In our recently completed 2023 OT History Class we presented Biblical prophets chronologically instead of canonically, which brought out the evolution in the revelation regarding Messianic prophecy and Jewish Eschatology. Here are some samples of Rev. Nessle’s comments in a recent email from him:
From Jon’s Email 1/16/24
“Then in the Old Testament History class we followed the development of Messianic Prophecy when we re-ordered the Prophets in chronological order instead of canonical order. Then we clearly saw how Jonah foresaw the doom of Israel but shirked his responsibility to prophesy against Nineveh for fear that they might obey and not be destroyed. Well, God made sure the message was delivered on schedule even after Jonah had been dead for 3 days and 3 nights! God had to pull a rabbit out of a hat to get the job done, or better said, pull a prophet out of a fish! Why? Because He had an appointment to keep! God had to stay on schedule. They did repent because Rene Fretz pointed out the possibility that God also sent a coinciding sign of a Solar Eclipse. It went right over Nineveh that decade! I think it coincided! Wow!
Then after Jonah, came the prophet that didn’t deserve to be named because he shut up. He clammed up in fear of King Amaziah and stopped prophesying. He just spoke his mind afterward. This disqualified that prophet. The Bible does not name disqualified prophets! After that it was up to the next prophet, Amos, who was the lowest of the low, without pedigree, not of the school of the prophets, a former pig farmer who stood up and became enshrined as the prophet that wouldn’t shut up! He spoke the answer to the burning question of that day. If God promised the kingdom to David’s seed, how can that come to pass if the Assyrians are going to wipe us out? Then we saw the progression and growth of Jewish eschatology and Messianic prophecy that expanded from Amos’ seed through prophet after prophet, in chronological order, until it fully blossomed with Isaiah, who spoke so much Messianic prophecy that the book of Isaiah is said to be the 5th Gospel!”
Jon Continued; “Well, that got me thinking and I realized something. I wondered if there was anything in the book of Jonah that could be linked with an eclipse. This was because it was very unusual that a foreign nation like Assyria with a different pagan religion would receive and repent to a message given by Jonah, an unknown prophet to them… I was thinking the Eclipse had to coincide. But how could I prove that? Then I realized that God did do just that! In Jonah 4:5 Jonah made a booth outside the city to see what would become of it. When he complained about the heat, God prepared a gourd that grew which gave him shade. I was looking for evidence of an eclipse which shaded the sun. Here in that very context is an allegory regarding
a gourd that does just that! Wow! I think there is a connection. Maybe if some of those verbs in verses 6 and 7 have astronomical overtones that would really nail it! I am thinking that this was an allegory to an eclipse, explained in terms an ancient man would understand. If God told Jonah the Astro-Physics details, he would not have understood. If this is true, then we have a fixed date for Jonah!” Love ya! Jon
This inspired email from Jon Nessle got me moving to delve into the text of Jonah, to see what the Scriptural details may tell us in support of an eclipse allegory. As we will see, there are verbs in this context having astronomical overtones, but it might help if they occurred on the same day, as the eclipse, since I’m not aware of eclipses lasting beyond a single day! With this in mind, lets take a look at the record of Jonah, with this evidence of an allegory like this in mind, too see if it stacks up.
Jonah’s story is unique since the record of most prophets entails their ministry and background, including the impact of their divine message and how their oracle and vision fits in the prophetic line of Israel, and Scriptural canon. Jonah’s record is different, since being a so-called “reluctant prophet,” it relates the details in this episode where a prophet tries to escape the Godly calling on his life, to cry against the wickedness of Nineveh, by detouring from Nineveh, hopping a slow boat in the opposite direction to the Spanish Riviera, [Tarshish]. As Jonah learns, its not smart to contradict the Almighty Creator, [Jon. 1:9] which put Jonah’s passage in jeopardy of shipwreck. Even the ship’s crew had the common sense to know this was a bad idea, [Jon. 1:10-16] and if any of this crew was not God-fearing before this voyage, none were left thereafter, [Jon. 1:15-16]. This fits with a theme of this book of the Bible, that God’s loving care extends not only to Israel, but the to the Gentile nations also! Jonah told the crew to cast him overboard, then he disclosed that he was the reason their ship was in danger, [Jon. 1:11-12]. God then sent a great fish to swallow Jonah, where he spent 3 days and nights in the belly of the fish. His prayer out of the fish’s belly-called the “belly of hell,” is the Hebrew word for the grave: [H7585-sheol]. #1 This was the same period Jesus spent in the heart of the earth after his death and crucifixion, [Matt. 12:40-41]. This tells us also that Jonah died during this period, until he recalled his prayer and commitment to God, who spoke to the fish to vomit Jonah out on dry land, [Jon. 2:10]. At this point, Jonah got what many of us in life need, his second chance to obey God’s calling on his life, to go to Nineveh and preach his message, [Jon. 3:1-4]
From my June blog in 2017; I referenced research on the impact of an eclipse over Nineveh that may have coincided with Jonah’s ministry, without going into much detail. “In 765 B.C, a plague broke out in Nineveh where even the king was not able to go out to war, as was custom. Next came a civil war and another plague!” The first plague referred to here occurred in 765 BC, followed by the civil war that started in 763, the same year as the eclipse.
