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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

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Whalley, Richard Chapple, D.D.
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the rendering in the A. V. (besides κῆτος , Matthew 12:40) of two very closely related Heb. terms: תָּן, tan (or rather תִּנַּים, tannim', as a sing., Ezekiel 32:2; "dragon," Ezekiel 29:3; elsewhere as a plural and rendered "dragons," Job 30:29; Psalms 44:19; Isaiah 13:22; Isaiah 34:13; Isaiah 35:7; Isaiah 42:20; Jeremiah 9:11; Jeremiah 10:22; Jeremiah 14:6; Jeremiah 49:33; Jeremiah 51:37), and תִּנַּין, tannnin' (Genesis 1:21; Job 7:12; "serpent," Exodus 7:9-10; Exodus 7:12; "sea- monster," Lamentations 4:3; elsewhere also "dragon," Deuteronomy 32:33; Nehemiah 2:13; Psalms 74:13; Psalms 91:13; Psalms 148:7; Isaiah 27:1; Isaiah 5:9; Jeremiah 51:34). The texts where these are used in general present pictures of ruined cities and of desolation in the wilderness, rendering it difficult to determine what kind of creatures in particular are meant, except as may be inferred from other passages (Job 30:29; Psalms 44:19-20; Isaiah 13:22; Isaiah 34:13; Isaiah 35:7; Jeremiah 9:11; Jeremiah 10:22; Jeremiah 49:33; Jeremiah 51:34; Jeremiah 51:37). Where the term is associated with beasts or birds of the desert, it clearly indicates serpents of various species, both small and large (Isaiah 43:20; Psalms 91:13; also Exodus 6:9-12), and in one passage a poisonous reptile is distinctly referred to (Deuteronomy 32:33). (See SERPENT).

In Jeremiah 14:6, where wild asses snuffing up the wind are compared to dragons, the image will appear in its full strength, if we understand by dragons great boas and python-serpents, such as are figured in the Presenting mosaics. They were common in ancient times, and are still far from rare in the tropics of both continents. Several of the species grow to an enormous size, and, during their periods of activity, are in the habit of raising a considerable portion of their length into a vertical position, like pillars, ten or twelve feet high, in order to survey the vicinity above the surrounding bushes, while with open jaws they drink in a quantity of the current air. The same character exists in smaller serpents; but it is not obvious, unless when, threatening to strike, they stand on end nearly three fourths of their length. Most, if not all, of these species are mute, or can utter only a hissing sound; and, although the malli-pambu, the great rock -snake of Southern Asia, is said to wail in the night, no naturalist has ever witnessed such a phenomenon, nor heard it asserted that any other boa, python, or serpent had a real voice; but they hiss, and, like crocodiles, may utter sounds somewhat akin to howling, a fact that will sufficiently explain the passage in Micah (Micah 1:8). When used in connection with rivers, the term probably signifies the crocodile (Psalms 74:13; Isaiah 27:1; Isaiah 51:9; Ezekiel 29:3; Ezekiel 32:2), and when allusion is had to larger bodies of water, probably some of the cetaceous mammalia (Genesis 1:21; Psalms 148:7; Lamentations 4:3). (See LEVIATHAN).

The above interpretation is according to that of Bochart (Hieroz. 2, 429), who proposes always to read תִּנַּין in the sense of huge serpents; but others, following Rab. Tafichum Hieros., suggest a different etymology for the plur. forms תִּנַּים and תִּנַּין (the isolated case of a sing. form תִּנַּים, in, Ezekiel 29:3, being taken for a corrupt reading for תִּנַּין, as in some MSS.), from the root תָּנִן, in the tropical sense of stretched out in running, and applied to the jackal, a swift animal, which answers well to the description where these forms occur, being a creature living in deserts (Psalms 44:19; Isaiah 13:22; Isaiah 34:13; Isaiah 35:7; Isaiah 43:20; Jeremiah 9:11; Jeremiah 10:22; Jeremiah 14:6; Jeremiah 49:33; Jeremiah 51:37), suckling its young (Lamentations 4:3), and uttering a wailing cry (Job 20:29; Micah 1:8). The other passages in which the forms, sing. תִּנַּין, plur. תִּנַּינַים, occur are thus left to be explained as before, namely, as signifying,

(1) a great fish or sea-monster, e.g. a whale, shark, etc. (Genesis 1:21; Job 7:12; Isaiah 27:1; Psalms 145:3; Psalms 145:7.);

(2) a serpent, either in general (Exodus 7:9-12; Deuteronomy 32:33; Psalms 91:13), or specially a "dragon" (Jeremiah 51:34), or the crocodile (Psalms 74:13), put as a symbol of Egypt (Ezekiel 29:3, according to the true reading; also Ezekiel 32:2). (See DRAGON).

