WHAT ABOUT THE “MYTHOLOGICAL” ANIMALS IN SCRIPTURE?
by Shawn Brasseaux
In a desperate effort to disparage and discredit the King James Bible, skeptics point to these “imaginary” animals as proof that Scripture is not inerrant. They jest as follows: “The Bible is nothing but a book of fairytales because it says dragons, satyrs, unicorns, and cockatrices exist. We should not take it literally because it has no basis in reality.” Can we answer these charges? Yes, we most certainly can—and will (!)—reply with an intelligent response!
WHAT ABOUT “DRAGONS?”
According to The Oxford English Dictionary, a “dragon” is “a mythical monster like a giant reptile.” It continues, “In European tradition the dragon is typically fire-breathing and tends to symbolize chaos or evil, whereas in East Asia it is usually a beneficent symbol of fertility, associated with water and the heavens.” The word originated from a Middle English term that also denotes a large serpent. Actually, the name comes to us from Old French, via Latin from Greek “drakon” (“serpent”).
The term “dragon” appears in excess of 30 times in a King James Bible. In Hebrew, it is “tanniyn.” Genesis 1:21 renders it “whales” (as in sea monsters): “And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.” This seems to be the sense of Job 7:12: “Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me?” Also, Jeremiah 51:34 may be speaking of a sea monster: “Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon hath devoured me, he hath crushed me, he hath made me an empty vessel, he hath swallowed me up like a dragon, he hath filled his belly with my delicates, he hath cast me out.” Psalm 148:7 fits with this idea too: “Praise the LORD from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps:….” Lastly, Jeremiah 51:34: “Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon hath devoured me, he hath crushed me, he hath made me an empty vessel, he hath swallowed me up like a dragon, he hath filled his belly with my delicates, he hath cast me out.”
On three occasions, it was translated “serpent.” See Exodus chapter 7: “ When Pharaoh shall speak unto you, saying, Shew a miracle for you: then thou shalt say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and cast it before Pharaoh, and it shall become a serpent.  And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the LORD had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent….  For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods.” This would seem to be the sense of Deuteronomy 32:33: “Their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps.” (An “asp” is a venomous snake.)
The “dragon” in Jeremiah 14:6 is enigmatic; we have no way of knowing what it is. “And the wild asses did stand in the high places, they snuffed up the wind like dragons; their eyes did fail, because there was no grass.” Neither can we say what the “dragon” is in Nehemiah 2:13: “And I went out by night by the gate of the valley, even before the dragon well, and to the dung port, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire.”
A dozen Bible verses link “dragons” to ruins and desert places:
- Job 30:29: “I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls.”
- 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.”
- Isaiah 34:13: “And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls.”
- Isaiah 35:7: “And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes.”
- Isaiah 43:20: “The beast of the field shall honour me, the dragons and the owls: because I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen.”
- Jeremiah 9:11: “And I will make Jerusalem heaps, and a den of dragons; and I will make the cities of Judah desolate, without an inhabitant.”
- Jeremiah 10:22: “Behold, the noise of the bruit [report, news] is come, and a great commotion out of the north country, to make the cities of Judah desolate, and a den of dragons.”
- Jeremiah 49:33: “And Hazor shall be a dwelling for dragons, and a desolation for ever: there shall no man abide there, nor any son of man dwell in it.”
- Jeremiah 51:37: “And Babylon shall become heaps, a dwellingplace for dragons, an astonishment, and an hissing, without an inhabitant.”
- Micah 1:8: “Therefore I will wail and howl, I will go stripped and naked: I will make a wailing like the dragons, and mourning as the owls.”
- Malachi 1:3: “And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.”
In the above verses, the Bible writers may have been referring to physical animals they observed in Palestine thousands of years ago. These creatures may have since gone extinct. Some suppose it to be “jackal,” but this author views that as rather absurd. Be that as it may, we must also bear in mind, that some of these passages are prophetic—future. The verses from Isaiah and some from Jeremiah have not been fulfilled yet: they look forward to Christ’s return in fiery wrath, when He judges Babylon. (See our “satyr” remarks later in this study.) Perhaps they are creatures from the spirit world, and resemble the dragons of mythology!
Psalm 44:19 seems to indicate “dragons” are connected to the spirit world or death: “Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death.” Whatever they are, they are real beings because the Bible says they are. Most importantly, we must not forget to see the spiritual aspect of the dragon in Scripture. As noted earlier, the word originated from a Middle English term that also denotes a large serpent. The word comes to us from Old French, via Latin from Greek “drakon” (“serpent”). Bearing in mind the etymological relationship between “snake” and “dragon,” we better appreciate how the Bible pairs them when applying those titles to Satan figuratively.