“An archaeological find of cuneiform tablets was uncovered in the 19th century describing events in Nineveh. A famous eclipse mentioned in the tablets was known as the Bur-Sagale eclipse, which is verified by NASA as occurring on June 15, 763 BC. The path of totality passed very near Nineveh, which was located 4 mi. north of modern day Mosul and Erbil in Iraq. God declared the Sun and the Moon were for signs, and now the Ninevites saw evidence of God’s judgment coming even before Jonah’s arrival. When Jonah did show up, the Ninevites were ripe for repentance.” #2
Figure 1. The June 15th, 763 BC Bur-Sagale Eclipse over Nineveh. #3
Julian calendar does not include the year 0, so the year 1 BC is followed by the year 1 AD. This is awkward for arithmetic calculations. All pages in this web site employ the astronomical numbering system for dates (they use the year 0). Years prior to the year 0 are represented by a negative sign [–]. Historians should note that there is a difference of one year between astronomical dates and BCE dates. Thus, the astronomical year 0 corresponds to 1 BCE, and year -100 corresponds to 101 BC, etc. This adds a year to the date above making it June 15th, 763 BC. #4
NASA graphic showing the path of the solar eclipse of June 15, 763 BC. The eclipse would have been seen as total in the area between the blue lines. The site of ancient Nineveh (the city) is about four miles northeast of the center of the modern city of Mosul, Iraq; the province of Nineveh occupied a considerably larger territory. If this NASA reconstruction is correct, the eclipse would have been observed as only partial in the city, but total just a few miles further north. The fact that modern astronomical programs show the eclipse as only partial in the city itself has led some investigators to surmise that the eclipse mentioned as occurring in the eponym of Bur-Sagale was some other eclipse at another date. This is usually done to support alternative biblical chronologies that do not agree with the conventional interpretation of the Assyrian Eponym Canon (AEC). However, it is precisely in the 8th century BC that the AEC is most assured of being correct, because various copies of the AEC have been found that overlap this time, and these in turn overlap the reigns of the kings of Assyria and Babylon given in Ptolemy’s Canon, which begins in 747 BC. Map from NASA, #5
We know that the Prophet Jonah ministered during the reign of King Ashur-Dan III since the Bible mentions him in [2 Kings 14:23-5], placing his ministry during the reign of King Jeroboam II of Israel. Since this solar eclipse was a most noteworthy highlight occurring in the reign of Ashur-Dan III, certain theologians suggest that the Bur-Sagle eclipse was a primary reason that the people of Nineveh were so ready to repent upon hearing Jonah’s message of judgment. “According to E.R. Thiele’s chronology, Jeroboam II was sole ruler of Israel between the years 782-753 BC, while Ashur-Dan III was king of Assyria between 772-755 BC.” #6 An aim of this study is to look for evidence of Jonah’s entry into Nineveh that may coincide with this eclipse.
Ashur-dan III’s reign was particularly difficult. Much of his reign was spent putting down revolts. These revolts were perhaps the result of the plague epidemics sweeping Assyria and the Bur-Sagale solar eclipse on 15 June 763 BC; both the epidemics and the eclipse could have been interpreted by the Assyrian populace as the gods withdrawing their divine support for Ashur-dan’s rule. The Assyrian empire had entered a period of decline, experiencing a plague in 765 BC, a peasant revolt from 763 to 759 BC, and a second plague in 759 BC. The Bur–Sagale eclipse, occurred in the midst of these troubled years, in 763 B.C. We don’t know the exact timing of Jonah’s visit to Nineveh, but we do know from the Biblical record that this was the time period during which he prophesied (2 Kings 14:25).
Jonah 3:3-4 tells us it took Jonah 3 days to navigate the streets of Nineveh to deliver his message of repentance, that Nineveh would be judged within 40 days, to change their ways, a biblical number symbolic for probation, as the 40 years Israel spent in the wilderness, and the 40 days of rain during Noah’s Flood. Not only the general population declared a fast [Jon. 3:5] but also the King published a decree enforcing a fast for both man and beast, to turn from their evil ways, God saw their change and repented the evil that He had previously pronounced, witholding His judgment.
