Jonah, as depicted by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel.
Prophet, Seer, Apostle to Nineveh, Companion of the Fish Born 8th Century BC Honored in Judaism
Major shrine Tomb of Prophet Jonah, Mosul, Iraq Feast July 31
Jonah (Hebrew: יוֹנָה, Modern Yona Tiberian Yônā ; dove; Arabic: يونس, Yūnus or يونان, Yūnān; Greek/Latin: Ionas) is the name given in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh/Old Testament) to a prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel in about the 8th century BC, the eponymous central character in the Book of Jonah, famous for being swallowed by a fish or a whale, depending on translation. The Biblical story of Jonah is repeated in the Qur'an.
- 1 The story of Jonah
- 2 Jonah in Christianity
- 3 Jonah in Judaism
- 4 Jonah in Islam
- 5 Jonah in sailors' superstition
- 6 The fish
- 7 Various locations associated with Jonah
- 8 Connections to other legends
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
The story of Jonah
Jonah son of Amittai appears in 2 Kings as a prophet from Gath-Hepher (a few miles north of Nazareth) active during the reign of Jeroboam II (c.786-746 BC), where he predicts that Jeroboam will recover certain lost territories.
Jonah is also the central character in the Book of Jonah. Ordered by God to go to the city of Nineveh to prophesy against it "for their great wickedness is come up before me." Jonah seeks instead to flee from "the presence of the Lord" by going to Jaffa and sailing to Tarshish, which, geographically, is in the opposite direction. A huge storm arises and the sailors, realizing this is no ordinary storm, cast lots and learn that Jonah is to blame. Jonah admits this and states that if he is thrown overboard the storm will cease. The sailors try to dump as much cargo as possible before giving up, but feel forced to throw him overboard, at which point the sea calms. The inspired sailors then offer sacrifices to God. Jonah is miraculously saved by being swallowed by a large fish specially prepared by God where he spent three days and three nights. In chapter two, while in the great fish, Jonah prays to God in his affliction and commits to thanksgiving and to paying what he has vowed. God commands the fish to vomit Jonah out. The first time Jonah prays in the book is in the fish which is also the first time Jonah rejoices.
God again orders Jonah to visit Nineveh and to prophesy to its inhabitants. This time he goes and enters the city crying, "In forty days Nineveh shall be overthrown." The people of Nineveh believe his word and proclaim a fast. The king of Nineveh puts on sackcloth and sits in ashes, making a proclamation to decree fasting, sackcloth, prayer, and repentance. God sees their works and spares the city at that time. The entire city is humbled and broken with the people (and even the animals) in sackcloth and ashes. Animals, plants, fish, warmth and even fish are all seen under the sovereign hand of God. Even the king comes off his throne to repent.
Displeased by this, Jonah refers to his earlier flight to Tarshish while asserting that, since God is merciful, it was inevitable that God would turn from the threatened calamities. He then leaves the city and makes himself a shelter, waiting to see whether or not the city will be destroyed.
God causes a plant (in Hebrew a Kikayon) to grow over Jonah's shelter to give him some shade from the sun. Later, God causes a worm to bite the plant's root and it withers. Jonah, now being exposed to the full force of the sun, becomes faint and desires that God take him out of the world.And God said to Jonah: 'Art thou greatly angry for the Kikayon?' And he said: 'I am greatly angry, even unto death.'
And the LORD said: 'Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow, which came up in a night, and perished in a night;
and should not I have pity on Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand, and also much cattle?'—Book of Jonah, chapter 4, verses 9-11
Jonah in Christianity
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus makes a reference to Jonah when he was asked for a miraculous sign by the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. Jonah's restoration after three days inside the great whale is said to prefigure the Resurrection of Jesus Christ after three days.But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas:
For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.—Gospel of Matthew, chapter 12 verses 39-41
Jonah is regarded as a saint by a number of Christian denominations. He is commemorated as a prophet in the Calendar of Saints of the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church on September 22. On the Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar his feast day is September 22 also (for those churches which follow the traditional Julian calendar, September 22 currently falls on October 5 of the modern Gregorian calendar). He is commemorated as one of the Twelve Minor Prophets in the Calendar of saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church on July 31.
