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Malachi’s Dragons


St. George and the Dragon (c. 1470) by Paolo Uccello (1397 - 1475); National Gallery, London


by Trent Dee Stephens, PhD, for the Come Follow Me lesson December 12-18: Malachi


We read in Malachi 1:1-3, “The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi. I have loved you, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.”


Apparently the word “hate” is in the original Hebrew: שָׂנֵ֑אתִי (śā·nê·ṯî; to hate). The Pulpit Commentary, as cited at Bible Hub, addresses this issue: “While the Israelites were repeopling and cultivating their land, and their cities were rising from their ruins, and the temple and the capital were rebuilt, Edom, which had suffered at the hand of the same enemies, had never recovered from the blow, and still lay a scene of desolation and ruin. It seems that Nebuchadnezzar attacked and conquered Edom some few years after he had taken Jerusalem. This event happened during one of his expeditions against Egypt…” Therefore, it could be seen by the author of this part of Malachi that although both the Jews, descended from Jacob, and the Edomites, descended from Esau, had sinned and been punished, the Jews were forgiven and allowed to return and rebuild Jerusalem, whereas the Edomites had been destroyed permanently. Therefore, the author concludes that God must have loved the Jews and hated the Edomites.1


This idea that God loves one particular people and hates another may be a human perspective, even if that human is a prophet. The book of Malachi is usually attributed to a prophet named Malachi – although nothing is known of a person/prophet named Malachi. According to Thomas Nelson, editor of the third edition of Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary (1897), some scholars have proposed that the name “Malachi” is not a proper name but rather a title. This proposal is based on Malachi 3:1, “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.” According to Bible Hub, the Hebrew word for messenger, as seen twice in this verse: מַלְאָכִ֔י (mal·’ā·ḵî), is Malaki, thus the name of the book.2


Some scholars have proposed that Malachi was authored by one of the other prophets, such as Ezra or Zechariah. Other scholars have proposed that Malachi and part of Zechariah were written by three separate and anonymous prophets, two of whose writings were added to Zechariah and the third becoming the book of Malachi. As a result of all this scholarship, it is not clear who wrote that God “loved Jacob and hated Esau.” However, this was a theme throughout the Hebrew Tanakh or Miqra. The mutual hatred between the Jews and the Edomites began with Jacob stealing Esau’s birthright and blessing, as described in Genesis 25:24-34 and Genesis 27. The Edomites hated the Israelites to such a degree that, as the Israelites were migrating from Egypt to Canaan, the Edomites refused to allow them to cross their land – even if they offered to pay for what they used while crossing.3 Perhaps God “hated” the Edomites because they hated the Jews. This discussion could go on for a long time, but, as a scientist, I am more interested in the dragons mentioned in the same verse – Malachi 1:3.


According to Bible Hub, the Hebrew word לְתַנּ֥וֹת (lə·ṯan·nō·wṯ) should be translated as jackal, not dragon.4 Was this a mistranslation by the authors of the King James Bible? Apparently not necessarily. Jerome, in the Vulgate Bible, used the word “dracones” in his translation.5 Ken Ham and Tim Chaffey have written a marvelous review of this issue at Answers in Genesis. They stated, that according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, “tannin” is defined as: “a marine or land monster, i.e. sea-serpent or jackal: dragon, sea monster, serpent, whale.” They then state that, “One of the trickiest parts of this discussion involves a misunderstanding caused by a very similar looking and similar sounding word in Hebrew: תַנִּים (tannim), which is often translated as ‘jackals.’ Many early English translations of the Bible equated these two terms [tannin and tannim] and rendered tannim as ‘dragons’ instead of ‘jackals.’ Conflating these two separate words has led to a great deal of the difficulty in nailing down a definition for tannin.”6These authors go on to state, “However, if it is right to distinguish between tannin (serpent, dragon) and tannim (jackals), then we can state with a high degree of certainty that tannin refers to one of several types of creatures (probably reptilian) that could include large sea creatures and other serpentine creatures on land.”7 I recommend the entire essay for anyone interested in a more in-depth discussion of this issue.


The Pulpit Commentary states for Malachi 1:3, “Dragons; rather, jackals (Micah 1:8); Septuagint, εἰς δώματα ἐρήμου, ‘for habitations of the desert;’ Vulgate, dracones deserti, whence the Authorized Version.”8Ham and Chaffey suggested that the context may help determine whether a given scripture refers to a possible ocean setting, in which case, tannin (sea serpent) may be intended, or a desert place, where tannim (jackal) may be intended.9 However, what if לְתַנּ֥וֹת (lə·ṯan·nō·wṯ) meant “dragons of the desert” as presented in the Vulgate?


Where might the Hebrew author/authors of Malachi have come up with the idea of “dragons of the desert”? Maybe they had seen the bones of some giant creature in the desert. They had no concept of extinction or fossilization – so the bones must belong to some race of giant “dragons” living out there in the desert.

