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No Whale; This Isn’t Moby Dick

The Jewish Day of Atonement was yesterday, and part of the tradition is to read the Book of Jonah. It’s not very long, only four chapters. For those who haven’t read it, the story goes like this: God called on Jonah to warn the people of Nineveh to atone for their sins or be destroyed. Jonah didn’t want to do it so he fled on a boat, but God made the waters rough, and all the sailors prayed to their gods to make it stop. Jonah knew he was the reason, so he told the men to throw him overboard, at which point the waters calmed.

Now, here is where it gets wrong. When I was a kid, I was taught that when Jonah went overboard, it was a whale that swallowed Jonah. But I checked bible, which shows 21 translations, and not one used the word “whale.” All used either “big fish” or “great fish.” I’ve read the Torah , and it also says “great fish.”

So, where did the whale come from? My best guess is from the Koran (Qur’an), in which Jonah is called Yunus or Dhul-Nun, meaning, “the one of the whale.” Yet Jonah appears in just one passage of the entire Muslim holy book: Chapter 10, verse 98: “Then has there not been a [single] city that believed so its faith benefited it except the people of Jonah? When they believed, We removed from them the punishment of disgrace in worldly life and gave them enjoyment for a time.”

Anyway, to continue the story, God caused the fish to vomit Jonah, so he carried God’s message to the Ninevites, and they atoned and were spared, which angered Jonah, so much so that he wanted to die. Instead, he sat outside the city, and God caused a leafy plant (also called a gourd) to provide Jonah with shade, and he was happy. But then God provided a worm that killed the plant, leaving Jonah in the sun. It got so hot that, again, Jonah wanted to die.

But God said, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”

“Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!”

Then God said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

The story ends right there. No resolution, and no whale.

Until next time! Use the right words!

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September 24, 2015 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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