By: Emil G. Hirsch
This well-known amphibious reptile (Crocodilus vulgaris or niloticus) is not mentioned by a specific Hebrew name in the Bible. There are passages, however, in which allusions to it occur, and which give a faithful description of it (compare Brehm, "Illustriertes Thierleben," iii. i. 112). Whether Ps. lxviii. 30 (A. V. margin) refers to the crocodile in the phrase "the beasts of the reed" is still an open question. Upon these beasts destruction is invoked, which would be strange if they were meant to denote Egypt; for the crocodile is the most characteristic animal of that country, and the psalm is pervaded by a friendly spirit toward the empire of the Pharaohs. It is thus more reasonable to hold with Duhm ("Die Psalmen Erklärt," in Marti's "Kurzer Hand-Commentar zum Alten Testament") that swine are meant, as designating the population of the Jordan valley, which, at the time of the composition of the psalm, consisted largely of non-Jews. It is interesting to note in reference to EX. viii. 2 that the word ẓefardea' (A. V. "frogs") was explained as referring to crocodiles (Arabic, "timsaḥ") by all the commentators whom Ibn Ezra mentions in his commentary to this passage.The Leviathan.
In Job (xl.-xli.) the description of the Leviathan certainly resembles that of the crocodile. Some of the particulars given—the impenetrable scales (xli. 15); the sharp scales (ib. verse 30); the teeth (verse 14); the thick armor (verse 7); the strongly marked difficulties besetting its capture; the futility of ordinary implements, as the hook, noose, and harpoon; and the impotence of the usual weapons, the spear, mace, and arrow (verses 2, 7, 26)—establish a strong presumption in favor of the identification. Against this evidence it has been urged that the other characteristics are not specific enough, as they are common to several large water-animals.
There is some possibility, however, that the writer was describing the crocodile from personal observation. "We have good evidence," says Canon Tristram in "The Natural History of the Bible" (8th ed., p. 261, London, 1889), "of its existence at the present day in the marshes of the Zerka, or Crocodile River." This fact, well known to Pliny("Historia Naturalis," v. 17) and Strabo (p. 758), and confirmed by Pococke, was corroborated, according to Tristram (l.c.), by the Arabs with whom he conversed. W. M. Thomson ("The Land and the Book," popular edition, i. 73) testifies to the presence of crocodiles in the marsh of Zerka: he believes that he heard the splashing of crocodiles making their way "through this hideous swamp in quest of prey" (ib. p. 77). The latest testimony to the same effect is that of Schumacher ("Pal. Explor. Fund Quarterly Statement," Jan., 1887, p.1), who reports having seen a crocodile in that neighborhood.Mythological or Real?
Although these coast districts did not belong to the regions familiar to the Hebrew writers, it is not reasonable to preclude the possibility that the poet in Job wrote of what he himself had seen, or frominformation supplied to him by those who had made personal observations of the animal. Even Gunkel ("Schöpfung und Chaos," p. 48), who, with Cheyne, would probably relegate this chapter to the domain of mythology, concedes that the poet meant to describe, not a mythological creature, but a monster actually living in his day, and that some of the characteristics mentioned are those of the crocodile. According to Gunkel, however, the bulk of the chapter is an adaptation of mythological material; the monster being taken from the Babylonian creation-myth. His objections are cogent and his theory must be admitted as having great probability as regards other passages, in which the crocodile is referred to under such designations as "tannim" ("dragons," R. V., Jer. xiv. 6), "rahab" (Isa. li. 9; Ps. lxxxix. 10), and "leviathan" (Ps. lxxiv. 14; Job iii.). But with reference to Job xli. 1 all facts point to the conclusion that the word "leviathan" is probably a later emendation, influenced by the mythical passages (F. Delitzsch, "Hiob," Leipsic, 1902). The enumeration of the characteristics is too complete to admit of any other explanation.Other Biblical References.
The Arabs call the crocodile "timsaḥ," or "waral," both of which words have passed into Syriac. At one time they must have used the flesh of the animal for food; for the eating thereof is expressly forbidden to faithful Mohammedans. This may, however, be due to a reminiscent confusion of the crocodile with the "koaḥ" (Lev. xi. 30), mentioned among the unclean animals, and which the R. V. translates "land-crocodile" (marked in the margin as uncertain); while the A. V., following the Vulgate and the Septuagint, has "chameleon." According to Bochart ("Hierozoicon," i. 1069), the land-monitor, the "waral alard" of the Arabs (Psammosaurus scincus), is meant, or perhaps even a larger monitor, the "waral al-baḥr," the Nilotic monitor. Bochart also seems inclined to make the "ẓab" of Lev. xi. 29 identical with the "koaḥ," or land-crocodile (ib. i., book iv., ch. 1). This latter is a lizard, if not a toad; and as such it is explained by the Talmudists (Ḥul. 127a). According to Ḳimḥi, the Hebrew "koaḥ" (Lev. xi. 30) is a lizard (in Linné the Lacerta stellio). The Talmud characterizes this species as not dangerous to man and as having a soft, tender skin (Ḥul. 122a), which is easily removed from the body (Shab. 107). In Arabic it is called "ḥirdhaun." This , in the Targ. for ẓab (the Syriac "ḥardana"), is translated by "crocodile," and distinguished from a land-lizard, as the "ḥardona" of the sea. This latter name occurs in a Talmudic caution that at prayer the, curved posture of the "crocodile" (?) be not assumed (Yer. Ber. 3d). The Talmudic "ben nefilim" (Ḥul. 127a) has also been identified with the crocodile. But it seems to be the Psammosaurus scincus (Arabic, "Saḳanḳur"). The crocodile is perhaps designated by the Talmudic (Ned. 41a), which in B. B. 73b occurs in a fabulous connection as , if this be not a corruption of ("scorpion"). For Talmudic views on "leviathan" see the article under that title.
- Tristram, The Natural History of the Bible, London, 1889;
- J. G. Wood, Bible Animals (London, n.d.);
- Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl. s.v.;
- Levy, Neuhebr. Wörterb. i. 425, Leipsic, 1867, Fleischer's notes: Lewysohn, Die Zoologie des Talmuds, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1858.