Jonah in Judaism
The book of Jonah (Yonah יונה) is one of the 12 minor prophets included in the Tanakh. According to tradition Jonah was the boy brought back to life by Elijah (Ilyas) the prophet, and hence shares many of his characteristics (particularly his desire for 'strict judgment'). The book of Jonah is read every year, in its original Hebrew and in its entirety, on Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement, as the Haftarah at the afternoon mincha prayer.
Teshuva - the ability to repent and be forgiven by God - is a prominent idea in Jewish thought. This concept is developed in the book of Jonah: Jonah, the son of truth, (The name of his father "Amitai" in Hebrew means truth,) refuses to ask the people of Nineveh to repent. He seeks the truth only, and no forgiveness. When forced to go, his call is heard loud and clear. The people of Nineveh repent ecstatically, "fasting, including the sheep", and the Jewish scripts are critical of this.
When praying, Jonah repeats God's 13 traits failing to say the last one which is "...and Truthful", and changing it with "...and who is willing to forgive the bad". God responds by showing Jonah that he is "angry at doing good", and that he too would agree to spare an ephemeral plant if it has importance for him.
Jonah in Islam
Jonah (Yunus in Arabic) is highly important in Islam as a prophet who was faithful to God and delivered His messages. In Islam, Jonah is also called Dhul-Nun (Arabic: ذو النون; meaning The One of the Whale). Chapter 10 of the Qur'an is named Jonah, although in this chapter only verse 98 refers to him directly. It is said in Muslim tradition that Jonah came from the tribe of Benjamin and that his father was Amittai. Jonah is the only one of the Twelve Minor Prophets of the Hebrew Bible to be mentioned by name in the Qur'an.
Jonah's Qur'anic narrative is extremely similar to the Hebrew Bible story. The Qur'an describes Jonah as a righteous preacher of the message of God but a messenger who, one day, fled from his mission because of its overwhelming difficulty. The Qur'an says that Jonah made it onto a ship but, because of the powerfully stormy weather, the men aboard the ship suggested casting lots to throw off the individual responsible for this supposed 'bad luck'. When the lots were cast, Jonah's name came out, and he was thrown into the open ocean that night. A gigantic fish came and swallowed him, and Jonah remained in the belly of the fish repenting and glorifying God to the maximum. As the Qur'an says:So also was Jonah among those sent (by Us).
When he ran away (like a slave from captivity) to the ship (fully) laden,
He (agreed to) cast lots, and he was condemned:
Then the big Fish did swallow him, and he had done acts worthy of blame.
Had it not been that he (repented and) glorified Allah,
He would certainly have remained inside the Fish till the Day of Resurrection.
God forgave Jonah out of His mercy and kindness for the man, and because he knew that Jonah was, at heart, one of the best of men. Therefore, the fish cast Jonah out onto dry land, with Jonah in a state of sickness. Thus, God caused a plant to grow where Jonah was lying to provide shade and comfort for him. After Jonah got up, fresh and well, God told him to go back and preach at his land. As the Qur'an says:But We cast him forth on the naked shore in a state of sickness,
And We caused to grow, over him, a spreading plant of the gourd kind.
And We sent him (on a mission) to a hundred thousand (men) or more.
And they believed; so We permitted them to enjoy (their life) for a while.
Mentioned by Muhammad
Jonah is also mentioned in a few incidents during the lifetime of Muhammad. In both instances, Jonah's name is spoken of with praise and reverence by Muhammad.
According to historical narrations about Muhammad's life, after ten years of receiving revelations, Muhammad went to the city of Ta’if to see if its leaders would allow him to preach his message from there rather than Mecca, but he was cast from the city by the people. He took shelter in the garden of Utbah and Shaybah, two members of the Quraysh tribe. They sent their servant, Addas, to serve him grapes for sustenance. Muhammad asked Addas where he was from and the servant replied Nineveh. "The town of Jonah the just, son of Amittai!" Muhammad exclaimed. Addas was shocked because he knew that the pagan Arabs had no knowledge of the prophet Jonah. He then asked how Muhammad knew of this man. "We are brothers" Muhammad replied. "Jonah was a Prophet of God and I, too, am a Prophet of God." Addas immediately accepted Islam and kissed the hands and feet of Muhammad.
