Posted by: religionthink | July 18, 2007

Dragon Slayers: Indra, Marduk, Yahweh, and Baal- A Literary Comparison

Dragon Slayers: Indra, Marduk, Yahweh, and Baal

A Literary Comparison Part 1 of 4

By, A.D. Wayman


– Vritra seized the celestial lord who had performed a hundred sacrifices. And filled with wrath, he whirled Indra and threw him into his mouth. And when Indra was swallowed up by Vritra, the terrified senior gods, possessed of great might, created Jrimbhika to kill Vritra. And as Vritra yawned and his mouth opened the slayer of the Asura, Vala contracted the different parts of his body, and came out from within.- 1

The lord shot his net to entangle Tiamat, and the pursuing tumid wind, Imhullu, came from behind and beat in her face. When the mouth gaped open to suck him down he drove Imhullu in, so that the mouth would not shut but wind raged through her belly; her carcass blown up, tumescent,. She gaped- And now he shot the arrow that split the belly, that pierced the gut and cut the womb.- 2


– You 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 also the night; you established the luminaries and the sun. You have fixed all the bounds of the earth; you made summer and winter. Psa 74:13-17 NRSV


“One lip to the earth, one lip to the heavens; he will stretch his tongue to the stars, Baal must enter inside him; he must go down into his mouth, like an olive cake, the earth’s produce, the fruit of the trees.” Baal the Conqueror became afraid; the Rider on the Clouds was terrified: “Leave me; speak to Ers son Death, repeat to Ers Darling, the Hero:’Message of Baal the Conqueror, the word of the Conqueror of Warriors: Hail, Ers son Death! I am your servant, I am yours forever.’ 3


Scholars of mythology and anthropology, within the last century, have forged many new trails through the landscape of the metaphor. It is the contribution of these scholars that bring to light new forms of research, which allows readers of such studies to see much deeper into the human forms of expression then ever before. Scholars like George Frazer, Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, David Bindy, Stanley Hyman, Haskell Block, and Karen Armstrong with her research concerning comparative religion; create a window into the somewhat mystical environment of abstract expression. It is in this environment that worlds are created, enemies slain, death conquered; resurrections and rebirths are common themes. It is hoped that the reader of this essay, by comparing such works of literature, will realize that the myth needs not to be defined by historical facts, or landmarks for them to function. The four texts above, as the reader will see, are from four different cultures, but have the same themes and motifs present.

The Birth of Indra and Its Relevance

Starting with the god Indra, he like the other gods that we will research, was the god of the storm, sea, and war. His birth is debatable as it should be, there are a few explanations given in the Rig Veda, some of the oldest hymns of the Hindu religion. Below are the three ways from the Vedas on the birth of Indra. The first, Symbolized as a Bull he springs into existence already a warrior and conquer. It may be proper to point out that also, Marduk, Yahweh, and Baal were also storm gods and symbolized as bulls.

Soon as the young Bull sprang into existence he longed to taste the pressed-out Soma’s liquor. Drink thou thy fill, according to thy longing, first, of the goodly mixture blent with Soma. That day when thou wast born thou, fain to taste it, drankest the plant’s milk which the mountains nourish. That milk thy Mother first, the Dame who bare thee, poured for thee in thy mighty Father’s dwelling. Desiring food he came unto his Mother, and on her breast beheld the pungent Soma. Wise, he moved on, keeping aloof the others, and wrought great exploits in his varied aspects. Fierce, quickly conquering, of surpassing vigour, he framed his body even as he listed. E’en from his birth-time Indra conquered Tvastar, bore off the Soma and in beakers drank it. Call we on Maghavan, auspicious Indra, best Hero in the fight where spoil is gathered; The Strong, who listens, who gives aid in battles, who slays the Vrtras, wins and gathers riches. 4

Next we come to another account Where Indra is seen to grow so large in the womb that he, upon birth , almost causes the death of his mother. Though a ready born warrior he is forsaken by the gods and is hid by his mother, after being hit in the jaw by Vyamsa, who some believe to be his father, Indra battles with the serpent, and appears to be overwhelmed. He later raises to victory and takes his place as a dominate player by the conclusion of the hymn below.

