May 25, 2007

This Is Not About Dinosaurs

With Ken Ham's creation museum opening May 28, in Petersburg, Kentucky, I thought it might be abnormally interesting to look at some of the claims concerning the Hebrew Bible and dinosaurs. In this post, I will limit myself to two Hebrew words that, according to some Young Earth Creationists, may refer to dinosaurs: תַנִּין (tannîn) and תַנִּים (tannîm). It is not my intention to be completely exhaustive, but rather to give you enough evidence to support my conclusion. While I will only touch lightly on Leviathan and not at all on Behemoth, I must say at the top of this post that one needs to have a very strong prior belief that the Hebrew Bible might mention dinosaurs to see them anywhere. And that includes Leviathan, Behemoth and any other of the words or phrases that have been suggested. There is absolutely no reason, based on internal evidence to associate dinosaurs with any word or entity mentioned the Bible. Nothing in the larger corpus of Near Eastern literature would lead one to such a conclusion either.

In part because it is particularly weird to think that תַנִּים (tannîm) has anything to do with dinosaurs, let's start with it. The folks at Accuracy in Genesis, for example, want us to hold out the possibility that this word may refer to dinosaur(s). Here is Accuracy in Genesis' conclusion.

Conclusion: The hebrew (sic) word "tanniym" is broad enough in scope to cover all types of wild beasts, including those that are extinct, including the dinosaurs! The pleiosaur (sic), basking shark, giant shelled sea turtle, or oarfish can all be classified as "tanniym". The author proposes that future translations would be better served by translating it as "wild beast" and not cloud the interpretation by using the name of an animal that is currently living. That the words of the Genesis passages can be interpreted to include all types of animals, known living species and extinct species! (sic)

I find this plea for open mindedness ironic. It seems that these folks are upset that while the King James Version of the Bible translated tannîm in several passages "dragon(s)" or "whales," "modern" translations translated the same word "jackals" or the like. To start, there seems to be some confusion on the part of certain creationists and perhaps on the part of the King James translators between the Hebrew words תַנִּין (tannîn) and תַנִּים (tannîm). I will show below that some such confusion occurred in antiquity also. While these words may or may not have the same Semitic root (tnn), the first one has meanings that range from a snake to mythological sea monsters and the second means "jackal" or some related kind of howling animal.

Tannîm howl (Isaiah 13:22, Micah 1:8); they live in the desert (Mallachi 1:3); they make their home in lairs (Jeremiah 9:11, 10:22, 49:33, 51: 37). They are among the "beasts of the field" (Isaiah 43:20) and are associated with other crying animals (Hyenas[?], Isaiah 13:22). Tannîm's etymology is very uncertain. Albright's, 44, attempt to associate it with Egyptian Anubis by way of Proto-Sinaitic inscription 353 column 2 does not appear to withstand critical examination (see Bass 23f). One might reasonably question if the animal is specifically canis aureus. What is clear is that we are dealing with a word whose possible meanings are quite tightly clustered and no doubt in every case refer to the same thing and to an animal known to the authors of these texts. In addition, there is no context, where the word can be read without question (see below), in which there is the slightest indication that it means anything like dragon or serpent. Therefore, it is extremely credulous to imagine that it refers in any way or in any case to dinosaurs.

Things become a little more interesting when we turn to the Hebrew word תַנִּין (tannîn). While תַנִּים (tannîm) is in the plural, תַנִּין (tannîn) most often occurs in the singular. Its plural is תַּנִּינִם or תַנִּינִים. Based primarily on its form, most scholars think תַנִּין (tannîn) is a loanword from Aramaic into Hebrew. As will be seen, the word or name(?) also occurs in Ugaritic. With תַנִּין (tannîn) we face a range of meanings. Sometimes the word means nothing more than a venomous snake. In some of these cases, it is in parallel with or identified with the word for "asp," פֶתֶן (Deuteronomy 32:33, Psalm 91:13). It appears to me that a meaning in the neighborhood of "venomous snake" or just plain "snake" is reasonable for contexts like Exodus 7:9,10, 12 as well.

