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Was Jonah swallowed by a Whale?

“The Book of Jonah has been described as a parable, an allegory, and a satire. The famous story of the great fish (often erroneously thought of as a whale) has led many to dismiss the book as merely a biblical fish story. (Nelsons  Bible Dictionary)

There is no doubt that the book of Jonah is as historically accurate as any book in the Bible. Jesus used Jonah's story as example for his own death and resurrection (Mt.12:39-41, 16:4; Lk.11:29-30,32 ) “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” 

The Old Testament is written in Hebrew except for small portion in Aramaic (book of Daniel). The New Testament is written in Greek, not English. Neither the KJV or any other translation determines the meaning in English above the original language.

The word fish is mentioned 3 times in the book of Jonah.  Jonah 1:17 “Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”

Jonah 2:10 “So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.”

The Hebrew text of Jonah 2:1 actually reads dag gadol, or “great fish” (from Interlinear Transliterated Bible.)

Dag is the word for fish as in Ps.8:8

It is called a huge fish rather than a “whale” as in church tradition. The whale is a good Sunday school story, but we don’t know if it was a whale. It is the same general term used in Gen. 1:21 “So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves.”

KJV-dragon, sea-monster, serpent, whale. (New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary.)

The whale tou (NT:3543) keetous (NT:2747). Sea-monster, huge fish. In Jonah 2:1 the Septuagint has keetei (NT:2747) megaloo (NT:3130).  (from Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament) 

Matt 12:40 tou  (NT:3543) keetous  (NT:2747). A general term for a "sea-monster." (from Vincent's Word Studies of the New Testament)

The New Testament is keetos which in Greek is huge fish.

Job 7:12 Am I a sea, or a sea serpent, that You set a guard over me?

 (Interlinear Transliterated Bible.) OT:8577 tanniyn (tan-neen'); or tanniym (Ezek 29:3) (tan-neem'); intensive from the same as OT:8565; a marine or land monster, i.e. sea-serpent or jackal:

Whale (Heb. tan, or tannim; a "monster"). The "great whales" (KJV, Gen. 1:21; NASB, "sea monsters"; Job 7:12; Ezek. 32:2) are to be understood as all aquatic creatures not considered fish. Jonah's whale (ketos, Matt. 12:40, from the LXX, Jonah 1:17) was a "great fish." It might have been a spermaceti whale, had one wandered into the Mediterranean, or a large shark, of which that sea contains many large enough to have swallowed Jonah.
(from New Unger's Bible Dictionary-originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois)

The majority of HEBREW scholars state that it was probably not a whale. A whale is not a fish, it is a mammal. So this distinction should be brought into consideration.

There are creatures living in the sea which are capable of swallowing a human being whole. The whale shark, as well as the blue whale, have the capacity of swallowing a man whole. Sperm whales have been known to swallow unusually large objects, including a fifteen-foot long shark! (for documentation see Frank T. Bullen, Cruise of the Cachalot Round the World After Sperm Whales, London: Smith, 1898).  

[In the whale's belly] That a fish of the shark kind, and not a whale, is here meant, Bochart has abundantly proved, vol. 3 col. 742, etc., edit. Leyd. 1692. It is well known that the throat of a whale is capable of admitting little more than the arm of an ordinary man; but many of the shark species can swallow a man whole, and men have been found whole in the stomachs of several.  (from Adam Clarke's Commentary)

There is a story of a whaler named James Bartley, who in 1891 reportedly fell into the sea while harpooning a large sperm whale; when the whale was killed and dissected, he was found in the whale’s stomach, unconscious but alive. While some have argued that the incident was carefully investigated and true, the widow of the ship’s captain denied that it had ever occurred.

We do not know if it was a whale but it should be determined from the Scripture and from what we know of the creatures that are in the Mediterranean Sea

KJV Jonah 1:17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

The belly in Hebrew me` ah “from an unused root probably meaning to be soft; used only in plural the intestines, or (collectively) the abdomen, figuratively, sympathy; by implication, a vest; by extens. the stomach, the uterus (or of men, the seat of generation), the heart (figuratively): KJV-- belly, bowels, X heart, womb.(Strongs Concordance)

Adam Clarkes commentary “Besides, the shark is a native of the Mediterranean Sea, in which Jonah was sailing when swallowed by what the Hebrew terms דג גדול dag gadol, a great fish; but every body knows that whales are no produce of the Mediterranean Sea, thought some have been by accident found there, as in most other parts of the maritime world: but, let them be found where they may, there is none of them capable of swallowing a man. Instead of either whale or shark, some have translated דג גדול”

Matt 12:38-42 [For as Jonas was three days ...] See Jonah 1:17. This event took place in the Mediterranean Sea, somewhere between Joppa and Tarshish, when he was fleeing FROM Nineveh. It is said that the "whale" seldom passes into that sea, and that its throat is too small to admit a man. It is probable, therefore, that a fish of the "shark kind" is intended. Sharks have been known often to swallow a man entire. The fish in the book of Jonah is described merely as a "great fish," without specifying the kind. It is well known that the Greek word translated whale, in the New Testament, does not of necessity mean a whale, but may denote a large fish or sea-monster of any kind.-Robinson, Lexicon  (from Barnes' Notes)

 “It is to be noticed of the story of Jonah’s being “three days and three nights in the whale’s belly,” as recorded in Matt. 12:40, that here the Gr. ketos means properly any kind of sea-monster of the shark or the whale tribe, and that in the book of Jonah ( Jonah 1:17) it is only said that “a great fish” was prepared to swallow Jonah. This fish may have been, therefore, some great shark. The white shark is known to frequent the Mediterranean Sea, and is sometimes found 30 feet in length” (Easton Bible Dictionary)

 It would be useless to speculate on the exact identification of the creature (dogfish, shark, or sperm whale etc.,), but from the Scripture we can consider it a fish and not a whale.


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