That Jonah Stuff Again

A STORY which went the rounds recently in newspapers served by the Associated Press told of a certain college professor who had crawled "into a whale," in order to prove that one of these animals could have swallowed Jonah. The New York Times captioned the item: "Scientist Crawls Through a Whale (Dead) and Says that Story of Jonah Could Be True." The account was embellished with all the fanciful trimmings of an imaginative reporter.

Doubting the veracity of the account as it appeared in the press, we wrote to the professor himself and received the following reply:--

The University of Chicago
Department of Pharmacology

Dear Mr. Teller:

All newspaper accounts dealing with my crawling through the gullet of a whale are grossly exaggerated. I merely replied to a question from a reporter. I was asked whether it was possible for a whale to swallow a human being, and my reply was that in my judgment it was possible for a large sperm whale to swallow an object the size of a human being. I did not go through the gullet into the stomach.

One day at the whaling station, we had a thin strip of a gullet from a sperm whale. I slipped this tissue over me, and felt convinced that there was room enough in the gullet of a large sperm whale for a human being to pass.
Yours very truly, E.M. Geiling

For every one who reads Dr. Geiling's denial of having crawled into the belly of a whale, there will be 100,000 persons who will remember the newspaper report, and tell us how a college professor once duplicated the Jonah trip.

Sperm whales have sharp teeth and tear their food to pieces before swallowing. Chunks of giant cuttlefish found in the bodies of these animals show mutilation by the dentition and corrosion by the acids of the stomach. A prophet intent on staying three days and three nights in the stomach of a sperm whale would have to watch his step before even approaching the gullet.

As to the size of the gullet, there is a vast difference between slipping "a thin strip" of the gullet over one's shoulders and crawling through that same gullet before it is removed from the body. Body tissues detached from their surrounding parts can be stretched and inflated much more readily than they can in their normal state. We are still waiting to see some good Fundamentalist crawl into the stomach of a whale -- and live. And this goes for either a living or a dead whale.

Mark Twain once remarked that a lie can travel half way around the world before truth can put its trousers on. It may be that this applies to running down newspaper reports of man-eating whales and the constant reiteration of Jonah yarns.

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