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By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2016








Jonah As Genuine History






Roland H. Worth, Jr.

Richmond, Virginia 23223





Copyright © 2016 by author

Reproduction of this book (and any other book I have online or in print) for non-profit circulation by any electronic or print media means is hereby freely granted at no cost—provided the text is not altered in any manner. 

 If accompanied by additional, supplemental material—in agreement or disagreement—it must be clearly and visibly distinguishable from the original text.



Chapters in Book:


[Chapters In This Part:]

Chapter 1:  Jesus on Jonah:  Matthew 12:38-42 and Luke 11:29-32

            *  The Parable Hypothesis

*  Jesus Used It As Illustrative Truth Rather Than Historical Proof?

*  The Kenosis Doctrine

*  The Degree of Literalness One Attributes to Jesus’ Resurrection Predisposes  

    How One Thinks About Jonah’s Literalness

*  Did Jesus Fraudulently “Guilt Trip” His Listeners? 



Chapter 2:  The Narrative of the Near Shipwreck Itself

            *  The Availability of the Ship Itself

            *  Jonah’s Ability to Sleep through the Severe Storm

            *  The Sailors’ “Belief” in the God of Israel

            *  The Sailors’ “Unlawful” Sacrifice

            *  Jonah’s Knowledge that the Sacrifice Happened At All

            *  Jonah’s Attitude Toward the Mariners   



Chapter 3:  Challenges to the Credibility of the “Fish” Element of the Story

            *   On the Meaning of “Fish” in the prophet and Jesus. 

*  Are Their Naturally Occurring “Fish” that Could Have Swallowed Him


            *  Was It a Specially Adapted or Even Specially Created Aquatic Creature?

            *  Could Jonah Have Survived Under the Circumstances Described?

            *  Jonah’s Knowledge of the Duration He Spent in the Creature



[Chapters In Part 2:]

Chapter 4:  Challenges about Nineveh Itself

            *  The Choice of Nineveh as the Target City

            *  The Size of the City

                A.  Language Proverbial for Being a Large / Huge City?

               B.  Language Indicating the Duration Required to Preach At Length in Each

                    Section of the City or At Each Gate?

              C.  Language Used Not to Describe the Physical Size of the City but the

       Duration Required Due to Jonah’s Continued Aversion to Being There At


             D.  Language Explicitly covering Nineveh Itself and Implicitly the

                   Surrounding Dependent Areas?

             E.  Language Equivalent to the Administrative District that Was

                  Headquartered in Nineveh Itself?

            F.  Language Intended to Convey the Length of Time to Walk Around the

                 City’s Walls Rather than Through the City Itself?




Chapter 5:  Why did Nineveh Repent?

            *  A Time of Heightened Religious Concern?

            *  A Time of Distress or Disaster?

            *  A Time of Self-Generated Religious Enthusiasm Due to Mass Psychology

    or Specific Events? 

*  Other Possible Precipitating Encouragements? 

            *  The Role of Jonah’s Own Experience?

            *  The Role of Jonah’s Message of Reform:  Did He Directly Preach It Or Was

                It Left Implicit?           

            *  Did the People Become (Temporary or Permanent) Monotheists Due to

                Divine Judgment coming upon the City?

   A.  The Case Against Them Doing So   

               B.  The Case in Favor of Them at Least Temporarily Embracing Monotheism

          *  Secondary Issues

               A.  What Language did the Prophet Preach In?

               B.  The Actions of the Animals in the City



[Chapters In Part 3:]

Chapter 6:  Internal Evidence that the Writer “Can’t” Have Been the Biblical Jonah or a Contemporary

            *  Linguistic Arguments

            *  The Use of Distancing Rhetoric:  The Use of “Was.”

            *  The Use of an “Unhistorical” Description of the Ruler

            *  The Use of Fasting in Connection with Repentance

            *  The Absence of Any Mention of the Journey in Kings



Chapter 7:  Understanding the Nature of the Book Itself

            *  Misunderstanding Its Purpose

                A.  Missionary Nation Interpretation

                B.  Recognition of God’s Love for the Gentiles

                C.  Condemnation of Jewish Parochialism as Exclusively God’s People

            *  Differences Between Jonah and Allegories

            *  Differences Between Jonah and Parables



Chapter 8:  Assorted Other Matters

            *  Intentional Exaggeration Scenario to Explain the Book

            *  Too Many Miracles in the Book? 

            *  Was Jonah Dead While in the Whale? 

                A.  The Dead Scenario

                B.  Half Dead by Drowning When Swallowed by the Sea Beast?

               C.  Alive Throughout the Time Within the Monstrous Sea Creature?

            *  Jonah Outside the Book of Jonah












            Like the other “shortish’ volume defending Biblical history that I have currently in draft form--on the 10 plagues on Egypt--I assume that I began the research on this one also in the later 1980s or very early 1990s.  I never did write an introduction for the “Jonah” entry, though, but I do believe that the title provides as good a one as is needed.  So here I will simply note that unless otherwise indicated, the text is from the New King James Version.  There will be some repetition of themes in different chapters because they will reoccur in different contexts.

                                                            Roland H. Worth, Jr.








Chapter 1:

Jesus on Jonah:

Matthew 12:38-42 and Luke 11:29-32



Matthew 12:  38  Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.  39  But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  

41 The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.  42 The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.”


Luke 11:  29  And while the crowds were thickly gathered together, He began to say, “This is an evil generation.  It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.  30 For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation. 

31 The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.  32 The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.



* The parable hypothesis.  It has been argued that Jesus’ usage of Jonah is parallel to His use of parables:  fictional stories used to teach a spiritual point.[1]  This represents a very common misunderstanding concerning the nature of the parables:  they are actually stories about real happenings or events that at least theoretically could happen.  They may be “exaggerated,” but still based on “real world” roots.  Hence they are “true fact” or, at worst, “historical fiction” (i.e., fiction rooted strongly in actual history) rather than purely imaginary, as often assumed.

The sower going out to sow.

The prodigal son.

The dishonest steward.

They are true to life even if not actually taken from life.

Those who reject Jonah as genuine history usually rebel at the idea that it even could have happened.  Furthermore, with the possible exception of the story of Lazarus in Hades (often assumed, we believe erroneously, to be a parable) no parable uses a person’s actual name.  For reasons such as this a parable parallel seems untenable.         



* Jesus used it as illustrative proof not historical proof?  It has been contended that Jesus was merely citing the case as an illustration than as either prediction or history.  For one thing, as Anthony Hanson observes, “Our Lord did not specifically say that the contents of the Book of Jonah are historical.”[2]  On the other hand, what more would He have had to say to make it plain that He did consider it historical?

