Jonah Swallowed By A Big Fish
In the book of Jonah, containing four chapters, we are told the word of
the Lord came unto Jonah, saying: "Arise, go to Ninevah, that great
city, and cry against it, for their wickedness is come up against me."
Instead of obeying this command Jonah sought to flee "from the presence
of the Lord," by going to Tarshish. For this purpose he went to Joppa,
and there took ship for Tarshish. But the Lord sent a great wind, a
there was a mighty tempest, so that the ship was likely to be broken.
The mariners being afraid, they cried every one unto his God; and
casting lots--that they might know which of them was the cause of the
storm--the lot fell upon Jonah, showing him to be the guilty man.
The mariners then said unto him; "What shall we do unto thee?" Jonah in
reply said, "Take me up and cast me forth into the sea, for I know that
for my sake this great tempest is upon you." So they took up Jonah, and
cast him into the sea, and the sea ceased raging.
And the Lord prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah, and Jonah was
in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Then Jonah prayed
unto the Lord out of the fish's belly. And the Lord spake unto the fish,
and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.
The Lord again spake unto Jonah and said:
"Go unto Ninevah and preach unto it." So Jonah arose and went unto
Ninevah, according to the command of the Lord, and preached unto it.
There is a Hindoo fable, very much resembling this, to be found in the
Somadeva Bhatta, of a person by the name of Saktideva who was
swallowed by a huge fish, and finally came out unhurt. The story is as
"There was once a king's daughter who would marry no one but the man
who had seen the Golden City--of legendary fame--and Saktideva was in
love with her; so he went travelling about the world seeking some one
who could tell him where this Golden City was. In the course of his
journeys he embarked on board a ship bound for the Island of Utsthala,
where lived the King of the Fishermen, who, Saktideva hoped, would set
him on his way. On the voyage there arose a great storm and the ship
went to pieces, and a great fish swallowed Saktideva whole. Then,
driven by the force of fate, the fish went to the Island of Utsthala,
and there the servants of the King of the Fishermen caught it, and the
king, wondering at its size, had it cut open, and Saktideva came out
In Grecian fable, Hercules is said to have been swallowed by a whale, at
a place called Joppa, and to have lain three days in his entrails.
Bernard de Montfaucon, speaking of Jonah being swallowed by a whale, and
describing a piece of Grecian sculpture representing Hercules standing
by a huge sea monster, says:
"Some ancients relate to the effect that Hercules was also
swallowed by the whale that was watching Hesione, that he
remained three days in his belly, and that he came out
bald-pated after his sojourn there."[78:2]
Bouchet, in his "Hist. d'Animal," tells us that:
"The great fish which swallowed up Jonah, although it be
called a whale (Matt. xii. 40), yet it was not a whale,
properly so called, but a Dog-fish, called Carcharias.
Therefore in the Grecian fable Hercules is said to have been
swallowed up of a Dag, and to have lain three days in his
Godfrey Higgins says, on this subject:
"The story of Jonas swallowed up by a whale, is nothing but
part of the fiction of Hercules, described in the Heracleid
or Labors of Hercules, of whom the same story was told, and
who was swallowed up at the very same place, Joppa, and for
the same period of time, three days. Lycophron says that
Hercules was three nights in the belly of a fish."[78:4]
We have still another similar story in that of "Arion the Musician,"
who, being thrown overboard, was caught on the back of a Dolphin and
landed safe on shore. The story is related in "Tales of Ancient Greece,"
Arion was a Corinthian harper who had travelled in Sicily and
Italy, and had accumulated great wealth. Being desirous of again seeing
his native city, he set sail from Taras for Corinth. The sailors in the
