrained to speak only the truth before God, came

perilously close to cursing God to his face as the Satan had pre-

dicted. His friends on the other hand uttered many perceptive

truths. Paul could quote Eliphaz in I Corinthians 3:19.9 What

they said, however, did not necessarily apply to Job. It becomes

increasingly clear that they had no concern for Job and as he

said were only mouthing words to curry God's favor. Their

original conciliatory attitudes quickly become harsh and vin-

dictive. The words of the dialogue then are not normative and

so we must consider the mythological allusions in that light.


8 Although NEB renders 8b. "those whose magic binds even the

monster. . . ," the same stem of the verb 'ur means "to awaken" the

dead in Sheol in Isaiah 14:9.

9 Job 5:13.



Even so, it is difficult to tell when a speaker uses mythic terms

metaphorically. Demythologizing was a process that was prac-

ticed in Israel.10 But there are continuities as well as discon-

tinuities between the normative theology of Israel and the sur-

rounding nations. Our procedure will be to examine some pas-

sages in which mythological. expression uniquely serves the pur-

pose of the book. In some cases this reverses the effect of poly-

theism and shows Job's God is Sovereign Lord over all creation.

Also mythopoeic language may provide a "sensus plenior" to the

Divine speeches which implies Yahweh's victory over the Satan.

This is more tenuous but if valid it helps us understand better

the enigmatic words of Yahweh which are so important as a key

to understanding the book.

Perhaps a distinction should be made between conscious de-

mythologizing and simple metaphor. For example, Psalm 121

appears to be a conscious demythologizing, a polemic against

the cosmic mountain motif and the notion of many patron deities.

Since the pagan deities are no-gods (Ps. 5: 4) where can one

turn for help? The psalmist says:


When I lift up my eyes to the mountains

    where does my help come from?

My help comes from Yahweh,

    the Maker of heaven and earth.


The psalmist conceives of Yahweh as the patron deity:

He will not let your foot slip. . . .

Yahweh watches over you. . .

Yahweh will keep you from all harm. . .


We think immediately of Eliphaz's taunt of Job in 5:1


"Call now, is there any who will answer you, and to which of

the Holy Ones will you turn ?"


These "holy ones" are the bene ha 'elohim of the prologue.

The divine council motif may be considered an ideological con-

tinuity but the authors of Job and Psalms 82 and 89 have intro-

duced a discontinuity in the way they handle the concept. The dis-


10 See Albright's development of this idea in Yahweh and the Gods of




continuity can be appreciated in terms of the Hebrew hierarchy of

'elohim. There is only one creator--all the qehal qedosim fear

him and none can be compared with him (89:7, 8). Men are

'elohim to the animals, rulers and judges are 'elohim to ordinary

men and the heavenly beings to men. In the mythology there

were lesser divine beings created by the cosmic gods to serve

them. They are sometimes available at patron deities or personal

intercessors and were general lackeys in the divine assembly.

In Job 33 Eliphaz speaks of such an intercessor calling him a

mal'ak11 (messenger) and a melis (interpreter). Both Job and

his friends believe that among such "holy ones" a man might

find a defender. Three times Job mentions such a one, feeling

the need for an arbiter (9:33), a witness (16:19-21) and a

vindicator (19:25-27). This is certainly evocative and part of

the ideological preparation for the mediatorial work of the

Christ who could stand between God and man, sharing the nature

of each, as Job says in 9:33 "that he might lay his hand upon

the two of us."

The book of Job is replete with vivid imagery based on the

mythic literature deeply engrained in the language and passed

on through generations. There are too many examples to do more

than sample a few themes. A widely used theme is the quelling

lof Chaos known in west Semitic literature as Yamm (Sea) and

in Babylonia as Tiamat (the Deep). The sea monsters variously

called Rahab (the boisterous), Tannin (the dragon) and Levi-

athan (the serpent) also playa part.

In 7:12 Job speaks out in anguish over his imagined harass-

ment by God and says:


Am I Yamm (Sea) or Tannin

   that you set a guard over me?


