3. Capturing the dragon
The first aspect of the Jewish reworking of the Leviathan myth is the capture of the dragon.
God tells Job that he and he alone can draw Leviathan from the chaos waters. Seven times God promises he will do it: by “hooks”, “snare”, “draw”, “fishhook”, “cord”, “rope”, “hook”. “Can one take it with hooks or pierce its nose with a snare? Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook, or press down its tongue with a cord? Can you put a rope in its nose, or pierce its jaw with a hook?” (Job 40:24-41:2) The number seven here has symbolic import. It is the perfection of divine power. Only God can destroy the chaos monster. Drawing the monster from the waters is the first part of its destruction.
No lesser divine being can control, let alone, destroy the evil that it represents.
“Any hope of capturing it will be disappointed; were not even the gods overwhelmed at the sight of it? No one is so fierce as to dare to stir it up. Who can stand before it? Who can confront it and be safe? --under the whole heaven, who?” (Job 41:9-11) “When it raises itself up the gods are afraid; at the crashing they are beside themselves. Though the sword reaches it, it does not avail, nor does the spear, the dart, or the javelin. It counts iron as straw, and bronze as rotten wood. The arrow cannot make it flee; slingstones, for it, are turned to chaff. Clubs are counted as chaff; it laughs at the rattle of javelins.” (Job 41:25-29)
Here, God is drawing on the Babylonian myth of a cosmic struggle between good and evil, where even the gods themselves are dumb struck.
In the Babylonian myth of creation, the god of wisdom Ea is “struck dumb with horror and sat stock still” at the rebellion of the chaos monster Tiamat. Ea goes to his grandfather Anshar and tells him the bad news of a demonic horde.
“They are massing around her, ready at Tiamat’s side
Angry, scheming, never laying down night and day,
Making warfare, rumbling, raging,
Convening in assembly, that they might start hostilities,
Mother Huber, who can form everything,
Added countless invincible weapons,
gave birth to monster serpents,
Pointed of fang, with merciless incisors (?),
She filled their bodies with venom for blood.
Fierce dragons she clad with glories,
Causing them to bear auras like gods, (saying)
“Whoever see them shall collapse from weakness!
Wherever their bodies make onslaught,
they shall not turn back!”
She deployed serpents, dragons, and hairy hero-men,
Lion monsters, lion men, scorpion men,
Mighty demons, fish men, bull men,
Bearing unsparing arms, fearing no battle.
Her commands were absolute, no one opposed them.
Eleven indeed on this wise she created.”
This demonic refrain will be repeated four times in the poem to heighten the fear of the gods. Anshar orders Ea and Anu in turn to destroy Tiamat, but both:
‘…stopped, horror-stricken, then turned back….
Her strength is enormous, she is utterly terrifying,
She is reinforced with a host, none can come out against her.
Her challenge was not reduced,
it was so loud (?) against me,
I became afraid at her clamor, I turned back.”
Even the high God Marduk is dumb struck as he approaches that evil. Tiamat cast her own spell on him and “his tactic turned to confusion, His reason was overthrown, his actions panicky.”
No human being such as Job can destroy the evil Leviathan represents. “Look on all who are proud, and bring them low; tread down the wicked where they stand. Hide them all in the dust together; bind their faces in the world below. Then I will also acknowledge to you that your own right hand can give you victory.” (Job 40:12-14) Only God can destroy it.