Friday, January 12, 2024

The Dragon (12.1–4a)


And a great sign was seen in heaven: a woman dressed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and a laurel of twelve stars on her head. And she was pregnant, and she screamed, laboring and tortured by giving birth. And another sign was seen in heaven, and see, a huge, fiery red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. And his tail dragged down a third of heaven’s stars and he threw them to the earth.


The symbolism of the woman suggests she is a personification of Israel, with the twelve stars representing the people of the twelve tribes. Her pregnancy derives from quasi-eschatological passages from the prophets. By the first century CE, many theological streams within Judaism believed there was a chief angelic rebel against God’s authority, identified by a variety of names (e.g. Shemihazah, Asael, Samael, Mastema, Belial/Beliar) and sometimes identified with the heavenly prosecutor or tester called ‘the satan’. This book depicts the satan through a cipher which borrows extensively from a draconic monster embodying chaos, found in several mythologies across Europe, North Africa, and Southwest Asia. The version of this monster known to biblical authors and their neighbors was named Leviathan or Lotan/Litanu, described as having many heads, and portrayed as the primeval enemy of Baal Hadad or Yhwh. The dragon throwing down some of the woman’s stars corresponds to the satan bringing harm on the Israelites.

As will become evident in chapter 13, this mythologization of Israel and the satan does not remove the events portrayed from history. The author appears to have an event or events from Israel’s past in mind, compressed into a densely-packed set of symbols.

The particular cluster of symbols lifted from the Hebrew Bible are combined in such a way that suggests the author was basing his mythological narrative on the Greek story of the god Apollo. The son of Zeus was born to the goddess Leto, whom Zeus hid away in a secret place during her pregnancy when she was chased by the dragon Python.



74.14 You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the dragon in the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan


4.9 Now why do you cry aloud? Is there no king in you? Has your counsellor perished, that pangs have seized you like a woman in labor? Writhe and groan, O daughter Zion, like a woman in labor


13.8 Pangs and agony will seize them; they will be in anguish like a woman in labor.

21.3 Therefore my loins are filled with anguish; pangs have seized me, like the pangs of a woman in labor

27.1 On that day Yhwh with his cruel and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will kill the dragon that is in the sea.

51.9 Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon?

66.7 Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son.


4.31 For I heard a cry as of a woman in labour, anguish as of one bringing forth her first child, the cry of daughter Zion gasping for breath, stretching out her hands, ‘Woe is me! I am fainting before killers!’

6.24 ‘We have heard news of them, our hands fall helpless; anguish has taken hold of us, pain as of a woman in labour.’

13.21 What will you say when they set as head over you those whom you have trained to be your allies? Will not pangs take hold of you, like those of a woman in labour?


37.9–10 He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, ‘Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.’ But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, ‘What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?’


26.13 By his wind the heavens were made fair; his hand pierced the fleeing serpent.

Testament of Naphtali

5.3 Levi seized the sun and Judah, outstripping the others, grasped the moon. Thus they were exalted above the others. When Levi became like the sun, a certain young man gave him twelve date palms. And Judah became luminous like the moon, and twelve rays were under his feet.

Joseph & Asenath

5.5 a golden crown was on his head, and around the crown were twelve chosen stones, and on top of the twelve stones were twelve golden rays.

Sibylline Oracles

8.88–91 When the purple dragon comes on the waves, pregnant with a host, and will nurture your children when famine and civil war are at hand; then the end of the world and the last day is near


7.7 After this I saw in the visions by night a fourth beast […] and it had ten horns.

8.10, 24 It grew as high as the host of heaven. It threw down to the earth some of the host and some of the stars, and trampled them. […] He shall destroy the powerful and the people of the holy ones.


On Dreams 2.113 therefore, he who saw this heaven-sent vision, thought that he was being worshipped by eleven stars, ranking himself among them as the twelfth

Revelation of Abraham

23.7–11 And behind the tree was standing something like a dragon in form, but having hands and feet like a man's, on his back six wings on the right and six on the left. And he was holding the grapes of the tree and feeding them to the two I saw entwined with each other. […] And he said, ‘This is the world of men, this is Adam and this is their thought on earth, this is Eve. And he who is between them is the impiety of their behavior unto perdition, Azazel himself.’

Testament of Abraham

7.4, 14 And Isaac answered his father, ‘I saw the sun and moon in my dream. And there was a crown upon my head […] That sun was like you, my father.’

4 Ezra

9.38; 10.25–27 I looked around, and on my right I saw a woman; she was mourning and weeping with a loud voice, and was deeply grieved at heart; her clothes were torn, and there were ashes on her head. […] While I was talking to her, her face suddenly began to shine exceedingly; her countenance flashed like lightning, so that I was too frightened to approach her, and my heart was terrified. While I was wondering what this meant, she suddenly uttered a loud and fearful cry, so that the earth shook at the sound. When I looked up, the woman was no longer visible to me, but a city was being built, and a place of huge foundations showed itself.

Odes of Solomon

22.5 He who overthrew by my hands the dragon with seven heads, and placed me at his roots that I might destroy his seed.

Shepherd of Hermas

Vision 1.2.2; 2.4.1 I saw across from me a large white chair, made of wool, white as snow. And an elderly woman came, dressed in radiant clothes and holding a book in her hands. […] While I was sleeping, brothers, I received a revelation from a very beautiful young man, who said to me: ‘The elderly woman from whom you received the little book—who do you think she is?’ ‘The Sibyl,’ I replied. ‘You are wrong,’ he said; ‘it is not she.’ ‘Who then is it?’ I asked. ‘The assembly,’ he said.

Revelation of Sedrach

4.5 ‘However, he disobeyed my commandment and having been deceived by the devil he ate from the tree.’

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