Jonah is a story in the Bible that’s taught frequently in Sunday School. It’s very accessible to kids, because the imagery is concrete. Jonah doesn’t obey God, gets thrown in the ocean, swallowed by a whale, and then obeys God. It’s about doing the right thing even when you don’t want to, and taking your punishment when it’s dished out. For kids, it’s like a lecture from their parents.
There’s more to this story. Think about the Cthulhu mythos of HP Lovecraft. Then, look at the story again. A storm rages in the sea, and a lone boat rocks among the waves. The sailors are begging and pleading with their gods, for someone, something to calm the storm. Finally, they find a stranger, and ask if his god could do anything for them. He says that his god demands a sacrifice. They sacrifice him to the sea.
Three days later, the man comes out of the water, stinking of fish and rot, like a demon from hell. He walks into the King’s court, and demands that they kneel to his god. Everyone expects the king to have him executed. The king bows down, sits in a pile of ashes. He commands no one will eat or drink in his kingdom. The people and the kingdom survives.
It’s a dark, murky tale of brutality and death, a warlike, destroyer god waiting in the wings to wreak havoc. But the message that god sends isn’t, “you will die,” but, “I don’t want you to die.” Jonah is one of the first narratives in the Old Testament to mark the transition from a tribal, nationalist mindset, where each country has their own god, to a religion shared by multiple cultures and nations. It’s a move away from the genocidal mindset in which countries had to be slaughtered by the Hebrews by God’s command. Jonah went through his death and rebirth so that the people of Nineveh could be saved.
“Oannes, in Mesopotamian mythology, an amphibious being who taught mankind wisdom. Oannes, as described by the Babylonian priest Berosus, had the form of a fish but with the head of a man under his fish’s head and under his fish’s tail the feet of a man. In the daytime he came up to the seashore of the Persian Gulf and instructed mankind in writing, the arts, and the sciences. Oannes was probably the emissary of Ea, god of the freshwater deep and of wisdom.” (Encylopedia Britannica)
To me, the story of Jonah and Oannes are very similar. It speaks of a time when people were instructed by an individual who came from the sea in a time of crisis and helped them survive. Jesus references Jonah, and says that he will also die for three days and then return.
Mark Booth, in the Secret History of the World, explains that narratives in scripture and mythology are often depicted with anatomically modern humans. This process distorts the original meaning of the texts, which are symbolic narratives about the history of humanity as a species. Humans and hominids were originally semi-aquatic, and before that were aquatic.