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According to Jewish mythology, the Ziz was a monumental bird-like creature created by God. The Ziz is the lord of the sky, and as such, he is also regarded as the King of all birds, and the protector of the world against turbulent winds. Representations of the Ziz depict him as a gigantic bird, but sometimes he is also seen as an enormous griffin.
What is the Origin of the Ziz?
According to the Torah, in the beginning, God created three enormous beasts, each of which was to overlook a layer of Creation: The Behemoth (associated with the land), the Leviathan (linked to the seas), and the Ziz (connected to the sky).
Despite being the lesser known of the primeval trio, the Ziz was a powerful and important creature. It was capable of unleashing massive destruction upon the earth just by spreading its wings. At the same time, it’s said that the Ziz could also use its wings to stop violent hurricanes as well as other potentially dangerous climate phenomena.
The Jewish tradition does not specify if the Ziz had a conscience. However, it seems more accurate to think of this creature as a symbol of the untamable and unpredictable aspects of nature. Evidence for the latter can be found in the myths that explain how it was the Ziz’s careless behavior that made him a threat to humanity.
How is the Ziz Represented?
Generally, the Ziz is depicted as a monumental bird whose ankles rest on the earth while its head touches the sky. Some Jewish sources suggest that the Ziz equals the Leviathan in size. It’s also said that the Ziz could block the sun with its wingspan.
Some representations portray the Ziz as a griffin, a mythological creature made of the body, back legs, and tail of a lion, with the head, wings, and front feet of an eagle.
On other occasions, the Ziz is depicted as a bird with bright red plumage, a look that resembles that of the Phoenix, a bird that can be reborn from its ashes.
Jewish Myths Related to the Ziz
Even though the Ziz is much less popular than the other two primeval beasts, there are still some myths associated with this creature that can help us understand how the king of all birds was imagined by the ancient Jews.
In the Babylonian Talmud, for instance, there is a myth regarding the sighting of the Ziz by the passengers of a vessel that had been crossing the seas for a very long time. At first, the travelers saw that at a distance a bird was standing over the waters, with the sea barely reaching its ankles. This image led the men to believe that the water in that spot was shallow, and since the passengers wanted to cool themselves, they all agreed to head there to take a bath.
However, as the vessel was approaching the site, a divine voice was heard by the travelers, warning them as to the danger of the place. The passengers understood that the bird in front of them was the Ziz itself, so they turned their ship around and left.
Another story has it that once the Ziz carelessly threw one of its eggs out of the nest after discovering that it was rotten. The egg created terrible devastation on earth as it hit the land, destroying up to 300 cedars and causing floods that devastated around sixty cities. This story hints at the size and power of the Ziz.
God Locks Up the Ziz
There is also a Jewish prophecy regarding the death of all the three primordial beasts. According to this myth, at some point, God locked up the Behemoth, the Leviathan, and the Ziz, to be released only after the divine resurrection of humanity.
The prophecy mentions that then the bodies of the Behemoth and the Leviathan would provide mankind with flesh and shelter. What would happen to the Ziz is not specified, but it can be implied that he will share the same destiny as the other three creatures, as these three ancient creatures are commonly regarded as an indivisible triad.
According to one mythological account, neither of the three primordial beasts had an active role in the war that Lucifer carried against God.
Nevertheless, after this terrible clash was over the nature of creation itself suffered from a dramatic shift that altered the behavior of every living animal. In the case of Behemoth, Leviathan, and Ziz, the three creatures became extremely violent and turned against each other.
Finally, after watching the destruction that the three monumental beast-siblings were provoking, God decided to lock the three of them away, until the arrival of Judgement Day.
However, another myth suggests that the three creatures did rebel against God, right after the end of the War in Heaven. Former allies of the Heavenly Father, the primeval beasts decided to betray their creator after Lucifer had informed them how God had planned them to become a source of nourishment for humanity, once mankind was resurrected.
To avoid the burst of a new celestial war, God locked the three creatures in a location only known by him.
Symbolism of the Ziz
In Jewish mythology, the Ziz is primarily known as the king of all birds, but it also represents the ever-changing nature of the skies. This is why this creature is associated with turbulent winds, that he can so easily summon. However, the Ziz is not always pernicious to humankind, as he sometimes spreads his wings to protect the world from turbulent hurricanes.
Likewise, the Ziz also resembles the Phoenix, an immortal bird from Greek mythology that symbolizes renewal, as well as the possibility of life after death. It can also be compared to the ancient Persian Simurgh, another Phoenix like bird.
A gigantic bird-like creature, the Ziz is regarded as the King of all birds in Jewish mythology. One of three primeval creatures created by God in the beginning of time, the Ziz is the lord of the sky, where he reigns, with control over the wind. While unique to Jewish mythology, the Ziz has parallels with other giant mythological birds, such as the Phoenix and Simurgh.