The bones of several Tanystropheus species have been discovered by modern paleontologists in the Makhtesh Ramon in Israel’s Negev Desert – around sixty miles south of Jerusalem. They were twenty-foot-long aquatic or semi-aquatic reptiles of the middle to late Triassic epochs. Their necks, comprised of unusually elongated vertebrae were nearly half their entire length.10



Fossil Tanystropheus, Paleontology Museum of Zurich, Ghedoghedo




Life reconstruction of Tanystropheus longobardicus, Nobu Tamura email:nobu.tamura@yahoo.com http://spinops.blogspot.com


The southern part of Makhtesh Ramon also has an Ammonite Wall – with hundreds of ammonite fossils – marine animals that lived millions of years ago in the shallow sea that covered the entire Negev Desert at that time. Ammonites had an exoskeleton shell and eight or ten octopus-like arms. They were probably free swimmers, but when they died, they sank to the seafloor, their soft body parts usually disappeared, and their exoskeletons filled with sediment, which fossilized over time – thus preserving the shape of the ammonite shells.11




Ammonite Wall at Makhtesh Ramon; top insert: ammonite fossil, bottom insert: artist’s concept of a living ammonite


What would become Israel was largely under water during the Triassic, so typical land dinosaurs were few and far between. None-the-less, dinosaur tracks have been found at, and only at, Beit Zayit near Jerusalem. At that site, there is a slab of limestone upon which around 200 prints of dinosaur tracks, some with three toes, are exhibited – [perhaps made by a Struthiomimus-like dinosaur].12 The tracks were made in dolomitic-marly limestone, indicating a shallow marine origin. The limestone was laid down in regular 4-6 inch thick layers, with layers of loose, crumbly marl in between. The fossils in most of the layers are primarily of marine gastropods that lived in shallow water. Imprints of terrestrial plants found in some of the layers suggest that this deposit was laid down near the shore. And there are dinosaur tracks.13




One of some two hundred three-toed dinosaur tracks at Beit Zayit near Jerusalem.


It is unreasonable to believe that modern paleontologists were the first people in Israel to find Tanystropheus bones, or ammonites, or dinosaur footprints. According to the habitatstone website, “For millennia Jerusalem Limestone has been quarried and used in Israel to construct everything from biblical royal palaces and temples to humble residences.”14


There is no manuscript of which I am aware where the reaction to Tanystropheus bones, or ammonites, or dinosaur footprints discovered by ancient Israelite quarrymen were ever recorded. Parallels to the dinosaur tracks discovered in Israel can be found at Mt. Pisano, Tuscany; on the Jurassic Coast of southern England; and along the southwestern coast of Brittany. Again, there is no manuscript of which I am aware where ancient Italian or British quarrymen recorded their reactions, but there are other, more subtle records.


The painting depicted at the beginning of this essay, of St. George and the Dragon, was painted around 1470, in Florence, Italy by Paolo Uccello (1397 - 1475). It now hangs in the National Gallery, London. Interestingly, the dragon depicted in the painting is bipedal with three toes on each foot, exactly like the dinosaur footprints at Mt. Pisano, Tuscany; on the Jurassic Coast of southern England; and along the southwestern coast of Brittany. And is that odd-shaped cloud in the upper right corner of the painting an ammonite fossil, which are often found in similar sediments to dinosaur tracks? Such a combination is found on the Jurassic Coast of England. What would have inspired Uccello to depict a dragon exactly as would be concluded from seeing dinosaur three-toed footprints? I pondered this question as I stood before this small painting in the National Gallery a few years ago.

Our ancient and medieval ancestors had no concept of geological sedimentation, extinction, or fossilization, as far as we know. They often considered fossils to be “petrified” animals – as with the British thinking that ammonite fossils were petrified snakes. Therefore, they believed that whatever made those footprints in solid rock were terrifying beasts that still lived on the earth – perhaps in caves – and could breathe fire sufficient to melt solid rock.

I have also visited the Bayeux Tapestry in Bayeux, France, where the following scene it depicted – this is a copy of two pages from my guide book from the exhibit.




Two pages from my guide book of the Bayeux Tapestry showing the attack on Dol Castle, Brittany (lower illustration)


In the lower illustration, William, Duke of Normandy, is shown attacking Dol Castle, Brittany. Notice that just below the depiction of the motte and bailey castle, along the margin, is a bipedal dragon. I have made a note of that in the margin, along with a hand-written note about Saint Teilo.

