Johah And the Belly of the Whale

On his YouTube channel, Jonathan Pageau gave an interesting talk on the symbolism in the story of Jonah.

There’s something very interesting about the story of Jonah which Jonathan didn’t touch on. It was pointed out to me by Brant Pitre in his book The Case for Jesus (which I highly recommend, btw). Here’s the thing: Jonah didn’t survive in the belly of the fish (ancient Hebrew did not distinguish whales from fish, so it can be translated whale, too).

Jonah died.

I know all of the kids books always show Jonah camping out in the belly of a whale with a big air pocket and a lantern and a canteen with fresh water and whatnot. But if you look at the text, not at children’s books, it’s very much written as if he died. The fish didn’t swallow him with a huge pocket of air, and not digest him, and so on. It ate his corpse.

The prayer of Jonah is, I believe, a mosaic of psalms, but it states fairly clearly that he is calling out to God from the land of the dead. It also describes him dying in the ocean. That he spent three days in the belly of the fish shows that he was good and dead. Absent a miracle, no one survives in the belly of a fish for one day, let alone three.

Then Yahweh made the fish vomit Jonah up onto dry land. And what does God say to Jonah? “Up!” This sure reads like a command to a corpse to get up and stop being dead (with echoes of Christ’s words to the daughter of Jairus, “little girl, arise”).

Granted, the text doesn’t explicitly say “Jonah died, he did not survive in the belly of the fish”, but absent someone starting a tradition of interpreting the text that way, it’s not ordinarily the sort of thing you’d need to be that explicit about; the man dying and praying in the land of the dead would, ordinarily, suffice.

The whole book of Job is a very interesting book, for a great many reasons. But I do very much like that when it comes to a prophet, not even dying is enough to get out of the job.

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