Exodus as Prior Water Myths

Sea Monster

Good vs Evil Myths

This archetypal good-versus-evil conflict is represented in the myths of many cultures, such as:

Apollo and Python

Baal and Yamm

Bel and Thamti

Beowulf and Grendel

Byelobog and Chernobog

Daniel and the Dragon

Dionysus and Pentheus

Enki and the Dragon of Kur

Indra and Vritra

Kronos and Ophion

Marduk and Tiamat

Mithra and Ahriman

Mordecai and Haman

Moses and Pharaoh

Osiris/Horus and Seth

Perseus and Gorgon

St. George and the Dragon

St. Patrick and the snakes

Yahweh and Leviathan

Zeus and Typhon

Heroes and Monsters and the Sea

Thus, rather than serving as an “historical event,” the Moses tale apparently represents in significant part the ancient motif of the sun and storm god battling the sea and/or controlling the waters, as found in the SumeroBabylonian, Egyptian, Greek, Phoenician and Ugaritic/Canaanite myths of the eastern Mediterranean.

In antiquity, a number of cultures viewed the open sea as a diabolical menace full of monsters, including leviathans, serpents, dragons and demons of all manner. Moreover, the sea itself was perceived as a dangerous serpent, snake or dragon, and this primeval perception was projected in numerous derivations of an archetype.

Tiamat, the Monster of the Deep

This marine motif appears prominently in the Babylonian myth of the city god Marduk overthrowing the watery monster of the deep, Tiamat.  This is a tale representing the "god of light’s" control over the sea as well as the abyss of the night sky. The verse in Genesis (1:2–3) of “the deep” and “the waters” makes more sense with the background of Babylonian mythology:

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.    Gen 1:2-3

While evidently drawing from the Babylonian Enuma Elish cosmology, the biblical scribes equated the main god, Marduk, with Yahweh.  The Ugaritic for “primeval Ocean, deep” is thmt, while the Akkadian is tiāmtu/tâmtu and the biblical term  תהום tĕhowm/tehom, an Assyrian loanword cognate with Tiamat.  This term tehom shares the same meaning with the thalassa or “sea” of the Greeks and later the Gnostics.  The Gnostics incorporated significant Sumero-Babylonian myths into their bizarre cosmology.

In this regard, the definition of tehom itself extends beyond the “mere” sea and is given as:

“1) deep, depths, deep places, abyss, the deep, sea;

a) deep (of subterranean waters);

b) deep, sea, abysses (of sea);

c) primeval ocean, deep;

d) deep, depth (of river);

e) abyss, the grave.” 

The Greek of the Old Testament for  תהום tĕhowm is ἄβυσσος abyssos, whence “abyss,” meaning “bottomless, unfathomable.”

The fall of mankind depicted also in Genesis is yet another pre-Hebraic Mesopotamian myth, represented in the Akkadian tradition as humanity’s seduction by “the temptation of the dragon of the deep.”

Tannin and Leviathan

In the Bible, we read the tale at Isaiah 27:1 about Yahweh battling the “dragon” Tannin (Ugar. Tnn;662 Heb.  תנין tanniyn) and “sea monster” Leviathan ( לויתן livyathan)663:

In that day the LORD with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.

Regarding this theme, Lambert comments:

It is now well known that Tannin and Leviathan (but not so far Rahab) are...borrowed [not] from Mesopotamian Marduk mythology, but from West Semitic traditions where Baal was the monster-slayer.664

Hence, while the Genesis story of the abyss draws from Babylonian myth, the Isaiah motif is Canaanite/Ugaritic, like the Baal cycle. This combination is precisely what we would expect to find as a result of the merger of Canaanite and Amorite peoples.

The plural of  תנין tanniyn is the same word used to describe the “serpents” produced from the staffs of Aaron and the Egyptian magicians at Exodus 7:9–12, the Greek of which, δράκων drakon or “dragon,” is the precise term employed to depict the snakes that crowned Dionysus at his birth.665 Some form of tannin is used 28 times in the Bible to describe a dragon, serpent, venomous snake, sea monster and river monster.

Strong’s (H8577) defines tanniyn as: “1) dragon, serpent, sea monster; a) dragon or dinosaur; b) sea or river monster; c) serpent, venomous snake.”666 The LXX uses the word κῆτος ketos, meaning “abyss, sea-monsters,”667 as in “cetaceans,” referring to whales. The same term κῆτος ketos is employed by Homer (Il. 20.147) to describe the “monster of the deep” pursuing the “darkhaired god” or Poseidon.