- Isaiah 27:1: “In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.” Here is Satan’s destruction at Christ’s Second Coming, which is also pictured in Job chapter 41.
- Isaiah 51:9: “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?” Again, this is Satan’s destruction at Christ’s Second Coming.
- Ezekiel 29:3: “Speak, and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself.” While there is a historical application, this too may be Christ destroying Satan as His Second Coming.
- Psalm 74:13-14: “ Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength: thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters.  Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.” Once more, this is Satan’s destruction at Christ’s Second Coming.
- Psalm 91:13: “Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.” Here is God’s promise to the Little Flock, Israel’s believing remnant, that they will overcome Satan upon Christ’s return. The Devil deliberately omitted this from his quotation of Psalm 91 in Matthew 4:6 and Luke 4:10-11!
Revelation chapter 12: “ And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.  And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born….  And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,….  And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.  And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child….  And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth.  And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
Revelation chapter 13: “ And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority….  And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?….  And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon….  And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.”
As Revelation 12:9 reveals, the “dragon” in the Revelation is none other than Satan, the Devil. Lest we fail to make the connection, it is repeated in Revelation 20:2: “And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,….” Satan is a “serpent” in character, sneaky or duplicitous, as seen in Genesis 3:1: “Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made” (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, Ephesians 4:14, and Ephesians 6:11).
WHAT ABOUT “SATYRS?”
As defined in The Oxford English Dictionary, a “satyr” is “[Greek mythology] one of a class of lustful, drunken woodland gods. In Greek art they were represented as a man with a horse’s ears and tail, but in Roman representations as a man with a goat’s ears, tail, legs, and horns.”
“Satyr” appears just twice in King James Bible. “But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there” (Isaiah 13:21). “The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest” (Isaiah 34:14). Some make these verses references to baboons—and translate the Hebrew thusly—but this seems ridiculous and not worthy of our consideration.
The Hebrew is “sa`iyr,” meaning “hairy.” It was used two times to refer to Esau the brother of Jacob (Genesis 27:11,23). Almost 30 times it was translated “kid,” a young goat. Two dozen times it was rendered “goat.” Interestingly, it was twice translated “devils”—a goat-idol the ancient Hebrews worshipped. “And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils, after whom they have gone a whoring. This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations” (Leviticus 17:7). “And he ordained him priests for the high places, and for the devils, and for the calves which he had made” (2 Chronicles 11:15).
Regarding the two quotes we read from Isaiah at the beginning of this section, “satyrs” are connected to cursed Babylon (cf. Isaiah 13:19) and cursed Bozrah and Idumea (cf. Isaiah 34:6). Like “dragons,” they are found in desolate or ruined regions. Babylon is near present Baghdad, Iraq, whereas Bozrah and Idumea are south of the Dead Sea. These are two areas to be judged with fire at Christ’s Second Coming: “And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;…” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
Read Isaiah chapter 34: “ For it is the day of the LORD’S vengeance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion.  And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch.  It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever.” Compare this to Revelation 14:9-11.
Could there be some type of real creature that resembles a satyr—a half-goat/half-man being? After all, we read earlier about the goat-idol the ancient Israelites worshipped. Even today, the “Baphomet” idol of Satanists is partly man and partly goat. What could inspire such a horrific image? This should not surprise us, as we see a creature equally disturbing in the Book of the Revelation. Look at these “locusts” of chapter 9, and you will see they are no ordinary grasshoppers!
“ And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit.  And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit.  And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power.  And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.  And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man.  And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.
“ And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men.  And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions.  And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle.  And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months.  And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon.”
These beings from the “bottomless pit” (spirit world) have a face like a man, hair like a woman, teeth like a lion, and tails with stingers like scorpions. They can fly, and generate a great deal of noise when swarming. Such a dreadful sight and sound! They indeed are monsters—but exist in the spirit world. We cannot see them with physical eyes yet they exist. Sin has corrupted even these fallen angels, and, one day, they will work with Satan to torment lost mankind during Daniel’s 70th Week. We can consider the “satyrs” as just another group of these deformed and evil beings, to be let lose in the ages to come (after our Dispensation of Grace).
WHAT ABOUT “UNICORNS?”
According to The Oxford English Dictionary, a “unicorn” is “a mythical animal represented as a horse with a single straight horn projecting from its forehead.” “Unicorns” appear nine times in the King James Bible. The Hebrew word is “re’em.” Notice them:
- Numbers 23:22: “God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.”
- Numbers 24:8: “God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows.”
- Deuteronomy 33:17: “His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh.”
- Job 39:9: “Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib?”
- Job 39:10: “Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee?”
- Psalm 22:21: “Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.”
