The Book of Jonah, Fact or Fiction?

Irvin Himmel
Temple Terrace, Florida

A favorite target of unfriendly critics, the little book of Jonah presents an interesting study. Infidels, rationalists, modernists, and innocent people who have been misled by the so called "higher" critics often refer to the narrative of Jonah as a myth, a fairy tale, a legend, or a piece of fiction. In a few short paragraphs I offer some reasons for concluding that the narrative of Jonah is factual.

Jonah Was a Real Person

Like all the Old Testament prophets, Jonah is introduced to the readers of his book as an historical figure, not an imaginary character. He was the son of Amittai, just as Isaiah was the son of Amoz, and Jeremiah was the son of Hilkiah, etc.

Mentioned in one of the books of Jewish history as a recognized prophet, his home was Gath-hepher, a town on the border of Zebulun (Josh. 19:13). It is recorded in 2 Kings 14:25 that Jeroboam (son of Joash) "restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Harnatb unto the sea of the plain, according to the word -of the Lord God of Israel which he spake by the hand of his servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet, which was of Gath-hepher."

If Jonah is to be viewed as an imaginary character, so are the other prophets and such kings as Jeroboam. If the prophets and kings of the Old Testament were not real people, the whole Old Testament must be mere fancy, and if the Old Testament is not historical; the New Testament certainly cannot be true. To deny that Jonah was a real, historical person is to deny the Bible in its entirety.

Places Connected With Jonah Were Real Places

The book of Jonah mentions the cities of Ninevah, Joppa, and Tarshish. No one can deny that cities by these names existed. It is an historical fact that Ninevah was a "great city," just as the book of Jonah represents it. Joppa, situated on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, was a place where one could board a ship, just as the book portrays that Jonah did. It is a well known fact that sudden storms often arise on the Mediterranean, just as the book reports that there arose a "miglity tempest in the sea." It must be admitted by the most severe critics of Ionah that some thinas in the book are faetual.

If one admits that there is an historical element in the book, why not also admit that the whole account could be factual?

 Jesus Christ Endorsed the Great Miracle

The one thing in the book of Jonah to which the critics have objected above all else is the miracle of the prophet'3 preservation in the belly of the great fish. Th. book of Jonah makes it clear that this was a specially prepared fish: "Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights" (1: 17).

Believing in an all-powerful God who created life in its various forms, I find no difficulty in accepting this account. Would it be out of the question for the omnipotent Creator to "prepare" a fish capable of swallowing a man whole? Would it be too much for man's Creator to make special arrangements to preserve a man alive three days and nights in the belly of a specially prepared sea creature?

Here is where the real conflict arises between rationalists and true believers. The rationalist rejects everything in the Bible, which he cannot explain by human reason and natural law. But when he takes out the supernatural element, he removes the whole foundation. If the Bible is not a supernatural book, if God does not possess supernatural power, if Jesus is not a supernatural person-the Bible is a farce from beginning to end!

Jesus taught that the great object of the book of Jonah was to record a sign to the nation of Israel. When the Pharisees asked him for a sign, Jesus replied, "An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Ninevah shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching Of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here" (Matt. 12:39-41).

In these statements Jesus affirmed the historicity of the book of Jonah and explained that the prophet's experience in the great sea creature signified that Christ would be buried for the same length of time. If Jonah's preservation was not real, bow can one believe that Jesus' burial and resurrection were real? If Jesus did not actually die, and was not buried, and did not arise, he cannot be the Messiah, God's Son! If one believes in Jesus he must believe the miracle of Jonah's preservation in the great fish.

It is understandable that atheists and infidels would scoff at the book of Jonah. It is the height of inconsistency for one to profess to be a believer in Jesus and then take the position that Jonah is fiction. It is incredible that Jesus would have expected intelligent people to view a fairy tale as a sign or prophetic portrayal of one of the most important events in history.

TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 22, pp. 11-12
April 5, 1973