Leviathan (Hebrew iwjatan "the writhing one") is a cosmic sea monster from Jewish mythology. Its description contains features of a crocodile, a dragon, a snake, or a whale. Leviathan is said to be defeated by God at the end of the world. The figure was later adopted into Christianity as a demon. It devours sinners at the Last Judgment.

A similar conception is found in Gnosticism. There, the Leviathan encompasses the created world and separates it from the Pleroma, devouring the souls of those who cannot leave the material world. In Arabic literature, the Leviathan appears as Bahamut, who carries the world on his back.

Leviathan's Pre-Biblical Influences

The basis of the concept of the Leviathan is ancient Babylonian and Canaanite myths. The oldest mention is of the dragon-shaped Mesopotamian salt-water goddess Tiamat, who had to be defeated by the man-creating god Marduk (surnamed Bel) in order to create a dwelling place for the gods.

The picture becomes clearer with the Canaanite gods Ba'al and Anath, who according to the clay tablets of Ugarit defeated the seven-headed sea monster Lotan, who is equated with the sea god Yam from Ugaritic mythology. Also striking is the similar image of Baal, the storm god, in the myths of Ugarit and in various psalms of the Bible and in the Book of Job.

Leviathan's Biblical Talmudic Tradition


According to Ps 104:26 EU, God formed Leviathan in order to "play with him" (Einheitsübersetzung). According to the Avoda Zara chapter of the Babylonian Talmud, God used to do this in the last three hours of the day after studying the Torah, judging the world, and feeding the world.

This theologically illustrates the power and sovereignty of the biblical God, for whom the fearsome being of ancient Near Eastern mythology is a powerless plaything.

According to other Bible translations, it is not God who plays with the Leviathan, but the latter in the sea or with the ships.

Jewish Bible

Leviathan occurs as a mythical beast, a cosmic dragon beast, in the Tanakh (Jewish Bible, the Old Testament of Christians) in Job and in the Book of Psalms. The Leviathan carries according to description above all features of a crocodile. In addition, however, also features of a dragon, a snake and a whale appear. Accordingly, he is translated in some Bible translations from the Hebrew also only with the name of one of these animals.

Sometimes he is taken merely as an allegory of the destructive power of the sea and thus as a counterpart to the land animal Behemoth and the bird Ziz, which, unlike Behemoth and Leviathan, is not of biblical origin.

A detailed description of the monster, described as vicious, is found in the Book of Job 40:25 - 41:26 EU, where its power and strength serve as an allegory for the fruitlessness of Job's rebellion against his fate.

"Canst thou draw Leviathan with a hook, and grasp his tongue with a cord? When thou layest thy hand upon him, remember that it is a strife which thou wilt not perform.  No one is so bold that he may provoke him; Who can uncover his garment? and who may dare to grasp him between the teeth? His proud scales are like solid shields, tight and close together. Torches go out of his mouth, and fiery sparks shoot out. The limbs of his flesh cling together, and hold hard to him, that he cannot decay. His heart is as hard as a stone When he rises, the strong are terrified. If one wants to him with the sword, he does not move. He makes the deep lake boil like a pot. On earth there is no one like him; he is made to be without fear. He despises everything that is high"

- Luther translation of the Bible from 1534

Leviathan a Destruction by God

Since all human effort must fall to shame before such a monster (Hi 3:8 EU), it remains for God Himself to defeat Leviathan at the end of time. According to Ps 74,14 EU he will "crush his head", according to Isa 27,1 EU "kill with his hard, great, strong sword", according to another translation also strangle him. Finally, according to the tractate Moed Katan in the Babylonian Talmud, the Leviathan will be fished out of the sea like a common fish.

According to a hymn usually recited on Shavuot called Akdamut or the Talmudic tractate Bava Bathra, after the battle of Armageddon at the end of time, there is a battle between the monsters Leviathan and Behemoth, in which the latter seeks to impale his adversary with his horns, while Leviathan strikes at the land monster with his fins.

Finally, the Lord will slay both with his mighty sword and give the flesh of the two monsters, together with that of the bird Ziz, to the righteous for food. Meanwhile, from their skin he will make them tents and canopies. Accordingly, the Sukkot prayer contains not only the well-known pious wish that they meet "next year in Jerusalem," but also that they meet in a tabernacle covered with the skin of Leviathan.


From these biblical traditions, the Apocrypha draw the motif of Leviathan as a female mythical creature sent by God, together with its male counterpart Behemoth, to chastise mankind (1 Hen 59:7 ff.). While the latter rules the desert, Leviathan rests at the bottom of the sea. In the end, both victims are saved by God's grace (1 Hen 60:7).

In the Apocalypse of Abraham, Abraham looks at the world in a vision and sees it lying on Leviathan. With his destruction, he says, the world will come to an end.

Leviathan in Christian Middle Ages

In Christian times and culture, Leviathan is associated with the devil, but is also taken as an allegory for chaos and disorder, for godlessness and sinfulness of man. For Thomas Aquinas and the Jesuit Peter Binsfeld, he represents one of the seven deadly sins as the demon of envy. In Anglo-Saxon art (c. 800 and later), the Leviathan was depicted as a Hellmouth; an animal monster that Satan feeds to the damned at the Last Judgment.

Leviathan Gnosticism and similar beliefs.

Origen wrote about a Gnostic sect that he calls the Ophites, based on their attributed worship of the biblical serpent. The Leviathan has the role of the world soul, this encompasses the entire material world and separates it from the divine realm. After death, the soul would travel through the seven heavenly spheres of the archons.

