Yesterday and today we’ve been discussing two large animals that are described in the Bible as creatures with monstrous dimensions. The first is the uncertain animal that is called in the Bible ‘be•he•mot,’ Behemoth. Today, we’ll talk about the second animal, the ‘liv•ya•tan’, Leviathan. Although this word means a whale in today’s Hebrew, there is uncertainty regarding whether this is indeed the biblical Leviathan.
From literature about the Bible and from historical art we assume that the prophet Jonah was swallowed by a whale. Although the word ‘whale’ appears in the Bible, in the story of Jonah it is not mentioned. Rather, we only read about a large fish:
“And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights”
The largest-known fish, the whale, is called in Hebrew liv•ya•tan. Most English versions of the Bible did not translate this name and have kept it in its Hebrew form. Leviathan is mentioned six times in the Bible, and from at least five references we can understand that this is more likely to be ‘whale’ than an obscure giant creature, as some commentators assumed; but, as mentioned above, there isn’t complete certainty about it. Apparently, it was the “monster” assumption of the early translators that caused the English Bible texts not to translate the name as ‘whale’ and to leave it obscured with the Hebrew name ‘Leviathan.’
“So is this great and wide sea, where there are innumerable creeping things, living things, both small and great. There go the ships; and Leviathan which you have made to play in it”