Alinari/Art Resource, NY

A great serpentine fish (left of center) swallows Jonah after sailors throw him overboard, on this ornate Roman sarcophagus dating to about 290 A.D. The fish then spews up Jonah (at right), who had tried to escape God’s command to “Go at once to Nineveh…and proclaim judgment on it” (Jonah 1:1). Later, the reluctant prophet rests in the shade of a gourd tree (upper right), contemplating God’s decision to spare Nineveh.

Surrounding the Jonah story lie various biblical, bucolic and maritime scenes. At upper left Lazarus emerges from his tomb in the earliest known depiction of his resurrection on a sarcophagus. Lazarus’s sister Mary kneels at Jesus’ feet while Martha stands beside him. Both the raising of Lazarus and the tale of Jonah illustrate salvation and deliverance from death, which may explain their juxtaposition on this sarcophagus.