Debate in Investigator about the story of Jonah comprised eighteen items:
1  Jonah: A Whale of a Tale #35  1994 March Anonymous
2  Jonah Is Fictional #37 1994 July B J Kotwall
3  Jonah: Not Fictional #37 1994 July Anonymous
4  Jonah is Fictional Part 2 #40 1995 January B J Kotwall
5  Swallow Story #40 1995 January B J Kotwall
6  Jonah: Probably History #40  1995 January Anonymous
7  Jonah is Fictional Part 3 #40  1995 January B J Kotwall
8  Jonah: Intended as Fact #40 1995 January  Anonymous
9  Jonah Not Historical #41  1995 March B J Kotwall
10 Reply to Kotwall #42  1995 May Anonymous
11 Reply to Anon On Jonah #43  1995 July B J Kotwall
12 Reply to Mr Kotwall's Reply #43 1995 July Anonymous
13 Reply to Anon On Jonah #45 1995 November B J Kotwall
14 Jonah: Quotations, Scholars... #45 1995 November Anonymous
15 Comment in Brief – Jonah #46 1996 January Editor
16 James Bartley Hoax #94  2004 January  K DeMyer
17 Reply to DeMyer on Bartley #95  2004 March  Anonymous
18 New Jonah Essay On Web #96  2004 May K DeMyer

Investigator No. 35 March 1994




(Investigator 35, 1994 March)


A central message of Jonah is that God judges people by their actions/deeds/repentance and not by where they were born. This method of judgment is the model for humans (e.g. Jonah) to follow.

When people line up with their nation or ethnic group irrespective of wrong or right, and practice for example "ethnic cleansing", they prove themselves skeptics of Scripture.

The account of Jonah in the fish's "belly" is intended by the Bible writers to be 1iteral.

The switch to Monotheism in Nineveh (Assyrian capital) has a historical basis.


According to the Bible Jonah was swallowed by a fish, survived, and then went to the capital city of one of the bloodiest empires of ancient times, announced imminent destruction, and the population turned to worshipping one God. The city was spared from destruction, which greatly annoyed Jonah. The story ends with God saying to Jonah:

"And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left…?"

Some skeptics call it "a fishy story" and others "a whale of a tale." What about it, could the events of the book of Jonah be historical?

A century ago many critics sought the origin of Jonah and the fish in Greek and Assyrian mythology. The Greeks, for example, told of a girl named Andromeda who was rescued from a sea monster by a fellow named Perseus. Another girl, a Trojan princess named Hesione was rescued from a different sea monster by Hercules. (Cheyne & Black 1914) Nowadays such comparisons of Jonah with non-Jewish mythology have been discarded. Nevertheless, most scholars still do not accept the Jonah story as historical fact.

Australasian Post, December 3, 1988:
Modern Jonah?

The biblica1 story of Jonah and the whale was repeated in Australian waters in 1820 when a crewman from the American whaler Essex was lost overboard from a harpoon boat.

Two hours later, as the whale was being stripped of its blubber, the crew noticed movement and slit open the mammal's stomach.

The man said he remembered passing down a narrow passage and then he fainted inside a "large, noisome space

The 24 page booklet The First Jaws by Chick Publication tells of a British sailor swallowed by a "gigantic Rhinodon shark" in the English Channel "in the early 1800s" and being cut out 48 hours later.


A common approach is to view the story of Jonah as an allegory or "midrash" – a fiction which teaches a moral lesson. Jonah, in this approach, might have represented the narrow minded Jews whose concept of God was as a Jewish God. One lesson from God's mercy, in the story, to the Assyrians is the universal Fatherhood of God. From such universal Fatherhood it would follow that God regards and treats all peoples not just Jews, impartially - even the Assyrians of Nineveh. This moral lesson is therefore similar to that of the "Good Samaritan" in the New Testament, which teaches among other things that to distinguish people along moral lines by their good or evil conduct is more important than the distinction of nationality.

Jews at the time of Jesus viewed Jonah as history. For example Jesus once said:

For 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 men of Nineveh will arise in the judgement with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah. (Matthew 12:40-41

That the Jonah account was intended as history rather than allegory is the more obvious conclusion. Jonah is classed among the "Prophets" and all the other prophets of the Bible are presented in the Bible as literal persons. Furthermore, Jonah is named, his father is named, the town where they lived is named (2 Kings 14:25) and the period in which they lived is given. In other words the times places and characters are not vague and unspecified as they are in, say, the parables spoken by Jesus. The degree of detail associated with Jonah would anywhere in the Bible indicate that the writer is presenting alleged history and not parable or allegory.

The main intent behind the book might still be to give a moral lesson – but it's a moral lesson based on events which are offered as real. Let's consider then whether most of the report can, sensibly, be taken as literal history.


Nineteenth century critics often argued that whales have too small a gullet to admit a human.

Whales are divided into two main groups–baleen whale and toothed whales. Baleen whales have numerous horny plates suspended from the upper jaw which are used for straining out tiny sea creatures. The biggest baleen whale is the Blue Whale which weighs as much as 25 elephants. Blue Whales, however, have a small gullet and rarely swallow anything larger than a penguin.

The largest of the toothed whales is the Sperm Whale. This grows to 25 metres. The diet of Sperm Whales includes large objects such as giant squids. Bullen (1923) wrote:

"and a shark fifteen feet in length has been found in the stomach of a cachelot [= Sperm Whale]." (p. 125)

Pinney (1964) quoted the Director of a Museum of Natural history:

"Many people asked me if the Bible story of Jonah is true. Could a man be swallowed by a whale? So I pushed my body partly down the throat of a dead sixty foot sperm whale. I could just squeeze through. A fat man couldn't have made it."

Bullen wrote:

"when dying, the cachelot always ejected the contents of his stomach…" (p.69)

On one occasion Bullen saw ejected material which included:

"a massive fragment of cuttle fish - tentacle or arm - as thick as a stout man's body…" (p. 69)

Bullen continued:

"contrary to the usual notion of a whale's being unable to swallow a herring, here was a kind of whale that could swallow–well , a block four or five feet square apparently; who lived upon creatures as large as himself, if one might judge of their bulk by the sample to hand; but being unable, from only possessing teeth in one jaw, to masticate his food, was compelled to tear it in sizeable pieces, bolt it whole, and leave his digestive apparatus to do the rest." (p. 70)

Bullen described how he himself came close to being swallowed when a whale smashed the whaleboat throwing the whalers into the sea. (pp. 101-102)

Extract from page 69 of The Cruise of the Cachelot (1923/1944 Frank T Bullen John Murray London):

He [the mate] told me that, when dying, the cachelot always ejected the contents of his stomach, which were invariably composed of such masses as we saw before us; that he believed the stuff to be portions of big cuttle-fish, bitten off by the whale for the purpose of swallowing, but he wasn't sure. Anyhow, I could haul this piece alongside now, if I liked, and see. Wondering at the indifference shown by this officer of forty years' whaling experience to such a wonderful fact, I thanked him, and, sticking the boat-hook into the lump, drew it alongside. It was at once evident that it was a massive fragment of cuttle-fish–tentacle or arm–as thick as a stout man's body…"

From p. 105 of  The Cruise of the Cachelot:

Indeed, not many tears ago a popular M.P., writing to one of the religious papers, allowed himself to say that "science will not hear of a whale with a gullet capable of admitting anything larger than a man's fist."–a piece of crass ignorance, which is also perpetrated in the appendix to a very widely-distributed edition of the Authorized Version of the Bible. This opinion, strangely enough, is almost universally held…

From: E B Pusey (1886) The Minor Prophets

A natural historian of repute relates, "In 1758 in stormy weather a sailor fell overboard from a frigate in the Mediterranean. A shark was close by, which, as he was swimming and crying for help took him in his wide throat, so that he forthwith disappeared. Other sailors had leapt into the sloop, to help their comrade, while yet swimming; the captain had a gun which stood on the deck discharged at the fish, which struck it so, that it cast out the sailor which it had in its throat, who was taken up, alive and little injured, by the sloop which had now come up. The fish was harpooned, taken up on the frigate, and dried. The captain made a present of the fish to the sailor who, by God's Providence, had been so wonderfully preserved. The sailor went round Europe exhibiting it. He came to Franconia, and it was publicly exhibited here in Erlangen, as also at Nurnberg and other places. The dried fish was delineated. It was 20 feet long and, with expanded fins, nine feet wide and weighed 3924 pounds. From all this, it is probable that this was the fish of Jonah."


