Mark Twain once said in his “Advice to Youth”:
Think what tedious years of study, thought, practice, experience, went to the equipment of that peerless old master who was able to impose upon the whole world the lofty and sounding maxim that “Truth is mighty and will prevail”—the most majestic compound fracture of fact which any of woman born has yet achieved. For the history of our race, and each individual’s experience, are sewn thick with evidences that a truth is not hard to kill, and that a lie well told is immortal.
The lies just keep on coming, and they don’t let up. In yesterday’s Washington Examiner I learned that cable documentaries aren’t just lying about things like aliens, mermaid, prehistoric sharks, and the Knights Templar—they’re also lying about even the smallest details of their supposedly “true” documentaries. Even in a high-profile documentary like 2010’s King Tut Unwrapped, producers staged a fake scene of scientists congratulating one another on their discovery. As revealed by Jo Marchant in The Shadow King: The Bizarre Afterlife of King Tut’s Mummy, it was all a lie. The scientists agreed to “recreate” the moment for the cameras weeks after the event, and the film failed to acknowledge the deception.
But that was small potatoes compared to the falsehoods that spread thanks to people who seem to genuinely believe things that aren’t true. On a web program called Creation Today, young earth creationist author Darek Isaacs asserted that dragons are real because the Bible tells us so.
The Bible speaks about dragons. […] So we have to go to the Bible, and the Bible speaks about dragons. […] If dragons in fact were entirely mythological, if they were a figment of the imagination, and if they never ever did exist, then God just compared our adversary to a make-believe creature that never existed.
Isaacs specifically cited the dragon mentioned in Revelation 12 and 13, as God gave the Word to King James. Isaacs seems unaware that the English term “dragon” did not carry with it the image of the winged, four-footed fire-breathing creature of medieval myth. Revelation, surprisingly enough, was composed not in English but in Greek, and the original Greek text uses the word drakon, which meant at the time “a great serpent” or “a large snake.” The word gave us the Latin draco and thus (via French) the English dragon. However, dragon was still being used—even in English—to refer to a large serpent as late as the 1700s.
To the Greeks, a drakon was a really big snake. In Greek art, the “dragons” fought by Apollo, Heracles, Jason, and other are almost universally depicted as snakes. In early medieval art, so too is the “dragon” fought by St. Theodore, later assigned to St. George, by which point it had grown feet. The idea of a winged, fire-breathing creature comes in all likelihood from the application of “dragon” to the fire-breathing creature called a wyrm, or worm, in Old English. This was due to the old Indo-European analogy whereby worms were thought to be miniature snakes. In time, though, the distinction between a Classical and a medieval dragon was lost.
At any rate, the modern idea of a “dragon” is far more recent than Revelation, and it speaks ill of those who seek to rewrite history that they fail even to recognize points in their own favor—giant snakes are a bit easier to believe in than winged, fire-breathing lizards.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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