Animal Imagery in the Story of Jonah


This is a piece written by a friend, Wendy Berk.  We offer it today in honor of the Jewish High Holy Days. 

Wendy writes, “We traditionally read the book of Jonah in the late afternoon of Yom Kippur.  I am attracted to the animal symbols in Jonah…  The book of Jonah is in the Old Testament.   God commands Jonah to go to Nineveh to inspire the people to a better way of life.  Jonah doesn’t want to go, so he boards a ship in the opposite direction.  

A raging storm occurs, and the crew decides Jonah is the cause. They throw him overboard where he is swallowed by a great fish.  He stays in the fish’s belly for 3 days and 3 nights. When he repents, the fish vomits him up on dry land. Jonah goes to Nineveh and leads the city in a great revival.  

Jonah’s name means Dove. The dove is in the same family as the carrier pigeon, so his path in the world was to carry messages. Jonah was reluctant to fulfill his life path as we sometimes are. Doves appear to us mostly at the times of dawn and dusk, the times of the day where the veils between the worlds are said to be thinnest. We hold the imagery of a thin veil when we read this story on Yom Kippur, since we read it where we are approaching dusk.  Perhaps this is a symbol for all of us, that when the veil is thin, when we are vulnerable, we are more open to Divine messages. 

The big fish tells us that there are times when we are held by the darkness of the unknown, a time for gestation before renewal. There is a lovely commentary about the fish which says that the fish had eyes like windows, and a hanging pearl of light so that Jonah could see his surroundings during his three-day voyage inside. Sometimes we need a time out from the busyness of the world for self-reflection and insight.  We do this on Yom Kippur.”

In solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters, let us take time for reflection and open to divine messengers.  And so it is.

Photo by Wendell

Ventura Center for Spiritual Living

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