When Jesus repeatedly referred to Abraham—in passing in the Synoptics and in significant number in John—is he speaking for illustrative purposes only since He did not really believe Abraham was historical either?  If He argued that His foes should learn from the example of Abraham—and He did:  John 8:37, 40, 56—did He do so because He was convinced the patriarch was real or because it was the shared myth of the Jewish nation and Jesus simply embraces the myth for illustrative purposes?

Jesus argued for a triumph of His life over death on the basis of Jonah.  On the basis of Abraham, He argued for His own pre-existence:  “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was I am” (John 8:58).  Why shouldn’t this be an invoking strictly on the basis that Abraham was the purported—but not historical???—progenitor of the Jewish people and has nothing to do with whether he ever really existed?

The scary thing is not that scholars will deny the genuineness of what happened to Jonah, but that they will often also deny the physical resurrection of Jesus Himself, which the prophet was introduced as precedent for.  In other words, it is typically not “either / or”—accepting one, but rejecting the other—but a denial of both.  If a man or woman denies the physical resurrection of the Lord, the bed-rock of Christianity, should it come as any surprise if he or she willingly dismisses the ancient triumph of life over apparent death embodied in Jonah’s life?

Furthermore some will even admit that the “illustrative” explanation was hardly likely to even have been in Jesus’ mind.  We quoted Hanson earlier, so this is the appropriate place to share another quotation from his pen, “As a matter of fact it is most likely that our Lord did believe in the literal accuracy of the narrative of Jonah.”[3]  And that is still not enough to convince him to accept it!  So Jesus’ declaration, even when intending personal acceptance of the incident’s historicity, is irrelevant—that endorsement is still inadequate to substantiate the point! 

I will leave to others the obvious polemics that the one described as our Savior was flat out ignorant and uninformed.  Likewise I will merely pass by the equally appalling intellectual arrogance that an armchair scholar two thousand years later is confident that he has far greater understanding of the truth about Jonah than Jesus did.     



* In “polite” circles it’s called the Kenosis doctrine; in blunter circles it’s called “Jesus was simply downright ignorant of the truth about Jonah.”  Use whichever wording you prefer.  Stripped down to its core they really are justly regardable as equivalent statements.  In fact to avoid accepting their equivalency you are really going to have to work hard.

The Kenosis doctrine is inescapable in this discussion:  When Jesus came from Heaven certain Divine characteristics were clearly reined in to keep with His now human form.  Unless Jesus was involved in a strange play-acting (bordering on hypocrisy) when He asked, “Who touched My clothes?” (Mark 5:30), He reflects a genuine lack of knowledge. 

First of all, it could be rhetorical:  designed to get a response out of people—to get others involved so they will pay full attention to what is about to happen.

But let’s assume that He really was uncertain:  It should be noted that there is a profound difference between knowing everything that He wanted to know when He wanted to know it and His invoking that power on a given occasion.  Hence a self-limitation when in human form makes inherent sense, but it was one that He could have overcome at any point that He chose to.  Mark 5:30 would simply be one of those cases where He clearly did not.HH


But was His knowledge of supernatural things similarly affected?  If it pertained to spiritual matters would He permit Himself not to know something that touched on what He had to say?  Would He intentionally make Himself fallible?

The Biblical evidence argues strongly for a negative answer to the question:  He was the unique and sole way to the Father (John 14:6).  He was granted the power to forgive sins (Matthew 9:6).  As the result of His death, salvation would be made possible to humanity (John 12:32).  Would God have dared risk giving such importance to an individual without guaranteeing that He would be error free in what He taught and the promises He made?  On its own inherent merits we have a compelling answer that things must have been that way.

There are at least two additional indications that Yahweh acted in that manner as well.  First of all, the Holy Spirit was designed to lead the apostles into “all truth” and the Spirit’s message would be identical with that of Jesus (John 16:13-15).  How then could Jesus have part of His message wrong—not just on Jonah, but on just about every Old Testament historical allusion that He makes?  (Don’t think for a second that the issue is Jonah alone.)  The mind rebels at any error on such subjects at all.

  Furthermore Jesus had a unique gift of the Spirit.  John 3:34 tells us that this unique gift was for the purpose of assuring that His message was correct, accurate, and reliable, “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.”  Or as Weymouth’s New Testament has it, “For He whom God has sent speaks God's words; for God does not give the Spirit with limitations.”

So if Jesus taught something, He did so because the Father wanted Him to, expected Him to, demanded Him to.  Hence any “error” in Jesus’ teaching goes back to the Heavenly Father.

Or does the Kenosis doctrine somehow affect the Father as well?  Does even the Father lack the moral scruples to tell the truth as it really was?

Without alluding to the role of the Spirit, Jesus stressed the reliability of His teaching on the grounds that it did not originate with Him but came from God.  For example, in John 14:10 we read that, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?  The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.”  The NASB has it even more emphatic, “The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.”  Or as the God’s Word (GW) translation has it, “What I'm telling you doesn't come from me.  The Father, who lives in me, does what he wants.”

The mind of a person who accepts such assertions as unvarnished truth has to rebel at the seemingly inescapable result of Jesus being subject to error . . . especially on matters (like Jonah) that He chose to stress . . . and especially the pervasive error hostile critics so often find in His teaching:

*  Repeated “erroneous” allusions to Biblical authorships that didn’t really come from that source but were actually composed by later generations.  In the case of the Pentateuch (Genesis to Deuteronomy) from multiple sources, each of which was written and rewritten either before or after their combination into one volume—or both!

*  Repeated references to events that the text would lead you to believe occurred in the ancient world, but which never actually happened at all.  To limit ourselves to a handful of controversial claims from Genesis:[4]


Divine creation of both male and female and the institution of marriage (Matthew 19:4-6).

The murder of Abel (Matthew 23:34-35; Genesis 4:1-13).

The flood in Noah’s day and the destruction of “all” who were not in the ark (Matthew 24:37-39; Genesis 6).

Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the salvation of Lot from the disaster (Luke 17:28-32; Genesis 19:1-26).

The real life existence of men called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Matthew 22:31-32).


Or do you wish confirmation of the Divine origin of various moral principles?  Here are three I noted in regard to the Exodus:[5]


(1)  While speaking to Moses at the burning bush, He claimed to be the God of the patriarchs (Mark 12:26, confirming Exodus 3:4-6).

(2)  In giving the Ten Commandments God commanded honoring one's parents (Matthew 15:4, confirming Exodus 20:12).

(3)  God gave the death penalty for speaking vilely of one's parents (Matthew 15:4, with probable reference to Exodus 21:17.  Alternatively, though less likely, the reference could be to Leviticus 20:9).


