Friday, March 26, 2010

Did Dragons Really Exist? Part 1

From The Hobbit to Harry Potter, dragons are a familiar icon today in literature, movies, and pop culture. They are a symbol of fantasy and mythology; often associated with magic, foreign worlds, and ancient legends. But why is there all the hype about dragons? Why are people so drawn to stories including these fire-breathing, scaly reptiles? Could there be a reason that dragons are possibly the most-loved mythical creature of all time? One theory states that there is a reason, and it is because dragons once existed. It states that they were created by God and lived alongside humans.

There is plenty of evidence to confirm that dragons existed with people. Dragon legends have existed in many – and possibly all – ancient cultures. From the Chinese, to the Australian aborigines, to the Babylonians, to the Welsh, stories of dragons have played a part in the historical background of basically every people group on every continent. According to legend, the Chinese even bred dragons! Which brings up the question: how could so many cultures, often without contacting each other, come up with the same stories? They never met together and mutually decided to add dragons into their mythology, and yet dragon-like creatures appear again and again from culture to culture.

Not only are dragons common in mythology, they are also common in writing. There are many old history books around the world that record, in detail, encounters of dragons with people. One such record is the essay “On Dragons and Ghosts”, written by John of Damascus, a monk who lived in the eighth century (Alferov His essay described dragons as real animals and not as mythical beings. Also known as St. John Damascene, this Orthodox Christian theologian was called the “Father of Scholasticism”, and his preachings earned him the title “The Golden Orator.” Because John of Damascus was such a well-educated scholar whose goal was to expose fables and error with science and truth, his work should be carefully considered.

In John of Damascus's essay, he attempted to expose the popular mythical misconceptions of his day concerning dragons. For an example, he refuted the claim that dragons could shape shift into human form and associate with people. He said that God only created two intelligent beings – angels and humans – and that “if a dragon were to change its form... becoming at once moment a serpent, at another a man... it clearly follows that dragons are intelligent beings greatly exceeding men, which has never been true, and never will be.”

John of Damascus also said that dragons do exist, but they are animals just like the rest of the creatures God made and they do not have any magical or mythical attributes. He described them as serpents (reptiles), born small but will grow to be “big and fat so that they exceed other serpents in length and size”. He says that they can “grow up more than thirty cubits”, which is forty-five feet; and can be as “thick as a huge log”. He also describes dragons (or maybe just one type of dragon) as having a goat-like beard, a horn at the back of its heat, and large and gold-colored eyes.

He also gives reference to a historical account by the Roman Dio Cassius (AD 155-236), who wrote about a battle in the third century BC where a dragon crept up behind the Roman army. The Romans killed it, skinned it, and measured the hide at one-hundred twenty feet long. Here is another historical example of a dragon being seen and recorded by humans; yet written about as a real animal, not some sort of mythical being.

Apparently by the time John of Damascus wrote his essay, dragons were only seen on rare occasions, and so, myths and superstitions sprang up about them. Perhaps, around this time period, they had already begun dwindling down toward extinction. It is feasible that they became extinct in the Middle Ages largely from “dragon slaying,” as documented in the most famous dragon slaying story of all, Saint George and the Dragon.

It may be surprising to know that the Bible also contains huge historical evidence for the existence of dragons. Dragons are mentioned in the Scriptures more than any other animal. One dragon passage, which is possibly the most famous – and most controversial – is Job 41, where God describes a creature called the “Leviathan.” The descriptions closely resemble that of a dragon, but many people argue that it is a crocodile or a whale. However, upon examining the descriptions of Leviathan in Job 41, one can see how different it is from a crocodile or a whale.

First, the Leviathan has powerful limbs (verse 12). The limbs of a crocodile are short and stubby; and whales don't have limbs at all! Second, the Leviathan has terrible teeth (verse 14), which is true of crocodiles, but most whales don't even have teeth. The Leviathan also has scales (verse 15-17). Crocodiles do have scales, but whales do not.

In addition, verse 25 tells us that “when he [the Leviathan] raises himself up, the mighty are afraid” (Job 41:25, KKJV). Again, a crocodile's legs are so short that it wouldn't be any more frightening if it raised itself up. Neither is a whale able to raise itself up in this way. Finally, the Leviathan has something like “sharp potsherds” on its undersides (verse 30). This, of course, is not true for a crocodile or a whale. In fact, a crocodile's most vulnerable place is its undersides.

Another feature to the Leviathan described in Job 41 is that it can breath fire: “His [the Leviathan's] sneezings flash forth light... out of his mouth go burning lights; sparks of fire shoot out. Smoke goes out of his nostrils, as from a boiling pot and burning rushes. His breath kindles coals, and a flame goes out of his mouth” (Job 41:18-21, NKJV). While some people argue that this passage about breathing fire is figurative, that simply isn't true. In the original Hebrew text, where it says “smoke goes out of his nostrils”, the word “minechiyrayw” is used; which is only used this once in the whole Bible. It means real smoke came out of the Leviathan's nostrils; not just vapor from water. This passage was meant to be taken seriously.

Now, many people who hear all this and admit that the Leviathan really was a dragon, will then insist that it wasn't a living, breathing dragon; only an imaginary creature used to represent something real, just like the dragon in Revelation represents Satan. However, the Leviathan in Job 41 was not something imaginary. Beginning in Job 38:39, God goes through a long list of common animals while talking to Job: the lion, the raven, the goat, the deer, the donkey, the ox, the ostrich, the horse, the eagle, the Behemoth (which this article will cover soon), and then the Leviathan. Why would God spend so long describing real animals, and then suddenly switch to mythical ones? We also know that the Behemoth could not have been something imaginary, because God referenced to it as an animal He made along with humans (Job 40:15).

To read more about the Leviathan compared to crocodiles and whales, click here:

Now, we have established that there is plenty of evidence that dragons existed in myths, legends, and historical records, but what about in archeology? If the theory is correct that dragons were created by God, would we not find more solid proof, especially in the fossil record? And above all, you may be wondering: if dragons really did exist, what does it mean for Christians today? Find out the answers to these questions and more when the series continues...


Alferov, Timofey. “Dragons: Animals... Not Apparitions.” Answers in Genesis. June 2000. (accessed 30 Jan. 2010) The Holy Bible, NKJV

“Job 41: Was Leviathan a crocodile, whale or dinosaur?” Bible in Song. 2006. (accessed 11 February 2010)

“Leviathan is a Dragon.” A True Church. 24 February 2008. (accessed 11 February 2010)