The word “leviathan” can be found in the Ugaritic as ltn or lothan/lotan, meaning “a sea dragon”668 and representing a “personification” of the sea god Ym/Yamm/Yammu,669 who is styled also “god of the immense (waters).”670 An epithet of this Ugaritic monster from the sea is “the dominant one who has seven heads,”671 reminiscent of the beast at Revelation 13:1: “And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems upon its horns and a blasphemous name upon
its heads.” Ugaritic texts also describe Leviathan/Lothan as “the fleeing (?) serpent,”672 using similar phraseology as in Isaiah 27.

Fig. 48. Doré, Destruction of Leviathan, 1865

It is noteworthy that the priestly name “Levite” too derives from a term meaning “serpent.” The Hebrew word  לוי Leviy is defined by Strong’s (H3878) as “joined to” and by Gesenius as “adhesion,” “garland” or “crown.” The serpentine connotation can be found in the root word  לוה lavah, as also in the term  לויתן livyathan or Leviathan.

Rahab the Sea Monster

Considered to be a “demon,” Tannin the dragon has been associated with not only Tiamat and Leviathan but also with the mysterious figure of Rahab. At Isaiah 51:9–10, the sea, dragon, deep and Rahab together are defeated by Yahweh:

Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago. Was it not thou that didst cut Rahab in pieces, that didst pierce the dragon? Was it not thou that didst dry up the sea, the waters of the great deep; that didst make the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to pass over?

Again, the Hebrew word for “sea” is  ים yam, essentially the same as the sea god Yamm. The word for “deep” is  תהום tĕhowm, the same as Tiamat, while “dragon” is  תנין tanniyn. The reference to the “days of old” and “generations of long ago” indicates knowledge of these older myths, which obviously continued to affect Jewish thought and tradition. The “passing over” the sea by the “redeemed” indicates a mythical motif employed midrashically to flesh out the Moses tale.

In Job 26:12, the word  רהב rahab is used to describe the sea monster overcome by the book’s hero. Strong’s (H7293) defines rahab as: “1) pride, blusterer; a) storm, arrogance (but only as names); 1) mythical sea monster; 2) emblematic name of Egypt.” The fact that Egypt was called by the same name as a mythical sea monster is significant and should be kept in mind, reflecting the dragon/sea monster archetype expressed in the Exodus myth.

It should be recalled that  רחב Rachab or Rahab673 is also the name of the “harlot” in the book of Joshua (2:1) who aided the Israelites in the destruction of the city of Jericho. Again, this “prostitute” is named in the New Testament as one of Jesus’s four female ancestors listed in the genealogy of Matthew (1:5) but missing in that of Luke (3).

Pharaoh as Monster

To reiterate, this mythical monster motif evidently was used to create the Exodus myth, in which pharaoh and Egypt are cast in the role of the ancient and archetypical marine villain, with both Tannin and Rahab used in biblical texts as names for pharaoh and/or Egypt.674 Further indicating the identification of the Red Sea tale as a pre-Israelite nature myth, Ezekiel (29:3) refers to “Pharaoh king of Egypt” as “the great dragon that lies in the midst of his streams,” using the same term of  תנין tanniyn, while the LXX employs the word δράκων drakon.675

At Ezekiel 32:2, Pharaoh is “like a dragon in the seas; you burst forth in your rivers, trouble the waters with your feet, and foul their rivers,” the pertinent term here again is  תנין tanniyn/δράκων drakon. Thus, the Bible identifies the pharaoh with the dragon, in turn associated with the sea monster and serpent.

Again, the fact that the kingdom of Amurru allegedly was destroyed by Ramesses III may account in part at least for the casting of “pharaoh” as the “dragon” in the Israelite version of this cosmological myth, as would be the chasing out of the Seth/Baal-worshipping Hyksos from Egypt by Ahmose I and other such friction over the centuries. In this regard, it is significant that the god Amurru has been identified with El, Marduk and Baal, all of whom battled the beast.

The Great Dragon

This “great dragon” and “ancient serpent” can be found in the biblical book of Revelation (12:9) as well, battled by the solar hero Jesus Christ, and specially styled there as drakon and ophis: ὁ δράκων ὁ μέγας ὁ ὄφις ὁ ἀρχαῖος ὁ καλούμενος Διάβολος καὶ ὁ Σατανᾶς—“the great dragon, the ancient serpent called the Devil and [the] Satan,” who is “thrown down.”

