The Mysterious ‘Great Sea Creatures’ of Genesis: What Are They? (Part II )

Yesterday we started talking about the mysterious ‘great sea creatures’ of Genesis. We had a closer look at the different Bible translations (English, German, Latin and Old Greek) and compared them with the original Hebrew – only to find out that the ‘giant sea monsters’ appear as ‘big crocodiles’ in the original Hebrew…

Today, we will focus on the original Hebrew of the Bible and try to explain what ‘big crocodiles’ actually means.  Well, in order to understand that, the first thing we need to do is to find where else in the original Hebrew the term – ‘Tanin’ {תנין}- can be found in the Hebrew Bible.

This Hebrew word can be found in a couple of places in the Hebrew Bible and it seems it has TWO meanings. The first is some kind of a ‘serpent’ as can be found in the Book of Deuteronomy:

“Their wine is the poison of SERPENTS and the cruel venom of asps.” (Deuteronomy 32:33)

The second meaning is some kind of a ‘dragon’ as can be found in the Book of Isaiah:

“Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago. Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the DRAGON?” (Isaiah 51:9)


The TWO terms – ‘serpent’ and a ‘dragon’- have a biological connection since they are both reptiles and that is why the initial meaning of this word is ‘crocodile.’

Destruction of Leviathan, engraving by Gustave Doré 1865

Due to its frightening image – the ‘Tanin’ (the original Hebrew of ‘the big sea creature’) also appears in the Hebrew Bible as another term for ‘a monster’ as can be found in the Book of Jeremiah:

“Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon has devoured me; he has crushed me; he has made me an empty vessel; he has swallowed me like a MONSTER; he has filled his stomach with my delicacies; he has rinsed me out.” (Jeremiah 51:34)

Up to this point, we have gathered enough information to describe the ‘Taninim Ha-Gedolim’ {התנינים הגדולים} (the original Hebrew for ‘the big sea creature’) as some kind of a giant reptile whose habitat is the sea.

In other words, it appears that the King James Version (KJV), Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible and the old Latin translation of the Bible mistakenly identified the ‘Taninim Ha-Gedolim’ as some kind of huge whale or another species of giant fish – while the original Hebrew speaks about a giant reptile that lives in the sea.

The wrong identification of the ‘Taninim Ha-Gedolim’ was probably derived from another ‘giant sea creature’ the well-known mighty ‘Leviathan.’ And in fact, some of the Jewish Bible commentators associated the ‘Tanin’ {תנין}with the ‘Leviathan’ {לויתן} – whose Hebrew meaning is… a WHALE!