In one of the sayings of Muhammad, in the collection of Imam Bukhari, it says that Muhammad said "One should not say that I am better than Jonah". This is understood by both mainstream Muslims and historians to have been stated by Muhammad to emphasize upon the notion of equality between all the prophets and the law of making no distinction between any of the messengers. The Arab tribes, of the time, may have begun to exalt Muhammad above Jonah because of the recent revelation Muhammad received, which recounted the story of Jonah's fleeing from his mission. Thus, Muhammad, by saying this, clearly made it a point to the Arabs to not make any distinction between the great apostles of God.
Shrine at Ninveh
At the present time, Nineveh's location is marked by two large mounds, Kouyunjik and Nabī Yūnus (Prophet Jonah). On the latter there is a Muslim shrine dedicated to that prophet.
Jonah in sailors' superstition
A long-established expression among sailors uses the term "a Jonah" as meaning a person (either a sailor or a passenger) whose presence on board brings bad luck and endangers the ship. Later on, this meaning was extended to "a Jonah" referring to "a person who carries a jinx, one who will bring bad luck to any enterprise." An example of a so-called "Jonah" would be that of the sailor in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, who was supposedly cursed to be lost at sea after he killed an albatross.
Interpretations of the "fish" fall into these general categories:
- A big fish or whale (of unspecified species) did indeed swallow Jonah.
- A special creation (not any fish we know of) of God accomplished the act.
- There was no fish: the story is an allegory, the fish is a literary device in the story, the story is a vision or a dream. etc.
- The originators of the story did indeed intend for the story to be taken literally, and it was subsequently believed to be literally true by the pre-scientific culture in which the story originated and flourished.
Though it is often called a whale today, the Hebrew, as throughout scripture, refers to no species in particular, simply sufficing with "great fish" or "big fish" (whales are today classified as mammals and not fish, but no such distinction was made in antiquity). While some Bible scholars suggest the size and habits of the great white shark correspond better to the representations given of Jonah's being swallowed, normally an adult human is too large to be swallowed whole. Other scholars instead argue that the fish might instead be a reference to the basking shark.
In Jonah 2:1 (1:17 in English translation), the original Hebrew text reads dag gadol (דג גדול), which literally means "big fish." The Septuagint translates this phrase into Greek as ketos megas (κητος μεγας). The term ketos alone means "huge fish," and in Greek mythology the term was closely associated with sea monsters, including sea serpents. Jerome later translated this phrase as piscis granda in his Latin Vulgate. He translated ketos, however, as cetus in Matthew 12:40.
At some point cetus became synonymous with "whale" (the study of whales is now called cetology). In his 1534 translation, William Tyndale translated the phrase in Jonah 2:1 as "greate fyshe" and he translated the word ketos (Greek) or cetus (Latin) in Matthew 12:40 as "whale". Which states "For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Tyndale's translation was later incorporated into the Authorized Version of 1611. Since then, the "great fish" in Jonah 2 has been most often interpreted as a whale.
In Turkish, "Jonah fish" (in Turkish yunus baligi) is the word used for dolphin, often shortened to just yunus.
Suggested literal interpretations
Sperm whales have demonstrated the ability to swallow people and they do reside in the Mediterranean Sea. Some believers claim that God, being omnipotent, simply altered things as needed and sustained Jonah - the same as in other miraculous accounts in the Hebrew scriptures. Some believers claim that Jonah did die in the belly of the great fish, and was then resurrected by God since Jesus himself associated this event in Jonah's life with his own death and resurrection. See Matthew 12:40. Others have attempted more elaborate explanations.
