I confess I once read Cleon Skousen’s “Thousand Years” books–don’t hold it against me. Specifically, I remember reading his The Fourth Thousand Years and his take on Jonah, where he told the story about a sailor who fell overboard and was swallowed by a whale, but survived, somehow, in its belly, to be released by his fellow whalers after they landed the beast. This episode was then offered up as anecdotal assurance of the historicity of the Jonah story. It was kind of like Thor Heyerdahl meets The Accidental Tourist, a reluctant demonstration of possibility. My favorite part of the story was when the sailor’s skin was bleached from soaking in buckets of whale vomit and he lost huge fistfuls of hair, yet, other than that, he was pretty much good-to-go afterwards. Okay, I thought, so maybe this was something I could believe in with a straight face afterall.
But no need, since I later came across a First Presidency letter suggesting that while they thought Jonah was a real person, they also believed it possible the stories about him in the Bible were more like parables. At the time this was a welcome hall pass, a parent’s excuse note. But I’ve since changed my mind again. I’m now a firm believer in Jonah’s story: as satire, and a biting one at that.
Here are some of the red flags that the Book of Jonah is an exaggerated satire:
1. Jonah is the only prophet to ever preach to non-Hebrews (actually he’s not called a prophet in his book, but that’s clearly what he’s protrayed as).
2. It’s a narrative, not a typical prophetic book in form.
3. Jonah, God’s prophet, is the only character in his book who fails to obey God.
4. He’s swallowed by a great fish and recites a poorly-timed prayer of thanksgiving to pass the time while inside.
5. God directs the fish to vomit Jonah out on the beach. Fish complies.
6. The whale-vomit-drenched Jonah goes to Nineveh and gives only one, very terse, half-hearted prophesy that doesn’t even mention God or that Nineveh should even repent: Forty days from now Nineveh will be overturned. He climbs up a hill to watch the fireworks.
7. Jonah’s angry after the people repent and God spares them. Even the cattle repent in sackcloth and ashes.
8. At the end, Jonah goes over the deep end when his “shade tree” dies–he’s so angry he wishes to die as a result.
And there’s more, but we don’t have time to consider it all. I think it’s fairly clear that something unusual and comedic is going on in this story.
So, what’s the context here, what’s the satire about? Many scholars believe the Book of Jonah was written during the time of Ezra when the Jews were extraordinarily xenophobic. Jonah apparently dislikes non-Israelites so much he’d rather die than see God love them and have mercy towards them. As one commentator puts it, the humor and exaggeration [in the Book of Jonah] help the [ancient Jewish] audience to perceive … their own [xenophobic] attitudes and the ridiculous lengths to which arrogance and prejudice can lead them. 
Aside from any light approaching the Book of Jonah as satire might shed on typical scriptural historicity discussions, I think it makes a case for the truth once revealed to Mark Twain: Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand. Straightforward preaching of the word may have a more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, but ask yourself this. Has anyone ever nodded off and fallen out of a window while listening to Robert Kirby?
 Or maybe that story is in Werner Keller’s, The Bible as History, I can’t remember. Anyway, the best I can say about Skousen’s “Thousand Years” books is that they are historically more reliable than the clumsy Hollywood movie stills sometimes reproduced to illustrate their pages. As for the sailor/whale story, here’s an article debunking it.
 See Thomas G. Alexander, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-Day Saints 1890-1930, 283.
 See, for instance, Michael D. Coogan, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, 525-527, and “Jonah” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary.
 See Steven L. McKenzie, “Jonah and Genre in How to Read the Bible, 13.