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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 87: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

Chapter 83 Jonah Historically Regarded

“Now some Nantucketers rather distrust this historical story of Jonah and the whale. But then there were some skeptical 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.”




Sometimes I wonder if Ishmael just got stoned from time to time. This chapter is one of those times. But then again, Melville is a genius, and this chapter makes me remember that as well.


Ishmael begins to poke holes in the story of Jonah. He spends lots of time trying to determine the accuracy of the timeline (could the whale have traveled so far with a person in its mouth in three days?) and even the size of a whale’s mouth (does a whale have the capacity to carry humans as it travels?).


Ish considers how the story could be true. Perhaps Jonah was on a boat they called The Whale and not in a literal whale. Maybe we have no idea how fast whales can really move. Never mind that in previous chapters Ish told us that the White Whale had been seen in two places at once. Now Ish is trying to make sense of a story fraught with holes in the plot. Perhaps a story like the one he stars in. Perhaps a blend of fiction and truth. Like life? Like the bible?


It would have been considered (still is considered?) heresy to poke holes in the Bible and even Ish concedes toward the end of this chapter that sometimes you can’t explain miracles. After all, that’s what makes them miraculous, right? The factual evidence of the Jonah story seems to be that there is a Turkish mosque in Iraq in the very place Jonah was said to have been spat out by the whale and a lamp burns without oil in it to this day in that spot. Or it did anyway. The mosque was bombed in 2014. You can google this. Google – modern way of being factual, I suppose.


Anyway – cool chapter!

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