Jonah v. The Admiral

A selection from Wiebe's novel, The Church of the Comic Spirit.

The Biblical story of Jonah neglects to report the most striking feature of the entire affair: the hue and cry it caused in ancient Israel. It was the public’s passionate but varied reaction that gives “Jonah v. the Admiral” its intensity, and that made Jonah a rallying hero for the anti-theocratic Freedom Party.


To the Editor:

Hurrah for the Mediterranean Daily! At last you’ve taken a firm editorial stand [“Torture Takes a New Twist,” 16 August] against the reigning theocracy and its flouting of the Geneva Conventions (See Convention 3, Armed Forces at Sea). Finally, finally, somebody has the fortitude to name a Name! Perhaps the people at this end of the Sea will wake up and speak out against the common practice of incarcerating political prisoners—now, we hear, in the bellies of whales!—for the (apparently theological!) “crime” of fleeing an oppressive authoritarian régime.

The activities of the sailors in this sad affair were equally barbarous. Imagine: rousting a poor man from his slumber, forcing him to pray, subjecting him to an inquisition, and then tossing him overboard! Pawns those animals may have been in this philistine activity, but according to the principles laid down atNuremberg, they are not blameless on that account.

Here’s hoping you have the courage to continue your dauntless editorial policy, and that others will fearlessly join in the protest. Keep the faith!

Name withheld by request

ED. NOTE: God is not a signatory to the Geneva Conventions.


To the Editor:

And you call yourselves a civilized people! Free Jonah!

H. Melville

New York City


To the Editor:

Once again the Mediterranean Daily has engaged in the practice of misplacing blame. If, as the scientific (wissenschaftlich) evidence suggests, the very idea of God is nothing but the fulfillment of a wish (Wunsch), how can “He” (note the ironic emphasis!) be at fault in this admittedly unfortunate affair? Look to the mariners! Look to the whale!

S. Freud



To the Editor:

I have read with some interest the editorial in which you mention the curious phenomenon of a cetacean ingesting a human being. For the record, and apart from any and all political or theological considerations, permit me to make the following points:

(1) Conditions inside a so-called “whale,” while admittedly far from ideal, are in fact not incompatible with regular human functioning. Normal cetacean temperature approximates that of many land-based mammals, and stomach acidity is moderate. True, flatulence is present in a higher degree than in ordinary mammals (witness the “spout”), but it is plausible to assume that, to a man or a woman in a state of extreme sensory deprivation, this condition is not totally unpleasant and may even be a welcome diversion.

(2) When a cetacean ingests a large, or even medium-sized, mammal, it often regurgitates that mammal within a relatively short period of time, usually a matter of days.

Assuming, then, that the subject is at least in the median range both longitudinally and latitudinally and is not made of wood, his prognosis must be considered excellent.

C. Darwin

Down House, Kent, England


Herr Redakteur:

A Message I write concerning your editorial Word of 16 August, in which you seem a Statement to make, that a notorious Higher Being was responsible for the Typhoon that raped the eastern Mediterranean Region the Twilight of 14 August. Although it once was considered that certain Typhoons are to a Primary Cause attributable, current Meteorology declares that such Occurrences are “caused,” as if that Expression can any longer be used even, by long-term global Wind Configurations. To determine the Nature of these Wind Configurations with any Correctness is, of course, the most disputed Dilemma that our fastidious Branch of Science faces. Yet the Fact remains, that a vigorous Majority of Meteorologists are convinced that this Dilemma is capable of Solution within the Restrictions of the sovereign Paradigm.

Professor Werner Sturm


ED. NOTE: We await anxiously that Solution.


To the Editor:

Your editorial leaves the unsuspecting reader with the impression that taking a cruise would be one of the most dangerous activities he or she could ever engage in. This is far from the truth.

We at Carnival Crews are extremely proud of our safety record. Our crew has never thrown a single one of our customers overboard, regardless of his or her theological convictions. In fact, we carefully screen the applicants for jobs on our boats, which insures that our staff is free of religious extremists. Emergency situations such as the storm are always handled with calmness and courtesy, though I hasten to add that in the seventeen years we have been in the business we have had few if any such situations occur, to my knowledge.

Why not give Carnival Crews a chance to prove itself? Call today for a free brochure.

Philo Schiff, CEO

Carnival Crews

ED. NOTE: Editorial policy prohibits the listing of telephone numbers.


To the Editor:

Your recent editorial and the spate of letters it has engendered have, I think, overlooked certain critical facts to which only Mr. Jonah and I are privy. But because you have seen fit to publicize this matter, I am, alas, left with no recourse but to reveal the true state of affairs regarding the originally private dealings.

On August 13 past I requested of Mr. Jonah that he journey toNineveh,Assyria, for the purpose of crying against her. (I hasten to point out that I was perfectly within my legal rights to make such a request: Mr. Jonah has been an employee of mine for thirteen [13] years and three [3] months, serving first as an apprentice, then as a junior prophet.) I made known my wishes to Mr. Jonah by way of an intra-office memorandum, which, as I am certain my employees will attest, is my preferred way of communicating with them.

