The Historicity of Jonah Examined

Sam Shamoun

The following is my response to some charges presented against the historical accuracy of the book of Jonah. It is indeed unfortunate that there are some who profess to believe in the Lord Jesus while attacking the accuracy of the Old Testament. The reason why this is unfortunate will become apparent as we develop our arguments against the false accusations against the book of Jonah.

All names will be omitted in order to protect the parties' identities. According to one gentleman Jonah is wrong because:

(Name omitted) et. al.,

To add to your skepticism, let me remind you that it's impossible for a whale to swim to Nineveh's shores and throw up Yonan. As far as I know, there are no seas around Nineveh!


Indeed, the accusation is a valid one if in fact the book claimed that Jonah was thrown on the land of Ninevah. Seeing that this is not what the book of Jonah claims, the problem is therefore with the objector's misreading of the text. This is what the text actually says:

"And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land." Jonah 2:10

Notice that the text does not say where Jonah landed. In fact, when one reads what immediately follows it is clear that the fish did not vomit Jonah anywhere near Nineveh:

"Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: 'Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.' Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city - a visit required three days." Jonah 3:1-3

This clearly implies that Jonah had not been vomited on the land of Nineveh since had he been there would have been no reason for God to recall him to Nineveh. Jonah would have realized that the reason why the great fish vomited him on the land of Nineveh was to preach the message God had given him for the people. The fact that the text states that the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time clearly implies that after coming out from the fish's belly, a period of time had elapsed before God recalled him. Presumably, Jonah returned to Israel from the place where the fish had vomited him.

Jonah 1:3 supports this interpretation. There, the prophet is said to have taken a ship headed towards Tarshish. Some scholars believe that Tarshish is actually a place in Spain called Tartessus. As the Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, Volume 1, Old Testament, indicates:

3. Apparently "Tarshish" comes from a Semitic root meaning "to smelt"; since there were a number of places with this name on the Mediterranean coast, probably Tartessus in Spain is intended... (Ibid. [Zondervan Publishing House; Grand Rapids MI, 1994], p. 1461)

Therefore, Jonah could have been vomited anywhere near the Mediterranean.

Hence, there is no problem with the text of Jonah. Rather, the problem stems from the objector's ignorance of what the Scripture actually says, choosing to insert his own words into the book and forcing it to contradict.

The objector continues:

This is just another story from the Old Testament, whose God is a pretty unforgiving fellow. Read what he commanded "his people" to do for him sometime. It becomes pretty clear that the ancient Hebrews, from whom the Old Testament came from, used their version of God to justify the takeover of the land of others, mostly by massacre. No different than other peoples who have done the same throughout history. In other words, the "chosen people" are no better than others who massacred in the name of God.


This again demonstrates an ignorance of the text of the Holy Bible. The reason why God wiped out whole nations is due to the abominations that these nations committed:

"After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, 'The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.' No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you." Deuteronomy 9:4

Some of the wickedness of these nations included the following:

"The LORD said to Moses, 'Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'I am the LORD your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the LORD your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD. No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the LORD. Do not dishonor your father by having sexual relations with your mother. She is your mother; do not have relations with her. Do not have sexual relations with your father's wife; that would dishonor your father. Do not have sexual relations with your sister, either your father's daughter or your mother's daughter, whether she was born in the same home or elsewhere. Do not have sexual relations with your son's daughter or your daughter's daughter; that would dishonor you. Do not have sexual relations with the daughter of your father's wife, born to your father; she is your sister. Do not have sexual relations with your father's sister; she is your father's close relative. Do not have sexual relations with your mother's sister, because she is your mother's close relative. Do not dishonor your father's brother by approaching his wife to have sexual relations; she is your aunt. Do not have sexual relations with your daughter-in-law. She is your son's wife; do not have relations with her. Do not have sexual relations with your brother's wife; that would dishonor your brother. Do not have sexual relations with both a woman and her daughter. Do not have sexual relations with either her son's daughter or her daughter's daughter; they are her close relatives. That is wickedness. Do not take your wife's sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living. Do not approach a woman to have sexual relations during the uncleanness of her monthly period. Do not have sexual relations with your neighbor's wife and defile yourself with her. Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD. Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable. Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion. Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you. Everyone who does any of these detestable things - such persons must be cut off from their people. Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the LORD your God."'" Leviticus 18:1-30