ship, having seen the large boxes full of money which Arion had brought
with him into the ship, made up their minds to kill him and take his
gold and silver. So one day when he was sitting on the bow of the ship,
and looking down on the dark blue sea, three or four of the sailors came
to him and said they were going to kill him. Now Arion knew they said
this because they wanted his money; so he promised to give them all he
had if they would spare his life. But they would not. Then he asked them
to let him jump into the sea. When they had given him leave to do this,
Arion took one last look at the bright and sunny sky, and then leaped
into the sea, and the sailors saw him no more. But Arion was not drowned
in the sea, for a great fish called a dolphin was swimming by the ship
when Arion leaped over; and it caught him on its back and swam away with
him towards Corinth. So presently the fish came close to the shore and
left Arion on the beach, and swam away again into the deep sea.[79:1]
There is also a Persian legend to the effect that Jemshid was devoured
by a great monster waiting for him at the bottom of the sea, but
afterwards rises again out of the sea, like Jonah in the Hebrew, and
Hercules in the Phenician myth.[79:2] This legend was also found in the
myths of the New World.[79:3]
It was urged, many years ago, by Rosenmueller--an eminent German divine
and professor of theology--and other critics, that the miracle recorded
in the book of Jonah is not to be regarded as an historical fact, "but
only as an allegory, founded on the Phenician myth of Hercules rescuing
Hesione from the sea monster by leaping himself into its jaws, and for
three days and three nights continuing to tear its entrails."[79:4]
That the story is an allegory, and that it, as well as that of
Saktideva, Hercules and the rest, are simply different versions of the
same myth, the significance of which is the alternate swallowing up and
casting forth of Day, or the Sun, by Night, is now all but
universally admitted by scholars. The Day, or the Sun, is swallowed
up by Night, to be set free again at dawn, and from time to time
suffers a like but shorter durance in the maw of the eclipse and the
Professor Goldzhier says:
"The most prominent mythical characteristic of the story of
Jonah is his celebrated abode in the sea in the belly of a
whale. This trait is eminently Solar. . . . As on occasion
of the storm the storm-dragon or the storm-serpent swallows
the Sun, so when he sets, he (Jonah, as a personification of
the Sun) is swallowed by a mighty fish, waiting for him at the
bottom of the sea. Then, when he appears again on the horizon,
he is spit out on the shore by the sea-monster."[80:1]
The Sun was called Jona, as appears from Gruter's inscriptions, and
In the Vedas--the four sacred books of the Hindoos--when Day and
Night, Sun and Darkness, are opposed to each other, the one is
designated Red, the other Black.[80:3]
The Red Sun being swallowed up by the Dark Earth at Night--as it
apparently is when it sets in the west--to be cast forth again at Day,
is also illustrated in like manner. Jonah, Hercules and others personify
the Sun, and a huge Fish represents the Earth.[80:4] The Earth
represented as a huge Fish is one of the most prominent ideas of the
At other times, instead of a Fish, we have a great raving Wolf, who
comes to devour its victim and extinguish the Sun-light.[80:6] The
Wolf is particularly distinguished in ancient Scandinavian mythology,
being employed as an emblem of the Destroying Power, which attempts to
destroy the Sun.[80:7] This is illustrated in the story of Little
Red Riding-Hood (the Sun)[80:8] who is devoured by the great Black
Wolf (Night) and afterwards comes out unhurt.[80:9]
The story of Little Red Riding-Hood is mutilated in the English
version. The original story was that the little maid, in her shining
Red Cloak, was swallowed by the great Black Wolf, and that she came
out safe and sound when the hunters cut open the sleeping beast.[80:10]
In regard to these heroes remaining three days and three nights in
the bowels of the Fish, they represent the Sun at the Winter Solstice.