Another creature large enough to swallow a man is the voracious White Shark Carcharius vulgaris which grows to ten metres. This shark often swallows its meal without chewing and it occurs in the Mediterranean Sea – where Jonah allegedly was swallowed. The Sperm Whale occurs there too and anciently there was a Phoenician whaling industry based at the port of Joppa where Jonah embarked on the ship.

Nineteenth century scholar E B Pusey  (1886) cited examples of people found, dead in the stomachs of White Sharks. In one instance a stomach contained a reindeer without horns.  In another was a horse.

In 1939 a White Shark was caught which contained two smaller sharks – two metres long each – in its stomach.  (Whitley 1940; Backus & Lineaweaver 1970)

In February 1891 apprentice sailor James Bartley 1870 -1909) of the whaling ship Star of the East, was swallowed by a whale near the Falkland Islands. The whale was killed with harpoons and Bartley was taken out alive after 15 hours in the stomach:

"The sailors had much difficulty in restoring him to consciousness.  It was not till three months nursing that James Bartley recovered his reason." (Hastings et al 1902

[Omitted here is a xeroxed page from A Dictionary Of The Bible, Volume 1 1902, Edited by J Hastings et al, Published by T & T Clark,  p. 750.]

As already stated, dying Sperm Whales often vomit out the contents of their stomach.  Regarding the "fish" which swallowed Jonah the story reads:

"it vomited out Jonah upon dry land." (2:10)

A reasonable speculation–if the story is true–would be that the "fish" which swallowed Jonah was a Sperm Whale which later became stranded in shallow water.


The blood temperature of a whale is about the same as a human's blood – 37 degrees centigrade. Inside the stomach it might be several degrees warmer. In addition there is the problem of digestive juices–would they have killed Jonah and digested him? A scientific answer seems unavailable. Would digestive juices with their digestive enzymes, for example, cease to flow if the whale were near death? Possibly the acidity of the stomach juices would also be unpleasant unless their secretion were also inhibited.

Acidity is measured on the pH scale which varies from 0 to 14. For example:

Concentrated nitric acid 0          Orange 3.5
Gastric secretion 1                     Tomato 4
Lemon juice 2                             Saliva 6
Stomach juice 2                          Pure Water 7
Coca cola 3                                Intestinal secretion 7.5
Vinegar 3                                    Sea Water 8

It shouldn't be too hard to do an experiment of placing a hand or finger in lemon juice, cola, or vinegar for varying intervals and seeing if any damage occurs.

Would there be breathable air in the stomach?

Macloskie (1942) argued that the whale has to expel superfluous water from its mouth after receiving food. In the process a creature trapped in the mouth might reach the laryngeal pouch below the larynx. The pouch is big enough to hold a human who would, in addition, use the whale's own air supply and have no worries about digestive juices. The Bible phrase "belly of the fish" should not count against this hypothesis since ancient peoples did not distinguish as many internal organs as we do today. In other words the entire front (=ventral surface) of a fish or whale might be referred to as the "belly".

Nowadays whales are classified as mammals. However, the phrase "great fish" would have been accurate enough and more understandable for a, mainly, rural audience which didn't differentiate many sea creatures.

For a brief period a person could survive in a whale's stomach. In Jonah's case the account says "three days and three nights". Some commentators argue that this means 72 hours. Others argue that the Jews counted part of a day or night as one day. If Jonah, for example, was swallowed an hour before sunrise then the previous night and the previous day-time would be included in the calculation. Jonah's total time in the "fish" would then be as little as approximately 30 hours. This would still be twice as long as James Bartley. Bartley came out bleached to a ghastly white and his skin never fully recovered from this condition.

Jonah was extremely stressed by his experience. He was near death. (2:6-7) Inside the "fish" Jonah prayed. (See chapter 2) The words of the prayer were in the past tense. From this some commentators conclude that a future writer composed the prayer and the whole story is mythical. Another explanation for the use of the past tense is that Jonah was quoting the Psalms – which Jews and Christians often do during prayer. Jonah selected Psalms which had phrases appropriate to his experience. These were 120:1; 130:3; 42:7; 31:22; 69:1-2; 30: 3; 142: 2-3; 18:6; 31:6; 50:14.

Of course Jonah would have written these things down later and not while in the "belly of the fish".


An interesting sidepoint is that Jonah says:

"Weeds were wrapped about my head
at the roots of the mountains." (2:5)

Geologist Harold L. Levin wrote:

"Eighteenth-century scientists had little knowledge of the topography of the ocean floors. They lived at a time when depth measurements were made by letting down a lead weight on the end of a rope. Not only was this method time consuming, but in the open ocean it was virtually impossible to prevent error from lateral drifting of the weight, or the ship, or both. As a result of these problems, only a limited number of soundings were made except in bays and offshore areas where such information was vital for safe navigation. Oceanographers interpreted the few measurements available as indicating that the ocean floors were monotonous flat plains. With the advent of continuous topographic profiles from echo-sounding devices, it was shown that the ocean floors are as irregular as the surface of the continents. Beneath the waves lay canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon, and mountain systems more magnificent than the Rockies."
(Levin 1981 p. 320

I don't imagine that Jonah saw the "roots of the mountains" in the Mediterranean Sea by peeking out of the mouth of the fish. Perhaps he guessed; perhaps he was "inspired". At any rate he got it right.


"Here it should be noted that the Hebrew idiom, ‘three days and three nights,' only requires a Portion of the first and third days."
(Nelson's Complete Book of Bible Maps & Charts 1993 p. 257)

Sperm whales, with their two stomachs, large throat, and biting jaw equipped with large teeth, have well documented appetites. Sharks ten to twelve feet long appear to be swallowed as easily as Jonah was! Three undigested, ten-foot sharks were found at one time in a large bull Sperm whale's stomach at Naden Harbour. Squid measuring over thirty feet long, and several hundred pounds in weight, were also found, nearly intact, in a forty-five foot Sperm whale's stomach.
(Whalers No More 1987 W A Hagelund p.177)

"The title of largest confirmed man-eater on earth must surely go to this thirty-foot long member of the dolphin family, the black and white grampus or killer whale, Orcinus orca. It could, if it ever had the opportunity, eat a couple of dozen men in one Session. Eschricht records one which was found with thirteen porpoises and fourteen seals in its stomach–it had choked on the fifteenth seal. A killer whale was once shot off the United States west coast and found to have eighteen fur seals in its stomach, each one heavier and bulkier than a man.
(Man Is The Prey 1971 James Clarke p. 91)

According to an oriental method of reckoning, parts of days are included in a total of days as if they were full days. Thus in idiomatic Hebrew, as in Jonah 1:17, and in the Jewish manner of speech, as in Matthew 12:40, ‘three days and three nights' means merely one full day and parts of two others. On this matter read 1 Samuel 30:11-13; compare Esther 4:16 with 5:1; and see Tobit 3:12-13 in the Lutheran text."
(Jonah and the Whale c. l965 P Schulze p. 4)

A major discussion on Jonah occurred in the Princeton Theological Review October 1927 and October 1928. Ambrose John Wilson of Oxford, England, cited a whaling station manager that the skeleton of a shark sixteen feet long had been found in a whale.

