Mysteries of the Bible

"Unanswered Questions of the Bible"

Swallowed Whole

Posted by foryourfaith on August 18, 2011


In the eighth century BC, when the cruelty of the powerful Assyrians made them feared and detested, God asked Jonah to convert the people of Nineveh, the empire’s capital city. Jonah refused and boarded a ship bound for Spain, so God sent a terrifying storm. When the sailors discovered Jonah was responsible for their danger, he said that they could stop the storm by throwing him overboard. They did so, and the storm ceased.

God sent “a great fish” to swallow the reluctant prophet, and from inside the belly of the beast, Jonah praised God for saving him from drowning. After “three days and three nights,” the creature regurgitated Jonah, quite unharmed, onto dry land. Deciding that the wisest course would be to obey God, Jonah preached to the Ninevites. To his dismay they repented and so avoided the terrible punishment that he had prophesied.

Is this a true story? We know Jonah existed, because his grave is near Nazareth. Well-attested reports have proved that a person can survive inside a whale’s stomach for a short time, though the Bible says it was a fish that swallowed Jonah. But many scholars interpret the story as a parable in which Jonah’s refusal to obey God represents Israel’s reluctance to reveal God’s will to other nations. Just as Jonah was swallowed and then regurgitated to do God’s bidding, so the Israelites were exiled to Babylon, but later restored to their homeland to complete their mission.



In February 1891 James Bartley, a whaler on the Star of the East, vanished while trying to kill a sperm whale off the Falkland Islands and was presumed drowned. When a dead whale’s carcass was seized two days later, the crew realized that something was moving inside it. When they carefully slit open the stomach, they found the unconscious Bartley. During the struggle with the whale, he had fallen overboard and been swallowed by the creature. He had survived because a whale’s stomach contains a great deal of air to assist with buoyancy.

After his revival in a bath of sea water, Bartley raved insanely for the following fortnight, but eventually returned to full health and resumed his normal duties. As visible proof of his ordeal, the skin of his head and hands were as white as paper and extensively wrinkled – it had been permanently shriveled and bleached by the gastric juices secreted inside the whale’s stomach.



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