Doubtless more could be added to make the point even more emphatic, but these should be adequate for our current purpose.

The point of how widely applicable is the premise of Jesus’ kenosis—to be blunt, of His ignorance—can hardly be understated.  Taking in isolation, any one of Jesus’ allusion to Old Testament events and authorships could theoretically represent an allusion to popular opinion rather than to what had really happened.  But when we find that the denial nearly always comes time and time and time again, it is clear that the problem lies not in the questioning of merely some one, single event, but a basic hostility to the reliability of the entire Biblical account of ancient history.

We know better today.  Or is it that we, in our arrogance, merely think we know better?



* The Degree of Literalness One Attributes to Jesus’ Resurrection Predisposes How One Thinks About Jonah’s Literalness:  Why Acceptance of the Literal, Physical Resurrection of Jesus’ Fleshly Body Predisposes One to a Favorable Judgement on the Historicity of Jonah.  Why a Rejection of It Predisposes a Person to Reject the Historical Trustworthiness of the Book.

Gleason L. Archer effectively argues that a “literal” Jonah makes far greater interpretive sense in the context that Jesus introduces it—as a foreshadowing of what will objectively, literally, “visibly” occur.  Or if one wishes to word it this way:  Jonah makes far greater interpretive sense if one believes in a literally resurrected Jesus,[6]


Jesus here [in Matthew 12:40] affirms that Jonah’s experience in the belly on the whale was a type of the death, burial, and resurrection that awaited Him between Good Friday and Easter morning.  The coming experience of Christ, which certainly was historical, would serve as an antitype of the experience of the prophet Jonah.  If the antitype was

historical, then the type must also have been historical.  No fictional past episode can serve as a prophetic type of a future literal fulfillment.  Only fictions can correspond to fiction; only fact can correspond to fact.


One would be silly to say that all who deny the historicity of the Jonah account deny the historically literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  There’s always those who are not consistent where outside critics (such as ourselves) would expect them to be.

On the other hand, what percentage is it who deny that Jonah was actually inside a giant fish and rescued from it alive who also deny that Jesus was literally dead in a tomb for a similar period of time and likewise brought out of it alive?  I have never seen a statistic on the subject, but it would be hard to imagine a very high percentage of those who deny Jonah’s historicity who yet accept the historicity of what happened to Jesus.

Or to look at it from the opposite perspective:  it would be hard to imagine that of all those who believe that Jesus was indeed dead and entombed for three days and miraculously brought back to life . . . that of all those . . . that many deny the accuracy of the account of what happened to Jonah. 

In both cases, I’m trying to be generous rather than partisan.  Whatever percentages you prefer:  This is unquestionably a case where disbelief in one is a very strong “marker” that there will also be disbelief in the other.  Similarly, belief in one is a very strong “marker” that there will also be an embracing of belief in the other.     

To return to Archer’s remark that “only fictions can correspond to fiction; only fact can correspond to fact,” if our estimates are anywhere close to right, the completely candid rejecter of Jonah might well respond:  “Yes, only fictions can correspond to fiction:  and the texts do exactly that in comparing the fictional ‘resurrection’ of Jonah to the equally fictional ‘resurrection’ of Jesus.  Neither literally happened.” 

But to say that would to admit that fundamental disbelief motivates their entire system of Biblical interpretation and that strips away the mask of scholarly “neutrality” and “objectivity” they prefer to wear.  Of course that is now. 

In light of the degree naked unbelieving secularism has advanced in its tyranny over our society, it is far from impossible that these sentiments will in the lifetime of the young be transformed from an embarrassingly candid admission of one’s true convictions into a proud boast of one’s “compatibility” with the new and antagonistic “norms” expected and demanded in the dream world of secularist bigotry . . . one in which a ghetto style existence may be permitted such “unflexible” souls as insist upon clinging to the reliability of their Bibles . . . until even that can be safely smothered out of public display or buried in classes on “ancient mythology.” 

We live in a strange world.  But so did first century Christians and they managed to ultimately triumph as well.  We’ve “been there; done that.”  And can again.     



* Did Jesus Fraudulently “Guilt Trip” His Listeners?  If the Events of Jonah Did Not Occur, Then Jesus was Guilty of Loading a Huge (and Needless) Guilt Trip on His Listeners Since the Precedent For Repentance in Nineveh Never Occurred and, Therefore, Had no Genuine Relevance to Them At All.  A discussion of the relevance of Jesus’ words to Jonah nearly always center on the sea catastrophe and whether Jesus’ words vindicate an insistence upon accepting as literal historical truth the event that is described.  What is often overlooked is that Jesus also endorsed a second element in the Jonah saga, the repentance of the Ninevites, “The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it,  because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:41).

Since there are unlikely to be many who will deny the swallowing of Jonah who will admit the repentance of Nineveh—or vice versa—we can safely treat them together:  accept both, reject both, but accepting the historicity of only one seems a seriously weird and totally unviable option.  Furthermore, as Gleason L. Archer emphasizes, if this ancient repentance did not really happen, Jesus was unloading one horrendous guilt trip upon His contemporaries without any historical justification at all,[7]


If in point of fact the Ninevites never did repent (as rationalist higher critics would have us believe), then any eschatological judgment on Jesus’ unbelieving contemporaries would be quite unfair.  Jesus claimed that the men of Nineveh really did repent and set an example for the Israelites of His time to follow.  But if the Ninevites did not repent and Jonah was only a folk tale, their example could not shame Jesus’ contemporaries because of their unbelief.                 


            So we are not dealing with merely one point in the narrative where Jesus’ supposedly invokes the fictional Old Testament tale; we are dealing with two.  How many times must Jesus refer to such events about the same person on the same mission before we feel compelled to admit that Jesus accepted it as genuine history?  One reference, perhaps, could be verbally explained away, but how many more?  At what point do we admit that it comes down to whether Jesus’ evaluation of historicity is sounder than ours.  With all that implies as to our concept of Jesus’ own nature.






Chapter 2:

The Narrative of the Near Shipwreck Itself



Jonah 1:  1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.  H went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish.  So he paid the fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.

4 But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.   Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god.  And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them.  But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep.  6 So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper?  Arise, call out to your god!  Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”

7 And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.”  So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.  8 Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us.  What is your occupation?  And where do you come from?  What is your country?  And of what people are you?”

9 And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”  10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!”  For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.

11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?”  For the sea grew more and more tempestuous.  12 He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.”  13 Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them.

14 Therefore they called out to the Lord, “O Lord, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.”  15 So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.  16 Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.                     




            *  The Availability of the Ship Itself.  Some have had great fun attacking the credibility of aspects related to the ship itself.

