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What Swallowed Jonah and Why?

Raised with Sunday School sensationalism, I was aware that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, but the finer points escaped me. The info I picked up from Geppetto and Pinocchio’s Disney adventures inside Monstro was not much help, either. Now I’ve learned the whole Jonah story, or as much of it as has survived the ages.

Medieval paintings of Jonah and the whale by Albertus Pictor.
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The Jonah best-known to Yahweh-followers is an Israeli prophet circa 8th century BCE, whose story is told in the Bible’s Book of Jonah. Many Christians call him a saint. Jewish tradition has it that Jonah was the boy that Elijah is famous for bringing back to life. He is one of the 12 minor prophets in the Tanakh, and the Book of Jonah is read every year on Yom Kippur. Jonah (Yunus in Arabic) is a very important Islamic prophet, and the big fish story in the Qur’an is very similar to the Bible’s. Jonah may be the Oannes of the Babylonians, and the Jason of the Greeks.

The whale in the story was originally a big fish, becoming a whale in a 16th-century Bible mistranslation. Even so, scientists assert that there is no known sea creature that would swallow a man whole. Some whales eat plankton and would choke on a herring. Others, while capable of consuming something the size of a man, have shown no interest in doing so, and prefer to chew their food first. The big fishes under consideration all have deal-breaker problems, such as sharp turns in their gullets, or throats only four inches wide.

And let’s not forget: Jonah stays “in the belly of the fish” for three days and nights, praying about how sorry he is. What kind of fish would allow that? And how did all this happen?

It all starts when Yahweh tells Jonah, a minor prophet, to go to the city of Nineveh and warn its people that Yahweh is offended by their behavior and they have 40 days to shape up or the city will be destroyed. Instead of doing Yahweh’s bidding, Jonah leaves town and gets on a ship going the other direction.

If you’re familiar with how Yahweh mistreats his prophets, you can’t help rooting for Jonah. But it’s very hard to hide from God, as Jonah discovers when Yahweh sends a “mighty tempest in the sea,” such a ferocious storm the sailors have never seen anything like it. Jonah tells them it is his fault and that they should throw him overboard. With some moral qualms, they do (although why he didn’t just jump, I don’t know), and the storm stops. The sailors become on-the-spot true believers in Yahweh, and fire up the sacrificial altar (throw some shrimp on the barbie, in Australian).

Jonah, meanwhile, is right where Yahweh wants him.

Jonah 1:17 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.

After three days and nights in the belly of the fish, after Jonah repeatedly says he is so, so sorry, and he will do whatever Yahweh wants:

Jonah 2:10 …the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.

So then Jonah goes to Nineveh and tells everybody they’d better repent, and, to his fury, they listen to him. Everybody from the king on down to the sheep fasts and puts on sackcloth and ashes, repenting.

Why is Jonah upset? Because these people are Assyrians, hated enemies of Judah and Israel. He wants Yahweh to nuke them. He is angry that he had to go warn them, and he is angry that they listened to him and aren’t going to get destroyed, and his pride is hurt because he is going to look like his prophecy has failed. He actually camps outside the town for a while, hoping it will get destroyed. Yahweh asks him if he is angry, and he replies, basically, “You bet I am.” But Yahweh is impressed with the sackcloth and ashes, and spares the city, while Jonah continues to wish Yahweh’s mercy would be reserved for the Israelites.

800px-HMS_Plumper_sea_serpent_1848
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I think it’s obvious, from a 21st-century perspective, that the fish/whale/sea monster that Jonah entered and stayed in for three days and nights was a vehicle that Yahweh sent to fetch him, just as the flying elephants and thunderbirds and dragons associated with sky gods were vehicles under their control. The sky vehicles are now called UFOs, and the sea monsters are now called USOs (Unidentified Submarine Objects).

As with UFOs, people have been having encounters with USO “sea monsters” in oceans, lakes, and rivers throughout the world for thousands of years.

I’m sure that being forced into whatever “swallowed” Jonah was a severe shock to his system, but the “great fish” was no more a fish than the Lernaean hydra was a many-headed water serpent (with “poisonous breath so virulent even her tracks were deadly”), no more than Indra’s flying Airavata was a three-headed elephant. Mythical animals often have the characteristics of vehicles (such as being made of bronze).

Btw, as a Biblical prophet, Jonah had it easy — compared to Isaiah, for instance, who had to walk around naked for three years, or Ezekiel, who had to lie on his side for 390 days and eat “measured food.”

Who knows what Yahweh was thinking?

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Humans Were Created to Be Workers

It looks like Adam is the only one getting any work done. It looks like Adam is the only one getting any work done.

A recurring piece of information found in ancient creation stories is that humans were created to be workers. Although people commonly speak of freedom as mankind’s birthright, that’s not so if you believe the ancient texts — we were created to serve “God” or “the gods” as physical laborers.

Despite numerous images of Adam and Eve lolling about in the Garden of Eden, enjoying paradise, Bible scripture says otherwise. Adam’s (and presumably Eve’s) job was to take care of the garden:

Genesis 2:15 And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it [apply fertilizer to it] and to keep it.