This diabolical dragon/snake represents the same type of “monster of the deep” signified by the repeated biblical references to sea monsters, serpents, leviathans or “whales,” as the KJV renders tanniyn (Gen 1:21).

Kronos, Ophion and Nachash

Another in this genre is the myth of the Greek titan Kronos/Cronus and Ophion, the former of whom is also Saturn, with whom Yahweh traditionally has been identified, as noted, and in a theme similar to Yahweh versus the serpent in the Garden of Eden. The moniker “Ophion” derives from the Greek term ὄφις ophis, meaning “serpent” or “snake,” used in the Septuagint
at Genesis 3:1:

Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?”

The Hebrew here for “serpent” is  נחש nachash,676 used 31 times in the Old Testament, including to describe the serpents magically created from the rods of the pharaoh’s priests and Moses (Exod 4:3).

Fig. 49. Mose’s rod turned into a serpent, (Holman Bible, 1890)

A deep- and snake-related theme occurs in the Greek poet Nonnus’s Dionysiaca (8.158f), an epic poem dedicated to Bacchus, recited by the Greek goddess Hera:

I will go to the uttermost bounds of Oceanos and share the hearth of primeval Tethys; thence I will pass to the house of Harmonia and abide with Ophion.677

Oceanos is the divine “World Ocean,” while Tethys is a sea goddess, Harmonia the goddess of harmony, and Ophion the divine serpent. A possibly much older version and precedent of this hero-versus-monster myth appears in the Pygmy legends concerning the serpentine monster LuluNgoogounogounmbar.678

Storm and Sun God

Controlling and battling the unruly waters and monstrous deep represent attributes of the storm god, who is often the sun as well. In the thirdmillennium texts found at Ebla, the most-often mentioned deity is the storm god Adda, the same as Hadad/Adad and Baal. Regarding the Levantine storm gods, in “YHWH as Storm-god and Sun-god,” Dr. Paul E. Dion comments:

During the last two millennia before the Christian era, the major religions of ancient Western Asia gave a central importance to a certain male deity, a lord of storm and rain, who controlled the most crucial factor in the agricultural economy of those cultures. This god was Tarkhunda to the Hittites, Teshup to the Hurrians, Haddu to the Amorites, Hadad, or simply Baal, “the Lord,” to the Canaanites of the Syrian coast and to the Aramaeans. Even in the irrigation-based culture of Mesopotamia, storm-gods as Adad and Ninurta were also regarded as major deities.

The nations of the ancient Near East were aware under all those names, further multiplied by their combinations with geographical designations (Teshup of Aleppo, Baal Zaphon, etc.), in actuality they were directing their devotion to a single Lord of weather and fertility. All those who worshipped a storm-god could use the Sumerogram dIM to write his name in the cuneiform script; the Egyptians called Baal all manifestations of the Asiatic storm-god, or identified them with their own indigenous Seth; and in GrecoRoman times, the storm-gods of all western Asia, whether from Anatolia or from Syria, became Zeus or Jupiter.679

This myth of the atmospheric, weather and fertility deity may be one of the oldest known cosmological themes devised by the human mind, possibly traceable to remote ages in Africa, tens of thousands of years ago. Considering their dramatic appearance and movements, it is understandable that storms would be perceived as alive, personified or animated by a godly force or controller.

The water-controlling storm deities are perceived often as solar, because the sun was deemed to create, manipulate and overcome storms, which sometimes were seen as pestilence by the adversary.

Concerning the water-subduing role of the sun god, Palmer comments:

The mythologising faculty everywhere regarded the rising sun going forth to his daily conflict and victory as a warrior-god, whose spear and arrows were bright rays which he scattered around him; while the dark water, over which he mounted triumphant, and the clouds of night which he put to flight, were the vanquished monsters which he destroyed, either the devouring serpent of the deep or the flying dragons of the air.680

Here we see that the water-laden clouds too were serpentine and dragonlike monsters overcome by the sun’s “spear and arrows” or rays.

