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Whale of a tale for today's world

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Jonah and the Whale, an oil on oak by Pieter Lastman (1583-1633), at present in the Museum Kunstpalast. PHOTO: WIKIPEDIA

Heard about Jonah and the whale? The stroppy Jew tossed overboard into the Mediterranean, swallowed by a sea monster, then vomited on to a beach? It's an unlikely tale and if taken literally, hardly worthy of a spot in the Bible.

There's a whole lot more to the story, however, and treating it as a news report misses the mark by a country mile. It's actually a parable about a nation's sense of itself, a wake-up call to the Jewish people to fulfil their role in the world as the model of a higher good. It's also a parable for every nation, including our own.

A pity, then, that in the popular imagination the story is only about a hapless man's encounter with a whale. Even that distorts the biblical story somewhat, because that has no whale. It's a big fish, and even that's incidental. The focus is Jonah, a name meaning "dove". And the dove was a symbol of Israel.

At the time the parable was written, in the 5th century BC, the Jewish leaders were........

© Otago Daily Times