the Second Week of Lent
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Smith's Bible Dictionary
Whale. As to the signification of the Hebrew terms tan and tannin, variously rendered, in the Authorized Version, by "dragon," "whale," "serpent," "sea-monster." See Dragon. It remains for us in this article to consider the transaction recorded in the book of Jonah, of that prophet having been swallowed up by "some great fish" which in Matthew 12:40 is called cetos (ketos), rendered in our version by "whale."
In the first glace, it is necessary to observe that the Greek word cetos, used by St. Matthew is not restricted in its meaning to "a whale," or any Cetacean; like the Latin cete or cetus, it may denote any sea-monster, either "a whale," or "a shark," or "a seal," or "a tunny of enormous size."
Although two or three species of whale are found in the Mediterranean Sea, yet the "great fish" that swallowed the prophet cannot properly be identified with any Cetacean, for, although the sperm whale has a gullet sufficiently large to admit the body of a man, yet, it can hardly be the fish intended, as the natural food of Cetaceans consists of small animals,such as medusae and crustacea.
The only fish, then, capable of swallowing a man would be a large specimen of the white shark (Carcharias vulgaris), that dreaded enemy of sailors, and the most voracious of the family of Squalidae. This shark, which sometimes attains the length of thirty feet, is quite able to swallow a man whole.
The whole body of a man in armor has been found in the stomach of a white shark: and Captain King, in his survey of Australia, says he had caught one which could have swallowed a man with the greatest ease. Blumenbach mentions that a whole horse has been found in a shark, and Captain Basil Hall reports the taking of one in which, besides other things, he found the whole skin of a buffalo which a short time before had been thrown overboard from his ship (p. 27). The white shark is not uncommon in the Mediterranean.
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Smith, William, Dr. Entry for 'Whale'. Smith's Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​sbd/​w/whale.html. 1901.