Investigator Magazine No. 28, 1993 January
 
 

THE BIBLE AND THE CROCODILE

AFTER 24 CENTURIES OF DOUBT THE BIBLE COMES UP TRUMPS

"WILL YOU EVEN PUT ME IN THE WRONG?" (Job 40:8)


(Investigator 28,  1993 January )
 
 

A DISAGREEMENT

Under the entry "Crocodile" Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable quotes Greek historian Plutarch (46 -126 AD) as follows:

The Egyptians worship God symbollically in the crocodile, that being the only animal without a tongue, like the Divine Logos which standeth not in need of speech.
Another Greek, Aristotle   (384-322 BC), similarly claimed:
Furthermore, they (quadrupeds) all have the ordinary organs of sensation, including a tongue, with the exception of the Egyptian crocodile. (Hutchins 1989
Pliny the Elder  (23-79 AD), a Roman official and writer, likewise wrote:
The crocodile dwells in the Nile: It is a four-footed evil thing, as dangerous on land as in the River. It is the only land creature without a tongue and the only one that bites by pressing with its movable upper jaw. (Healy 1989)
Captain Pitman, a crocodile hunter around 1920, claimed:
Strange to relate, the crocodile has no tongue. If anyone has the opportunity of examining a dead specimen, just look down the throat, and all that is seen is a gaping cavern leading down into the stomach. The tongue is absent, and all that there is in its place is a small, yellow, fatty-looking object about the size of a large White Hart cherry.
Author Doug Storer wrote in 1980:
The crocodile has a long, narrow head tapering to a point while the alligator's head is broad, almost rectangular in shape with a blunt snout.  It also has a tongue which the crocodile does not.
The Curator of Birds and Reptiles at the Adelaide Zoo stated by letter:
The crocodile does not have a tongue as such but there is an area of tissue at the back of their throats that is used as a valve to close off the passage of air, when submerging under water. I have tried to find out if this tissue is in fact called a "tongue" but to no avail. (Letter by Mark Craig)
The Bible disagrees with all the above sources.  In Job chapter 41 it calls the crocodile "Leviathan" and asks:
Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook, or press down his tongue with a cord?
 

LEVIATHAN NOT TIAMAT

To  "Press down his tongue with a cord" refers to the ancient practice of leading captured animals by a rope around the lower jaw. That Leviathan refers to the crocodile is seen by Leviathan being described as aquatic (41:1, 7, 31-32), untameable (41:4-5), strong (41:12), possessing  teeth  (41:14) and having a scaly back immune to sword, spears, sling stones and arrows. (41:15-17, 26-29)

The crocodile, and not the lion, is the strongest predator of humans on land. Tanara (1978) says:

In fact these reptiles are the strongest man eaters of all the animals on the African continent.
An objection to identifying Leviathan as the crocodile is that verses 19-21 refer to fire, sparks and smoke coming from the creature's mouth and nose.  On this basis it has been claimed that Leviathan is mythic and refers to Tiamat  the Babylonian goddess of chaos.

By considering a broader context and reading from chapter 38 we see that a number of common animals and their attributes are being discussed. These include the lion, raven, mountain goat, ass, ox, ostrich, horse, hawk, eagle and hippopotamus. The theme in chapters 38-41 is the contrast of human ignorance with God's knowledge and power. If created creatures are each impressive and incomprehensible in various ways then how much more so the God who made them!

The introduction of a non-existent mythical creature after a series of genuine ones would make nonsense of the theme. For example to the question "Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook?" an appropriate answer if Leviathan were mythical would be "No, but neither can you because it doesn't exist!"  The lesson of God's greater power and understanding is then lost!

What then do the smoke and sparks refer to?  Chapter 41 is describing the difficulty and danger of trying to kill or capture a large specimen. And it's describing it in poetry. Notice that every pair of lines (chapters 38-41) has the same or similar thought twice over. This is a form of poetry.  In poetry figures of speech are more concentrated than in everyday speech.

