Last month, the first full-length translation of Hobbes’s Leviathan hit the shops in Israel and is now a best-seller. Over 40 years ago, the Hebrew University released an abridged version, omitting large sections devoted to the Hebrew Bible. Now, Hebrew readers can see for the first time, the impact of the Bible on one of the most influential Western political thinkers.
Levyatan in Hebrew means “whale” and in biblical Hebrew refers to a great sea-creature. According to the Midrash, God created the Levyatan on the fifth day of creation. God then killed the female Levyatan. For if the species had reproduced, the world would not have been able to endure it. In the world to come, the righteous will feast on the meat of the female Levyatan.
Job includes a long description of the Levyatan. God describes the great creature’s strength and invulnerability. “Who then can stand up to Me?” asks God rhetorically (Job 41:2) .
Job 41: 25-26 speaks of the overriding power of the Leviathan, “There is no one who can dominate him . . . he is king over all proud beasts.” These verses may have inspired Hobbes when he conceived of Leviathan as the sovereign authority, to whom we cede our natural rights.