This is called justice, not bloody massacres. In fact, the Holy Bible affirms that God patiently waited for these nations to come into repentance, even giving them a certain period of time before entering into judgment against them:

"As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the LORD said to him, 'Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.'" Genesis 15:12-16

Speaking of the very people Israel was to later displace in the land of Canaan, God clearly specifies a certain limit to the sin that the Amorites would be allowed to commit. This demonstrates clearly that God in his mercy grants time for repentance. Yet, God's justice demands that nations be punished for committing abominable acts.

Furthermore, the same God that gave the land to Israel also distributed lands to other nations, lands that Israel was forbidden to take:

"Then we turned back and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea, as the LORD had directed me. For a long time we made our way around the hill country of Seir. Then the LORD said to me, 'You have made your way around this hill country long enough; now turn north. Give the people these orders: "You are about to pass through the territory of your brothers the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. They will be afraid of you, but be very careful. Do not provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land, not even enough to put your foot on. I have given Esau the hill country of Seir as his own. You are to pay them in silver for the food you eat and the water you drink."'" Deuteronomy 2:1-6

"Then the LORD said to me, 'Do not harass the Moabites or provoke them to war, for I will not give you any part of their land. I have given Ar to the descendants of Lot as a possession.' (The Emites used to live there - a people strong and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites. Like the Anakites, they too were considered Rephaites, but the Mooabites called them Emites. Horites used to live in Seir, but the descendants of Esau drove them out. They destroyed the Horites from before them and settled in their place, just as Israel did in the land the LORD gave them as their possession.)" Deuteronomy 2:9-12

"Now when the last of these fighting men among the people had died, the LORD said to me, 'Today you are to pass by the region of Moab at Ar. When you come to the Ammonites, do not harass them or provoke them to war, for I will not give you possession of any land belonging to the Ammonites. I have given it as a possession to the descendants of Lot.' (That too was considered a land of the Rephaites, who used to live there; but the Ammonites called them Zamzummites. They were a people strong and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites. The LORD destroyed them from before the Ammonites, who drove them out and settled in their place. The LORD had done the same for the descendants of Esau, who lived in Seir, when he destroyed the Horites from before them. They drove them out and have lived in their place to this day." Deuteronomy 2:16-22

"‘Are not you Israelites THE SAME TO ME as the Cushites?’ declares the LORD. ‘Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?’" Amos 9:7

This demonstrates God's concern for other nations, highlighting his impartiality and care for humanity as a whole, as these passages show:

"For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, AND LOVES THE ALIEN, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt." Deuteronomy 10:17-19

"In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The LORD Almighty will bless them, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt MY PEOPLE, Assyria MY HANDIWORK, and Israel MY INHERITANCE.’" Isaiah 19:23-25

Thirdly, God gave Israel strict orders not to chase after other nations and wipe them out. Rather, Israel was to first negotiate peaceably with them:

"When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the LORD your God gives you from your enemies. This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby. However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them-the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites - as the LORD your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God. When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees of the field people, that you should besiege them? However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls. Deuteronomy 20:10-20

Finally, it is amazing that the objector could make such assertions seeing that the entire theme of Jonah is God's love for all nations, not just Israel. In fact, it was Jonah who was angry that God spared Nineveh. Notice the exchange between God and his disenchanted prophet:

"When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, 'O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.' But the LORD replied, 'Have you any right to be angry?' Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, 'It would be better for me to die than to live.' But God said to Jonah, 'Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?' 'I do,' he said. 'I am angry enough to die.' But the LORD said, 'You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?'" Jonah 3:10-4:11

The whole point of the book is to highlight that Yahweh is not a nationalistic deity. Rather, Yahweh is the God of all creation and cares for all peoples and desires none to perish. Yahweh even cares for the animals of the earth! This theme is also stated in the New Testament:

"In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, 'Stand up on your feet!" At that, the man jumped up and began to walk. When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, "The gods have come down to us in human form!' Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 'Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.'" Acts 14:8-17

How then can anyone claim that God is an "unforgiving fellow" seeing that God relented from bringing destruction upon a pagan nation due to their repentance is beyond us.

