The Jonah Story
There have been cases reported throughout the years where whalers were swallowed by whales and survived when the fish were caught later. In 1924 Sir Francis Fox wrote of one such case in his book, Sixty-Three Years of Engineering, Scientific, and Social Work, published in London. On pages 298-301 of his book, he wrote:
"In February 1891 the whaling ship Star of the East was in the vicinity of the Falkland Islands, and the look-out sighted a large sperm whale three miles away. Two boats were launched and in a short time one of the harpooners was enabled to spear the fish. The second boat attacked the whale, but was upset by a lash of its tail and the men thrown into the sea, one man being drowned, and another, James Bartley, having disappeared could not be found.
"The whale was killed and in a few hours the great body was lying by the ship's side, and the crew were busy with axes and spades removing the blubber. They worked all day and part of the night. Next morning they attached some tackle to the stomach, which was hoisted on deck. The sailors were startled by something in it which gave spasmodic signs of life, and inside was found the missing sailor doubled up and unconscious. He was laid on the deck and treated by a bath of sea-water which soon revived him, but his mind was not clear, and he was placed in the captain's quarters, where he remained two weeks a raving lunatic. He was kindly and carefully treated by the captain, and by the officers of the ship, and gradually regained possession of his senses. At the end of the third week he had entirely recovered from the shock and resumed his duties.
"During his sojourn in the whale's stomach, Bartley's skin where it was exposed to the action of the gastric juice underwent a striking change; his face, neck, and hands were bleached to a deadly whiteness, and took on the appearance of parchment. Bartley affirms that he would probably have lived inside his house of flesh until he starved, for he lost his senses through fright and not from lack of air. . . .
"According to the record, the skin on his face and hands never recovered its natural appearance, but the health of the man did not seem affected by his terrible experience. He was in splendid spirits and apparently fully enjoyed the blessings of life that came his way."
This story was told a few years later in the Daily Telegraph, 17th February 1928. This article states that the Bartley's experience "was investigated and confirmed not only by Sir Francis Fox, but by a committee of French scientists, one of whom was the late M. de Parville, the scientific editor of the Journal des Debats, of Paris."
More recently, Dr. Edward B. Davis, did some investigation into the story to see if it could really be verified. He found that M. de Parville’s investigation was not as thorough as had been stated. Dr. Davis wrote in his article, “A Modern Jonah,”
“I made an inquiry to the Maritime History Archive at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where the Lloyd’s Register is now kept. Their records showed three vessels under British registry bearing the name Star of the East that could have been in service in 1891: a 734-ton barque (mentioned above) and two other boats, each less than 20 tons, that could not possibly have been whalers. No log book for the barque was found, but the crew agreement showed that in February 1891 she was en route from London to Wellington via New York, a finding that impressed me since it was not inconsistent with the claim that she was off the Falkland Islands. However, I was advised by an archivist, ‘Whaling in the Falkland Islands did not commence until 1909, and I have not been able to locate a whaling vessel named Star of the East. . . .’
“I soon had some hard evidence to support my suspicions. My pastor alerted me to a footnote in L. C. Allen’s commentary on Jonah that cites a letter printed in the Expository Times in 1906 and 1907. A reader named Williams reported that he had inquired of Mrs. John Killian, wife of the captain of the Star of the East, concerning the Bartley story. Mrs. Killian stated flatly, ‘There is not one word of truth in the whale story. I was with my husband all the years he was in the Star of the East. There was never a man lost overboard while my husband was in her. The sailer has told a great sea yarn.’
“This was an interesting revelation, to say the least. I wrote again to the Maritime Archives, asking for copies of any documents they might have, and received the crew agreement from the Star of the East for the voyage described above. . . . The agreement lists every member of the crew, including a few who signed on in Wellington and deserted just six days later in Lyttelton. No James Bartley is listed, nor is anyone of similar name, either for the entire voyage or any part of it.
“I realized then with finality that there simply was no whale at the end of my line. The Bartley tale was no more than a fish story. It had been good enough to fool apparently sophisticated people like the authors and editors of some highly respected Biblical commentaries. But no one had carefully investigated the story.”
At the end of the article, “A Modern Jonah,” Dr. Davis’ credentials are given as follows:
“Edward Davis serves as an associate professor of science and history at Messiah College in Grantham, Penn., and as consulting editor for the American Scientific Affiliation’s Journal, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. Readers who would like more details about his research into a modern Jonah should consult the December 1991 issue of Perspectives for the full-length original article, complete with bibliographical citations, on which this paper is based. Dr. Davis invites correspondence from interested readers.”
In our first edition (2001) of The Laws of the Second Coming, we included the Jonah story in the main text, assuming, as others have done, that the story was valid. Since then, a reader alerted us to Dr. Davis’ investigation and sent us his article, “A Modern Jonah.” Thus, we have made the correction in our second edition (2005). We apologize for the earlier error.
Even so, we still believe that Jonah himself was swallowed by a great fish and do not take the story to be purely allegorical. We simply cannot prove this by a modern example, as we had earlier thought.