Monday 28 October 2013

From the Deep - Watching Leviathan - Leviathan in Job 7

Zeus fights Typhon

11] 'Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. 12] Am I a sea (Yam), or a sea monster (Tanin), that You set a watch over me?

יא גַּם-אֲנִי לֹא אֶחֱשָׂךְ-פִּי אֲדַבְּרָה בְּצַר רוּחִי אָשִׂיחָה בְּמַר נַפְשִׁי
יב הֲיָם-אָנִי אִם-תַּנִּין כִּי-תָשִׂים עָלַי מִשְׁמָר

We saw last week Job calling on those who are ready to rouse Leviathan. In chapter 7, when Job begins his response to his 'friend' Eliphaz, protesting that he will not keep silent any more and will voice his pain. He calls out to God saying "Am I Yam or Tanin that You set a watch over me?"

Here we see concrete evidence that Tanin and Yam are to understood by the Bible to be synonyms for sea monsters. Job asks God if He considers him to be like a sea monster that he feels watched and constantly chastised.

But hang on, I hear you cry, didn't God slay the sea monster at the dawn of time? Why would there need to be a watch set over the sea monster?

Let me tell you a story from a somewhat different tradition:

After Zeus had destroyed the Titans, claiming the heavens for the Olympians, there arose a monstrous beast called Typhon. "Strength was with his hands in all that he did and the feet of the strong god were untiring. From his shoulders grew an hundred heads of a snake, a fearful dragon, with dark, flickering tongues, and from under the brows of his eyes in his marvellous heads flashed fire, and fire burned from his heads as he glared." (Hesiod's Theogony).

But Zeus defeated Typhon in an epic battle, and cast him down beneath the earth, trapping him eternally beneath Mount Etna. And this is why Mount Etna sometimes erupts with the rage of a primordial monster.

In the realm of mythology, we have already seen that while God may have slain the monster at the dawn of time, he will do the same at the end of time. This is another version of the myth, that is really the same myth, that instead of slaying the monster, the monster was captured and bound eternally.

Like chapter 3, Job 7 was a big influence on Radiance. I loved the idea that there is an eternal watch over Leviathan beneath the earth containing the chaotic forces that the monster represents.

But Rashi gives this a more naturalistic reading that helps us to understand this concept. He explains the watch to be the sand, placed at the borders of the sea to contain it (similar to Jeremiah 5:22 and Proverbs 8:28-9).

But as we reach the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, we remember that the sea does not always stay within its boundaries. The forces of chaos are never as far away as we might hope, and the sense of order and civilisation sometimes reveals itself to be merely a veneer.

Job feels guarded like Leviathan, like Yam, like Typhon. By using this metaphor, he reveals a deep mythological trend, that beneath the earth chaos is waiting, the waters of the deep just waiting to return and cover the earth.

Next week on 'From the Deep' - Job 26 - Smiting Rahav

'From the Deep' has been made possible by Nishma, a summer of learning in the JTS Beit Midrash.

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