Jonah's whale returns to the coast of Israel

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.

12 thoughts on “Jonah's whale returns to the coast of Israel

  1. I like it! Funny how “facts” can sometimes substantiate the doubted elements of Scripture.

    Looking at my commentary on Jonah (by Selwyn Hughes) , “dag gadol” is commonly translated as big fish but could reasonably be applied to any large creature of the sea? And as you suggest we should be ready to accept God’s provision of whatever was necessary.

  2. Well, Colin, we can hardly expect the ancient Hebrews to have made the distinction we make between true fish and marine mammals, especially as they may never have seen a whale before Jonah met one. I expect they knew dolphins, and they certainly knew dugongs (whose skins were used for the tabernacle). So it might be interesting to see if these are ever referred to as dag – but I don’t think there is a clear answer to that from the Hebrew Bible.

  3. I was told by one of my Hebrew profs many years ago that the Hebrews would have distinguished between whale and big fish by using a word that mean specifically “whale.”

  4. Jason, did your professor tell you what that ancient Hebrew word for whale was? I thought not. If they had one, it has not survived. Or possibly there is a later Hebrew word which could have more ancient roots, but I would be interested in any evidence for this.

  5. More on the Hebrew for “whale”: according to this site the modern Hebrew word is livyatan, which is of course the same as “Leviathan” in Job 3:8, 41:1, Psalm 74:14, 104:26, Isaiah 27:1. Now I suppose Psalm 104:26 could be referring to whales, but not the other verses.

    Then apparently in some places KJV translated Hebrew tan as “whale”, but this is very unlikely.

    On the other hand, Matthew 12:40 calls the animal which swallowed Jonah ketos, KJV and RSV “whale”, but whether that Greek word strictly meant “whale” at the time is also uncertain.

    See also this interesting article.

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  8. The whale is also foretold to come here in Luke!!

    11:29 And when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet.

    This is also just before flotilla, and the 4:21AM pre dawn commando raid(before the morning, he is not), In Isaiah 17:12-14

    Sorry so LATE, but although I knew of the whale IN may, as awesome, I did not connect it to a foretold SIGN, until my brethren told me, as I was STILL wondering about the whale a couple of weeks ago!!

    This IS confirmation!!

  9. Michael, that’s an interesting idea. But I think it is clear from verses 30 and 32 and Matthew 12:40 that Jesus is not talking about the visit of a whale 2000 years in the future, but about himself, the Son of Man, who like Jonah spent three days in a place of death.

  10. Recently, a large whale has been sighted off of the Coast of Israel. Some Rabbi’s stated that we are in the 3rd Cycle. What does this mean? Things are winding down & Jesus is coming back soon. Get ready people.

  11. That whale is certainly a sign. Of biblical prophecy I doubt seriously. It is however, a sign that human-kind’s behavior has compromised the environment to the point that this whale was able to navigate the northwest passage through the Arctic and into the Atlantic. There was, about 500 years ago a small population of Atlantic gray whales but they disappeared. There is a prophecy/philosophy that goes: God does not care about your religions, beliefs, or governments for they will serve you no purpose but to further destroy you. He does care that you obey the rules and don’t hurt one another. The ultimate law is love.

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