Bill Robertson

Triumph over the monster. A kneeling god, Ninurta, attacks a fearsome dragon with seven serpentine necks on a Sumerian shell inlay dating to about 2600 B.C.E. This mythical creature may have been an inspiration for the biblical Leviathan, who is sometimes said to have seven heads. Taming Leviathan was seen in the popular imagination as one of God’s feats during Creation. Psalm 74:13–14 exults, “Thou didst divide the sea by thy might; thou didst break the heads of the dragons on the waters. Thou didst crush the heads of Leviathan, thou didst give him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.”

God’s mastery over the sea, during Creation and in the crossing of the Red Sea, was an important component of Israelite religion. In this, Frank Moore Cross points out, it recalls the story of Ba’al, whose worshipers believed him to have vanquished Yamm, the god of the sea, before marching with his people to his mountain sanctuary to build his temple.