Some also try to point to additional problems with the story. For instance, it is claimed that the statement in Jonah 3:3 that it would take three days to visit Nineveh is an exaggeration. The Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary comments on the amount of days it would have taken Jonah to travel throughout Ninevah:

3 "Now Nineveh was a very large city" (NIV note) most probably is the correct reading. "An important city" does not suit the context and introduces a note of particularity into a book where universality is constantly being implied. The stress on the importance and size of Nineveh is entirely justified. Its population was at least 120,000 (4:10), while Samaria, almost certainly larger than Jerusalem, had about 30,000.

"A visit required three days" is literally "a distance of three days." This could mean that it took three days to go either across it or around it; but it certainly does not mean what the NIV rendering might be taken to imply, that it would take three days to visit every part of it. Modern archaeology has shown that the inner wall had a length of almost eight miles. (Ibid., pp. 1463-64)

The NIV Study Bible's footnote on Jonah 3:3 states:

3:3 ... very important city. See 4:11, which says the city had 120,000 inhabitants. Archaeological excavations indicate that the later imperial city of Nineveh was about eight miles around. The fact, however, that 'a visit required three days' may suggest a larger area, such as the four-city complex of Nineveh, Rehoboth, Ir, Calah and Resen mentioned in Ge 10:11-12. Greater Nineveh covered an area of some 60 miles in circumference. On the other hand, 'three days' may have been a conventional way of describing a medium-legth distance (see Ge 30:36; Ex 3:18; Jos 9:16-17). Bold emphasis ours.

Christian Apologists Norman Geisler & Thomas Howe add:

"... There have been several proposals to explain this observation by Jonah. Some commentators propose that Jonah is commenting on the circumference of the city. A city of 50 miles in circumference would be about 16 miles in diameter. This size more nearly fits the estimated population of about 600,000 people in this major ancient city.

Other commentators propose that Jonah is not claiming that it would take three days to walk straight through the city. Rather, Jonah observed that it would take three days to go through all the various areas in the entire city. Those who hold this position point out that Jonah went to Nineveh in order to proclaim the message of judgment to the people. This would require him to go to every part of the city, not simply to walk through the middle from one side to the other. This also fits the statement of verse 4 in which Jonah enters the city and, in the first day's walk, proclaimed the message as he went along." (When Critic's Ask - A Popular Handbook On Bible Difficulties [Victor Books 1992], p. 308)

Another argument is that there could not have been 120,000 young children living in Nineveh as Jonah 4:11 mistakenly claims. Such a number is too high for the estimated population of Nineveh at the time. Again, the Zondervan NIV Commentary notes:

11 The meaning of "more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left" is difficult. It could refer either to the whole population of Ninevah or to the small children who do not yet know their right hand from their left. The former has been support by archaeological considerations, which set the maximum population of Nineveh at 175,000 or less. Thus, if only children were intended, far too high a total population would be involved - even if "Greater Ninevah" (cf. 3:2-3) is included. (Ibid., p. 1466; bold emphasis ours)

That the phrase "children" is referring to the entire population of Nineveh, and not just to the children, can be seen from the fact that the entire nation of Israel is spoken of as young children carried by God in the same way that a father carries his young:

"Then I said to you, 'Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the desert. There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.'" Deuteronomy 1:29-31

"For the LORD's portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance. In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions." Deuteronomy 32:9-11

"You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth. The LORD saw this and rejected them because he was angered by his sons and daughters." Deuteronomy 32:18-19

"Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you." Isaiah 46:3-4

"'Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. But Zion said, 'The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.' Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. Your sons hasten back, and those who laid you waste depart from you. Lift up your eyes and look around; all your sons gather and come to you. As surely as I live,' declares the LORD, 'you will wear them all as ornaments; you will put them on, like a bride. Though you were ruined and made desolate and your land laid waste, now you will be too small for your people, and those who devoured you will be far away. The children born during your bereavement will yet say in your hearing, "This place is too small for us; give us more space to live in." Then you will say in your heart, "Who bore me these? I was bereaved and barren; I was exiled and rejected. Who brought these up? I was left all alone, but these - where have they come from?"' This is what the Sovereign LORD says: 'See, I will beckon to the Gentiles, I will lift up my banner to the peoples; they will bring your sons in their arms and carry your daughters on their shoulders. Kings will be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers. They will bow down before you with their faces to the ground; they will lick the dust at your feet. Then you will know that I am the LORD; those who hope in me will not be disappointed.'" Isaiah 49:13-23

