Job 41:1—Does this passage make reference to the mythological figure Leviathan?

Problem: Job 41:1 makes reference to the mythological figure Leviathan. But, how can the Bible talk about Leviathan as if it were a real sea monster?

Solution: Although this is basically the same name used in the Ugaritic documents about a mythological sea monster, it is not at all clear that Job 41:1 is a reference to this monster. Some commentators have proposed that this is a reference to a large crocodile, and that the name “Leviathan” is used to heighten the emphasis on its uncontrolability.

Further, this type of expression is often used today, as when someone refers to an adversary as a “monster.” This is not a claim that monsters actually exist. It is merely the application to the person or thing of the fearsome characteristics that are usually associated with a monster.

Finally, even if it is assumed that this is a reference to the same mythological creature of the Ugaritic tales, its use in this poetic text is not necessarily a claim that it really exists. It could be simply a poetic figure employing the image of an untamable sea monster to illustrate a point. Whereas Job is merely a man incapable of taming such a fearsome beast, God is all-powerful, and it is He who sets the bounds of both man and beast. As such, it would be like someone today saying “Jesus (whom they believe is historical) is stronger than Superman (whom they believe to be mythical).” Poetic expressions often employ symbolic figures in an effort to heighten the emotional impact of the literal message being conveyed. This does not, however, mean that the author accepts the pagan mythology that has given rise to this figure.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.