Sheol Identified

Sheol Identified September 10, 2012

Scholars and laypeople have engaged in significant debate about the precise meaning of the word/name “Sheol” in the Bible. At times it seems to be an underworld, at times simply the grave, and at times perhaps something else.

A student in my class on the Bible has actually solved the mystery and come up with a definitive answer to the question.

Sheol is the name of the big fish in the Book of Jonah.

The Biblical text which proves this is Jonah 2:2, where Jonah is depicted as saying “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice” (ESV).

Sheol, appropriately capitalized as one would expect, is clearly the name of the big fish, in whose belly Jonah found himself at the moment when he uttered those words.

I am grateful to my student – who wishes to remain anonymous, unless someone makes a YouTube video about this and it goes viral – for offering this creative – and entertaining – suggestion!

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  • jared_calaway

    Clever. Though I have three critical questions and a fourth open-ended one. (1) is “Sheol” as underground afterlife called that because of the belly of the fish, or was the belly of the fish called Sheol because to equate it with an earlier view of an underground, dark and shadowy afterlife? (2) There is the source critical issue that usually states that the poetic part was a separate Psalm that itself may be quite old but was only later incorporated into the prose narrative. The poem, in itself, does not actually make any reference to a fish–we presume it based upon the surrounding narrative. We could, therefore, just as easily call the fish “The Pit” (Jon. 3:6). It is also weirdly incorporated because it is a Psalm of thanksgiving rather than one that seeks salvation. As such, I doubt the fish is being called Sheol, but, at the point of incorporation of the poem, the belly of the fish is being compared to Sheol, the Pit, etc., with poetical flourish. (3) How might this make sense of the lexical meaning of “Sheol” that is related to the word “to ask/question”? (4) More positively, even if this is not the source of the concept of Sheol, how might the comparison of the fish and Sheol have developed in later periods (such as in the traditions of Jesus’ harrowing of hell and the “sign of Jonah”)?

    • Kenneth Myers

      It’s a joke.

      • jared_calaway

        I understood that it was a joke when I saw the word “definitive,” but I responded because it is a joke that leads to broader questions–that’s why I thought it was clever.

    • Susan Burns

      It’s not hard to see why sheol could be in the belly of the beast. The ancient rite of excarnation released the spirit from the flesh by the process of consumption by a wild beast.

  • Dr. David Tee

    Just a note about your website–it says i need explorer 9 to post comments, well i have explorer 9 something may be wrong on your end unless you are trying to get rid of me.

    • FYI – we are still seeing your comments, so apparently you’ve not been gotten rid of.

  • Gary

    Fillet of Sheol? Joke fell flatfish. Very two dimensional. My everlasting sole will go to hell. Obviously, I have nothing better to do.

    • Give up, Gary. You’re floundering.

      • Love both comments, but particularly the “Filet of Sheol” reference. I wish I had thought of it and used it in the post!

  • Jay Lee

    i figured this out just a minute ago studieng the book of jonah that the fish was named sheol. i searcheed as to if there were any species of fish named Sheol