            First of all, Joppa wasn’t much of a port.[8]  The chance of finding a ship there at any given time was hit or miss since regular shipping schedules were not—and could not, due to the limitations of ancient sailing—be maintained.  Second of all, the chance of a Phoenician ship being in Joppa was modest, much less one that was intending to sail all the way to Tarshish.  Thirdly, the practicalities of such a lengthy trip make it unbelievable.  Let’s lump these and a few other questions together and see whether this amounts to a significant challenge or, in the words of a great playwright, “much ado about nothing.”


            Let’s start with Joppa.  Yes, it was a minor port.  The presence of a vessel intending to sail all the way to Spain would be an unexpected oddity.  How and why such a vessel would have landed in Joppa is unknown.  For all we know they may have stopped there on their return from Egypt, dropping off a partial cargo and/or picking up a scheduled one. 

In all fairness a certain percentage of ships landed up where they did not expect to be—for example, think shipboard problems or unexpected storms even in the good weather months.  Yet even if you land up in Joppa by inadvertence, you still want to get home.  If Tarshish was their port of origin--the destination being their original point of origin is surely not to be regarded as irrational--such a choice would make a great deal of sense.  Even out of Joppa.

Such would be true even if their immediate objective after Joppa was some intermediate seaport.  There is no reason to assume that they necessarily intended a “straight through” transit.      

(Which also deals with the objection that “landlubbers” would normally expect to take a ship from one specified port to another, then getting on the next ship that took them to a nearer port, etc., until they finally reached their destination.  So long as he knew their scheduled goal, Jonah would regard such intermediate stops simply as a price to pay to get as far away from Israel as he could and could count himself fortunate indeed that the first ship he got on intended to ultimately go so far as Tarshish. 

(The “fare” he paid could easily have been to the intermediate point, with the understanding that so long as they were still clearly traveling to Tarshish afterwards, he would accompany them by additional payment.  For that matter their intention could have been so clear cut and unalterable by any foreseeable event that full payment came “up front.”)     

May to October was the normal maximum length for major Mediterranean ship journeys.[9]  The rest of the year, the chance of severe storms was so great that the only voyages--if attempted at all--were either short distance and/or ones that could hug the coastline.  There is nothing in the text, however, that would argue that this attempted journey took place at any other time than the preferred May-October “window.”  Even during the “good” months major storms were definitely possible—though far rarer, however. 

The emphasis that this storm was miraculously produced (Jonah 1:4) and the willingness of the crew to believe that a god could stop it (1:6) could argue that this was not the season for storms.  In the yearly “stormy” season would even a pagan expect their gods to stop what was inevitable for that time of year? 

Even laying that aside as chancy speculation, the statistical odds would still be for the journey to be attempted during the normal voyaging months and there is nothing in the text to hint in any other direction.  Indeed, if it had been in the most dangerous months, would it have not been an obvious “enhancement” of the power of the narrative to point out that Jonah was so desperate that he was even willing to undertake the journey in spite of the hostile season?

            Some have seen practical logistical problems for Jonah.  A traveler paid for passage and provided for all his own necessities.  Jonah paid the fare (1:3) and for that distance from Israel it was surely not a small one!  Cash “in the hand” can do amazing things, however.  If he had enough of it, he could no doubt purchase a share in the crew’s meals even though it violated normal traveler protocol. 

In any age, he who has the money can usually buy what he wants.  Customary practices will be waved; they may grumble and growl.  But if the money is good and this strange Hebrew is willing to eat their (non-kosher) grub, who are they to naysay him?  This is not “special pleading;” it is simply a recognition of the cooperativeness (even if grudging) that can be obtained if one’s situation is desperate enough and one has enough money to make it worth the other person’s effort.    

            So, yes, there are unexpected elements in this, but not impossible ones.  You make the best out of a situation and Jonah would have done exactly that in his flight.


            And before we leave this section we should spend at least a little time on the question of where was Tarshish?  Strangely there are a wide variety of sites that have been proposed.[10]  Although the Tarshish in Spain (near Cadiz) remains the most popular identification,[11] a number of individuals favor the major port of Carthage in North Africa or the portless Tarsus (think the apostle Paul!). 

            One will easily see that such oddness as a boat going to either of the alternative Tarshishes would be far, far less unexpected to pop up in Joppa.  Personally the Spanish destination still seems the most likely, if for no other reason than if Jonah was trying to “flee Jehovah” he could hardly get much further away from “God’s land” than fleeing to the Atlantic!



            *  Jonah’s Ability to Sleep through the Severe Storm.  The text does not assert that Jonah went to sleep while the storm was at its worst.  He could have gone to sleep when it had barely begun or before it had sprung up.  In either case, the phenomena of sleep from mental exhaustion is quite understandable if we concede him to be a man of basic integrity, a man who knew full well that he was not doing the right thing as a prophet of Jehovah. 

His heart battling with his principles could only produce an intense turmoil that would have “left him physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.”[12]  Sleep is a natural refuge in such circumstances.



            *  The Sailors’ “Belief” in the God of Israel.  Bernhard Duhm finds that “[i]t is especially interesting that the sailors do not doubt at all that there is such a God of Heaven.”[13]  Likewise, W. E. Orchard finds it strange that “[t]he sailors, who were heathen, on getting rid of Jonah at his request, sacrifice and make vows to his God.”[14] 

            Why shouldn’t they?

            Each of the crew had already appealed to the god(s) he himself worshipped (1:5) and it had done absolutely no good at all.  Then the lot to decide who was responsible for the catastrophe resulted in Jonah being selected (1:7).  Then he admitted that he had rejected Yahweh’s direct orders (1:9-10).

            With that as backdrop, what other logical course did they have than to believe that this God of Israel indeed existed and was striking out due to blatant disobedience and defiance?

            It didn’t mean that they ceased to be polytheists.  It simply meant, that at least in such trying circumstances, that the God of Israel was also worthy of respect, reverence, and worship.  And after casting him overboard and seeing that the storm quickly subsided, whose God would they instinctively sacrifice to?  Those that had not answered their prayers?  Or He of Israel whose anger was now assuaged?



            *  The Sailors’ “Unlawful” Sacrifice.  Bernhard Duhm find another problem in the fact that this sacrifice was “contrary to Jewish law.”[15] 

            The Jewish law regulated Jews.  These were Gentiles.  That they expressed their thankfulness in the fashion that fit their cultural background was to be expected.  (And Jonah wasn’t around to tell them how or whether they could sacrifice at all!)  What was Jehovah supposed to do?  Treat a show of respect with thunderbolts like ancient Zeus and strike them dead?

