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BRAD - What are the dragons spoken of in the Book of Mormon (See 2 Nephi 8:9, 2 Nephi 23:22, Mosiah 20:11, Alma 43:44) Did they really believe in dragons?
JOEL - The word "dragon" is used in various places in the scriptures. The Greek word (drakn) used in the New Testament, signifies a serpent or sea monster, but it is best understood as the personification of chaos, often represented as the dark primeval waters, which oppose not only God but all that is holy. It is often used to refer to Satan, as in Revelation 12:
"And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him" (Rev 12: 7-9)
In the King James version of the Old Testament, "dragons", translated from the Hebrew (tannim), means "wild dogs" or "jackals". The NIV translation uses "jackal" and sometimes "serpent" instead of dragon.
Your first two references are of course repeats of what we find in Isaiah which were also recorded in the Brass Plates carried by Lehi to the new world.
"Awake, awake! Put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake as in the ancient days. Art thou not he that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon (jackal)?"
(2 Nephi 8:9, See Isaiah 51:9
"And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons (jackals) in their pleasant palaces; and her time is near to come, and her day shall not be prolonged. For I will destroy her speedily; yea, for I will be merciful unto my people, but the wicked shall perish." 2 Nephi 23:22, See Isaiah 13: 22)
The dragons (or jackals) in these scriptures serve as a represenation of Satan or those of Babylon who commit evil.
The other two Book of Mormon references to "dragons" seem to to be used as descriptors of the fierceness of the fighting between two armies:
"And it came to pass that the people of Limhi began to drive the Lamanites before them; yet they were not half so numerous as the Lamanites. But they fought for their lives, and for their wives, and for their children; therefore they exerted themselves and like dragons did they fight" Mosiah 20:11
"And they were inspired by the Zoramites and the Amalekites, who were their chief captains and leaders, and by Zerahemnah, who was their chief captain, or their chief leader and commander; yea, they did fight like dragons, and many of the Nephites were slain by their hands, yea, for they did smite in two many of their head-plates, and they did pierce many of their breastplates, and they did smite off many of their arms; and thus the Lamanites did smite in their fierce anger." (Alma 43:44)
Dragons are usually considered mythical monsters which were known for their vicious and aggressive fighting behavior. Such myths may have been known to Lehi and his family. However, because they were familiar with the "dragons" (jackals) mentioned in the brass plates, they are probably actually comparing their aggressive fighting behavior to that of jackals or wild dogs.
It is also possible that they were refering to the crocodile or caiman; a very ferociuos looking and aggressive "serpent" which they no doubt encountered during their lives in the new world, which also seems to be the same creature spoken of in Ezekiel:
"Speak, and say, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself. (Ezekiel 29: 3)