Wilson wrote that the temperature inside a whale is 104-106° Fahrenheit (about 41o Centigrade) and that the gastric juice would be unpleasant but not deadly. He alleged that a man named Marshall Jenkins was swallowed by a whale in 1771.



Critics sometimes argue that the alleged repentance of the people of Nineveh capital of the Assyrian Empire would have been a bigger miracle than Jonah surviving being swallowed by a "fish".

Assyria was one of the most barbaric of ancient empires. People of captured cities were routinely burned alive, skinned alive, or had ears, noses, hands or feet chopped off.

Jonah was already a prophet during the reign of King Jeroboam of Israel. (2 Kings 14:23) Jeroboam reigned 787 to 747 BC. This places Jonah after Shalmanezer III of Assyria who during his blood-stained reign, 859 - 824 BC, led 32 war campaigns. It also puts Jonah before the equally bloody Tiglath Pileser III who ruled 745-727 BC. Jonah therefore lived when a number of comparatively weak kings ruled Assyria.

Furthermore, for about 50 years during the first half of the 8th century BC, Nineveh was repeatedly torn by civil unrest, palace intrigues, religious strife and even civil war. The book of Jonah confirms that Jonah arrived at Nineveh during a period of internal strife and violence. (See chapter 3:6-9)

Among the gods of Nineveh were Ninua the goddess of waters, Oannes a god with the head and body of a fish attached to the top of a human head, Dagon god of the sea, and Anu the highest or chief god.

We therefore have a setting in which the population of Nineveh might have listened to Jonah and turned to at least superficially the God Jonah proclaimed.

Consider: News of Jonah's survival in the "fish" precedes his arrival. Different religious factions attribute Jonah's survival to Anu, Ninua, Oannes or Dagon. Jonah arrives–possibly with a ghastly bleached, appearance (like Bartley). The King hears of great crowds listening to Jonah preaching and sees this as a means of ending civil strife and religious division and reunifying the city and the empire. The King and high officials therefore set the example, respond to Jonah, and publicly express remorse for the violence in the city. (See Jonah 3:6-9)

So far no Assyrian record about Jonah has been found.

However, there did at least once occur a swing toward Monotheism. King Adad Nirari III ruled 810-782 BC. During the first five years of his reign his mother, Queen Semiramis, was co-regent and did the governing because her son was too young. Adad Nirari's effective rule therefore began about 806 BC. It was about this time that the swing toward Monotheism took place. If Jonah was involved in this then the response to his preaching was probably superficial since history records little or nothing more about it.

The circumference of the walls of Nineveh around 800 BC was about three kilometres. This increased to 12 kilometres about 700 BC. The statement that Nineveh was ‘three days' journey in breadth" (Jonah 3:3) has therefore been criticised as another reason for thinking the whole story mythical. Possibly, however, the "three days' journey in breadth" includes the villages and farmlands beyond the walls and also the outer fortifications involving three rivers and a mountain chain. We could also speculate that the phrases "three day's journey" and "a day's journey" had a meaning in Nineveh which we are unaware of.


My attempt to take the story of Jonah literally and assess whether it could have happened has led to indefinite conclusions. Certainly credibility is stretched. However, the events are not wholly impossible even if we leave out notions of miraculous intervention by God which of course a scientific search has to do.

We should not, however, forget the moral lesson of Jonah. This lesson is that God is the God of all peoples and he judges impartially. Therefore our moral judgements should likewise be along moral lines – based on what the person does – and not along tribal or national lines. The basis for judging a person is his behavior and not his place of birth.

Therefore God in the story of Jonah is shown as suspending the destruction of Nineveh because the people repented

The last book of the Bible similarly puts it plainly that what counts is what we do and not where we were born:

"And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done." (Revelation 20:12-13)

Every time there is a war or race riot or inter-family squabble with all participants lining up according to nation, ethnic group or family irrespective of who's morally right and who's morally wrong the lessons of Jonah (and Revelation 20) are being ignored.

Ancient Joppa - the port where Jonah boarded the ship which led him to the "great fish" - had the skeleton of a 12-metre whale on display in one of its temples. In 58 BC Marcus Scaurus, a Roman official, transferred the skeleton to Rome. This incident gets a mention in the writings of the Roman writer Pliny (23 - 79 AD). It is not known when or how the skeleton got to Joppa. Is there perhaps a connection with the "whale of a tale" about Jonah?


Aalders G Ch. 1948 The Problern of the Book or Jonah Tyndale Press London
Backus R H & Lineaweaver T H 1970 The Natural History of Sharks pp. 111, 113
Blond G 1954 The Great Whale Game Weidenfeld & Nicolson London
Bonomi J 1857 Nineveh And Its Palace E G Bohn London
Bullen F T 1923/1944 The Cruise or the Cachelot J Murray London
Cheyne T T & Black J S 1914 Encyclopedia Biblica New Edition in One Volume Adam & Charles Black Britain p. 1963
Clarke J 1971 Man is the Prey Panther Science Britain p. 91
Hagelund W A 1987 Whalers No More Harbour Publishing Canada p. 177
Hart-Davies D E 1931 Jonah: Prophet and Patriot Thynne & Co. London
Hastings J et al (Editors) 1902 A Dictlonary of the Bible Volume 1 T & T Clark Britain
Levin B L 1981 Contemporary Physical Geography CBS College Publishing p. 320
Macloskie C 1942 How to test the Story of Jonah Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 72 p. 336 ff
Nelson T 1982 Nelson's Complete Book of Bible Maps & Charts Thomas Nelson Publishers USA p.257
Pinney R 1964 The Animals in the Bible Chilton Books USA pp.128, 153
Pussy, E 1886 The Minor Prophets Waiter Smith Britain pp. 257-258
Schultze H P c.1965 Jonah and the Whale
Wilson A J 1927 October The Sign of the Prophet Jonah Princeton Theological Review Volume 25 p. 636
Wilson A J 1928 October The Authenticity of Jonah Princeton Theological Review Volume 26


B J Kotwall

(Investigator 37, 1994 July)

The author of JONAH: A WHALE OF A TALE (Investigator March 1994) attempted to justify that the book of Jonah in the Old Testament is historical.

My research, however, shows that the Book of Jonah is clearly fictional. The fictional aspect of the book is mainly demonstrated in its anachronisms and its highly fanciful supernatural events.

The book could be described as a written sermon in story form based on Jeremiah 18:8. This is alluded to in Jonah 3:10. The name of the prophet comes from 2 Kings 14 25, and Jonah's wish for death is modelled on that of Elijah. (1 Kings 19:4-8)

The story of the great fish which can swallow a man alive and vomit him out still alive (Jonah 1:17; 2:10) could have been drawn from folklore or legend and is to be found in classical literature.

In the Heracleid, Hercules was swallowed by a whale and at precisely the same place Joppa, and he too remained in the whale's belly for three days. In Persian folklore Jamshyd the hero was swallowed by a sea monster that later vomited him out safely on shore. There is a Greek myth in which Arion, the musician, was thrown overboard for causing a storm, but was saved by a dolphin. In the Samadeva Bhatta of India Saktadeva was swallowed by a fish and later stepped out unharmed when it was opened. Vishnu the Avatar is shown rising from the mouth of a fish.

Jonah's father is called Amittai (Jonah 1:1) which is a derivation of Amriti the Hindu "water of life". The name Jonah was also common in ancient races. The Persians had Jawnah, the Basques Jawna, the Chaldeans Ionn or Jonn.

