My mom and I were standing in line at a taqueria, waiting to get some veggie tacos and a burrito, chatting about mythology. I told her about my observation about the ancient worlds and sacred texts and how it’s been the obsessive topic of research for several months now. Ma knows about my addiction to research. I explained,
“Almost all of the creatures, the important ones at least, describe the same types of animals. They don’t just have the same creature types, they describe the same characteristics for them. Look at at gates of Jewish sites and Chinese sites … you see a special pair of lions, and they symbolize protection, and it’s not like we (ethnic Chinese) saw them for the first time outside a NYC synagogue and thought, ‘damn, those look fierce, we’ve got to get us a pair!'”
Fu Lion-Dogs have been around since at least 208 BCE in China, dutifully scaring or consuming negative spirits, and likewise feature on ancient synagogues as well as in the Tanakh. (Rachel Hachlili, Ancient Synagogues – Archaeology and Art: New Discoveries and Current Research. pp. 427-28)
My mom thought about it for a few seconds,
“Okaaaaay…” she started, drawing out her “okay” in a way that meant she was going to argue the other position.
“Then why are white people so afraid of dragons?” asked my mom, looking triumphant in her counterpoint. She herself was fond of dragons and was born in the year of the dragon.
Half the line, light-colored faces all, turned to see who made this claim. My mom stared right back as if to say,
“Yeah, I know you’re afraid of dragons.”
They shuffled uncomfortably at the surprisingly bold stare down by my mom. Everyone turned and faced forward again, returning to their individual internal debates over hot versus mild salsa.
“Ma…You can’t just… We just talked about not using categorical racial remarks.” I said.
“Okay, okay… some, why are some white people afraid of dragons?” she asked.
“In all the stories, you mean? It’s a cultural relic from the Bible being translated poorly, I think… I’ll send you the article later, but basically what happened is that the translation of the Hebrew texts is misleading. The Bible uses distinctly different Hebrew words for serpent (nakhash) and dragon (tannin).” I said.
“How could anybody mix them up? A snake is pitiful compared to a dragon,” she asked.
“English language Bibles are their source. The whole nakhash / tannin mistake is so glaring that many passages make little sense unless the original Hebrew meaning is learned,” I said.
Now, I grew up agnostic to atheist parents but religious and theological exploration was never discouraged. I remember watching The Ten Commandments (because it was a long ass movie, and I could delay bedtime quite a while).
There’s a scene from Exodus, when the Egyptian pharaoh shows off his magic skills to Moses. Throwing his staff to the ground, it transformed into a serpent. So in the movie (and English language Bibles) the scene ends rather unceremoniously. Both men pull out their schlanger, and they basically have a hissing contest.
In the would be Hebrew director’s cut, the scene is less circumspect and way more bad ass.
“The Ex. 4:3 text says NÀKHASH (snake or serpent) but when Moses and Aaron stood before Pharoah, the text says TANNÌN (dragon).
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a wonder,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh, and it will become a dragon.’’
So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did as the Lord had commanded; Aaron threw down his staff before Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a dragon.'”
(Paul Phelps, The Dragon and the Phoenix in the Bible).
That silly pharaoh, bringing a snake to a dragon fight. Phelps’ article is illuminating, and I recommend it. Phelps goes on to another passage which uses the two words.
“Snakes and dragons are not thought the same animal but the [English language] Bible treats them as the same animal by two different names…. But notice what is said: Revelations 12:9, and 20:2, … the dragon,* that ancient serpent,* who is the Devil and Satan …”
*(Gr. DRAKÓN, dragon; Gr. ÓPHIS, serpent)
The answer is in this text because two words are identifying the same animal. Serpents and dragons are the same animal from the ancient days of Eden.
Gen. 3:14, The LORD God said to the serpent (NÀKHASH), ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat…,.” The serpents of this world are not original creations of God but are a result of a degrading curse (Gen. 3:14). The original ancient serpent was amazing to see, the most exalted of all creatders. In Rev. 20:2, God called this animal the dragon.
