Could Jonah have been swallowed by a whale/giant sea creature?

As i have been on this journey and trusting the Bible as the Word of God this thought came to me. Could the account of Jonah have really been swallowed by a whale/giant sea creature and been preserved by the Lord be true? Now hear me out before y’all bring out your pitchforks and light up them torches. We believe in a God who parted the Red Sea and led the Hebrews out of Egypt and have no real conflict with that. We believe in God who allowed Abraham and Sarah have a child in their old age and we have no problem with that. We believe that God led the Hebrews in the wilderness and provided for them in many miraculous ways such as the manna from Heaven, quails falling from the sky and water pouring out of rocks. We believe in a God who has healed people of diseases and raised people from the dead. We believe in the virgin birth, the miracles of Jesus Christ such as healing the sick, casting out demons, walking on water, turning water to wine and even the most outrageous of all to the secular world, rising back from the dead!!! My question is, if it is possible for God to do these things which science say is impossible, then could be possible for God to preserve a man in the belly of a sea beast for three days and have him live? That is my topic i give for today.

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Possible, sure. But I have come to believe the camp that feels Jonah’s story was a parable written in the time of exile or in the post exile period. Too many details are consistent with a story constructed to make a point rather than a historic character. When you take a story like that and try to make it literal, you run into problems with the details.


While i will agree that most of the OT was finally written down by the time of exile and post-exile, i feel that a lot of the Bible stories of the OT had been for a long time been preserved via oral traditions and a few written sources from various camps of Jewish sects and schools of the prophets. And i feel that the story of Jonah would have been preserved by a school of prophets/students who followed Jonah and a few other of the OT prophets and also by the Holy Spirit obviously.

Before I was even worried about evolution and of the Bible could be interpreted differently I was already using textual analysis and looking at what the talmud taught and so on.

I don’t think Jonah was based on a true story at all. Everything about it screams “ fictional tale showcasing Gods mercy and mocking the hardness of the human heart”. I view it as a fictional short shorty, and not so much a parable but along that same reasoning nonetheless.

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My answer is, yes, it is possible. My question is “would the original audience have understood the story that way?” Maybe they would have. But I am slightly skeptical.

While it is possible for it being a parable/short story, but for me, it seems as if the event took place and was historical. This is separate from the story of Creation from Genesis 1 in which we can see it being poetic of sorts due to the evidence of how we know how the origin of the universe emerged, but to me, if i can believe in the miracles of the exodus of Egypt, the miracles throughout the OT and the miracles of the NT, then why is the idea of believing that God intervened in our reality like He normally does and allows a man to at least survive in the belly of a sea creature for three days any different? That’s just my thinking of the whole deal.

When I was in junior high school way back in the early 60s, I remember sitting at a table in the small library leaning my chair back against the bookshelves along the wall (there was not a lot of room between the table and the shelves), reading an issue of Life magazine. In it was an article with at least one photograph about a whaling ship, a Japanese one, I believe, that had opened a whale carcass to find a man, still alive, but in a coma. I don’t even recall that he survived – I kind of don’t think he did, nor do I remember what species of whale it was. (Could he have been caught behind the baleen of a blue whale? Here is a story about a man reputedly swallowed by a sperm whale.) I do seem to remember that the article was on the lower part of maybe a two page spread and at least one photograph was on the lower left side (important detail, right? insert eye-roll emoji).

A few years ago I spent some time going through Google Books archives, pretty much by hand but to no avail, looking at the tables of contents and leafing through the “Preview this magazine” feature, since the article was not accessible through indexing, at least not that I could find. It would be an article that some might not want to see brought to the surface, to use a suitable metaphor, and it might not have been listed separately in the table of contents, being considered a news item and just included in the news pages. It was a bit daunting, especially since the magazine was still a weekly at that point (that’s a lot of pages!) and I think I was on a slower internet connection as well as a slower computer. I did not complete the task.

If I started the seventh grade in 1960, the magazine could have been an issue from the late 50s, but I kind of don’t think it was an earlier issue than 1959, and could have been no later than June of 1963. Maybe I am talking myself into trying again. :slightly_smiling_face:

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You may well be right, but interestingly the swallowing and being spit out is not really why I think it may not be historical. That would indeed be a miraculous act and I can accept it as such. What makes me think it is a parable or story is the terse short warning, the exaggerated response where even the animals fasted and wore sackcloth, the narrative form of the book where it is told as a story, the setting of Ninivah and Nahum’s prophesy regarding the city elsewhere in the Bible
In short, it Is not the miracle of the fish, it is the form, the genre that drives my impression.

Yes, it’s possible. God could do that. It’s also possible that the male fish (dag, Jonah 1:17) was changed by God into a female fish (dagah, 2:1) and back into a male fish as it spat Jonah out (dag, 2:10).

It’s possible. But I expect literary explanations go farther in seeing what’s going on with details like this. Jonah going into the fish’s belly and being spat out is like a death and resurrection (and Jonah’s poem in chap. 2 makes this explicit: to be in the fish’s belly is to be in the belly of Sheol, the grave). The fish’s sex change helps readers see that Jonah’s journey is also a kind of rebirth, so it’s all the more disappointing when he still acts like his old self.

There are so many clever wordplays and ironic plot twists that it would be a letdown if it was all just because it happened that way. Early on, the storm and the ship are personified in ways most English translations only hint at. The directions telegraph the plot: Jonah goes down to Joppa, down into the hold of the ship, lies down asleep, then after being cast into the sea, heads down to the land of Sheol.

Jonah is the anti-prophet. Most biblical prophets devote their life to their work yet have little to no effect on their audience. Jonah, after failing to evade his task, still puts no energy into it. Yet his bland assessments first make the foreign sailors worship God (even by recklessly lighting a fire on a wooden ship!) and then cause the Ninevites to repent in sacklock (including their animals!).

