Pagan Symbols in Christianity 2: Jonah and the Great Fish

Story of Prophet Jonah and the Great Fish derived from Babylonian sea monster Derceto.
Prophet Jonah by Michelangelo

Oannes and Sea Goddess Derceto

Jonah and the Great Fish which is also a famous story in history could be one of the inspiration sources to christianized paintings. The original story is Babylonian and tells that Jonah was eaten by a golden fish which was represented by a whale. Immediately afterwards the golden fish splits Jonah out on the sand where he lied and passed away. According to the Babylonian mythology, Jonah was a godlike creature called Oannes whose a human-fish mixed form and shares his wisdom with Babylonians. The myth also has it that the whale in the story was Sea Goddess Derceto who had eaten Oannes and rebirthed him again. Derceto represents here a mother goddess figure.

In Biblical Perspective

Sistine Chapel ceil paintings by Michelangelo, including many religious depiction in Renaissance.
Ceiling of Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo
Contrary to Babylonian myths, Bible does not specify the fish as a whale or its color as well. Instead of customizing the story, the Bible attributes a meaning to it from the perspective of fatalism which is related to the monotheistic religions. The legend has it that the God had honoured Jonah by placing him as a prophet and burdened a holly mission to his arms. But he reneged on his duty and sailed away the seas. Moral, in this case, is not to be a refuser for a divine mission given by god and not to act against the God’s omniscience. In comparison with other prophets like John the Babtist who is a main figure in deesis mosaics, Jonah the recusant one generally portrayed via his fish story in most artworks concerning Christianity

St. Jonah Depictions by Michelangelo and Lastman

Religious story of Jonah and the Great Fish, painted by Pieter Lastman, derived from Babylonian context
Jonah and the Great Fish by Pieter Lastman
Best known one of those artworks, is a fresco of seven prophets depicted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of Sistine Chapel, shown above. Same story of  Saint Jonah's, has been depicted by Pieter Lastman by oil painting. Moreover, if we enlarge our angle of observation, numerous examples referring to paganism in Christian art unfold.
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Pagan Symbols in Christianity 2: Jonah and the Great Fish Pagan Symbols in Christianity 2: Jonah and the Great Fish Reviewed by Articonog on December 30, 2019 Rating: 5

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