The dragon legends are from the beginning of history, from the Garden of Eden. Serpents of today are under a curse (Gen. 3:14)—signifying degradation and inferiority.” (Ibid.)
Basically, Phelps is saying that when Satan chose a form to take in the Earthly realm, he took a look around and chose the dragon. and why wouldn’t he! Anyone in their right mind would. What’s he going to do, pick a human form? We’re squishy land-bound peasants… and we’re egocentric.
In the original Hebrew, there’s a clear distinction between a serpent and dragon. For those knowledgable about Christian scripture, didn’t it ever strike you as strange that God advised, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves,” (Matthew 10:16) when a “serpent” was the deceiver and the form of evil?
Apparently the Abrahamic God is a big time fan of dragons too. As Phelps points out, God goes on and on about them in Job Chapter 41. He writes,
“A dragon’s undersides are like heavy armour (v 30), “Its underparts are like sharp potsherds; it spreads itself like a threshing sledge on the mire.” The skin of a dragon is hard (v 23), “The folds of its flesh cling together; it is firmly cast and immovable.” A dragon’s body has rows of scales attached to the skin.
The Hebrew text says that dragon scales are the size of arm-shields; they are totally impenetrable and sealed airtight (vv 15-17),
Its back is made of shields in rows, shut up closely as with a seal. One is so near to another that no air can come between them. They are joined one to another, they clasp each other and cannot be separated.
A dragon’s body is made of very tough materials, heavy and hard enough to endure any attack by weapons. Even the inner flesh is hard. Job 41:24-29,
Its heart is as hard as stone, as hard as the lower millstone. When it raises itself up the gods are afraid; at the crashing they are beside themselves. Though the sword reaches it, it does not avail, nor does the spear, the dart, or the javelin. It counts iron as straw, and bronze as rotten wood. The arrow cannot make it flee; sling-stones, for it, are turned to chaff. Clubs are counted as chaff; it laughs at the rattle of javelins.”” (Ibid.)
Curiously, Chinese mythology has a bastardized dragon creature not unlike Lucifer called Zhulong. His name has an identical meaning to the name Lucifer.
The keyword in the names Zhuyin and Zhulong is zhu 燭 (simplified 烛) “torch; candle; shine upon; illuminate; light up” (cf. zhuo 灼 “burn; illuminate; bright”). One alternate Chuci name below writes zhu with the variant Chinese character zhuo 逴 or 趠 “quarrel, squabble; distant, far”.
Zhuyin uses zhu as a verb “illuminate; brighten” with yin 陰 (simplified 阴) “dark; shady; cloudy; overcast”, which is the feminine principle of Yin and Yang. Yin recurs below in the term jiuyin 九陰 “ninefold darkness”.
Zhulong uses zhu as a modifier “torch; candle” with long 龍 (simplified 龙) “Chinese dragon”. Compare the homophone zhulong 燭籠 “lantern” with long 籠 “basket; cage; receptacle”.”
Guo Pu, a Jin dynasty scholar and natural historian, wrote that Zhulong was known as, “Enlightener of the Darkness”
“‘Enlightener’ is a dragon; he enlightens the nine yin (darknesses, i.e. the nine points of the compass at the opposite, dark side of the earth, which is a flat disk; these nine points are North, South, East, West, North-east, North-west, South-east, South-west, and the Centre)”. (tr. Visser 1913:62)”
This scarlet colored bastard dragon Zhulong is the great deceiver of the Earthly realm, controlling the elemental forces we experience in day and night. Compare that concept with the apocalyptic Revelations 12:3, “Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems…” Eerily similar, right?
But don’t you worry, the story told in the apocalyptic vision seems to end well.
“And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world —he was thrown down to the earth; and his angels were thrown down with him.” (Rev. 12:7)
So if you see a dragon, fear not (unless he’s red and has a weird head(s)) because by all accounts, he’s a positive creature and protector of all us squishy folk.