Nineveh is treated as "that great city" (Jonah 1:2; 4:11) the capital of the Assyria Empire. It was indeed a great city when Judah, under Manasseh, was an Assyrian tributary. However, the real Jonah was active around 780 BC at which time Nineveh was in decay. The use of the past tense (Jonah 3:3) indicates that the book was written long after 612 BC when Nineveh was destroyed.

A city of 120,000 infants implies a total population of over a million – far too large for Nineveh. In Hebrew idiom "persons who do not know their right hand from their left" (Jonah 4:11) refers to small children. (The Moffatt Translation of The Bible; The Companion Bible p. 690; Dictionary of the Bible John L Mckenzie p. 451)

Assyrian and Biblical records leave no room for a conversion of Nineveh to worship Yahweh. The repentance of all of Nineveh from the king downwards, in sackcloth and fasting, is nowhere recorded in secular history. To say that the conversion was "superficial" or "temporary" completely negates the point of the story which is a didactic fiction or parable.

The title "king of Nineveh" (Jonah 3:6) does not appear in Assyrian or Biblical records. It is always "king of Ashur".

Sperm whales, which apparently could swallow a man whole, are not found in the Mediterranean. (Asimov's Guide to the Bible p. 647)

The story of the gourd (Jonah 4:6-7) springing up at an unnaturally fast rate and then being eaten up by a worm the next day is supernatural.

In William Neil's One Volume Bible Commentary we read:

"(Jonah) is an extremely readable and vivid story, but unfortunately like much else in the Old Testament it is often sadly misunderstood. For Jonah is not a story about a whale. The incident where the prophet is swallowed by a great fish is not even the most spectacular part in this short narrative. Much effort has been expended by those who miss the point of the book, to demonstrate either that such an occurrence is physically impossible, or on the other hand that whales have been found with gullets large enough to accommodate a man. How amused the ancient writer of Jonah would have been at this attempt to discredit the Bible, or to confound the skeptics, by applying the yardstick of zoological science to a tale which is neither scientific nor even historical but a parable like the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son." (p. 294)



(Investigator 37, 1994 July)

I will address Mr Kotwall's points progressively.

A story or report is not false just because it includes unusual, even supernatural events. We need to test as much of the report as is testable and then decide.

Jonah's "wish for death" is not necessarily modelled on Elijah. The Bible mentions many who wanted to die. None of them need be seen as modelled on any other, unless this is specifically stated.

Whether Jonah is connected in any way to Hercules was debated last century and the idea was rejected. (See centrespread reproduction in Investigator 35.)

A name having a meaning or having counterparts in other languages does not make a report with that name false. Hundreds of Bible names had meanings. David perhaps meant "Chieftain". Amittai, the father of Jonah, meant "faithful" or "true".

Nineveh was a "great city" for centuries. Even during the half century of unrest and violence after 800 BC (compare Jonah 3 6-9) Nineveh was a major centre of Assyrian power.

History records a "swing to Monotheism" in Nineveh which I mentioned. This "swing" evidently petered out. It may or may not be the conversion of Nineveh recorded in Jonah. Perhaps the people were predisposed to religious change (in addition to reasons given in INVESTIGATOR 35) by plagues in 765 BC and 759 BC plus by a solar eclipse in 763 BC.

The 120,000 of Nineveh were not children. The Hebrew "adam" means "man" or "men". (Wigram 5th edition) The word occurs also in Jonah 3:7, 8 and about 600 times in the Old Testament. Usually "adam" excludes children. (1 Kings 8:39; Psalm 45:2; 145:12) Sometimes context indicates that women are included and then we can translate it as "persons", "people", "human beings" or "adults" depending on the context.

The phrase "do not know their right hand from their left" should then be taken in a moral and spiritual sense.

The ratio of children to adults in Assyria was about 5:8. (Garner 1976 September p.125) From 120,000 adults we calculate 75,000 children giving a total population for Nineveh of 195,000.

Felix Jones surveyed the walls of Nineveh in 1834. The inner circumference was 12km within which, he believed, 175,000 people could have lived.

35km south of Nineveh was Nimrud (=Calah). Nimrud has been excavated and its size shown to be 358 hectares. Its ancient population is estimated at 63,000 adults and 40,000 children. (Garner 1976 September)

A British expedition in 1949 under M E L Mallowan estimated the total population of Nimrud, including children, at 86,000. (Lloyd 1984)

Nineveh, however, was over twice as big, 750 hectares, although much space was devoted to temples, buildings and monuments. Jonah's population figure, then, seems quite close to modern estimates!

Regarding the "three days journey" (Jonah 3:3) Garner (1976 June) says:

"the reference could well be to the administrative district of Nineveh, which measured some 50 to 100 kilometres across…" p. 60)

The words "king of Nineveh" need not be a problem. If the king dwelt in Nineveh at the time why not call him "king of Nineveh"?

Regarding whales: In Animals of Bible Lands we read:

"The Sperm Whale…comes into the Mediterranean and is recorded from time to time off the Palestine coast."

Doubtless this was more true in ancient times before the slaughter of Sperm Whales in the Atlantic from the 1850s to the 1930s.

The "gourd story" currently defies a natural explanation. Agreed.

Regarding the quote from Neil:  I demonstrated that the Jonah account was not intended as a parable (No. 35 p. 16) but as real events to illustrate moral principles.

Whether the ancient writer "would have been amused" is untestable since we can't ask him. However, the notion of "testing" claims people make is a biblical notion. (Daniel 1; Proverbs l8:l7; 20:25)

Finally, don't forget the moral lessons of "Jonah" which I presented previously.


Garner, C G 1976 June Nineveh, That Great City Buried History A Quarterly Journal of Biblical Archaeology Volume 12 No. 2 pp. 58-83
Garner, C C 1976 September Calah, City of Nimrud Buried History Volume12 No. 3 pp. 109-141
Garner, C C 1976 December Assur and Khorsabad Buried History Volume 12 No. 4 pp. l64-202
Lloyd, S 1984 The Archaeo1ogy of Mesopotamia Thames and Hudson Britain pp. 213-214
Wigram, W D n.d. Fifth edition. Englishman's Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance of the Old Testament Bagster & Sons Britain pp. 17-20.



B J Kotwall

(Investigator 40, 1995 January)

In Investigator No. 35 Anonymous argued that the Book of Jonah was intended as literal history written to advocate moral principles and that the events in the book really happened. My response in INSTIGATOR No. 37 showed that the book of Jonah is fictional to which Anonymous gave a 2-page reply. I will now treat briefly most of the points presented by Anonymous in No. 37.

I would like to clarify that I never stated that the Book of Jonah is "false". There is a difference between "false" and "fictional". If I had said that the Book was "fictitious" then the "false" label would have been justified. (Bloomsbury Good Word Guide 1990 p. 115)

Nineveh "was an exceedingly great city" (Jonah 3:3) when Judah was an Assyrian tributary. The past tense "was" suggeststhe account was written after Nineveh's destruction:

"Historians have no record on tablets or stelae of the conversion of the Ninevites en masse (3:5); nor has archaeological research revealed any Assyrian king called ‘the king of Nineveh' (3:6) In the days of Sennacherib the circuit of Nineveh's walls measured c 8m. (cf. 3:3) The narrative fails to tell what language Jonah used to make his message intelligible to the Ninevites.