The tales of the conquest of Yamm, Tannin, and Lotan by Baal

and Anat are well known. The Babylonian Tiamat is killed by

hero gods who then proceed to create the land and sea from the

pieces. The west Semitic literature provides no creation account

but stresses the control of the sea by the weather God, Baal


11 The same term is used in Ugaritic for the lackey gods. Cf. A. Herd-

ner, Corpus des tablettes en Cuneiformes alphabetiques, 1.3.17-21; 3.4.76-

80, etc.



(Ugaritic texts 68, 129, 137). Job and his friends knew well

the west Semitic myths. But were they committed to them as

part of their view of deity? The only way we can know is from

the total thrust of their words.

A look at the chaos terminology in the first part of chapter 9

will help us capture the thrust of Job's concept of deity. Accord-

ing to Job, El is indeed a God of profound wisdom and cosmic

force and as such is too much for mere man. In verses 5-13 he

moves mountains and shakes the earth off its foundations--the

earthquake. He speaks and the sun doesn't rise -the eclipse.

He seals up the stars from sight--movement of the stars and

planets. He stretched out the heavens and trampled on the back

of Yamm (bomote yam)--creation and overcoming of Chaos.

He made the Bear, Orion, Pleiades, and the southern chambers

and when angry even the cohorts of Rahab cower at his feet. Job

here describes a deity who is unique when compared with what

we know of any single contemporary god. The Ugaritic El is a

character variously represented. Sometimes he is a forceful lone

patriarch living in a tent, at other times a frightened deity who

is forced to give up the young Baal to the messengers of Yamm.

Baal can take things in his own hands and destroy Yamm with

the weapons supplied by Kothar wa-Hasis.12 But then Baal is

killed by Mot. The issue is always sovereignty.  E1 and the divine

assembly are faced with the question of ascribing kingship to

Yamm. Baal asserts kingship not only by eliminating Yamm but

by demonstrating his power in the storm. This west semitic

story was imported to the east where Marduk, chosen as king by

the gods, asserts kingship by slaying Tiamat.13

The point is that Job's God asumes all the functions of the

gods whether Baal, El, or Yamm. Job's El is never subordinated

to any of the bene ha'elohim. In 9:8 he exercises his creative

power all by himself (lebaddo). The line is the same as in Isaiah

44:24. He is not only a deity who does not share his power and


12 See H. L. Ginsberg's translation of the Baal-Yamm Cycle in ANET,

p. 131.

13 Yahweh's lordship over Chaos is the theme of Psalm 29. There the

bene 'elim are called to honor and worship the one who controls and sits

enthroned forever over the flood (29:10).



authority but he performs his numberless wonders while being

invisible (verse 11).

When he passes me I can't see him.

     When he goes by I can't perceive him.


The psalmist expresses a similar discontinuity in Psalm


The heavens praise your wonders, O Yahweh,

    your faithfulness also, in the assembly of the holy ones.

For who in the skies above can compare with Yahweh?

    Who is like Yahweh among the heavenly beings?

In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared;

    he is more awesome than all who surround him.

O Yahweh, God of hosts, who is like you?

    You are mighty, O Yahweh, and your faithfulness surrounds



As in Job and Isaiah this theme is linked to God as Creator for

it is precisely at this point the psalmist describes Yahweh as

Creator of the heavens and earth and the One who rules over

the surging sea, crushing Rahab and all his enemies. In his

creating and saving power he is unique and incomparable. The

psalmist's God also had that mysterious quality of invisibility.

Was it not this quality that disturbed his idolatrous contem-

poraries when they chided. "Where is your God?" (42:3, 10;

79. 10). Psalm 115.2 reads.

Why do the nations say,

   'Where is their God?'

Our God is in heaven;

    he does whatever pleases him

But their idols are silver and gold,

    made by the hands of men.


B.D.B. notes that when 'ayyeh is so used, the answer

nowhere is expected. Even though ineffectiveness may be the

point of Psalm terminology invisibility is in mind in Job. Job is

asserting that his God is both invisible and all-powerful.

Turning now to another theme in Job 5:7 where the KJV

and RSV read:

But man is born to trouble

as the sparks fly upward,

it is better to translate:



Man is born to trouble

     as sure as Resheph's sons soar aloft.


