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Fact or Not?

Poetry | Anti-Literalists | Other

Introduction: This page covers the arguments for and against reading Jonah literally. I have to admit, I am not enamored of this debate, which I find sterile and beside the point. Christians who insist on a "historical" reading or think the message is that "God does miracles" seem to me as limited as the eager "skeptics" who think they've overturned God by demonstrating the book of Jonah contains "impossibilities." I think Jonah is a fiction—its exact genre is an interesting question—and was understood as such by its original audience. I do not, however, suppose every person of faith must agree with me before they can profit from the text. It might be necessary, however, to read for message, and get past arguments about the acidity of whale bile.

Oh, and don't me started on the non-existent whale/fish problem or the "how long was Jesus dead" controversy...


Jonah in the Whale or Who Could Swallow That? by Jimmy Williams. Short, well-written argument for historicity. Williams trumps objections with appeals to scripture—Jesus used the example of Jonah twice—and to the omnipotence of God. With those aces up his sleeve, it's a wonder Williams bothers to discuss cetacean throat gauge at all; Jonah could have been swallowed by a flying fish if the Bible said it was so!

Is the story of Jonah a whale of a tale? by the uknown webmaster of Jesus, Dinosaurs and More. The usual arguments, but adding paleontological creationism—that Jonah could have been swallowed by a Dinichthys or another extinct species (the author doesn't believe in carbon dating).

Did Jonah Really Get Swallowed by a Whale by John D. Morris, Ph.D, the president of the "Institute for Creation Research." Morris takes a hard line on literalism, and even harder on the necessity of literalism. As he puts it "believing it is not an option," but "vital to the Christian."[1]

How could Jonah survive three days in the belly of a "whale"? Standard arguments from

The Book of Jonah "Fish Story" or Genuine History? by Wayne Jackson.

"When those who are consumed with modernistic presumptions assert that there are mistakes in the sacred volume, they reveal that the problem is with their own limited knowledge."

Christian Evidences by Richard Riss. Another helping of literalist stories:

"In the year 1758, a sailor fell overboard from a boat in the Mediterranean and was swallowed by a sea dog. The captain of the vessel ordered a cannon on the deck to be fired at the fish, which vomited up the sailor alive and unharmed after it was struck."
Why do these stories always happen in the 18th and 19th centuries?

Audio: Q. Was it really a whale that swallowed Jonah? Answered by Mike Scott, Mt Vernon Church of Christ. (The audio differs from the text.) Noodling about the whale/fish issue with a second-hand understanding of Greek and Hebrew. The following makes me insane:

"Things become somewhat complicated because this Greek word is used only once in the New Testament."
Greek is a language. It was not invented "for" the Bible; the first readers or Matthew didn't poke around the "rest" of the bible looking to see what the word meant, they knew what it meant because they grew up and spent their lives using it. If they read Matthew, it was not the first or the only Greek work they read. We have an enormous quantity of this literature, which while it may not be "scripture" is in its language. How can anyone be so thick? Also, the minister asserts we "know" that the Mediterranean has fish large enough to swallow a man. What fish is that?!?

Discussion: Jonah and the whale - It happened! . Actually, a VERY long defense of historicity, followed by ten pages of bickering and point-missing.

Discussion of the topic on Devolves into "bite my ass."

Another KJV page, against the "perverters."

In the Belly of a Whale by Markku Särelä. Wow, a Finnish Fundamentalist!

"The account of Jonah in the belly of a large fish has become the criterion by which we can judge whether or not a person believes the Bible. It is a good criterion."


A Whale of a Tale: Fundamentalist Fish Stories by Edward B. Davis. Davis tracks down and debunks the James Bartley/Star of the East story. This is an exhaustive, commendable work of Quellenforschung, but its first-person style ("and then I read this," "and then I went to this library," etc.) makes very tedious reading, even for a library-hound like myself.

"Modern Jonah" , a shorter, more popular version of the above, from Reason to Believe.

Jonah passage from Essays of an Atheist by Woolsey Teller (1945). Teller tracks down a story of a university of Chicago professor crawling into a dead whale.

Is Jonah Fiction? discussed at the Catholic Community Forum. Opinions differ somewhat, but the temperature is low.


Jonah and the "Whale"? by Dave Miller, on the whale/fish controversy. The slant here is literalist—as if faith depended on the issue. But the philology is correct. As often in this connection, the argument rests on dictionary entries, as if the meaning of Greek and Hebrew came from dictionaries, not the dictionaries from the texts. No non-biblical texts are cited, although they would be quite helpful; even if the Bible is inerrant, it was written in a "real" language to be read by people who knew that language. At least for Greek, we have an enormous quantity of other material, and it supports the authors contention. Note: The general scholarly tone is not helped by the assertion that the "birds" of Genesis also included pterodactyls.

Text: Clarence Darrow's examination of William Jennings Bryan at the 1925 Scopes trial from BeliefNet.

More discussion at Funny, I didn't think "theology" involved arguments about whale-stomach acidity.

LibraryThing: Catalog your books online.

If you enjoy this site you may like this other site by me:

Mermaids on the Web. Similar site, with over 1,320 pictures .

Angels on the Web. Images and other web resources on angels in Western culture, religion and art.

Griffins in Art and on the Web. Like this site, but Griffins.