This is the ancient and accepted pathway by which all Gods have come into existence. Hereby could one be born though waxen mighty. Let him not, otherwise, destroy his Mother. Not this way go I forth: hard is the passage. Forth from the side obliquely will I issue. Much that is yet undone must I accomplish; one must I combat and the other question. He bent his eye upon the dying Mother: My word I now withdraw. That way I follow. In Tvastar’s dwelling Indra drank the Soma, a hundredworth of juice pressed from the mortar. What strange act shall he do, he whom his Mother bore for a thousand months and many autumns? No peer hath he among those born already, nor among those who shall be born hereafter. Deeming him a reproach, his mother hid him, Indra, endowed with all heroic valour. Then up he sprang himself, assumed his vesture, and filled, as soon as born, the earth and heaven. With lively motion onward flow these waters, the Holy Ones, shouting, as ’twere, together. Ask them to. tell thee what the floods are saying, what girdling rock the waters burst asunder. Are they addressing him with words of welcome? Will the floods take on them the shame of Indra? With his great thunderbolt my Son hath slaughtered Vrtra, and set these rivers free to wander. I cast thee from me, mine,-thy youthful mother: thee, mine own offspring, Kusava hath swallowed. To him, mine infant, were the waters gracious. Indra, my Son, rose up in conquering vigour. Thou art mine own, O Maghavan, whom Vyamsa struck to the ground and smote thy jaws in pieces. But, smitten through, the mastery thou wonnest, and with thy bolt the Dasa’s head thou crushedst. The Heifer hath brought forth the Strong, the Mighty, the unconquerable Bull, the furious Indra. The Mother left her unlicked Calf to wander, seeking himself, the path that he would follow. Then to her mighty Child the Mother turned her, saying, My son, these Deities forsake thee. Then Indra said, about to slaughter Vrtra, O my friend Vrtra, stride full boldly forward. Who was he then who made thy Mother widow? Who sought to stay thee lying still or moving? What God, when by the foot thy Sire thou tookest and slewest, was at hand to give thee comfort? In deep distress I cooked a dog’s intestines. Among the Gods I found not one to comfort. My consort I beheld in degradation. The Falcon then brought me the pleasant Soma. 5

The above hymn was given in full by the author of this essay to point out several other comparisons. First, it is here we find that Indra is referred to by other names Maghavan being one. Such a practice was common also in the ancient Near East. We find such examples such as The Hymn of the Fifty Names of Marduk, Yahweh-Elohim and AliynBaal. Secondly, this hymn shows Indra claiming legitimacy among the gods. This process occurs in the texts concerning Marduk, Yahweh, and Baal as we soon shall see.

The last Hymn to be given here concerning the birth of Indra, shows the god Purusa, bringing forth creation and the birth of Indra by his mouth, which possibly may mean the spoken word. We find Purusa having a thousand heads and a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet, which like the Hebrew deity, knows, sees, and is a creator of all. Purusa has no beginning nor end and such is the case also with the Hebrew, Elohim, that some translations in the English start the creation story with “ When Elohim begin to create the heavens and the earth..”6 Below we also read of the gods themselves offering sacrifice.

A thousand heads hath Purusa, a thousand eyes, a thousand feet. On every side pervading earth he fills a space ten fingers wide. This Purusa is all that yet hath been and all that is to be. The Lord of Immortality which waxes greater still by food. So mighty is his greatness; yea, greater than this is Purusa. All creatures are one-fourth of him, three-fourths eternal life in heaven. With three-fourths Purusa went up: onefourth of him again was here. Thence he strode out to every side over what cats not and what cats. As soon as he was born he spread eastward and westward o’er the earth. When Gods prepared the sacrifice with Purusa as their offering, Its oil was spring, the holy gift was autumn; summer was the wood. They balmed as victim on the grass Purusa born in earliest time. With him the Deities and all Sadhyas and Rsis sacrificed. From that great general sacrifice the dripping fat was gathered up. He formed the creatures of-the air, and animals both wild and tame. From that great general sacrifice Rcas and Sama-hymns were born: Therefrom were spells and charms produced; the Yajus had its birth from it. From it were horses born, from it all cattle with two rows of teeth: From it were generated kine, from it the goats and sheep were born. When they divided Purusa how many portions did they make? What do they call his mouth, his arms? What do they call his thighs and feet? The Brahman was his mouth, of both his arms was the Rajanya made. His thighs became the Vaisya, from his feet the Sudra was produced. The Moon was gendered from his mind, and from his eye the Sun had birth; Indra and Agni from his mouth were born, and Vayu from his breath. Forth from his navel came mid-air the sky was fashioned from his head Earth from his feet, and from his car the regions. Thus they formed the worlds. Seven fencing-sticks had he, thrice seven layers of fuel were prepared, When the Gods, offering sacrifice, bound, as their victim, Purusa. Gods, sacrificing, sacrificed the victim these were the carliest holy ordinances. The Mighty Ones attained the height of heaven, there where the Sidhyas, Gods of old, are dwelling. 6

Indra and the Dragon

Now turning to the battle between Indra and the dragon we find a detailed battle described in the Rig Veda. The text below is one of the few texts that describe the battle at length. It is given in full to help the reader realize its significance in metaphoric terms.