But there are passages in the Hebrew Bible where something much different is at work. Before we get too deeply into the biblical evidence, this may be a good place to look to the texts from Ugarit for background. The Ugaritic equivalent of Hebrew תַנִּין (tannîn) is tnn. We know from the polyglot vocabulary text that it was pronounced tunnanu. We also know from the same source that it was roughly equivalent to Sumerian MUŠ and Akkadian şiru. Both the Sumerian and Akkadian mean "snake." But the word has a very strong mythological connotation at Ugarit. KTU 1.3 III:37-42 relates tnn to the sea monster ym. While there is some controversy on details, I think the most obvious interpretation of this passage involves Ym (the Sea) and Tnn (the Sea Monster) as enemies that Ba'al and Anat have subdued. We might debate whether Ym and Tnn are identical. This passage also tells us that Ym or Tnn (or both if they are the same) have seven heads. KTU 1.83:8 may indicate that the monster, Tnn, has two tails. Independently of how we understand the details, it is undeniable that we are dealing with a mythological figure.

Now let's get back to the Hebrew Bible. Job 7:12 reads in part, הֲיָם-אָנִי אִם-תַּנִּין. Loren Fisher translates this "I am Yamm or Tannin." The New Revised Standard Version translates it, "I am the Sea or the Dragon." However one translates these few words, it is clear that the god Yamm, as in the Ugarit text discussed above, is being associated with תַנִּין (tannîn). Both symbolize chaos, the breakdown of creation. Both are mythological beings not flesh and blood animals. Yamm is unquestionably a god whether later readers of Job understood him as such or not. Here Yahweh replaces Ba'al and Anat from the Ugaritic texts. On this see Psalm 74:13-14 which is very similar to Job 7:12, as is Psalm 89:9-10 (Hebrew 89:10-11). Psalm 89 will come up again in the next paragraph. There are no friendly dinosaurs in these passages, only Yahweh's enemies.

How about Isaiah 51:9? It reads, הֲלוֹא אַתְּ-הִיא הַמַּחְצֶבֶת רַהַב מְחוֹלֶלֶת תַּנִּין, "Was it not you who cut Rahab, who pierced Tannin?" Well, well, here we find תַנִּין (tannîn) associated with Rahab. Just as promised, I return to Psalm 89. In Psalm 89:10, we see Rahab as something Yahweh crushes as part of his creative activity. Rahab stands in parallel to Yamm in verse 9. The exact origin of Rahad is not known but it is likely related to Akkadian ra'abu(m), "tremble." See van der Toorn, et al, 683f, for a more complete discussion of Rahab. Again, we see תַנִּין (tannîn) associated with the mythological forces Yahweh has overcome in creation. No dinosaurs.

Now let's look at Isaiah 27:1, "On that day, using his cruel and great sword, Yahweh will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisted serpent, and he will kill the Tannin that is in the sea." The word twice translated "serpent" in this passage is נָחָשׁ, "viper" or "serpent." But that's another story. Here תַנִּין (tannîn) is associated with Leviathan. Does Tannin equal Leviathan? I've never been quite sure. But here again we are looking at a mythological substratum in this text. Leviathan is the same character that is called Ltn (Lotan) at Ugarit (see for example, KTU 1.5 I:1). In both the Ugaritic texts and at Ugarit it is always a proper name. Uehlinger in van der Toorn, et al, 512, tells us, "The concept of Leviathan is closely related to Rahab, insofar as the latter seems to be a late exilic adaptation of the former, possibly supplemented from Babylonian Marduk theology." See van der Toorn, et al, 513ff for a more complete discussion of Leviathan. What I want to point out here is that Leviathan and by association Tannin are also mythological figures in Isaiah 27:1. Psalm 74:13 reads תַנִּינִים עַל-הַמָּיִם, "tannîns upon the waters" and mentions Leviathan in the next verse. Again, we are dealing with mythological images. There are no dinosaurs in this neighborhood.