But the story belongs to a much later period than the reign of Jeroboam II. Nineveh was a ‘great city' (3:2), but it had been destroyed (612 B.C.) when the book of Jonah was written. This fact places the incidents in the narrative beyond the possible prophetic activities of Jonah son of Amittai. Aramaic words in the original text indicate its composition in the 5th or 4th century B.C… The date scope of this book seems to lie between 600 and 200 B.C." (Black's Bible Dictionary 1968 7th edition)

I provided three scholarly references to show that the 120,000 who "do not know their right hand from their left" (Jonah 4) referred to children. More are available:
"We are told that it was ‘three days' journey in breadth. But we know from archaeological excavations that the circumference of the walls of the ancient city of Nineveh was approximately eight miles. This could certainly not contain a population with 120,000 children, in those days implying probably a total of 1,000,000 inhabitants. Even if we include the neighbouring cities of Calah, Rehoboth-Ir, and Resin (Gen. 10:11-12) as constituting an urban conglomeration, a traveller would surely have had to walk up and down every street and alley to fill up three days." (The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible Volume 2 1962)

Anonymous relies on a Hebrew idiom to claim that the "three days and three nights" of Jonah in the fish's belly was only about 30 hours.

The Companion Bible says:

"The Hebrew idiom ‘three days' can be used for parts of three days (and even years) but not when the word nights is added. When it says that Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights it means exactly what it says and that this can be the only meaning of the expression in Matthew 12:40."  (p. 1248 and Appendixes p. 170)

The following is from The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible:

"There is further the problem of identifying the personage called the ‘king of Nineveh' which is like talking of the ‘king of London'. The phrase could hardly have been used if the Assyrian Empire had still been in existence." (p. 966)

My source for sperm whales not being found in the Mediterranean was the prolific genius and scholar Issac Asimov in Asimov's Guide to the Bible (1981 edition p. 647). I am not aware of the scholarship of Animals of Bible Lands cited by Anonymous to show sperm whales sometimes reach the Palestine coast.

As regards the Book of Jonah being intended as history because of Jesus referring to Jonah in Matthew 12:38-41 (INVESTIGATOR 35 p. 16) consider:

"Scholars do not consider Jonah a historical narrative but an edifying story. The unknown writer artfully, ironically compounds familiar scriptural material, with perhaps some folklorish elements, to make a didactic fiction, a midrash. The ‘sign of Jonah' mentioned in the Gospels (Mt. 12:38-4l; Lk. 11:29-32) if correctly transmitted, is no argument for the historicity of Jonah. Neither Jesus nor the Gospel writers were treating of literary or historical criticism, but were citing a familiar example somewhat as people today allude to Cinderella or the Prodigal Son." (New Catholic Encycyclopedia 1967 Volume 7 p. 1094)

I fully agree that there are great moral lessons in the Book of Jonah. But my research does not allow me to swallow the whale!


B J Kotwall

(Investigator 40, 1995 January)

There is an interesting item in Funk & Wagnalls Dictionary, of Folklore, Mythology and Legend (1950) titled Swallow Story, which I quote in part:

"A type of folktale based on the extraordinary swallowings motif, appearing almost everywhere in the world, end following several distinct patterns: 1) in which the hero is swallowed by one or more monsters but is disgorged or emerges in safety when the monster is killed; 2) in which a glutton swallows his own children, neighbors, etc., and is killed,the victims emerging alive; and 3) appearing through-out the ages in all parts of the world: etiololgical stories accounting for various natural phenomena, as the countless eclipse tales, the Paiute Indian story of how the sun swallows the stars (to explain their disappearance at dawn)…

Among the famous swallow stories of the world are the Greek myths of Cronus who swallowed his own children, and of Zeus who swallowed Metis, the story of Jonah swallowed by the whale, the Teutonic Odin swallowed by the wolf, etc."




(Investigator 40, 1995 January)

In INVESTIGATOR 35 I concluded: "My attempt to take the story of Jonah literally and assess whether it could have happened has led to indefinite conclusions."

I added that credibility is stretched but that most of the events might have occurred even without miraculous intervention by any God.

Mr Kotwall apparently wants to reduce my argument for a possibility or probability to an impossibility.

If something fictitious is presented as a true report, then the claim that it is a true report is false. My first article (No. 35) showed Jonah was intended as history – but history to illustrate moral principles.

Jesus stated:

"The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgement with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah."
(Matthew 12:41)

This link to the doctrine of the resurrection demonstrates that Jonah was understood as history. Mr Kotwall's quoting of The New Catholic Encyclopedia to suggest the contrary is misplaced.

The question then remains: "Could the events in the book of Jonah have happened?" That was discussed in INVESTIGATOR 35 and Mr Kotwall's counter arguments have done little more than restate his opposition while ignoring my evidence.

Mr Kotwall's point about the "King of Nineveh" being a wrong title (from Black's Bible Dictionary and The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible) received a tentative answer in INVESTIGATOR 37. Funk & Wagnalls says:

"In reality the nobles and courtiers with whom he (the king) was surrounded, as well as the governors whom he appointed to administer the conquered lands, often made decisions for him. Their ambitions and intrigues were a constant menace to the life of the Assyrian ruler. Palace revolts and revolutions were not uncommon, especially toward the end of the reign of a king, when the selection of a successor became a crucial issue."

In addition to my explanation that the phrase "king of Nineveh" was not being used as a title but merely denoted where the King of Assyria stayed at the time, we also have the possibility that the "king of Nineveh" was not the King of Assyria but a governor in rebellion. The story of Jonah is set sometime in the 50-year period (c.800 BC to c.750 BC) when Assyria was in decline. Mr Kotwall's mistake is to seek definite answers from indefinite data.

The date of Jonah's final composition is a subsidiary question. The past tense in "Nineveh was an exceedingly great city", understood bysome to suggest Nineveh no longer existed when Jonah was written, could instead imply that Nineveh was even greater at the time of writing than at the time of the events. Or perhaps both these interpretations of "was" are wrong and the correct explanation is that the entire Jonah report was written in the past tense! Again Mr Kotwall has sought to conclude from indefinite evidence that Jonah, if taken as historical, is certainly wrong.

Aramaic words occur in other Old Testament books besides Jonah and are a separate issue.

The 120,000 were not children as I clearly argued in No. 37. Quoting a series of mistaken "authorities" does not alter the obvious. I showed that "adam" means "men" or "adults" and in the Bible excludes children. A check of 13 Bible translations revealed two which say "infants" or "children" but eleven which say "persons" "human beings" "people" etc. The "adam" of chapter 4 are the same "adam" who repented in chapter 3.

I showed in INVESTIGATOR 37 that this accurate understanding of the 120,000 agrees with modern estimates of Nineveh's population.

The phrase "three days and three nights" is taken literally by a minority who wish to argue that Jesus died on Thursday rather than on Friday. Most conclude the phrase was "idiomatic Hebrew" (Schulze 1965), which meant "part of three natural days" (Poole 1963) and could be "32 to 34 hours". (Wedderspoon 1931) This would, however, require a separate debate.

My quote "The Sperm Whale…comes into the Mediterranean and is recorded from time to time off the Palestine coast" was from C S Cansdale (1970) – Animals of Bible Lands. Mr Kotwall's counter quote from Asimov is also correct in that only occasional stray Sperm Whales enter the Mediterranean.

Tristram (c. 1880) wrote:

"The ‘great fish' could not have been what we understand by a whale, from the small capacity of its throat. Whales though now extinct there, were in ancient times known in the Mediterranean."

The idea of the Sperm Whale's small throat was a common 19th century objection which was refuted in the 20th century as shown in INVESTIGATOR 35.

Did all of Nineveh repent and worship Jonah's god? I discussed the probability of this in No. 35.


Anonymous Jonah: A Whale of a Tale!? INVESTIGATOR No. 35
Anonymous Jonah: Not Fictional INVESTIGATOR No. 37
Cansdale, G S 1970 Animals of Bible Lands Paternoster
Cherfas, J What Price Whales? New Scientist 1986 June 5 pp. 36-39
Funk & Wagnall's New Encyclopedia 1993 Volume 3 p. 13
Kotwall, B J Jonah is Fictional INVESTIGATOR 37
Poole, M 1963 A Commentary on the Holy Bible Volume 3 p. 58 Banner & Truth Trust
Schulze, P c.1965 Jonah snd the Whale p. 4
Tristam, H B c.1880 References To The Animal Creation In The Bible. In: Aids To The Student Of The Holy Bible Eyre & Spottiswoode London
Wedderspoon, A M 1931 A One Page Commentary On the Books of the Old and New Testaments Britain p.43



B J Kotwall

(Investigator 40, 1995 January)

My quotation from The New Catholic Encyclopedia which questions that Jonah was intended as history, although Jesus referred to Jonah (Matthew 12:38-41), is called "misplaced" by Anonymous.