The "smoke" and "fire" may refer to the spray being thrown up in the battle and the sunshine reflecting through it. That a battle is being described in Job is clear from the words "harpoon", "spear", "club", "arrows", "rope", etc.  Also note verse 8:

Lay hands on him; Think of the battle;
You will not do it again!
Or perhaps the metaphors of "smoke" and "fire" were used merely to try to evoke in the hearer or listener the terror of trying to fight or capture the creature.  The figure of speech would he similar to an English person's use of the words "steamy" or "sizzling" to describe a sex scene or the phrase "the sparks were flying" to describe a lively argument or debate

Certainly to tackle a large crocodile would be dangerous and terrifying. The crocodile's head can deliver sledgehammer blows forward and sideways. Its hind feet and tail can propel it out of the water at great speed.  (An article in Reader's Digest, November 1989, describes an incident of a crocodile twice jumping up and pulling a woman from a tree and subjecting her to the "death roll".)  After propelling itself up, the crocodile of course has to crash down throwing watery spray all around:

When he raises himself up the mighty are afraid,
at the crashing they are beside themselves. (41:25)
The crocodile's teeth can crush or sever limbs or grasp the victim while literally shaking him apart:
In his neck abides strength. (41:22)
Round about his teeth is terror. (41:14)
Ross (1989) includes a photo of a dead man in a number of pieces being retrieved out of the stomach of a dead crocodile. The same reference says:

However, the accounts of fatal attacks by large Nile Crocodiles – 23 of 43 attacks investigated – indicate that these crocodiles were extremely dangerous and ferocious. There were instances where crocodiles, having seized their victim were repeatedly stabbed with spears, pelted with stones, or had sticks rammed down their gullets in order to prise the human victim from their jaws – but to no avail.  In these attacks few bodies or remains were retrieved. Considering that a large adult Nile Crocodile may weigh up to fourteen times that of an average human and can seize and drown Cape buffaloes as heavy as themselves a human being, out of his or her element in the water, has little chance of surviving such an attack. (p. 177)
Similar "smoke" and "fire" imagery as in Job 41 is employed in Psalm chapter 18. There, God is portrayed in terms of smoke, fire and glowing coals. Again, it's not literal. The writer in Psalm 18 is alluding to the time of the Exodus when Egypt experienced a plague of hail and lightning (Exodus 9) and when Mount Sinai rumbled and smoked. (Exodus 19:16-18)  In picturing God in such terms the Psalmist is not being literal but is trying to reveal God as awesome and powerful. The author of Job was likewise using a literary device to portray the crocodile as awesome and powerful.
 


BACKGROUND INFORMATION

The Crocodilians are an Order composed of crocodiles, alligators, gavials and caimans. The Order is divide into three families and 23 species:

Family  Crocodylidae –14 species including the Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus)
      "      Alligatoridae – 7 species
      "      Gavialidea    – 2 species.

The largest confirmed size of a modern crocodile – based on a skull in the British Museum – was 10metres. Living individuals of six metres, weighing over a ton, are still around. The 1992 Guinness Book of Records says:

There are four protected estuarine crocodiles at the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary, Orissa State, eastern India which measure more than 6m l9ft 8in in length. The largest individual is over 7m 23 ft long. (p. 36)
The largest Nile Crocodile estimated in recent times was about 5.5 metres long.

Crocodiles have a slimmer head than alligators and the fourth tooth of the lower jaw pokes through a groove when the mouth is closed. Crocodiles live in salt or brackish water and drop their eggs in a hole at the edge of the water. Alligators live in fresh water, sluggish streams and swamps. They build nests of mud and grass.  It used to be thought that alligators live for thousands of years. However, the oldest in captivity died at 86. Alligators are comparatively peaceful and may be kept as pets.  Crocodiles, in contrast, are aggressive – as Job 41 indicates.

