Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fighting Like Dragons – Part I

A reader of this blog wrote in recently with this interesting, if not misguided, claim to bolster his view that the Malay Peninsula was the Land of Promise. While we have answered that claim several times, specifically in a lengthy series, this particular segmented question was not then raised and seems to deserve a specific answer.
Comment:  “Dragons were indigenous to the Komodo Islands (Komodo Dragon) near the Malay Peninsula which shows that the comment “fighting like dragons” in the Book of Mormon (Msh 20:11; Alma 43:44) indicates to me that they had actually seen dragons fight and had drawn pictures of them on the gold plates. If Book of Mormon people were on the Malay Peninsula, they could have been familiar with dragons. The Americas had none. The Book of Mormon also reports lions in flocks of sheep (3 Ne 20:16; 21:12; Msh 20:10). There were no lions or domesticated sheep in America during Book of Mormon times. They were Old World animals. The accounts preferentially support Mala. According to B.H. Roberts, the dog was apparently the only domesticated animal in Book of Mormon times in Mesoamerica, and he claims it was very valuable for transportation, hunting, guarding, companionship and for food. One would expect very favorable reference to dogs, therefore, in the Book of Mormon. Instead we find only two derogatory comments (3 Ne 7:8; 14:6) such as a dog turning to his vomit and keeping holy matters away from dogs. The comments seem inappropriate for a Meso setting. Also, the jaguar, a very large American feline, was of special symbolic and religious significance in ancient Mesoamerica and jaguar statues are found at many ziggurat (temple?) structures. In preferential support of a Land of Promise in the Old World, there is no reference to jaguars in the Book of Mormon” Brinkman.
Response: Let’s take your comments one at a time: 1) Dragons. First of all, there were not pictures drawn on the gold plates. Second, stories of dragons have been handed down for generations in many civilizations. Dragons are featured in the ancient Gilgamesh Epic, a Sumerian story from about 3000 B.C., while Daniel was said to kill a dragon in the apocryphal chapters of the Bible, then after Alexander the Great invaded India he brought back reports of seeing a great hissing dragon living in a cave, and later Greek rulers supposedly brought live dragons from Ethiopia. A “Dinosaur” entry in Microsoft Encarta explains that the historical references to dinosaur bones may extend as far back as the 5th century BC. In fact, some scholars think that the Greek historian Herodotus was referring to fossilized dinosaur skeletons and eggs when he described griffins guarding nests in central Asia. “Dragon bones” mentioned in a 3rd century A.D. text from China are thought to refer to bones of dinosaurs. The Chinese have many stories of dragons, with some ornamental pictures of dragons shaped remarkably like dinosaurs. Marco Polo wrote of his travels to the province of Karajan and reported on huge serpents, which “at the fore part have two short legs, each with three claws, and the jaws are wide enough to swallow a man, the teeth are large and sharp, and their whole appearance is so formidable that neither man, nor any kind of animal can approach them without terror.” 
St. George, in the 3rd century A.D. was, according to tradition, a Roman soldier from Syria, Palaetina and a soldier in the Guard of Diocletian, one of the most prominent military saints, and one of the 14 holy helpers, who was immortalized in the tale of Saint George and the Dragon. St. John of Damascus, an eastern monk who wrote in the 8th century, gives a sober account of dragons, insisting that they are mere reptiles and did not have magical powers. In medieval times, the Scandinavians described swimming dragons and the Vikings placed dragons on the front of their ships to scare off the sea monsters. Ancient explorers and historians, like Josephus, told of small flying reptiles in ancient Egypt and Arabia and described their predators, the ibis, stopping their invasion into Egypt. Evolutionary Zoologist Desmond Morris wrote, “In the world of fantastic animals, the dragon is unique. No other imaginary creature has appeared in such a rich variety of forms. It is as though there was once a whole family of different dragon species that really existed, before they mysteriously became extinct. The atheistic astronomer Carl Sagan once remarked: “The pervasiveness of dragon myths in the folk legends of many cultures is probably no accident.” We also find that Roman dragons evolved from serpentine Greek ones, combined with the dragons of the Near East, in the mix that characterized the hybrid Greek/Eastern Hellenistic culture. From Babylon, the muš-ḫuššu was a classic representation of a dragon on the Ishtar Gate of ancient Babylon.