Somewhere between those passages that are clearly about snakes and those that clearly refer to mythological figures are passages like Genesis 1:21 that use תַנִּין (tannîn) to mean (large?) things that live in the sea and Jeremiah 51:34 that uses the word to mean some kind of a monster. And here again there is absolutely no reason to see "dinosaurs." Jeremiah's usage is as a metaphor for Nebuchadnezzar.

There are several other passages that have their own abnormal interest but should be understood in the light of the foregoing. I'll try to be brief. If you want, you can skip this and scroll down to my conclusions.

You may have noticed that תַנִּין (tannîn) and תַנִּים (tannîm) look somewhat alike and sound somewhat alike. Indeed, they were sometimes confused in late antiquity. Most manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible read כַּתַּנִּים בַּיַּמִּים at Ezekiel 32:2 but two manuscripts read כַּתַּנִּין בַּיַּמִּים which is surely the preferred reading. Like the Ezekiel passage, most manuscripts of Psalm 44:20 read בִּמְקוֹם תַּנִּים but a few read בִּמְקוֹם תַּנִּין. I'm not sure which is the best choice here. To illustrate possible confusion in the other direction consider Lamentations 4:3. The kativ ("what is written") reads תַּנִּין (tannîn) but the qere ("what is read") says תַּנִּים (tannîm) and the context strongly favors tannîm. Analogy between the Hebrew תַּנִּין (tannîn) and the Aramaic plural of may account for some of these confusions. If you don't know what this means, don't worry. Regardless of how one understands such confusions, there is nothing in any of these passages that would allow an understanding of either word so that "dinosaur" was the intended or even a possible meaning.

Conclusion:

Simply put, one must already be strongly predisposed to reading "dinosaur" in the Hebrew Text to see even a hint of it in either תַנִּין (tannîn) or תַנִּים (tannîm). It just isn't there.

I want to thank Christopher O'Brien of Northstate Science for suggesting I write a post on the Hebrew words for Jackals and Dragons and submit it to PZ Myers' Creation Museum Carnival.

Update:
Fixed the location of the Museum and a few typos.

References:

Albright, William Foxwell, The Proto-Sinaitic Inscriptions and their Decipherment, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1966

Bass, Benjamin, The Genesis of the Alphabet and its Development in the Second Millennium B., Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1988

Cooper, Allan, "Devine Names and Epithets in the Ugaritic Texts," Rummel, Stan, ed., Ras Shamra Parallels, the Texts from Ugarit and the Hebrew Bible, Volume III, Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1981, 336-689

Fisher, Loren, Who Hears the Cries of the Innocent: Old Job, Willits, California: Fisher Publications, 2002

Gordon, (1965): Gordon, Cyrus, Ugaritic Textbook, Analecta Orientallia, 38, Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1965

Huehnergard (1987): Huehnergard, John, Ugaritic Vocabulary in Syllabic Transcription, Harvard Semitic Studies 32, Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987

van der Toorn, Karel, et al, eds, Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2nd ed., Leiden: Brill, 1999

Posted by Duane Smith at May 25, 2007 3:29 PM | Read more on Hebrew Bible |

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Comments

Nice post!

A proposed etymology that I heard for תנין was the Aramaic תננ (Hebrew שן), "tooth". I agree with you that the equation between either the תנינן or the תנינם with the dinosaurs is absurd, but proponents of the notion that both תנין and תנים are the same may find it fun to note that God tells Moses to cast down his staff and create a נחש (snake; Ex 4:3) but when Moses does so (Ex 7:10) it turns into a תנין. Does this mean that תנין is likely a generic term - perhaps "reptile"? That would certainly make Genesis 1:21 interesting - תנינם גדולים ("giant reptiles").

Oh, and you speak a lot about Rabah in your ninth paragraph. I'm assuming that's a typo for Rahab?

Posted by: Simon Holloway at May 25, 2007 5:32 PM

Simon,

Thanks for your comments. I was aware of that proposed etymology but a complete discussion was a little beyond the scope of the post. I see nothing wrong with tannîn being a generic term for reptile in those cases where it is not a mythological being. As to "Rabah," Ug! I fixed it.