            Furthermore this was clearly a sacrifice of thanksgiving rather than of worship in the strict sense.  They didn’t claim to be priests.  They didn’t claim to be Jews.  They didn’t have enough knowledge on the subject to claim that the sacrifice met the norms expected of Jehovah worship. 

            They simply claimed to be thankful.  And in those terms, where is the grounds for censure?

            Indeed, if they had not done something after being saved from a watery grave, one might well object to the narrative on the grounds of their lack of gratitude.


            John Craghan goes to the other extreme of criticism by arguing that the narrative is unhistorical because the typical good guys (Jews and prophets) are pictured as ultra-foolish and the prototypically bad guys (pagan sailors/Nineveh) are pictured as incredibly good.  In regard to the sailors “and then the Ninevites” they both “prove to be models of piety and contrition.”[16] 

            To make this analysis work well one must use the term “models” in a very limited sense, there being no hint that they were perfect ones:  There is no evidence that their thankfulness resulted in a (full) conversion to the Lord.  Respect, honor for, such as they had to other respected deities, of course.  But monotheism, no.  Nor a permanent commitment to Yahweh.     

Isn’t there a profound difference between gratitude toward and feeling any  sense of  deep obligation toward?  (Mild obligation, perhaps. But a profound one?)  One might permanently be appreciative of a Divine blessing, but (unfortunately) never allow it to permanently alter one’s behavior. 

The “vows” offer the best hope of something greater than gratitude being involved—though the fact they made them was surely motivated by that.  They made “vows” yes and we have no reason to doubt they fulfilled them.  But what were they? 

Moral reform would fit with the Ninevite change, but becoming a Jewish convert would not be required to do that—even though it is the context that we, so many centuries later, might well place it in.  The apostle Paul certainly held out the concept of a certain elemental level of morality being obtainable independent of doing so on the grounds that the God of Israel taught those moral precepts,


For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law  13 (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; 14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to

themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) 16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.  (Romans 2)


            It is repentance in this form that best fits what we know of the Ninevites and if moral reform was the—or among the—vows made by the sailors, what we would expect of them as well.



            *  Jonah’s Knowledge that the Sacrifice Happened At All.A. J. Glaze wonders, “If the record is biographical, how could Jonah have known the details of the sailors’ repentance (1:16)?”[17]  A reasonable question. 


            A.  What He Could Have Responsibly Deduced From Personal Knowledge and Observed Behavior.  Combining with the previous verse we have, “So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.  Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows” (1:15-16).  As to the sea becoming quiet, Jonah had already expressed his confidence that this would happen, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you.  For I know that this great tempest is because of me” (1:12). 

His presence had caused their problem; his removal would eliminate their problem.  At least so far as the storm ceasing, that much he could be confident in writing without gaining any further information.

As to their fearing/respecting the Lord’s power “exceedingly,” did it take a prophet or a son of a prophet to responsibly deduce that they would react this way?  Would not any other reaction have been flat unnatural?  They had been in the gravest danger of death and, suddenly, they were saved from it.  All because this strange prophet of Yahweh had said it would happen.

As to offering “a sacrifice,” the question becomes murkier.  Part of the problem lies in the fact that we have no idea of what was sacrificed or what facilities they normally carried on board for this and other religious rituals while at sea.  One would naturally anticipate that they would go through some kind of observance, utilizing whatever they had available.

A “sacrifice” does not have to carry the connotation of a burnt offering, especially of a large animal.  This was a ship and fires aren’t exactly encouraged on wooden ones!  A raised “barbeque” type container one might imagine and even there, there would be limitations of size seemingly ruling out anything large.  So we can imagine some small creature, perhaps even a bird being killed and ceremonially offered.

Or, for that matter, a drink offering.  One can imagine it coming from the most valuable and respected vintage they might have on board.  (Thereby ruling out the need for potentially dangerous fire entirely.)

Living in an age when sacrifices were so common an expression of religious reverence, it would hardly be surprising if their respect and fear of God were manifested in this manner.  Would they have done such in honor of any other god?  Surely, at least this much!  So for them to do this in honor of Yahweh makes perfect sense in the context of its time and place.  It is the type of action Jonah would know would be typical of their religio-cultural background.

As to the “vows” they offered, we are unaware of their content, duration, or purpose.  Whether this would have been a likely reaction depends upon their customs and Jonah’s knowledge of them.  He could have heard some of them mutter, half of themselves, “If this storm would just break I’d (and fill in the blank).”  For them to formalize their idle words when what they wished for was so stunningly fulfilled would be natural—hence the giving of a formal vow of such-and-such.

(Which is as far as we can go because we don’t know what it was.  As noted earlier, a reformed life seems the likeliest—or at least the reform of some particular aspect of life they recognized most needed it.)

All three elements would have been anticipated by Jonah—the reverential fear (quite likely combined with naked fear as well) is a foregone conclusion assuming the sailors were rational creatures.  The offering was a probability.  The vows a likely action. 



B.  What He Could Have Learned Afterwards.  What we have examined so far has been what it would have been reasonable for Jonah to responsibly deduce without personal knowledge of the shipboard events that followed his being thrown overboard.  But what about through second-hand sources or a later direct discussion with a participant? 

It certainly would not have occurred immediately.  The storm had broken and the captain was hardly likely to sail back to the port he had left.  Instead he would be doing the best he could to make fast headway to his immediate destination.

Even Jonah would be unlikely to immediately be curious.  He had just gone through a horrifying experience.  Emotionally and physically, he would need a “short time for physical recuperation and even more for digesting the spiritual lessons to be learned from his experiences.”[18]

Yet it would hardly be unnatural for the sailors to return to the same port on a later journey.  One can easily imagine then muttering to the locals, “The last time we visited this port!” and repeating the near disaster at sea.  It would be hard to imagine Jonah’s name not being scarred in their memory—and being repeated . . . shall we say “with hearty anathemas” over the local brew?

Here we have a prophet returned from Nineveh of all places.  And the name matches.  Can you imagine word not getting to him, whether he sought it out or not?

Glaze is displeased with a naturally learned scenario, “Although he could have learned these details later, they are handled narratively.”[19]  Was the author supposed to have interjected, “But I learned later that such and such happened?”  He could have done it that way, of course, but why was there a need?

We are reduced, in effect, to the objection that the Jonah author used a different narrative style than we would prefer.  How can such possibly be a decisive objection—for that matter, much of a meaningful objection at all?  Doesn’t an author have the option of choosing his own narrative style?  Personally, I much prefer the narrative style of the Synoptics to that of John.  But do I dismiss the latter simply because it is not the way that I, personally, would tell the story?  



