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Seeing that "The R”i mi-Lunil describes the drakon (in avoda Zara 42b) as a snake-like creature with wings that belches smoke and fire from its throat – what we would call a dragon", were these dragons actually real? (https://www.ou.org/life/torah/masechet_shevuot_41a47b/)

Please provide sources of where Chazal discuss dragons.

closed as unclear what you're asking by Double AA Feb 21 at 21:10

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    looking at the article now it doesn't seem to imply that they were real, only that they would make pictures of them "to represent the power of the gods, and, in many cases, to represent the god itself." it seems like even he's only saying that it's a representation – Yaakov5777 Feb 20 at 7:55
  • probably the ri milunil guessed that "drakon" was cognate for the contemporary word "dragon" which he understood. an understandable guess. – Double AA Feb 20 at 13:29
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    There is a Jewish book on mythical creatures amazon.com/Sacred-Monsters-Natan-Slifkin/dp/9652295817. I have read it before some time ago it’s definitely a good read. Hopefully this should answer your question. – Daniel Ross Feb 20 at 13:47
  • “Were these dragons actually real?... please provide sources of where Chazal discuss dragons.” Should probably be posted as separate questions since the latter can’t prove the former. Chazal mention mythological creatures. The dragon is referred to in Rishonim lit. about a century earlier - doesn’t mean they saw dragons, could’ve simply been illustrating contemporary legends. – Oliver Feb 20 at 16:06
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    Your question has three questions in it, and the given answer doesn't really address any but probably covers what you were wondering citing some of the most authoritative material on the subject. There seems to be a disconnect here. Please edit your question to clarify what exactly you want to know. – Double AA Feb 21 at 21:11
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It is first worth noting that Rabbi Yehonatan of Lunel does not say what is quoted in the question. There is nothing about wings and belching smoke and fire. The English translation of Rabbi Steinsaltz's original lecture in Hebrew either mistranslated, embellished or Rabbi Steinsaltz misquoted Rabbi Yehonatan.

Rabbi Yehonatan's commentary is from a single existing manuscript copy as stated in the printed edition.

Ri of Lunel Intro to AZ

His comment is on Avodah Zarah 42b concerning Mishnah Avodah Zarah 3:3.

Comment on **Form of Dirakon**

It reads:

צורת דירקון: צורת נחש שרף מעופף, והכי תני בבריתא אי זהו צורת דירקון פירש ר׳ שמעון בן אלעזר כל שיש לו ציצין בין פירקי צואר כסנפרין שטרח בהם אבל בלא ציצין לא מיתסר דלא נעשה לשום ע״ז אלא לנוי בעלמא

The form of a dirakon: The form of a hooded (or lidded, as in eye lids, like מעפעפי) venomous snake. Thus, we learn in the Baraita, "If it is the form of a dirakon, Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar explains, 'All (snakes) that have blossoms (like the petals of a flower) between the neck joints like fins, which it (meaning the snake) prepares to strike (meaning to bite) with them. But (if the image of the snake is) without the blossoms, it isn't restricted. That it (meaning such an image) isn't made for idol worship, rather for worldly ornamentation.

The Baraita which Rabbi Yehonatan is quoting is the Tosefta to Avodah Zarah, 6:1.

It is also worth pointing out that the specific type of avodah zarah described can still be seen in the world among both the Yazidi people in Iraq and among the Hindus. Like is seen here:

Yazidi Snake worship

According to Natan Slifkin in his book Sacred Monsters, Chapter 12, quoting Avodah Zarah Yerushalmi to 19a and also the commentary Tiferet Yisrael of Rabbi Yisroel Lifschitz to Mishnah Avodah Zarah 3:3, the drakon mentioned is referring to the variety of venomous snake known as cobra.

They look like this:

*hooded cobra*

He also points out that Bartenura on that Mishnah is describing a snake with finlike structures. The Yerushalmi cited above says the fins emerge from the neck of the snake.

  • Does this fit with the explanation of the R"i mi-Lunil as cited in the question? – Alex Feb 21 at 1:14
  • @Alex Yes, it does answer it exactly. The chapter cited in the Slifkin book discusses this subject specifically and at length with copious sources. – Yaacov Deane Feb 21 at 1:18
  • Does that chapter address the opinion quoted in the question? – Alex Feb 21 at 1:20
  • @Alex Yes. However Slifkin says that the myth of dragons came from the drakon of Torah. He discusses the origin of both. – Yaacov Deane Feb 21 at 1:24
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    I don’t see anything about dragons in your answer. I only see a cobra and a snake with fins coming out of its neck. – Alex Feb 21 at 2:58

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