Tag: Resurrection

Jonah and the Whale

Jonah and the Whale

“Prefiguration of The Resurrection”

The prophet Jonah (Yunus يُونُس in Arabic‎) is a prominent figure in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He is best known for the biblical story of “Jonah and the Whale” or “Jonah and the Great Fish.” According to the Bible, Jonah was a prophet sent by God to deliver a warning to the people of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire and the biggest and most beautiful city of the ancient world; Nineveh is now Mosul in Iraq. The warning was that destruction of their city will happen because of the wicked and sinful behaviour of the Nineveh inhabitants. However, instead of obeying God’s command, Jonah attempted to flee in the opposite direction by boarding a ship heading to faraway. During the voyage, a great storm arose, and the crew believed that someone on board had angered the gods. Jonah eventually confessed that he was fleeing from God’s call, and he asked the crew to throw him overboard to calm the sea, which the crew then did. As the story goes, God calmed the sea, but also sent a large fish (commonly referred to as a whale) to swallow Jonah, saving him from drowning.

The desperate crew understands that Jonah is the reason they are in this big storm. They throw Jonah overboard, and Jonah will be swallowed by the “big fish” or the whale. That helps, because the storm will go and the sea will be calm again.
First engraving from a series of three prints (c.1584), engraved and published by Johann Sadeler (Flemish, 1550 – 1600) after a drawing by Dirck Barendsz (Dutch, 1534 – 1592), Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Jonah spent three days and three nights inside the fish’s belly, during which time he prayed and repented; he felt so very sorry that he had not followed God’s wish and order to go to Nineveh. He repents for his actions and promises to fulfill his mission if given another chance. In response to Jonah’s repentance and prayer, God commands the fish to release him. The fish spits Jonah out onto dry land, giving him a second chance. With a renewed sense of obedience, Jonah finally traveled to Nineveh to deliver God’s message of warning to the city. He warned the people of their wickedness and the impending destruction that would come if they did not repent. Surprisingly, the Ninevites listened to Jonah’s message, repented, and turned away from their evil ways. In response to their repentance, God showed mercy and spared the city from destruction. The story of Jonah is often interpreted as a lesson on the importance of obedience to God and the concept of divine mercy and forgiveness. It serves as a reminder that God’s compassion extends even to those who have strayed from the right path. It’s a message to everyone that even after having done bad things and being a not so good person, there is hope if you repent, change your life and say farewell to your sins.

After having been in the belly of the whale (or big fish at least) for three days and nights, Jonah is spat up on the shore. Jonah gets a second chance and can now go to Nineveh to warn the inhabitants about the danger that will come if they do not repent and let their wicked life go.
Second engraving from a series of three prints (c.1584), engraved and published by Johann Sadeler (Flemish, 1550 – 1600) after a drawing by Dirck Barendsz (Dutch, 1534 – 1592), Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

The link between Jonah and Christ is a significant theological parallel found in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. The primary scriptural reference to this connection is found in the Gospel of Matthew, specifically in Matthew 12:38-41: “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so Jesus will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” On this basis Christians saw Jonah as a type of Christ and his story as a promise of resurrection, first for Christ but then also for everyone and all of us, there will be resurrection after death. But of course under the condition of being a good person and having said goodbye to your bad habits and sins.

This is the third print in the same series; as Jonah spent three days in the belly of the whale, so will Jesus spent three days in his tomb before his resurrection.
Third engraving from a series of three prints (c.1584), engraved and published by Johann Sadeler (Flemish, 1550 – 1600) after a drawing by Dirck Barendsz (Dutch, 1534 – 1592), Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

The story of Jonah underscores the idea that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are part of a divine plan, prefigured in the Old Testament narratives. The story of Jonah in the Whale in the Old Testament is seen as a prefiguration of Jesus’ resurrection. And subsequently as everyone’s resurrection from death at the day of the last judgement. With other words: the story of Jonah gives hope that there will be life after death, but only if one repents and is obedient and does not lead a sinful life.