However, doubts have been cast that any existing whale or fish would be either capable and/or inclined to repeat the feat described, either due to size of mouth, narrowness of throat, or because it diverges so wildly from these animals' normal eating habits. The largest whales - baleen whales, a group which includes the blue whale - eat plankton and "it is commonly said that this species would be choked if it attempted to swallow a herring." Sperm whales, on the other hand, while having demonstrated the ability and occasional behavior to swallow more than a grown man whole, have not yet been observed to demonstrate the inclination to swallow humans and generally are known to use their teeth to tear their food to pieces rather than swallow whole. As for the whale shark, Dr. E. W. Gudger, an Honorary Associate in Ichthyology at the American Museum of Natural History, noted that "while the mouth is cavernous, the throat itself is only four inches wide and has a sharp elbow or bend behind the opening. This gullet would not permit the passage of a man's arm". In another publication he also noted that "the whale shark is not the fish that swallowed Jonah."
Various locations associated with Jonah
- Place of birth: Mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25, the town of Gath Hepher has saved its name to this day, near the Gallilean Arab town of Mashhad, where a monument for Nebi Yunes still exists. The Israeli Gat Hepher industrial zone is erected on that mountain.
- Location of landing: In the city of Ashdod the light-tower hill is called Givat-Yonah, on the holy Muslim site of Nebbi Yunes, according to traditions of the three monotheistic Abrahamic religions, the site where Jonah was thrown by the large fish. Aerial photos taken by German pilots during WWI clearly show the Nebbi Yunes sanctuary, near the British landing site at the beginning of the British 1918 Jerusalem offensive.
- The city of Jaffa has a main street named after Jonah. The ancient port of Jaffa is still intact and functional. Archeological diggings find that the port has been functioning at this location as early as 300 BC.
- Another sanctuary and mosque called Nebi Yunes, is in the Palestinian West Bank town of Halhul, 5 km (3.1 mi) north of Hebron. Muslim tradition has it that this is the burial site of Jonah the prophet. A sign erected by the Israeli ministry of religions says that this is Jonah's burial site, but according to Jewish traditions this is the location of the burial of the prophets Nathan and Gad Hahozeh.
- The sanctuary of Jama Naballa Jonas is another place that tradition says is Jonah's grave, near the city of Mosul (today in Iraq), near the ancient remnants of Nineveh. On one of the two most prominent mounds of Nineveh ruins, rises the Mosque of the Prophet Yunus (previously a Nestorian-Assyrian Church). Jonah is believed to be buried here, where King Esarhaddon had once built a palace. It is one of the most important mosques in Mosul and one of the few historic mosques that are found on the east side of the city.
- Jonah's grave is also said to be near the city of Sarafand (Sarepta) in Lebanon. This is in accordance with several ancient Jewish writings about Jonah being the son of the woman from "Zarephath" (Sarafand) mentioned in the stories of Elijah.
Connections to other legends
Joseph Campbell attempted to draw parallels between the story of Jonah and the epic of Gilgamesh, in which Gilgamesh obtains a plant from the bottom of the sea. In the Book of Jonah a worm (in Hebrew tola'ath, "maggot") bites the shade-giving plant's root causing it to wither, while in the epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh plucks his plant from the floor of the sea which he reached by tying stones to his feet. Once he makes it back to the shore, the rejuvenating plant is eaten by a serpent.
Campbell also noted several similarities between the story of Jonah and that of Jason in Greek mythology. The Greek rendering of the name Jonah was Jonas, which differs from Jason only in the order of sounds—both os are omegas suggesting that Jason was confused with Jonah. Gildas Hamel, drawing on the Book of Jonah and Greco-Roman sources — including Greek vases and the accounts of Apollonius of Rhodes, Gaius Valerius Flaccus and Orphic Argonautica— identifies a number of shared motifs, including the names of the heroes, the presence of a dove, the idea of "fleeing" like the wind and causing a storm, the attitude of the sailors, the presence of a sea-monster or dragon threatening the hero or swallowing him, and the form and the word used for the "gourd" (kikayon). Hamel takes the view that it was the Hebrew author who was reacting to and adapting this mythological material to communicate his own, quite different message. The Greek sources are however several centuries later than the Book of Jonah and the form Jonas which is similar to Jason is from the Septuagint translation of the book.