Marduk and the Sun

In this regard, the water-controlling Marduk/Merodach possesses a solar nature, as Oxford theologian and vicar Rev. Dr. Abram Smythe Palmer remarks:

Merodach, the Vanquisher of the Chaos-Dragon, and so Creator of the ordered world, as being originally the Sun-God, occupied a place of supreme importance in the Babylonian religion, and by a reflex influence seems to have contributed shape to the theological conceptions of the Jews both as the Godhead and the Logos. In the prehistoric Accadian system his name was Amar-utuki, “The Brightness of the Sun,” and inasmuch as that luminary appears to rise out of the sea, he was held to be the son of Ea, the god of the deep, “The first-born of the Deep.”… Among the Babylonians and Assyrians Amar-utuki or Amar-uduk became contracted into Maruduk and Marduk (and later Merodach)…681

The Amorites at Babylon beginning with Hammurabi favored Marduk, the various forms of whose name include the Sumerian AMAR.UTU and MarTu. The discussion of “Amar-uduk” brings to mind the Amorite god Amurru, also said to be called “Mash.” In this regard, American Assyriologist Rev. Dr. Albert T. Clay (1866–1925) states:

Marduk has been regarded as being the contracted pronunciation of a syncretized name Amar-Utug, combining the West Semitic god Amar or Amur with Utug.… Mash was the name of a deity in Amurru as well as the name of a country and a mountain.682

Clay contends that the name “Marduk” is Babylonian and that its presence outside of that region reveals clear Babylonian influence. Marduk appears in the Bible, in a verse designed to subordinate him under Yahweh (Jer 50:2). His inclusion would not be necessary if there were not Marduk worshippers among the Israelites. The name “Mash” is of singular importance in our quest and will be discussed in depth below.

Marduk’s “name, from the Sumerian Amar-utuk or amar.UD, seems to mean ‘bull calf of the Sun.’”683 While Utu is the Sumerian sun god, the Sumerian term amr/amar denotes “calf,” “bull calf,” “holy calf” and “calf of God.”684 Thus, “Marduk” is said to be the “solar calf,” reminiscent of the Golden Calf, which could mean that the biblical story represents a swipe at the Marduk worship of the Amorites. In this regard, Jeremiah 50:2 refers to מרדך Mĕrodak or Marduk, who “has been shattered” (NASB) or “broken in pieces” (KJV).685

In this same regard, the Babylonian text of the second millennium the Enuma Elish attributes both solar and storm characteristics to Marduk:

Enuma Elish 1:101–2, 157 and 11:128–20 apply solar qualities to Marduk, although storm language is more characteristic of him. The combination of solar and storm imagery and iconography in Mesopotamian sources and biblical texts raises an important issue.686

The most important issue here is the role of the sun and storm god in the Bible and Exodus myth.

Apollo and Python

We can see the solar connotation of this monster myth also in the story of Apollo fighting Typhon/Python, the pestilent and deadly serpent. Dating to centuries earlier, the battle between Apollo and Python was explained in the fifth century AD/CE by Roman writer Macrobius Ambrosius Theodosius (1.17.57–58) thus:

The following is a natural-scientific explanation of the serpent’s death, according to the Stoic Antipater… The emanation of the still-damp earth rose swiftly to the higher regions and, becoming warmed, rolled back down to the lower regions, like a deadly serpent, corrupting everything with the putrefying force to which dampness and warmth give rise, and it seemed to blot out the very sun with its thick murk and, in a sense, thinned out, dried out, and destroyed by the divine heat of the sun’s rays, falling like a shower of arrows—hence the tale of the serpent slain by Apollo. There is also another interpretation of the serpent’s destruction: though the sun’s course never varies from the ecliptic, the shifting winds vary their course with a regular up and down movement, rolling along like a slithering serpent.687

Macrobius (1.17.59) continues discussing the solar serpent-slaying motif, remarking that the sun is named “Pythios” for its role in destroying the snake, as the solar orb “completed the proper course of its heavenly journey.”688 The Latin writer explains the relevant solar epithets of Apollo of “far-shooter” or “far-darter” as representing the longest solar “arrows” or rays at the summer solstice, when the sun is highest in the sky for the longest period of time.689

Apollo of Hierapolis is equated with the Babylonian god of wisdom and writing, Nebo or Nabu,690 who was said to be a divine legislator, as was the Greek sun god himself. Macrobius (1.18.1) subsequently states that what was said of Apollo could be asserted of “Liber”—an epithet of another legislator, Dionysus/Bacchus, meaning “free”—remarking that “Aristotle, who wrote Discourses on the Gods, advances many proofs to support his claim that Apollo and father Liber are one and the same….”691 Hence, the sun and wine god are the same, one intertwined with the other, like the grapevines themselves.