C.  And Then There’s the Not Insignificant Option of Divinely Revealed Information.  Of course none of the above is required.  Inspiration from God could have informed him of what he needed to know.  Or inspiration could have protected him from misunderstanding or unintentionally misrepresenting what he had heard afterwards. 

We put this option last on our list, not because it is of least importance but because the type of folk who make the kind of objections we are considering are the least likely to consider it as more than an idle fantasy.  After all, if God really did reveal His will we might be expected to accept it.  Worse yet--where applicable to us--to obey it . . . of all the horrible things for the Creator to demand of the created!  But we strive to speak in language they can more readily understand and accept.    

But for those open to such an option it should be noted that Jonah would surely have expressed more than a little interest as to how the mariners’ fared.  He had been interested enough in their welfare—and honest enough as to his own guilt—to admit that the danger arose due to his presence.  Even that getting rid of him by casting him overboard would solve their problem (1:12). 

It would not have been surprisingly in the least if Jonah had eventually asked God.  What would be more natural?



            *  Jonah’s Attitude Toward the Mariners.  In an apparent criticism of the credibility of the narrative, John Craghan notes that “[i]n his actions Jonah displays a remarkable inconsistency.  He does not disparage these pagan mariners.  However, he does disparage the Ninevites and not even a storm will free him from his entrenched theological position.”[20]  In other words:  How can Jonah be so friendly to the mariners and hostile to the Ninevites?  They are both pagans.

            We could point to the strange inconsistencies of human psychology, but there are even more obvious explanations.  Nineveh represented oppressive power; the sailors represented those assisting Jonah in his effort to flee far away.  Naturally, he would be favorably minded to the latter when compared with the burning hostility that would be manifested toward the other!  Furthermore, the very act of mingling with them would create a certain friendliness and friendliness—even of a casual nature—tends to “de-demonize” others.

            Jonah was on that boat because he wanted to be.  The pagans were being of benefit to him in assisting him flee.  At the least, he would feel a (condescending?) courtesy for the assistance.  In contrast the prophet did not want to go to Nineveh and did so only under compulsion.  He obeyed though he was not a “happy camper” about doing it. 

And though he preached he was still hostile to the city even when they vowed to mend their ways.  Modern chapter divisions are quite useful, but there are times when running together the last words of one (in this case, chapter 3) and the first of the following chapter (4) is quite useful:  “Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.  But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.”    

His predisposition was hostility and he retained it even when he was successful.  To be blunt he wanted his mission to be a failure.  Those words aren’t in the text, but will anyone try to read the textual intent any differently?  Jonah’s lament surely demonstrates that, “Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!” (4:2).  God rejoiced; Jonah was horrified.

Contrast that with the situation he felt toward the mariners.  Pagans or not, we would say that he “owed” them and he knew it—as demonstrated by his recommendation, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you.  For I know that this great tempest is because of me” (1:12).  Whatever these pagans were, the sinner here was Jonah himself.  And he fully recognized it.  Looking back at it, how could he avoid a “sympathetic” portrayal of them?        









Chapter 3:

Challenges to the Credibility

 of the “Fish” Element of the Story



Jonah 1:  15 So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 17 Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights


        Jonah 2:  1 Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish's belly. 2 And he said:  “I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, and He answered me.  ‘Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice.  3 For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me; all Your billows and Your waves passed over me. 

4 Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’  5 The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; the deep closed around me; weeds were wrapped around my head.  6 I went down to the moorings of the mountains; the earth with its bars closed behind me forever;

yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God.  7 When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer went up to You, into Your holy temple.  8 Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy.  9 But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed.  Salvation is of the Lord.”



*  On the Meaning of “Fish” in the Prophet and Jesus.  Billy K. Smith notes that the word for “fish” includes the widest variety of aquatic species, including the shark and whale.[21]  This is true of both the Hebrew word used in the minor prophet text and the Greek one used in Matthew’s reference to the event.[22]  In other words to limit the potential meaning to “whale” is to impose major limits not necessarily intended by the original languages.

Some extracts from an article by Dave Miller sums up the matter concisely,[23]


The actual text of the book of Jonah states that “the Lord had prepared a great “fish” to swallow Jonah” (Jonah 1:17). The Hebrew term (dahg) that underlies the English translation “fish” (1:17; 2:1,10) is a broad term that “always has the collective meaning ‘fish’ ” (Botterweck, [1978, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,] 3:135).  William Gesenius, whose lexicographical labors in the Hebrew language were without peer, defined dahg merely as “fish” (p. 189).

Moving to New Testament Greek, and the verse under discussion in this article (Matthew 12:40), did Christ refer to the great fish of Jonah as a “whale”?  Matthew records that Jesus employed the Greek term ketos to refer to Jonah’s sea creature. The Septuagint translators used the same term in their rendering of Jonah 1:17.

Greek lexicographers are decisive on the meaning of this word.  The highly respected Greek scholars Arndt and Gingrich offer only one definition for ketos—“sea-monster” (1957, p. 432).  The dictionary that was designed for use with the United Bible Societies’ prestigious Greek New Testament text (A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament) defined ketos as “large sea creature” (Newman, 1971, p. 100).  Thayer listed three terms—“sea-monster, whale, huge fish” (1901, p. 346), with the reference to “whale” being merely one possibility among many others within the broader sense of

the term.


            Some insist upon ketos specifically referring to “whale.”[24] 

            The three expressions used by Thayer are intriguing:  “sea-monster” refers to the creature’s size, fierce appearance, and how frightening it was.  It describes the creature according to the human reaction to it.  “Fish” defines it in terms of it being an aquatic creature.  What else are you likely to describe a large sea creature than as some kind of fish—again an expression that covers a wide range of actual entities.  Only “whale” identifies a particular type of aquatic creature or frightening giant fish.

            Now unless Jonah was well acquainted with the sea, which of these terms was he likely to use to describe the creature?  Was he likely to have the foggiest idea what a whale even looked like?  That his language intended this sense is inherently doubtful.

Did “fish” do justice to the entity?  “Fish”—well that was something you caught in the streams of the country or at the Sea of Galilee, for example.  It was not something you landed up on the inside of!  The normal connotation of the term simply didn’t fit the situation he was in.

            Hence there seems no way that the term could have avoided the connotation of “sea monster” no matter what else the expression could include—or refer to—in a different set of circumstances.       



            *  Are There Naturally Occurring “Fish” that Could Have Swallowed Him Whole?   On the affirmative side, this often evolves into a discussion of alleged specific cases where such has happened.  Grace W. Kellogg wrote a small volume called The Bible Today, in which she collected a number of such alleged incidents involving both humans and large sea creatures.[25]       

            She also names specific types that theoretically would be capable of such an action,[26]


There are at least two known monsters of the deep who could easily have swallowed Jonah.  They are the Balaenoptera Musculus or sulphur-bottom whale, and the Rhinodon Typicus or whale shark.  Neither of these monsters of the deep have any teeth.  They feed in an interesting way by opening their enormous mouths, submerging their lower jaw, and rushing

through the water at terrific speed.  After straining out the water, they swallow whatever is left. 

