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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

 

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DRAGON

drag'-un (tannin, plural tannim, tannoth; drakon):
Tannin and the plural tanninim occur 14 t, and in English Versions of the Bible are variously rendered "dragon," "whale," "serpent" or "sea-monster"; but Lam 4:3, the King James Version "sea-monster," the King James Version margin"sea calves," the Revised Version (British and American) "jackals." Tannim occurs 12 times, and is rendered "dragons," the Revised Version (British and American) "jackals," except in Ezek 29:3, where the King James Version has "dragon" (the American Standard Revised Version "monster"), and in Ezek 32:2, where the King James Version has "whale" and the English Revised Version and the King James Version margin"dragon" (the American Standard Revised Version "monster"). Tannoth occurs once, in Mal 1:3, where it is rendered "dragons," the Revised Version (British and American) "jackals." Drakon occurs 12 times in Rev 12; 13; 16; and 20, where it is uniformly rendered "dragon." (Compare Arabic tinnin, the constellation, Draco.) Tannoth Septuagint domata, "dwellings") is a feminine plural form as if from tannah, but it suits the context to give it the same meaning as tannim.
In Ex 7:9,10,12, tannin is used of the serpents which were produced from Aaron's rod and the rods of the Egyptian magicians, whereas in Ex 4:3 and 7:15, for the serpent produced from Aaron's rod, we find nachash, the ordinary word for serpent. In two passages we find "whale," the Revised Version (British and American) "sea-monster"; Gen 1:21: "And God created the great sea-monsters, and every living creature that moveth"; Job 7:12: "Am I a sea, or a sea-monster, that thou settest a watch over me?" Other passages (the English Revised Version and the King James Version) are Dt 32:33: "Their wine is the poison of dragons (the American Standard Revised Version "serpents"), and the cruel venom of asps"; Neh 2:13: "And I went out by night by the valley gate, even toward the dragon's (the American Standard Revised Version "jackal's") well" (the King James Version "dragon well"); Ps 91:13: "Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the serpent (the King James Version "dragon") shalt thou trample under foot "; Ps 148:7: "Praise Yahweh from the earth, ye sea-monsters (the King James Version "dragons"), and all deeps"; Jer 51:34: "Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon hath devoured me, .... like a monster" (the King James Version "dragon"). Here also two tannim passages; Ezek 29:3: "Thus saith the Lord Yahweh: Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great monster (the King James Version "dragon") that lieth in the midst of his rivers, that hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself"; and Ezek 32:2: "Son of man, take up a lamentation over Pharaoh king of Egypt, and say unto him, Thou wast likened unto a young lion of the nations: yet art thou as a monster (the English Revised Version "dragon," the King James Version "whale") in the seas; and thou didst break forth with thy rivers and troubledst the waters with thy feet, and fouledst their rivers."
The foregoing passages offer no especial difficulties in the interpretation of the word tannin. All may fairly be understood to refer to a serpent or sea-monster or some imaginary creature, without invoking any ancient myths for their elucidation. The same may be said of the passages in Revelation. A dragon is taken as the personification of Satan, as of Pharaoh in the passages in Ezekiel. It is of course true that ancient myths may more or less distantly underlie some of these dragon and serpent references, and such myths may be demonstrated to throw additional light in certain cases, but at least the passages in question are intelligible without recourse to the myths. This however is not equally true of all the tannin passages. In Ps 74:12 we read: "Yet God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength: thou brakest the heads of the sea-monsters (the King James Version "dragons") in the waters." Compare Isa 27:1; 51:9 f.
The three passages just cited seem to denote each some particular act, and are referred by Canon Cheyne (Encyclopedia Biblica, under the word "Dragon") to the old Babylonian myth of the conflict of Marduk and Tiamat in the Assyrian creation-legend (thus Gunkel, etc.). Indeed he refers to that myth not only these passages, but also Jer 5:34; Ezek 29:3-6; 32:2-8 and Job 7:12, which have been cited above. In translating the last two passages, Canon Cheyne uses the definite article, "the dragon," instead of "a" as in the Revised Version (British and American), which makes a great difference in the meaning. In Ps 87:4, it is clear that Rahab is a country, i.e. Egypt. Isa 30:7 is to the same point. In Isa 51:9,10, "that didst cut Rahab in pieces" and "that didst pierce the monster" (the King James Version "dragon"), are two coordinate expressions of one idea, which is apparently the defeat of the Egyptians, as appears in the reference to the passage of the Red Sea. In Isa 27:1, "leviathan the swift serpent" and "leviathan the crooked serpent" and "the monster (the King James Version and the English Revised Version "dragon") that is in the sea" have been identified with Babylon, Persia and Egypt (Encyclopedia Biblica, under the word "Dragon," 4). It is more probable that the first two expressions are coordinate, and amount to "leviathan the swift and crooked serpent," and that the verse may therefore refer to Babylonia and Egypt. Ps 74:12-15 is more in line with the idea of the article in EB, but it is nevertheless susceptible of an explanation similar to that of the other two passages.
Tannim, "dragons" (the Revised Version (British and American) "jackals") occurs in Job 30:29; Ps 44:19; Isa 13:22; 34:13; 35:7; 43:20; Jer 9:11; 10:22; 14:6; 49:33; 51:37; tannoth, "dragons" (the Revised Version (British and American) "jackals") is found in Mal 1:3. In all these passages, "jackal" suits the context better than "dragon," "sea-monster" or "serpent." An exception to the rendering of "dragon" or "serpent" or "sea-monster" for tannin is found in Lam 4:3: "Even the jackals draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones." the King James Version has "seamonster," the King James Version margin"sea calves." A mammal is indicated, and the Revised Version (British and American) apparently assumes that tannin is an error for tannim. Two other exceptions are in Ezek 29:3 and 32:2, where English Versions of the Bible renders tannim by "dragon," since in these two passages "jackal" obviously will not suit.
See JACKAL.
On the constellational dragons or snakes, see ASTRONOMY, sec. II, 1-5.
Alfred Ely Day

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'DRAGON'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE; 1915.

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