Who are "Resheph's sons"? Is this a metaphor for flames,

sparks or lightning? Resheph is equated with Nergal, the Meso-

potamian god of pestilence and the netherworld. In Deut 32:24

the word is parallel with qeteb (destruction) and in Hab 3:5

with deber (pestilence), and the plural is used of lightning in

Ps 78:48. In Ps 76:4, however, "the reshephs" (arrows) of the

bow are in apposition to the shield, the sword and the battle.

In Ugaritic Resheph is called "Lord of the arrow," either refer-

ing to his skillful use of lightning or his attendance upon arrows

in flight. Just as Death's firstborn (Job 18:13) devours the

bodies of wicked men, so here the sons of Resheph are active

trouble makers. On Resheph T. M. Gaster observes:

When Resheph is said (Hab 3:5) to attend upon Yahweh, or

when the pangs of love are described as "fiery reshephs"

(Song of Songs 8:6), do the writers really have in mind the

figures of the Canaanite plague-god of that name, or is this

simply a case of metonymy? This is a problem which I will

not even attempt to resolve, but it must at least be mentioned.14


From my point of view Gaster is asking the wrong question.

It makes little difference whether the figure of the plague god

is in mind or not. Habakkuk is using a highly anthropomorphic

figure of Yahweh. The real question is, did Habakkuk believe

Yahweh existed in the form of a warrior and did Job and Habak-

kuk believe Resheph or Resheph's sons really existed as gods?

That must be answered in the light of other things these writers


Job 26 is replete with mythological allusions--the denizens

of Sheol, Zaphon othe cosmic mountain: Yamm and Rahab, all in

a cosmography with some rather sophisticated observations.

Verses 5-14 may be rendered:

The spirits of the dead writhe,

     the Waters below and their denizens.

Sheol is naked in God’s presence,

    Abaddon is uncovered.


14 Myth, Legend and Custom in the Old Testament, p. xxxvi, as quoted

in W. Michel's Mythological Expressions in the Book of Job, p. 8.



He spreads out Zaphon over emptiness;

    he hangs the earth on nothing.

He wraps up the waters in his clouds;

    yet the clouds do not burst under the weight.

He covers the face of the full moon

    spreading his clouds over it.

He marks out the horizon on the face of the waters

    for a boundary between light and darkness.

The pillars of the heavens quake

    stunned at his rebuke

By his power he churns up the sea,

    by his skill he pierces Rahab.

By his breath the heavens become fair;

    his hand pierces the gliding serpent.

And these are only the outer fringes of his power;

    how faint the whisper we hear of him!

Who then can understand the thunder of his might?


Buttenweiser in his famous comment on verse 7 said: "Our

author, though naturally ignorant of the law of gravitation, had

outgrown the naive view of his age about the universe, and con-

ceived of the earth as a heavenly body floating in space, like the

sun, moon, and stars. It is not surprising to meet with such a

view in the book of Job when one considers the advance astron-

(omy in Babylonia, Egypt, and Greece. As early as 540-510 B.C.

Pythagoras of Samos, in his travels in Egypt and the East,

acquired the knowledge of the obliquity of the ecliptic and of

the earth's being a sphere freely poised in space. . . Job 38:6

bears out rat he: than contradicts the conclusion tha: the writer

of Job had attained a more advanced view of the universe, since

the question, 'Whereon were its foundations set?' shows that

he no longer shared the primitive notion that the earth was

resting on pillars erected In the sea.15

Both Buttenweiser and Dhorme contend "the north" (saphon)

is the celestial pole formed by the seven stars of Ursa Minor

from which the movement of the universe was believed to pro-

ceed. Two observations are needed. First--the cosmography is

not in itself the purpose of the passage. Again God's power is in

focus. Secondly--we cannot ignore what Ugaritic literature

tells about Mount Zaphon as the Canaanite Olympus.16


15 M. Buttenweiser, The Book of Job, 1922, in loco

16 Actually Mons Casius due north of Israel where Baal-Hadad had



The cosmic mountain concept is related to Sinai as the place

from which God reveals himself and Zion as God's dwelling


Psalm 48: 1 & 2 says:

Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise,

    in the city of our God, his holy mountain.