If we fast forward to the celestial signs just before the birth of Christ, on August 12th, 3 BC, the first Jupiter-Venus union in Leo framing Christ’s birth occurred on Elul 1 on the Hebrew Calendar, opening a Season of Repentance. Jesus’ birth on Sept. 11th the month after this Aug. 12th union, on Tishri 1-Hebrew New Years Day, was followed by Yom Kippur on Tishri 10, or Sept. 19th that year, marked 40 days to the Day of Atonement, from Elul 1.
In the Great Sign of Revelation 12, a 400-day [40×10] link was found to Yom Kippur 2017 via a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter on August 27, 2016. But, when we view the Pan-American Total Solar Eclipse of Aug. 21, 2017, the eclipse was 40 days before Yom Kippur 2017, on Sept. 30th. Before the modern Hebrew Calendar, from Elul 1 till the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) was 40 days, known as the “Season of Repentance.” The total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017 begins this traditional 40-day Season of Repentance. The Season of Repentance is a call to repent before the Day of the Lord. Jewish tradition says those written in the Book of Life will be resurrected on the Feast of Trumpets. Elul is the month of repentance on the Jewish calendar, the time of turning in all the tithes to the storehouse. A month later, during the Days of Awe from Rosh Hashanah on Tishri 1 and Yom Kippur on Tishri 10, shows the record of celestial events marking Christ’s birth from Rev. 12.:1-2. A key chronological note to recognize here if viewed in isolation that if there was an eclipse that “coincided” with Jonah’s visit to Nineveh, it likely occurred by this time, or even to open the 40-day season of repentance, as Jonah prophesied in Nineveh. But there is also historical context to be aware of. “The eclipse was not the only calamity during Ashur-Dan’s reign. The AEC recounts a plague in 765, the eclipse and a revolt in the city of Ashur in 763, a revolt in Ashur again in 762, a revolt in Arrapha in 761 and 760, and a plague plus a revolt in the city of Guzana in 759. 758 BC was marked by a campaign against Guzana and then “peace in the land,” after which the king remained “in the land” for the next two years. Although there were military campaigns in 755, 754, 749, and 748, the AEC does not list any misfortune until the city of Calah revolted in 746 BC, the 9th year of Ashur-Dan’s brother and successor, Ashur-Nirari V. The Assyrians regarded plagues and eclipses as divine judgments for the whole land, #7 (Wiseman 1979: 44). The plague of 765, followed by a revolt and eclipse in 763 and then revolts in the following four years would only confirm in the mind of the Assyrians that they were under divine verdict. It is appealing to think that the “year of peace” in 758 and the lack of revolts and plagues in the following 11 years were a consequence of God’s mercy because of the repentance of the nation. If so, this could date Jonah’s visit at Nineveh to 759 or 758 BC.”#8
This view fits with God’s Grace and Mercy to acknowledge the repentance of the Ninevites, supported by the historical record. This is also why Jonah’s displeasure and great anger at God’s forgiveness of the Ninevites, shows how far out of line his thinking was in pronouncing judgment on God’s forgiveness, which was the goal of Jonah’s mission in the first place. This history probably is the best evidence that the eclipse may not have coincided with Jonah’s visit to Nineveh, but preceded it by 3-4 years, as we would expect the repentance of the city, to effect a change in their misfortune. The record in Jonah 4:4-11 is as follows;
4 Then said the Lord, Doest thou well to be angry? 5 So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city. 6 And the Lord God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd. 7 But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. 8 And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live. 9 And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death. 10 Then said the Lord, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not labored, neither made it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: 11 And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six-score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?
The word for “booth” in Jonah 4:5 is [H5521-cukkah; a temporary abode, hut or tent, as the booths the Feast of Tabernacles, Levi. 23:40-43, Deut. 16:30, Isa. 4:6]
It is important to point out here the three potential sources that Jonah had in this record to shade him from the sun’s intense heat. The word for “shadow” in vs. 5 and 6 are the same Hebrew word [H6738-tsel] lit. or fig. This is also the same Hebrew word used in [2 Kings 20:10-11, Isa. 38:8] for the astronomical shadow that went down 10 degrees in the miracle of Ahaz’ Sundial. E.W. Bullinger teaches this word for “shadow” in Jonah 4:5-6 [H6738-tsel] is the figure of speech called “paranomasia” or rhyming words, or the repetition of words similar in sound, but not necessarily in sense, [p.307, 317]. #9 In this potential allegory, the plant [gourd] ostensibly representing a solar eclipse, was stricken by the worm [Jon. 4:7] as it smote [H5221] the gourd to the end it withered, [H3001–yabesh]. Strong’s says “yabesh“ means to be ashamed, confused or disappointed, also to dry up or wither as herbage.” #10 A Biblical sample of this kind of language refers to a solar eclipse. In Isa. 24:23 we find this once again expressed by Bullinger as the figure “Antimereia” of the adjective the exchange of one part of speech for another. #11
Isa. 24:23 says;
23 Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before His ancients gloriously.
