Unicorns, Dragons, Satyrs, Oh My!

The Holy Bible is a weird read when you’ve grown up on just the Book of Mormon. I mean, there are some Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon and most Mormon kids know Bible stories, they just haven’t read directly out of it. At least that was the case for me. The weirdest thing I knew of from the Bible as a kid was the giant Goliath and to make sense of that, I just pictured him like Dwayne the Rock Johnson or something, so reading the Revelations for the first time made my head spin. Sure the language of The Holy Bible was a little different, but it’s an old book so go figure. The stories of mythical creatures, however, I could not get past. I had always been told that sea monsters like the Leviathan didn’t exist, but now the bible was telling me that the Lord had to slay one! What was going on? Well, I’ll tell you what was going on: A lot of symbolism and a lot of mistranslation.

Now I don’t want to crush your hopes and dreams of riding unicorns in heaven, so although these creatures mean something else in the Bible, just know that they could still exist! Squirrels aren’t mentioned in the Bible, but I accidentally ran one over once and I can attest it was very real and the experience traumatic. So there’s hope for your horned rainbow ponies.

 

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Unicorns 

Numbers 23:22 

God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of aan unicorn.

See that little “a” before “an unicorn”? That’s a footnote. In the LDS (Latter-day Saint) KJV (King James Version) Bible, there are tons of footnotes. If you are ever confused as you read, my suggestion is to first look for the footnote. This particular footnote tells us that an alternate translation of whatever Hebrew word was here before is Buffalo or Bison. If you had to choose between Unicorn metaphors or Bison metaphors, of course you’d want to choose Unicorns, but in the case of Psalms 22:21 where hearing from horns is mentioned, Bison makes more sense since Bison horns have been used as the other kind of horn throughout history.

In other scriptures, such as Isaiah 34:7, the JST (Joseph Smith Translation) tells us that the original word was re’em which is Hebrew for wild ox (“A wild untamable animal of great strength and agility, with mighty horns” credit). The Bible Dictionary defines Unicorns as: “A wild ox, the Bos primigenius, now extinct, but once common in Syria. The KJV rendering is unfortunate, as the animal intended is two-horned.”

Sorry guys, at least as far as the Bible goes, two horns are better than one!

 

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Dragons

Psalm 91:13 

Thou shalt atread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the bdragon shalt thou trample under feet.

I went through a huge dragon phase as a kid. Probably because they are like a fabulous mixture of bats and reptiles and dinosaurs (all of which I loved) sprinkled with irresistible magic. My motto in that phase of my life was “Seriously misunderstood creatures dragons are.” (I might have stolen that from someone with a little more dragon experience than I). The majority of my imaginary friends growing up were dragons. I would not have been pleased to know that dragons in the Bible were never a good thing.

Almost always, the KJV uses the word “dragon” to represent the devil or something of the devil. Occasionally, as in the scripture quoted above or Deut. 32:33 (Their wine is the poison of dragons), dragon meant serpent, which also relates back to Satan because when he’s not being referred to as a dragon, he’s being referred to as that serpent who beguiled our first parents. Othertimes, dragon means jackal as in Isaiah 13:22: “And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces: and her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged.”

There are a few occasions where no footnote is given on the word dragon but on these occasions, you can usually replace dragon with devil, a serpent, or a jackal and have it make perfect sense.

One scripture, however, differs from the rest in that dragon means sea serpent. Jeremiah 51:34 “he hath swallowed me up like a dragon”. As far as I know of, today there are no huge sea serpents swallowing men whole, so maybe that’s also metaphoric, or maybe times have changed. Perhaps there was a day when men walked with sea serpents and dragons, or I guess swam with sea serpents and flew with dragons, but men don’t fly so… Ah! Never mind, you get my point.

 

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Satyrs

Isaiah 13:21

But awild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and bsatyrs shall dance there.

The only other scripture we have about satyrs is in Isaiah 34:14 and all it says about these creatures is that a satyr will cry to his fellow.  There are two alternate Hebrew translations besides satyr. One is he-goat, which makes a lot of sense. Goats dancing and calling out to their brothers is actually an adorable sight, especially when they are cute lil’ baby guys. The other alternate translation, though, is demons. That translation doesn’t really fit amongst these happy scriptures, so I’m not sure why it was included. Maybe it’s just to show that the alternate translations don’t just say what scholars want the translation to be, but what the translation very well could be. Or maybe the Hebrews just really hated goats and called them demons on a regular basis, idk.

