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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMoby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 83 Jonah Historically Regarded.
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Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 83 Jonah Historically Regarded. Post by :voicewaveteam Category :Long Stories Author :Herman Melville Date :February 2011 Read :1829

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Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 83 Jonah Historically Regarded.

Reference was made to the historical story of Jonah and the whale in
the preceding chapter. Now some Nantucketers rather distrust this
historical story of 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 the story of Hercules and the
whale, and Arion and the dolphin; and yet their doubting those
traditions did not make those traditions one whit the less facts, for
all that.

One old Sag-Harbor whaleman's chief reason for questioning the Hebrew
story was this:--He had one of those quaint old-fashioned Bibles,
embellished with curious, unscientific plates; one of which
represented Jonah's whale with two spouts in his head--a peculiarity
only true with respect to a species of the Leviathan (the Right
Whale, and the varieties of that order), concerning which the
fishermen have this saying, "A penny roll would choke him"; his
swallow is so very small. But, to this, Bishop Jebb's anticipative
answer is ready. It is not necessary, hints the Bishop, that we
consider Jonah as tombed in the whale's belly, but as temporarily
lodged in some part of his mouth. And this seems reasonable enough
in the good Bishop. For truly, the Right Whale's mouth would
accommodate a couple of whist-tables, and comfortably seat all the
players. 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 of faith in this matter of the prophet, was something obscurely
in reference to his incarcerated body and the whale's gastric juices.
But this objection likewise falls to the ground, because a German
exegetist supposes that Jonah must have taken refuge in the floating
body of a DEAD whale--even as the French soldiers in the Russian
campaign turned their dead horses into tents, and crawled into them.
Besides, it has been divined by other continental commentators, that
when Jonah was thrown overboard from the Joppa ship, he straightway
effected his escape to another vessel near by, some vessel with a
whale for a figure-head; and, I would add, possibly called "The
Whale," as some craft are nowadays christened the "Shark," the
"Gull," the "Eagle." Nor have there been wanting learned exegetists
who have opined that the whale mentioned in the book of Jonah merely
meant a life-preserver--an inflated bag of wind--which the endangered
prophet swam to, and so was saved from a watery doom. Poor
Sag-Harbor, therefore, seems worsted all round. But he had still
another reason for his want of faith. It was this, if I remember
right: Jonah was swallowed by the whale in the Mediterranean Sea, and
after three days he was vomited up somewhere within three days'
journey of Nineveh, a city on the Tigris, very much more than three
days' journey across from the nearest point of the Mediterranean
coast. How is that?

But was there no other way for the whale to land the prophet within
that short distance of Nineveh? Yes. He might have carried him
round by the way of the Cape of Good Hope. But not to speak of the
passage through the whole length of the Mediterranean, and another
passage up the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, such a supposition would
involve the complete circumnavigation of all Africa in three days,
not to speak of the Tigris waters, near the site of Nineveh, being
too shallow for any whale to swim in. Besides, this idea of Jonah's
weathering the Cape of Good Hope at so early a day would wrest the
honour of the discovery of that great headland from Bartholomew Diaz,
its reputed discoverer, and so make modern history a liar.

But all these foolish arguments of old Sag-Harbor only evinced his
foolish pride of reason--a thing still more reprehensible in him,
seeing that he had but little learning except what he had picked up
from the sun and the sea. I say it only shows his foolish, impious
pride, and abominable, devilish rebellion 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 was advanced as a
signal magnification of the general miracle. And so it was.
Besides, to this day, the highly enlightened Turks devoutly believe
in the historical story of Jonah. And some three centuries ago, an
English traveller in old Harris's Voyages, speaks of a Turkish Mosque
built in honour of Jonah, in which Mosque was a miraculous lamp that
burnt without any oil.

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