Misplaced by whom and in what way? I thought I was spot on!

I am not sure what the Funk and Wagnalls quotation is supposed to prove. It appears irrelevant to the context. On what basis does Anonymous conjecture that "the king of Nineveh" was not the King but a governor in rebellion?

What scholarly support or evidence is there for presuming that "Nineveh was even greater at the time of writing (the book of Jonah) than at the time of the events?"

Regarding the Aramaic words and phrases Dr. L H Brockington, who was senior lecturer in Aramaic and Syriac at Oxford University, says:

"The language (of Book of Jonah) is also indicative of a late date, having several words and phrases that belong more to Aramaic than to Hebrew." (Peak's Commentary on the Bible 1967 p. 627)

That the 120,000 referred to children is deduced by scholars from Hebrew idiom as I have already clearly demonstrated. Most translations endeavour to be faithful to the original language, and it is acceptable, even correct, to translate as "persons", "humans", etc, the Hebrew word here involved. But scholars of Hebrew are able to recognize an idiom when they come across it in the Scriptures and this is often clarified in reliable Commentaries, Dictionaries, and related works on the Bible.

I have not found any Bible translation which renders the "three days and three nights" of Jonah 1:17 as "30 hours" or as "part of three natural days" as Anonymous maintains.

Anonymous casually dismisses Moffat's Translation, The Companion Bible, and the Dictionary of the Bible by J L Mckenzie, as "mistaken authorities"!

Peak's Commentary speaks of Moffat's Translation (and that of Weymouth and Goodspeed) as:

"While free with idiomatic renderings, their essential accuracy is guaranteed by the scholarly competence of the translators." (p. 27)

Another prestigious publication New 20th Century Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (1991) edited by J D Douglas says about Moffat:

"His translation of the whole Bible highly acclaimed, widely used, and is still quoted in learned commentaries." (p. 505)

The Companion Bible is a world-famous publication and has been a useful and comprehensive tool as in the hands of Bible readers and scholars for many years.

Mckenzie's Dictionary received rave reviews when it was published. For example:

Accuracy and sound judgment as a Biblical theologian. Time Magazine.
A triumph of scholarship, lucidity, and high editorial discipline. Commonweal
One of the most up-to-date and reliable dictionaries...magnificent scholarship, ample in learning… Factual on every page. Religious Education
Simply amazing…an honest and outspoken scholar. Journal of Biblical Literature.
Monumental. Bible Today

Finally the following seems appropriate:

"there are Christians today who take the Bible literally, believing the earth was created in six days, Elijah was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot, Jonah was swallowed by a whale, and Jesus physical body arose from a tomb. For these believers, Christian myths are true stories not to be questioned but to be taken as literal fact. But the vast majority of thinking people are not easily satisfied with this simplistic approach. For them myth contains much that goes against common every day experience, science and reason. We knew that earth was not created days, people do not fly to heaven in a fiery chariot, whales do not swallow people and later dislodge them, and the dead do not come out of their tombs alive."
(Encyclopedia of World Mythology & Legend 1988 A S Mercatante p. 14)




(Investigator 40, 1995 January)

Mr Kotwall seems to believe that to quote a "scholar" and a positive review is enough to establish a conclusion.

The Companion Bible is, as Mr Kotwall says, "world famous". If quoting it is enough to prove a point why doesn't he quote p. 1247 where it is argued that Jonah is literal valid history? The marginal comments and appendixes of The Companion Bible include many errors. In INVESTIGATOR 20, for example, I discussed the failed prophecy in Appendix 531.

Scholars do not write only what everyone knows to be true. In a large publication such as a Bible translation or a Bible dictionary the scholar will include many educated guesses when deciding on points which are inconclusive and many such opinions will later turn out mistaken. Existence of "rave reviews" does not mean the raving reviewers checked and confirmed every statement involving an educated opinion. If they did then we could avoid the work of the scholar and go straight to the more informed work of the raving reviewer.

When anyone supplies information which a scholar did not consider when giving an opinion then the new information should be considered and scholarly opinion set aside if necessary.

In what way was Mr Kotwall's quote from The New Catholic Encyclopedia "misplaced"? Because a quote containing faulty logic does not help his case. Jesus in Matthew 12 says the "men of Nineveh" will rise in the resurrection with Jesus' generation and the Queen of Sheba. The doctrine of the resurrection is not about God making alive fictitious persons such as Tarzan, Cinderella and Frankenstein but of restoring persons who once lived. For Jesus to include the men who Jonah converted means he and his listeners considered the book of Jonah to be about real events and real people and not an allegory. (The Bible does include allegory but no one book is entirely allegorical!)

Josephus (Antiquities Book 9 chapter 10) repeats the story of Jonah, also not as an allegory but as history (or alleged history).

The Funk & Wagnalls quote shows that Assyria had struggles over kingship, and governors often acted for the king. The Jonah setting is a period of decline (early 8th century B C) when such problems may have been frequent. Until we get a week by week chronicle of Nineveh the possibility remains that the "king of Nineveh" during Jonah's visit was not the same as the "king of Assyria". (In my view, however, the phrase "king of Nineveh" simply tells us where the King of Assyria lived at the time.)

I don't "presume" Nineveh was even greater at the time of writing." This is merely one of several interpretations of "was" in "Nineveh was a great city". The most probable explanation is that "was" is used because the entire account is in the past tense.

The 120,000 are called "adam" meaning "man" or "men" a word sometimes including women. The Bible never refers to baby girls or baby boys as "men" which Mr Kotwall wants to maintain.

His confusion arose because the 120,000 "cannot discern between their right hand and their left band". (4:11) The Bible sometimes uses right and left to represent good and evil or favour and disfavour. Jonah lacked Jewish follow-up to teach the 120,000 adults and so they would have remained in a state of spiritual ignorance despite their conversion.

Mr Kotwall persists in viewing the 120,000 "men" as literal babies because the correct explanation gives a population figure for Nineveh which agrees with modern estimates. (INVESTIGATOR 37) Who of us, without going to a library, can accurately give the population of, say, 19th century Berlin, Tokyo or Glascow? For Jonah to get it right adds plausibility to the account!

I didn't claim any Bible renders "three days and three nights" as "30 hours". I cited scholars who believed about 30 hours was meant. The same words "three days and three nights" are used of Jesus' time in the tomb–late Friday afternoon to pre dawn Sunday. "Three days and three nights" is therefore not literal but idiomatic.

The account I gave in INVESTIGATOR 35 argued for the possibility that the events in Jonah happened and I presented facts and scenarios which added credibility to Jonah. Mr Kotwall might still be correct in rejecting Jonah as history but the reasons he has given are not conclusive.



B J Kotwall

(Investigator 41, 1995 March)

Anonymous feels that reviewers are not to be trusted, that Encyclopedias could contain faulty logic and scholars arc not really reliable and make "many educated guesses".

Since that is so, whom do we turn to for reliable interpretation and analysis of complex historical and Biblical matters? Also by the same logic the "scholars" quoted by Anonymous should be discounted. So what are we left with? "Educated guesses" from Anonymous and myself?

The Companion Bible was not the only commentary which I quoted for support. There were several other sources I had quoted. Moffat's, McKenzie, Asimov, Interpreter's, etc. I suppose Anonymous considers all these as also wrong, or mistaken, or using faulty logic.

