See studies by L. C. Allen (1978), D. Stuart (1987), and J. M. Sasson (1990). See also bibliography under Old Testament.
In the Tanakh/Old Testament of the Bible, Jonah's story is told at length in the Book of Jonah. He is also mentioned in 2 Kings (as a prophet in the time of King Jeroboam II, from the Galilean village of Gath-hepher near Nazareth).
God again orders Jonah to visit Nineveh and prophesy to its inhabitants. This time he goes there and walks through the city crying, "In forty days Nineveh shall be destroyed." The Ninevites believe his word and appoint a public fast, ranging from the King (who puts on sackcloth and sits in ashes) to the humblest person. God has compassion and spares the city for the time being.
Embittered by this, Jonah questions the need for his journey, stating that since God is merciful it was inevitable that God would yield to the Ninevites' entreaties. He then leaves the city and makes himself a shelter, waiting to see whether or not the city will be destroyed.
God causes a plant (in Hebrew a kikayon) to grow over Jonah's shelter to give him some shade from the sun. Later, a worm bites the plant's root and it withers. Jonah, now being exposed to the full force of the sun, becomes faint and desires that God take him out of the world.
But God says to him,
But He [Jesus] answered them, "An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. The people of Nineveh will stand up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because they repented when Jonah preached to them – and now, something greater than Jonah is here!"Matthew 12:39-41 NET
Jonah is regarded as a saint by a number of Christian denominations. He is commemorated as a prophet in the Calendar of Saints of the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church on September 22. On the Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar his feast day is September 22 also (for those churches which follow the traditional Julian Calendar, September 22 currently falls on October 5 of the modern Gregorian Calendar). He is commemorated with the other minor prophets in the Calendar of saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church on July 31.
Like many important Biblical characters, Jonah is also important in Islam as a prophet who is faithful to God (Allah) and delivers His messages. He is known to Muslims by his Arabic name, Yunus "Arabic: يونس", and also as (The One with the Whale "Arabic: ذو النون"). Sura 10 (equivalent to chapter 10) of the Qur'an is named "The Holy Qur'an/Yunus" after him, although he only receives one reference, in verse 98. The full story of Prophet Jonah is recounted in Sura 37, verses 139-149:
Note that in verse 139 God is referred to as 'Us' and in verses 145-8 refers to Himself as 'We'. This cannot be a reference to the Trinity but rather an Arabic signifier of respect. (other verses of the Qur'an indicate that it is a sin to believe in Trinity)
According to the Qur'an, when, 10 years after receiving revelation, Muhammad went to the city of Ta'if to see if its leaders would allow him to preach his message from there rather than Makkah, but he was cast from the city by the urchins and children. He took shelter in the garden of Utbah and Shaybah, two members of the Quraysh tribe. They sent their servant, Addas, to serve him grapes for, although they were displeased at his Prophethood, their tribal bond - important in Jahili (pre-Islamic time) culture - took precedence. The Prophet asked Addas where he was from and the servant replied Niniwah. "The town of Yunus, son of Matta," the Prophet replied. Addas was shocked because he knew that the pagan Arabs had no knowledge of Yunus. He then asked how Muhammad knew of this man. "We are brothers," the Prophet replied. "Yunus was a Prophet of Allah and I, too, am a Prophet of Allah." Addas immediately accepted Islam and kissed the hands and feet of the Prophet.(Summarized from the book of story of the prophet Muhammad by Ibn Hisham Volume 1 pg.419-421)
One of the most important ideas in the Jewish religion is Teshuva - the ability to repent and be forgiven by God. The essence of the book, and the source of the idea of Teshuva is said to be the book of Jonah: Jonah, the son of truth, (The name of his father "Amitai" in Hebrew means truth,) refuses to ask the people of Ninveh to repent. He seeks the truth only, and no forgiveness. When forced to go, his call is heard loud and clear. The people of Ninveh repent ecstatically, "fasting, including the sheep", and the Jewish scripts are critical of this. When praying, Jonah repeats God's 13 traits failing to say the last one which is "...and Truthful", and changing it with "...and whome is willing to forgive the bad".. God responds by showing Jonah that he is "angry at doing good", and that he too would agree to spare an ephemeral plant if it has importance for him.
See also Jonah in Rabbinic Literature.
Interpretations of the "fish" fall into three general categories:
In Jonah 2:1 (1:17 in English translation), the original Hebrew text reads dag gadol (דג גדול), which literally means "great fish." The Septuagint translates this phrase into Greek as ketos megas (κητος μεγας). The term ketos alone means "huge fish," and in Greek mythology the term was closely associated with sea monsters, including sea serpents. (See the Theoi Project "Ketea" for more information regarding Greek mythology and the Ketos.) Jerome later translated this phrase as piscis granda in his Latin Vulgate. He translated ketos, however, as cetus in Matthew 12:40.
At some point cetus became synonymous with "whale" (the study of whales is now called cetology). In his 1534 translation, William Tyndale translated the phrase in Jonah 2:1 as "greate fyshe" and he translated the word ketos (Greek) or cetus (Latin) in Matthew 12:40 as "whale". Tyndale's translation was later incorporated into the Authorized Version of 1611. Since then, the "great fish" in Jonah 2 has been most often interpreted as a whale.
There is anecdotal evidence that the throats of many large whales, as well as possibly the whale shark, could accommodate passage of an adult human. The story of Jonah mentions weeds wrapped around Jonah's head, perhaps to shield his face with seaweed against the acid.
However, doubts have been cast that any existing whale or fish would be able to repeat the feat described, either due to size of mouth, narrowness of throat, or because it diverges so wildly from these animals' normal eating habits. The largest whales - baleen whales, a group which includes the blue whale - eat plankton and "it is commonly said that this species would be choked if it attempted to swallow a herring. The sperm whale, on the other hand, has "a small mouth... Its food is torn to pieces before being swallowed," according to Dr. C. H. Townsend, a former Acting Director of the American Museum of Natural History and the New York Aquarium. He further states that "there is no evidence that such a feat would be possible." As for the whale shark, Dr. E. W. Gudger, an Honorary Associate in Ichthyology at the American Museum of Natural History, noted that "while the mouth is cavernous, the throat itself is only four inches wide and has a sharp elbow or bend behind the opening. This gullet would not permit the passage of a man's arm." In another publication he also noted that "the whale shark is not the fish that swallowed Jonah.
One may argue that applying contemporary taxonomy from a literalist perspective does little to further our understanding of this story, written in a time when such knowledge did not yet exist (and as such was less relevant than in our time) and all large sea creatures had the same symbolism so that a generic term could easily suffice. Another argument is that Jonah being swallowed was a divine miracle and thus the type of fish/whale is immaterial. God either used whatever sea life was available or created a large fish/whale to serve His purpose of causing Jonah to repent and to carry out His command of preaching repentance.
Campbell also attempted to draw parallels with the epic of Gilgamesh, in which Gilgamesh obtains a plant from the bottom of the sea. Similarities of the accounts, however, are minor. In the Book of Jonah a worm (in Hebrew tola'ath, "maggot") bites the plant's root causing it to wither, while in the epic of Gilgamesh the plant is eaten by a serpent.