It’s great satire. If it’s just a record of actual historical events – well, that would diminish its excellence quite a bit. If Orwell just happened to write down the peculiar things he witnessed on a certain farm, I’d think quite a bit less of his talent, too.


It’s irrelevant if he were. The evolution of God is infinitely more important here.

While it is possible for that to have been added in as a comic relief to a serious situation by the redactor scribes, I feel that doesn’t take away from the seriousness and possible historical nature of the event as told in Jonah. It is possible that the redactors did add in those elements to make a point in the irony of Jonah being a disobedient prophet and God getting His Will done through the unfaithfulness of Jonah, having pagan sailors praise God and other elements.

I feel that part of Jonah (Jonah 2) is meant to Jonah in a near death experience situation (I feel that Jonah was in a sense in-between life and death while in the belly of the sea beast and thus he was in a sense in Sheol, the place of the dead.) And God had the creature vomit Jonah out and thus restored him back to life. The whale and the sea are motifs for the grave and death so it would make sense for both Jonah and the later redactor scribes who later wrote down the oral account to notice and make this point a priority.

Whither historical or not, I think we often get sidetracked looking at such things as fish or whale, resurrected or resuscitated, and in our zeal to examine the means of the message we fail to recognize the meaning. In Jonah, it seems God was telling of our hard hearts, in contrast with God’s mercy, of loving our enemies, of God working through Israel to redeem the world, of everyone’s need for repentance.
I know you know of those things, Quinn, but wonder if we communicate them to the rank and file Sunday School,attenders as well as we should. We teach the story of Jonah but not the meaning.


And in ignorance we do (and I myself) fail to teach the meaning of story of Jonah in how despite a prophet didn’t want to go help a people who were national enemies, God broke the nationalist bar and forced Jonah to preach repentance to a people who needed God. Something quite radical today in terms of telling our enemies today that God loves them and even more radical with the notion that the God of Israel, Yahweh, would want to be involved in the life of the people of Assyria, which would have sounded crazy and been unheard in the Ancient Near East.


My Harper Study Bible has a note that this tale probably a satire, poking fun at the faithless Israelites who ignored the prophets. So Jonah is sent to pagan Ninevah, preaches repentance, and the city immediately repents bigtime! Seriously?


It’s like Billy Graham said: “I believe more than that! I believe if God wanted him to, Jonah could’ve swallowed the whale!”

It’s like Billy Graham [completely and utterly!] missed the point.

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I’ve heard this story before, and though I haven’t investigated it, I did extensively research the story of James Bartley that you linked to wiki. My article, in the ASA Journal, has probably been more widely read than anything else I’ve written; two BBC radio programs were based on it.

I did all that research before the word “internet” was coined, and before newspaper databases existed. I subsequently learned what the wiki article reports–namely, that the story did not originate in Great Yarmouth (England), but apparently in New London, CT, and that the earliest reports predate the episode of the Gorleston whale (mentioned in wiki, citing my article). Incidentally, the New Bedford Whaling Museum (with whom I corresponded) has no knowledge of this as an actual event. I continue to regard it (and the many stories based upon it) as an urban myth.

However, the first newspaper article I read about the story was from the New York Times in 1896. Someone “corrected” this in the wiki article, stating that it really appeared in the New York World instead. Actually, both newspapers independently published different accounts of it in 1896–the Times in fact reprinted an 1891 story from the Yarmouth Mercury.

An ironic ending to this message: many people today have read about my research on various web sites, only a few of which actually link or credit my article. A lot of the information still found on the internet is either flat wrong, or mis-reports things I said in a confusing mix of fact and fiction. For the real story, read mine. :slight_smile:


Enjoyed reading of your detective work in running the story down. Interesting how the stories are like a childrens’s game of "telephone " with changes at each telling.

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My story is not pretended (and please don’t mistake me for a fundamentalist YEC).

I didn’t mean to imply that you were pretending anything, Dale–you related an experience from half a century ago, as best you can recall it. I am in no position to say that you’re wrong, or even a little confused about that memory–despite the fact that historians like me often regard old memories as likely to be less reliable than recent ones. For all of us (“us” includes me and everyone reading this), memories fade or get foggier over time, but in many cases there is still a kernal of information that is fully reliable even decades later. This is your memory, not mine, and unless/until I see the story you recall seeing, I can’t say you’re mistaken.

What I can say, as a historian who’s actually examined some of those modern Jonah stories (almost no one else is in this category), is that they are numerous and often share certain common features that make me instantly suspicious of their authenticity. I began my work on the Bartley story without any bias against its truth–in fact, I was hoping to find credible evidence in its favor, because it would have drawn worldwide attention to my work. Even in those days before the internet, my findings would have created a sensation in newspapers, magazines, and over-the-air TV stations. For example, some of my other historical work in that period led to an invitation to appear on CBN, but that invitation came at the last minute (as such invitations do, I came to realize), with absolutely no time for me to make alternative plans for my classes the next morning in order to be driven to NY the night before.

So, I strongly wanted the Bartley story to be authentic. It wasn’t, despite the fact that it’s still very much alive in some electronic places.

As for me perhaps thinking you are “a fundamentalist YEC,” that’s simply not a factor for me. I have many friends who are YEC, some of whom also identify as “fundamentalists,” though that term was much more commonly used in our younger years than nowadays. I have never been a fundamentalist, but my interest in verifying the Bartley story was no less intense than that of many “fundamentalists,” with whom I share a commitment to biblical truth and truth in general.

My best to you, Dale.


“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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