The two creation accounts that open the book of Genesis, the Priestly and Yahwist, are not the only creation stories found in the Bible. A much older mythic tale is preserved in passages from the Psalms, the book of Job, and the Prophets. In fact, there are remarkably few references in the Bible to the Priestly creation account (which perhaps attests to its late date of composition), while conversely, there are a number of passages that directly reference or allude to this more archaic Near Eastern myth—a myth which describes the creation of the heavens and the earth in terms of the creator deity, in the biblical sources Yahweh, slaying a primeval sea monster, variously represented as Leviathan or Rahab, as the first act of creation. Psalm 74:13-17 is one such example:
You [Yahweh] divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the dragons in the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness. You cut openings for springs and torrents; you dried up ever-flowing streams. Yours is the day, yours is the night; you established the luminaries and the sun. You have fixed all the bounds of the earth; you made summer and winter.
The language in this psalm subtly portrays an act of creation, especially the last two verses. After the slaying of Leviathan, the psalmist informs us that Yahweh then proceeds to create day and night, the heavenly bodies, and then the order of the seasons (cf. Job 38:4-11). The seven-headed sea serpent Leviathan does not necessarily symbolize the primeval chaotic waters prior to creation, but it is associated with them. More significantly, this particular theme finds parallels in mythological accounts of Israel’s ancient Near Eastern neighbors, where the creation of the cosmos from the slaying of a chaotic sea monster is a common Mesopotamian and Canaanite mythic theme. In the Enuma elish, for example, the sea goddess Tiamat, who is represented as a watery serpent, is slain by the god Marduk and it is from her slain body that the heavens and the earth are created. In the comparable account attributed to the Canaanite god Baal, we find Baal battling with the sea dragon Yum, and Greek mythology preserves the account of Zeus and Typhon. That this same mythic motive infused Israelite tradition and influenced several biblical authors in their depiction of Yahweh’s creative act as the slaying or taming of a primeval sea monster is undeniable, even if it is clear that the biblical authors have also transformed this ancient mythic lore into something new.
By his power he stilled the sea and by his skill he crushed Rahab, by his wind the heavens were made clear, his hand pierced the fleeing serpent. (Job 26:12-13)
Like the gods Marduk and Baal, Yahweh is similarly depicted in these scattered biblical accounts creating the heavens and the earth from the slaying of a water serpent, which symbolizes the primordial chaotic waters. Moreover, this mythic theme is also used to present Yahweh’s “battle” with the Sea of Reeds as a victory and recreation (see #144). Finally, this mythic tradition gets re-interpreted in both Jewish and Christian eschatological literature. Yahweh’s first act of creation, the slaying of his primordial foe, the chaotic waters, now becomes the act that is also anticipated in the end days, where Yahweh or Christ must re-create the world from the slaying of their primordial foe (see: Is 27:1; Rev 12:3, 13:1, 17:3).