Jonah and the Great Fish

how did god make the world? it basically boils down to one explanation: magic. That’s stupid. and not stupid in a “man living in a fish” kind of way, it’s just plain intellectually lazy and stupid. It explains absolutely nothing. We don’t know what magic is, how it works, or anything, really. there isn’t even a shred of evidence to support the claim that it exists. it’s undefined, undefinable, unproven, and to top it off, most likely totally nonexistant. If you think magic is a better explanation than anything based on solid evidence, then you, sir, are stupid…

Now, my question is was Jonah truly swallowed by a great fish or is there some hidden meaning of some sort?

I haven’t really done a study on Jonah, but given the layered nature of Scripture, I would say that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish and there is a metaphorical meaning behind it. What I am saying is that it doesn’t have to be “either…or” It can be “both…and”

I believe the hidden meaning of Jonah in the whale 3 days was an ante-type of Christ in the tomb for 3 days.

I certainly agree on the hidden meaning/forshadowing of Christ’s 3 days in the earth - and Christ makes the same connection expressly. I’m also, inclined, however, to believe that this miracle actually happened - Jesus certainly spoke as though it did because he compares his coming miracle to the miracle of Jonah in the great fish (and if that was not an actual miracle, it would make his statement somewhat odd).

I similarly, personally, believe in the literal miracle of the parting of the red sea - although it also had hidden meaning of the forshadowing of being saved by baptism, etc.

That being said - I don’t believe the Church forces a viewpoint on a literal interpretation or not regarding the occurrences of these various miracles.



First of all, let me recommend this catena on Jonah that has tons of commentary and citations from the Church Fathers

No doubt in my mind that Jonah is completely historic. At the same time Jonah was a type of Christ, as him being in the belly of the κήτους/whale was a type of Christ being in Hades.

I agree that Jonah was probably actually eaten by a whale and lived, I mean, we have documented cases of that happening in recent history so it’s definitely possible.

I have a question, and I don’t mean to hijack this thread, but was Christ in the ground for a literal three days and nights? I’ve heard that there is something about Jewish idioms and such that means it was just parts of three days and nights but I’m not sure, does anyone have an answer?

Yes - there is a well known Jewish/Hebrew Idiom that any part of a day or night is accounted for as an entire day. Also, Jews count days from sun down to sundown - this is very important to understand in reading these gospel accounts. This is important in harmonizing the verses, for example, which describe Jesus as in the ground for 3 days and 3 nights with, arising “on the third day” and the fact that we are also told he arose on the “first day of the week” and was pulled down off the cross before the “sabbath”).

I believe that Jesus was crucified on Friday before sundown (before sabbath - which was likely that year also a “high day” - passover sabbath). Thus pre- sundown on Friday is the first day. Friday night until Saturday sundown is the second day - Saturday Sundown until Sunday sundown is the Third Day.

Thus - counting all or any part of a day or night as an entire day/night, Jesus is crucfied before the Friday sabbath (per scripture), is in the tomb 3 days/nights, arises “on the third day” and arises on the “first day of the week”.



Thank you very much!

Personally, I believe that it’s not really that impossible that Jonah was swallowed by an aquatic creature (supposing that the book of Jonah is an actual, historical record and is not just an extended parable of sorts); with God, all things are possible.

I’d hesitate to point the fish that swallowed Jonah exactly as a whale however, because: (1) the Hebrew only has dag gadol, “great fish”, and (2) the Greek ketos and the Latin cetus only acquired the specific meaning of ‘whale’ around the Middle Ages; early Christian art depicted kētos in the sense that Greek mythology understood it: some sort of sea monster.

Here are some of the whale species which are found in the Mediterranean Sea;

Pseudorca crassidens - False killer whale

Orcinus orca - Killer whale

Globicephala melas - Long-finned pilot whale


Mesoplodon densirostris - Blainville’s beaked whale

Ziphius cavirostris - Cuvier’s beaked whale


Physeter macrocephalus - Sperm whale


Kogia simus - Dwarf sperm whale


Eubalaena glacialis - Northern right whale


Balaenoptera acutorostrata - Minke whale

Balaenoptera borealis - Sei whale

Balaenoptera physalus - Fin whale

Megaptera novaeangliae - Humpback whale

Taking, as an example, the last whale on the list;

This whale feeds in the Northern waters, eg Alaskan waters, during the summer months. In winter it migrates to equatorial waters and fasts from food for several months. While in equatorial waters including the Mediterranean Sea it mates or pregnant females give birth.
The lead up to mating, ie. the chase, is fairly lively with groups of males competing for a female, sometimes 5 males, sometimes 20, or 40 male humpback whales will be jumping around the place, leaping out of the water and splashing and generally making the sea around them less safe for a small boat than a storm at sea.