In light of the preceding factors and plausible explanations, we find that there are no real historical objections to the book of Jonah. The burden of proof rests upon the one claiming that actual contradictions do exist. One must demonstrate a real bonafide error. It is not enough to assert that there are problems or apparent contradictions seeing that these alleged problems are easily resolved by a careful reading of the context.

Another objector was rather verbose about the story of the fish swallowing Jonah. We include the email in its entirety since it is relevant to our discussion:

(Name withheld) wrote:

You how much I love you Bro !!! But, this is ridiculous. Now, let me get this steight....Jonah was a Jewish man who tried God and did not follow his orders? So, he made his get-away on a ship.

This ship was bound for the Hawaiian Islands ( were there hot babes on board ?? ) when all of a sudden the sea turned violent. Everyone decided it was Jonah's fault and threw him over board. Here's were the weirdo fish comes in the picture......this fish was obviously hungry. Now the fish swallows Jonah. Jonah is in it's stomach for three days?? And then the fish had an upset stomach, so, Jonah was barft-out again?? I don't know about you guys, but, I don't know of too many fish that get upset stomachs. If the this fish had an upset stomach, then why didn't it go to Walgreen's and buy some Pepto-Bizmo??


Implicit in the objector's sarcasm is a denial of the supernatural, that to even imagine that a fish would actually swallow a man only to barf him out on dry land is utterly foolish. Yet, if one reads the text carefully one discovers that this act was caused by God's intervention:

But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights. Jonah 1:17

And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. Jonah 2:10

The point of the story is to demonstrate God's sovereign control over all creation, including the seas and animals. In fact, the irony of the story is that whereas the fish knew to obey God's command Jonah, a rational agent, did not obey God but thought that he could run from his Creator!

Therefore, if one begins with the assumption that a Sovereign, Almighty and All-knowing God exists then one should have no problem that this all-powerful Being can intervene within time and space and override the very natural laws that he himself instituted. Seeing that the objector later in his email claims to believe in the Lord Jesus we really cannot understand how he could therefore object to this miraculous intervention of God.

The objector continues:

I don't know, I guess that will remain a mystery for now. Anyway, getting back to this interesting story. So, after Jonah makes his way out of the stomach and esophagus of this fish's digestive system, he is instructed by God again to go to Nineveh to condemn it's inhabitance?? Can you imagine a Jewish man walking into Nineveh and telling those guys what to do?? They would skin his Jewish ass alive like they did his Kings. Why is God picking on this poor man?? Why didn't God just pick another guy to do this??


Aside from the very rude and offensive snide remarks, let us see the reason behind the inhabitants of Nineveh believing the message of this foreign prophet:

"Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, 'Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.' He answered, 'A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. Matthew 12:38-41

"As the crowds increased, Jesus said, 'This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except THE SIGN OF JONAH. For as Jonah WAS A SIGN to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.'" Luke 11:29-32

In the preceding passages Jesus affirms:

Noted Christian Apologist John Gilchrist expounds:

The other great event was the total repentance of the whole city, from its king to all its slaves, when they heard the ominous warning. Jonah, surprisingly, was angry when he saw the people turn from their sins for he knew that God was merciful and would probably spare the city. As a patriotic Hebrew he had hoped for its overthrow for it was the main city of Assyria and a constant threat to the people of Israel. In the heat of the day he went up a mound hoping to see its demise, and God caused a gourd (a large plant) to grow up and give him shelter. The next day, however, God appointed a worm to consume its stem and thus cause it to wither. Jonah was very upset about this but God said to him:

"You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night, and perished in a night. And should not I 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, and also much cattle?" Jonah 4.10-11

The second great event in this story, that is, the repentance of the whole city of Nineveh, was all the more remarkable when one considers that the Assyrians neither knew nor feared God and had no obvious reason why they should heed the word and warning which Jonah brought. There was no sign that the city would be destroyed in forty days as Jonah warned as life was just going on normally from day to day without any suggestion from the weather or the elements that any danger was near.

