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The Dragon In Elie Wiesels Revelation Essay

The dragon in Revelation isn’t shrouded in mystery. In fact, a few verses after the dragon is introduced the bible says who the dragon represents—Satan, the devil who leads the world astray. Regardless, it’s important to understand the historical context of the symbolism we come across when interpreting Revelation. The purpose of this paper is to describe the cultural contextespecially that of the Israelites—surrounding the dragon around the time that Revelation was written. I decided on this topic because I’ve always been fascinated with the historical context surrounding ancient works.

It also seemed interesting to learn about dragon mythology in ancient times. The symbol of a dragon as Satan is one that was easily understood across Israel and nations far and wide as an evil, chaotic figure. The Chinese had a variety of views on dragons, ranging from good to evil, and associated their emperors with a dragon. A majority of the Chinese beliefs in ancient times was based on the idea of “Yu. ” According to Whalen Lai, Yu was a mythological figure that was a mix between human and dragon, but was later was personified as the emperor Yu.

While the beliefs of the Chinese did not directly impact the Israelites, their interpretation of dragons is similar in many ways to the views in Israel and the surrounding countries. For example, dragon mythology was intertwined with the emperors of China. “All Chinese emperors were supposed to be living dragons. ” (Lai 12) The Chinese emperors being dragons was similar to the idea of the Pharaohs being gods on earth. It gave them a symbol of power and struck fear in the hearts of their enemies and their own people. While it was a symbol of power to be a dragon, the Chinese had various views on dragons. Yu, the part-dragon mperor was seen as a hero, yet some of his foes were dragons. That means that while the dragon of Chinese mythology was generally associated with an evil creature, it could also be good. In the Chinese culture, dragons had different functions, both good and evil.

Kirby-Hirst talks about the Chinese culture briefly, saying “dragons are defined by their unique functions, with the “celestial” dragon acting as a guardian of the heavens, and the “divine” dragon being responsible for bringing rains. ” (Kirby-Hirst 3) Hence, Chinese dragons were generally chaotic, evil creatures, but also had the potential for good. The dragon is thus a dual symbol, capable of expressing either good or evil… embodying both the urge to create and to destroy, the Freudian Eros and Thanatos. ” (Kirby-Hurst 2) A reoccurring theme in all the cultures I studied was the link between dragons and snakes. Not only were they seen as similar, but in many cultures they were seen as the same beings.

“Dragons and snakes as a species customarily “dwell in the deeps. ” (Lai 12) Many of the mythological serpent creatures and dragons dwelt in the ocean. The dragon of Revelation falls in this category as well. The dragon of 12:3 also has his home in the sea. ” (Beale 415) Dragons and snakes were seen as almost interchangeable and, in the Chinese culture, were considered “the animals of chaos. ” (Lai 12) A Spakwv was a “serpent” or “sea monster” usually connected with demonic powers in the ancient world. ” (Osborne 776) He then gives a brief summary of the nations surrounding Israel that had dragon mythology. The earliest was Sumerian in the twenty-fourth century B. C. (the destruction of the seven-headed dragon), and in Canaan it symbolized all the serpent gods as the enemy of Baal.

In Babylon it is a red serpent that guards the god Marduk and is featured as a dragonlike creature on the Ishtar gate. To the Hebrews there was both Leviathan and the female sea monster Rahab. In Greek mythology there is a seven-headed hydra slain by Hercules. In the LXX it is often synonymous with ools (ophis, serpent). ” (Osborne 775) Undoubtedly ancient cultures associated dragons with serpents. Similarly, in Revelation 12 we see this mesh between a snake and dragon.

“The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. ” (Rev. 2:9) This is reminiscent of the serpent in the Garden of Eden who led the world astray when he deceived Adam and Eve. In his commentary on Revelation, Beale confirms this, saying “The dragon is now described as the serpent of old, that is, the serpent of Gen. 3:1, 14. ” (Beale 430) Stefanovic agrees with Beale, saying “he is the ancient serpent.