Posted by: Duane at May 25, 2007 5:50 PM

Why do you mention "Ken Ham's creation museum" & then quote from an obscure, unprofessional-in-appearance website (Accuracy in Genesis) with 3 typos regarding the interpretation of these Hebrew words?

The Creation Museum was built by the Answers in Genesis ministry, which has a very professional-in-appearance website, with content provided by numerous scientists, scholars, & teachers/educators. See how many "sic" typos you can find on this page, which contains 84 footnotes:

"What happened to the dinosaurs?"

Pay particular attention to the "Does the Bible mention dinosaurs" section, which discusses "tan, tannin, tannim, tannoth".

By the way, before you consider the splinter in the eye of obscure websites, you might want to consider looking into a mirror & discovering a few of your own:

1) "words or phrases that has been suggested" s/b "have".

2) "jackels" & "jackel" s/b "jackals" & "jackal", though you did get it right on your 3rd attempt at the very end of your article.

3) "meanings that ranging from a snake" s/b "range".

4) "liars" s/b "lairs".

5) "Uehlinger in van der Toorn, et al, 514 tells us" s/b "512" according to the 1999 edition available on Amazon.

6 & 7) "possibly from Babylonian Markuk theology" s/b "possibly supplemented from Babylonian Marduk theology".

8) "forgoing" s/b "foregoing".

9) "Lamenations" s/b "Lamentations".

Regardless of how one reads your typos, there is nothing in your blog that would disallow an understanding of Genesis 1:24-31 & Exodus 20:8-11 as meaning that God created humans & dinosaurs on the same day about 6,000 years ago.

G.M. Grena (proud contributing supporter & charter member of the Creation Museum, opening 2007-5-28 in front of God & everyone)

P.S. Not that you're a liar or anything, but "Rabah" has still not been fixed, unless of course you originally made the same mistake twice.

Posted by: G.M. Grena at May 26, 2007 11:33 AM

Thank you for your observations. I hope I have corrected the typos you indicated. I do need to fire my proofreader! I used the Accuracy in Genesis site because it has a good starting list of passages to look at. The professionalism of a site has nothing to do with the validity of the points they are trying to make.

You said,

Regardless of how one reads your typos, there is nothing in your blog that would disallow an understanding of Genesis 1:24-31 & Exodus 20:8-11 as meaning that God created humans & dinosaurs on the same day about 6,000 years ago.

At one level, this is true. But what is there to make one think that dinosaurs are mentioned there or anyplace else in the Bible? They simply aren't mentioned. Ken Ham's nonsense doesn't make it so.

Posted by: Duane at May 26, 2007 2:10 PM

Let me see if I understand Grena's commments: the entire strength of the Answers In Genesis website for "proving" Genesis is its "professional looking appearance" and your nine "typos" are the sum total of the evidence that "there is nothing to disallow the bible referring to dinosaurs"? Wow...I'm blown away by such intellectual strength...

Posted by: Christopher O'Brien at May 26, 2007 3:31 PM

Duane, I agree with you that, "The professionalism of a site has nothing to do with the validity of the points they are trying to make." National Geographic, Natural History, & CNN are excellent examples! Thank you so much for admitting that "at one level" my statement is true. That is refreshing to hear in any discussion. And I apologize for not thanking you for your interesting discussion of the TNYx words. I was just perplexed at your opening statement referencing Ken Ham & the Creation Museum, then jumping to a different website littered with typos.

Prof. O'Brien, I'm glad you began your remark with, "Let me see if I understand Grena's commments" [sic; extra "m"], because you obviously don't.

First, where do you see me say anything remotely related to "the entire strength"? Since you raised the issue, though, I'll address it. Professionalism is very important, but I believe the "the entire strength" of any God-centered person or organization is God. I don't know very many people at AiG personally, but based on the short time I spent with them last September I have no doubt that every single person on their staff would agree with me on this point.

Second, where do you see me say anything remotely related to "the sum total of the evidence" for equating any Hebrew words with dinosaurs?

