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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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(from the Greek δράκων, as in the Apocrypha and Revelation frequently), an imaginary serpent of antiquity, especially in mythology, supposed to be supplied with feet and often with wings, stands in our version usually as a translation of two Hebrews words of different signification, but common derivation tan, תִּן, and tannian, תִּנַּין (according to Gesenius, from תָּנִן, to extend, with reference to the great length of one or both of them). The similarity of the forms of the words may easily account for this confusion, especially as the masculine plural of the former, tannin, actually assumes (in Lamentations 4:3) the form tannin, and, on the other hand, tannim is evidently written for the singular tannin in Ezekiel 29:3; Ezekiel 32:2. But the words appear to be quite distinct in meaning; and the distinction is generally, though not universally, preserved by the Sept. Bochart, however, proposes (Hieroz. 2:429) to read uniformly tannin as the plur. of tan, and thus merge both terms into one. (See WHALE).

1. The former (always "dragon" except Ezekiel 32:2 "whale") is used, always in the plural, in Job 30:29; Isaiah 34:13; Isaiah 43:20 (Sept. σειρῆνες ); in Isaiah 13:22 (ἐχῖνοι ); in Jeremiah 10:22; Jeremiah 49:33 (στρουθοί ); in Psalms 44:19 (τόπῳ κακώοντες ); and in Jeremiah 9:11; Jeremiah 14:6; Jeremiah 2:37; Micah 1:8 (δράκοντες ). The feminine plural תִּנּוֹת, tannoth', is found in Malachi 1:3; a passage altogether differently translated by the Sept. It is always applied to some creatures inhabiting the desert, and connected generally with the words יִעֲנָה ("ostrich") and אַי ("jackal"?). We should conclude from this that it refers rather to some wild beast than to a serpent, and this conclusion is rendered almost certain by the comparison of the tannim in Jeremiah 14:6, to the wild asses snuffing the wind, and the reference to their "wailing" in Micah 1:8, and perhaps in Job 30:29. The Syriac renders it by a word which, according to Pococke, means a "jackal" (a beast whose peculiarly mournful howl in the desert is well known), and it seems most probable that this or some cognate species is to be understood whenever the word tan occurs. This interpretation, however, although favored by the grammatical forms, is supported by little more than conjecture as to the identification with the jackal, or wild dog of the desert, which the Arabs call awi, plur. awin (corresponding to the Hebrew אַיִּים אַי, '"wild beasts of the islands," Isaiah 13:22; Isaiah 34:13; Jeremiah 1, 39, i.e., jackals), so called from their howling, although they call the wolf by the name taynan, which is somewhat like תִּנַּין . (See JACKAL).

2. The word tannin', תִּנַּין (plur. תִּנַּינַים ), is always rendered by δράκων in the Sept. except in Genesis 1:21, where we find κῆτος . It generally occurs in the plural, and is rendered "whale" in Genesis 1:21; Job 7:12; "serpent" in Exodus 7:9-12; "sea-monster" in Lath. 4:3. It seems to refer to any great monster, whether of the land or the sea, being indeed more usually applied to some kind of serpent or reptile, but not exclusively restricted to that sense. When referring to the sea it is used as a parallel to לַוְיָתָן ("leviathan"), as in Isaiah 27:1; and indeed this latter word is rendered in the Sept. by δράκων, in Psalms 74:14; Psalms 104:26; Job 40:20; Isaiah 27:1; and by μἐγα κῆτος in Job 3:8. When we examine special passages we find the word used in Genesis 1:21, of the great sea-monsters, the representatives of the inhabitants of the deep. The same sense is given to it in Psalms 74:13 (where it is again connected with "leviathan"), Psalms 148:7, and probably in Job 7:12 (Vulg. cetus). On the other hand, in Exodus 7:9-10; Exodus 7:12; Deuteronomy 32:33; Psalms 91:13, it refers to land-serpents of a powerful and deadly kind. It is also applied metaphorically to Pharaoh or to Egypt (Isaiah 51:9; Ezekiel 29:3; Ezekiel 32:2; perhaps Psalms 74:13), and in that case, especially as feet are attributed to it, it most probably refers to the crocodile as the well-known emblem of Egypt. When, however, it is used of the king of Babylon, as in Jeremiah 51:34, the same propriety would lead us to suppose that some great serpent, such as might inhabit the sandy plains of Babylonia, is intended. (See LEVIATHAN).

3. In the New Test. dragon (δράκων ) is only found in the Apocalypse (Revelation 12:3-4; Revelation 12:7; Revelation 12:9; Revelation 12:16-17, etc.), as applied metaphorically to "the old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan," the description of the "dragon" being dictated by the symbolical meaning of the image rather than by any reference to any actually existing creature. Of similar personification, either of an evil spirit or of the powers of material Nature as distinct from God, we have traces in the extensive prevalence of dragon-worship, and existence of dragon temples of peculiar serpentine form, the use of dragonstandards both in the East, especially in Egypt, and in the West, more particularly among the Celtic tribes. The most remarkable of all, perhaps, is found in the Greek legend of Apollo as the slayer of the Python, and the supplanter of the serpent-worship by a higher wisdom. The reason, at least of the scriptural symbol, is to be sought not only in the union of gigantic power with craft and malignity, of which the serpent is the natural emblem, but in the record of the serpent's agency in the temptation (Genesis 3). For the ancient allusions to these fabulous or monstrous animals, see Smith's Dict. of Class. Antiq. s.v. Draco. A well-known story of one of these occurs in the mediaeval legend of "St. George (q.v.) and the Dragon," and a still earlier one is named below. (See MONSTER).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Dragon'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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