I'm not saying it couldn't happen.
I'm not saying it didn't happen.
Alls I'm saying is - there's no way to prove it happened or didn't happen.
And all things being equal - isn't the simplest explanation the best one? (Thank you, Mr. Occam)
It seems more likely that a man was NOT swallowed for 3 days by a big Mediterranean fish and subsequently vomited up onto dry land.
The only defense ever offered by my Seminary professors is that Jesus mentions Jonah - rather the Sign of Jonah - in Matthew 12:38-41.
Since Jesus mentions it, he says, it must have happened.
He says that if Jesus had compared his resurrection to a fable, or a fictional event, it could be argued that the resurrection itself was a fictional event.
(Surprise! This is what some people say anyway.)
Well, I'm not buying it.
Jesus could just have easily cited a fictional situation with which his audience was already familiar.
What if I say - "Man, seminary is tough for me! I feel like Sisyphus, who every day pushed the boulder up the steep hill, only to have it roll back down again every night. Every semester I do all this work and finally finish, only to have it start all over again the next semester."
If I say that seminary is like Sisyphus - who is clearly mythological, does that my work at seminary is mythological? Of course not. To say so would be ridiculous.
Jesus could just have easily have said, "I'm going to be like Rocky! I'm gonna take such a beating that you'll think it's all over - but you're not going to believe my comeback after that!"
Rocky is fictional. Does that mean that Jesus took fictional beating? Of course not. To say so would be ridiculous.
Likewise, if Jesus compares himself to Rocky, it doesn't make Rocky an actual guy, or his story a true story.
It seems more likely that Jonah was an actual prophet, who likely prophesied to the people of Nineveh, possibly even leading to their repentance. But around the actual prophet Jonah - there sprung up a legend that through the oral tradition (that we KNOW existed) became bigger than the man himself. Like Paul Revere. Or Johnny Appleseed. Or maybe like George Washington chopping down the cherry tree.
Did it happen, or didn't it?
Does it really matter? Don't you kind of get the point either way?
From Jonah's perspective - Don't try and ignore what God's asking you to do. Also - go out of your way to love the people you ought to hate the most.
From Jesus' perspective - Things are going to go from bad to worse - and then your mind will be absolutely blown. Also - go out of your way to love the people you ought to hate the most.
It's things like this that drive me crazy. It's insisting on sticking to a literal interpretation of stories like this that make us look ridiculous to perfectly intelligent people, and encourage them not to engage with Christ-followers.