Many events in Genesis have strong parallels with earlier Mesopotamian “myths.” For instance, the Biblical creation story has long been recognized as sharing numerous key similarities with the Babylonian creation story, the Enuma Elish (“When on High”), which itself is thought to be a version of earlier Sumerian texts, such as the Eridu Genesis, updated to feature the contemporary Babylonian pantheon.

In both the Mesopotamian accounts and in Genesis, one god makes the suggestion (in the Mesopotamian versions, to a divine council) that they make man in “our” (plural) own image.

Genesis 1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness….

The Akkadian text Epic of Atrahasis (an “exceedingly wise” king) re-tells the Enuma Elish story of the rebellion of the Minor Gods (the Igigi), who were working hard digging canals or mining gold, depending on the story, and the subsequent creation of humans by the Great Gods (the Anunnaki) so that humans could take over the work:

When the gods, like man, bore the work, carried the labor-basket—the labor-basket of the great gods—the work was heavy, much was the distress.

The seven great Anunnaki caused the Igigi to bear the work.

Forty more years they bore the labor night and day. They wearied, complained, grumbled in the workpits. “Let us confront the throne-bearer that he may remove from us our heavy labor….”

They set fire to their implements, to their spades [they set] fire, their labor-baskets into the flames they threw. They held them [as torches]; they went to the gate of the shrine of hero Enlil. It was night; at mid-watch the house was surrounded; the god did not know. It was night; at mid-watch the Ekur was surrounded; Enlil did not know.

When Enlil wakes up to find his house surrounded by irate minor gods, the Divine Council is called together to address the problem. Enki has a suggestion:

“While [Nintu the birth-goddess] is present, let the birth-goddess create the offspring, let man bear the labor-basket of the gods.”

They called the goddess and asked [her], the midwife of the gods, wise Mami: “you are the birthgoddess, creatress of man. Create lul[l]u-man, let him bear the yoke. Let him bear the yoke, the work of Enlil; let man carry the labor-basket of the gods.”

Nintu opened her mouth and said to the great gods, ‘It is not properly mine to do these things. He is the one who purifies all; let him give me the clay, and I will do (it).”

Did you notice that the mother of humankind is named “Mami”? Nearly every language on Earth uses a word for “Mommy” that sounds like the goddess name. And did you notice that the first humans are called “lulus” (supposedly means workers or bunnies or wanton or …? I’m still trying to find a reliable translation)?

For the fascinating and appalling details of how Mami and Enlil proceed to create lulus (involving the killing of a god and the use of his flesh and blood and the spit of all the gods), see Enki and the Creation of Humankind.

In most ancient religions, the people were considered slaves of the city’s god, and the priests, as intermediaries, controlled everyone’s lives. It seems clear if you look at the history and current state of the world that slavery is more our birthright than freedom. We’ve been the worker-slaves of those “above us” — whatever form they take — for millennia.

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Elijah and Ahab’s Deadly Barbecue Contest

Elijah Barbecue ContestSource
Spoiler alert: Yahweh burns the sacrifice right on cue.

It’s easy to see why the miracles in the Bible (and in other religious texts) impressed the hell out of (or into) those observing them. But nowadays the miracles seem a lot more like parlor tricks. Here’s a quick look at one of my favorites:

The Bible tells the detailed story, in 1 Kings 18, describing the contest at Mount Carmel between the priests of Ba‘al, led by Ahab, and the priests of Yahweh, led by Elijah, to see whose god was best.

First, Elijah has Ahab gather all the “children of Israel” and all the 450 “prophets of Ba‘al” and the “400 prophets of the groves, which eat at Jezebel’s table” at Mt. Carmel (no word on how he accomplishes that). There, when his pleas that the heathen-worshipping Israelites switch to Yahweh fall on flat ears, Elijah proposes a contest—all the heathen prophets and their god Ba‘al versus Elijah and his god Yahweh. Whichever god can light his people’s fire, wins.

1 Kings 18:23 Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under:
24 And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.
25 And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under.
26 And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made.

So, although the heathens lay out a nice sacrifice and call on Ba‘al all morning long to light the fire, nothing happens. Elijah makes fun of them, causing them to express their pain via cutting, apparently not a new fad at all:

1 Kings 18:27 And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.
28 And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.

So, the heathens carry on calling on Ba‘al until evening, without a sign from the god. So, Elijah says, here’s how it’s done:

1 Kings 18:29 And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.
30 And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down.
31 And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the LORD came, saying, Israel shall be thy name:
32 And with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed.

After he has the altar and sacrifice nicely arranged, Elijah orders the heathens to pour 12 barrels of water all over it:

1 Kings 18:33 And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood.
34 And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time.
35 And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.

Once everything is soaking wet, Elijah calls on the Lord, telling him he’s prepared everything the way Yahweh told him to. At the perfect dramatic moment, Yahweh sends down his fire, which consumes “the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench”:

1 Kings 18:36 And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.
37 Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.
38 Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.

Not surprisingly, Yahweh makes a lot of instant converts among the straying Israelites. To keep them converted, Elijah kills the 450 prophets of Ba‘al:

1 Kings 18:39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God.
40 And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.

This barbecue miracle requires only an airplane with a zappy weapon.

The whole Biblical text of the story is below, including the weird stuff that came after (huge rainstorm, a small still voice…). Continue reading Elijah and Ahab’s Deadly Barbecue Contest