Jonah and the Ketos

Posted by Censor Librorum on Mar 9, 2007 | Categories: Lesbian in a Catholic Sort of Way

I saw an interesting piece of art in a magazine covering Biblical archaeology. It was Jonah being expelled from the mouth of a sea monster. The piece, from the 3rd century A.D. is thought to be from a tomb. It came from region of Phrygia, now modern day Turkey. This statute is in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

We usually hear the story as “Jonah and the Whale”–which doesn’t make any sense, since outside of killer whales, I’m not aware of any cetacean that is a flesh-eater, nor are there any that can swallow a human whole. I always thought it was an interesting, but fake story, since the basis for it was so inaccurate. Perhaps it was just the convenient use of a monster for a morality tale.

But I believe most stories, the Bible or fairy tales, have a basis in reality or some historical incident. In the Jonah story, the translation was faulty. What might have been a “great fish” evolved into “whale.”

“O Lord My God,” cried Jonah, from the belly of a great fish..I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will fulfill. Deliverance belongs to the Lord!” Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon dry land.”

What is interesting to me is where this story or fable had its origins. Could it be the writer or narrator had heard of the Greek monster, Ketos? Or, could someone of uncovered the fossil of an ambulocetus, basilosaurus, or pakicetus–ancient whales that would have happily hunted and digested human beings?

The challenge with Biblical archaeology would be to keep an open mind as you excavate, and not dig in an effort to prove your story. A lot like reading the Bible.

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