If the soul does not succeed, it is devoured by an archon in dragon form and returned to the world in the form of a beast - a representation similar to the aforementioned Leviathan. Whether the Ophites identified the Leviathan with the serpent in the Garden of Eden is unclear. Since the Leviathan and the physical world have negative connotations, it is unlikely.

Another possibility would be that the serpent was definitely evil to look at, but gave good advice. Accordingly, it would be possible that the Leviathan, because of its identification with the world soul, was only mistakenly interpreted as divine.

In Mandaeism, the Leviathan is also called Ur.

In Manichaeism, a religion influenced by the ideas of Gnosticism, the Leviathan is killed by one of the sons of the fallen angel Samyaza, one of the biblical giants of prehistory. The act is not glorified, however, but shows the greatest attainable victories in life, as ephemeral and reflecting the Manichaean critique of royal power and advising asceticism.

Leviathan in Modern times and the present

Leviathan as a Metaphor for Omnipotence

The mythological monster inspired Thomas Hobbes to give the title to his famous treatise on the philosophy of the state, Leviathan (1651), in which the omnipotence of the state postulated by Hobbes is compared to the invincibility of the biblical monster. More recently, such a role has also been attributed to financial markets or to nature (volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunami).

Leviathan In literature

  • The material has also been taken up and processed many times in literary works. The description of Leviathan in Heinrich Heine's poem Disputation from his cycle Romanzero is based quite faithfully on the biblical Talmudic tradition. "Rabbi Juda" tries to illustrate the merits of Judaism to his opponent, the Franciscan "Frater José," not least by means of "our Lord God's favorite fish." "Simmered in white garlic broth." its flesh would taste "more delicate than turtles" to "the pious elect" at the banquet at the end of time.
  • The novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville equates Leviathan with the whale. The Leviathan motif has been used more freely in the novels of Joseph Roth, Paul Auster and Julien Green.
  • In the oratorio The Creation by Joseph Haydn (text: Gottfried van Swieten), Leviathan is mentioned as an example of the beasts of the water: "From the deepest bottom of the sea - Leviathan rolls - on foaming well' upwards".
  • In his libretto for Darius Milhaud's opera Christophe Colomb (1930), Paul Claudel mentions Leviathan and its antagonist Behemoth as elemental forces of nature during a stormy crossing of the Atlantic.
  • In his 1951 essay Der Waldgang (The Forest Walk), Ernst Jünger compares the modern, bureaucratized, and automated world to a high-tech cruise ship that could also become a leviathan for its passengers. In doing so, he alludes to the tendency of modern mass societies toward totalitarianism and its consequences.
  • In the novel Not Forgetting the Whale by John Ironmonger, a beached whale serves as a feast for the inhabitants of two towns in dire need. The novel makes several references to Leviathan and quotes the Book of Job.

Leviathan In the film

  • The 2012 experimental documentary Leviathan by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel of the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab focuses on industrial fishing and depicts what happens on an American fishing boat.
  • The 2014 Russian feature drama Leviathan alludes in its title to the omnipotence of Russian authority, consisting of the state, administration, and church, which is critically examined in the film.
  • The 1989 U.S. horror film Leviathan by director George Pan Cosmatos is set on a sunken freighter named Leviathan.
  • In the British horror film series Hellraiser, Leviathan is considered the ruler of a labyrinthine hell and is referred to as the "god of flesh, hunger and lust" by his servant Julia (Clare Higgins) in the second installment of the series.
  • In the science fiction television series Farscape, a Leviathan named Moya is a living, biomechanical spaceship in whose inner space the crew lives.
  • In the fantasy series Supernatural, leviathans play an important role in the struggle between good and evil. In it, they are described as God's first beasts, which he created even before humans and angels. Because of the Leviathans, God created Purgatory.
  • Also in George R. R. Martin's epic The Song of Ice and Fire, he is titled as the greatest terror of the "trembling sea".

Leviathan in Trivia

  • The Leviathan is used in computer games such as EVE Online, StarCraft II, Borderlands, Final Fantasy, Mass Effect 3, Aura Kingdom, World of Warcraft and Subnautica, and in television series such as Supernatural and Yu-Gi-Oh! in both protagonist and antagonist forms.
  • In the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering, leviathans represent a separate creature type with mostly high attack and resistance values. In the illustrations, they are often depicted as hybrid creatures with parts of fish, dragons or snakes - based on the biblical originals.
  • In the video game The Binding of Isaac, "Leviathan" is a possible transformation.
  • In the video game Subnautica, "Leviathan" is a size or weight class that represents dangerous sea monsters superior to the player, usually in the form of snake-like creatures. Among them, several species are classified.
  • On May 6, 2012, a 93-meter-high roller coaster called Leviathan opened at Canada's Wonderland theme park, featuring the mythological sea monster.
  • The Pokémon Kyogre from the Pokémon video game series is based on Leviathan.
  • In Poland, the supermarket chain Lewiatan is named after it.
  • In the Vertigo comic series The Unwritten, the Leviathan is a central force.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, there is a swarm fleet of Tyranids called Leviathan.
  • The first novel in The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey is titled Leviathan Awakens. Here, Leviathan represents a new alien force that is activated at the end of the novel.
  • The German folk band Mr. Hurley & die Pulveraffen from Osnabrück, released their fifth studio album in August 2019, which is called Leviathan and features a title track, for which there is also a music video.
  • In 2018, the Lego company released a ship in a bottle called "Leviathan" in the IDEAS series (set number 21313). The model was designed by Jake Sadovich.
  • Danish rock band Volbeat released their seventh album in August 2019 titled Rewind, Replay, Rebound, which includes a song titled Leviathan. In the song, Leviathan is depicted as an old friend who is summoned to rid the world of all evil.