Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Man has always been fascinated by whales (the novel Moby Dick is a prime example) and when a beached whale appeared unexpectedly in a bay outside Gothenburg in 1865, there was enormous excitement and frantic activity. (You can read about the events in this interesting article.)

Today, the whale is stuffed (the only stuffed whale in the world) and on display at The Gothenburg Natural History Museum. (The historical pictures below are from the museum) 

Painting in primitive Swedish Folk Art ("Dala")  by Leif Sodergren
The fisherman Olof Larsson first discovered the whale 40 meters off land. He fetched his brother-in-law Carl Hansson. They chose a large enough boat since they were afraid that the whale might otherwise swallow them. Read more.
Together they spent two days killing it and then sold it for a large sum to August Wilhelm Malm, who worked for the Gothenburg Museum. He later had the whale stuffed.
Several steamboats and coal barges towed the now smelly and putrid whale to a ship yard Lindholmen where the cumbersome process of cutting it up and stuffing it took place. People tried to snatch souvenirs. More...
The stuffed whale in Gothenburg.

Painting of Jonah in the Whale by Leif Sodergren in the primitive Swedish Folk art style.
And then there is the whale in the Bible that swallowed Jonah. That story has fascinated people around the world including the Swedish peasant painters  who often depicted Jonah and the whale very naively. One can see why Jonah has interested people -- Jonah is disobedient and argumentative with God and does not perform as requested. He runs away and is punished by being swallowed by a whale but is spat out after three days of serious repenting. 

The repentant Jonah is spat upon land by the whale by order of God and continues on to Nineveh to warn the sinning population to repent or face punishment by God .
Jonah finally obeys God's original command, namely to go to the city of Nineveh to exhort the sinful people there to repent or face being destroyed by God. The people repent and everybody should be happy. But not Jonah. 

Jonah believes that these sinners should suffer some punishment for having been so sinful. Jonah, up to his old tricks, has the audacity to argue with God about his decision to spare the people of of Nineveh. So again Jonah must be taught a lesson. The lesson is this:

God causes a very fanciful plant, (a Gourd -- the Swedish name for this plant is Kurbits and it is always present in the primitive "Dala" paintings) to grow up over Jonah -- he is shaded and sleeps nicely under this large, biblical plant. But God causes worms to eat the Kurbits so it can no longer shade Jonah. Jonah is disappointed and complains to God about not having the Kurbits plant to shade him. God tells Jonah that if he grieves for the loss of this one Kurbits   --  how much more would God not grieve over the destruction of an entire city of people who, after all, had repented. 

Hopefully all this has taught Jonah something about God being caring and merciful and not to question his motives. After all, God is God and should not be questioned by mere mortals.

Being inside a whale can be fascinating. Inside the stuffed whale in Gothenburg, there are benches and tables for people to sit as seen below. 

Many religious people have shown an interest in visiting the inside of the the Gothenburg whale -- perhaps wanting to experience the Jonah thing. When the whale was caught in 1865, two women threw themselves forward, "driven by an uncontrollable desire to verify if the passage of Jonah through the throat of the whale was actually possible"
The whale's jaws are hinged so it can be entered.

Coffee inside a whale -- what fun! These days the inside of the whale is not open to the public.

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