This seems to support the idea of the gourd as an allegory for a solar eclipse as it is found in this record. It also is possible that a solar eclipse may have been accompanied by the growth of the gourd, at the same time outlasting an eclipse– that normally only last a few minutes, to 3-5 hours, in a single day providing Jonah added relief from the Sun. This notion is supported by Jonah 4:7 dictated by the diurnal solar cycle when “the morning rose the next day.” an eclipse of the Sun is not historically known to last beyond a day, and with the lunar blockage of the sun completed the previous day, the gourd was not withered by the worm until the next day. With both the shading of the gourd and the Moon no longer stopping the sun, the sunlight beat [H5221]-same word as “smote” in v.7 which can be either lethal [90x] as the worm struck a lethal blow to the gourd, or a non-lethal blow; [Ex. 21:12, Josh. 10:26].
This is not only a personification, where in the Sun and Moon are given human qualities, but also the related figure of prosopopeia, when the absent are spoken of as present, the dead as alive, or anything is addressed as a person.#12 [p.861] This language is indicative of both solar and lunar eclipses when Sunlight is blocked by the Moon, or the Earth-shadow turns the lunar surface red-as with
a blood moon. This could have fulfilled an allegory in Jon. 4:6 where the Lord made a gourd to shadow over Jonah’s head to deliver [H5337–natsal] Jonah from his grief. This rhyming word with shadow, [H6738-tsel] in Jonah 4:5-6 shows the Lord’s potential act to deliver Jonah from the Sun’s intense heat by shading him with a solar eclipse, where the Moon blocks the sunlight either partially or totally. The sun’s unblocked heat combined with the intense east wind beat down on the Jonah’s head, that he fainted, and begged his death by sunstroke. Here we find two possible sources of shade over Jonah, so where is the 3rd? If we recall from Jon. 4:5 he built himself a booth, the kind of which is the same as those built by the Jews for the Feast of Tabernacles. During this feast the Jews honored God not only as their provider, but their deliverer also, just as God had done for Jonah with the fish. As Isa. 4:6 tells us;
6 And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain.
The word for “shadow” in Isa. 4:6 above is the same as Jonah 4:5-6 [H6738]. This shows us that Jonah was angry at the loss of his shade, but God points out that Jonah was more concerned with the shade from the gourd and the eclipse than he was with the potential impact of the eclipse on the repentance of a city of 120,000 inhabitants in Nineveh. Jonah’s booth-building during the Tabernacles Feast, tells us these events took place in the month Tishri, our Sept.-Oct. and that Jonah also had his personal repentance to make right with God, for disobeying His call to preach to Nineveh. It also establishes the link pointed out above to the 40-days of Repentance and the birth of Christ, our intercessor and mediator of our repentance.
Added astronomically related verses in this context are found in Isaiah 40; 45:12, 34:4, Jer. 33:22, Dan. 8:10, Mt. 24:29]
21 Have ye not known? Have ye not heard? Hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? 22 It is
He that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretches out the heavens as a curtain, and spreads them out as a tent to dwell in: 23 That bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity. 24 Yea, they shall not be planted; yea, they shall not be sown: yea, their stock shall not take root in the earth: and He shall also blow upon them, and they shall wither, [H3001] and the whirlwind shall take them away as stubble. 25 To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that He is strong in power; not one faileth. [cp. Ps. 147:4]
This Scripture not only includes the astronomical context as the Almighty Creator stretches out the heavens as a curtain, and spreads them out as a tent to dwell in: but also the botanical allegory related to princes and judges of the earth that are not planted or sown, whose stock takes no root and they wither, which is the same Hebrew word for “withered” as seen in Jonah 4:7, above.
The purpose of Jonah’s prophecy is to show the sovereignty of God at work in the life of an individual (the prophet Jonah), and his concern for His own people and that the way to avert national catastrophe is a concentrated outreach effort to all people. Jonah’s theme is God’s mercy to the individual (Jonah, a Jew), a group (the heathen sailors), the heathen world power (Assyria, a Gentile nation), and His people (Israel).
