Year of the dragon
Chinese New Year is the main holiday of the year for more than one quarter of the world’s population. Our daughter and her family and Chinese in-laws spent the Chinese New Year in Hong Kong where the streets were decorated colorfully. Chinese holiday traditions include parades, feasts, fireworks, lanterns and giving children money in red envelopes. This is the year of the dragon in the Chinese calendar, which began on 23 January 2012 and will end on 9 February 2013. A surge in births is expected in China during this year as it is regarded as the zodiac sign which will give their offspring the most success and happiness in life.
Each year is associated with one of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac in the following order: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep or Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. So the year of the dragon follows the year of the rabbit and is followed by the year of the snake. The names are repeated every 12 years. Rather than remembering their current age, the Chinese tend to remember the animal of their birth-year. For example, I was born in the year of the Ox.
Nowadays the Chinese calendar is mainly used for traditional festivals that occur on new moons or full moons. As the months are lunar months, it has the feature that the phases of the moon, and astronomical and tidal phenomena associated with them, such as spring and neap tides, fall on approximately the same day in each month.
Today it is considered that the Chinese dragon is a legendary and mythical creature. But what about when the Chinese zodiac was developed thousands of years ago? Clearly the other 11 creatures in the zodiac were not mythical. Why would one be mythical? That would be inconsistent. Was it a creature that was known in ancient times? Could it be extinct?
Dragons in the Bible
Dragons are mentioned in the King James Bible (KJB), which was published about 400 years ago. The KJB is the all-time bestselling book in the English language. In the Old Testament, on 23 occasions the name “dragon(s)” was given to animals that lived on the land and in the sea.
Are these creatures real or mythical? During a drought wild donkeys were said to pant like dragons (Jer. 14:6). The “dragon well” was located near the southern walls of Jerusalem (Neh. 2:13). Also, Jerusalem and Babylon were to be reduced to a heap of ruins and a “den of dragons” (Jer. 9:11; 51:37). Pharaoh king of Egypt was like a “great dragon” lying in the Nile River and Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon would devour Judah like a dragon swallows people (Ezek. 29:3; Jer. 51:34). It seems as though the original translators of the KJB understood that a “dragon” was a real creature, not one that was legendary or mythical.
It is interesting to note that in more recent editions of the KJB, the word “dragon” has been changed to “jackal” or “serpent” or “sea-monster”, which are clearly real animals.
Dragons and dinosaurs
In the KJB, “dragons” are associated with Leviathan (Ps 74:13-14; Isa. 27:1). Leviathan in turn is associated with Behemoth and their descriptions seem to match those of certain dinosaurs (Job 40:15-24; 41:1-34). Another creature, Rahab, is like Leviathan (Job 9:13; 26:12; Isa. 30:7; 51:9). These creatures were also used as metaphors for powerful nations such as Egypt and Babylonia (Jer. 51:34; Ezek. 29:3).
Therefore, it appears the “dragons” that were understood to be real animals were probably types of dinosaur which are now extinct. The translators of the KJB didn’t know about dinosaurs as this word was coined 230 years later in 1841. So the word “dragon” is an old word for “dinosaur”. The changes to the text of the KJB occurred after the theory of evolution popularised the idea that the dinosaurs died out millions of years before human beings populated the earth. This shows how one’s worldview can be used to reject evidence and to modify history. Unfortunately this aspect of the secular theory of evolution has influenced all Bible translations.
It is interesting that dragon stories occur in many cultures, particularly the Chinese and Japanese. The pictures we see of dragons are often composite drawings that combine the features of different kinds of dinosaurs. They would also be embellished.
Dragons and dinosaurs are massive examples of God’s creation. When Job was reminded of the greatest dragons and dinosaurs he responded, “My ears had heard of You but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” He had seen God’s great power and this caused him to turn and go in the opposite direction and follow God (Job 42:5-6NIV). God also wants us to respond to His power and might.
Written, February 2012