It is beautiful in elevation,

    the joy of the whole earth.

Like the utmost heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion,

    the city of the Great King.

          Eschatological Zion in Isaiah 2:2-4 is the place where the

LORD's house is established at the head of the mountains with

all the nations flowing to it, where the LORD is enthroned and

rules over a world of universal peace (cf. Isaiah 24:23).

The passage which most closely approximates Job 26:7 is

Isaiah 14:13, 14. Here the King of Babylon desires to place

himself where the Most High dwells.

You said in your heart,

"I will ascend to heaven:

    above the stars of God

I will set my throne on high;

     I will sit on the mount of assembly.

On the slopes of Zaphon

     I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;

I will make myself like the Most High."

There is a difference in the way the two passages use Zaphon.

In the mouth of the pagan king it is used quite literally to mean

the mount of assembly which, indeed, reaches into the heavens

and is the divine abode. But in Job the choice of words points to

metonymy. I came to this conclusion before I noticed that Clif-

ford makes a similar observation in a footnote.

Clifford states:

Zaphon's meaning seems to be practically "heavens." N6tek

elsewhere is used of "heavens" in the Old Testament and it

forms a reasonable merism with ‘eres in the passage from Job.

It is easy to imagine the development of the meaning of


his marvelous dwelling built. This explains why the Hebrew word

sapon means north. Compare Negev for south, Yam for west.

17 See The Cosmic Mountain in Canaan and the Old Testament, Rich-

ard Clifford.



Zaphon, under Israelite impulse, from "mountain (dwelling

of God)" to "heavens (dwelling of God)."18

It may also be that the heaven being like a dome-shaped

canopy which may be stretched out was associated with the

similarly shaped mountains as represented in the glyptic art.19

So the mountain of all mountains is the mountain which God

stretched out like a canopy which is his dwelling place -the


Even though mythopoeic language is used there is a hint that

the author is demythologizing. In contrast to 7:12 where he

said "Am I Yamm. that you set a guard over me" here in 26:12

the definite article is used with yam which shows the writer did

not consider it a proper name.

So I would not agree with Fohrer who over-literalizes the

cosmic picture and suggests pillars must be supporting the

heavens nor would I agree with Buttenweiser who moves in the

opposite direction. Buttenweiser may not be wrong in 38:5,

where Yahweh uses the figure of the earth as a building with

foundations and a cornerstone and asks Job "On what were its

footings set?"--an indication that this was considered a mystery.

The purpose of the writer is not to tell us how much he knew of

the cosmos but to tell how powerful God is. Job is saying El is

the God of the heavens and the God of the earth--the God of

nature. Stretching out the heavens over emptiness and hang-

ing up the earth on nothing are bold figures both derived from

actions common to man. The marvel is that he can do these

things with nothing for support. Other marvels of nature are

also attributed to his vast power and dominion. He fills the

clouds with water and they do not burst. He uses the clouds as

a drape over the face of the full moon.20 He marks out the

circle of the horizon as with cosmic calipers. By a mere word he

makes the mountains shake and by his power he controls the

raging sea and its monstrous creatures. And all this is only a

whisper of his power, only the fringe of his dominion.21


18Ibid., 162, fn. 85.

19 Ibid., 96, top.

20 In verse 9 kisse (throne) should be read kese' (full moon) on the

basis of Psalm 81: 4 and Proverbs 7:20.

21 As early as 1957 Dahood suggested derek sometimes means "power"



Understanding the mythological background sometimes ac-

complishes just the opposite of what is assumed. Rather than

show ideological commitment to the pagan way of handling the

mysteries of nature it throws the discontinuity into relief and

helps us appreciate how monotheistic the writer was. For ex-

ample: Sheol, the realm of Mot in Ugaritic where Baal enters

and is powerless, is open before God so that its denizens tremble

--a uniquely biblical concept that fits only monotheism.

