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Jonah is a short story, completely fictional, which was written by a liberal during a time following the Babylonian Exile when proto-neocons were promoting Jewish exceptionalism. The moral of the story is that salvation is available to everyone, not just the people of your own little group. This moral is lost on the fundies, who prefer to focus on the whale part, and insist it really happened as written, and was not merely a plot device to keep the story moving along.

The plot of Jonah is simple. God tells Jonah to go to the Assyrian (in what is modern day Iraq) city of Ninevah and preach repentance, for the end is nigh. Jonah freaks out, tries to get away from God on a ship, but God follows him out into the Med and rocks the ship with a storm. Jonah admits to the ship's captain that he offended his God, so they toss him into Davey Jones' locker and immediately the storm abates. A giant whale comes along, swallows Jonah, and steams all the way around Cape Horn, up into the Persian Gulf, and spits him out on the banks of the Shaat-al-Arab between Iraq and Iran in only three days.

Now God tells Jonah again, go and preach repentance unto Ninevah, or he's gonna nuke it in forty days. Jonah complies this time, and to his great surprise the people of the city put on sackcloth and pour ashes on their heads and repent of their wickedness just like Jonah told them to do. And that pisses Jonah off exceedingly, because he was really there just to see the fireworks.

So he goes off in a huff and pouts. Then God comes to him and says:

JONAH 4:11 "Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?"

This was one of the rare instances in the Bible where God is being funny, and it turns out he has a sarcastic wit. He's saying, in essence, "Even if you hold the lives of more than a hundred thousand children as nought, think of all the cattle that would be lost!"

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