What do we know about crocodiles in Israel? First, let’s begin by saying that the Crocodile is the first animal mentioned in the Bible. In fact, the Crocodile is one of the few animals that is mentioned by name in the Story of Creation. Already in the fifth day God is forming the Crocodiles and is the only animal that is actually named. In Hebrew the word Taninim is very poetic. Usually you can find it in Biblical poetic texts and it has two possible interpretations. Firstly, the word “taninim” (Crocodiles in English) is another word in the Bible used to describe a snake (Exodus 7:9, Deuteronomy 32:33).
In prophecies or in poetic texts in the Hebrew Bible when there are insinuations to traditions between God and his struggle against the ancient sea; even before the world was created. Then the word “tanin” (crocodile) is referring to an ancient sea monster (Isaiah, 27, 1; Job, 7:12; Ezekiel 29:3; 32:2). “tanin” in biblical Hebrew means crocodile. In Genesis since the story of creation is trying to remove any element of myth from the story the word taninim here is equivalent to crocodiles and not some kind of a godly sea monster equal to the Biblical God Creator of the world.
But as you can read in Job or in Isaiah; the reader can perceive how mighty the tanin is against God. But in the end God has the upper hand. The name “Tanin” is used in Ugaritic mythology as well to describe a sea monster. Actually it is a name for one the mythological monsters that were subdued by the Goddess Anat in her war for Baal.
The Crocodile in the Land of Israel
The crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) was quite common in the rivers of the Land of Israel. Also you could have found them in the marshes located where the rivers met with the Med Sea. In the area of Kabara Swamps, Israel Aharoni, the zoologist collected the last specimen known in 1912. On my tours of Caesarea, I like to stop there to show where crocodiles used to roam around freely. Why because that it the same river that was dammed and then the freshwater was channeled to Caesarea that Herod the Great built.
The remains of an ancient city called Crocodilopolis was found in the area. The name can testify to the fact that crocodiles were forming part of the Fauna in the area. In fact, nearby there was the Crocodile River (Nahal Taninim – see image) which was the principal stream, providing a constant if limited water source. Within the river were the crocodiles that gave its name. These flourished in the area till the modern period. Moreover Richard I camped by the river in 1191 and two of his men were eaten by one.