Are these 2 examples typical of your teaching tactics at CSU? Not exactly commendable from an academic/scholarly perspective.

I would also like to address the other issue you raised, which is directly related to Duane's post, & a concept which Duane clearly understands (based on his recent remark above); namely, the importance of distinguishing between "proving Genesis" vs. demonstrating that the atheistic model of origins/beginnings is not the only possible model. As I've said elsewhere, & which AiG would also agree with me on, if your starting point (i.e., "worldview") is atheistic, then a history spanning billions of years makes sense based on available evidence. If your starting point is theistic (esp. Biblical), then a history spanning ~6k years makes sense based on available evidence. Neither of these are the only possible interpretations, but each is valid & sensible given one's particular bias.

Posted by: G.M. Grena at May 27, 2007 8:38 AM

D. Nicely done. As always, I learned something. gh

Posted by: Gary Hurd at May 27, 2007 1:06 PM

Excellent post. The creationist obsession with dinosaurs is rather strange. You avoid here -- and for good reasons -- to mention Leviathan and Behemoth from the Book of Job. But just for the record, while creationists interpret them as dinosaurs, they are most likely symbolic for Egypt and Syria in that book. It's an odd thing about creationists: that they can't handle symbolism, though I have yet to read any creationist interpretations of the animals in Daniel.

G.M. Grena writes:

I would also like to address the other issue you raised, which is directly related to Duane's post, & a concept which Duane clearly understands (based on his recent remark above); namely, the importance of distinguishing between "proving Genesis" vs. demonstrating that the atheistic model of origins/beginnings is not the only possible model. As I've said elsewhere, & which AiG would also agree with me on, if your starting point (i.e., "worldview") is atheistic, then a history spanning billions of years makes sense based on available evidence. If your starting point is theistic (esp. Biblical), then a history spanning ~6k years makes sense based on available evidence. Neither of these are the only possible interpretations, but each is valid & sensible given one's particular bias.

Yes, quite true -- anything can be made to make sense, if you can find enough people that agree on the game. However, the problem for AiG's creation museum appears to be that they don't even follow the Bible.

Posted by: pwe at May 29, 2007 4:38 AM

Dear "pwe", thanks for admitting "they are most likely symbolic" instead of "they are absolutely-like-Earth-is-round-and-not-flat symbolic"!

If those 2 animals are Egypt & Syria, which nations are being symbolized by the lions, goats, donkey, ox, ostrich, stork, horse, locust, hawk, & eagle of the 2 preceding chapters (bearing in mind that there were "most likely" no chapter divisions in the original text).

And could you please give 1 tangible example in support of your curious remark, "they don't even follow the Bible"? That's if you'd like to be taken seriously. If you're just venting your frustration over the success of the Creation Museum's grand opening (4,000 guests on Day 1), I understand.

Posted by: G.M. Grena at May 29, 2007 9:24 PM

Haha... I guess there wasn't any room on the ark for dinosaurs.

Posted by: Loving it at June 15, 2007 11:30 PM

My motivation for visiting the site was research into dragons, which are not only mentioned in the bible, but appear in the art, artifacts and folklore of most ancient civilizations.
It seems I'm not the only one with Abnormal Interests!
Love the site.

Posted by: CTTutt at November 17, 2007 10:18 AM

What is your view on Job 40 and 41?

Specifically the Behemoth and Leviathan.

Posted by: Pierce Malmquist at January 8, 2008 9:47 PM

They are totally fucking dinosaurs. Dude,

JOB 40

15. Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox.

16. Lo now, his strength is in his loins, and his force is in the navel of his belly.

17. He moveth his tail like a cedar: the sinews of his stones are wrapped together.

18. His bones are as strong pieces of brass; his bones are like bars of iron.

20. Surely the mountains bring him forth food, where all the beasts of the field play.

22. The shady trees cover him with their shadow; the willows of the brook compass him about.

23Behold, he drinketh up a river, and hasteth not: he trusteth that he can draw up Jordan into his mouth.

= Dinosaurz

Posted by: Aaron Mashburn at March 26, 2008 10:08 AM

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