“Many of the stories concerning Moses, Joshua, Jonah and other Bible characters are solar myths.”

John E. Remsburg, The Christ: A Critical Review and Analysis of the Evidence of His Existence

The fact of biblical astrotheology often is either unknown or denied by the public at large, but there is plenty of solar, lunar and astral mythology in the Bible. The biblical bounty of sun gods begins with deities and extends to tribal gods and goddesses demoted to “patriarchs,” “prophets” or “judges.” The various Canaanite Elohim or “gods” discussed throughout the Old Testament, including both the single god El and the Amoritish tribal god Yahweh, frequently possess solar attributes, a detailed discussion of which can be found in my book Did Moses Exist? The Myth of the Israelite Lawgiver.

Moses with his shining face descending from Mt. Sinai (Exod 34:29)

Moses with his shining face descending from Mt. Sinai (Exod 34:29)

Like Moses the solar hero whose face shined like the sun and who had solar “horns,” among many other attributes from ancient sun myths, the biblical “prophet” Jonah and his escapades with a “whale” or “big fish” likewise symbolize solar mythology. The personification of natural elements ranging from the sun to animals was quite common in ancient myth, as widely known concerning Greek, Roman and Egyptian myths, for example. We find many of these same mythical anthropomorphizations of the sun with their solar adventures in the Bible as well, mixed in with other mythology involving the moon, Venus, stars and more.

In my book The Christ Conspiracy, I write that, incredibly, many people have believed to be true the biblical tale of Jonah being swallowed alive by a whale/big fish for three days and then vomited up on the shore. The fact that this belief can be rationalized, particularly since those selfsame believers roundly dismiss the “absurd” stories of other cultures, is an example of conditioning and cultural bias.

In reality, the story of Jonah is itself found in other cultures, as Barbara G. Walker elaborates in her book The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets (392-9):

Jonah’s whale is described in the Bible as a “fish,” because writers of that period (and for many centuries afterward) were unaware that whales are mammals. The whale of the original Jonah story was the Babylonian Sea Goddess Derceto, “The Whale of Der,” who swallowed and gave rebirth to the god Oannes . . . Swallowing by the whale indicates an initiation rite, leading to rebirth. The Finnish hero Ilmarinen was similarly swallowed by a giant fish to be re-born. A variant of the story shows that the fish was really a womb . . . Biblical writers masculinized the image as Jonah, whose name means “Dove.” The word ionah or ione may have descended from yoni, for the dove was a primary symbol of female sexuality.

Whale or Fish?

As we see, ancient peoples believed the whale was a giant fish, so this story could refer to an actual whale in the mythmaker’s mind. The debate about the meaning of the original Hebrew דג dag brings up an interesting element: To wit, the root word is דגה dagah, meaning:

“(Qal) to multiply, increase” and “to cover… to cover over; hence to be dark,” evidently reflecting the “multitude and plenty covering over every thing….”

This definition also reflects a solar connection, with the darkening aspect. It is this sort of qualities that the ancients looked for and perceived, weaving them into their myths.

Dagon the Semitic fish god

Dagon the Semitic fish god

Most English Bibles translate the term דג dag as “fish,” but the impression of a whale evidently comes from the Greek Old Testament or Septuagint, with its rendering of κήτει μεγάλῳ ketei megalo, the latter word meaning “big.”

Κήτει or κῆτος ketos means “abyss” or “sea monster,” precisely as we would expect of a myth from a Mediterranean culture, since the sea was viewed with great reverence and terrible awe.

The Greek word κῆτος ketos is cetus in Latin, which serves as the basis for “cetacean,” a term that includes whales. Hence, we see where this tradition comes from.

In any event, there are many myths about gods – largely solar – battling with sea monsters and leviathans or other terminology. I discuss these in depth in my book Did Moses Exist?

