The ancient Jewish Scriptures were not written in a vacuum. That is to say, like all people of all times they were influenced and constrained by the realities of time, space, and language. Hebrew religion, thought, and language show clear development throughout their history—they were not static. Any argument to the contrary denies the very basic nature of what it means to be a human being whether the supposed author is writing a child’s tale or composing works that one day will be held as sacred.

When a person begins to study the development of the Hebrew religion and Scriptures, sooner or later, they will be confronted with the many influences on the Hebrew Bible (HB) from contemporary cultures in the Ancient Near East (ANE). There is much unique material in the HB; however, one can discover similar law codes, wisdom literature, creation epics, flood narratives, genealogies, king lists, etc. from the written material of other ANE cultures. The purpose of this particular study is to investigate parallels in ANE myths to the HB’s use of the imagery of Leviathan and Rahab, specifically in the book of Job.

The Destruction of LeviathanIt is important to note before beginning such a venture that in no way does acknowledging parallels or suggesting literary dependence mean that the Hebrew literature is a mere shadow of its predecessors or all Hebrew religious ideas are copies of earlier pagan religions. Certainly when one begins to compare the differences of much of the parallel material the unique worldview and religious beliefs of the ancient Israelites comes clearly into focus. “For example: Sheol the realm of [one God] Mot in Ugaritic literature where [another god] Baal enters and is powerless, is open before [the Hebrew] God so that its denizens tremble–a uniquely biblical concept that fits only monotheism.”[1]

However, the history of those same people is also extremely complicated. Slavery in Egypt, settling in Canaan, exile to Babylon, and the many, many other instances where different cultures would have come into direct contact with the ancient Hebrews. Out of such contact the Hebrews, and those they came into contact with, learned of stories, ideas, words, imagery that would affect their own articulation of their own particular belief set. This brief survey of Leviathan and Rahab are only a minimal example of what makes extended study of the HB so interesting.

[1] Elmer Smick, “Another Look at the Mythological Elements in the Book of Job,” WJS 40 (1978): 213-228.