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Page 406


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


Page 407
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 honor of
the discovery of that great headland from Bartholomew Diaz,
its reputed discoverer, and so make modern history a liar.


Page 408

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 viâ 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
honor of Jonah, in which mosque was a miraculous lamp that
burnt without any oil.