Biblical scholars have speculated that Jonah may have been in part the inspiration behind the figure of Oannes in late Babylonian mythology. The deity name "Oannes" first occurs in texts from the Library of Ashurbanipal (more than a century after the time of Jonah) as Uanna or Uan but is assimilated to Adapa, a deity first mentioned on fragments of tablets from the 15th or 14th century B.C. found in Amarna in Egypt. Oannes is described as dwelling in the Persian Gulf, and rising out of the waters in the daytime and furnishing mankind instruction in writing, the arts and the various sciences. Berossus describes Oannes as having the body of a fish but underneath the figure of a man—a detail that, some Biblical scholars[who?] suggest, is not derived from Adapa but is perhaps based on a misinterpretation of images of Jonah emerging from the fish. Scholars of Mesopotamian mythology, however, suggest that Adapa was likely associated with fishing and depicted in half-fish form many centuries before the story of Jonah appeared. Nineteenth-century Irish amateur scholar William Betham speculated that worship of Oannes is the origin of the cult of the Roman god Janus.
- ^ This title is Qur'anic, when Jonah is referred to as Dhul-Nun
- ^ 2 Kings 14:25
- ^ Jonah 1:2
- ^ Jonah 1:17
- ^ Jonah 3:5-10
- ^ Jonah 4:9-11
- ^ a b Matthew 12:39-41
- ^ Luke 11:29-32
- ^ Babelonian Talmud:Sanhedrin 61a
- ^ Another translation could be: "...and who regrets the bad".
- ^ "Kikayon" - The small Castor tree - is a synonym in Hebrew to "ephemeral"
- ^ a b Encyclopedia of Islam, Yunus, pg. 348
- ^ Quran 37:139–144
- ^ Quran 37:145–148
- ^ Summarized from the book of story of Muhammad by Ibn Hisham Volume 1 pg.419-421
- ^ Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:55:608
- ^ The New York Times Afflicted with a Jonah; The Sea Captain’s Fear of Parsons Sons Wednesday, March 6, 1885.
- ^ Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged. Entry for Jonah, sense 2. HarperCollins Publishers 2003
- ^ McCurdy, George. "Minor Prophets:Major Messages". Dove Press. http://www.dovepress.org/jonahhow.htm. Retrieved December 9, 2008.
- ^ Theological Topic Search
- ^ Theoi Project "Ketea" entry
- ^ Matthew 12:40
- ^ a b Edward B. Davis (1991). "A Whale of a Tale: Fundamentalist Fish Stories". http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1991/PSCF12-91Davis.html.
- ^ a b R. Gambell, S.G. Brown (1993). Investigations on Cetacea.
- ^ Lydekker's New Natural History, Vol, III, p. 6
- ^ C.H. Townsend, 1935
- ^ The Scientific Monthly, March, 1940, p. 227
- ^ Froth And Fraud In Fundamentalism, "Essays of an Atheist," Woolsey Teller. Copyright 1945, The Truth Seeker Company, Inc.
- ^ A second look at the land of Israel by Prof. B.Z. Kedar
- ^ Campbell, Joseph (1988). The Hero With A Thousand Faces. Princeton University Press. pp. 90–95. ISBN 0-586-08571-8.
- ^ Taking the Argo to Nineveh: Jonah and Jason in a Mediterranean context, Judaism Summer, 1995.
- ^ H. Clay Trumbull, Journal of Biblical literature, Volumes 11-12, Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis (U.S.), 1892
- ^ a b Stephanie Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia, Oxford World's Classics, 1989
- ^ K. van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter Willem van der Horst: Dictionary of deities and demons in the Bible Edition 2, revised, B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999
- ^ Royal Numismatic Society, Proceedings of the Numismatic Society, James Fraser, 1837
- This article incorporates text from Easton's Bible Dictionary (1897), a publication now in the public domain.
- This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "Jonah" by Emil G. Hirsch, Karl Budde, and Solomon Schechter, a publication now in the public domain.
- The Book of Jonah (Hebrew and English)
- The Book of Jonah (NIV)
- Jewish Encyclopedia: Jonah
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Jonah
- Prophet Jonah Orthodox icon and synaxarion
- Animated Retelling of the Jonah Story
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