This is an excerpt from Adam Brackin’s new Arthur Evans novel, THE CHAOS SPIRAL, coming soon from Wooton Major Publishing.
Helicopter or not, Arthur was using his lecturing voice again. “Tiamat was the great chaos serpent who lives at the bottom of the sea. It’s from the Samarian creation myth, the Akkadian Enuma Elish. Her lover was Abzu, the freshwater dragon whom the younger gods murdered in order to usurp his lordship of the universe. Enraged, Tiamat gives birth to the first dragons. She makes war upon her treacherous first children, only to be slain by Marduk, the god of Storms in the end. He then forms the heavens and earth from her corpse.”
Cat and David looked at each other quizzically, then back to Arthur, waiting for him to explain the connection to Genesis. Father Matthew cleared his throat into the mic. It seemed to snap Arthur into gear.
“Order from chaos, you see. Tiamat is the first and greatest of the chaos serpents. Leviathan, Lotan, Tannim. She is nearly every whale, sea-serpent, behemoth, snake, dragon, and jackal that made it into the Bible.”
“There are dragons in the Bible?” What insanity was Arthur talking about this time?
“Jackal?” Cat laughed in equal measure of disbelief.
“‘Listen! The report is coming — ’” Matthew offered, using his scripture-quoting voice. It sounded even more godlike over the headset. “‘A great commotion from the land of the north! It will make the towns of Judah desolate, a haunt of jackals.’”
“Jeremiah 10:22,” Arthur affirmed. But in the King James version, there is a much more appropriate word used.”
Matthew accepted the challenge. “‘Behold, the noise of the bruit is come, and a great commotion out of the north country, to make the cities of Judah desolate, and a den of dragons.’” Just how many versions did the priest have memorized anyway?
“Chaos serpents are everywhere in the Bible, if you know where to look,” Arthur continued. “Exodus, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Nehemiah . . . ” He faltered. “Lamentations?”
David was amazed. He’d definitely never heard this in Sunday School. He felt a sudden, perverse desire to throw that little fact in his dad’s face next time he complained about the evils of D&D.
“Quite right,” Matthew affirmed. “And you will recall that Malachi also refers to the Tannoth, plural. And John’s Revelation of Christ must not be overlooked, nor must we forget Genesis.” The two men had talked about all of this before, David realized.
Arthur waggled a thankful finger in the air. “The Leviathan in the Book of Job reflects the older Canaanite Lotan, a primeval monster defeated by the god Hadad. Parallels to the role of Mesopotamian Tiamat defeated by Marduk have long been drawn in comparative mythology. And as I said, Tohu — chaos or formlessness in old-Hebrew — is clearly related. It’s all right there in the first few lines of Genesis. Chaos, waters, firmament. Even Noah’s ‘springs of the great deep’ have a connection to poor Abzu’s murder, after a fashion. Subsequent to which there was only chaos once more.”
“Then why jackals?” Cat asked.
“Translation choice,” Arthur shrugged. “Scholars have, uh, pragmatically interpreted the chaos serpent as referring to other predatory creatures known to zoology since the beginning. Choices such as the crocodile, great whales, and named sea monsters like Leviathan, are in general understandable, if lamentable. But no aquatic substitution worked for land-locked Jerusalem, so a local animal was chosen. It’s deeply ironic. We modern folks miss the pattern of the sea dragon in Genesis, Earth Behemoth in Job, sky dragon in Jeremiah, and fire dragons in Numbers — if we aren’t paying very close attention. And that’s just off the top of my head.”
David beamed. There were dragons in the Bible! He’d had no idea about any of that, but he couldn’t have set it up better if he had. “The Bible is not a science book!” he blurted, parroting Arthur’s words back to him.
“Indeed,” Arthur nodded. “The point was not the biological reality of dragons to any of these writers, but rather the enigmatic reality that an ancient unknown chaotic force was coming or had arrived. Things so terrible and unimaginable that — at least in Jeremiah’s time — there would be only dragons in Jerusalem. It was a powerful literary symbol.”
“For what it’s worth,” Matthew added, “Jeremiah was right. The conquest of Israel and great exile was pretty horrific, as we are told by others later.”
“Of course, not all the dragons are bad,” Arthur added. “Isaiah’s vision of the Seraphim comes to mind.”
“I thought Seraphim was a sort of angel?” deMata countered.
“Well, yes,” Arthur agreed, “but the literal translation would be ‘fire serpent.’ The six-winged creatures in Isaiah’s vision are basically chaos dragons too. One essential point being that they serve the Lord, just as chaos must. You see, the point of a symbol is to show the deeper truth than some literal object or event.”
“In the case of Isaiah,” Matthew explained, “the purpose for all those wings was to demonstrate that even the most terrifying creatures cannot look upon Him, are naked before Him, and cannot walk on His holy ground. That’s not to say it didn’t happen, just that it had a deeper meaning that must not be overlooked, or we might miss the point entirely. It is no wonder Isaiah was terrified.”
“Is that why Satan is depicted as a snake in Eden?” Cat asked, “because he was a fallen fire serpent?”
“Certainly not,” Arthur answered. “Technically, the serpent in Eden is never identified as Satan. And Satan is never identified as an angel. That’s medieval Christian mythology. But I think we might still be missing the point.”
David smiled. He had heard this one before. It was nice not to be at the receiving end this time, but thanks to Matthew, he also knew that Arthur’s was not the only reasonable perspective.
“I think perhaps what Arthur is implying,” Matthew clarified, “is that it takes the coming together of order and chaos to give meaning to creation. Apologies, it’s something Yosef and I spoke about on the plane. ‘A complex phenomenological approach, not a simple practical one.’ That’s the thrust of it at any rate. Or perhaps Isaiah’s prophetic words are more appropriate? ‘I form the light and create darkness. I make peace and create evil. I the Lord do all these things.’ We mustn’t conflate chaos with evil, is I believe the point here Arthur, is it not?”
That was from the Bible, too? Not for the first time, David seriously wondered if his understanding of the Bible and God was entirely too shallow.
Arthur grunted. “Isaiah’s not wrong. Genesis says that God used chaos to form the world by putting it in order. It’s an idea far older than Moses, I assure you.”
“‘And the earth was without form, and void.’” Matthew rumbled. “‘And darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters . . . And God said, let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.’ Order from chaos indeed.”
Arthur waggled a finger. “Quite right. To name something is to give it a function and deny it its mysterious qualities. And we too are allowed to bring order to chaos by naming things. It was the power given to Adam, the animal-namer. The lion, the bear, the snake, the bird of prey, we collect these creatures of death into zoos to amuse children because we no longer fear them. We would so steal the power of the dragon, if we could classify it taxonomically. Which is, of course, entirely impossible. That’s why the dragon remains such a powerful image even today. And yet, the god of Genesis is the god of the chaos serpent too. The very structure of Genesis One is about the true word spoken by God which brings order out of the chaos. The naming, the days, it’s all quite orderly. Plus, this concept of ordered chaos is a truer reading of the spiral’s most deep and ancient meaning.”
“‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’” Matthew quoted. “John’s opening lines.”
“Yes,” Arthur agreed, smoothing out his beard. “Logos is the word used there. A philosophical insight from the ancient Greeks. That’s full circle on the idea.
Doc Brackin is an English teacher, writer, gamer, and Christian apologist, though not necessarily in that order. He lives in Dallas, TX with his wife and son.
Adam L. Brackin, “Excerpt from The Chaos Spiral,” An Unexpected Journal: Dragons 5, no. 1. (Summer 2022), 19-24.