This is the allusion to Genesis 3, where through the serpent Satan deceived Adam and Eve, thus bringing sin on the earth. ” (Stefanovic 395) In his essay on the dragon of Revelation, Benton points out a verse from Isaiah that meshes the dragon and the ancient serpent together. In that day the Lord will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, with His fierce and great and mighty sword, even Leviathan the twisted serpent; and He will kill the dragon who lives in the sea. ” (Isaiah 27:1) This sums up the major beliefs about the interchangeability of the dragons and serpents. The Leviathan is a serpent and a dragon from the sea. Both the Judeo-Christian culture and the surrounding countries viewed dragons and serpents as the same or similar mythological terrors. The views of these ancient societies has shaped our modern perception of dragons.

The Greek beliefs especially contributed to our modern view of dragons. “In ancient Greek the word “dragon” has two basic possible derivations —Spakov, a snake or serpent, and Sepkopal generally meaning to see or perceive. ” (Kirby-Hirst 2) Kirby-Hirst links these two derivations of the word with how the dragon is seen in modern thought. For example, in “The Hobbit” by J. R. R. Tolkien, Smaug is an enormous dragon with a keen mind. He could use his strength and powers of perception for good, but instead uses them to hoard gold and power, creating chaos in Middle Earth.

The way we perceive dragons even today is similar to ancient times, and it makes that imagery and symbolism relevant even 2,000 years after the book was written. Today we see almost all dragons as evil, but this idea was formed thousands of years ago. “The roots of this maliciously evil western dragon appear fairly early on in the lands of Mesopotamia in particular… It is here, thousands of years ago, that the notion of the dragon as monster was constructed. ” (Kirby-Hurst 3) Here we find a discrepancy between views.

As stated previously, the dragons from China could be either good or chaotic. Throughout the ancient Near East, the sea monster symbolized the war between good and evil, between the gods and chaos. ” (Osborne 776) This is the view in most eastern cultures. On the other hand, western cultures see the dragon primarily as a malicious being. Regardless, there are many similarities between the dragons in the myths. “Certain characteristics are shared by these draconic creatures: the desire for kingship, the association with the forces of chaos, and a vicious and evil countenance. ” (Benson 4) Especially in the western cultures, dragons were seen as powerhungry, evil, and chaotic.

In Israel the dragon was also closely associated with sin. “It is significant that the symbol of the dragon became almost synonymous with “pride, the sin of rebellion and of the glorification of the self over God” (Benson 5-6) The Leviathan in Job was related to pride and led to dragons being a symbol of pride and, consequently, sin. “Biblical tradition announced that the serpent Leviathan had many heads (Ps. 74:14), identified in Canaanite tradition as seven. ” (Keener 432) Both the Israelites and the Canaanites had similar views of the Leviathan, and the Leviathan was strongly associated with the mythological idea of the ghastly dragon.

In a way, dragons, even though they were evil, held a slight bit of hope. “For the Jewish people the dragon had become the symbol for pride, arrogance, and the ultimate evil which God would one day destroy. ” (Benson 6) The hope was not in the dragon, but in the messiah that would slay the dragon. “Dragon’ is in the OT another word for the evil sea monster which is symbolic of evil kingdoms who oppress Israel. ” (Beale 415) The Jews had hoped for a messiah that would fight the symbolic dragon of the Old Testament, but instead were given a messiah that fought the symbolic dragon of the New Testament.

Arguably the dragon of the New Testament was a more difficult foe because he was not only a foe of the Jews, but the force behind all their enemies. This dragon had much more power than the kingdoms who oppressed Israel. Another important factor of the symbolism is the color of the dragon. Perhaps more terrifying than the imagery of the dragon itself was its color. “The red color connotes the oppressive character of the dragon, since in 17:3 the scarlet color of the harlot and the beast is linked directly with “the woman drunk with the blood of the saints. (Beale 417) Osborne agrees with Beale’s summary and brings up the red horse of Revelation 6:4.

“The dragon is tuppos (pyrros, red), a color associated with dragons in Egyptian and Babylonian texts. It symbolizes Satan slaughtering the people of God, as in the “red horse” of 6:4 and the shedding of “the blood of the saints” (16:6; 17:6; 18:24) by Satan’s followers. ” (Osborne 777) Red has long been a symbol of evil, but this symbolism is extreme. It combines the harlot, the impure and immoral woman, with the shed blood of the saints. This means that the dragon is associated with sin, immorality, chaos, and the death of God’s people.

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