Do you feel as if you’ve been trapped inside for a very long time, in the dark, wearing the same unwashed garments for days on end, waiting for an escape from your involuntary seclusion, developing existential ennui?
You might be suffering from coronavirus quarantine depression. Wanna know who could really relate? The biblical prophet Jonah. He experienced all the same feelings during his ordeal inside the digestive tract of a whale. That’s right, friends! Your quarantine could be worse! Instead of masks, the CDC could say the only real protection from COVID-19 is to wait it out in the stomachs of (consenting) large sea mammals. Think about that next time you kvetch about how uncomfortable your mask is.
In the Book of Jonah, God has an apocalyptic vibe going on and tells Jonah to go preach to the city of Nineveh and get all the citizens to repent before He destroys them all. Jonah tries to run from his responsibilities by booking a cruise, apparently not remembering the whole “God is omnipresent” thing. God sends a major storm to legit rock the boat, and Jonah has to admit to the sailors that, yeah, he’s trying to hide from God. Jonah, in all fairness, tells the sailors if they throw him overboard they’ll all (probably) live. So, the sailors pitch Jonah over the side, where he is promptly swallowed by a huge fish, or whale. Yes, I know a whale is a mammal and a fish isn’t, but I didn’t write the Tanach and I am not Sir David Attenborough, so just…swim with me here.
From inside the whale/fish creature of indeterminate size and shape, Jonah prays to God, be-whaling his traumatic fate. After only three days (lol Jonah wouldn’t have made it past mid-March in our quarantine timeline), God makes the whale puke Jonah back up. Then Jonah shleps himself to Nineveh after all. He could have avoided this whole situation if he had stopped delaying and just made coronavirus tests free and accessible around Nineveh and listened to what the CDC was saying! Ahem. I mean God. If he had just listened to what God was saying. This whole story is a big quarantine mood.
Here are five artist representations of the story of Jonah and his whale. Please note that these images have been selected for composition, technical execution and comedic value.
“Jonah and the Whale”
Pieter Lastman, 1621
Dutch painter Pieter Lastman was one of Rembrandt’s teachers and was known for his biblical landscapes and his delicate rendering of details—like hands and feet and freakish hovering jumbo sea bass/grouper hybrids. This attention to detail is evident in this painting, depicting the moment when the “whale” vomits forth a dramatically airborne, twisting and extremely jacked Jonah. Like many of us in quarantine, Jonah clearly devoted all his indoor time to working out. Jonah did not skip leg day, nor ab day, nor arm day, nor…foot day, whilst in the belly of the whale. Just look at the wide, slightly traumatized eye of the fish, who has evidently viewed Jonah’s Only Fins account. He’s seen some things. And, for a fee, you can see them too.
“Jonah Thrown to the Whale”
Johannes Sadeler I, circa 1582
Johannes Sadeler came from a family of renowned Flemish engravers. In fact, if you look closely, each figure on the ship in this engraving is based on the likeness of one of his cousins (just kidding, but you believed it for a moment!). I think we can all agree that, firstly, this is a prime example of what happens when you don’t practice appropriate social distancing. I would also argue this ship was VASTLY overbooked in the first place, and, like the Worcester/Framingham Commuter Rail Line before quarantine, a ticket clearly did not guarantee a seat. In the back right of the image, rendered in delicate etching, you can see a boat following behind. This second boat is like that empty train the conductor always says is “just five minutes behind us” but never, ever really is. Raise your hand if you, like me, believe being consumed by a sea monster is far preferable to Boston’s public transportation methods.
“Jonah Spat up by the Whale”
Johannes Sadeler I, circa 1582
Our friend Johannes gets a second entry! Somehow, although in the previous engraving Jonah was depicted as being thrown into the sea completely nude, in this subsequent image we see that Jonah has stolen a towel (and, I assume, all the small toiletries) from his fishy hotel. Although, let’s not kid ourselves that this is a whale or a fish. This creature is what would happen if my dog’s dental records achieved sentience. Behind Jonah, we can see several other “sea monsters” writhing about—all of whom bear a striking resemblance to Mr. Burns from “The Simpsons.”
“Jonah Bible Illustration”
Unknown artist, circa 1280
Like many of us, Jonah spent the first part of his quarantine frantically worried about sourcing his toilet paper. Thankfully, this illuminated manuscript shows that he needn’t have been so concerned. This disturbingly cheerful whale on Ecstasy doubled as a kayak so they could make several quick trips to Costco-by-the-Sea. One hopes he used his prophetic powers (or just common sense) to predict that the people of Nineveh also needed toilet paper, and brought them some. However, the Book of Jonah does not say definitively.
“The Prophet Jonah”
Herrad of Landseberg, circa 1180
Herrad of Landseberg was an Alsatian nun, abbess and author of the “Hortus Deliciarum” pictorial encyclopedia, specifically written for the edification of the women in Herrad’s convent. Look, I have to show mad respect for a woman operating at this level in the 12th century. Her original manuscript was 648 pages with 336 incredibly vivid illustrations. And I really appreciate the way she’s labeled everything so clearly, so we know that, in fact, this IS the prophet Jonah emerging from the whale at Nineveh, not someone with Pauly D’s “Jersey Shore”-era tape-up doing a bad rendition of the Megan Thee Stallion (feat. Beyoncé) “Savage” Tik Tok dance. But I also wonder why the fish is working that smokey eye and fake lashes so hard, and why Jonah is blushing, and I have reached the inevitable conclusion that we have discovered the first historical illustration of interspecies catfishing. I’m disturbed, you’re disturbed, so perhaps we should just all collectively agree that for the benefit of humankind, what happens in quarantine stays in quarantine.