Since Bacchus is Apollo, he would possess the same solar attribute as dispensing with the dragon of the waters (Pentheus), as Moses also was said to have done in defeating pharaoh.

Horus and the Serpent/Crocodile

The myth of Horus spearing the serpent or crocodile (Seth), as at Edfu,692 provides an Egyptian example of this archetypal solar myth. In addition to serving as a solar, dragon-cloud slaying ray, the spear is a symbol of the smith cult, popular at Edfu, possibly explaining the weapon’s inclusion in the gospel story as well.

Fig. 50. Horus of Edfu spearing the crocodile Set (Budge, 1920:16)

St. George and the Dragon

Like other “Christian” characters, the figure of St. George is an ancient god demoted to a saint, about whose myth Palmer remarks that “St. George vanquishing the Dragon was originally just the sun breaking through the obstructing clouds…and Horus spearing the infernal serpent bears the same
meaning.”693

Indicating its antiquity, this solar monster-spearing myth can be found also in the Americas, for example in the story of Michabo, the god of light who “pierces with his dart the prince of serpents who lives in a lake and floods the earth with its waters.”694

The story of Moses escaping into the waters, away from a bad pursuing villain who is then drowned, is  the typical archetypal hero tale exemplified in the myths of the sun gods or solar heroes overcoming the “prince of darkness,” or night/cloudy/stormy sky, conceived as a “watery abyss” or serpent/dragon that swallows up the light and goodness before being defeated.

Covenants and Testaments

As noted, the Greek word for “covenant” or “testament,” διαθήκη diatheke,747 can also be found in God’s covenant with Noah, as well as in the New Testament in Matthew (26:28), Mark (14:24), Luke (1:72; 22:20), Acts (3:25; 7:8), Revelation (11:29) and various epistles.

Pagan Covenants

As concerns non-biblical usage, the word διαθήκη diatheke appears in the works of numerous pagan writers in antiquity, such as Appian, Aristophanes, Demosthenes, Diodorus, Isocrates, Josephus, Lucian, Plato and Plutarch. Aristophanes (Birds, 440) employs the term to convey “to arrange an arrangement,” in the name of Apollo.748 In Wasps (584), the playwright uses diatheke to denote a will, as in “last will and testament,” a connotation likewise intended by the Greek orator Demosthenes (384–322 BCE)749 and by Plato, as in his Laws 11.923–924. Plato’s Laws (11.926b) also uses the term diatheke to refer to “ordained laws concerning testaments,”750 and it has been surmised that the Bible drew upon Plato as well, which would be possible if parts of the Pentateuch were composed or redacted as late as the third century BCE.

Diodorus (Lib. 12.12.4) uses the term specifically to convey “covenants,” in discussing Charondas, a “celebrated lawgiver of Catania, in Sicily,” identified as having lived during the sixth century BCE, possibly as a student of the great sage Pythagoras (c. 580–504 BCE). After discussing the legislator’s “unique law on evil association,” the Sicilian historian remarks:

Charondas also wrote another law which is far superior to the one just mentioned and had also been overlooked by lawgivers before his time. He framed the law that all the sons of citizens should learn to read and write, the city providing the salaries of the teachers; for he assumed that men of no means and unable to provide the fees from their own resources would be cut off from the noblest pursuits.

In fact the lawgiver rated reading and writing above every other kind of learning, and with right good reason; for it is by means of them that most of the affairs of life and such as are most useful are concluded, like votes, letters, covenants, laws, and all other things which make the greatest contribution to orderly life…751

It was related of Charondas that he committed suicide in accordance with his own laws, after he perpetrated the capital offense of entering the public assembly wearing his sword.

As we can see, there is nothing singularly special or sacred about the usage of this covenant terminology in a lawgiver tale.

Conclusion

The Exodus story constitutes not history but myths, stories and traditions of various cultures that served as important reflections of humanity’s observations of its natural environment over a period of many thousands of years.

So blatant were the similarities between the Bible and “heathen” traditions that earlier scholars such as Sir Raleigh asserted the Mosaic books to be “stolen almost word for word” by Homer, for one.774 Evidence to the contrary reveals that these “stolen” elements were combined in a distinctive manner to produce the Moses myth, in order to provide a foundational tradition equal to or better than the epics of other cultures.

The epic’s main character, Moses, is significantly not a historical individual but a mythical one with solar attributes, among others.

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