Mr. Jonah responded with a memorandum of his own, in which he requested the details of the assignment; he wished particularly to know the purpose of the journey. Again, this is standard practice in our office (which is the oldest and, I would modestly hazard, the most venerable, inJerusalem). My response, again through a memorandum, was that, if I may quote myself, “Their [referring specifically to the Ninevites] wickedness is come up before me.”

I expected no reply to this final memo, and received none. Thus I was surprised to find, in routinely checking with ourNinevehembassy the next morning, that Mr. Jonah had not arrived. A further check by my executive secretary revealed that Mr. Jonah had indeed purchased a ticket, not by air balloon, toNineveh, but by oil tanker, to Tarshish, inSpain, where we do not even have an office!

My immediate suspicion was that Mr. Jonah was acting as a double agent, and that he was in the secret employ of our Tarshish competitors. Thus I instructed a trusted assistant, Miss Drew (we are an equal-opportunity employer), to investigate the matter, naturally advising her to keep her sleuthing within the strict parameters of the law. Miss Drew did so, and came up with certain evidence that confirmed my suspicion. (That evidence is now ensconced in a safe-deposit box, and will remain there until such time as the occasion might call for it to be set forth in a court of law.)

Faced with this incontrovertible evidence, I consulted with the District Attorney to determine what our legal recourse might be. He pointed out to me that the oil tanker Vengeance could by that time be well beyond the twelve-mile limit recognized by international law and was thus beyond Holy Land jurisdiction. I next called Captain Pius Maximus of said ship to ascertain her location, as well as to certify that Mr. Jonah was indeed on board. The notes of our conversation show that Captain Maximus informed me of the following:

(1) that the ship was indeed outside the twelve-mile limit,

(2) that it had run into a small squall—not, as your editorial inaccurately reported, a major hurricane,

(3) that his crew was currently kneeling on their prayer mats, and that

(4) Mr. Jonah was safely asleep in Compartment V.

Captain Maximus then inquired as to my wishes regarding the disposal of Mr. Jonah. I instructed him that when the Vengeance reached Tarshish, he should deliver Mr. Jonah into the hands of the port authorities until such time as the extradition papers had been drawn up and properly delivered, and that he should take care not to cause the suspect any physical, emotional, or spiritual distress. At no time during this conversation did I suggest, request, or order that Captain Maximus jettison, heave overboard, or otherwise dispose of, Mr. Jonah; nor did I prepare a great fish, a whale, or any species of the genus cetus, to swallow my formerly trusted employee. Nor, for that matter, did I send out a tempest, hurricane, or any other great wind, into the sea (as the letter from Herr Sturm attests, storms are brought about, precipitated, or otherwise caused by long-term global wind patterns, not by what he terms a “Primary Cause,” by which he apparently means me).

I am confident that Captain Maximus will certify the accuracy of these claims.

The Admiral

1 EastTemple,Jerusalem

ED. NOTE: We sincerely regret any errors we may have made in commenting on these events.


To the Editor:

The Admiral is absolutely right, He didn’t tell me to throw anybody in the sea, and even if he had, I wouldn’t have done it, being law-abiding. And even if I would’ve done it, the guy would’ve deserved it, from what I know about him by his reputation as a troublemaker. Besides, what would’ve been so bad about that, because like Mr. Darwin said, the whale’s probably chucked him up by now, and he got a free ride anyway.

What really happened was, the guy just plain up and jumped overboard. We thought he was going swimming.

Pius Maximus, Captain

H.M.S. Vengeance


To the Editor:

I note that in a recent letter, a well-known Higher Power has impugned the name and reputation of our fair city.

Let me just point out that Ninevehhas recently been ranked #13 out of 107 cities by Rand McNally in their Places Rated Retirement Guide to the Ancient Middle East. They especially noted our all-season climate (#17), affordable housing (#6), availability of part-time jobs (#18), moderate health-care costs (#25), and leisure living facilities (#2).

Had it not been for our crime rate—and we have a special task force working to cut down on the hashish trade—we almost certainly would have been one of the top five communities, in terms of senior-citizen livability.

If this is “wickedness,” maybe we should all go to hell!

His Honor Assurbanipal, Mayor




About the Author

Paul Enns Wiebe

Paul Enns Wiebe of Fort Collins, Colorado, began writing comic fiction after taking early retirement from Wichita State University, where he taught Religious Studies from 1969-95. He graduated from Bethel College, majoring in English and Philosophy, and earned M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Chicago Divinity School. His major publications include a translation of Paul Tillich’s The System of the Sciences (Bucknell, 1981) and The Architecture of Religion (Trinity, 1984). His four comic novels are described on his website, komosbooks.net. “I’d call myself a halbgefallen Mennonite,” he says. “I was born into a (GC) Mennonite church in the Idaho outback. I’ve been in and out of the church my entire adult life, with a long membership in Wichita’s Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church. My wife Eleanor (Sawatzky) and I now occasionally attend Denver’s First Mennonite Church.”