Dagon/Oannes the Fish/Water God

Apparent origins of the Jonah tale include the myths of the ancient and popular Semitic solar fish/water gods Dagon and Adapa, as the latter was called before being Hellenized as “Oannes.” The Dagon myth includes focus on Joppa/Jaffa, where Jonah was said to thrive as well:

The Phoenician inscription on the sarcophagus of King Eshmunʿazar of Sidon (5th century BC) relates (ANET, p. 662): “Furthermore, the Lord of Kings gave us Dor and Joppa, the mighty lands of Dagon, which are in the Plain of Sharon, in accordance with the important deeds which I did.”…

In the 11th century, Jewish Bible commentator Rashi writes of a biblical tradition that the name Dāgôn is related to Hebrew dāg/dâg ‘fish’ and that Dagon was imagined in the shape of a fish: compare the Babylonian fish-god Oannes.

Oannes the Babylonian Fish/Water God

Oannes the Babylonian Fish/Water God

Jonah’s name in the Greek Old Testament or Septuagint is Ιωνας Ionas, similar to Ὡάννης Oannes and Ἰωάννης I-Oannes, the Greek name for “John.” It should be kept in mind that there are often multiple meanings and origins of various myths, including characters’ names possessing more than one signification and derivation. In this regard, ancient mythographers often employed monikers with multiple connotations. Hence, the Hebrew word יונה Yonah meaning “dove” could also represent an adaptation of the name Oannes.

It thus appears that in significant part “Jonah” is the biblical remake of Oannes, who rose out of the sea to bring wisdom to mankind.

Herculean Origin

Another influence on the Jonah myth evidently was the tale of the Greek son of God Hercules/Herakles, whose own sea-monster battle is nearly identical in germane details:

The ancient Greeks narrated the story of Heracles who fought a sea monster but was devoured in the process. After three days and three nights he managed to free himself by fighting his way out. Interestingly, the Greeks even specified that it was near the harbour of Jaffa that Heracles was swallowed by the fish. Jaffa is also Jonah’s place of departure for Tarshish. This Greek story was well known in Asia Minor and Syria and was definitely also told among the seafaring Phoenicians. The book of Jonah makes use of quite a few maritime terms most probably borrowed from the Phoenicians, and it can thus be assumed that the motif of the fish probably found its way into the Jewish narrative under Phoenician influence.

Some scholars see disguised references to the Babylonian cosmology in the book of Jonah. In these terms the fish would then be a disguised reference to Tiamat, the chaos monster that threatens creation. When Jonah remains in the fish for three days and three nights, it would then refer to the winter time when Tiamat reigned. The swallowing and spitting out by the fish would then represent the annual death and rebirth of the cosmos. It could even allude to the primeval struggle of Marduk, the sun god, with Tiamat….

(Louis Jonker, Douglas Lawrie, Fishing for Jonah (anew), Stellenbosch University, 2005:41-42.

'The Return of Jason' (Joseph Cambell, 'The Hero with a Thousand Faces')

‘The Return of Jason’ (Joseph Cambell, ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’)

Hercules is yet another solar hero whose 12 “labors” represent the annual passage of the sun through the months and/or signs of the zodiac.

Another Greek solar hero, Jason of Golden Fleece fame, also is depicted as swallowed by a sea monster, regurgitated and restored to life.

 Soli-Lunar Myth

Far from being literal, the tale of Jonah is astrological, as “Jonah” in the “belly of the whale” for three days represents the sun in the “womb” of the earth. These three days are the “entombment” of the sun in darkness, nightly but also during the time between a new and old moon, as the “whale” is also the “moon-fish.” As Thomas Doane says in Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions (79-80):

There is a Hindu fable, very much resembling [the Jonah tale], to be found in the Somadeva Bhatta, of a person by the name of Saktideva who was swallowed up by a huge fish, and finally came out unhurt. . . . In Grecian fable, Hercules is said to have been swallowed by a whale, at a place called Joppa, and to have lain three days in his entrails. . . . That the story is an allegory, and that it, as well as that of Saktideva, Hercules and the rest, are simply different versions of the same myth, the significance of which is the alternate swallowing up and casting forth of Day, or the Sun, by Night, is now all but universally admitted by scholars. The Day, or the Sun, is swallowed up by Night, to be set free again at dawn . . . The Sun was called Jona . . . Jonah, Hercules and others personify the Sun, and a huge Fish represents the Earth.

