Chapter 83: Jonah Historically Regarded

In “Jonah Historically Regarded,” Ishmael presents us with a dazzling array of silly arguments for the factual basis of Jonah’s tale. Initially, his sarcastic justifications seem like a simple dismissal of people who sacrifice reason for faith. But as the chapter unfolds, we see Ishmael directing his scorn specifically at exegetists, or religious scholars, and those of the common flock naive enough to argue for historical fact in a literary text — Greek or Christian myth alike.

However, Ishmael does not argue against the truth of these stories. In fact, in “The Sermon,” Father Mapple gives a beautiful reading of the same story, steeped with truths of the human condition. By contrast, in “Jonah Historically Regarded,” Ishmael draws a clear distinction between factual truth and literary truth, criticizing only those who confuse the two.

Chapter 83: Jonah Historically Regarded

Everybody knows Jonah,
The whale, and its use,
As they used to know Hercules,
And the trials sent by Zeus.

But do we have to believe it?
It speaks to the soul
With impossible fantasy;
The facts aren’t the goal.

(Don’t confuse the two!)
History and story,
One tells no lies
And the other is written not to be boring,
To shock and surprise, oh!

History and story,
Both tell a tale
To communicate truths of life to our quarry,
To lift mystery’s vail.

(c) and (p) 2010 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea July 29, 2010
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea February 20, 2011

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