"In the passages where scales and feet are mentioned as belonging to the tan, commentators have shown that the crocodile is intended, which then is synonymous with the leviathan; and, they have endeavored also to demonstrate, where tannin draw the dugs to suckle their young, that seals are meant, although cetacea nourish theirs in a similar manner. It may be doubted whether in most of the cases the poetical diction points absolutely to any specific animal, particularly as there is more force and grandeur in a generalized and collective image of the huge monsters of the deep, not inappropriately so called, than in the restriction to any one species, since all are in Genesis 1:26 made collectively subservient to the supremacy of man. But criticism is still more inappropriate when, not contented with pointing to some assumed species, it attempts to rationalize miraculous events by such arguments; as in the case of Jonah, where the fact of whales having a small gullet and not being found in the Mediterranean is adduced to prove that the huge fish דָּג , dâ g, was not a cetacean, but a shark! Now, if the text be literally taken, the transaction is plainly miraculous, and no longer within the sphere of zoological discussion; and if it be allegorical, as some, we think, erroneously assume, then, whether the prophet was saved by means of a kind of boat called dâ g, or it be a mystical account of initiation where the neophite was detained three days in an ark or boat figuratively denominated a fish, or Celtic avanc, the transaction is equally indeterminate; and it assuredly would be derogating from the high dignity of the prophet's mission to convert the event into a mere escape by boat or into a pagan legend such as Hercules, Bacchus, Jemshfd, and other deified heroes of the remotest antiquity are fabled to have undergone, and which all the ancient mysteries, including the Druidical, symbolized.

It may be observed, besides, of cetaceous animals that, though less frequent in the Mediterranean than in the ocean, they are far from being unknown there. Joppa, now Jaffa, the very place whence Jonah set sail, displayed for ages in one of its pagan temples huge bones of a species of whale, which the legends of the place pretended were those of the dragon monster slain by Perseus, as represented in the Arkite mythus of that hero and Andromeda, and which remained in that spot till the conquering Romans carried them in triumph to the great city. Procopius mentions a huge sea-monster in the Propontis, taken during his prefecture of Constantinople, in the 36th year of Justinian (A.D. 562), after having destroyed vessels at certain intervals for more than fifty years.

Rondoletius enumerates several whales stranded or taken on the coasts of the Mediterranean; these were most likely all orcas, physeters, or canpedolios, i.e. toothed whales, as large and more fierce than the nysticetes, which have balein in: the mouth, and at present very rarely make their way farther south than the Bay of Biscay; though in early times it is probable they visited the Mediterranean, since they have been seen within the tropics. In the Syrian seas, the Belgian pilgrim Lavaers, on his passage from Malta to Palestine, incidentally mentions a Tonynvisch,' which he further denominates an oil-fish, longer than the vessel, leisurely swimming along, and which the seamen said prognosticated bad weather. On the island of Zerbi, close to the African coast, the late Commander Davies, R.N., found the bones of a cachalot on the beach. Shaw mentions an orca more than sixty feet in length stranded at Algiers; and the late Admiral Ross Donelly saw one in the Mediterranean near the island of Albaran.

