Jonah is a reluctant prophet in the Hebrew Bible and Christian Old Testament. The account of his strange life appears in The Book of Jonah, thought to be written during Israel’s exile (5th to 4th century BCE), and set in the middle of the 8th century BCE.

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According to the story, Jonah fears the consequences of disobeying God’s call to preach to the incredibly sinful city of Nineveh, so tries to escape by boat.

During his attempted escape he falls asleep and a nasty storm arises. His shipmates blame Jonah for their misfortune and decide to throw him overboard. He’s then swallowed by a whale. Eventually, the whale spits him out and he’s saved.

The story has struck the imagination of artists, writers and musicians worldwide. It’s also a popular theme for children’s books.

The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung suggests that Jonah inside the belly of the whale symbolizes the mysterious and often humbling workings of unconscious processes, particularly those of the so-called collective unconscious.

Quetzalcoatl in feathered-serpent form as depicted in the Codex Telleriano-Remensis

Loose parallels to the Jonah story can be found in South American lore, where great gods swallow up human beings whole.

The story was also reintroduced to a whole new generation with George and Ira Gershwin’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” This version by Paul Robeson happens to be my favorite!

And a slightly different take.

Oh, yes, Jonah, he lived in the whale
Yes, Jonah, he lived in the whale
Now he made his home in
That fish’s abdomen
Yes, Jonah, he lived in the whale

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