In The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah (Cambridge University Press, 1975:82), theologian Dr. John D. Watts states:

…Several myths and legends told of a hero being swallowed by a sea monster. Almost all of them have some parallel to Jonah’s story. The sun myth pictured the descending sun in the west as being swallowed by a monster only to reappear in the east. It was known in Persia and in Egypt. Jonah’s parallel is that he travels west, is swallowed in the west, and returns in the darkness of the fish’s belly to appear in the east. But if this myth had any influence on Jonah’s author, he has changed it completely. Now it takes place in history, with natural creatures in the roles, and testifies to the authority of God’s word and will over creation and human history.

Hence, we see that an old solar myth was altered to make it appear to be historical.

In The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975:3.138), theologians Drs. G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren also remark upon the Jonah myth as astrotheological:

Research into the book of Jonah has postulated different phases of a prehistory of the narrative. In a sun myth the sun is swallowed up by the western part of the sea and then rises again. This myth is “historicized and re-neutralized in Jonah, as…Jonah replaces the sun and the ‘great fish’ plays the role of the sea.” On other than, the period of time Jonah stayed in the belly of the fish suggests a moon myth, and calls to mind, among other things, Inanna’s descent into the underworld. The “great fish” recalls the sea monster in the story of Heracles and Perseus, who went into the innermost parts of the monster, killed it, and then came out into the light again. Wolff thinks this Greek saga is “the bridge between the sun myth and the Jonah narrative; the sun becomes the legendary hero who came out of the sun, and the sea becomes the sea monster.


Three-Day Period

Since ancient myths more often than not have multiple meanings, and heroes frequently were solar, lunar and stellar in nature, among other attributes, I would add to this analysis that the three-day period is also solar, especially as celebrated during the solstices and equinoxes. As astronomer Dr. Edwin C. Krupp explains:

Solstice means “sun stands still,” but the sun isn’t really still at the winter solstice. It rises and sets the way it does every day. But for a few days at the time of the solstice, the sun’s walk-on is a repeat performance. If you watch the sunrise for several days in a row, both before and after the winter solstice, you notice that the rising point scarcely changes from day to day. This repetitive rising is what inspired the idea of the solstice. Because the sun runs the same race on several successive days in what the ancient Germanic peoples called the “wet,” or winter, season, the event is called the winter solstice; it takes place on or within a day of December 21.

As I state in The 2015 Astrotheology Calendar, thus, the start of the winter solstice period is December 21st, but the sun’s “stutter step” continues for some days, until there is a noticeable turn towards the north, from a geocentric perspective. The ancients recognized the end of this “stutter step” as midnight on December 24th or “Christmas Eve,” which is also the morning of the 25th.

As Christian theologian William Doehring states, the sun “‘dies’ on December 21st and remains at the lowest region in the sky for three days, and finally begins to visibly rise from the horizon on December 25th.” This multiday period explains why the sun’s “birth” has been placed on December 25th, rather than the 21st or 22nd.

Jesus = Jonah

In addition, in the New Testament Jesus is identified with the solar hero Jonah:

“For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40)

jesussuncoverWhen Jesus is asked by the Pharisees and Sadducees for a “sign from heaven,” he enigmatically answers, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” (Mt 16:4) The sign, of course, is the sun.

There are many reasons to evince that the gospel story is yet another remake of the numerous solar myths found around the Mediterranean, as I have compiled in my ebook Jesus as the Sun throughout History and elsewhere.

In any event, the biblical story of Jonah and the whale/fish is not a historical account but represents ancient myth, as found around the Mediterranean.

Further Reading

Did Moses Exist?
Jesus as the Sun throughout History
Jonah and 3 Days in the Whale