http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2701/270 ... m#2HCH0083
"sceptical Greeks and Romans... doubted the story of Hercules and the whale... yet their doubting those traditions did not make those traditions one whit the less facts."
Melville here provides a tongue in cheek use of the concept of fact. A religious tradition is conventionally regarded as factual, despite the strange combination of absence of evidence with evidence of absence. The obstinacy of fantasy is a remarkable power in human affairs.
How then did the famous Jonah find himself ensconced in the belly of the whale? Melville's speculation runs riot. Perhaps it was a Right Whale?
"the Right Whale's mouth would accommodate a couple of whist-tables, and comfortably seat all the players. Possibly, too, Jonah might have ensconced himself in a hollow tooth; but, on second thoughts, the Right Whale is toothless."
I'm sure it would be great fun playing whist in a whale's mouth at sea. Easy too, as long as the whale wasn't peckish, or inclined to dive.
Leaving aside symbolism, three days in a whale's gut is most unlikely: As Melville delicately puts it "want of faith in this matter of the prophet, was something obscurely in reference to ... the whale's gastric juices."
Still, religious scholars can answer any objection: "a German exegetist supposes that Jonah must have taken refuge in the floating body of a DEAD whale—even as the French soldiers in the Russian campaign turned their dead horses into tents, and crawled into them." I suspect that would have really stunk out the Ninevans into accepting anything Jonah told them.
Or maybe the whale was a ship: "it has been divined by other continental commentators, that when Jonah was thrown overboard from the Joppa ship, he straightway effected his escape to another vessel near by, some vessel with a whale for a figure-head; and, I would add, possibly called "The Whale,""
Or maybe 'an inflated bag of wind'. Speculation has no end.
But that party pooper Melville still has a cunning objection to inerrant defenders of the good book: "Jonah was swallowed by the whale in the Mediterranean Sea, and after three days he was vomited up somewhere within three days' journey of Nineveh, a city on the Tigris, very much more than three days' journey across from the nearest point of the Mediterranean coast. How is that? ...He might have carried him round by the way of the Cape of Good Hope. But not to speak of the passage through the whole length of the Mediterranean, and another passage up the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, such a supposition would involve the complete circumnavigation of all Africa in three days, not to speak of the Tigris waters, near the site of Nineveh, being too shallow for any whale to swim in."
Indeed for the Almighty all things are possible - maybe the dead whale varoomed around all Africa powered by hoverfart? I've looked on Google images for support for this speculation but with a sad lack of success.
And anyway, Melville still has his simple trump card on the Africa circumfartulation idea: "Jonah's weathering the Cape of Good Hope at so early a day would wrest the honour of the discovery of that great headland from Bartholomew Diaz, its reputed discoverer, and so make modern history a liar."
Since the Holy Bible has no lies, and since Diaz the pirate is likewise a man of honour, the washup in Nineveh remains a holy mystery, as bad as the immaculate insemenation.
And Melville, as a true prophet should, divines the moral lesson of all these scientific objections: "pride of reason... foolish, impious pride, and abominable, devilish rebellion against the reverend clergy. For by a Portuguese Catholic priest, this very idea of Jonah's going to Nineveh via the Cape of Good Hope was advanced as a signal magnification of the general miracle. And so it was."
I'm sure HM would not even dream of mocking a Portuguese Catholic. His mentor Cervantes certainly did no such thing in Don Quixote, which is full of ardent pious devotion to the miraculous miracles of farting whales and such like.
Melville has proof that Jonah was real: "three centuries ago, an English traveller in old Harris's Voyages, speaks of a Turkish Mosque built in honour of Jonah, in which Mosque was a miraculous lamp that burnt without any oil." So there. Pfft to any doubters.