The restored Ishtar Gate leading into ancient Babylon, with Unicorns and Dragons worked into the tile reliefs. Right: Closeup of the muš-ḫuššu dragon with fire coming of its mouth
John's Book of Revelation—Greek literature, not Roman—describes Satan as "a great dragon, flaming red, with seven heads and ten horns." Much of John's literary inspiration is late Hebrew and Greek, but John's dragon is more likely to have come originally through the Near East. Perhaps the distinctions between dragons of western origin and Chinese dragons are arbitrary, since the later Roman dragon was certainly of Iranian origin: in the Roman Empire, where each military cohort had a particular identifying signum, (military standard), after the Parthian (Iran, Medes, Assyrians) and Dacian (Romania) Wars of Trajan in the east, the Dacian Draco military standard entered the Legion with the Cohors Sarmatarum and Cohors Dacorum (Sarmatian and Dracian cohorts)—a large dragon fixed to the end of a lance, with large gaping jaws of silver and with the rest of the body formed of colored silk. With the jaws facing into the wind, the silken body inflated and rippled, resembling a windsock. This signum is described in the surviving epitome of Vegetius De Re Militari 379 A.D.—"The first sign of the entire legion is the eagle, which the eagle-bearer carries. In addition, dragons are carried into battle by each cohort, by the 'dragoneers'"—and in Ammianus Marcellinus, Parthia lies across the Silk Road, the cultural thread between East and West, allowing for possible connections between this Romanized Parthian dragon and distant Chinese origins. Several vague incarnations of evil in the Old Testament were given the translation draco in Jerome’s Vulgate, to undergo changes in meaning and become broad embodiments of evil.
Top LtoR: St.George killing the dragon; a Hungarian knight with a dragon on his shield; the Celt Dragon Pennant; the Roman Dragon; Center: LtoR: Duchy of Czersk Poland Coat of Arms; The Pendragon symnbol of Wales; The Military Order of the Dragon; The Roman Signum that carried the Dragon into battle; Bottom LtoR: While the Red Dragon was the symbol of the Byzantine Empire, the White Dragon was the symbol of England before they adopted the White Cross for the Crusades (Queen Victoria’s Seal was a two-headed dragon; Sarmatian Roman waving his Draco
All of this is submitted to show that the use of a dragon for fighting, and as a symbol of power, has been around in numerous countries, peoples and cultures since the third millennium B.C. It is simply not possible to isolate the use of an idiom (fighting like dragons) and place it with any one specific area of the world. It belongs to most peoples, places and times. As an additional thought, in the early Christian religion, Satan was symbolized as a dragon. When I was much younger, we used to talk about people “fighting like the devil.”
As for the term “Komodo Dragon,” which you used, the Komodo dragon is also known as the "Komodo monitor" or the "Komodo Island monitor" in scientific literature, although this is not very common. It is a monitor (large carnivorous lizard) of the lizard species. To the natives of Komodo Island, it is referred to as ora, buaya darat (land crocodile) or biawak raksasa (giant monitor). They are carnivores, although they eat mostly carrion, and are considered a vulnerable species. They live entirely on the islands of Gili Motang, Gili Dasami, Rinca, Komodo and Flores—in the West Manggarai Regency in the western portion of the major island of Nusa Tenggara Timur in the Savu Sea south of Indonesia and nearly 1300 miles southeast of the tip of Malay, Peninsula in the Lesser Sunda Islands. The Komodo dragon is basically a docile animal, though when their territory is invaded they can become aggressive and unpredictable. However, they tend to hunt in packs and their group behavior is exceptional in the reptile world—none of which suggests a term “fighting like a dragon”
(See the next post, “Fighting Like Dragons – Part II - Sheep, Lions, Jaguars and Dogs,” for the rest of this response)

No comments:

Post a Comment