How I wrote the historical Novel-Jonah and the Whale


Historical novelizations can require extended time to complete. In my case, “Jonah In the Time of the Kings” needed three years to research, edit, and publish. Both my wife and I traveled to remote locations to gain access to the most accurate information we could obtain: historical, geographical, and Biblical, not to mention the military and cultural research required for the novel.

“What I really like about “Jonah In the Time of the Kings” is the parallels with our society today. It brings to life a Bible story that most Christians have read and know, perhaps from Sunday school or home fellowship, but so few of us realize its relevance to our modern-day United States or the world. This is not just about a prophet’s disobedience to God, but the failure of God’s people as a whole to give God the place He deserves and to fight for it…”Youla Overby



Of all the great men and women of the Bible, why did you choose Jonah as the subject of your historical novel Jonah In the Time of the Kings? After all, he lived almost 2700 years ago?

I believe that Jonah was more like you and me than we dare to think. He was a man of incredible bravery, conflict, and character and lived a unique and personal relationship with God. Here is a short synopsis: The year is 762 BC. Jonah has committed himself to work on God’s behalf as a prophet of the Lord (in Northern Israel). Jonah is sent to the world’s most wicked and violent country, Assyria. The city that Jonah is asked to enter is Nineveh, the largest city in Assyria and over 500 miles away from his home in Gath-Hepher. Remember, the army of Nineveh is a systematized war machine, crushing every city in its path, enslaving every nation it conquers. Assyria lives by slavery and conquest. Israel is next in its path for invasion. Nineveh is so horrendous that God is about to destroy it and remove it off the face of the earth

Jonah is personally asked by God to deliver His message to the people of Nineveh: “Your violence is in my face,” God says. “If you don’t turn from your wickedness—I will destroy your great city of Nineveh and all of you within it.” Jonah decides the job is not for him. He will travel as far away from Nineveh as possible, to avoid preaching to the Ninevites, not out of fear, but out of love for his own country. Jonah gets on a ship and heads in the opposite direction from Nineveh. He has decided that if he preaches to the Ninevites and is successful, God may change his mind and let them live. Jonah wants them all dead. They are a great threat to Israel.

But Jonah has a greater challenge: Israel is becoming wicked herself and has turned away from Yahweh to worship the idols of the pagans. Jonah reasons that if the Ninevites are allowed to live by way of Jonah’s preaching, then they may very well overrun all of Israel and enslave all her people.

Unimaginably, Jonah escapes Israel, running from God; books passage on a ship, most likely to Spain. God’s not amused. Yahweh sends a great storm, threatening the ship and all on board. Jonah is elected as the cause of this disaster and hurled into the sea. Of course, as we know, a great fish swallows him whole. Jonah is swallowed by the whale and three days later vomited back into the surf of a beach. God tells Jonah to get moving to Nineveh. Preach what I tell you too, He demands. Jonah agrees, travels the great distance, and preaches what God has asked him to preach. The people of Nineveh repent, as Jonah thought they would, and God spares the city.

  • Many people don’t believe that anyone could be swallowed by a whale and survive.

“For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Matt 12:10”

  • How could an entire city, not to mention an entire nation turn to God from being one of the most violent in history? It seems impossible.

It’s miraculous and without a doubt happened. There was a recorded time within the Assyrian records (which they meticulously notated) that there was peace between Assyria and its neighboring nations. That time corresponds to the biblical record of Jonah. You may read Jonah In the Time of the Kings to see further how that may have happened. The Book of Jonah is certainly an example of God’s love for all mankind. He thought he knew what the outcome should be better than God.

  • How was Israel similar to the United States today?

Israel was divided, much, as the United States is today. Israel was divided in such a way that physically, the north was separate from the south: Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Even more dreadful, they were divided spiritually. Many of the Israelite s had turned from God in the north to the worship of idols, forsaking their God and their protector. When Israel stood with God, they were victorious and unstoppable. When they turned away from Jehovah and cleaved unto the worship of the idols of the pagans, after many warnings, the country was finally overrun, and the people were enslaved; first in the north and then in the south. 

What is chillingly real is that the Ninevites of that wicked Assyrian country were more willing to listen to Jonah than his countrymen in Israel were. Nineveh repented, and God withheld his threat upon them. Israel never turned again to God and was overrun and enslaved. Also of note: Israel, at the time, was as prosperous as during the reigns of David and Solomon. Unfortunately, the governing abandoned the principles of a Godly rule. They became greedy, and their wealth became only a temporary illusion. The end of them and their way of life came swiftly. How does the whale fit into this story, and do you think it is a mere fable, or that it assuredly happened? The Bible and the Talmud never say that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, but by a great fish. Could it have been a whale? Yes, it most likely was, however, it does not say that it was a whale. People seem to assume that a man could not be swallowed by a whale and live for three days in the whale’s belly. Nevertheless, if God says that Jonah was swallowed by a whale and was spit up on the beach, that pretty much settles it for me.

  • Another question that is debated with regularity is, did Jonah die in the belly of the whale? And did God raise him from the dead? 

There is no clear, definitive answer to that question. I have my opinion but have kept it to myself.

  • How does your novel, Jonah in the Time of the Kings differ from the Book of Jonah in the Bible?

For one, God had the Book of Jonah written by a Holy man of God as it states in 2 Peter 1:21. I wrote Jonah In the Time of the Kings to inspire anyone who read my book, to read “The Book of Jonah” in the Bible. After all, it is only 48 verses. I tried to stay accurate regarding what we do know, and yet, make it real as if it were happening today. I utilized many of the Biblical facts and truths and then asked God to inspire and help me with the rest, and then, I prayed. 

To View the Video The Jonah Chronicles on YouTube where I discuss many of the choices made in the research and writing of Jonah, please click below: or, you may purchase Jonah In the Time of the Kings at the retailer of your choice as a paperback, audiobook or EBook.


Anthony Barbera

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