Monday, December 14, 2015


Brian Godawa has a provocative post on werelions:

Several issues:

i) I appreciate Brian's commitment to supernaturalism. And no doubt some commentators prematurely dismiss certain interpretive options due to their explicit or implicit naturalistic bias. 

ii) Since, to my knowledge (not having read them), Brian's novels are midrashic versions of Bible stories, a degree of literary license is permissible. 

That said, there's the danger of making Scripture look foolish by populating his midrashim with critters from Hollywood horror flicks. 

iii) His exegetical justification for identifying werelions in Scripture is tenuous and dubious. Begin with a rare, obscure word in 2 Sam 23:20. 

He supplements that by appeal to a synoptic passage in 1 Chron 12:8: "whose faces were like the faces of lions."

That, however, is naturally understood as a simile, like Richard the Lionheart.

He then appeals to a passage from the Gnostic Nag Hammadi literature. That's glossing a description from about the 10C BC (David's time) by reference to a text from the 4C AD. And, of course, Gnosticism didn't exist in any form in David's time. Not even close. To my knowledge, Gnosticism is a Christian heresy. 

His best bet is the Mesha Stele. Of course, theriomorphism is commonplace in ANE paganism–as well as Hinduism. 

iv) However, let's explore this line of thought. To my knowledge, legends of shapeshifters are widespread in folklore–in North and South America, Africa, and elsewhere. Werewolves, werejaguars, werelions, &c. How do we account for that? 

a) Many of these cultures are oral cultures, so its impossible to gauge the antiquity of their legends. And oral transmission can undergo legendary embellishment that's far removed from whatever originally inspired it. Moreover, shapeshifting motifs may be widespread, not due to the extent of their experience, but cultural diffusion. 

In our own time, there's cross-pollination as shapeshifting legends inspire horror films, which in turn embellish the original legends. 

b) It's not surprising that pagans wish to absorb the spirit of a respected animal, to acquire its special abilities. Shapeshifting is a projection or representation of that desire. 

c) Sometimes, these might be bedtime stories or campfire stories to spook little kids. Deter them from venturing into the woods unaccompanied. 

d) (a-c) are naturalistic explanations. A supernaturalistic explanation that falls short of actual metamorphosis would be animal possession. Can the soul of a witchdoctor possess an animal? Can the spirit of an animal (assuming animals have spirits) possess a witchdoctor? Perhaps. 

e) Finally, can those who practice witchcraft actually shapeshift? Perhaps. 

v) But if werewolves and other suchlike actually exist, why have they never been shot or captured? In Hollywood lore, a werewolf that's killed reverts to human form. So there'd be no evidence that it was or wasn't a werewolf. Likewise, a captured werewolf could shift back to human form. In that respect, the theory is unfalsifiable. Lack of direct evidence is consistent with their existence. But you pay a price for that move: there's no positive evidence for their existence.

There are, of course, reported sightings. How we assess that depends on the usual considerations. Was it seen under conditions of low visibility? Were observers in an agitated state that clouded their perception? Are they just telling telltales? 

vi) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that shapeshifters exist, imagine a paleontologist discovering a fossilized shapeshifter. That would be a "transitional form"! A "missing link"! 


  1. If the shapeshifter looks like Iman, make sure to kiss it like Capt. Kirk did.

  2. Some may self-identify as quadripeds. Very bigoted.

  3. Actually, it seems likely that Steve is just trying to cover for his moonlight escapades.