Was the "three days and three nights" in the prophetic book of Jonah a complete span of 72 hours?

Is this "three days and three nights" to be taken literally or close to it or figuratively? Why or Why not?

What do the "reputable sources" (rabbis/sages of old) say?

Yonah - Jonah - Chapter 2:

1 And the Lord appointed a huge fish to swallow up Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.

My question in relation to the three days and three nights is inspired from the previous question and answer Did Esther eat at the first feast she made for the king and Haman?, which give an indication that the quoted verse (in my above post) might not be interpreted at face value, if the "three days, day and night" in the Book of Esther (4:16) is a similar expression:

For example, "The Maharal in his commentary to Megillas Esther says that Esther only fasted for 70 hours (as opposed to 3 full days, 72 hours).... This is hinted in the verse "גַּם-אֲנִי וְנַעֲרֹתַי, אָצוּם כֵּן; וּבְכֵן אָבוֹא אֶל-הַמֶּלֶךְ" (Esther 4:17) "we will fast כן - "כן is Gematria 70 - Esther was saying that she would fast 70, and with those 70 hours she would come to the King."

  • @Harel13 please source your answer.
    – ninamag
    Apr 30, 2021 at 9:45
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    That Yonah is a prophetic work? What's there to source? It's literally a part of the 12 Prophets, which are part of the section of Tanach called Prophets.
    – Harel13
    Apr 30, 2021 at 9:52
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    Your original question wasn't about what the sages thought of it. But I'm still unsure what sort of source you're looking for. We have sources that the Men of the Great Assembly, among whom were some who were prophets themselves, wrote Yonah. We have sources that Hashem is all everything. What are you looking for?
    – Harel13
    Apr 30, 2021 at 10:51
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    In the case of the Megillah, there is a potential contradiction being addressed: How did she fast and eat at the same time? In Yonah, there is no reason to take anything at less than face value. In essence, only Hashem, Jonah,(maybe the fish) would know if any of that verse was allegory or literal for certain and by what standard. But we read simply what we read. Apr 30, 2021 at 16:14
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    Even from the maharal by megilla we see that 3 days is taken by face value. He just had a remez to imply it wasnt completely 3 days. However the pashtus would be 3 days means 3 days unless you have a source or shtikle Torah that they weren't completely 3 days.
    – Shlomy
    Apr 30, 2021 at 18:40

2 Answers 2


The Da'at Mikra commentary (written by Elyakim Ben-Menachem) on this verse says that it means three full days (ie. 72 hours):

‮אִלו אמר שלשה ימים, לא היה במשמע שלשה ימים שלמים, אבל כשהוא אומר ימים ולילות, הרי ימים שלמים במשמע, כלומר: ששהה במעי הדג שלש יממות.

If it said "days", it wouldn't have implied three full days, but as it says "days" and "nights", it means full days, that is: he remained in the belly of the fish for 72 hours [lit. three 24-hour periods].

They don't source this explanation, but they do compare it to the description of Moses on Mt Sinai, where the verse (Exodus 24:18) says that he was there for 40 days and 40 nights; Ḥizkuni comments on this verse that that it was 40 full days (although he doesn't explicitly explain it from the "days" and "nights" language).

It says in Bereishit Rabbah 91:7 that God doesn't leave righteous people in dire straights for three days. Da'at Mikra adduces this and adds the words "(more than)", fitting with their explanation of a full 72 days. This could also be read without those words, and understood to be limiting Jonah's troubles to less than three full days.

On the other hand, there are those who take the whole book as fiction/allegory (eg Uriel Simon in his introduction to the JPS Bible Commentary), or the first two chapters as a dream/prophecy (eg some understandings of Rambam, ibn Caspi). In these approaches, the three days don't correspond to any explicit real-world time period. (Of course, the question could still be relevant for the proper explication of the dream/prophecy/allegory.)

  • even though you started your answer with "lit. three 24-hour periods", you also made the same opposite point, that there are those who do not take this literally. Can you say what the majority view, if there is one? And who are the leading minority view?
    – ninamag
    May 2, 2021 at 16:51
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    I gave you two alternate opinions. Neither is more authoritative than the other.
    – magicker72
    May 2, 2021 at 17:14

Rabbeinu Bachaye (כד הקמח, כפורים, א, ב) writes that the three days and nights within the fish corresponded to the three days of the plague of darkness in Mitzrayim. I presume therefore that he understands them as three 24 hour periods.

  • Make your answer more complete by quoting what other rabbis (and Rabbeinu Bachaye himself) said about "the three days of the plague of darkness in Mitzrayim".
    – ninamag
    May 7, 2021 at 4:04

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