For decades I have been taught that the fish that swallowed the prophet Jonah, and then vomited him up on the beach near Joppa, could not have been a whale. After all, I was told, there are no whales in the Mediterranean Sea. So, the argument often went on, the story of Jonah cannot be true and the Bible cannot be trusted.
So it should “shock” biblical scholars as well as conservationists that, as reported by the BBC,
A gray whale has appeared off the coast of Israel
– and indeed is pictured with Herzliya Marina, just up the coast from Joppa/Jaffa, in the background. Apparently these whales normally live only in the North Pacific, and none have been sighted in the North Atlantic or the Mediterranean for centuries. But for some unknown reason this individual, perhaps one of a colony of gray whales, has swum half way round the world to the coast of Israel.
So, when we read in Jonah 1:17 (TNIV) that
the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah
he could well have brought it all the way from the Pacific – and so the absence of whales in the Mediterranean is no barrier at all to taking the story of Jonah as a true one.