Jonah 2:1-2 - why say "Sheol" to refer to the literal belly of a literal fish?
It's a poetic expression. Jonah was thrown overboard during the storm and one moment he's struggling in the sea the next moment he is in the belly of this sea monster. If Jonah is taken literally then Jonah was not "dead" when he prayed but cognizant of his peril. He likened his predicament to someone in Sheol.
Sheol, like Hades in the Greek, was spoken of being in the subterranean regions of the earth where departed spirits of the dead would go. Sheol and Hades also both meant the grave. Not everyone who dies is buried but everyone who dies goes to Sheol or Hades. It was the common grave of all mankind because everyone that died would go there. If they drowned at sea, they would go there, if they were burnt to ashes in an inferno, they would go there. If they were atomized in a nuclear blast they would go there.
Ancients had differing views regarding whether those in Sheol were conscious or not. Not all Greeks believed Hades had fire but Sheol was the equivalent of Hades and they had some things in common. The Sheol in the Hebrew Scriptures did not have flames of torment. People who were there did not know they were dead. They knew "nothing'.
Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 (KJV)
5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun.
The dead men and women in Sheol were said to not have preeminence over the beasts.
19 For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.
A common saying in the Hebrew Scriptures was when someone died they were "gathered unto their people" or "gathered unto their fathers". Since the graves would not all be the same, the "gathering" to their people would most likely be Sheol, the unseen, shades. Read the following to see how it was used:
8 Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people.
And these are the years of the life of Ishmael, an hundred and thirty and seven years: and he gave up the ghost and died; and was gathered unto his people.
And Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people, being old and full of days: and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.
And he charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite,
And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.
And strip Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son: and Aaron shall be gathered unto his people, and shall die there.
And when thou hast seen it, thou also shalt be gathered unto thy people, as Aaron thy brother was gathered.
And die in the mount whither thou goest up, and be gathered unto thy people; as Aaron thy brother died in mount Hor, and was gathered unto his people:
The phrase "gathered unto his fathers" had the same sense.
- Genesis 49:29
And he charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite,
- Judges 2:10
And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.
- 2 Kings 22:20
Behold therefore, I will gather thee unto thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered into thy grave in peace; and thine eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place. And they brought the king word again.
- 2 Chronicles 34:28
Behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place, and upon the inhabitants of the same. So they brought the king word again.
When the judge Samuel was brought up from the regions of Sheol at the prompting of the witch of Endor, Samuel scolded Saul for having him brought him up. He predicted that Saul and his sons would be killed in battle the next day and Saul and his sons were indeed killed in battle the next day, just as Samuel predicted. In verse 19 Samuel told Saul that the next day he and his sons would be with Samuel (in Sheol). Saul and his sons were not buried after the next day's battle. Indeed, Saul's body was hung in the Philistine's temple and was buried only after several days on display. So, the body of Saul is not what Samuel meant when he told him he would be with him the next day. SeeI Samuel 28:5-20
I Samuel 28
5 And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled. 6 And when Saul enquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.
7 Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and enquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor.
8 And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment, and he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night: and he said, I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee. 9 And the woman said unto him, Behold, thou knowest what Saul hath done, how he hath cut off those that have familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land: wherefore then layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die? 10 And Saul sware to her by the Lord, saying, As the Lord liveth, there shall no punishment happen to thee for this thing. 11 Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel. 12 And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice: and the woman spake to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul. 13 And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth. 14 And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself.
15 And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do. *16 Then said Samuel, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the Lord is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy? 17 And the Lord hath done to him, as he spake by me: for the Lord hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbour, even to David: 18 Because thou obeyedst not the voice of the Lord, nor executedst his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the Lord done this thing unto thee this day. 19 Moreover the Lord will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and to morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: the Lord also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.
20 Then Saul fell straightway all along on the earth, and was sore afraid, because of the words of Samuel: and there was no strength in him; for he had eaten no bread all the day, nor all the night.
I Samuel 31 recounts the death of Saul and his sons in the battle of the Philistines:
1 Now the Philistines fought against Israel: and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa.
2 And the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and upon his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Melchishua, Saul's sons.
3 And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit him; and he was sore wounded of the archers.
4 Then said Saul unto his armourbearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and abuse me. But his armourbearer would not; for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword, and fell upon it.
5 And when his armourbearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise upon his sword, and died with him.
6 So Saul died, and his three sons, and his armourbearer, and all his men, that same day together.
7 And when the men of Israel that were on the other side of the valley, and they that were on the other side Jordan, saw that the men of Israel fled, and that Saul and his sons were dead, they forsook the cities, and fled; and the Philistines came and dwelt in them.