4 But the Lord sent a great wind into the sea: and a great tempest was raised in the sea, and the ship was in danger to be broken.

11 And they said to him: What shall we do to thee, that the sea may be calm to us? for the sea flowed and swelled. 12 And he said to them: Take me up, and cast me into the sea, and the sea shall be calm to you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you. 13 And the men rowed hard to return to land, but they were not able: because the sea tossed and swelled upon them.

Humpback whales generally do not feed during their winter stays in the Med. and combining that with the stomach system in these whales; they have 3-4 stomach compartments, the first stomach compartment is a large ‘holding or storage area’ which does not have gastric glands, so Jonah would not be digested in the whales forestomach.

The humpback whales forestomach does however contain several strains of bacteria. These bacteria are anaerobic and cannot live in air, Jonahs’ whale would surely have swallowed plenty of air to keep Jonah going and in the process the air would have killed off any anaerobic bacteria in the whales stomach. Thus ensuring that Jonah stayed as safe and well in the first stomach compartment of this whale as if he had been placed in a large soft clean bag with a regular supply of fresh air.


I’d hesitate to point the fish that swallowed Jonah exactly as a whale however, because: (1) the Hebrew only has dag gadol, “great fish”, and (2) the Greek ketos and the Latin cetus only acquired the specific meaning of ‘whale’ around the Middle Ages; early Christian art depicted kētos in the sense that Greek mythology understood it: some sort of sea monster.

Right on! Though I find myself usually calling it a whale since that seems to be the most likely creature in the ocean to swallow him and carry him around for 3 days, but that is only speculation, since I’m no marine biologist.:smiley:

There is an extensive discussion of Jonah in this thread.

I would love to learn more of the parting red sea/ baptisim foreshadowing!! Would you be knd enough to start a thread on this? If you do maybe you could pm me so I don’t miss it. That is fascinating!

Jamison - I took it from the Catechism - 1221

**1221 But above all, the crossing of the Red Sea, literally the liberation of Israel from the slavery of Egypt, announces the liberation wrought by Baptism:

You freed the children of Abraham from the slavery of Pharaoh,
bringing them dry-shod through the waters of the Red Sea,
to be an image of the people set free in Baptism. **



Interesting food for thought (pun intended). :o

Never say die in these discussions… …you never know… :popcorn:
I’ll leave you guys to digest this tale…

The Tanach is two things. It is the history of the Jewish people and it is a polemic. In an age of polytheism and paganism it came to unequivocally state that there is only one God and He is the God of all things. The very first sentence in the Tanach comes to emphasize this point. It is God and God alone who created the heavens and the earth and everything in the universe.

The book of Jonah, containing a mere four chapters, has a special meaning for the non Jew. It comes to show that God is not just the God of the Jews alone but of all things and all people. Jonah the prophet is unable to accept the compassion and the forgiveness of God. In his opinion it makes a mockery of prophesy and a mockery of punishment for the wicked. He does not accept the repeated scenario where he goes to give God’s warning, the people repent and God spares them. To Jonah this is unacceptable. He claims he would rather die.

Now where is Jonah sent by God? To Nineve. He’s sent to a pagan city to allow for the possibility of pagan redemption. This emphasizes that God is the God of all people and has power over all people, not just the Jewish people. Jonah runs away to the sea to get to Tarshish. However God brings the storm. Again, this shows that God does not only exist in the framework of the Jewish nation and land, but He is everywhere and in every place. Both the storm, the Whale and the Castor oil plant must be seen in this context. God has power of all things in nature, the sea, the whale and the plant.

To admittedly drift off-topic for the moment, there are also hosts of Jewish beliefs and folktales concerning the fish, which is said to have been created in the very beginning of the world for the sole purpose of swallowing Jonah:

*]The Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer relates that Jonah saved his host fish from being devoured by Leviathan; in return, the fish takes him on a tour of the suboceanic world, showing him things such as the path of the Israelites took across the Red Sea and the literal “foundations of the world”, the pillars upon which the earth rests.