- Psalm 29:6: “He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn.”
- Psalm 92:10: “But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn: I shall be anointed with fresh oil.”
- Isaiah 34:7: “And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.”
Various ideas have been offered to explain what “unicorns” are in Scripture. Some believe them to be a buffalo, an ox, or even an antelope called an “oryx.” A general explanation is a wild bull. Based on the description in the above verses (Numbers and Job), whatever the “unicorn” was, it was a beast of burden. It is associated with a bull or calf. We would do well, again, to notice the spiritual connection. “Unicorns” appear at Christ’s Second Coming (remember Isaiah chapter 34 and the dragons and satyrs?). There may very well be spirit creatures that have just a single horn on their forehead. Never forget: cherubim, in addition to having four wings and a calf’s hooves, have four faces—a man’s face, a lion’s face, an ox’s face, and an eagle’s face (Ezekiel 1:5-10)!
In the case of Psalm 22:21, this is Christ Jesus during the three days and three nights He was dead, and in the heart of the earth. He was with “unicorns”—that is, in the spirit world, where Satan was attempting to keep him and prevent His resurrection. For more information, see the Psalm 22:20-21 study linked at the end of this article.
WHAT ABOUT “COCKATRICES?”
In The Oxford English Dictionary, a “cockatrice” is “[heraldry] a mythical animal depicted as a two-legged dragon (or wyvern) with a cock’s [rooster’s] head.” “Cockatrices” appear four times in the King James Bible. The Hebrew word is “tsepha`.” Look at those now:
- Isaiah 11:8: “And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den.”
- Isaiah 14:29: “Rejoice not thou, whole Palestina, 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.”
- Isaiah 59:5: “They hatch cockatrice’ eggs, and weave the spider’s web: he that eateth of their eggs dieth, and that which is crushed breaketh out into a viper.”
- Jeremiah 8:17: “For, behold, I will send serpents, cockatrices, among you, which will not be charmed, and they shall bite you, saith the LORD.”
Are these “make-believe” verses? No! It should be pointed out that “tsepha`” was also rendered “adder.” Proverbs 23:32: “At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.” A “cockatrice” in the Bible is a venomous snake, and, as you can see, the context of all these verses is definitely snake-oriented. Beyond that, we cannot be sure what it is. Perhaps it was a type of animal alive on Earth in Bible days that has since become extinct. Once more, the idea is certainly related to Satan (remember “dragon” and “snake”). Go back and check Isaiah 14:29 (see Lucifer/Satan in the context, verses 12-15 in particular).
The Bible sometimes uses “dragons” and “serpents” interchangeably because of their resemblance. In fact, a dragon in Scripture is often used figuratively of Satan to underscore his craftiness (as in the common idiom, “a snake in the grass”). Other times, however, “dragons” and “serpents” are not synonymous. A “dragon” can even be a sea monster—such as the whale or fish that swallowed Jonah. As with every Bible term, let the context restrict the meaning!
Concerning “satyrs,” they are half-man and half-goat beings in Greek mythology. As touching the Bible, they are certainly associated with goats—namely, a goat-idol that is a physical representation of an invisible, evil spirit creature. These are fallen angels, undergoing the deteriorating and disfiguring effects of sin. The “unicorns” are most enigmatic. Scripture speaks of them as strong beasts of burden, which existed in Bible days. Yet, there is a spiritual connection because they are associated with Christ’s death and resurrection. Regarding “cockatrices,” they are a type of venomous snake in Scripture. They have some relation to Satan, the serpent.
These creatures, even if they never existed on Earth, are linked to and exist in the spirit world—namely, Hell and accomplishing Satan’s work. We never want to discount the fact that various animals of the ancient world have gone extinct, and this is just as valid an explanation. Maybe the Bible writers were alluding to physical animals alive in their day. Then again, some were spirit beings God afforded them the opportunity to see in order to write His Word. As Bible believers, we should not and do not see their inclusion as a challenge to the historicity or literalness of the Scriptures. Even when employing metaphorical or figurative language, the Bible communicates literal truth. For example, while Satan is not an actual snake with scales and fangs, he nevertheless is a serpent in character—sly, deceptive, insidious. We use such terminology when describing people, do we not? Why are we so opposed to the Scripture doing the same? (Perhaps we have an agenda to shame it so we have an excuse not to believe it when it speaks of our sin problem?!)
(By the way, if someone should mock a Bible believer for saying “dragons” exist, just politely remind them of “make-believe” “Komodo dragons” and “bearded dragons.” That should reduce them to silence!)
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» Can you explain Psalm 22:20-21?
» What about the “talking snake” of Genesis 3?
» What swallowed Jonah—a fish or a whale?
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