I can’t believe it. (That is simultaneously stunned disbelief and a joke.)
Sure, I sang the song as a child. I had coloring books like this one:
But when I made a list of stuff to “debunk”, I thought that this one wasn’t worthy. It’s too ridiculous. Surely awareness of fish and whale biology would now be preventing parents from telling their kids that this literally happened, right? No marine animal could possibly swallow a full-grown human male and KEEP HIM ALIVE inside for 3 days, right? (Poor fishy, what a case of indigestion! Bleh!)
But just out of curiosity, I did a search (completely ignoring the 5 blog posts that are topping my to-do list – like normal), and found SO many sites saying that the story is literal (see Jonah 1-4) and even Jesus agrees! (Matthew 12:38-40)
From Learn Religions: https://www.learnreligions.com/jonah-and-the-whale-700202
“It’s not important whether it was a great fish or a whale that swallowed Jonah. The point of the story is that God can provide a supernatural means of rescue when his people are in trouble. Some scholars believe the Ninevites paid attention to Jonah because of his bizarre appearance. They speculate that the whale’s stomach acid bleached Jonah’s hair, skin, and clothing a ghostly white.”
From Jonah’s Biblical Story Was No Big Fish Tale: https://www.newsbug.info/monticello_herald_journal/lifestyle/religion/jonahs-biblical-story-was-no-big-fish-tale/article_6d6c952a-a230-538e-b206-14e6fb844701.html
“Did God create a special fish? Maybe. He created the world; He could surely create a fish for Jonah. Imagine being inside a fish for three days! Total darkness, nasty smelling whale burps, and floating in dead fish slime and gastric juices. Do you suppose Jonah swore off fish for the rest of his life?”
From Bible Study Tools: https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-stories/jonah-and-the-whale.html
“This fish was prepared, lay ready underwater close by the ship, that he might keep Jonah from sinking to the bottom, and save him alive, though he deserved to die. It was of the Lord’s mercies that Jonah was not now consumed. The fish swallowed up Jonah, not to devour him, but to protect him. Out of the eater comes forth meat; for Jonah was alive and well in the belly of the fish three days and three nights, not consumed by the heat of the animal, nor suffocated for want of air. It is granted that to nature this was impossible, but not to the God of nature, with whom all things are possible.”
And from the site that probably wins the award for the most scientifically-ignorant site on the entire internet, Answers in Genesis: https://answersingenesis.org/bible-characters/jonah-and-the-great-fish/
“Are there ‘great fish’ large enough to swallow a man whole? Of course! Keep in mind that modern animal classification systems weren’t exactly in use at the time of Jonah. Any aquatic creature could be referred to as a ‘fish’. And we know that there are whales (blue and sperm) and even sharks (great white and whale sharks) that can swallow a man whole. The sperm whale grows to a length of up to 70 feet. Its esophagus is approximately 20-inches wide and sperm whales don’t have to chew their food – so Jonah could have been swallowed whole. Two marine scientists from Sea World in San Diego hypothesize that it was a great white shark that probably swallowed Jonah.”
The few stories of sailors being swallowed by a sperm whale and surviving have been widely debunked – and are probably the creations of Pastors trying to claim that their fishy tale isn’t fishy. A pretty good article on the subject lives here: https://whatifshow.com/what-if-you-were-swallowed-by-a-whale/
Whale Shark? The esophagus of a whale shark measures only inches across. Sperm Whale? 20-inch diameter esophagus. A 20-inch male head is extremely small. (Although maybe not 3000 years ago.) Shoulders and hips are MUCH wider. A waist size of 26 inches is pretty emaciated. If there is any gas inside a whale, it’s probably methane, and that’s not going to help you out very much. Certainly, no air inside a fish, so I think that’s really what’s going to get you in the end. Great White? Did god pull out one’s teeth? Sure, there are great whites with three-foot jaw openings, but the way they eat is always to bite first. And then if a human was unfortunate enough to get sucked in by a toothless great white, there’s no air in there. Poor shark, if god pulled its teeth and blew it up with oxygen. Note the ending of “2 Marine Scientists” (no citation, obviously) . . .
Yeesh. The lengths to which fundies will go to insist that their book of absurd fairy tales is literal is astounding.
Learn Science. Study fish and whales. Seriously. Science won’t rot your brain into fish sauce.
Oh! And I forgot something. Maybe a historian or bible scholar can help me out here. God sent an Israelite prophet to NINEVAH? Why? The oldest and most-populous city of the ancient Assyrian empire, now a part of Mosul, Iraq. Not Jewish. Not a part of YHWH’s tribe at all. But god said they were evil and needed smiting. So, lets see – god decides to send a prophet to a city that does not worship him and does not house his people. He chose Jonah, who he knew would rebel, refuse, and then throw a tantrum afterward. He tortured Jonah into obedience. The Ninevites repented of whatever they were doing wrong, but did not begin to worship YHWH. And it ends with Jonah pouting because god didn’t kill the Ninevites.
Absolutely none of this story makes sense! Preachers now use this as an example of how god graciously gives his people 2nd chances, but the story is just weird, truly weird, from start to end. Is this one of those older tales that got re-worked, like the flood?