There are, besides, numerous sharks of the largest species in the seas of the Levant, and also in the Arabian Gulf and Red Sea, as well as cetacea, of which Balcena bitan is the largest in those seas, and two species of halicore or dugong, which are herbivorous animals, intermediate between whales and seals. Much criticism has been expended on the scriptural account of Jonah being swallowed by a large fish; it has been variously understood as a literal transaction, as an entire fiction or an allegory, as a poetical mythus or a parable. With regard to the remarks of those writers who ground their objections upon the denial of miracle, it is obvious that this is not the place for discussion; the question of Jonah in the fish's belly will share the same fate as any other miracle recorded in the Old Test. (See Herttenstein, De Pisce qui Jonam Devoravit [Vitemb. 1705].) The reader will find in Rosenmü ller's Prolegomena several attempts by various writers to explain the scriptural narrative, none of which, however, have anything to recommend them, unless it be in some cases the ingenuity of the authors,; such as, for instance, that of Godfrey Less, who supposed that the fish' was no animal at all, but a ship with the figure of a fish painted on the stern, into which Jonah was received after he had been cast out of his own vessel! Equally curious is the explanation of G. C. Anton, who endeavored to solve the difficulty by supposing that just as the prophet was thrown into the water, the dead carcass of some large fish floated by, into the belly of which he contrived to get, and that thus he was drifted to the shore!

The opinion of Rosenmü ller, that the whole account is founded on the Phoenician fable of Hercules devoured by a sea- monster sent by Neptune (Lycophron, Cassand 33), although sanctioned by Gesenius, Winer, Ewald, and other German writers, is opposed to all sound principles of Biblical exegesis. It will be our purpose to consider what portion of the occurrence partakes of a natural and what of a miraculous nature. In the first place, then, it is necessary to observe that the Greek word κῆτος , used by 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 tummy of enormous size' (see Athen. p. 303 b [ed. Dindorf]; Odys. 12:97; 4:446, 452; Iliad, 20:147). 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 (Catodon macrocephalus) 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 medussa and crustacea.

Nor, again, can we agree with bishop Jebb (Sacred Literature, p. 178, 179) that the κοιλία of the Greek Test. denotes the back portion of a whale'sr mouth, in the cavity of which' the prophet was concealed; for the whole passage in Jonah is clearly opposed to such an interpretation. 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 Squalide. This shark, which sometimes attains the length of thirty feet, is quite able to swallow a man whole. Some commentators are skeptical on this point. It would, however, be easy to quote passages from the writings of authors and travelers in proof of this assertion; we confine ourselves to two or three extracts.

The shark has a large gullet, and in the belly of it are sometimes found the bodies of men half eaten; sometimes whole and entire (Nature Displayed, 3, 140). But lest the abbé Pluche should not be considered sufficient authority, we give a quotation from Mr. Couch's recent publication, A History of the Fishes of the British Islands. Speaking of white sharks, this author, who has paid much attention to the habits of fish, states that they usually cut asunder any object of considerable size and thus swallow it; but if they find a difficulty in doing this, there is no hesitation in passing into the stomach even what is of enormous bulk; and the formation of the jaws and throat render this a matter of but little difficulty.' Ruysch says that the whole body of a man in armor (loricatus) 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 (1, 27).

Dr. Baird, of the British Museum (Cyclop. of Nat. Sciences, p. 514), says that in the river Hooghly, below Calcutta, he had seen a white shark swallow a bullock's head and horns entire, and he speaks also of a shark's mouth being sufficiently wide to receive the body of a man.' Wherever, therefore the Tarshish, to which Jonah's ship was bound, was situated, whether in Spain or in Cilicia or in Ceylon, it is certain that the common white shark might have been seen on the voyage. The C. vulgaris is not uncommon in the Mediterranean; it occurs, as Forskal (Descript. Animal. p. 20) assures us, in the Arabian Gulf, and is common also in the Indian Ocean. So far for the natural portion of the subject. But how Jonah could have been swallowed whole, unhurt, or how he could have existed for any time in the shark's belly, it is impossible to explain by simply natural causes. Certainly the preservation of Jonah in a fish's belly is not more remarkable than that of the three children in the midst of Nebuchadnezzar's burning fiery furnace.' Naturalists have recorded that sharks have the habit of throwing up again whole and alive the prey they have seized (see Couch's Hist. of Fishes, 1, 33). I have heard,' says Mr. Darwin, from Dr. Allen of Forres, that he has frequently found a Diodon floating alive and distended in the stomach of a shark; and that on several occasions he has known it eat its way out, not only through the coats of the stomach, but through the sides of the monster, which has been thus killed."

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Whale'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​w/whale.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
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