DRAGON: A mythical creature, belief in the existence of which is attested by the folk-lore and literature of nearly all nations, ancient and modern. The creature is usually, but not always, pictured as a modified serpent, with legs and feet terminating in talon-like claws, and it is generally regarded as hostile to gods and the human species. Its habitat is variously described: in the heaven, where it often is regarded as causing the eclipse of the sun and the moon; on the earth, where it inhabits deserts, mountain recesses, and places nearly or quite inaccessible to man; and the sea, whence it issues to work evil or to receive an offering which alone averts its anger and the destruction consequent upon this (cf. the Greek story of Perseus). As an agent of evil it is sometimes assigned in myths to the guardianship of things precious or under the care of wizards, witches, or wonder-workers (cf. the Greek story of Medea and the Golden Fleece). By a transformation not usual in the development of religion, it sometimes attains to a position of honor in the religion of the people and becomes beneficent (as in China), and indeed receives worship and honor (cf. Bel and the Dragon, which, though unhistorical, yet attests the possibility of existence of such a cult; see APOCRYPHA, A, IV., 3). Tiamat, the representative of chaos in Babylonian mythology, is perhaps the earliest form in which this belief has gained mention in extant literature; the dragon-character of Tiamat hardly admits of question, in spite of the doubts of Baudissin (Hauck-Herzog, RE, v. 4 sqq.), based largely on the fact that serpentine form was not given to this creature in the monuments--the character of hostility to the gods is well marked. The existence of belief in dragons in other Semitic realms is easily susceptible of proof (cf. Baudissin, ut sup., and the references there given). A similar belief entered the folk- and church-lore of Christians; and just as the heroes and demigods of classic or Teutonic story (Perseus, Siegfried, Beowulf) were credited with combat against, and mastery over dragons, so were heroes of Christian story (St. George, St. Sylvester).


In the Old Testament the Authorized Version translates four Hebrew words by this term, and in the New Testament dragon is the rendering of the Gk, drakōn in Rev. xii., xiii. 2, 4, 11, xvi. 13, xx. 2. The four Hebrew words are: (1) the masculine plural tannim (from an assumed singular tan), "howlers," occurring in Job xxx. 29; Ps. xliv. 19; Isa. xiii. 22, xxxiv. 13, xxxv. 7, xliii. 20; Jer. ix, 11, x. 22, xiv. 6, xlix. 33, li. 37; Mic. i. 8, in the A. V. uniformly translated "dragon," but rendered in the R.V. "jackals "; (2) the feminine plural tannoth (Mal. i. 3), from the same singular or an assumed tannah, translated "dragons" in the A.V. and "jackals" in the R. V.; (3) the singular tannim (regarded as a mistake for tannin, see below, which is found in some manuscripts), occurring only in Ezek. xxix. 3, A. V. and R. V. "dragon," and xxxii. 2, A. V. "whale," margin and R. V. "dragon" (possibly meaning the crocodile); (4) the singular tannin, plural tanninim, occurring Deut. xxxii. 33; Neh. ii. 13; Ps. lxxiv. 13, xci. 13, xclviii. 7; Isa. xxvii. 1; Jer. li. 34 The R. V. follows the A. V. in rendering "dragon," except in Ps. lxxiv. 13 and cxlviii. 7, margin, where it has "sea monsters," and Ps. xci. 13, where it has "serpent." This same word is in Gen. i. 21 and Job vii. 12 rendered by A. V. "whale," by R. V. "sea monster"; in Ex. vii. 9, 10, 12 both A. V. and R. V. have "serpent"; in Lam. iv. 3 A. V. has "sea monsters" and R. V. "jackals." The nearly uniform rendering in the A. V. follows closely that of the Septuagint, which translates all cases by drakōn except Gen. i. 21, where kētos, "whale," is found. This rendering doubtless originated in confusion between words from two roots, one of which meant "to howl," and the other probably "to be extended.” Modern investigation has revealed this distinction, which is probably accurately reflected in the R. V. There is some question whether "wolf " would not in some passages be more accurate than "jackal." The word is employed metaphorically (e.g., Isa. li. 9), and also with mythological reference (Isa. xxvii. 1, and the passages in the New Testament). Neither of these usages is present in the apocryphal story of Bel and the Dragon, which is simply a Haggadic story. Job xxvi. 13 is probably a reminiscence of belief in the dragon as an inhabitant of the heavens, while Amos ix. 3 exhibits the belief in the creature as existing in the sea.



Bibliography: For a review of the legends centering about the dragon nothing is better than E. S. Hartland, Legend of Perseus, 3 vols., London, 1894-96. Consult further: P. Lerch, in Orient und Occident, i. 4, pp. 751-754, Göttingen, 1862; W. W. von Baudissin, Semitische Religionsgeschichte, i. 255-292, Leipsic, 1876; G. A. Barton, in JAOS, xv. 1 (1891), 23-24; H. Gunkel, Schöpfung und Chaos, pp. 69 sqq., 320-323, Göttingen, 1895; Smith, Rel. of Sem., p. 176; DB, i. 620-621, ii. 526; EB, I. 1131- 1134, ii. 2305-06; JE, iv. 647-648: and the later commentaries on the passages cited in the text.