Jesus employed the repentance of the Ninevites to rebuke the Pharisees, thereby illustrating the hardness of the Pharisees’ hearts and their lack of repentance, (Matt. 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32). The heathen city of Nineveh repented at the preaching of a reluctant prophet, but the Pharisees would not repent at the preaching of the greatest of all the prophets, in spite of over-whelming evidence that He was actually their Lord and Messiah. Jonah is a picture of Israel, who was chosen and commissioned by God to be His witness (Isa. 43:10-12; 44:8), who rebelled against His will (Exodus 32:1-4; Judges 2:11-19; Ezek. 6:1-5; Mark 7:6-9), but like Israel, was miraculously preserved by God through centuries of exile and dispersion to finally preach His truth; (Jer. 30:11; 31:35-37; Hosea 3:3-5; Rev. 7:1-8; 14:1-3).
As Tom Hobson, chair of Biblical Studies at Morthland College, observes:
The Assyrian nation was weak and in chaos in the decade around 760 BC…. They had one earthquake (one sign of divine wrath). There was a famine from 765-758 BC. Assyria was losing battles and losing territory to its enemies. There were domestic riots… Now was a perfect time for a prophet from far away to arrive on the scene and command a response. Is it possible that in His mercy, God not only planned the miracles to engineer Jonah’s visit to correspond with an impressive eclipse, but He also spun the heavenly bodies in perfect synchronization with these events to help convince Nineveh to repent. #13
According to the Assyrian writings cited by Wiseman, here’s what a solar eclipse would have meant to them: “the king will be deposed and killed, and a worthless fellow will seize the throne…rain from heaven will flood the land…the city walls will be destroyed.” The Assyrians tell us that these times called for, a solemn fast, and the king would hand over his throne to a substitute until the danger passed. At least once when there was a total solar eclipse, the Assyrians cried, “Nineveh shall be overthrown!” This has dual meaning of, “Nineveh shall be made to repent!”).#14
We can’t prove the hypothesis that Jonah showed up in Nineveh for the 763 BC eclipse, but this does not mean that this solar eclipse did not help produce the desired results of Nineveh’s repentance recorded in the Biblical account.
God miraculously brought Jonah to preach his message at exactly the right time for the people of Nineveh to listen to him. The Assyrian nation was weak and in chaos in the decade around 760 BC. They already had one earthquake (a sign of divine wrath). There is a possibility that Amos also refers to this earth-quake [Amos 1:1] since Amos was a contemporary of Jonah. There was a 7-year famine from 765-758 BC. While the Assyrians were losing battles and land to their enemies, there was internal strife and domestic riots. With all the unrest they were experiencing, they seemed primed to believe Jonah and his warning.
With the events from 765 BC- a revolt and eclipse in 763 and then revolts in the following four years would only confirm in the mind of the Assyrians that they were under divine displeasure. It would fit the spiritual timeline that the “year of peace” in 758 and a lack of rebellions and plagues in the next 11 years were a consequence of God’s mercy because of the repentance of the Nineveh. If so, this could date Jonah’s appearance at Nineveh to 759 or 758 BC.
The repentance of an entire pagan city the size of Nineveh would be a greater miracle than for Jonah to survive getting swallowed by a fish. Yes, such an experience was fatal for Jonah, but this was part of the miracle, which was completed over 700 years later when Jesus cited Jonah as a sign comparable to his own resurrection. If we believe the Bible’s account of Jonah’s survival inside the fish, then a greater miracle of the repentance of the entire pagan city of Nineveh is possible also, since they are part of the same miraculous narrative.
I’m thankful for Jon Nessle’s email as the impetus for this month’s blog, and pertinent questions it sparked regarding Jonah and this eclipse. As the Lord Jesus Christ is the mediator of our own repentance, I invite those who would like to take part in commenting on this study for group discussion.
1. Strong’s Concordance, [H7585-sheol], James Strong
2. Read more at https://globalrumblings.blogspot.com/2016/11/the-sign-of-jonah-and-binding-of.html#JF4HXT0ur7boJ0rM.99
3. Five Millennium Canon of Solar Eclipses [Espenak & Meeus]
6. The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings. Edwin R. Thiele
7. THE TYNDALE BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY LECTURE, 1977
JONAH 1 S NINEVEH By Donald J. Wiseman 1979: 44
9. Figures of Speech used in the Bible, ppg. 307, 317. E.W. Bullinger
10. Strong’s Concordance, [H3001-yabesh], James Strong
11. Figures of Speech used in the Bible, pg. 495, E.W. Bullinger
12. IBID, [p.861]
14. THE TYNDALE BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY LECTURE, 1977
JONAH 1 S NINEVEH By Donald J. Wiseman 1979: 44