Weeds Wrapped ‘Round My Head
Jonah 2:5 and John 20:6-7
…The deep was around me. The weeds were wrapped around my head. (from Jonah 2:5, World English Bible)
Poor Jonah. Forced to go evangelize to the wicked Assyrians in Ninevah. Fleeing instead on a ship heading toward Spain. Then a huge storm. Then a torqued off crew of sailors. Then sent for a swim. Then swallowed by a whale. Or is it a big fish?
But the worst of it is that Jonah’s head is tangled in seaweed.
Here’s how the good King James Version covers Jonah’s belly-of-the-whale prayer:
Jonah 1:17 into 2:1-6 1:17, KJV 1:17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. 2:1 Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish’s belly, 2 And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, [and] thou heardest my voice. 3 For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me. 4 Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple. 5 The waters compassed me about, [even] to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. 6 I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars [was] about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God.
Weeds. Seaweed. Around my head. This little bit in Jonah’s prayer to the Lord strikes us as curious. See verse five in the New Revised Standard Version:
Jonah 1:17 into 2:1-6, NRSV 1:17 But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. 2:1 Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, 2 saying, “I called to the Lord out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. 3 You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. 4 Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; how shall I look again upon your holy temple?’ 5 The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around my head 6 at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the Pit, O Lord my God.
Jonah has just been chucked into the stormy Mediterranean by a ship’s crew, after they realize God is punishing Jonah (and in effect, the seasick sailors) for Jonah’s disobedience to the Lord. And he has been swallowed by a fish. One can understand how even a stubborn, reluctant prophet such as Jonah would launch into some serious prayer.
So we can understand Jonah’s lament that:
The water engulfed me up to the neck… (CSB, verse 5a)
but Jonah doesn’t bother to mention the fish, or the bad smell inside, but of all things, he mentions:
… seaweed was wrapped around my head. (CSB, verse 5b)
Okay, Jonah might mention seaweed while he is complaining of drowning. Nevertheless, we find it a bit striking.
Because this reminds us of:
Simon Peter, therefore, comes, following him, and he entered into the tomb, and beholds the linen clothes lying [there], 7 and the napkin that was on His head not lying with the linen clothes, but apart, having been folded up, in one place; (John 20:6-7, Literal Standard Version)
12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. And after bending down and seeing only the linen cloths, he went away, wondering to himself what had happened. (Luke 24:12, Berean Study Bible)
John is the only one of the four gospel writers who mentions the face cloth with specificity, while Luke mentions the “linen cloths” generally.
John tends to be the most theologically “deep” of the four gospel writers. And so, when we see casual, throw-away mentions of minutia such as face cloths and their placements — especially in the book of John — we sit up and take notice.
Likewise, when Jonah mentions the minor annoyance of weeds in his face, we again sit up and take notice.
If the Jonah story wasn’t already loaded with Christ-in-the-tomb allusion, we might not make much of this. But Jonah’s three days (or is it two?) in the fish (and Sheol) is with absolute certainty God’s prequal of Christ’s three days (or is it two? or two nights?) in the tomb. Christ says so himself, having, it seems, read the book of Jonah and grasped its Christological significance:
for just as Jonah was in the stomach of the sea monster for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. (Matt 12:40, NASB)
Christ refers both to Jonah’s three nights in the fish, and to — maybe just maybe — Jonah’s references to Hades/Sheol during his prayer. The fish / sea / Sheol / belly of hell in Jonah’s prayer is the allegorical match to Christ’s claim regarding the Son of Man’s time in the tomb / heart of the earth. Maybe.
We’ll leave the Sheol and Hades stuff and what Christ did for those two dark nights in the tomb for some other day.
But we’ll stick with our suggestion that God has deliberately told us about the seaweed wrapped around the Jonah Christ-type, as a preview of Christ himself.
Here again is Jonah’s prayer in its entirety:
New International Version
1:17 into 2:1-6 1:17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. 2:1 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. 2 He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry. 3 You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. 4 I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ 5 The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. 6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit.
New King James Version
Jonah 1:17 into 2:1-6 1:17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. 2:1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish’s belly. 2 And he said: “I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, And He answered me. “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, [And] You heard my voice. 3 For You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me. 4 Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ 5 The waters surrounded me, [even] to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head. 6 I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars [closed] behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God. (NKJV)
Note, by the way, that some English translations (reasonably) move the final verse (verse 17) of chapter one, and place it as verse one of chapter two.
New Jerusalem Bible
2:1 Now Yahweh ordained that a great fish should swallow Jonah; and Jonah remained in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. 2 From the belly of the fish, Jonah prayed to Yahweh, his God; he said: 3 Out of my distress I cried to Yahweh and he answered me, from the belly of Sheol I cried out; you heard my voice! 4 For you threw me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods closed round me. All your waves and billows passed over me; 5 then I thought, ‘I am banished from your sight; how shall I ever see your holy Temple again?’ 6 The waters round me rose to my neck, the deep was closing round me, seaweed twining round my head. 7 To the roots of the mountains, I sank into the underworld, and its bars closed round me for ever. But you raised my life from the Pit, Yahweh my God! (NJB)
Catholic Public Domain Version
2:1 And the Lord prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. 2 And Jonah prayed to the Lord, his God, from the belly of the fish. 3 And he said: “I cried out to the Lord from my tribulation, and he heeded me. From the belly of hell, I cried out, and you heeded my voice. 4 And you have thrown me into the deep, in the heart of the sea, and a flood has encircled me. All your whirlpools and your waves have passed over me. 5 And I said: I am expelled from the sight of your eyes. Yet, truly, I will see your holy temple again. 6 The waters surrounded me, even to the soul. The abyss has walled me in. The ocean has covered my head. 7 I descended to the base of the mountains. The bars of the earth have enclosed me forever. And you will raise up my life from corruption, Lord, my God. (Catholic Public Domain Version)
Our examination of a couple dozen commentaries does not turn up any clever scholars who see the death wrappings of Jesus in the seaweed of Jonah. Nevertheless, we rather like our catch of the seaweed-cloth allusion.
By the way, the Hebrew word translated as “weeds” or “seaweed” is סוּף (pronounced suph or soof) which elsewhere is rendered into English as reeds, rushes and is also used in particular for the Red Sea. The Sea of Suph.
Hebrew Suph makes its etymological way into the Greek name Cephas. One such Cephas from mythology was the king of Aethiopia, whose daughter Andromeda was chained to a rock in the sea where another big fish (or sea monster) named Cetus was sent by Poseidon to eat the poor girl. Like Jonah, she escapes. Unlike Jonah, she gets to become a queen. Jonah instead must sit under gourd leaves and take a three day (three days!) hike through dusty Ninevah. 🙂
Baby Moses was hidden in the suph. Hmmm.
The image of Jonah leaving the mouth of the fish used at the opening of this post is from Jan Brughel the Elder, dated 1598.. It is in the collection of the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. The image used in the interior of the post is from an illuminated manuscript, dated about 1313, held by the library of the University of Edinburgh.
God’s blessings to you! We pray that you never become wrapped in seaweed, and that you read the actual Bible for yourself.
If you come across some scholarly commentary which connects weeds with face cloths, please comment here and let us know the particulars. 🙂
As always, if you choose to comment, we’d love it if you provide scripture quotations and commentary from scholarly sources and well-thought-out Christian commentary.