Jonah in a megalodon?
This week we feature a feedback from a young reader who suggests a plausible explanation to a favourite challenge of biblical sceptics.
Was Jonah swallowed by a megalodon?
Joshua Rileys, from New South Wales, Australia, wrote:
Dear Creation Ministries People,
I am a 14 year old boy who loves all things to do with sea monsters and I have a theory about what I think is a common misconception. This is that in the story of Jonah the Bible says that the man was swallowed by a big fish, and, over time we have taken that phrase to mean that he was eaten by a whale. My personal theory is that Jonah was not swallowed by a whale, as so many people think, but by the supposed prehistoric monster shark known as Carcharodon megalodon.
The reasons for my thinking this is that the bible passage says “Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah” and a whale is not strictly a “fish”, whereas a shark is a fish and the only shark that I know of that would be large enough to swallow a full size man without chewing him up and therefore killing him but keeping him alive for 3 days and 3 nights would be the Carcharodon megalodon! I began to think at first that it may have been talking about a whale shark but that kind of animal, although having great size, does not have a particular appetite for humans, I believe.
You are doing great work for God; your magazine is a blessing.
See you later! Joshua Riley
Thank you for your encouraging feedback.
I think Carcharodon megalodon (sometimes called Carcharocles megalodon) is an excellent candidate for the fish that swallowed Jonah. As you note its mouth is certainly big enough (up to six feet wide and seven feet high—see Sharks: denizens of the deep). And sharks are able to control their digestive systems. Sometimes the food they swallow remains undigested for many days—see Jonah Believable. These shark traits refute those sceptics who have mocked the Jonah account on the basis of insufficient size and deadly digestion.
On the minus side, megalodon has razor sharp teeth rather than the comb-like baleen of krill-feeding sharks and whales. So Jonah would have had to pass exactly through the middle of megalodon’s mouth to avoid being badly gashed. Also megalodon would probably use a ‘chomp and gulp’ action, so in Jonah’s case, it would have had to abstain from chomping.
An important point to note is that the Bible indicates that the great fish that swallowed Jonah was specially prepared by God (Jonah 1:17a). Therefore its attributes may not correspond to those of any ordinary shark or whale. Jonah’s sojourn in the great fish was definitely a miraculous event; not merely a natural but extremely uncommon one—see Jonah and the whale. Also, there are (or were) several other giant sea creatures big enough to swallow a man. Just recently a fossil was discovered of a pliosaur which, in the words of its discoverers, had “a head that could swallow an adult human whole”.1
Our book Dragons of the Deep: Ocean Monsters Past and Present, by Carl Wieland, has a chapter full of amazing information on megalodon (including exciting details of a 1918 encounter with a giant shark that some suggest was a megalodon), plus chapters on 15 other incredible giant sea creatures. Given your interest in large sea creatures, I think you would find this book fascinating.
Secular critics often question whether a whale could have swallowed Jonah, not realizing that the Bible says the creature involved was a ‘great fish’—see Jonah and the great fish. You correctly pointed out the whale is not a fish, however that is only according to our modern classification system. The Hebrew term דג גדול (dag gadol) in Jonah 1:17 does not exclude whales. The Linnaean classification system used today divides organisms into groups based largely upon morphology, i.e. appearance, and does not necessarily relate to the classification scheme given in the Bible. Russell Grigg in the article Naming the animals: all in a day’s work for Adam suggests why:
The animals which Adam named are specifically described in Genesis 2:20. They were the ‘cattle’, ‘the fowl of the air’ (birds), and ‘every beast of the field’. This classification has no correlation with today’s arbitrary system of manmade taxonomy (amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, insects), but is a more natural system based on the relation of the animals to man’s interests.
It’s great to see that you are already thinking from a biblical perspective. It is good to see that you are using information from other sources to answer the sceptics who question the reliability of the Bible.
Re-featured on homepage: 1 October 2022
- Monster skeleton ‘T-rex of sea’ The Weekend Australian, 7–8 October 2006, page 13. Return to text.