Jonah in the Whale

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October 21st, 2010 – Jonah, telling the story of Jonah in the Whale is probably one of the Bible’s best-known stories, and far more than the “fish story” remembered by children in Bible study. It is more properly a story of repentance and forgiveness – the reason it is also one of the few portions of the Bible read on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.

Jonah in the Whale. From a manuscript of the 9th cent. AD. Photo: Shakko / Wikipedia.

It is the story of Jonah the Prophet, who was requested by the Lord to go from the Land of Israel to the city of Nineveh (today thought to be Mosul in Iraq), to warn the people to repent for their sins, lest their city be destroyed. Jonah, however, chose to run away from his mission and instead boarded a ship bound for Tarshish, which was probably in Spain. When a violent storm arose, the ship’s crew came to the conclusion that one of its passengers was responsible and cast lots to determine who it was. The lots fell on Jonah who was thrown overboard after which the storm immediately calmed down. Meanwhile, what the Bible calls a “big fish,” today assumed to be a whale, swallowed up Jonah into its belly, where he remained for three days and three nights. Jonah prayed to the Lord and was saved when the fish spat him out on the shore. He then understood he was destined to go to Nineveh, as he had been commanded. The King and the people of Nineveh repented and were thus saved from destruction.

Jonah in the Whale is subject of the newest coin in Israel’s long-running “Biblical Art” series. The design is inspired by the YinYang philosophy.

There are four variations (two gold and two silver) of the coin available: One of the gold coins is in the popular “smallest gold coins of the world” category, a 1/25 ounce .999 pure gold 1 New Sheqel measuring 13.92 mm. The three others are the traditional .917 gold (22 kt) 10 New Sheqel and sterling silver 2 and 1 New Sheqels. The side bearing the face value is designed by Aharon Shevo and portrays a solitary Jonah at the bottom, arms outstretched in prayer.
The obverse by Gideon Keich is, according to the issuer, inspired by the Chinese YinYang philosophy. It shows an incuse relief representation of Jonah within the body of a whale that has been configured to evoke the famous YinYang symbol. YinYang philosophy revolves around opposite factors, their interaction, and the relationship between them. In the case of Jonah’s story, land and sea, good and evil, sinning and repentence.