I WILL declare the manly deeds of Indra, the first that he achieved, the Thunder-wielder.He slew the Dragon, then disclosed the waters, and cleft the channels of the mountain torrents. He slew the Dragon lying on the mountain: his heavenly bolt of thunder Tvastar fashioned. Like lowing kine in rapid flow descending the waters glided downward to the ocean. Impetuous as a bull, he chose the Soma and in three sacred beakers drank the juices. Maghavan grasped the thunder for his weapon, and smote to death this firstborn of the dragons. When, Indra, thou hadst slain the dragon’s firstborn, and overcome the charms of the enchanters, Then, giving life to Sun and Dawn and Heaven, thou foundest not one foe to stand against thee. Indra with his own great and deadly thunder smote into pieces Vrtra, worst of Vrtras.

As trunks of trees, what time the axe hath felled them, low on the earth so lies the prostrate Dragon. He, like a mad weak warrior, challenged Indra, the great impetuous many-slaying Hero. He, brooking not the clashing of the weapons, crushed–Indra’s foe–the shattered forts in falling. Footless and handless still he challenged Indra, who smote him with his bolt between the shoulders. Emasculate yet claiming manly vigour, thus Vrtra lay with scattered limbs dissevered. There as he lies like a bank-bursting river, the waters taking courage flow above him.

The Dragon lies beneath the feet of torrents which Vrtra with his greatness had encompassed. Then humbled was the strength of Vrtra’s mother: Indra hath cast his deadly bolt against her. The mother was above, the son was under and like a cow beside her calf lay Danu. Rolled in the midst of never-ceasing currents flowing without a rest for ever onward.The waters bear off Vrtra’s nameless body: the foe of Indra sank to during darkness. Guarded by Ahi stood the thralls of Dasas, the waters stayed like kine held by the robber. But he, when he had smitten Vrtra, opened the cave wherein the floods had been imprisoned. A horse’s tail wast thou when he, O Indra, smote on thy bolt; thou, God without a second, Thou hast won back the kine, hast won the Soma; thou hast let loose to flow the Seven Rivers. Nothing availed him lightning, nothing thunder, hailstorm or mist which had spread around him: When Indra and the Dragon strove in battle, Maghavan gained the victory for ever. Whom sawest thou to avenge the Dragon, Indra, that fear possessed thy heart when thou hadst slain him; That, like a hawk affrighted through the regions, thou crossedst nine-and-ninety flowing rivers? Indra is King of all that moves and moves not, of creatures tame and horned, the Thunder-wielder. Over all living men he rules as Sovran, containing all as spokes within the felly. 7

The use of weaponry, such as the elements, the severing of limbs, the release of the waters, all are repeated in the literature concerning Marduk, Yahweh and Baal. The creation of Sun, Dawn, and Heaven, are all metaphors and themes that readers of such literature find common. In the hymn above , not only is the dragon defeated and creation formed but also the god claims legitimacy. In the texts of ancient Near Eastern literature the god at times demands a temple to be built. Next we will look at some Babylonian literature and examine some common elements and motifs in the literature concerning Marduk.

1. Udyoga Parva Kisari Mohan Ganguli. The Mahabharata Book 5: Section 9, tr. 1883-1896

2. Sandars, Nancy K. Poems of Heaven and Hell from Ancient Mesopotamia. New York: Penguin, 1971

3. Coogan, Michael David. Stories from Ancient Canaan. The Westminster Press. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1978. p.107

4. Griffith, Ralph T.H. Rig Veda Book 3 Hym 48

5.Rig Veda Book 4 Hym 18

6. See: Hebrew-English Tanakh : the traditional Hebrew text and the new JPS translation. Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society, 1999.

7. –Rig Veda Book 1 Hym 32

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