From December 22d to the 25th--that is, for three days and three
nights--the Sun remains in the Lowest Regions, in the bowels of the
Earth, in the belly of the Fish; it is then cast forth and renews its
Thus, we see that the story of Jonah being swallowed by a big fish,
meant originally the Sun swallowed up by Night, and that it is identical
with the well-known nursery-tale. How such legends are transformed from
intelligible into unintelligible myths, is very clearly illustrated by
Prof. Max Mueller, who, in speaking of "the comparison of the different
forms of Aryan Religion and Mythology," in India, Persia, Greece, Italy
and Germany, says:
"In each of these nations there was a tendency to change the
original conception of divine powers; to misunderstand the
many names given to these powers, and to misinterpret the
praises addressed to them. In this manner some of the divine
names were changed into half-divine, half-human heroes, and
at last the myths which were true and intelligible as told
originally of the Sun, or the Dawn, or the Storms, were turned
into legends or fables too marvellous to be believed of common
mortals. This process can be watched in India, in Greece,
and in Germany. The same story, or nearly the same, is told
of gods, of heroes, and of men. The divine myth became an
heroic legend, and the heroic legend fades away into a
nursery tale. Our nursery tales have well been called the
modern patois of the ancient sacred mythology of the Aryan
How striking are these words; how plainly they illustrate the process by
which the story, that was true and intelligible as told originally of
the Day being swallowed up by Night, or the Sun being swallowed up
by the Earth, was transformed into a legend or fable, too marvellous
to be believed by common mortals. How the "divine myth" became an
"heroic legend," and how the heroic legend faded away into a "nursery
In regard to Jonah's going to the city of Ninevah, and preaching unto
the inhabitants, we believe that the old "Myth of Civilization," so
called,[82:1] is partly interwoven here, and that, in this respect, he
is nothing more than the Indian Fish Avatar of Vishnou, or the
Chaldean Oannes. At his first Avatar, Vishnou is alleged to have
appeared to humanity in form like a fish,[82:2] or half-man and
half-fish, just as Oannes and Dagon were represented among the Chaldeans
and other nations. In the temple of Rama, in India, there is a
representation of Vishnou which answers perfectly to that of
Dagon.[82:3] Mr. Maurice, in his "Hist. Hindostan," has proved the
identity of the Syrian Dagon and the Indian Fish Avatar, and concludes
"From the foregoing and a variety of parallel circumstances, I
am inclined to think that the Chaldean Oannes, the Phenician
and Philistian Dagon, and the Pisces of the Syrian and
Egyptian Zodiac, were the same deity with the Indian
In the old mythological remains of the Chaldeans, compiled by Berosus,
Abydenus, and Polyhistor, there is an account of one Oannes, a
fish-god, who rendered great service to mankind.[82:5] This being is
said to have come out of the Erythraean Sea.[82:6] This is evidently
the Sun rising out of the sea, as it apparently does, in the
Prof. Goldzhier, speaking of Oannes, says:
"That this founder of civilization has a Solar character,
like similar heroes in all other nations, is shown . . . in
the words of Berosus, who says: 'During the day-time Oannes
held intercourse with man, but when the Sun set, Oannes
fell into the sea, where he used to pass the night.' Here,
evidently, only the Sun can be meant, who, in the evening,
dips into the sea, and comes forth again in the morning, and
passes the day on the dry land in the company of men."[82:8]
Dagon was sometimes represented as a man emerging from a fish's
mouth, and sometimes as half-man and half-fish.[82:9] It was believed
that he came in a ship, and taught the people. Ancient history abounds
with such mythological personages.[82:10] There was also a Durga, a
fish deity, among the Hindoos, represented as a full grown man
emerging from a fish's mouth[82:9] The Philistines worshiped Dagon,
and in Babylonian Mythology Odakon is applied to a fish-like being,
who rose from the waters of the Red Sea as one of the benefactors of
On the coins of Ascalon, where she was held in great honor, the goddess
