In Defense of Dragons

I believe in dragons. No, I do not believe in unicorns, griffins, manitcores, or hippogriffs. I do not believe in sylphs, salamanders, gnomes or undines. I do not believe in fairies or elves (sorry Tolkien). I do not believe in the Minotaur, centaurs or satyrs. I certainly do not believe in the bogeyman, will-o-the-wisps, ghosts, or poltergeists. But, and I say this emphatically, I do truly and with certainty believe in dragons. I believe that they actually once existed on earth, and they may possibly still exist in remote and exotic places today.

Why in the name of reason and intelligence, you ask, would a sane 21st century man, seemingly rational and not too insane, say such a thing? How could anyone believe in dragons? And the answer is simple… I cannot deny the evidence. Evidence? What evidence? (You see, I can hear your thoughts: even though I do not believe in clairvoyance.) Oh, yes. There is evidence. Let’s examine it.

First, there is the universality of the dragon phenomenon. You find dragons (or dragonesque creatures) in ancient cultural myths: Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek, Norse, Celtic, Indian, Chinese, Japanese… and the list goes on and on. You find tales of dragons in Europe and Asia, Oceania, the Middle East, and the Americas (ancient and modern). There are stories of dragons in ancient texts, in Medieval bestiaries, and in the journals of modern explorers. Everywhere you go around this globe, dragons keep popping up. Indeed, the World Book Encyclopedia (1973 edition) in its article “Dragons” notes that: “Every country had them in its mythology.” Every country?! Why so prevalent? Why so universal? Unless they were/are real?

Furthermore, there are tales of creatures that are similar to dragons worldwide. Consider the common legends regarding sea serpents, lake monsters, and other aquatic dragon-like beings. Of course, there is Nessie. (“Oh, puh-leeeeze. Not that old hack story!”) But did you know that there is also Chessie in the Chesapeake Bay? Or Ogopogo in Canada? How about Champ in Lake Champlain? Or Tessie in Lake Tahoe? Actually there are scores of legends regarding large water serpents, monsters or dragons found from America to China. Could there be a reality behind these legends?

Next, the Holy Scriptures present dragons as real creatures. (“Oh, come on! You’ve got to be kidding?!”) Admittedly in some older translations, such as the infamous KJV (or AV, if you prefer) there are references to obviously mythical creatures—unicorns, satyrs, cockatrices, and the like. However, these references are the result of mistranslation and misunderstanding of the original text. But this is not the case with biblical passages about dragons. Indeed, dragon references are quite common and straightforward in Holy Writ. Let’s review some of these references very briefly.

There are the passages that deal with Leviathan (e.g., Psalm 74:14, 104:26; Isaiah 27:1, 30:7). The most notable of these is Job 41. Here we have a description of a fearsome creature that sounds a lot like a dragon. Next, note Behemoth in Job 40:15-24. Then there are references to tannin, which is usually translated as “dragons” (Psalm 74:13, Isaiah 51:9, Jeremiah 51:34, etc. The Bible refers to “fierce flying serpents” or seraphim (Isaiah 30:6, 14:29), as well as a great sea monster call rahab (Isaiah 30:7, 27:1, Psalm 89:10). And finally, the New Testament pointedly calls the devil a “dragon” (Gk. drakon) in Revelation 12:3, 13:2, 16:13 and 20:2. Again, the point to all this is that the Bible presents dragons as real creatures. It seems that the readership of the original biblical texts were actually familiar with dragons as living animals, seen, known, and remembered.

But can it be true? Could dragons have really lived? Well, we have other evidence… much more familiar to us. Go to Pittsburgh, Washington DC, New York, or any other large city with a good museum of Natural History and they will proudly show you their dragon collection. Now, I know they won’t call it that. Rather, they will show you their fossilized remains of dinosaurs. Dinosaurs? Am I saying that dinosaurs are really dragons? Certainly. Think about what a dragon is… a large, reptilian creature, usually with a long neck, long tail, and sometimes with wings. Sound familiar? Look up a picture of T Rex, a brachiosaur, a stegosaurus, or a pterodactyl and what do you have? A reasonable representation of a dragon.

