Jonah 3:3—Is Jonah’s testimony to the size of Nineveh accurate?

Problem: When Jonah arrived at the city of Nineveh, he observed that the city was so large, that it took a three-day journey to pass through it. However, such a statement must be an exaggeration, since it is argued that the average man could walk only from 50 to 70 miles in three days. A city of 50 to 70 miles in diameter is not recorded in all of history until modern times. Is this an error?

Solution: There have been several proposals to explain this observation by Jonah. Some commentators propose that Jonah is commenting on the circumference of the city. A city 50 miles in circumference would be about 16 miles in diameter. This size more nearly fits the estimated population of about 600,000 people in this major ancient city.

Other commentators propose that Jonah is not claiming that it would take three days to walk straight through the city. Rather, Jonah observed that it would take three days to go through all the various areas in the entire city. Those who hold this position point out that Jonah went to Nineveh in order to proclaim the message of judgment to the people. This would require him to go to every part of the city, not simply to walk through the middle from one side to the other. This also fits the statement of verse 4 in which Jonah enters the city and, in the first day’s walk, proclaimed the message as he went along.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.