Monday, May 13, 2019

Anonymous Asks (39)

“How did dinosaurs exist if they are not found in the Bible?”

It’s next-to-impossible to determine for certain what really happened fifty years ago, let alone four thousand plus. Try internet-researching a moderately popular TV series from the late 1960s or early 1970s. A few are quite well preserved. For most, you’ll find a super-grainy, speedily deteriorating video clip of the opening and closing credits of a single, sorry episode, hastily digitized and uploaded to YouTube, and maybe a transcript of a TV Guide episode summary on one of the Wikis.

The Certainty of Uncertainty

That’s it, that’s all, for popular culture staples that ran thirty episodes or more, and to which hundreds of men and women dedicated years of their working lives only half a century ago. And that’s at the tail-end of a century throughout which humankind has had available to it the best, cheapest and most common preservation technology in its entire history.

For that matter, the original recordings of the 1969 moon landing have already been magnetically erased. Human error, apparently. All that NASA has left are digitally-restored copies that could easily be manipulated if anyone cared to do so.

Roll things back a century or more, and you have much less absolute certainty about what was what. Before the invention of the printing press, even less than that. A thousand years ago? Well, we have copies of copies of copies of manuscripts, and the tiny little bit of archaeological evidence that hasn’t been completely obliterated by multiple civilizations building repeatedly atop it, but that’s all. The room for error in the opinions of historians obviously increases with the accumulated centuries and millennia. You are I are completely dependent for our knowledge on what these experts think. If they don’t know for sure, how can we? Where secular history is concerned, the only thing we can be absolutely certain about is that we cannot be absolutely certain.

But who says dinosaurs are not in the Bible? I certainly don’t rule it out.

Drawing Out Leviathan

Here’s an interesting description of a large sea creature of unknown identity from the book of Job, perhaps the Bible’s oldest:
“I will not keep silence concerning his limbs, or his mighty strength, or his goodly frame. Who can strip off his outer garment? Who would come near him with a bridle? Who can open the doors of his face? Around his teeth is terror. His back is made of rows of shields, shut up closely as with a seal. One is so near to another that no air can come between them. They are joined one to another; they clasp each other and cannot be separated. His sneezings flash forth light, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn. Out of his mouth go flaming torches; sparks of fire leap forth. Out of his nostrils comes forth smoke, as from a boiling pot and burning rushes. His breath kindles coals, and a flame comes forth from his mouth.”
There’s lots more to be found about Leviathan in Job 41, but what is instantly evident is that this passage does not describe any type of creature currently in existence. It sounds like some sort of aquatic dragon. This beast is massive, has both limbs and scales, and appears to observers to be breathing fire. Say what?

Whaling has been going on since at least 3000 B.C., says the Britannica Online Encyclopaedia. That’s well before the time of Job. But this is no whale. Nobody was bringing down Leviathan with a harpoon or series of harpoons, though these weapons are mentioned in the same passage.

First and Foremost

Back up to Job 40, and we find another creature described:
“Behold, Behemoth, which I made as I made you; he eats grass like an ox. Behold, his strength in his loins, and his power in the muscles of his belly. He makes his tail stiff like a cedar; the sinews of his thighs are knit together. His bones are tubes of bronze, his limbs like bars of iron. He is the first of the works of God.”
An elephant, maybe? No, Behemoth lies under the lotus plants. He makes his home in marshes and rivers. A hippo, then? No, Behemoth has a tail like a cedar. A hippo’s tail is about six inches long at best. My dog has a more impressive feather duster attached to his hindquarters.

Once again, a large beast is being described that, assuming we know it at all, is only known to us from the fossil record. This one is said to be “the first of the works of God.” The word “first” in Hebrew is re'shiyth, which may be translated “beginning” or “first in time”, but also “foremost” or “chief”, implying size or power.

Real Life Poetry

What are we to do with these verbal sketches of unknown creatures?

Well, one school of thought is that the language is poetic, which is highly likely. That said, there’s a vast difference between dramatic hyperbole in ancient poetic literature and full-on fiction, and these descriptions are definitely not fictive.

Here is what God says about the latter “mythical” beastie:
“Behold, Behemoth, which I made as I made you.”
Whatever that is, it looks to me like a claim that this creature was as present in Job’s day as lions and tigers are in ours. God, who we believe made mankind, also claims responsibility for the creation of this animal. That makes Behemoth as literal and real-world as you are. Either God is telling us flat-out lies, or we are reading a record about something that, if not a full-fledged dinosaur, was certainly suspiciously dinosaur-like.

Gutting a Great Argument

Moreover, chapters 40 and 41 of the book of Job lose all their power and meaning if the creatures described in them are simply made-up. God is in the middle of a very one-sided argument with Job, and his point is essentially this: I created the universe. I made all these beings. Who are you to call me to account? In making his case, God speaks first to Job of stars, seas, clouds, rain and snow; of lions, ravens, goats, deer, donkeys, oxen, ostriches, horses, locusts and hawks — all real things, most of which are found aplenty right here in our biosphere. He says, “Did you make them? Can you number them?” Of course not.

Next, God comes to Behemoth (“Can you take him by his eyes, or pierce his nose with a snare?”) and Leviathan (“Can you put a rope in his nose or pierce his jaws with a hook?”). The answer is “Obviously not.” These two creatures are God’s crowning argument from the natural world for his own glory, power and inscrutability, which Job’s complaints have called into question. If Behemoth and Leviathan are fictional or wildly exaggerated, then they are: (1) unlike all the previous animals God described, which are perfectly real and literal; and (2) absolutely useless as evidence God is capable of anything.

One might as well say, “Can you put a rope through Mickey Mouse’s nose, or put a collar on Goofy and walk him down Main Street?” One might as well say, “Can you party with the Banana Splits?” or “Could you fight Jack Reacher and win?” Fictional characters and animals are evidence of nothing, and God would have no reason to offer them as proof of his own power and creatorial splendor. It would be a hysterically silly conclusion to an otherwise-compelling argument.

Things Most Surely Not Disbelieved

Now, I don’t know if Job had ever seen either Behemoth or Leviathan. If he lived inland, the latter is unlikely. But my point is that for God’s extended soliloquy to make any sense at all, these creatures had to be known both to Job and (at very least) to the first few generations of the readers of his story. They had to have heard credible reports of the existence of these creatures, and to have believed them. Otherwise, God could — and should — have stopped talking at the end of chapter 39. Had Behemoth and Leviathan not really existed, his spiritual point would have been much more effectively made without mentioning them at all.

I believe they were real creatures, not myths and not exaggerated versions of known animals. No other reading of the passage makes sense.

So, were Behemoth and Leviathan dinosaurs? I have no idea. They sound like it, but who am I to say? What I do know is you won’t find either around today, and the Bible teaches they lived on earth when there were plenty of people alive and around to take note of it.

You can believe that or not, but it’s certainly right there in the Bible.

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