Indeed, secular, more skeptical sources verify this very idea. The World Book Encyclopedia (again, 1973 edition) in its article on “Dragons” states that “the dragons of legend are strangely like actual creatures that lived in the past. They are much like the giant reptiles which inhabited the earth long before man is supposed to have appeared on earth.” The Encyclopedia Britannica (1968 edition) noted that: “The belief in dragons seems to have arisen without the slightest knowledge on the part of the ancients of the gigantic and astonishingly dragon-like extinct reptiles of past ages” (italics added). In fact, the similarity between dragons and dinosaurs is so striking that scientist Carl Sagan actually wrote a book entitled The Dragons of Eden to explain this. Of course, being a secular evolutionist he didn’t believe that dinosaurs and men existed together. So he suggested that some extremely primitive mammalian ancestor of man had retained some type of genetic memory of dinosaurs and passed this on through the generations, until finally homo sapiens came along and sorta recalled the idea of dinosaurs, which became the universal legends of dragons. (And they think that we Christians have a lot of faith in things hard to believe!!!)

It might be pointed out that the classic, popular portrayal of dragons doesn’t always look like a dinosaur. True. Yet, there is enough similarity to make you think. Also we must note that not all ancient and medieval images of dinosaurs showed them as winged, fire-breathing, spiky-spined beasts. I have before me an illustration from a book entitled Serpentium et Draconum Historiae (History of Serpents and Dragons) published in 1640 by Ulysses Aldrovandus. The picture I am looking at is a woodcut of draco bipes, or a two-legged dragon. Except for the fact that it only has two legs, this could be a drawing of any sauropod, such as Apatosaurus or Cetiosaurus, from a modern book on dinosaurs. I am also looking at a Dutch woodcut from the 15th century picturing St. George killing the dragon. This dragon looks almost exactly like renderings of a Baryonyx, a dinosaur discovered in England in 1983. Further, it should be noted that not all ancient and Medieval sources portray dragons as flying creatures, or even as necessarily large. Some dragons are reputed to be quite small—about the size of a chicken. Some have wings. Some do not. Some have spikes on their back or tail. Some are more serpentine. All in all, the classic reports of dragons seem to have a great deal of variety, much like dinosaurs. Furthermore, their varied shapes generally correspond very well with the many different beasts we call dinosaurs.

Bottom line? I do believe in dragons… er, dinosaurs… umm, tannin… uh, Leviathan. Well, whatever you want to call them. They are real.

I called this Trogo a “Defense” of dragons. But understand me, I am not only defending their existence. I am also defending their reputation. You see, dragons have gotten a pretty bum rap through the centuries. At first glance this seems largely justified. Any animal that goes around incinerating damsels in distress and roasting armored knights, eating livestock and small children, and generally creating havoc and mayhem—well, they sorta deserve their infamy. But we must remember that this is the legendary image of dragons, not the real thing.

Also, we should ask, does this legendary image mean that dragons are really bad creatures in themselves? I don’t think so. Let me illustrate by using a parallel situation. I was raised to not like snakes. The devil was a snake. Snakes are poisonous. Snakes are slimy and slippery and wicked and dangerous. Ugh. Snake: No good! But then, I found a snake. A little brown earth snake. I kept him, and named him Michael. I used to carry him around in my shirt pocket. (This made for loads of merriment in youth Bible studies and among waitresses in restaurants.) I found out that snakes are not intrinsically evil. They are not slimy, slippery, or wicked. They are just snakes. They are creations of God, and they have a place in His natural order just like wolf pups and bear cubs and baby crocodiles. (All cute—but don’t put your hand in their mouths when they grow up.)

Oh, it is true that the Bible portrays the devil in serpentine terms (as well as draconian). But this doesn’t mean that snakes are really evil. The devil just used one to do his infernal bidding. Indeed, if we are to brand creatures as basically and inherently evil because they are used as an image of the satanic, then we must also condemn lions, wolves, leopards, and even lambs (check out 1 Peter 5:8; Acts 20:29; Revelation 13:1-2, 11). It is not really that lions, leopards or wolves are truly wicked. Rather it is that the fierce nature of their corrupted condition (made so by mankind’s Fall) is an apt illustration of the fierce nature of the diabolical. In a similar way, snakes were used because many ancient peoples thought of them as eminently wise creatures. (Remember the serpent’s “cunning” in Genesis 3:1?) And in the same way, what more impressive image of power, strength, ferocity or brutality could we image than a dragon/dinosaur? (Think of T-Rex chomping down on a poor Apatosaurus. And don’t the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park almost seem demonic in their cunning and cruelty?)

Conclusion: I have gone mad… or not. Perhaps it is not my credulity or insanity that prompts this Trogo. Perhaps it is acceptance of Scripture, history and science… all together demonstrating that dragons did (perhaps still do) exist. And that they are creatures made by God, for His purposes, and to serve His divine will. Remember, the Word says, “Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons!” (Psalm 148:7). Amen.

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