No thunderclouds formed over the city as had happened at the time of Noah when the great flood burst on the earth. Nineveh was a mighty city and was in no way under any military threat. All that the city heard was the solitary voice of a Jewish prophet who came proclaiming: "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown" (Jonah 3.4).

We often see cartoons of bearded old men carrying placards "the world ends tonight" and such men are always a source of amusement when they appear on the streets with such messages. Indeed the Ninevites might have considered that Jonah was just one of these religious freaks and while being amused at his apparent earnestness, they might have become somewhat indignant at the content of his warning.

When the Apostle Paul went to the city of Athens he was met with such a reception. In response to his preaching some said "What would this babbler say"? (Acts 17.18). The people of Nineveh listening to the Hebrew prophet Jonah might well have mused as the Athenians did about the Apostle Paul, "He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities" (Acts 17.18). We discover, however, that:

The people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. Jonah 3.5

From the throne of the king down to the least of the common folk the hundreds of thousands of Ninevites took Jonah in all seriousness, repented in great earnest, and desperately sought to remove the imminent judgment from their city. Jonah in no way endeavoured to persuade them of the truth of his short, simple warning - he just proclaimed it as a matter of fact. He also gave them no assurance that God would spare the city if they repented. It was, on the contrary, his wish and expectation that the city would be destroyed in terms of God's warning whether the Ninevites took him seriously or not.

Why then did the whole city repent and do so in the hope that God would not cause them to perish? (Jonah 3.9). Jewish historians were fascinated by this story and concluded that the only possible explanation was that the Ninevites knew that Jonah had been swallowed up by a fish as God's judgment on his disobedience, and also knew that while he would normally die in such circumstances, God in mercy kept him alive and delivered him from the stomach of the fish on the third day. This alone could explain the seriousness with which they listened to Jonah and their hope of mercy if they repented.

The Jewish historians concluded that the Ninevites reasoned that if God treats his beloved prophets so severely when they disobey him, what could they expect when the city was in the gall of bitterness against him and in the bond of iniquity and sin?

The reasoning of the Jews was correct. Jesus confirmed that Nineveh's repentance came about as a result of their full knowledge of Jonah's ordeal of the preceding days. He made this quite plain when he said:

"Jonah became a sign to the men of Nineveh". Luke 11.30

In saying this Jesus put the seal of authenticity on the story of Jonah's ordeal and Nineveh's repentance and confirmed that it was historically true. At the same time he also gave credence to the theory that the people of Nineveh had heard of Jonah's ordeal and remarkable deliverance and as a result of this took his message in all seriousness, hoping for a similar deliverance in turning from their wickedness in repentance before God. By saying that Jonah had become a sign to the men of Nineveh he made it plain that the city knew of the recent history of God's dealing with the rebellious Jewish prophet. This explained the earnestness with which the Ninevites repented before God.

It was not Jesus' intention merely to confirm Jewish speculations, however. He wished to show that what had happened at the time of Jonah and its sequel was applicable to the people of Israel in his own generation and that a similar sign was about to be given which would likewise lead to the redemption of those who received it and the destruction of all those who did not. (Gilchrist, What Indeed was the Sign of Jonah? [Jesus to the Muslims, PO Box 1804, Benoni, 1500 Republic of South Africa], pp. 11-14)

We observe that

Therefore, for anyone claiming to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and his resurrection must also by necessity believe in Jonah and the story of the fish. To deny one is to deny the other.

The objector continues:

I don't know. I believe in God and Jesus our Lord and the Virgin Mary and all the Saints, but, this is really pushing it !! I mean, when the time comes for me to get married and, God willing, have am I going to tell them this story. They're going to think their dad is smoking CRACK!! Anyway, I hope I didn't offend anyone, I'm just having a little fun with this story. I know some of the people on this email list are religious, I guess. Oh, and what's up with these dreams that are supposed to come true during these three days. I hear stories, from chicks usually, like "I had a dream about some man that came to my door and hand me a flower, I think this is the year I'll get married". What hell kind of bullshit is that??