A sulphur-bottom whale, one hundred feet long, was captured off Cape Cod in 1933.  His mouth was ten or twelve feet wide—so big he could easily have swallowed a horse. . . .  [I]n the head of this whale is a wonderful air storage chamber, an enlargement of the nasal sinus, often measuring seven feet high, seven feet wide, by fourteen feet long.  


            On the negative side of the argument, it evolves into a challenge of whether specific incidents of reported human and animal swallowing—and their survival—have actually occurred.  Perhaps the most famous modern example is that of the British sailor James Bartley, who was reportedly swallowed in 1891 by a whale off the Falkland Islands.[27]

            Peter C. Craig refers to how “it used to be fashionable” to recount this incident when the credibility of Jonah was discuss.[28]  At the time the story was accepted as credible even by some generally hostile to such claims.[29] Later a detailed examination of the alleged swallowing cast considerable doubt on the credibility of the tale.

 One commentator who noted this seemed clearly disgruntled about having to back off from accepting the traditional story about Bartley and hoped that further examination would yield a more positive result.[30]  (And why shouldn’t he?  Who wants what seems to be a fine piece of evidence for or against any respected argument to have to be junked?) 

One key factor in the negative reappraisal was the fact that “the widow of the ship’s master affirmed afterwards that no sailor went overboard during the term of her husband’s captaincy of the vessel.”[31]  It is not idle “reconciling” to wonder how many husbands in that period would have been willing to bluntly inform their wife of how harsh and dangerous things could be in rough seas.  In other words, some (many?) husbands would have preferred to “spare” their spouse the unvarnished horrors that sometimes occurred.

            Then there are those who perceive events that may be roughly parallel incidents but wonder whether they quite measure up to what would be most preferred as collateral evidence.  Hence H. L. Ellison contends that, “There are sufficient well-attested occurrences to show that a man could survive under these circumstances. . . .”  On the other hand, he finds that “none of them seems to be strictly parallel, and they were certainly of shorter duration.”[32]   

            It should be noted that whatever modern parallels that occur would be few in number.  If what Jonah record is a relatively common occurrence, would the concept of “miraculous” ever be attached to it in the first place?  For that matter would Jonah himself consider what happened anything more than incredibly bad (and then good) luck?  What drove home the necessity of a miraculous event was that such things simply didn’t happen—at least not normally or commonly 



            *  Was It a Specially Adapted or Even Specially Created Aquatic Creature?

This solves some of the disadvantages and difficulties of locating a documented parallel from later sailor experience.  It allows an individual to readily admit—depending upon who is doing the speaking—that “of course” this couldn’t happen—not naturally, that is.  The fact that it became possible was because it was part of the miracle.  That made possible what would otherwise have been impossible.

            M. R. DeHaan argues that the fact that the giant fish was “prepared” to swallow up Jonah means that[33]


The search by science for the fish is quite futile, and men never will be able to find one like it, for it was a specially prepared fish which God furnished for this particular occasion. . . .  It was a specially prepared fish, and presumably God made it just for this occasion, because there was no other existing fish

which would serve the purpose.  If there had been a fish in existence that could do the work of swallowing Jonah and keep him alive, then why did Jonah have to prepare one especially for this purpose?


            In this and what follows, DeHaan seems to oscillate between the idea of adaptation of an existing creature and the special creation of a new fish-beast.  The acceptance of the former does not necessarily require the latter.  The latter would argue that even the most “adapted” of existing creatures would not quite serve the purpose that was intended.

            The key word on this subject is found in 1:17, “Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. . . .”  One might take this to carry the implication of “create.”  The kind of fish that swallowed Jonah can not be found anymore because it no longer exists.  It was specially created for a specific purpose and occasion.  Indeed why would there be a need to “prepare” the fish if, in its normal condition, it could do what is described in the Jonah text?  

            A selection of translations provide these renderings:

            “Prepared:  ASV, ERV, ISV, NKJV, World English Bible

            “Provided:  NIV

            “Appointed:  ESV, Holman, NASB

            “Sent:  God’s Word, New English Translation

            The first of these translations quite easily carries the connotation of either adaptation or special creation, as does “provided,” though a big vaguer.  The alternatives of “appointed” and “sent” simply carry the idea that God selected this particular creature and nothing more.  This itself creates a potential problem:  Why did God select this particular fish when, without miraculous adaption any fish of this type would have done the job?  Does not the very idea of a special selection virtually require the idea of adaptation?

            Theodore Laetsch apparently rejects both the special adaptation and special creation options though he believes the incident to represent genuine history:  he argues that the Hebrew term being translated “never is used in the sense of ‘create’ in Scripture.  It always denotes to count, or to assign, commission.”[34]  Billy K. Smith also uses the meaning of the word to disprove any theory of special creation being envolved.[35]  

             T. T. Perowne, who vigorously defends the historicity of the events, also concurs in this judgment:  “The same word and tense are used of the gourd, the worm, and the East wind, ch. iv. 6, 7, 8.  They do not necessarily imply any previous or special preparation, much less the creation of these various agents for the purpose to which they were put; but merely that they were appointed to it by Him, whom ‘all things serve.’ ”[36]  William A. Karraker also cites the same examples to prove that point, “It was simply ordered to be on hand at the moment the ejected prophet struck the water.”[37]  Nothing more.

            On the other hand, there would certainly seem to be a supernatural alteration of natural abilities and events for the gourd to have grown so quickly and for the worm to have destroyed so swiftly.  Even here the “natural” was significantly altered by the Lord.  Hence supernatural alteration of the sea beast’s natural ability—to assure the survival of Jonah—would still seem quite compatible with the text even if we do not opt for the scenario of special creation.

For that matter, God certainly did not create the wind that day, but did He cause it to be so powerful, thereby precipitating the events that are narrated?  Unless He did so, aren’t we pushing the narrative back into Jonah having a hideously “bad luck day” having nothing directly connected to God?  If we are talking Deity having a direct role in the event even at this point, aren’t we talking about a miraculous change of what would otherwise have occurred?

            At the minimum surely the Lord acted to assure that that particular sea creature was at the right place at the right time to swallow Jonah.  Grant this much Divine intervention and one seemingly has removed as well any a priori objection to the possibility that God miraculously adapted or created the fish to be able to perform its function of preserving Jonah alive and delivering him to land. 