Derceto or Atergatis is represented as a woman with her lower
extremities like a fish. This is Semiramis, who appeared at Joppa as a
mermaid. She is simply a personification of the Moon, who follows the
course of the Sun. At times she manifests herself to the eyes of men,
at others she seeks concealment in the Western flood.[83:2]
The Sun-god Phoibos traverses the sea in the form of a fish, and imparts
lessons of wisdom and goodness when he has come forth from the green
depths. All these powers or qualities are shared by Proteus in Hellenic
story, as well as by the fish-god, Dagon or Oannes.[83:3]
In the Iliad and Odyssey, Atlas is brought into close connection with
Helios, the bright god, the Latin Sol, and our Sun. In these poems he
rises every morning from a beautiful lake by the deep-flowing stream of
Ocean, and having accomplished his journey across the heavens, plunges
again into the Western waters.[83:4]
The ancient Mexicans and Peruvians had likewise semi-fish gods.[83:5]
Jonah then, is like these other personages, in so far as they are all
personifications of the Sun; they all come out of the sea; they are
all represented as a man emerging from a fish's mouth; and they are
all benefactors of mankind. We believe, therefore, that it is one and
the same myth, whether Oannes, Joannes, or Jonas,[83:6] differing to a
certain extent among different nations, just as we find to be the case
with other legends. This we have just seen illustrated in the story of
"Little Red Riding-Hood," which is considerably mutilated in the English
Fig. No. 5 is a representation of Dagon, intended to illustrate a
creature half-man and half-fish; or, perhaps, a man emerging from a
fish's mouth. It is taken from Layard. Fig. No. 6[84:1] is a
representation of the Indian Avatar of Vishnou, coming forth from the
fish.[84:2] It would answer just as well for a representation of Jonah,
as it does for the Hindoo divinity. It should be noticed that in both of
these, the god has a crown on his head, surmounted with a triple
ornament, both of which had evidently the same meaning, i. e., an
emblem of the trinity.[84:3] The Indian Avatar being represented with
four arms, evidently means that he is god of the whole world, his four
arms extending to the four corners of the world. The circle, which
is seen in one hand, is an emblem of eternal reward. The shell, with
its eight convolutions, is intended to show the place in the number of
the cycles which he occupied. The book and sword are to show that he
ruled both in the right of the book and of the sword.[84:4]
[78:1] Tylor: Early Hist. Mankind, pp. 344, 345.
[78:2] "En effet, quelques anciens disent qu' Hercule fut aussi devora
par la beleine qui gurdoit Hesione, qu'il demeura trois jours dans son
ventre, et qu'il sortit chauve de ce sejour." (L'Antiquite Expliquee,
vol. i. p. 204.)
[78:3] Bouchet: Hist. d'Animal, in Anac., vol. i. p. 240.
[78:4] Anacalypsis, vol. i. p. 638. See also Tylor: Primitive Culture,
vol. i. p. 306, and Chambers's Encyclo., art. "Jonah."
[79:1] Tales of Ancient Greece, p. 296.
[79:2] See Hebrew Mythology, p. 203.
[79:3] See Tylor's Early Hist. Mankind, and Primitive Culture, vol. i.
[79:4] Chambers's Encyclo., art. Jonah.
[79:5] See Fiske: Myths and Myth Makers, p. 77, and note; and Tylor:
Primitive Culture, i. 302.
[80:1] Goldzhier: Hebrew Mythology, pp. 102, 103.
[80:2] This is seen from the following, taken from Pictet: "Du Culte
des Carabi," p. 104, and quoted by Higgins: Anac., vol. i. p. 650:
"Vallancy dit que Ionn etoit le meme que Baal. En Gallois Jon, le
Seigneur, Dieu, la cause premiere. En Basque Jawna, Jon, Jona,
&c., Dieu, et Seigneur, Maitre. Les Scandinaves appeloient le Soleil
John. . . . Une des inscriptions de Gruter montre ques les Troyens
adoroient le meme astre sous le nom de Jona. En Persan le Soleil
est appele Jawnah." Thus we see that the Sun was called Jonah, by
different nations of antiquity.
[80:3] See Goldzhier: Hebrew Mythology, p. 148.
[80:4] See Tylor: Early History of Mankind, p. 845, and Goldzhier:
Hebrew Mythology, pp. 102, 103.
[80:5] See Tylor: Early History of Mankind, p. 345.
[80:6] Fiske: Myths and Myth Makers, p. 77.
[80:7] See Knight: Ancient Art and Mythology, pp. 88, 89, and Mallet's
[80:8] In ancient Scandinavian mythology, the Sun is personified in
the form of a beautiful maiden. (See Mallet's Northern Antiquities, p.
[80:9] See Fiske: Myths and Myth Makers, p. 77. Bunce: Fairy Tales, 161.
[80:10] Tylor: Primitive Culture, vol. i. p. 307.
"The story of Little Red Riding-Hood, as we call her, or Little Red-Cap,
came from the same (i. e., the ancient Aryan) source, and refers to
the Sun and the Night."
"One of the fancies of the most ancient Aryan or Hindoo stories was that
there was a great dragon that was trying to devour the Sun, and to
prevent him from shining upon the earth and filling it with brightness
and life and beauty, and that Indra, the Sun-god, killed the dragon.
Now, this is the meaning of Little Red Riding-Hood, as it is told in our
nursery tales. Little Red Riding-Hood is the evening Sun, which is
always described as red or golden; the old grandmother is the earth, to
whom the rays of the Sun bring warmth and comfort. The wolf--which is a
well-known figure for the clouds and darkness of night--is the dragon in
another form. First he devours the grandmother; that is, he wraps the
earth in thick clouds, which the evening Sun is not strong enough to
pierce through. Then, with the darkness of night, he swallows up the
evening Sun itself, and all is dark and desolate. Then, as in the German
tale, the night-thunder and the storm-winds are represented by the loud
snoring of the wolf; and then the huntsman, the morning Sun, comes in
all his strength and majesty, and chases away the night-clouds and kills
the wolf, and revives old Grandmother Earth, and brings Little Red
Riding-Hood to life again." (Bunce, Fairy Tales, their Origin and
Meaning, p. 161.)
[81:1] Mueller's Chips, vol. ii. p. 260.
[82:1] See Goldzhier's Hebrew Mythology, p. 198, et seq.
[82:2] See Maurice: Indian Antiquities, vol. ii. p. 277.
[82:3] See Isis Unveiled, vol. ii. p. 259. Also, Fig. No. 5, next page.
[82:4] Hist. Hindostan, vol. i. pp. 418-419.
[82:5] See Pilchard's Egyptian Mythology, p. 190. Bible for Learners,
vol. i. p. 87. Higgins: Anacalypsis, vol. i. p. 646. Cory's Ancient
Fragments, p. 57.
[82:6] See Higgins: Anacalypsis, vol. i. p. 646. Smith: Chaldean Account
of Genesis, p. 39, and Cory's Ancient Fragments, p. 57.
[82:7] Civilizing gods, who diffuse intelligence and instruct
barbarians, are also Solar Deities. Among these Oannes takes his
place, as the Sun-god, giving knowledge and civilization. (Rev. S.
Baring-Gould: Curious Myths, p. 367.)
[82:8] Goldzhier: Hebrew Mythology, pp. 214, 215.
[82:9] See Inman's Ancient Faiths, vol. i. p. 111.
[82:10] See Chamber's Encyclo., art "Dagon."
[83:1] See Smith's Dictionary of the Bible, and Chambers's Encyclo.,
art. "Dagon" in both.
[83:2] See Baring-Gould's Curious Myths.
[83:3] See Cox: Aryan Mythology, vol. ii. p. 26.
[83:4] Ibid. p. 38.
[83:5] Curious Myths, p. 372.
[83:6] Since writing the above we find that Mr. Bryant, in his
"Analysis of Ancient Mythology" (vol. ii. p. 291), speaking of the
mystical nature of the name John, which is the same as Jonah, says:
"The prophet who was sent upon an embassy to the Ninevites, is styled
Ionas: a title probably bestowed upon him as a messenger of the Deity.
The great Patriarch who preached righteousness to the Antediluvians, is
styled Oan and Oannes, which is the same as Jonah."
[84:1] From Maurice: Hist. Hindostan, vol. i. p. 495.
[84:2] Higgins: Anacalypsis, vol. i. p. 634. See also, Calmet's
Fragments, 2d Hundred, p. 78.
[84:3] See the chapter on "The Trinity," in part second.
[84:4] See Higgins: Anacalypsis, vol. i. p. 640.