The objector claims to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet he then proceeds to mock anyone who affirms the historicity of the book of Jonah, going so far as to say that a child who believes in the story of Jonah might accuse his father of being hooked on crack. This means that, God forbid, Jesus must have been hooked on crack also since he clearly affirms the story of Jonah as actual history. The fact that the Lord Jesus left the tomb empty on the third basically means we can take Jesus at his word. We know of no one else who rose from the dead on the third day as a vindication of his claims of being the eternal Son of God who came down from heaven. Until someone else is able to come back alive from the dead, we will put our money on Jesus and say that the only ones on crack are those who indirectly accuse Jesus of being a liar for claiming that the story of Jonah is actual history.

Geisler and Howe nicely summarize the evidence that establishes the historicity of Jonah:

"... There is good evidence that the events recorded in the Book of Jonah are literal historical events that took place in the life of the prophet Jonah.

First, the tendency to deny the historicity of Jonah stems from an antisupernatural bias. If miracles are possible, there is no real reason to deny that Jonah is historical.

Second, Jonah and his prophetic ministry is mentioned in the historical book of 2 Kings (14:25). If his supernatural prediction is mentioned in a historical book, why should the historical nature of his prophetical book be rejected!

Third, the most devastating argument against the denial of the historical accuracy of Jonah is found in Matthew 12:40. In this passage Jesus predicts His own burial and resurrection, and provides the doubting scribes and Pharisees the sign that they demanded. The sign is the experience of Jonah. Jesus says, "For as Jonah was three days and three night in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." If the tale of Jonah's experience in the belly of the great fish was only fiction, then this provided no prophetic support for Jesus' claim. The point of making reference to Jonah is that if they did not believe the story of Jonah being in the belly of the fish, then they would not believe the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. As far as Jesus was concerned, the historical fact of His own death, burial and resurrection was on the same historical ground as Jonah in the belly of the fish. To reject one was to cast doubt on the other (cf. John 3:12). Likewise, if they believed one, they should believe the other.

Fourth, Jesus went on to mention the significant historical detail. His own death, burial, and resurrection was the supreme sign verified His claims. When Jonah preached to the unbelieving Gentiles, they repented. But, here Jesus was in the presence of His own people, the very people of God, and yet they refused to believe. Therefore, the men of Nineveh would stand up in judgment against them, "because they [the men of Nineveh] repented at the preaching of Jonah" (Matt. 12:41). If the events of the Book of Jonah were merely parable or fiction, and not literal history, then the men of Nineveh did not really repent, and any judgment upon the unrepentant Pharisees would be unjust and unfair. Because of the testimony of Jesus, we can be sure that Jonah records literal history.

Finally, there is archaeological confirmation of a prophet named Jonah whose grave is found in northern Israel. In addition, some ancient coins have been unearthed with an inscription of a man coming out of a fish's mouth." (Geisler & Howe, pp. 307-308)

In light of all that has been said, we proudly take our stand on the side of the archaeological evidence as well as the testimony of our Lord Jesus Christ and affirm that Jonah is in fact true history. Those who clam otherwise will have to give an answer to our Lord Jesus on the day he returns to judge both the living and the dead.

In the service of our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ forever. Amen. Come Lord Jesus. We love you and believe in every word you have spoken. We know that you being God can never lie, but always speak the truth.

"Jesus answered him, 'I am the Way, THE TRUTH, and the Life. No man comes to the Father except through Me.'" John 14:6

"Sanctify them by the truth; YOUR WORD IS TRUTH." John 17:17

"a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, WHO DOES NOT LIE, promised before the beginning of time," Titus 1:2

"God did this so that, by two unchangeable things IN WHICH IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR GOD TO LIE, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged." Hebrews 6:18

"and from Jesus Christ, WHO IS THE FAITHFUL WITNESS, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father-to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. Revelation 1:5-6

"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, THE FAITHFUL AND TRUE WITNESS, the ruler of God's creation." Revelation 3:14

Articles by Sam Shamoun
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