Thursday, January 02, 2014

Exegeting Psalm 74:14 (Reply to Coogan)

"You crushed the heads of Leviathan, gave him as food to the sharks" (Psalm 74:14 NAB).

I have long been familiar with Hermann Gunkel's work, but it's only been recently that I learned about his influential effect on how OT exegetes construe Ps 74:14. Rashi and others applied the verse to the Exodus; Leviathan was interpreted as Egypt or the Pharaoh himself instead of some mythological creature battling with Elohim at the initio creationis. But since Gunkel, it has been popular to understand Leviathan as a mythical sea monster. But the context of Psalm 74 causes me to believe the Exodus is the dominating motif of this song. Furthermore, note how other writers use "Leviathan" to describe Egypt (Isa 27:1; 30:7; cf. Isa 51:9-10).

Below I include some thoughts from John Trapp's (1601-1669) Complete Commentary on the Bible:

"Ver. 14. Thou brakest the heads of leviathan] i.e. Of Pharaoh himself. See Isaiah 26:1 [SIC], Ezekiel 29:3. Egypt is situated between two seas; and a great part of it overflowed by the river Nile. Pharaoh, therefore, is fitly compared to the master fish, and his captains to crocodiles.

And gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness] i.e. To the birds and wild beasts, who fed upon the dead carcases of the Egyptians cast upon the shore; the Israelites having first taken the spoil of them, whereby they were provided of many necessaries for their voyage toward Canaan."

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