National Museum of American Art/Gift of John Gellatly

“Jonah,” by the American painter Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847–1917). A large-eyed whale (far right) circles a flailing Jonah (bottom) as massive waves break against the exposed boat. God hovers above the turbulent scene, holding an orb that symbolizes the world.

David Noel Freedman writes that when Jonah attempted to flee on the ship, he was not simply unwilling to do what God had ordered. Rather, Jonah was violently opposed to a theological concept that first surfaced in the eighth century B.C.E.—the notion that sinners, such as the people of Nineveh, could escape punishment through repentance.