 

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Leviathan

Psalm 104:26

There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein.

Although lesser known than the previous creatures, leviathans are also legendary mythical animals. According to Wikipedia, it is based on the Ugaritic sea monster Lôtān (I have no idea how that is pronounced so don’t ask). According to the JST of Rev. 12:1-7, this monster represents “the forces of chaos that opposed the Creator”, or as I like to call him, the devil. I mean yeah, his followers too, but in every other scripture besides Isaiah 27:1, it sounds like it’s just him. If there’s anything you’ve learned from this post it’s probably: Creature of Death = Satan.

 

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Other 

Isaiah 14:29

Rejoice not thou, whole aPalestina, because the rod of him that smote thee is broken: for out of the serpent’s root shall come forth a cockatrice, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent.

First off, cockatrice. Cockatrices are indeed a mythical creature, but most Bible scholars believe that was just another word for venomous serpent at the time. There are more serpents mentioned in the Bible (and the Book of Mormon), including the fiery flying ones. What are these? If I was just going off of the footnotes I would have to tell you that I have no idea. One footnote refers me to the topical guide under “Jesus Christ, Types of, in Anticipation” so I would assume that how the fiery flying serpent strikes is a type, or a parable, of how the Savior’s coming will be for the wicked.

Fortunately, footnotes aren’t all I have to go on. In General Conference, April 2002, Elder Glen O. Jenson, Area Authority Seventy, gave a talk entitled, “Look and Live”. As that title suggests, the talk is about what we can learn from the story of Moses and the fiery flying serpents. In this talk Elder Jenson gives his best interpretation of what these snakes are.

“The prophet Nephi referred to these snakes as “fiery flying serpents” (1 Ne. 17:41). What kind of a serpent was it? The Hebrew word for fiery means “burning,” a probable reference to the burning pain of the bite. What does it mean for a serpent to fly? Possible explanations include the lightning speed with which a snake can strike and the propensity for some snakes to actually leap through the air at their victims. One snake that fits this general description and lives in the areas inhabited by the Israelites thousands of years ago is the saw-scale viper. Its venom causes death by internal bleeding over several days.”

His interpretation is much better than the only one I could come up with: dragons.

Another scary creature people mention from the Bible is probably just those Dwayne the Rock Johnson humans. You see, Nephilims are supposedly the offspring of demons and human women (Supernatural anyone?), but the KJV of the Bible cuts out the word entirely and replaces it with giant, so I think it’s safe to assume they were just giants. Well, maybe “just giants” isn’t the best wording. After all, Goliath was probably 9’9″ inches tall, Dwayne Johnson is only 6’5″, and the tallest recorded man in the world, Robert Wadlow, was 8’11”. So they were huge people, but that’s not enough weird for a Supernatural episode.

Finally, you should know, that basically, everything in Revelations is symbolic and not meant to be taken literally. There are many creatures mentioned with irregular amounts of limbs or wings or that are mixtures of different animals, but they all mean something metaphoric. If you want to understand Revelations, or Isaiah, or anything else from the Bible, I say a good place to start is the online seminary lessons. Yeah, that sounds dumb, but for real. They have broken apart the scriptures in such a way that a high school student can understand them and get the spiritual lessons they are supposed to out of them. It’s awesome.

Anyway!

Conclusion: The Bible mentions many mythical creatures, but that is not because it’s a book of fairytales. It is very real! Think about it, though. Just as the Prophets today draw upon things we relate to for parables and gospel teaching, the Prophets back then had to draw upon things their people related to, and what their people related to were not airplanes or Christmas miracles, they were myths and legends. Those were the hot topics of their eras. Also, sometimes things get lost or changed in translation. That’s just how it goes! And sometimes authors translators *cough cough* take creative liberties. Whatever the reason, sometimes we’ll find things in The Holy Bible and other scripture that just don’t add up to us, but with careful study and prayer we can know “the truth of all things.” (Moroni 10:5)




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