On this manuscript miniature, Jesus’ followers place his body in a sarcophagus. Expanding the meaning of the central scene, the artist included in the border on the lower left the Old Testament episode of Jonah swallowed by the great fish, as a prefiguration of Jesus’ Entombment and Resurrection; just as Jonah emerged unharmed after three days in the belly of the fish, so will Jesus rise after three days in the tomb.
The Entombment (c.1471), from the Prayer Book of Charles the Bold, manuscript by Lieven van Lathem (Flemish, c.1430 – 1493), Tempera colors, gold leaf, gold paint, silver paint, and ink, 12×9cm, Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
This painting shows the resurrection of Jesus. Three days after his death, Jesus rose again and ascended to the heavens from the tomb in which he was buried. The tomb is here a sarcophagus, on the front of which a figure is pursued and going to be swallowed by a big fish. This refers to story of Jonah and the Whale and Jonah being spit out after three days. The relief on the sarcophagus connects with the resurrection as the main theme of this painting.
Fray Juan Bautista Maíno (Spanish, 1581 – 1649), The Resurrection of Christ with Jonah and the Whale on the Tomb (c.1613), 295x174cm, Prado, Madrid.
In the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling painted by Michelangelo, several prophets from the Old Testament are depicted and Jonah gets the most prominent place, straight above Jesus on the Last Judgement on the wall behind the main altar. Michelangelo creates here a giant visual link between Jonah high above the viewers, and Jesus on the last judgement fresco directly under Jonah, and the humans raising from their graves at the underside of the fresco wall, and subsequently us viewers as watching this whole scene of hope and resurrection after death, but only for the ones who lead a good life and the ones who repent after committing their sins.
Michelangelo (Italian, 1475 – 1564, The Last Judgment (1536 – 1541) with above it the Prophet Jonah (1508), fresco, 1370x1220cm, Sistine Chapel, Vatican.
Prophet Jonah and the Fish on the Sistine Chapel ceiling above the Last Judgement fresco. The fish is here just a “big fish” as the knowledge of how a whale looked like only came from the spread of 16th and 17th century prints of stranded whales on the European shores.
Michelangelo (Italian, 1475 – 1564, (1508) on Sistine Chapel ceiling, fresco, 400x380cm (12.4 ft), Sistine Chapel, Vatican.

Big Fish or Whale?

Although the creature that swallowed Jonah is often depicted in art and culture as a whale, the original Hebrew text uses the phrase “big fish”. In the art of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the species of the fish that swallowed Jonah became closer to a whale. Most likely that’s also because in those centuries people got familiar with the concept of whales as truly big fish though prints of stranded whales. Before that hardly anyone will have seen a whale, let alone a huge whale that’s capable of swallowing a human person.

Whale on the Dutch coast at Berckhey, February 3, 1598. Print made by Jacob Matham (Dutch, 1571 – 1631) after a drawing by Hendrick Goltzius (Dutch, 1558 – 1617), engraving dated 1598, 32x43cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.


Nineveh was an ancient city located on the eastern bank of the Tigris River in present-day Mosul, Iraq. It was one of the most important and influential cities in the ancient world and served as the capital of the Assyrian Empire for several centuries. The city’s history spans over 3,000 years, and it was a center of culture, commerce, and military power. Nineveh as capital of the powerful Assyrian Empire is considered to have been the biggest and most beautiful city in ancient times. Nineveh was surrounded by a series of massive defensive walls that were over 12 kilometers long. These walls were among the most impressive feats of engineering in the ancient world and provided excellent protection for the city. Despite its military might, Nineveh faced its eventual downfall. In 612 BC, a coalition of Babylonians, Medes, and Scythians attacked and razed the city. This marked the end of the Assyrian Empire, and Nineveh was abandoned and largely forgotten for centuries. The ruins of Nineveh were rediscovered in the mid-19th century during excavations by archaeologists such as Austen Henry Layard. These excavations unearthed numerous artifacts and cuneiform tablets, providing valuable insights into the history, culture, and language of the ancient Assyrians.

Artist impression of the Assyrian palaces from The Monuments of Nineveh by Sir Austen Henry Layard, 1853, British Museum, London.

Today, the ancient site of Nineveh, along with other nearby Assyrian cities like Nimrud and Khorsabad, are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage sites. However, the region has faced challenges due to political instability and armed conflicts, leading to damage and looting of its precious historical remains, mostly by ISIS around 2014.

Al-Nabi Yunus (The Prophet Jonah) Mosque

The Al-Nabi Yunus Mosque (Arabic: جامع النبي يونس) also known as the the Prophet Jonah’s Mosque, is an important religious site located in Nineveh, now Mosul, Iraq. It holds significance for both Muslims and Christians due to its association with the prophet Jonah (known as Yunus in Islamic tradition) from his stories in the Hebrew Bible and the Quran. The mosque is situated on top of a hill on the eastern bank of the Tigris River in Mosul. Its location is believed to be the site where the prophet Jonah was buried.

View on the (now destroyed by ISIS) Tomb of Jonah and The Prophet Jonah Mosque, Nineveh (now Mosul), Iraq, around 1965. Photograph from the Library of Congress, Washington.

The Al-Nabi Yunus Mosque is considered a place of veneration for Muslims, who come to pay their respects to the prophet Yunus. However, it also holds importance for Christians, as Jonah is recognized as a prophet in Christianity as well. This interfaith significance has made the site an important symbol of religious coexistence. The mosque’s origins can be traced back to the 14th century. The site itself however, has religious significance dating back to much earlier times.

In 2014, during the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS), the mosque suffered destruction along with other historical sites in Mosul. ISIS militants considered the veneration of shrines and tombs to be against their strict interpretation of Islam and targeted such sites. The mosque was used as a prison and later blown up by the militants. After the liberation of Mosul from ISIS in 2017, efforts were made to restore and rebuild the Al-Nabi Yunus Mosque. The reconstruction work has been carried out as part of broader efforts to preserve and revive the cultural and historical heritage of the city. During the reconstruction an even older Assyrian palace was found under the remains of the mosque.