Generally the mythology allots to the gods their separate

domains. There are the gods of the heavens and the gods of the

earth. With Baal dead Ashtar, the Rebel god, is permitted by

El to attempt to sit on Baal's throne but not having the stature

he does not succeed and must be content to reign on the earth.22

Each god is powerful in his own domain. As personifications of

nature they are often in conflict with each other. The hero Baal

faces a losing battle with Mot and has victory over Yamm. Un-

like the Ugaritic El who sires deities but cannot control them,

Job's "El" is the sovereign Lord over all natural forces -espe-

cially the domains of Mot. Yamm, and Baal.

This is what prompts Hans Wolff to write:

Following the signposts of the OT itself, we must seek to

understand it on the basis of the peculiar nature of Yahweh,

the God of Israel. In his essence, Yahweh is not a figure of

mythology in the sense that one could speak of him in the

manner of the myths of the neighboring lands, which chatter

so much of the "private life" of their gods and of their life

together in the pantheon. Yahweh is the one beside whom no

other is god, and before whom all others are shown to be no




Our final thesis is that mythopoeic language provides a sensus

plenior in the Yahweh speeches which serves well the purpose

of the book. But what is the purpose of the book? Is it not to

show that the righteous may suffer for no other reason than to

accomplish God's higher will? I summarize some of the thoughts



or "dominion" (Biblica 38, 306-320). In this he since has been generally

supported (AB 15, 186).

22 A Herdner, Corpus des tablettes en cuneiformes alphabetiques, 6.1.39-

65. Clifford mentions another place where Ashtar does exercise kingship

from Zaphon (The Cosmic Mountain, p. 168).

23 Essays on Old Testament Hermeneutics, ed. C. Westermann, 168.



of G. B. Gray24 on the relationship of the Yahweh speeches to

that purpose. He has noted that what the divine speeches do not

contain is as important as what they do. The speeches do not

reverse Yahweh's judgment in the Prologue about Job. The

Satan was wrong in impugning Job's inner reasons for being

righteous and the friends were wrong about Job's outward con-

duct as the reason for his suffering. God's rebuke of Job (38: 2,

40:2) was for what he said after the calamity happened not for

earlier sins which would have prove? the penal theory of suffer-

ing was correct. The friends by their theory Implied they knew

completely God's way. One of the purposes of the Yahweh

speeches is to show that neither they nor Job possessed such

complete knowledge. Indeed, the speeches show how very limited

man's knowledge is. On the surface it would appear that speeches

concentrate only on the natural world. But careful reading re-

veals something else. In the first speech (chapters 38 and 39)

God's works in the natural creation are in view. God introduces

this with the words (38:2):

Who is this that darkens my counsel

     by words without knowledge?


Then follow two chapters of proof that Job knew very little

about God's world. Something modern man has learned much

more of only to discover how much more lies beyond him. Job

is humbled. He agrees that his words were based on ignorance:

"I put my hand to my mouth. ..I will say no more" (40:4, 5).

    The second speech begins on an entirely different note:


Would you discredit my justice?

     Would you condemn me to justify yourself?

Do you have an arm like God's,

     and can your voice thunder like his?

Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor,

     and clothe yourself in honor and majesty.

Unleash the fury of your wrath;

     look on every proud one and bring him low;

     look on every proud one and humble him;

crush the wicked wherever they stand.

Bury them all in the dust together;

     shroud their faces in the grave.


24 I.C.C. Job, Introduction.



In keeping with this introduction the descriptions of Behemoth

and Leviathan follow. The purpose this time is not only to

humble Job by showing him that Yahweh is Creator and Sus-

tainer of the natural world but to convince him that Yahweh is

Lord of the moral order. And appropriately Job's response this

time is repentance (42:1-6). The concentration on these two

awesome creatures. placed as they are after this assertion of Yah-

weh's justice and moral order. lends weight to the contention

that they are symbolic.25 The figures may draw from the features

of the hippopotamus and crocodile. Both terms are used in other

O. T. contexts without symbolic significance (Pss. 8:8, 50:10,

78:22, 104:26; Joel 1:20, 2:22; Hab. 2:17). But they also

symbolize evil political powers. The many headed Leviathan

of Psalm 74:12, 13 is a poetic handling of Israel's crossing the

Red Sea and Isaiah 27:1 describes Yahweh's destruction of the

Evil One in the eschaton.