*]The Kabbalistic work Zohar understands Jonah’s being devoured and ejected by the fish as being about death and resurrection - where both the characters literally die and get resurrected! According to this version, the fish died upon swallowing Jonah but was revived after three days to cast the latter out: when Jonah was thrown into the sea, his soul immediately left his body and soared up to God’s throne, where it was judged and sent back. As soon as Jonah’s soul touched the mouth of the fish on its way back to the body, the fish then died - so Jonah spent three days and nights in a dead fish.

*]In Jonah 1:17-2:1 (2:1-2, the fish that swallowed Jonah first is described in the masculine gender (dag), but is later referred to in the feminine gender, dagah, only for the gender to revert back to the masculine in 2:17:

And YHWH assigned a great fish (dag gadol, masculine) to swallow up Jonah, and Jonah was in the innards of the fish (ha’dag, masculine) three days and three nights. And Jonah prayed to YHWH his God from the bowels of the fish (ha’dagah, feminine)…And YHWH spoke to the fish (la’dag, masculine), and it vomited out Jonah on the dry land.

The Midrash Jonah tries to account for this discrepancy through the following tale: God first appoints a rather big, male fish to swallow Jonah, where he stayed for the three days. Jonah found himself rather comfortable inside the fish and forgot to pray, so God then resolved to put him into another fish where he would be less comfortable. The male fish then spat Jonah out, only to be devoured by another, pregnant female fish. Cramped for room (there were 365,000 baby fishes inside the female fish’s womb) and otherwise made miserable, Jonah finally prayed, acknowledging the futility of his efforts to escape from God.[/LIST]
A harmonized narrative containg many elements from the above sources appears in Louis Ginzberg’s Legends of the Jews:

At the creation of the world, God made a fish intended to harbor Jonah. He as so large that the prophet was as comfortable inside of him as in a spacious synagogue. The eyes of the fish served Jonah as windows, and, besides, there was a diamond, which shone as brilliantly as the sun at midday, so that Jonah could see all things in the sea down to its very bottom.

It is a law that when their time has come, all the fish of the sea must betake themselves to leviathan, and let the monster devour them. The life term of Jonah’s fish was about to expire, and the fish warned Jonah of what was to happen. When he, with Jonah in his belly, came to leviathan, the prophet said to the monster: “For thy sake I came hither. It was meet that I should know thine abode, for it is my appointed task to capture thee in the life to come and slaughter thee for the table of the just and pious.” When leviathan observed the sign of the covenant on Jonah’s body, he fled affrighted, and Jonah and the fish were saved. To show his gratitude, the fish carried Jonah whithersoever there was a sight to be seen. He showed him the river from which the ocean flows, showed him the spot at which the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, showed him Gehenna and Sheol, and many other mysterious and wonderful place.

Three days Jonah had spent in the belly of the fish, and he still felt so comfortable that he did not think of imploring God to change his condition. But God sent a female fish big with three hundred and sixty-five thousand little fish to Jonah’s host, to demand the surrender of the prophet, else she would swallow both him and the guest he harbored. The message was received with incredulity, and leviathan had to come and corroborate it; he himself had heard God dispatch the female fish on her errand. So it came about that Jonah was transferred to another abode. His new quarters, which he had to share with all the little fish, were far from comfortable, and from the bottom of his heart a prayer for deliverance arose to God on high. The last words of his long petition were, “I shall redeem my vow,” whereupon God commanded the fish to spew Jonah out. At a distance of nine hundred and sixty-five parasangs from the fish he alighted on dry land. These miracles induced the ship’s crew to abandon idolatry, and they all became pious proselytes in Jerusalem.

965 parasangs…that should be a world record. :smiley:

Patrick, we need to send somebody out to Nineve to search for ancient artwork from that area of Jonah and this big fish.

Humpback whales have 14-35 throat grooves that run from the chin to the navel. These grooves allow their throat to expand during the huge intake of water during filter feeding. Blue whales can swallow an object the size of a beachball which is also wide enough for a person to pass through. Blue whales and humpbacks have similar feeding habits so would have similar throat sizes. Both whales also somtimes cross breed so you may even get bigger humpback hybrid whales visiting the Med.
In sept, 2009, a humpback whale was found in the Thames river in England near Dartford Bridge; so I suppose our Humpback whale could also have swum up the Tigris to Nineveh, or whatever, if needed. .

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