8 And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen in mount Gilboa.
9 And they cut off his head, and stripped off his armour, and sent into the land of the Philistines round about, to publish it in the house of their idols, and among the people.
10 And they put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth: and they fastened his body to the wall of Bethshan.
11 And when the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead heard of that which the Philistines had done to Saul;
12 All the valiant men arose, and went all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Bethshan, and came to Jabesh, and burnt them there.
13 And they took their bones, and buried them under a tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.
When King David's newborn son died David declared that he could go to his son but his son could not come to him. II Samuel 12:16-23.
II Samuel 12
16 David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth. 17 And the elders of his house arose, and went to him, to raise him up from the earth: but he would not, neither did he eat bread with them. 18 And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead: for they said, Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spake unto him, and he would not hearken unto our voice: how will he then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead? 19 But when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead: therefore David said unto his servants, Is the child dead? And they said, He is dead. 20 Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the Lord, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat.
21 Then said his servants unto him, What thing is this that thou hast done? thou didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread.
22 And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live? 23 But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.
There were some Christians who believed Hades was a subterranean region where all the dead went. In Hades there was an area called "Abraham's bossom" spoken of in Luke 16:19-31. That was the so-called "good" side of Hades. The righteous dead went there where Abraham was.
19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: 20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. 25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. 26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. 27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: 28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
There was a place also referred to as Paradise. Jesus promised the crucified malefactor that he would be with Jesus in Paradise the same day Luke 23:39-43:
39 And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. 40 But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. 42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. 43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
Later, many believed that Paradise was brought up from Hades into heaven at the time of Jesus' ascension into heaven, bringing the righteous up into heaven with him.
The other part of Hades was where the fire was. This is based on a story Jesus told in the book of Luke, Chapter 16. It could have been a parable but parable or not Jesus's story related that people go to Hades and there they lift up their eyes and realize they are in a place of torment. His listeners would no doubt have understood what he meant.. Just keep in mind there is not just one definition of Sheol or Hades. Both of them meant the common grave too. –
Bible Study Tools: Sheol
What is Sheol in the Bible?
Hell, Sheol, Hades, Paradise, and the Grave
However, they both also meant the place in the subterranean regions of the earth where all the dead go, burial or not. –
In the midst of or in the center of didn't necessarily mean either Sheol or Hades was dead center in the globe we call earth. Tyre, an island mentioned in the Bible, was said to be in the "midst" of the sea even though it was only a mile off the coast (see Ezekiel 26:5, 27:4, 25-27, 32; 28:8).
It shall be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord God: and it shall become a spoil to the nations.
Thy borders are in the midst of the seas, thy builders have perfected thy beauty.
25 The ships of Tarshish did sing of thee in thy market: and thou wast replenished, and made very glorious in the midst of the seas.
Ezekiel 27:26 Thy rowers have brought thee into great waters: the east wind hath broken thee in the midst of the seas.
Ezekiel 27:27 Thy riches, and thy fairs, thy merchandise, thy mariners, and thy pilots, thy calkers, and the occupiers of thy merchandise, and all thy men of war, that are in thee, and in all thy company which is in the midst of thee, shall fall into the midst of the seas in the day of thy ruin.
And in their wailing they shall take up a lamentation for thee, and lament over thee, saying, What city is like Tyrus, like the destroyed in the midst of the sea?
They shall bring thee down to the pit, and thou shalt die the deaths of them that are slain in the midst of the seas.
People probably thought Hades had fire because they had seen volcanoes and had seen the rivers of fire that poured out of the top of an active volcano. The Jews' Sheol shows no evidence of fire so it probably didn't have it. The Greeks, did, however.
Please read DISSERTATION V.–An Extract out of Josephus’s discourse to the Greeks, concerning Hades. Some people claim Josephus did not write this, but a later Christian writer in or about the third century but it is an interesting read just the same.
Here is more on Sheol from Bible Hub.
If you read each verse twice, and each time read Sheol without translating it but thinking "grave" the first time you read it and "a subterranean place where all the dead go" the second time you read it you will get a feel for how the word was used in Hebrew. In some cases either grave or the subterranean region can fit and either word be used.
Here is something from Ephesians 4:8-9 in the KJV:
8 Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
9 (Now that he (Jesus) ascended, what is it but that he (Jesus) also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?
I added the words Jesus to the verse.
In 2 Peter 2:4 we have:
For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;
The Greek word here translated as hell in the KJV means the lowest part of hell. It comes from the word Tartaroo.
More on Tartarus:
More on the greek word Tartarus, the lowest hell:
See also here:
1 Peter 3:18-20
18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
Here is something about Qeber, another Hebrew word for grave.
I hope this helps.