The Jonah Sarcophagus: Detail, Jonah under the gourd tree

Bacchus and Ariadne: Detail from a Roman sarcophagus, 1st quarter of the 3rd century. Ariadne takes the same pose that we see in paleo-Christian images of Jonah under the gourd tree. (Photo by Richard Stracke at the Getty Villa, Pacific Palisades, California, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.)
Bacchus and Ariadne in a Mosaic in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

This part of the sarcophagus relates to Jonah 4, where God gives Jonah a time of rest under the shade of a gourd tree in order to teach him a lesson about mercy. But the theme here is not mercy; it is the abundant life that awaits the believer. On the right side of the sarcophagus the artist uses material signifiers to express this spiritual abundance thus the big, pendulous, phallic gourds in this segment, and the huge leaves, broad even for a gourd plant, and the nakedness of the sleeper, innocent again like Adam before the Fall.

Many scholars believe Jonah's pose under the gourd tree is taken from sarcophagus images of Endymion (example), but Ariadne has exactly the same pose, also under a tree, in the images at right, and Ferguson (349) notes a terracotta in the Louvre with Dionysos in the same pose. The specifics of Endymion's story thus seem less important than the repeated use of the pose to express a paradisiacal life.

View this image in full resolution.
View the entire sarcophagus.
Read more about Jonah.

Photographed at the Museo Pio Cristiano by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.