God has the power to “manipulate” event in whatever manner that is required to carry out His intents and purposes.  It is but one aspect of His omnipotence.


            *  Could Jonah Have Survived Under the Circumstances Described?

Ebenezer Henderson argues that it would have been impossible, from knowledge and precedents, for Jonah to have survived “the foul air in a fish for the length of time here specified. . . .”[38]  He embraces the view of the Jewish scholar Abenerza who wrote, “No man has the power of living in the bowels of a fish for a single hour:  how much less for such a number of hours, except by the power of a miracle.”[39]

            So, the argument seems to be, Jonah was in the fish but he was miraculously permitted to survive the three days without breathing since breathing was impossible?  Does this not create a “greater and more impressive” miracle since added on to the survival now comes the ability to live without new oxygen?   Wouldn’t it be simpler to say that God either modified an existing species or created a new creature where adequate oxygen would somehow be available?


            *  Jonah’s Knowledge of the Duration He Spent in the Creature.  A. J. Glaze argues against the “biographical” interpretation of the book—that it was either written by the prophet himself or based on what he reported—by making the challenge, “[H]ow could he have known the length of time of his stay in the fish’s belly so accurately, ‘three days and three nights,’ while in utter darkness?”[40]

            Well, one can imagine him washing up on the shore and His pleadingly look up to heaven and, half-begging, giving thanks and then the inevitable, “How long, Lord, how long?”  And the Lord responds with—silence?  I think not.

            Or, for example, he knew he went overboard on a Wednesday and the first people he meets on dry land he naturally asks, “What day of the week is it?”  Thereby learning the length of the confinement.

            Neither scenario is an unnatural one.  Both rely on innate human curiosity.  What would be incredible of his learning the duration by either method?

            Glaze though has a problem with any explanation, “Although he could have learned these details later, they are handled narratively.”[41]  So the real objection seems to be that because the author did not write it the way the objector prefers, there is no way the work could have come from Jonah or a contemporary. 

With all due respect, this reduces the question to stylistic objections rather than content objections.  People tell their story in different fashions.  Who is it for the reader to say, “Even though it happened to you, you shouldn’t have told it that way!”  If the writer is providing an honest account of what happened, shouldn’t we be grateful that we even have the account?








[1] Anthony Hanson, Jonah and Daniel (Madras, India:  Christian Literature Society, 1955),  11.


[2] Ibid.


[3] Ibid.


[4]  Many sources will provide a similar list, but the one I utilized was Shelby Floyd.  “Christ and Genesis; Biblical Inspiration, No. 2.”  2008.  At:  http://www.preachthe  [Accessed February 2014.]  



[5] Roland H. Worth, Jr.  Concise Handbook of Biblical Inspiration:  Almost 800 Internal Assertions of Accuracy and Revelation.  2012.  At:  http://www.biblicalresearch  [Accessed February 2014.]   


[6] Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (rand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1982), 301-302.


[7] Ibid., 302.


[8] Lowell K. Handy, Jonah’s World:  Social Science and the Reading of Prophetic Story (London:  Equinox, 2007), 68-70, effectively develops at length some of the objections he sees in this piece of text which would normally be regarded as straight forward narrative.


[9] Ibid., 68


[10] For a good discussion of these see Ibid., 27-31.


[11] Brynmor F. Price and Eugene A. Nida, “The Book of Jonah,” in David J. Clark, et al., A Translator’s Handbook on the Books of Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah (UBS Handbook Series).  (New York:  United Bible Societies, 1993), 52.  Both the 1978 and 1993 editions were used in the research on this study.


[12] Billy K. Smith, Layman’s Bible Book Commentary:  Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah (Nashville, Tennessee:  Broadman Press, 1982), 140.


[13] Bernhard Duhm, The Twelve Prophets, translated by Archibald Duff (London:  Adam and Charles Black, 1912), 259.


[14] W. E. Orchard, Oracles of God:  Studies in the Minor Prophets ( London:  James Clarke & Company, Limited, 1922), 146.


[15] Duhm, 259.


[16] John Craghan, Old Testament Message:  A Biblical-Theological Commentary—Esther, Judith, Tobit, Jonah, Ruth (Wilmington, Delaware:  Michael Glazier, Inc., 1982), 167.


[17] A. J. Glaze, Jr., “Jonah,” in The Broadman Bible Commentary:  Hosea-Malachi (Nashville:  Broadman Press, 1972), 155.    


[18] H. L. Ellison, “Jonah,” in Expositor’s Bible Commentary (volume 7) (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1985), 379.


[19] Glaze, 155.    


[20] Craghan, 175.


[21] Smith, 144.


[22] John Walton, “Jonah,” in John Walton and Bryan Beyer, Obadiah, Jonah (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1982, 1988), 29.


[23] Dave Miller, “Jonah and the ‘Whale’?”  Part of the Apologetics Press website.  At:  [Accessed February 2014.]


[24] William A. Karraker, The Bible in Questions and Answers (New York:  David McKay Company, Inc., 1953), 723.


[25] J. Vernon McGee, Jonah and Micah (Pasadena, California:  Thru the Bible Books, 1979) quotes at length from the book (40-42).


[26] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee:  (Volume 3) Proverbs-Malachi (ashville, Tennessee:  Thomas Nelson, 1982), 761.  This appears to be a volume joining together the separately circulated Jonah and Micah treatments with that of other books in a much larger and more comprehensive analysis. 


[27] D. E. Hart-Davies, Jonah:  Prophet and Patriot (London:  Thynne & Company, Ltd., 1925; reprinted, 1951), 104-105, provides an account of the incident.


[28] Peter C. Craig, Daily Study Bible:  Twelve Prophets (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1984), 213.


[29] Hart-Davies, 104-105, provides examples.


[30] Ibid., 105.


[31] Craig, 213.


[32] Ellison, 363.


[33] M. R. DeHaan, Jonah:  Fact or Fiction? (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1957), 75-76.


[34] Theodore Laetsch, The Minor Prophets (Saint Louis, Missouri:  Concordia Publishing House, 1956), 229; cf. his similar remark on 228.


[35] Smith, 143-144.


[36] T. T. Perowne, Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges:  Obadiah and Jonah (Cambridge:  At the University Press, 1883; 1898 reprint), 67.


[37] Karraker, 723-724.


[38] Ebenezer Henderson, The Book of the Minor Prophets (Boston:  W. H. Halliday and Company, 1859 (copyright); 1868 (reprint), 207.  This represents the American edition of his  British volume, which came out even earlier.


[39] As quoted by Ibid., 207.


[40] Glaze, 155.


[41] Ibid.