Some Speculation About Leviathan, Part 2

What kind of creature was leviathan? Here, leviathan is portrayed as a mosasaur. Is that a good identification? Image is from Genesis Park.

Having established in the previous post that leviathan is a real creature that really breathed fire, what may leviathan actually be?

First of all, let us deal with the “low hanging fruit.” It has been suggested that leviathan is Tyrannosaurus rex. I’ll be blunt: this is a ridiculous identification. Frankly, few people consider this to be a viable identification of leviathan. However, I wanted to mention it as an example of how easy it is to “make things fit.” Let me illustrate the reasoning: Tyrannosaurus is big and fierce, leviathan is big and fierce, they are practically the same thing! This reasoning overlooks the fact that leviathan is clearly described as something that is quite at home in the ocean and a powerful swimmer (such as in verses 31-32 of Job 41). Tyrannosaurus, in contrast, was a land dweller and probably rarely swam. Thus, even though they can broadly be described as big, powerful, and fierce, they clearly have nothing to do with each other.

It should also be pointed out that it is easy to identify leviathan as Tyrannosaurus because everybody knows about Tyrannosaurus. It may be harder to identify leviathan if it is an obscure or even an unknown creature.

Another familiar creature that may be identified as leviathan is Spinosaurus. Now, this identification has an advantage over Tyrannosaurus in that Spinosaurus appears to have actually been semi-aquatic. In fact, recent finds have indicated that it had a crocodile-like tail for swimming. However, there are other parts of leviathan’s description that do not match Spinosaurus very well. In verses 15-16, we are told of leviathan that

Its back has rows of shields tightly sealed together; each is so close to the next that no air can pass between them.

Spinosaurus has elongated neural spines on its back. There is nothing shield-like about them. Thus, Spinosaurus does not appear to be leviathan.

A couple of popular ideas about leviathan can also be dealt with easily. These are identifying it as Kronosaurus or as a mosasaur. The problem here is that, while leviathan clearly is a sea-going creature, it also is capable of coming on land, as described in verse 30:

Its undersides are jagged potsherds, leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing sledge.

Leaving such a trail in the mud implies that leviathan was capable of crawling up onto the land and into the mud in the first place. Moreover, if the undersides were responsible for leaving the trail in the mud, then it probably crawled on its belly. Large aquatic reptiles, like Kronosaurus and mosasaurs, likely were incapable of coming up on land. For example, mosasaurs are known to have given live birth, and thus they never had to come up on land, even to lay eggs.

We have gone through several creatures that leviathan cannot be, can we start talking about what it is? Well, we have begun to create a picture of leviathan. It is something that swims in the ocean but also comes up on land. It has shields on its back. It has jagged potsherds on its underside. It crawls on its belly. That actually narrows possible candidates quite a bit.

What kind of creature swims in the oceans but is also capable of climbing up on land, but when it does climb up on land, it drags is belly, and it has shield’s in its back? Surprisingly, that actually matches a crocodile quite well. Crocodiles swim but also come on land. Some crocodiles, such as the saltwater crocodile, are capable of swimming out to sea. They often drag their bellies on the ground when they move on land, and they have bony plates called osteoderms on their backs. Even though we ruled out the Nile crocodile, it is actually quite possible that some kind of crocodile is leviathan.

Remember, the reason we eliminated the Nile crocodile is because it does not breathe fire. No living crocodile breathes fire, so if leviathan is a crocodile, then it must be an extinct type, or even possibly an undiscovered type. There are tons of crocodiles that are known from fossils so there are several options to consider.

Let us first winnow things out by assuming that anything that belongs to the same family as living crocodilians cannot be leviathan.. After all, if no living crocodilian breathes fire, then it is a reasonable assumption that their extinct relatives also did not breathe fire. We may further narrow our search by focusing on ocean-dwelling crocodiles. Finally, we may want to focus on the larger crocodiles, assuming that leviathan was indeed an exceptional crocodile.

If we make these assumptions, then it is likely that Deinosuchus and Purussaurus are both not leviathan. Both of these are large crocodilians, among the biggest, but they both belong to the alligator family. There is another giant crocodile, namely Sarcosuchus. Unlike Deinosuchus and Purussaurus, Sarcosuchus does not belong to an extant family of crocodiles. In fact, it belongs outside of the main group that includes the living crocodilians. Thus, while it was a crocodile, it was unlike living crocodiles.

Now, Sarcosuchus itself appears to have lived in fresh water. While that may eliminate it from being leviathan, it belonged to a group of crocodiles called Pholidosauridae, and that group includes ocean going crocodiles. None of the other members of Pholidosauridae were as big as Sarcosuchus, but if we combine the size of Sarcosuchus with the ocean-going ways of other pholidosaurs, we have a pretty good candidate for leviathan. Perhaps leviathan is some sort of undiscovered pholidosaur.

Another interesting crocodile is Machimosaurus. This belongs to a group of crocodiles called teleosaurs, which were oceanic crocodiles. Even though teleosaurs lived in the ocean, they looked roughly like modern crocodiles, unlike the metriorhynchids, which are crocodiles that had flippers rather than legs and a forked, fish-like tail.

While Machimosaurus was not as big as Sarcosuchus, it was still large with a maximum length of 30 feet. While it had a narrow snout, similar to many oceanic crocodiles, it’s mouth was actually pretty short and it had large, blunt teeth. They are actually thought to have been capable of eating a variety of prey, from hard-shelled creatures to more traditional fish. Plus, some members of Machimosaurus had keeled osteoderms on their bellies, which could explain the description of leviathan having an underside of jagged potsherds. Finally, Machimosaurus appears to have ranged from the open ocean to coastal environments, which means it covers all of the territory leviathan is known to have covered.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3a/Machimosaurus_illustration.jpg
Reconstruction of three species of Machimosaurus. Reconstructions by Dmitry Bogdanov. Published in Young et al. (2014) “Revision of the Late Jurassic teleosaurid genus Machimosaurus (Crocodylomorpha, Thalattosuchia)” R. Soc. Open sci 1:140222

To return to a previous aspect of leviathan, ocean going crocodiles typically have shorter limbs than extant crocodiles. In other words, they can come up on land but they would have been more awkward on land compared to living crocodiles. This may be the purpose of fire-breathing: rather than using it as a means to capture or subdue prey, it may have been a defense for when something else, some other large predator, caught it unawares on land. Surprised and vulnerable, fire-breathing may have been a final resort to escape such confrontations.

Whether leviathan is Machimosaurus or some type of pholidosaur, odds seem pretty good that leviathan was some sort of crocodile. Mind you, not an extant crocodile, but rather some extinct or unknown form. It may not have been the biggest, baddest thing out there. If we compare the possible candidates for leviathan to other creatures, it would actually be smaller than megalodon or Livyatan. Nevertheless, leviathan was certainly a large, impressive, and fierce creature that showed the might and power of God.

Thoughts from Steven