An article in Prime Time magazine quoted the curator of reptiles at the Museum of Victoria:

At one stage in the United States people were buying tiny alligators as pets. Once they grew too large or because their owners were bored with them, they flushed them down toilets. Today there are large colonies of alligators roaming the sewers of many American cities.
This is really an example of how easily urban legends are spread even in our enlightened times. The New York Times (1935 February 10) reported that a group of boys pulled a 7 1/2 foot  (2.3 metre) 125 pound alligator from a sewer with a rope and clubbed it to death with shovels. It was later allegedly disposed of in an incinerator by sanitation workers. The alleged alligator had, it was theorised, been dropped from a ship and had swum up the sewer. This is the only possibly authentic example of alligators in sewers I could find – if it wasn't after all a joke! Perhaps it provided the idea for that scary movie – Alligator – released in 1980.

Crocodiles never poke a tongue out and neither can a tongue be seen when the mouth is wide open – which are good reasons for thinking it doesn't have a tongue.

So let's get back to that question now and find out the truth.
 
 

THE TONGUE CONFIRMED

Chamber's Encyclopaedia (1908) says:

…the flat tongue is fixed to the floor of the mouth.
Kingsley (1912) wrote:
In the turtles and crocodiles the tongue lies in the floor of the mouth and is not protrusible.
Ihle et al (1927 wrote:
Among the reptiles the Chelonia and Crocodilia possess a poorly manoeuvrable tongue.
Young (1962) wrote:
In the crocodiles … There is a flap on the hind end of the tongue, which, with a fold of the palate, enables the mouth to be closed off from the respiratory passage and hence kept open under water.
It is possible that the above four references are making general statements about the Order Crocodilia (with its 23 species) and that some species are exceptions and lack a tongue. The following references, however definitely include the crocodile:
In fact in the tortoises and turtles as in the crocodiles, the tongue is present… (Tanara 1978)

On the floor of the mouth is the thick, fleshy tongue, firmly attached and therefore immobile.
(The New Encyclopedia Britannica 1988)

Ross (1989) points out that crocodiles but not the American Alligator and the caimans, have salt glands on the tongue used for excreting salt. Finally Pistorius (1986) has a photo of a Nile Crocodile (the species the writer of Job knew about) assisting a hatchling by cracking the egg with her tongue.

A letter from Crocodile Farm in Northern Territory says:

Crocodiles and their relatives do have a tongue although it is unlike what we conventionally perceive to be a tongue in that "it is attached along its length to the lower jaws" (pp. 24 in G. Webb's "Crocodiles of Australia").  It doesn't look like a tongue but is functionally and presumably phylogenetically equivalent to tongues in other reptiles.
Incidentally, the tissue performing as a valve at the back of the crocodile's throat – mentioned in the letter from the Curator of the Adelaide Zoo – is not the tongue.  This has already been seen in the quote from Young (1962) above.  Another quote is in the book Crocodiles and Alligators:
The nasal passages extend above the secondary palate, opening directly into the throat behind a valve formed by a fleshy fold at the back of the palate meeting with a similar fold on the tongue. This separates water from inspired air, allowing the crocodile to breathe submerged. (p. 47)

 

ANOTHER OBJECTION

Let's now discuss another objection. Much of the Bible uses figures of speech or is otherwise symbolic. I've already discussed an example of that. How, therefore do we know that the word "tongue" in Job 41 is literal. Perhaps the writer didn't really think that crocodiles have a tongue and was using the word figuratively to mean something else?

A reading of the entire chapter (Job 41) clearly reveals that all mentions of the crocodile's body parts are literal including the nose, jaw, skin, head, neck, back, eyes, mouth, heart, nostrils, etc. Since the tongue is not stated as being an exception we do not expect it to be one. Below is reprinted an extract from Young's Concordance listing all occurrences of the word "tongue". The reader who cares to study the list, and perhaps look up all the entries will see that the word "tongue" in the Bible refers to the literal organ, to language or to speech. Context always clarifies which is meant.

[The reproduction of page 994 from Young's Concordance is here omitted.]

