Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Greek Serpent Ladon and Hebrew Leviathan

John R. Salverda Writes:


The Serpent

Although the serpent Ladon is associated with the tree in the Greek myth, it is apparently the tree of life, and not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As noted the Greek serpent is not enticing people to pick from the tree, but like the Cherubim in the Scriptural account, he is portrayed as guarding it; "So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life." (Genesis 3:24 KJV). Accordingly the quest for immortality by Herakles required him to kill the serpent before he could receive the apples. "the serpent Ladon, a son of the Libyan soil, had kept watch over the golden apples in the Garden of Atlas, while close at hand and busy at their tasks the Hesperides sang their lovely song. But now the snake, struck down by Herakles, lay by the trunk of the apple-tree. (Apollonius Rhodius, "Argonautica" 4. 1390 ff.). "Some say, however, that he did not take the apples from Atlas, but killed the snake that guarded them, and picked them himself." (Apollodorus, "Bibliotheca" 2. 121). Thus Herakles (however blasphemous you may consider the idea to be) is portrayed as fulfilling the "Messianic" promise; "God said unto the serpent, ... I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." (Genesis 3:14,15 KJV). "Jupiter, in admiration of their struggle, placed it among the stars; for the Draco has its head erect, and Hercules, resting on his right knee, tires to crush the right side of its head with his left foot." (Hyginus, "Astronomica" 2. 6, citing a work now lost called "the Heraclea" by a Greek poet of the 5th century BC. named Panyassis). "The huge Draco, Typhon’s son, which used to guard the golden apples of the Hesperides, he (Herakles) killed near Mount Atlas" (Hyginus, Fabulae 30). "Atlas, mindful of an oracle since by Themis, the Parnassian, told, recalled these words, `O Atlas! mark the day a son of Jupiter [Zeus] shall come to spoil; for when thy trees been stripped of golden fruit, the glory shall be his.' Fearful of this, Atlas had built solid walls around his orchard, and secured a dragon, huge, that kept perpetual guard, and thence expelled all strangers from his land." (Ovid, "Metamorphoses" 4. 617 ff.). Take note, how an ancient prophecy (here called an "oracle") had promised the eventual arrival of an avenging son of god (Zeus); when he came he famously killed the serpent; the labor was immortalized in the Heavens, where a constellation was described by Hyginus, as Herakles crushing the serpent's head with his foot.
Apparently the Scriptural "Leviathan," already linked by many scholars with the "Lotan" of the Ugaritic myth of Baal, is the source for the Greek serpent Ladon. Yahweh defeats the, many headed, Leviathan (as Baal does the seven headed Lotan, and Herakles Ladon): "It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan and gave him as food to the creatures of the desert." (Psalm 74:14) "An immortal serpent guarded them, the child of Typhon and Ekhidna, with one hundred heads which spoke with voices of various types." (Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 113). Take note that Apollodorus makes the serpent Ladon to be immortal, having one hundred heads, and like the one in Eden, it has the ability to speak. In regards to Leviathan serving "as food to the creatures of the desert," Apollonius Rhodius bemoans the unfortunate fate of the flies that feed upon the dead "serpent Ladon, a son of the Libyan soil" ("Argonautica" 4. 1390 ff.).
This battle is sometimes expressed as if in fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy, depicting a future victory over the "serpent" Leviathan; "In that day the Lord with His severe sword, great and strong, will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan that twisted serpent; He will slay the reptile that is in the sea." (Isaiah 27:1). Ladon himself was not thought to be a sea serpent as such however, he is often associated with the sea, and did live in the sea in the sense that his home, in the Garden of Hesperides, was, at least sometimes, thought to be on an island of the sea; "The Hesperides who guard the rich, golden apples and the trees bearing fruit beyond glorious Okeanos." (Hesiod, Theogony 215 ff.); "Over the waves and the waves and the deep brine they came to the beautiful island of the gods, where the Hesperides have their homes" (Stesichorus, Geryoneis Fragment S8, from Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 2617 C6th to 7th BC.). He sleeps and will, one day be awoken; "those who are ready to rouse Leviathan." (Job 3:8). The Scriptures make an unambiguous identification of the Messianic adversary in the apocalyptic literature; "And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world." (Rev. 12:9).
As a Messianic prerequisite, eliminating the serpent is the determinant method of acquiring eternal life. It is so in the case of many mythical gods and heroes that the prophetic requirement, "her seed … shall bruise thy head" (Genesis 3:15), is a kind of Messianic identifier. It is the individual qualifying characteristic, attribute, or activity, by which the Messiah would be recognized and distinguished. In the Scriptures it is the cherub’s job to guard the way to the tree of life, however as we have seen, there is a well known and wide spread mythological equivalent. For not only is a serpent guarding the way to the “golden” apples of the Hesperides, but also the way to the “golden” fleece is guarded by a dragon. Gold, a most valued commodity indeed, is often a mythological substitution for the most valued possession of all, “life.” We can thereby identify the cherub as it appears in many other myths such as the winged gryphon (of the “Scythians”) whose job it is to guard “gold” in general. However life is not always symbolized by gold, there are many myths that use no symbol for it and use the term “life” literally or prosaically. Cerberus keeps us from gaining immortality, or rather, life after death. Heracles was seeking immortality as an Olympian when he crushed the head of the hydra and stepped upon the “crab,” wounding his foot, (Heracles sought life for everyone in capturing Cerberus, he also destroyed the serpent that guarded the aforementioned “golden” fruit of the famous tree in the ancient garden of Hesperides.) and the “scarab” is a well known Egyptian symbol of eternal life. (The “gryph” in gryphon is an evident shibboleth of “cherub” as is the “serp” in serpent, the “Cerb” in Cerberus, the “scorp” in scorpion, as well as the words “crab,” “scarab,” and “harpy.”).
Ezekiel, in a much speculated, and very enigmatic statement, hints that there may have been some justification for imagining a connection between the serpent and the cherub; "Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; … Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee. By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned: therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire." (Ezekiel 28:13-16 KJV). Christianity has traditionally linked this reference to the fall of Satan. The Hebrew word, here used twice as an adjective, "covereth" and "covering," to describe the cherub, is "sakak" (saw-kak'), is from a primitive root the primary, proper, use of which is "to entwine" as a screen (a serpent "entwined" on a tree?) by implication to fence in, cover over, (figuratively) protect: cover, defend, hedge in, join together, set, shut up. This is quite comparable to the word rendered "keep" in the KJV of Genesis 2:15 and 3:24, shamar (shaw-mar'), to hedge about, that is, guard; generally to protect, attend to, etc. It seems to me, that there is something missing in the Scriptural narrative, that should explain the relationship between the serpent and the cherub. I balk at using mythology to fill in the blank, so I'll just leave it at that.


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