That 'Dreadful Name, Leviathan': Biblical Resonances in the Title to Hobbes' Famous Political Work

Kim Ian Parker

Abstract: Hobbes’ choice of the word “Leviathan” as the title for his major work on political theory is a little unusual, to say the least. His work was soon associated with a tradition that linked it with monsters, devils, and bestiality. So why would Hobbes, who knew the Bible, who knew biblical criticism, and who knew about biblical and other monsters, deliberately undermine his work by drawing attention to its “dreadful name, Leviathan”? While Hobbes does give what appear to be mutually incompatible meanings for the title in three different passages in his text, scholars have not sufficiently explored its divergent uses or its resonances in the biblical text. By exploring the exegetical tradition of the leviathan, the complex political meaning of the leviathan in the Bible, and the way Hobbes uses the word in his political work, this essay will argue that the very mystery of the name adds an important component to his political thought.

Biography: Kim Ian Parker has written numerous articles on theological-political issues and has published four books, the most recent of which is The Biblical Politics of John Locke (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2004). He is a Full Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Volume 2, Number 4 (Fall 2007) pp. 424-447