The word behemot is an intensive plural of behemah (beast)

hence the beast par excellence: Behemoth in 40:19a is "the first

of the ways of God." Pope translates this "a primordial produc-

tion of God," but Dahood renders it "the finest manifestation of

God's power" (AB 15. p. 272). In Ugaritic the goddess Anat

conquered the seven-headed Leviathan along with a bovine crea-

ture called "the ferocious bullock." Leviathan has power over

which no human strength can prevail. For some reason the

Hebrew text begins a new chapter in the middle of this descrip-

tion (41:9 = 41:1 Heb.). We translate beginning in 41:18:

His sneezings flash forth lightning

    His eyes are like the glow of dawn.

Flames stream from his mouth;

    sparks of fire leap forth.

From his nostrils pours smoke,

    as from a pot heated by burning brushwood.

His breath sets coals ablaze:

    a flame pours from his mouth.


And verse 25:

When he rises the heavenly beings are afraid;

    they are beside themselves because of the crashing.


25 It is impossible to tell where the description of Behemoth ends and

Leviathan begins. Some take 40:23 as the division. But it is possible they

are left this way because both figures describe one being.



Swords, javelins, arrows, clubs, slingstones are no good against

him according to verses 26-29. And in 33 we read:


Then even I will admit to you

    that your own right hand can save you (40:8-14).

Upon earth there is not his equal;

    he was made without fear.

He looks down on all that is lofty;

     he is king over all proud beings.

Is this merely a crocodile or should it be understood in light of

Isaiah 27:1, etc. (d. the dragon symbol of Revelation 12).

By telling of his dominion over Behemoth and Leviathan,

(perhaps by means of a subtle double entendre, Yahweh is cele-

brating his triumph in the moral sphere. The Satan, the Accuser,

has been proved wrong though Job does not know it. The

author and the reader see the entire picture which Job and his

friends never knew. No totally rational theory of suffering is

substituted for the faulty one the friends proffered. The only

answer given is the same as in Genesis. God permits the Satan

to touch Job as part of the cosmic contest.

On this general subject Albright has said some cogent things

in his History, Archaeology and Christian Humanism. Remark-

ing how the Old Testament is a "masterpiece of empirical logic

not expressed in formal categories," Albright claims the Old

Testament has demythologized the poems on which some Hebrew

literature is based. "Old words are kept but with new meanings

divested of mythological connotations."

There may be partial demythologizing in some cases. On

38:7 F. I. Andersen says:


It is noteworthy that 11Qtg. Job has completed the demythol-

ogizing, making the stars shine instead of sing, and calling the

sons “angels.”26

Is use of the plural in  elohim and ‘adonay demythologizing?

In Hebrew this appears to mean the totality of all the manifesta-

tions and attributes of deity which polytheism broke down into

single elements. In some Canaanite documents a single high

god is referred to with the plural ending, the so-called plural

of majesty (Amarna and Ugaritic). Nothing sounds more poly-


26 Tyndale O. T. Commentaries, Job p. 274.



theistic to some ears than the words used by that monotheist

the Chronicler: "for great is our God above all gods" (I Chron.


Albright observes "much of the onslaught on early Israelite

monotheism comes from scholars who represents certain theo-

logical points of view with reference to monotheism, i.e. who

deny that orthodox trinitarian Chnsuamty . . . or orthodox

Judaism or orthodox Islam are monotheistic. I do not need

to stress the fact that neither of the last two religions can be

called monotheistic by a theologian who insists that this term

applies only to unitarian Christianity or liberal Judaism. But

no dictionary definition of monotheism was ever intended to

exclude orthodox Christianity." (ibid, p. 155).

In conclusion let me say that the distinguishing mark of

mythology is not references to gods or the use of anthropo-

morphism and various metaphors which describe deity in con-

crete terminology but rather the narration of the interactions of

numerous gods including such characteristics as their pettiness,

their wild acts of violence and sexual exploits. The OT authors

do not show such concrete mythological commitment.


Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary,

South Hamilton, Massachusetts




This material is cited with gracious permission from:

            Westminster Theological Seminary

            2960 W. Church Rd.

            Glenside, PA  19038


Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu