My daughter is obsessed with dragons. She reads dragon stories, makes dragon pictures, and tells me all about the different types of dragons that there are (or were). For being eight years old, she is fairly meticulous at categorizing and memorizing all the facts about dragons.
Of course, being a good father, I try to keep up with everything and to stay engaged in the conversation. When she asks questions about dragons (such as if they are real), I have to ask myself that same question. Are they real? Were they ever real? Or have they always been nothing more than myths and legends?
But if the earth is created by God, where do dinosaurs fit into the picture? Are they really millions of years old? Is it the case that humans never interacted with them? Most of our society thinks so, yet I am not convinced of this. In fact, there are some serious arguments that challenge the reliability (and starting assumptions) of our various fossil dating methods.
While I have no intention of looking at those dating methods right now, I do want to defend the idea that dragons are actually just dinosaurs (the word dinosaur simply means “terrible lizard”). Furthermore, I want to make the case that humans and dinosaurs existed together for quite some time until dinosaurs were hunted out of existence.
So, where to begin? First, let us consider the words of Job, spoken about 400 years before Moses:
Job 40:15–24 (ESV)
15 “Behold, Behemoth, which I made as I made you; he eats grass like an ox.
16 Behold, his strength in his loins, and his power in the muscles of his belly.
17 He makes his tail stiff like a cedar; the sinews of his thighs are knit together.
18 His bones are tubes of bronze, his limbs like bars of iron.
19 “He is the first of the works of God; let him who made him bring near his sword!
20 For the mountains yield food for him where all the wild beasts play.
21 Under the lotus plants he lies, in the shelter of the reeds and in the marsh.
22 For his shade the lotus trees cover him; the willows of the brook surround him.
23 Behold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightened; he is confident though Jordan rushes against his mouth.
24 Can one take him by his eyes, or pierce his nose with a snare?
Here we see a description of a creature called behemoth, which sounds awfully similar to something like a dinosaur. But God continues:
Job 41:1–34 (ESV)
1 “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook or press down his tongue with a cord?
2 Can you put a rope in his nose or pierce his jaw with a hook?
3 Will he make many pleas to you? Will he speak to you soft words?
4 Will he make a covenant with you to take him for your servant forever?
5 Will you play with him as with a bird, or will you put him on a leash for your girls?
6 Will traders bargain over him? Will they divide him up among the merchants?
7 Can you fill his skin with harpoons or his head with fishing spears?
8 Lay your hands on him; remember the battle — you will not do it again!
9 Behold, the hope of a man is false; he is laid low even at the sight of him.
10 No one is so fierce that he dares to stir him up. Who then is he who can stand before me?
11 Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.
12 “I will not keep silence concerning his limbs, or his mighty strength, or his goodly frame.
13 Who can strip off his outer garment? Who would come near him with a bridle?
14 Who can open the doors of his face? Around his teeth is terror.
15 His back is made of rows of shields, shut up closely as with a seal.
16 One is so near to another that no air can come between them.
17 They are joined one to another; they clasp each other and cannot be separated.
18 His sneezings flash forth light, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn.
19 Out of his mouth go flaming torches; sparks of fire leap forth.
20 Out of his nostrils comes forth smoke, as from a boiling pot and burning rushes.
21 His breath kindles coals, and a flame comes forth from his mouth.
22 In his neck abides strength, and terror dances before him.
23 The folds of his flesh stick together, firmly cast on him and immovable.
24 His heart is hard as a stone, hard as the lower millstone.
25 When he raises himself up the mighty are afraid; at the crashing they are beside themselves.
26 Though the sword reaches him, it does not avail, nor the spear, the dart, or the javelin.
27 He counts iron as straw, and bronze as rotten wood.
28 The arrow cannot make him flee; for him sling stones are turned to stubble.
29 Clubs are counted as stubble; he laughs at the rattle of javelins.
30 His underparts are like sharp potsherds; he spreads himself like a threshing sledge on the mire.
31 He makes the deep boil like a pot; he makes the sea like a pot of ointment.
32 Behind him he leaves a shining wake; one would think the deep to be white-haired.
33 On earth there is not his like, a creature without fear.
34 He sees everything that is high; he is king over all the sons of pride.”
This description is quite striking, particularly in its similarity to many descriptions of fire-breathing dragons. It also does not appear to be just a list of metaphors. Rather, these words spoken by God to Job are meant to be an accurate description of a fierce creature, named leviathan, presented to Job for the purpose of humbling him. If the description were simply an extreme exaggeration that had little to no grounding in reality, it would not have the effect of putting Job’s own existence in proper perspective.
Moving from the Bible to other historical works, we see some rather interesting (and consistent) testimonies that are worth looking at.
First, the Greek historian Herodotus, writing about 400 years before Christ, states the following in Book II of his Histories:
“There is a region moreover in Arabia, situated nearly over against the
city of Buto, to which place I came to inquire about the winged serpents:
and when I came thither I saw bones of serpents and spines in quantity so
great that it is impossible to make report of the number, and there were
heaps of spines, some heaps large and others less large and others smaller
still than these, and these heaps were many in number. This region in which
the spines are scattered upon the ground is of the nature of an entrance
from a narrow mountain pass to a great plain, which plain adjoins the plain
of Egypt; and the story goes that at the beginning of spring winged serpents
from Arabia fly towards Egypt, and the birds called ibises meet them at the
entrance to this country and do not suffer the serpents to go by but kill
them. On account of this deed it is (say the Arabians) that the ibis has
come to be greatly honored by the Egyptians, and the Egyptians also agree
that it is for this reason that they honor these birds.
The outward form of the ibis is this: — it is a deep black all over, and
has legs like those of a crane and a very curved beak, and in size it is
about equal to a rail: this is the appearance of the black kind which fight
with the serpents, but of those which most crowd round men’s feet (for there
are two several kinds of ibises) the head is bare and also the whole of the
throat, and it is white in feathering except the head and neck and the
extremities of the wings and the rump (in all these parts of which I have
spoken it is a deep black), while in legs and in the form of the head it
resembles the other. As for the serpent its form is like that of the
water-snake; and it has wings not feathered but most nearly resembling the
wings of the bat.”
Here, Herodotus describes a small winged serpent that was often attacked, and eaten, by the ibis bird. Interestingly, it is the case that, even today, the ibis eats reptiles as part of its diet. Perhaps, in the past, the ibis helped contribute to the extinction of that particular winged serpent. This would certainly be the case if humans purposefully used the ibis in this way. In fact, the historian Josephus (living in the first century A.D.) seems to suggest this in Chapter 10 of Book 2 of his Antiquities:
“So Moses, at the persuasion both of Thermuthis and the king himself, cheerfully undertook the business: and the sacred scribes of both nations were glad; those of the Egyptians, that they should at once overcome their enemies by his valor, and that by the same piece of management Moses would be slain; but those of the Hebrews, that they should escape from the Egyptians, because Moses was to be their general. But Moses prevented the enemies, and took and led his army before those enemies were apprised of his attacking them; for he did not march by the river, but by land, where he gave a wonderful demonstration of his sagacity; for when the ground was difficult to be passed over, because of the multitude of serpents, (which it produces in vast numbers, and, indeed, is singular in some of those productions, which other countries do not breed, and yet such as are worse than others in power and mischief, and an unusual fierceness of sight, some of which ascend out of the ground unseen, and also fly in the air, and so come upon men at unawares, and do them a mischief,) Moses invented a wonderful stratagem to preserve the army safe, and without hurt; for he made baskets, like unto arks, of sedge, and filled them with ibis, and carried them along with them; which animal is the greatest enemy to serpents imaginable, for they fly from them when they come near them; and as they fly they are caught and devoured by them, as if it were done by the harts; but the ibis are tame creatures, and only enemies to the serpentine kind: but about these ibis I say no more at present, since the Greeks themselves are not unacquainted with this sort of bird. As soon, therefore, as Moses was come to the land which was the breeder of these serpents, he let loose the ibis, and by their means repelled the serpentine kind, and used them for his assistants before the army came upon that ground.”
Again, Josephus described the same winged serpents that Herodotus described almost 500 years earlier. Yet their testimonies seem to harmonize. Of course, historical accounts do not just mention small serpents. Descriptions of far larger, and more ferocious, serpents are available. Consider the words of Roman historian Cassius Dio who, in Book XI of his histories, described an encounter of an apparent dragon by General Regulus during the Punic Wars:
“Now while Regulus was encamped beside the Bagradas river, there
appeared a serpent of huge bulk, the length of which is said to have been
one hundred and twenty feet (for its slough was carried to Rome for
exhibition), and the rest of its body corresponded in size. It destroyed
many of the soldiers who approached it and some also who were drinking from the river. Regulus overcame it with a crowd of soldiers and with catapults.”
This same historical account is referenced by John of Damascus, in writing his own descriptions of dragons around A.D. 700:
“I am not telling you, after all, that there are no dragons; dragons exist
but they are serpents borne of other serpents. Being just born and young,
they are small; but when they grow up and get mature, they become big and
fat so that exceed the other serpents in length and size. It is said they
grow up more than thirty cubits; as for their thickness, they get as thick
as a big log. Dio the Roman (A.D. 155–236) who wrote the history of Roman
empire and republic, reports the following: one day, when Regulus, a Roman
consul, was fighting against Carthage, a dragon suddenly crept up and
settled behind the wall of the Roman army. The Romans killed it by order of
Regulus, excoriated it and sent the hide to the Roman senate. When the
dragon’s hide, as Dio says, was measured up by order of the senate, it
happened to be, amazing, one hundred and twenty feet long, and the thickness was fitting to the length.”
The last historian that I wanted to consider in this article is Marco Polo (circa A.D. 1300), who himself is fairly well known. What is not so well-known is the following lengthy description he made in Volume 2 of his Travels:
“After leaving that city of Yachi of which I have been speaking, and travelling ten days towards the west, you come to another capital city which is still in the province of Carajan, and is itself called Carajan. The people are Idolaters and subject to the Great Kaan; and the King is Cogachin, who is a son of the Great Kaan.
In this country gold-dust is found in great quantities; that is to say in the rivers and lakes, whilst in the mountains gold is also found in pieces of larger size. Gold is indeed so abundant that they give one saggio of gold for only six of the same weight in silver. And for small change they use porcelain shells as I mentioned before. These are not found in the country, however, but are brought from India.
In this province are found snakes and great serpents of such vast size as to strike fear into those who see them, and so hideous that the very account of them must excite the wonder of those to hear it. I will tell you how long and big they are.
You may be assured that some of them are ten paces in length; some are more and some less. And in bulk they are equal to a great cask, for the bigger ones are about ten palms in girth. They have two forelegs near the head, but for foot nothing but a claw like the claw of a hawk or that of a lion. The head is very big, and the eyes are bigger than a great loaf of bread. The mouth is large enough to swallow a man whole, and is garnished with great teeth. And in short they are so fierce-looking and so hideously ugly, that every man and beast must stand in fear and trembling of them. There are also smaller ones, such as of eight paces long, and of five, and of one pace only.
The way in which they are caught is this. You must know that by day they live underground because of the great heat, and in the night they go out to feed, and devour every animal they can catch. They go also to drink at the rivers and lakes and springs. And their weight is so great that when they travel in search of food or drink, as they do by night, the tail makes a great furrow in the soil as if a full ton of liquor had been dragged along. Now the huntsmen who go after them take them by certain gyn which they set in the track over which the serpent has past, knowing that the beast will come back the same way. They plant a stake deep in the ground and fix on the head of this a sharp blade of steel made like a razor or a lance-point, and then they cover the whole with sand so that the serpent cannot see it. Indeed the huntsman plants several such stakes and blades on the track. On coming to the spot the beast strikes against the iron blade with such force that it enters his breast and rives him up to the navel, so that he dies on the spot [and the crows on seeing the brute dead begin to caw, and then the huntsmen know that the serpent is dead and come in search of him].
This then is the way these beasts are taken. Those who take them proceed to extract the gall from the inside, and this sells at a great price; for you must know it furnishes the material for a most precious medicine. Thus if a person is bitten by a mad dog, and they give him but a small pennyweight of this medicine to drink, he is cured in a moment. Again if a woman is hard in labor they give her just such another dose and she is delivered at once. Yet again if one has any disease like the itch, or it may be worse, and applies a small quantity of this gall he shall speedily be cured. So you see why it sells at such a high price.”
While there are many other accounts of dragons that we could look at, the above descriptions are drawn from historians that many scholars would consider to be reliable. Of course, there are always stories that are more mythical and legendary in circulation. Yet this should not cause us to dismiss the writings of genuine historians. There is no apparent reason as to why these men would exaggerate, or simply make up stories about winged serpents or dragons, especially since they would be discredited as soon as someone tried to verify what they said.
At the end of the day, every culture has stories about dragons and other “terrible lizards.” Is that really a coincidence? Is it really all just myth and legend? Historical, and biblical, evidence seems to suggest that humans did interact with dinosaurs and that these serpents were probably hunted to extinction. If this is indeed true, and if our dating methods cannot be harmonized with our written records, then perhaps we should analyze our dating methods before dismissing what historians from different cultures and time periods have said.