Reference was made to the historical story of Jonah and the whale in th_receding chapter. Now some Nantucketers rather distrust this historical stor_f Jonah and the whale. But then there were some sceptical Greeks and Romans,
who, standing out from the orthodox pagans of their times, equally doubted th_tory of Hercules and the whale, and Arion and the dolphin; and yet thei_oubting those traditions did not make those traditions one whit the les_acts, for all that.
One old Sag-Harbor whaleman’s chief reason for questioning the Hebrew stor_as this:—He had one of those quaint old-fashioned Bibles, embellished wit_urious, unscientific plates; one of which represented Jonah’s whale with tw_pouts in his head—a peculiarity only true with respect to a species of th_eviathan (the Right Whale, and the varieties of that order), concerning whic_he fishermen have this saying, “A penny roll would choke him”; his swallow i_o very small. But, to this, Bishop Jebb’s anticipative answer is ready. It i_ot necessary, hints the Bishop, that we consider Jonah as tombed in th_hale’s belly, but as temporarily lodged in some part of his mouth. And thi_eems reasonable enough in the good Bishop. For truly, the Right Whale’s mout_ould accommodate a couple of whist-tables, and comfortably seat all th_layers. Possibly, too, Jonah might have ensconced himself in a hollow tooth;
but, on second thoughts, the Right Whale is toothless.
Another reason which Sag-Harbor (he went by that name) urged for his want o_aith in this matter of the prophet, was something obscurely in reference t_is incarcerated body and the whale’s gastric juices. But this objectio_ikewise falls to the ground, because a German exegetist supposes that Jona_ust have taken refuge in the floating body of a dead whale— even as th_rench soldiers in the Russian campaign turned their dead horses into tents,
and crawled into them. Besides, it has been divined by other continenta_ommentators, that when Jonah was thrown overboard from the Joppa ship, h_traightway effected his escape to another vessel near by, some vessel with _hale for a figure-head; and, I would add, possibly called “The Whale,” a_ome craft are nowadays christened the “Shark,” the “Gull,” the “Eagle.” No_ave there been wanting learned exegetists who have opined that the whal_entioned in the book of Jonah merely meant a life-preserver—an inflated ba_f wind—which the endangered prophet swam to, and so was saved from a water_oom. Poor Sag-Harbor, therefore, seems worsted all round. But he had stil_nother reason for his want of faith. It was this, if I remember right: Jona_as swallowed by the whale in the Mediterranean Sea, and after three days’ h_as vomited up somewhere within three days’ journey of Nineveh, a city on th_igris, very much more than three days’ journey across from the nearest poin_f the Mediterranean coast. How is that?
But was there no other way for the whale to land the prophet within that shor_istance of Nineveh? Yes. He might have carried him round by the way of th_ape of Good Hope. But not to speak of the passage through the whole length o_he Mediterranean, and another passage up the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, such _upposition would involve the complete circumnavigation of all Africa in thre_ays, not to speak of the Tigris waters, near the site of Nineveh, being to_hallow for any whale to swim in. Besides, this idea of Jonah’s weathering th_ape of Good Hope at so early a day would wrest the honor of the discovery o_hat great headland from Bartholomew Diaz, its reputed discoverer, and so mak_odern history a liar.
But all these foolish arguments of old Sag-Harbor only evinced his foolis_ride of reason—a thing still more reprehensible in him, seeing that he ha_ut little learning except what he had picked up from the sun and the sea. _ay it only shows his foolish, impious pride, and abominable, devilis_ebellion against the reverend clergy. For by a Portuguese Catholic priest,
this very idea of Jonah’s going to Nineveh via the Cape of Good Hope wa_dvanced as a signal magnification of the general miracle. And so it was.
Besides, to this day, the highly enlightened Turks devoutly believe in th_istorical story of Jonah. And some three centuries ago, an English travelle_n old Harris’s Voyages, speaks of a Turkish Mosque built in honor of Jonah,
in which Mosque was a miraculous lamp that burnt without any oil.