According to legend, in 549 AD, Saint Teilo, with a small group of monks, moved from England to Dol (Dol-de-Bretagne) in Brittany to avoid the yellow plague. As the story goes, he stayed in Brittany for seven years and seven months. Apparently, the area near Dol Castle was being plagued by “a belligerent winged dragon,” So King Budic II of Brittany asked Saint Teilo to help him subdue the dragon. The legend claims that Saint Teilo tamed the dragon, by means of his holy vestments, and tied it to a rock in the sea off the west coast of Brittany.15


Now, on occasions when there is an extreme low tide along the south-west coast of Brittany, hundreds of three-toed dinosaur tracks can be seen in the limestone sea floor. 16 Do these tracks in the sea off the Brittany coast have anything to do with the legend that Saint Teilo tied a dragon out there? I think so.



Three-toed dinosaur track in the limestone, at low tide, off the coast of Vendée, France


It is my opinion that the dragons of the Old Testament and throughout ancient and medieval history are the dinosaurs of today. Richard Owen was the person who coined the term “dinosaur,”17 but dinosaur fossils have been known for millennia. Clearly, the Chinese considered dinosaur bones to be dragon bones and recorded them as such. For example, Chang Qu discovered “dragon” bones at Wucheng in Sichuan Province during the Western Jin Dynasty (265–316 AD) and published his findings in Huayang Guo Zhi.18


Dinosaur bones, as well as the bones of other extinct animals from the Triassic, are most commonly discovered in desert, “wilderness” environments, because the fossils are best preserved in those climates – even though the bones and tracks were originally laid down in wet environments. Our ancestors probably did not often dig in the “wilderness” unless such sites were close enough to cities or towns for the people to use the rocks bearing the fossils and/or tracks as building material. Certainly, our ancestors, before the nineteenth century, did not go out into the harsh, dry wilderness for the sole purpose of digging up bones, as do modern paleontologists. And one can imagine that on the rare occasions when quarrymen did uncover fossils they were misidentified and even viewed with superstition. Thus, we see several times in the Old Testament, such as in Malachi 1:3, where dragons are described as being in uninhabited, deserted, wilderness environments, the same type of environment where jackals are typically encountered.


References

1. biblehub.com/Malachi 1-3.htm, retrieved 3 December 2022

2. biblehub.com/malachi/3-1.htm; see also Eissfeldt, Otto (1965). The Old Testament: An Introduction. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. p. 440

3. Numbers 20:14-21

4. biblehub.com/Malachi 1-3.htm, retrieved 3 December 2022

5. biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Malachias 1:3-5; retrieved 4 December 2022

6. Ham, Ken and Tim Chaffey, Tannin: Sea Serpent, Dinosaur, Snake, Dragon, or Jackal?, 2012; answersingenesis.org/dinosaurs/tannin-sea-serpent-dinosaur-snake-dragon-or-jackal; retrieved 3 December 2022

7. Ibid

8. biblehub.com/Malachi 1-3.htm, retrieved 3 December 2022

9. Ham and Chaffey

10. Stephan, N.F. Spiekman and Torsten M. Scheyer, A taxonomic revision of the genus Tanystropheus (Archosauromorpha, Tanystropheidae), Palaeo Electronica, 2019; palaeo-electronica.org/content/current-in-press-articles/2870-revision-of-tanystropheus; retrieved 7 December 2022

11. Tsimblerin, Lev, Ammonite Wall, Makhtesh Ramon – Visitors Guide; israel-in-photos.com/ammonite-wall.html; retrieved 3 December 2022

12. Gilad, Moshe, The (Very) Brief History of Dinosaurs in the Holy Land, 2021; haaretz.com/israel-news/2021-08-18/ty-article-magazine/a-very-brief-history-of-dinosaurs-in-the-holy-land

13. Ali Bassam Ali Taher Khalaf-von Jaffa, Norman, Ornithomimid Dinosaur Tracks from Beit Zeit, West of Jerusalem, Palestine, Gazelle: The Palestinian Biological Bulletin, 56:1-7, 2006; archive.org/web/20070430221039/www.geocities.com/jaffacity/Dinosaur_Palestine.html; retrieved 6 December 2022

14. habitatstone.com/signature-limestone/jerusalem-limestone; retrieved 6 December 2022

15. Jones, Mary, The Life of Saint Teilo; maryjones.us/ctexts/teilo.html; retrieved 8 December 2022

16. everythingdinosaur.com/blog/_archives/2015/03/22/spring-low-tides-uncover-french-dinosaur-footprints.html; retrieved 8December 2022

17. Owen, Richard, Report on British Fossil Reptiles. Part II, report given at the Eleventh Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science; Plymouth, England, July 1841

18. Dong, Zhiming, Dinosaurian Faunas of China (English ed.), China Ocean Press; Springer-Verlag, Beijing, Berlin, New York, 1992

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I will try to Zoom tonight's Where Science Meets Religion talk and future talks on Zoom. Meeting ID: 935 754 2152 Passcode: nka I hope you can make it. Trent Stephens, PhD

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