Christogenea Forum Call 09-27-10: Why the Assyrians Believed Jonah and Other Topics

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Why the Assyrians Believed Jonah

The Bible tells us that Jonah, a man, was caught in the belly of a great fish and taken off to Nineveh, where, being ejected from the fish on the banks of the Euphrates, he preached repentance to the Assyrians and they believed him, and they repented of their sin in sackcloth and ashes. This was just a short time before Nineveh was to be destroyed, according to the Book of Jonah itself. What the Bible does not tell us, however, is why the Ninevites should have believed Jonah, or even the witnesses who must have seen him ejected from the fish. Why would the sinful Assyrians believe this man? Maybe here we will see just how much the Bible can come to life once we gain an understanding of ancient history.

The following paragraph is from Diodorus Siculus' Library of History, 2.4.2-4, from the Loeb Classical Library edition, Volume 1 pages 359-361.

"Now there is in Syria a city known as Ascalon, and not far from it a large and deep lake, full of fish. On its shore is a precinct of a famous goddess whom the Syrians call Derceto; and this goddess has the head of a woman but all the rest of her body is that of a fish, the reason being something like this. The story as given by the most learned of the inhabitants of the region is as follows: Aphrodite, being offended with this goddess, inspired in her a violent passion tor a certain handsome youth among her votaries; and Derceto gave herself to the Syrian aid bore a daughter, but then, filled with shame of her sinful deed, she killed the youth and exposed the child in a rocky desert region, while as for herself, from shame and grief she threw herself into the lake and was changed as to the form of her body into a fish; and it is for this reason that the Syrians to this day abstain from this animal and honour their fish as gods. But about the region where the babe was exposed a great multitude of doves had their nests, and by them the child was nurtured in an astounding and miraculous manner; for some of the doves kept the body of the babe warm on all sides by covering it with their wings, while others, when they observed that the cowherds and the other keepers mere absent from the nearby steadings, brought milk therefrom in their beaks and fed the babe by putting it drop by drop between its lips. And when the child was a year old and in need of more solid nourishment, the doves, pecking off bits from the cheeses, supplied it with sufficient nourishment. Now when the keepers returned and saw that the cheeses had been nibbled about the edges, they were astonished at the strange happening; they accordingly kept a look-out, and on discovering the cause found the infant, which was of surpassing beauty. At once, then, bringing it to their steadings they turned it over to the keeper of the royal herds, whose name was Simmas; and Simmas, being childless, gave every care to the rearing of the girl, as his own daughter, and called her Semiramis, a name slightly altered from the word which, in the language of the Syrians, means "doves," birds which since that time all the inhabitants of Syria have continued to honour as goddesses."

Semiramis basically came out of a fish, her mother Derceto, and was then nurtured by doves. Dove in Hebrew is Strong's number 3123, or 3124, Jonah. So Jonah means dove in Hebrew, and the Assyrians spoke a very close Semitic language. Therefore Jonah was a dove that came out of a fish, and that is why they believed the prophet! So here we see that even in our folly, God speaks to men on their own terms, and sort of makes fun of us in the process. Who thinks that Yahweh our God has no sense of humor?

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