Apologetics, Archaeology, Bible, Main, z103
Comments 4

I vote Grey whale: The story of Jonah

A whale big enough to swallow a humn Credit: Pavlin Petkov/Flickr/Creative Commons

A whale big enough to swallow a human Credit: Pavlin Petkov/Flickr/Creative Commons

A group of archaeologists digging at a Roman fish factory plant located near the Straights of Gibraltar made a discovery that may answer the question on what swallowed Jonah. The salting factories first showed up around 400 BC.

Many are familiar with the story of the disobedient prophet who God wanted to send to Nineveh to call the city to repentance. Jonah, who obviously hated this enemy, refused to go fearing they would repent and God would spare them judgement.

So to escape his calling, Jonah booked a boat to Tarshish, that oddly enough most Biblical scholars believe was located on the coast of Spain near the Straights of Gibraltar.

In an effort to catch Jonah’s attention, God stirred up a large storm that the sailors believed was divine in origin. After Jonah fessed up, the sailors threw him overboard and the prophet was swallowed up by a large fish or sea creature that eventually vomited up the prophet along the shore near Nineveh, where he successfully called the city to repentance.

So what did those archaeologists discover in that Roman fish factory?

They discovered the bones of two large whales, Grey whales and Right whales. These two whales are no longer found in the Mediterranean Sea.

It appears these two species of whales hunted by the Romans once included the Mediterranean Sea as part of the migratory pattern. It is believed the basin would have been an ideal spot for them to birth their calves.

Though the Grey whale is now only found in the North Pacific, one was reported off the coast of Israel on May 8, 2010.

Dr. Ana Rodrigues who works for the French National Center for Scientific Research said the Romans were not capable of tackling the deep-sea whales, such as the Sperm Whale that now inhabit the Mediterranean, but would be able kill both the Right and Grey whale.

She said, “Right and gray whales and their calves would have come very close to shore, making them tempting targets for local fishermen.” The fact the sea creature vomited up Jonah near the shore would qualify both these whales.

Full sized Grey Whale compared to the size of a man Credit: Chris huh/Wikipedia/Creative Commons

Full sized Grey Whale compared to the size of a man Credit: Chris huh/Wikipedia/Creative Commons

The Grey whale and Right whale are also very large creatures and certainly large enough to swallow a man. The endangered Right whale averages 59’ in length (18 m) with the largest recorded being 65’ long. They are larger than the Grey whales that average only 49’ in length (14.9 meters).

So why would I vote the smaller Grey whale over the Right whale?

The Right whale is a very docile creatures and easy targets for whalers which is part of the reason it is endangered. However, the Gray whale is called  the “fighting whale,” because its renown for its willingness to attack whalers when threatened.

The Bible tells us that God prepared a sea creature (Jonah 1:17), which may simply mean God riled it up so it was ready to attack and swallow a perceived enemy.

Of course the debate in the Bible is what was the book of Jonah describing, a fish or whale? When Jesus referred to Jonah,  he Lord says that the prophet was in the belly of a “ketos” which is generic word that describes a “large sea creature,”  “huge fish” or “sea monster”, which is how the NASV translates the word:

40 for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster (ketos), so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:40 NASV)

This was the same word that the translators of the Septuagint, the earliest Greek version of the Old Testament, used when they translated the Hebrew word “dag” found in the Book of Jonah.

“Dag” generally means fish but was also described all types of sea creatures. Though we differentiate between whales and fish today, the ancients were less concerned about such distinctions and the word generally referred to all sea creatures.

Certainly, there are large fish in the Mediterranean, like the White Shark, that could swallow a man. Others have also suggested Sperm whales, which is also a very large, aggressive whale, as a possible candidate. Though made famous by the book, Moby Dick, for its fighting nature, the Sperm whale typically will not go near shore.

The story of Nineveh’s repentance is intriguing considering that one of the major gods of the region, Dagon, was half-fish and half man (Judges 16:23-24) and several Dagon idols have been dug up in the archaeological remains of the ancient city of Nineveh.

This certainly have caught the city’s attention particularly if people were around when the whale coughed up the prophet near shore and word spread of his arrival. This would not have been the first time God worked with the ancient’s beliefs to influence them (read: Did God con a con-man: The Egyptian Pharaoh.




  1. Baldwin says

    I do believe the story of Jonah, however, I have problems with the line that alludes to the people of Nineveh as being beside the sea where the whale vomited Jonah. I have always thought that the city of Nineveh is not on the Mediterranean sea while Tarshish is on the Mediterranean sea of the coast of Spain.


    • Thanks for your comment. I agree, Nineveh is a long distance from the Mediterranean sea. However, there is an ancient account by the Babylonian Priest/historian Berous around 300 BC who spoke of a mysterious man who appeared from the sea and gave wisdom to man. Traditionally researchers have called this a reference to Ea, a Babylonian water god. However, Berous who wrote in Greek called the person by the name Oannes. This is only one letter off the name Ioannes used in the New Testament for Jonah and in the Greek Septuagent. Berous claimed to have gotten this story of Oannes from Babylon’s ancient records and since Babylon conquered Nineveh and the Assyrians three centuries earlier, some have suggested the close comparison with Jonah’s name suggests this was actually an ancient record of Jonah’s time in Nineveh. If this was in fact a reference to Jonah, it would suggest his unique appearance on the shores Mediterranean spread to Nineveh. In fact, Jonah may have told the story of what happened to him to the Assyrians as well.


    • Hi Baldwin

      I thought I would post a second response, I knew that Nineveh wasn’t right on the coast, but when I checked the map later, it is quite far away. I thought it was closer than that. Does change things a bit…. Thanks for sharing your comment.


      • Baldwin says

        I am really humbled by your response Dean. Many preachers have not bothered to check these basic facts but the truth remains that God told Jonah to go to Nineveh which was in the East but he went West to Tarshish as he really wanted God to punish the arch enemy of Israel at that time Babylon this even clouded his image of God and the message of God.


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