Wednesday, May 9, 2007

In the late 1800's a man named James Bartley claimed to have been a whaleman aboard a British whaleship the "Star of the East". The ship was hunting whales off of South America in 1891 when a sperm whale was spotted. Two whale boats went out to catch the whale. One boat was wrecked by the whale, one sailor drowned and one (Bartley) was lost and could not be found. The second boat killed the whale and towed it to the ship. The next day, when the stomach of the whale was brought up on deck and cut open, Bartley was found inside the stomach of the whale. A bit worse for wear (it was said that his hair was gone and his face and hands were bleached "like parchment").

According to the story, Bartley eventually made a full recovery (although he retained the strange coloring of his skin) and became somewhat of a local celebrity around England. His story was printed in popular accounts and newspapers at the time, and has shown up quite often since then as a tale of the "Modern Jonah".

That's the story anyway... how true might it be? Records show that there was a ship called the "Star of the East" that was sailing in the right place at the right time. The only problem is that it was not a whale ship. Checking records of the ship show no one named Bartley on any of the voyages. The wife of the captain (who was on all of the trips the ship took) was interviewed about the incident and said that it did not happen and that Bartley had made up a "fish story".
What we do know is that right about the time that the story of Bartley broke there was a dead whale that had been harpooned near shore and was being exhibited around the coast of England. Skeptics say that Bartley may have made up the whole story to cash in on the publicity generated by the whale exhibit and used an odd skin condition he had as "proof". But it seems that this is about as close as the facts can get us and we will likely never know for sure.... http://http//

A Play In One Scene

JONAH -- Did Jonah live for three days inside a fish?

PROF -- (enters carrying briefcase and books, begins crossing)

KATY -- (follows carrying books and papers, shouts) Professor

PROF -- (stops, turns) Yes?

KATY -- (approaches) I've decided what I'm going to write my
dissertation on.

PROF -- Already? I gave you a week to decide.

KATY -- Yes. I got an email yesterday that got me interested in
the story of Jonah and the whale. So, I decided that my
dissertation will be titled, "Three ways to live three days in
the belly of a fish".

PROF -- That's a very clever title. But...

KATY -- This email said that a man was actually swallowed by a
whale and lived to tell about it.

PROF -- Yes, well, that may or may not be true, but it sort of
misses the point...

KATY -- ...The guy wasn't in the whale's stomach for three whole
whole days, but the incident shows that a man could survive for
several hours. When when they finally rescued him, his hair and
his skin were all bleached from the stomach acid. Can you
believe it?

PROF -- Actually, no, I can't.

KATY -- Well, the email said that the story was verified.

PROF -- Would this story just happen to be about a whaling ship
in the Falkland Islands?

KATY -- As a matter of fact, it would. How did...

PROF -- ...I researched that story myself. Not a word of it is
KATY -- It isn't?

PROF -- No. It turns out the boat named in the story is a
fishing boat, not a whaler. The ship's crew list never listed
the name of the man who was allegedly involved. The ship's log
never even mentioned the Falkland Islands. And the captain's
widow said her husband never mentioned anything even closely
related such a story. She called it a sea yarn.

KATY -- Oh.

PROF -- The most unfortunate part about the story is that
Christians have been propagating the story for almost a hundred
years as if it were a fifth gospel.

KATY -- They said it was verified.

PROF -- I'm sure they meant well. But, actually, it doesn't
really matter if a man could survive in a fish's belly or not.

KATY -- It doesn't?

PROF -- No, Jesus made that pretty clear.

KATY -- Jesus did? How was Jesus involved?

PROF -- In Matthew 12:40, Jesus says "For as Jonah was three
days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of
Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the

KATY -- Oh. You mean Jonah didn't stay alive in the whale. He
was dead.

PROF -- That's the way it looks to me.

KATY -- That kind of makes the story of Jonah all the more
exciting, doesn't it?

PROF -- Yes. And prophetic.

KATY -- Prophetic?

PROF -- Yes. In Jonah 2:6, Jonah prays, " brought my life
up from the pit, O LORD my God."

KATY -- He died and rose again.

PROF -- Do you still want your dissertation to be called "Three
ways to live three days in the belly of a fish"?

KATY -- I guess not.

PROF -- (turns moves to exit) Well, you still have a week to

KATY -- (follows) That's too bad I had a really neat design for
a snorkel....

©2005 Bob Snook. Conditions for use:
Do not sell any part of this script, even if you rewrite it.
Pay no royalties, even if you make money from performances.
You may reproduce and distribute this script freely,
but all copies must contain this copyright statement. The notion that Jonah was resurreced is new to me. That of course would deal with many problems and arguments if that were the case. But for me it holds water in a different way. It is a story, a satire even and the writer is not telling a story of natural history nor is it an episode of Crocodile Hunter. It is a story that tells us about God and our relationship with God. Most everything else is part of the story. JWS

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