Another body part mentioned in Job 41 is the heart and this too is linked to a figure of speech.   We read in 41:21:

His heart is hard as a stone, hard as the nether millstone.
The idea of a "hard heart" or "hardness of heart" is a Biblical figure of speech and denotes the quality being without pity or of being persistently stubborn in doing evil. If a crocodile gets hold of you that's exactly how it will behave.
 
 

CROCODILE WORSHIP

Ancient Egyptians worshipped the Nile Crocodile. They built temples and even a city, Crocodopolis, in its honour. The crocodile god was depicted with a human body and a crocodile's head. He was one of 438 Egyptian deities.  His name was Sobek and he was supposedly the son of Neith the oldest of goddesses.

The Bible says

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles. (Romans 1:23

Thus says the Lord God: I will destroy the idols, and put an end to the images,  in Memphis… (30:13)

Memphis was one of the capitals of Egypt and so the end of its idols implied the end of idol worship throughout Egypt. This is indicated by Zephaniah:
The Lord … will famish all the gods of the earth, and to him shall bow down, each in its place, all the lands of the nations. (2:11)
Worship of crocodiles and all the other ancient idols of Egypt and the surrounding nations gradually ceased. Judaism and then Christianity opposed idolatry in Egypt and later Islam did also.

The second portion of the verse "to him shall bow down all the lands of the nations" is not yet fulfilled.  Already, however, in "all the lands of the nations" people "bow down" to the God they hear about from the Bible.
 


CONCLUSIONS

In Job 40:8 God is alleged to have asked Job:

Will you even put me in the wrong?
In the case of the crocodile's tongue 24 centuries of contrary opinion – including professional opinion – failed to do that.  In the case of  "reptile" worship and other idolatries of ancient Egypt, they lasted for centuries before becoming defunct which was Biblically predicted.  Now in "all the lands of the nations" people "bow down" to "the Lord" which was also predicted

In putting the Bible to the test, however, we need to understand – or at least allow for – its figures of speech, its poetry and its literary structure. If we take a figure of speech literally or treat something literal as a figure of speech – then either way we'll get things wrong.  We might then become like those people who:

Use their tongues to deceive. (Romans 3:13)

 

References

Craig, M Curator of Birds and Reptiles, Adelaide Zoo. Letter dated February 14, 1992

Evans, I H 1990  Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable 4th edition, Cassell Publishers, Britain,  p. 284
 
Healy, J P 1991  Pliny  The E1der  Natural  History A  Selection, Penguin,  Britain,   pp. 81, 118, 129

Hutchins, R M (Ed.) 1952  Great Books of the Western World, 1989 Printing Vol. 2,  Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., pp. 25, 109-110

Ihle, J E W et al  1927  Vergleichende Anatomie Der Wirbeltiere, Germany,  pp. 557, 567

Job  1952  The Bible RSV, Collins, Britain

Kingsley, J S  1912  Comparative Anatomy of Vertebrates, Britain,  p. 217

Pistorius, M  Omega  March/April 1986, pp. 62-69

Pitman, Captain C R S Crocodiles, In: Blackwood's Magazine No. 1302, April 1924, pp. 542-553

Riese, G Research Officer, Crocodile Farms, Darwin, Northern Territory. Letter dated March 3, 1992.

Ross, C A  (Consulting Editor)  1989  Crocodiles and  Alligators, Golden Press, Australia,  pp. 52-55, 140

Storer, D  1980  Encyclopedia of Amazing  But True Pacts, Signet, USA,  p.108

Tanara, M U 1975  The World of Amphibians and Reptiles, English edition 1978, A M Editore, Spain, pp. 139, 140, 144

The New Encyclopaedia Britannica 1998,  Volume 26  p. 768

The World News 1910 October 15

Young, J Z 1962  The Life of Vertebrates, Second Edition, Oxford, USA, pp. 418

Young R  1939  Anatytical Concordance of the Holy Bible 8th Edition, Lutterworth, Britain.

(A)


Hundreds of investigations into the accuracy of the Bible:


http://users.adam.com.au/bstett/

http://ed5015.tripod.com/