Why refer to Josephus' writings? He lived in the first century and people of Jesus' time did believe Jonah to be historical. In fact many writers of 19th and early 20th century believed the same. It's only the enlightened modern scholars who have challenged this and other fundamentalist beliefs.

As regards the rest of the contents of Anonymous' last article I have adequately dealt with the items raised, in my previous submissions. Further comments would result in somewhat of a rehash of what I already stated.

The article in Investigator No.40 on Fundamentalism by Dr Potter is excellent and also relevant.




(Investigator 42, 1995 May)

Referring to our debate on "Jonah" Mr Kotwall states: "Anonymous feels…Encyclopedias could contain faulty logic and scholars are not really reliable."

I certainly did not imply so general a principle. In several specific instances where authorities were wrong I explained why and how.

In every discipline scholars make "educated guesses" in areas where there is still controversy – and may then be refuted by others. This is not limited to theology.

Mr Kotwall asks: "Why refer to Josephus' writings?" The reason was to show that ancient Jews viewed Jonah as describing events which supposedly happened. The book of Jonah itself indicates it's not an allegory, but intended as factual, which I pointed out in INVESTIGATOR 35.

My investigation was in two steps. Firstly I asked whether Jonah was presented as history. The answer was "Yes" and so the 2nd step was to examine whether the events could have happened.

I showed that "the events are not wholly impossible." (No. 35 p. 30)

Doubtless more evidence will come to hand in future. Mr Kotwall is aware of some of my other investigations where Bible statements believed wrong were proven right in the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s.



B J Kotwall

(Investigator 43, 1995 July)

I refer to Anonymous' letter in INVESTIGATOR No. 42.

It appears that Anonymous maintains that scholars and encyclopedias could contain faulty logic and could be wrong but nevertheless he quotes them freely. Apparently those references quoted by him have to be taken as reliable whereas those quoted by me would have to be wrong!

I agree that so-called "educated guesses" are often resorted to when a controversy exists. I have maintained that there is no real controversy existing among modern-day reliable and informed scholars about "Jonah" being fictional. There is near unanimity on it.

Josephus made very useful contributions as a historian, but his works also contain many errors. (The Unauthorized Version, Robin Lane Fox, 1991) I have already stated in my previous submission why it was inappropriate to use Josephus as a reference in this subject.

My investigations indicate that Jonah was not history and as such the events related in Jonah could not have happened. This was fully discussed by me in previous copies of INVESTIGATOR. Anonymous' research indicated to the contrary to him. It is for the readers of this magazine to decide which arguments appear more plausible.

Finally, to depend upon and hope for yet undiscovered evidence to support or bolster a theory is not good exegesis!




(Investigator 43, 1995 July)

When I quoted scholars of one persuasion rather than another I gave extra reasons for my choice. I did not merely ask that: "references quoted by him have to be taken as reliable whereas those quoted by me have to be wrong."

A further distinction when quoting a reference is whether the quote refers to something objective which others can check empirically or whether the quote is the scholar's opinion and cannot be independently confirmed. In a controversial question it is not enough to merely quote someone who shares your prejudice.

Is there "near unanimity" that Jonah is fictional? Perhaps among "liberal" scholars seeking to "demythologize" the Bible. However, there is also "near unanimity" of Jonah's accuracy among thousands of religious ministers who have university or seminary degrees and so are also "scholars". A controversial question is not, however, settled by taking a census of opinion!

Why Josephus should be wrong in stating what Jews of his time believed is for Mr Kotwall to explain. If there are reasons for concluding that all 1st century Jews thought the Jonah book allegorical we should be given those reasons.

I have shown that Jonah was intended as history to illustrate moral lessons. And if the presentation of real events was intended then the obvious question is: "Were the events indeed real; did they happen?"

I argued (in INVESTIGATOR 35) that Jonah includes enough scientific and historical accuracy to admit the possibility that the events happened. I repeat the "possibility". It's Mr Kotwall who seeks certainty but fails to give that certain evidence. For example, his attempt to undermine the credibility of Jonah by questioning the population figure of Nineveh failed totally. (INVESTIGATOR 40)

Finally, I invite Mr Kotwall to read my article: "Investigating Scientifically, whether God Tells Lies" in INVESTIGATOR 31.



B J Kotwall

(Investigator 45, 1995 November)

I would rather depend upon renowned and reliable scholarship than suppositions and guesses from Anonymous. To me "if' and "maybe" and "probably" and "usually" are not enough to accept the premises of Anonymous.

If some theory flies in the face of reason, logic and common sense, then I would not entertain it. I do not consider it sacrilegious to say that the Bible does contain myths, fictional accounts, as well as facts and eternal truths.

Obviously, there is expected to be unanimity among "thousands" of ministers, who hold degrees from seminaries, on Jonah being factual and other fundamentalist beliefs, because if the ministers did not uphold the fundamentalist opinions of such parochial seminaries, they would not probably get their "degrees"! Such degrees are not worth the paper they are printed upon. I have known such ministers who hold D.D.s but could not read a word of Hebrews or Greek, but nevertheless revelled in their own tendentiousness!

I will, though, sit up and listen to distinguished scholars who possess qualifications from accredited universities, who are or were appointed lecturers and professors at such universities, who have significantly published articles and books in the field through renowned periodicals and publishing houses, and who are acknowledged, without reservation, as authorities in their area of expertise. These are the scholars who have been referred to by me in my articles on Jonah.

I really cannot understand why Anonymous wants me to give reasons why I have concluded that Josephus was wrong in stating what Jews of his time believed, or why I maintained that Jews of the first century thought Jonah was allegorical. Because I never said so! In fact I stated something quite to the contrary. I said that, "He (Josephus) lived in the first century and people of Jesus' time did believe Jonah to be historical!" (INVESTIGATOR No. 41 p. 15)

Anonymous boasts that my arguments (which I had supported by quoting renowned scholars whom he casually dismisses as "as series of mistaken authorities") – relating to the population figure of Nineveh – have totally failed! Even if he says so himself! I had explained that because of the Hebraism in Jonah 4:11, the word Adam in Hebrew could be taken to mean children here. In fact Anonymous admits that "usually Adam excludes Children" (INVESTIGATOR No. 37), which apparently leaves room for children to be included when the word "adam" is used:

"Adam is used widely throughout the Old Testament for ‘human kind' or ‘human being'." (The Anchor Bible Dictionary p. 62 Vol. I)

It is not simply a matter of literal translation of the Bible verse but involves an interpretation based on knowledge of the Biblical Hebrew language, its figures of speech and idioms. (cf. Biblical Figures of Speech – Bullinger.)





(Investigator 45, 1995 November)

When taking sides in a controversial issue it's not enough to quote "renowned scholarship", reject contrary evidence and assume the case is closed.

It's easy to quote top astronomers who believe alien civilizations exist and easy to quote the opposite. If you take sides, don't just give the quote according to your bias, but give reason for your choice!

In INVESTIGATOR 40 p. 50 I wrote: "When anyone supplies information which a scholar did not consider when giving an opinion then the new information should be considered and scholarly opinion set aside if necessary."

I also distinguished references stating objective things which others can check empirically from references which state a scholar's opinion and cannot be independently confirmed. (No. 43 p. 5)

Any person who ignores these self-evident guidelines and instead claims a vague ability to judge relative values of academic degrees or which scholarship is "reliable scholarship" should give proof of such ability. Even if he could judge the value of academic degrees the use a person puts his degree to is something else again. Neither degrees, qualifications or experience assure accuracy when evidence is inconclusive. In INVESTIGATOR 28 the Bible plus myself were shown correct on the question of whether the crocodile has a tongue and a curator of reptiles, and a crocodile hunter and various authors were all wrong!

