I’m reading through Jonah this week and came across this interesting note on the importance of three days and three nights in ancient near eastern mythology and culture. It seems to be understood as period of time that indicated a death that there was no coming back from – as in not mostly dead, which according to the austere religious scholar, Miracle Max, “is still slightly alive.” In the ancient near east, if you journeyed into the world of the dead there was hope – if you made it out before the third day. This ancient understanding of being utterly dead could also provide historical context for Lazarus and Jesus’ periods in the grave as well (four and three days respectively).
three days and three nights. This would have been equated with certain death; for example, in the Mesopotamian Descent of Inanna [a mythological text], the title goddess commands her servant to lament for her if she does not return to the earth within three days.ESV Archaeology Study Bible, p. 1280
The scriptures are indicating that Jonah was as good as dead. Lazarus was more than dead. And Jesus was dead – as in all the way.