The question of Jonah and the "fish" is more complicated. I gave a reasoned case in INVESTIGATOR 35, based on evidence, and did not rely solely on quoting opinion of believers. My conclusion was: "The events are not wholly impossible." (p. 30)

In vast numbers of issues and questions that's all we can establish–a possibility or probability. We can't change the possibility to certainty by citing a scholarly opinion any more than we can predict roulette results by watching where the world's top mathematician places his bets.

Some critics argue for Jonah as "myth"by claiming Jonah got wrong the population figure for Nineveh. I'll go through this question again, keeping in mind the guidelines above.

Jonah 4:11 mentions 120,000 "adam" in Nineveh. A few scholars say these 120,000 mean children or infants which implies a total population of about 1 million. This is vastly higher than estimates made by modern researchers of Nineveh's population.

I checked the translation of "adam" of Jonah 4:11 in 16 Bible translations giving:

people 3                     men 1
persons 7                   children 1
human beings 3         infants 1

Which is right and reliable and why?

The Old Testament has the word "adam" in the Hebrew about 600 times. It's easy to get all 600 from the Englishman's Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance. "Adam" nearly always refers to adult males but may sometimes include females. I found no example of "adam" referring to infants or even including them.

Note, I'm not just citing majority "scholarship" (14 Bibles against 2) but giving extra reasons!

In Jonah 4:11 "adam" probably includes women. My reasons for concluding this are:

a) The word "adam" also occurs in Jonah 3:3-10 and there the king commands every "adam" to repent and "turn from his evil way." It's not males alone who are evil.

b) If men only were meant there are alternative Hebrew words such as "ish" = man/men/husband. "Ish" occurs about 1,000 times in the Old Testament.

c) Another word "enosh" which means "mortal" or "mortal man" occurs about 500 times. It also mostly refers to male adults but may include women.

"Enosh" occurs in Jonah 1:10, 13, 16; 3:5. In 3:5 enosh refers to people who "believed God". This would not have been males alone. In other words Jonah is concerned with adults, male & female, who repented and believed.

The few "scholars" who disagree do so because the 120,000 "cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand." (4:11)

Take this literally and it means infants.

However, the Bible sometimes uses left and right to represent evil and good or disfavour and favour. In Jonah 4:11 this figure of speech would describe the spiritual ignorance and vulnerability of the 120,000 new believers.

Citing a few "scholars" who made the mistake of taking a vivid figure of speech literally is an inadequate response to the preceding evidence.

In English we don't usually call children "persons" or include them among "persons". We can, but it is not usual. On this basis it's possible that the seven translators who translated "adam" as persons agree with my analysis that adults, male and female, are meant!

The ratio of children to adults in Assyria has been put at 5:8. (Garner G C September 1976 Buried History Volume 12 No. 3 pp. 109-141)

Assuming males and females were equal in number the different translations of "adam" give the following population estimates for Nineveh:

people 120,000
persons/adults 195,000
human beings 120,000
men 390,000
children/infants 312,000


For example, if the translation says 120,000 "men", we'd double this to include women then multiply by 13/8 to get the total population of 390,000.

From my analysis that "adam" in Jonah 4 means adults – males and females – we calculate 195,000.


  Felix Jones surveyed the walls of Nineveh in 1834. The inner circumference was 12 km within which, he believed, 175,000 people could have lived.

35 km south of Nineveh was Nimrud (=Calah). Nimrud was half the area of Nineveh–358 vs 750 hectares. It's ancient population has been estimated at 63,000 adults and 40,000 children = 103,000. (Garner 1976 p.125)

A British expedition in 1949 led by M E L Mallowan estimated Nimrud's populaton, including children, at 86,000. (Lloyd, S 1984 The Archaeology of Mesopotamia Thames & Hudson Britain pp. 213-214)

Double these estimates to allow for Nineveh being about twice the size and we have very good agreement with the 195,000 for Nineveh calculated from using the most reasonable interpretation of "adam" in the book of Jonah.

Who of us can accurately give the population of 18th century Baghdad, Berlin or Bombay? For Jonah to get the figure correct for Nineveh provokes thought and adds credibility to the book.

The close population fit is only one evidence. In INVESTIGATOR 35 there is much more.

However, I have not proven the story true but showed that: "The events are not wholly impossible." (No. 35 p. 30)

To overcome the evidence for the "possibility" critics need to do better than quote opinions even the opinions of a few scholars.



(Investigator 46, 1996 January)

The long-running comment on Jonah and the fish missed the following quote:

"Some sharks also have a curious digestive system which allows them to store food for long periods in their stomachs without breaking it down. One tiger shark kept two intact dolphins in its stomach for over a month. Sharks can also regurgitate the entire contents of their stomachs at will."
(Sharks Silent Hunters of the Deep 1995 Introduction by Ron & Valerie Taylor Readers Digest Australia Pty Ltd)

It should be noted that the 2 dolphins were dead. Even if a human survived being swallowed he'd still have the problem of lack of air to breathe.

Eight years after the debate between Anonymous and Kotwall concluded another writer, Ken DeMyer, reopened the topic:



Ken DeMyer

(Investigator 94, 2004 January)

As your know I am a ANONYMOUS fan. I did find something questionable in his Jonah piece which overall at first appearances seems excellent. It seems as if the James Bartley account given in his piece may have been a hoax. Below are the supporting links for the hoax theory regarding James Bartley which seems to have some merit:

Thanks for putting more ANONYMOUS pieces on your website and tell him I find them to be faith building and well written. If ANONYMOUS could revise the Jonah piece on the website should he feel the one criticism to be valid it would be much appreciated as I would like to pass his info on so it could be widely distributed like I did with the hyrax piece.



(Investigator 95, 2004 March)

I was suspicious of the James Bartley,  "modern Jonah", story when I used it in the Jonah debate commencing in Investigator 35.

My oldest reference to Bartley was A Dictionary of the Bible (1902) and that reference cited a German church magazine of 1895! Investigator published the Dictionary extract with my comment – "Observe the strange original reference…" but this is omitted in the website version of the Jonah debate.

I had no means of checking the Bartley story further, but did see it in non-religious publications, and therefore used it.

There are other stories of people swallowed by a whale or shark and surviving. My initial Jonah article cited Australasian Post (December 3, 1988) regarding a man lost overboard from a harpoon boat of the whaler Essex in 1820 and retrieved from a whale's stomach after two hours. Such stories are less detailed than the Bartley story and therefore probably dubious.

The most detailed discussion and apparent refutation of James Bartley is by Edward B Davis at:

Although it's useful to be able to point to a "modern Jonah" when discussing the Biblical Jonah it's better to desist for the present.

The origin and effects of lies and liars is actually a theme in the Bible – from the first lie in Genesis 3 to the punishment of all liars in Revelation 21:8. What's wrong with lies is the harm they do. If James Bartley, for example, was a hoax then millions of people wasted their time over it and anyone who thinks the Bible is unreliable may feel he has added reason to think that way.



Ken DeMyer

(Investigator 96, 2004 May)

Anonymous was a good starting point in my investigation on Jonah and I borrowed liberally to compose my own essay.

I did find another portion suspect (like the James Bartley account):

The 24 page booklet The First Jaws by Chick Publication tells of a British sailor swallowed by a "gigantic Rhinodon shark" in the English Channel "in the early 1800s" and being cut out 48 hours later.

Here is a site which states why the above material is suspect:

I discuss hoaxes in my essay and the miraculous. I do not dismiss a whole area of study because of hoaxes. Hoaxes have happened on both sides of the materialist/Christian fence – for example the Piltdown man. I do lean, however, on the survival of Jonah being miraculous but I investigate naturalistic explanations in my essay.

I have published my essay on the web: