The Book of Jonah, in the Old Testament of the Bible, is one of the works of the Minor Prophets. Unlike the other prophetic books, it is not a book written by a prophet but is a narrative about a prophet. Jonah seems to be the prophet mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25 who lived during the reign of Jeroboam II (c. 785 BC). The book is anonymous and was probably composed during the 4th century BC.
A short novella, the book describes how Jonah sought to evade God's command to go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, to preach repentance. He booked passage on a ship to Tarshish, only to have his flight brought to an end by a divinely ordained storm. Thrown overboard and swallowed by a great fish, Jonah was vomited up on shore after three days and nights. He then obeyed God's command and preached in Nineveh. When the population responded to his preaching and repented, God changed his plan to destroy the city. Divine mercy was thus shown to possess a distinctly universal dimension. The purpose of the book, then, was primarily didactic, dramatizing God's care for Jews and Gentiles alike. It was a polemic against the exclusivism that was beginning to dominate Judaic theology, depicted so clearly by Jonah himself.
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J Ellul, The Judgment of Jonah (1971); A / P La Cocque, Jonah (1990); H Martin, The Prophet Jonah (1952).
Jonah, a dove, the son of Amittai of Gath-hepher. He was a prophet of Israel, and predicted the restoration of the ancient boundaries (2 Kings 14:25-27) of the kingdom. He exercised his ministry very early in the reign of Jeroboam II., and thus was contemporary with Hosea and Amos; or possibly he preceded them, and consequently may have been the very oldest of all the prophets whose writings we possess. His personal history is mainly to be gathered from the book which bears his name. It is chiefly interesting from the two-fold character in which he appears, (1) as a missionary to heathen Nineveh, and (2) as a type of the "Son of man."
(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)
This book professes to give an account of what actually took place in the experience of the prophet. Some critics have sought to interpret the book as a parable or allegory, and not as a history. They have done so for various reasons. Thus (1) some reject it on the ground that the miraculous element enters so largely into it, and that it is not prophetical but narrative in its form; (2) others, denying the possibility of miracles altogether, hold that therefore it cannot be true history. Jonah and his story is referred to by our Lord (Matt. 12:39, 40; Luke 11:29), a fact to which the greatest weight must be attached. It is impossible to interpret this reference on any other theory. This one argument is of sufficient importance to settle the whole question. No theories devised for the purpose of getting rid of difficulties can stand against such a proof that the book is a veritable history.
There is every reason to believe that this book was written by Jonah himself. It gives an account of (1) his divine commission to go to Nineveh, his disobedience, and the punishment following (1:1-17); (2) his prayer and miraculous deliverance (1:17-2:10); (3) the second commission given to him, and his prompt obedience in delivering the message from God, and its results in the repentance of the Ninevites, and God's long-sparing mercy toward them (ch. 3); (4) Jonah's displeasure at God's merciful decision, and the rebuke tendered to the impatient prophet (ch. 4). Nineveh was spared after Jonah's mission for more than a century. The history of Jonah may well be regarded "as a part of that great onward movement which was before the Law and under the Law; which gained strength and volume as the fulness of the times drew near.", Perowne's Jonah.
(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)
There is only one instance of Jonah's prophesying to his own people of Israel, 2 Kings 14:25. There he made a prediction concerning the restoration of the coasts of israel, which was fulfilled in the reign of Jeroboam II about 800 B. C., showing that he lived earlier than that date. Of his personal history nothing further is known than what is found in this book.
The evidence for it is found: (1) In the way it is recorded, there being not the slightest intimation in the book itself, or anywhere in the Bible, that it is a parable. (2) In the evidence of tradition, the whole of the Jewish nation, practically, accepting it as historic. (3) The reasonableness of it (see the remarks under chapter 3.) (4) The testimony of Christ in Matthew 12:38, and parallel places. There are those who read these words of the Saviour in the light of the argument of which they form a part, and say that they allude only to what He knew to be a parable, or an allegory, but I am not of their number. Jesus would not have used such an illustration in such a connection, in my judgment, if it were not a historic fact. (5) The symbolic or prophetic character of the transaction (see the remarks under chapter 4.)
The fifth of the Minor Prophets. The name is usually taken to mean "dove", but in view of the complaining words of the Prophet (Jonah 4), it is not unlikely that the name is derived from the root Yanah = to mourn, with the signification dolens or "complaining". This interpretation goes back to St. Jerome (Comm. on Jonah, iv, 1). Apart from the book traditionally ascribed to him, Jonah is mentioned only once in the Old Testament, 2 Kings 14:25, where it is stated that the restoration by Jeroboam II (see Jeroboam) of the borders of Israel against the incursions of foreign invaders was a fulfillment of the "word of the Lord the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amathi, the prophet, who was of Geth, which is in Opher". This last is but a paraphrastic rendering of the name Gath-Hepher, a town in the territory of Zabulon (Josephus, "Antiq.", XIX, xiii), which was probably the birthplace of the Prophet, and where his grave was still pointed out in the time of St. Jerome. Mention is made of Jonah in Matthew 12:39 sqq., and in 16:4, and likewise in the parallel passages of Luke (xi, 29, 30, 32), but these references add nothing to the information contained in the Old Testament data. According to an ancient tradition mentioned by St. Jerome (Comm., in Jonas, Prol., P.L., XXV, 118), and which is found in Pseudo-Epiphanius (De Vitis Prophetarum, xvi, P.L., XLIII, 407), Jonah was the son of the widow of Sarephta whose resuscitation by the Prophet Elias is narrated in 1 Kings 17, but this legend seems to have no other foundation than the phonetic resemblance between the proper name Amathi, father of the Prophet, and the Hebrew Emeth, "truth", applied to the word of God through Elias by the widow of Sarephta (1 Kings 17:24).
The chief interest in the Prophet Jonah centres around two remarkable incidents narrated in the book which bears his name. In the opening verse it is stated that "the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amathi, saying: Arise and go to Ninive, the great city, and preach in it: for the wickedness thereof is come up before me." But the Prophet, instead of obeying the Divine command, "rose up to flee into Tharsis from the face of the Lord" that he might escape the task assigned to him. He boards a ship bound for that port, but a violent storm overtakes him, and on his admission that he is the cause of it, he is cast overboard. He is swallowed by a great fish providentially prepared for the purpose, and after a three day's sojourn in the belly of the monster, during which time he composes a hymn of thanksgiving, he is cast upon dry land. After this episode he again receives the command to preach in Ninive, and the account of his second journey is scarcely less marvellous than that of the first. He proceeds to Ninive and enters "after a day's journey" into it, foretelling its destruction in forty days. A general repentance is immediately commanded by the authorities, in view of which God relents and spares the wicked city. Jonah, angry and disappointed, wishes for death. He expostulates with the Lord, and declares that it was in anticipation of this result that on the former occasion he had wished to flee to Tharsis. He withdraws from Ninive and, under a booth which he has erected, he awaits the destiny of the city. In this abode he enjoys for a time the refreshing shade of a gourd which the Lord prepares for him. Shortly, however, the gourd is stricken by a worm and the Prophet is exposed to the burning rays of the sun, whereupon he again murmurs and wishes to die. Then the Lord rebukes him for his selfish grief over the withering of a gourd, while still desiring that God should not be touched by the repentance of a city in which "there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons that know not how to distinguish between their right hand and their left, and many beasts." Apart from the hymn ascribed to Jonah (ii, 2-11) the contents of the book are prose.
Catholics have always looked upon the Book of Jonah as a fact-narrative. In the works of some recent Catholic writers there is a leaning to regard the book as fiction. Only Simon and Jahn, among prominent Catholic scholars, have clearly denied the historicity of Jonah; and the orthodoxy of these two critics may no longer be defended: "Providentissimus Deus" implicitly condemned the ideas of both in the matter of inspiration, and the Congregation of the Index expressly condemned the "Introduction" of the latter.
Reasons for the traditional acceptance of the historicity of Jonah:
I. Jewish Tradition
According to the Septuagint text of the Book of Tobias (xiv, 4), the words of Jonah in regard to the destruction of Ninive are accepted as facts; the same reading is found in the Aramaic text and one Hebrew manuscript. The apocryphal III Mach., vi, 8, lists the saving of Jonah in the belly of the fish along with the other wonders of Old Testament history. Josephus (Ant. Jud., IX, 2) clearly deems the story of Jonah to be historical.
II. The Authority of Our Lord
This reason is deemed by Catholics to remove all doubt as to the fact of the story of Jonah. The Jews asked a "sign" -- a miracle to prove the Messiahship of Jesus. He made answer that no "sign" would be given them other than the "sign of Jonah the Prophet. For as the Jonah was in the whale's belly three days and three nights: so shall the Son of man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. The men of Ninive shall rise in judgment with this generation and shall condemn it: because they did penance at the preaching of Jonah. And behold a greater than Jonah here" (Matthew 12:40-1; 16:4; Luke 11:29-32). The Jews asked for a real miracle; Christ would have deceived them had He presented a mere fancy. He argues clearly that just as Jonah was in the whale's belly three days and three nights even so He will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. If, then, the stay of Jonah in the belly of the fish be only a fiction, the stay of Christ's body in the heart of the earth is only a fiction. If the men of Ninive will really not rise in judgment, neither will the Jews really rise. Christ contrasts fact with fact, not fancy with fancy, nor fancy with fact. It would be very strange, indeed, were He to say that He was greater than a fancy-formed man. It would be little less strange were he to berate the Jews for their real lack of penance by rating this lack in contrast with the penance of Ninive which never existed at all. The whole force of these striking contrasts is lost, if we admit that the story of Jonah is not fact-narrative. Finally, Christ makes no distinction between the story of the Queen of Sheba and that of Jonah (see Matthew 12:42). He sets the very same historical value upon the Book of Jonah as upon the Third Book of Kings. Such is the very strongest argument that Catholics offer for the firm stand they take upon the ground of the fact-narrative of the story of Jonah.
III. The Authority of the Fathers
Not a single Father has ever been cited in favor of the opinion that Jonah is a fancy-tale and no fact-narrative at all. To the Fathers Jonah was a fact and a type of the Messias, just such a one as Christ presented to the Jews. Saints Jerome, Cyril, and Theophilus explain in detail the type-meaning of the facts of the Book of Jonah. St. Cyril even forestalls the objections of the Rationalists of today: Jonah flees his ministry, bewails God's mercy to the Ninivites, and in other ways shows a spirit that ill becomes a Prophet and an historical type of Christ. Cyril admits that in all this Jonah failed and is not a type of Christ, but does not admit that these failures of Jonah prove the story of his doings to have been a mere fiction.
To the Rationalist and to the advanced Protestant Biblical scholar these arguments are of no worth whatsoever. They find error not only in Jewish and Christian tradition but in Christ Himself. They admit that Christ took the story of Jonah as a fact-narrative, and make answer that Christ erred; He was a child of His time and represents to us the ideas and errors of His time. The arguments of those who accept the inerrancy of Christ and deny the historicity of Jonah are not conclusive.
Christ spoke according to the ideas of the people, and had no purpose in telling them that Jonah was really not swallowed by the fish. We ask: Did Christ speak of the Queen of Sheba as a fact? If so, then He spoke of Jonah as a fact -- unless there be some proof to the contrary.
Were the book historical in its narrative, certain details would not be omitted, for instance, the place where the Prophet was vomited forth by the sea-monster, the particular sins of which the Ninivites were guilty, the particular kind of calamity by which the city was to be destroyed, the name of the Assyrian king under whom these events took place and who turned to the true God with such marvellous humility and repentance.
We answer, these objections prove that the book is not an historical account done according to later canons of historical criticism; they do not prove that the book is no history at all. The facts narrated are such as suited the purpose of the sacred writer. He told a story of glory unto the God of Israel and of downfall to the gods of Ninive. It is likely that the incidents took place during the period of Assyrian decadence, i.e., the reign of either Asurdanil or Asurnirar (770-745 B.C.). A pest had ravaged the land from 765 till 759 B.C. Internal strife added to the dismay caused by the deadly disease. The king's power was set at naught. Such a king might seem too little known to be mentioned. The Pharaoh of Mosaic times is not deemed to have been a fiction merely because his name is not given.
Jewish tradition assumed that the Prophet Jonah was the author of the book bearing his name, and the same has been generally maintained by the Christian writers who defend the historical character of the narrative. But it may be remarked that nowhere does the book itself claim to have been written by the Prophet (who is supposed to have lived in the eighth century B.C.), and most modern scholars, for various reasons, assign the date of the composition to a much later epoch, probably the fifth century B.C. As in the case of other Old Testament personages, many legends, mostly fantastic and devoid of critical value, grew up around the name Jonah. They may be found in the "Jewish Encyclopedia".
Publication information Written by James F. Driscoll. Transcribed by Anthony A. Killeen. Aeterna non caduca The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
Age and Origin.
Inclusion in Canon.
Purpose and Teachings.
Details of the Story.
Later Uses and Interpretation.
The Book of Jonah stands unique in the prophetical canon, in that it does not contain any predictions, but simply relates the story of its hero, beginning for that reason with "wa-yeḥi," like a passage taken from history. The contents may be summarized as follows:
Ch. i.: Jonah is commanded by Yhwh to prophesy against Nineveh. Hoping to escape from this commission by flight into another country, he goes down to Joppa to take ship for Tarshish (Tartessus in Spain). Yhwh then sends a terrible storm, and the pious heathen mariners, after all their labors to lighten the ship and all their prayers prove vain, cast lots to find out on whose account this misfortune has come upon them (comp. Achan in Josh. vii. and Jonathan in I Sam. xiv.). The lot falls upon Jonah, and upon being questioned he answers that he is a Hebrew and worships Yhwh, the God of Heaven; he admits his guilt and requests that he be thrown into the sea. After having prayed to Yhwh the mariners comply with his wish, and when the storm has subsided they give thanks to Yhwh with sacrifices and vows.
Ch. ii.: Yhwh prepares a great fish to swallow Jonah, who remains for three days and three nights in the monster's belly; after having there praised Yhwh, Jonah is cast up by the fish upon the dry land.
Ch. iii.: Yhwh's command being repeated, Jonah goes to Nineveh, and announces to the city that it shall be destroyed within forty days. Then all the inhabitants, following the example of the king and the nobles, repent in sackcloth and ashes; even the flocks and herds fast and are covered with sackcloth. Yhwh, repenting of the punishment He had intended for them, permits the Ninevites to go free.
Ch. iv.: Yhwh's action displeases Jonah exceedingly; he prays Yhwh to let him die. Yhwh comforts him by preparing a "ḳiḳayon" (castor-oil plant?) to spring up beside his booth, which gives Jonah great pleasure. But Yhwh prepares a worm to smite the plant, so that it withers; the sun beating upon the head of Jonah causes him to faint; and again be begs for death. Yhwh then says that if Jonah is sorry for the gourd, which sprang up of itself in one night, and withered also in one night, how much more must Yhwh feel sorrow for the mighty city which contains more than twelve myriads of innocent people besides much cattle.E. G. H. K. B.
The text on the whole has been fairly well preserved. The following variants of the Septuagint deserve notice: i. 2: , probably a combination of two variants, being placed side by side with (comp. Gen. xviii. 21, xix. 13); i. 4: is lacking and not needed; verse 16: instead of ; iii. 2: κατὰ τὸ κήρεγμα τὸ ἔμπροσΘεν ὃ ἐγὼ ἐλάλησα, equivalent to , probably correct, since only absolute obedience to the first command would agree with the context; iii. 4: instead of , but probably only an error following verse 3, end; iii. 7: instead of ; iii. 9: is lacking, probably correctly so in view of the following ; iv. 2: is lacking; iv. 6: ; iv. 11: instead of -hardly the original reading, but a possible one. H. Winckler ("Altorientalische Forschungen," ii. 260 et seq.), especially, has proposed important emendations of the text that are all worthy of careful examination. He transposes i. 13 to come directly after i. 4, which makes a better connection at both places. Again, he transposes i. 10 to follow immediately i. 7, at the same time striking out in verse 8 the words and (like many other emendators and critics) to , besides 10b entirely. This will not do, however, as verse 10a, depicting the fright of the men, with their exclamation, "Why hast thou done this?" is intelligible only after Jonahhas told the men why he was on the ship. Still this explanation should not have been given in 10b, but rather either in 9ba (which would then read ) or as an addition to verse 9 (i.e., ). If this phrase be inserted here it is necessary merely to delete the corresponding phrase in verse 10 (i.e., 10b), and to omit also 8aβ, which disturbs the context. Winckler also transposes iv. 5 to follow iii. 4, which is at the first glance a simple and entirely obvious emendation. The verse could follow ch. iii. only with the introduction , and even then would have to precede iv. 1. Ch. iv. 4 must be stricken out (as Böhme has proposed), being a poor repetition of iv. 9, which probably came in with the erroneous interpolation of iv. 5. Ch. iv. 3 connects closely with iv. 6. In the latter verse Wellhausen, and after him Nowack, strike out ; Winckler strikes out instead because Jonah was protected by the booth (iv. 5). Winckler furthermore says that the sun could not have stricken Jonah if he had been protected by the booth; he therefore proposes to insert the statement in verse 8 that the east wind blew down the booth. This is a happy conjecture; for could have easily been corrupted to form the enigmatical (even Cheyne's , "Encyc. Bibl." ii. 2566, is unsatisfactory). It must be remarked, however, that this would duplicate the motive, while verse 9 mentions the gourd only. It may be questioned therefore whether the mention of the booth is not a later interpolation, in which case iv. 5 should not be transposed after iii. 4, but should be simply stricken out together with iv. 4 and the mention of the east wind in iv. 8, so that the text would read simply: . Verse 6 would then remain unchanged.
The last-named considerations, which were touched upon by Hitzig and Böhme, lead to the question whether Böhme (in Stade's "Zeitschrift," vii. 224 et seq.; for earlier attempts see Cheyne, l.c. p. 2565, note) is correct in attempting to trace the Book of Jonah to various sources. Since his attempt the question has been answered everywhere in the negative, probably correctly. This popular story, in its present state, rather creates the impression that extraneous matter has been added here and there, as in the cases of the Book of Daniel and that of Esther, or that such additions were transferred to the Masoretic text from manuscripts going more into detail. To this might be due the grotesque detail in ch. iii. that even the flocks and herds should take part in Nineveh's general penitence, by fasting in sackcloth, and perhaps also by uttering loud cries (verse 8). Yet the words (iii. 8) must not be simply stricken out as an addition, as Böhme, Wellhausen, and Nowack propose; for they now fit in admirably with the legendary tone of the whole. Cheyne rightly refers to what Herodotus (ix. 24) recounts of the Persians. The psalm (ii. 3-10) was in any case added to the original composition later (comp. Stade's "Zeitschrift," 1892, p. 42). As a prayer of thanks it is undeniably in the wrong place, since Jonah is still in the belly of the fish. That it was added at this point is probably due to the fact that the words (verse 2) offered a convenient connection, the interpolator wishing to give the exact words of the prayer. Originally verse 2 was immediately followed by verse 11 thus: "Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God out of the fish's belly; and the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land." The psalm certainly seemed appropriate, because it speaks, even if only metaphorically, of Jonah being cast into the midst of the seas, and of the salvation which is of the Lord. And it was perhaps added also partly because the book contained no connected speech of the prophet. The time at which this interpolation was added can be conjecturally fixed only after the sources and the origin of the book have been discussed.
Age and Origin.
The book does not bear the least evidence of having been written by the prophet or even during his time; and its age must be gathered from different indications. It has long since been held that it is one of the latest books of the Hebrew canon. This is proved in the first place by the language, as considered lexically, grammatically, and stylistically (comp. on this point the commentaries, and books like S. R. Driver's "Introduction"). Only Esther, Chronicles, and Daniel are of later date. Again, the way in which Nineveh is referred to shows that the city had long since vanished from the face of the earth and had faded into legend (comp. iii. 3). The King of Nineveh, also (iii. 6), could have been referred to only in a late myth; and the legendary atmosphere of the whole story, from beginning to end, is in accord with the length of time that had elapsed since the events recounted took place. This becomes evident both in the episode of the fish which swallows a man and then casts him up alive after three days, and in that of the plant which in one night grows high enough to overshadow Jonah. These things might, it is true, be considered as divine miracles; but such an explanation can not be offered for the three days' time that it takes to pass through Nineveh (iii. 3), nor for the fasting, sackcloth, and penitent cries of the animals (iii. 7 et seq.), much less for the conception that an Israelitish prophet could preach penitence to the city of Nineveh, and that the king and the citizens would listen to him. Everything about the story is, and was intended to be, miraculous and legendary.
The Book of Jonah is a midrash. The book must undoubtedly be placed in this class; and it remains only to see whether a more definite position can be assigned to it in the Midrashic literature. The writer of this article has attempted to do this (in Stade's "Zeitschrift," 1892, pp. 40 et seq.), suggesting that the Book of Jonah is a section from the Midrash of the Book of the Kings mentioned in II Chron. xxiv. 27, which in all probability was the chief source used by the author of the Chronicles. The suggestion is supported by the simple fact that the prophet Jonah ben Amittai is referred to in no other place except in II Kings xiv. 25. Furthermore, it is highly improbable that at the time of the earliest Midrashic literature any other notice of him could have existed; and, finally, since the Book of Jonah begins without any superscription-it begins not simply with the word "wayehi," which introduces a period of time (comp.Ruth i. 1; Esth. i. 1), but with the phrase , which certainly assumes a previous mention of Jonah-the suggestion proposed is the most natural one. If this be correct, then Chronicles of course omitted the passage found in its source and mentioning the prophet, a circumstance that is explained by the fact that the scene is laid in the Northern Kingdom, with which Chronicles has nothing to do.
The suggestion would be invalid if Winckler (see, however, Jonah, Biblical Data, end) and Cheyne were correct in maintaining that the Jonah of the story is a different person from that mentioned in the Book of Kings. It is impossible, however, to refute the suggestion by referring to the distinctive character of that midrash, as König (Introduction, p. 379) and Smend ("Alttestamentliche Religionsgesch." 1st ed., p. 409) have done. If extensive stories of personal events happening to Elijah have been included in the Book of Kings (e.g., I Kings xvii., xix.), why should not the same have occurred (against König) in the case of Jonah? And Smend's assertion that, compared with the Book of Jonah the Midrash of the Book of the Kings was "a work of such a different character that its (Jonah's) author would not have buried his book therein," can not be substantiated.
On the contrary, just the passage in the midrash referring to Jonah seems to be closely related to the Book of Jonah as regards the contents. The author of the Book of Kings puts into Yhwh's mouth warm words of mercy toward the sinful Northern Kingdom (II Kings xiv. 26 et seq.). It is easy to see how a midrash could be added showing that this mercy was extended even to an alien, heathen empire. If there were any reasons for assuming the existence of another Midrash of the Book of the Kings than the one mentioned in Chronicles, the Book of Jonah might have been taken from the latter; but at present the writer of this article does not see what reasons could be brought forward in support of such a theory. In any case the connection of the book with II Kings xiv. 25 must be insisted upon. In agreement with the view here expressed, the date of the book would fall some time toward the end of the fourth or in the fifth century; such a date is supported by other considerations.
Inclusion in Canon.
The inclusion of the Book of Jonah among the Minor Prophets is paralleled by the inclusion of II Kings xviii.-xx. in the Book of Isaiah (ch. xxxvi.-xxxix.), but with this exception that in the latter (as also in Jer. lii.) historical passages are added to an already existing prophetical book, while an entirely new personality and an entirely new book are added to the canon of the Prophets with the Book of Jonah. How may this have happened? Smend's assumption (l.c.), that the author wrote the book with the intention of adding it to the "Twelve Minor Prophets," may be set aside, for the styles of the two differ too widely, as noted above; nor, if that had been the intention, would it have been necessary to introduce a psalm in order to make the book fit into its surroundings: there are numerous examples to show that the writers of later periods knew how to reproduce the style of the Prophets when they desired to do so. On the other hand, it can not have been the intention of inserting stories of the Prophets in the books of the Prophets; for if it had been, the "Earlier Prophets" would have offered the right place therefor. This is proved in the case of I Kings xiii., a story, relating to a prophet, which has many points of similarity to the story of Jonah and is of about the same length. It likewise is probably derived from the Midrash of the Book of the Kings (comp. Stade's "Zeitschrift," 1892, xii. 49 et seq.) and was added later to the canonical Book of Kings. The reasons for the inclusion of Jonah in the "Twelve Minor Prophets" must be sought in the book itself. The fixing of the number of the "Minor Prophets" at twelve was certainly intentional, and the Book of Jonah must have been included in order to make up that number, although it does not harmonize with the other books, and originally belonged elsewhere. The necessity for including it arose, perhaps, only in later times; for the enumeration (without Jonah) of precisely eleven books in the canon is not entirely self-evident. It need only be pointed out that Zech. ix.-xi. and xii.-xiv. are added very loosely to Zechariah, and may equally well have been regarded as independent books; that Malachi, on the contrary, at first probably had no superscription (comp. Mal. iii. 1), and might have been added as an appendix to Zechariah. According as these matters were arranged, it might occur that there were only eleven books found where formerly twelve had been counted. The passage in Num. R. xviii. seems in fact to refer to a time when the Book of Jonah was not included in the twelve Prophets.
Purpose and Teachings.
It becomes necessary to inquire into the purpose and teaching of the book, because of the fact that it is not a historical narrative, but a midrash, and also because of its conclusion. The whole story ends with the lesson received by Jonah, the purpose of the book having thus been accomplished; and as one can not follow the effects of this lesson on Jonah's further career (unlike the story of Elijah in I Kings xix.), the lesson itself is in reality addressed to the reader, i.e., to the Jewish congregation. It is not probable that the story was carried on further in its original place in the Midrash of the Book of the Kings.
This short story, as Wellhausen has best expressed it, is directed "against the impatience of the Jewish believers, who are fretting because, notwithstanding all predictions, the antitheocratic world-empire has not yet been destroyed;-because Yhwh is still postponing His judgment of the heathen, giving them further time for repentance. Yhwh, it is hinted, is hoping that they will turn from their sins in the eleventh hour; and He has compassion for the innocent ones, who would perish with the guilty." In agreement with this synopsis of the purpose, the book is closely akin to and emphasizes the basic passage, II Kings xiv. 26 et seq., which also shows, and as it were explains, how it is possible that Yhwh can grant a prophecy of good things to come to the disloyal Northern Kingdom and to a king who, according to verse 24, persists in all the sins of all his predecessors, and can then fulfil what He has promised. This purpose harmonizes perfectly with the idealized description of the piety of the heathenmariners (ch. i.) and of the king and the inhabitants of Nineveh (ch. iii.). The book is therefore in a way the negative pole to the positive pole in the Book of Ruth. The first shows why Yhwh does not destroy the heathen; the second, why and how He can even accept them among His people and bring them to high honor. Both these tendencies became apparent in Israel after the puristic reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah, which rigorously drew a sharp line between Israel and the pagan world. The opposition to this dominating doctrine was clothed in the unassuming but all the more effective garb of poetry and of story, as has happened time and again in similar cases. Cheyne rightly points to the parable of the good Samaritan in the New Testament and to the story of the three rings in Lessing's "Nathan der Weise."
Details of the Story.
All the details of the book are subordinated and made subservient to this one purpose; and there is every probability that it was invented only for that purpose, whereby of course appeal to other, well-known motives also is not excluded. The story of Elijah on Horeb (I Kings xix.) furnished the model for the general outline, and for the lesson taught the prophet, who was filled with doubts and was weary of his office. No search was necessary for the name of the hero, which was given in I Kings xiv. 25. The fact that "Jonah" means "dove" is a coincidence which must not be interpreted allegorically, as Cheyne has done. Nor must the fact that Israel is spoken of as a prophet in Deutero-Isaiah and is called "Servant of Yhwh" be used in order to attenuate the personality of Jonah to an allegory of the people of Israel; nor that he was swallowed by the sea, to an allegory of the Exile. All these are comparisons, it is true, which may easily be made and which are fully justified as secondary considerations, but they must not be allowed to confuse the simplicity of the original story.
Nor must mythological motives, although they may easily be deduced from the story, be regarded as constitutive elements that were introduced consciously. This applies to the Andromeda myth as well as to that of Oannes, of Nineveh as the "Fish City" ("nun"), etc., and to the chaotic dragon Tiamat, which has recently become a favorite myth with scholars (comp. Cheyne, l.c., s.v. "Jonah," for details). The author of the story was of course familiar with all the current conceptions regarding the sea; and he probably had in mind, whether consciously or not, the myths and sagas clinging to it (comp. the rich collection of material relating to these myths in Hermann Usener, "Die Sintfluthsagen," 1899). It was probably the intention of the author, however, to confine himself to the narration of a story which, dealing with the prophet Jonah known to tradition, should be a vehicle for the lesson he meant to teach.
Later Uses and Interpretation.
In the New Testament Jesus (Luke xi. 29-32) makes use of the book in its original sense, referring to the people of Nineveh as examples of the faith and repentance that he missed among his contemporaries, while refusing them the miracle that they were asking at his hands. The endeavor to find more than this simple reference in the "sign of Jonas," which is akin to the tendency of the artificial inter pretations mentioned above, has led in the parallel passage (Matt. xii. 39-41) to the interpolation (verse 40), according to which Jonah's three days in the belly of the fish are a prophecy of the three days that Jesus would spend in the grave. The early Christian Church more correctly elevates Jonah's rescue from the belly of the fish into the standing type of the resurrection from the grave, a type which is found in all the plastic representations that decorate the early Christian sarcophagi and other monuments.
As far as can be seen, the canonicity of the book has never been seriously doubted. One might rather find in the Midrash ba-Midbar and perhaps also in Ta'an. ii. a vague reference to a time when the book was classed, not with the "Nebi'im," but with the "Ketubim." In that place it would at least find a sufficient counterpart in Ruth. This, however, is only a remote probability, and does not touch the question of the origin of the work.
Emil G. Hirsch, Karl Budde
Jewish Encyclopedia, published between 1901-1906.
The commentaries contained in Lange's Bibelwerk (Kleinert) and in the Kurzgefasstes Exegetisches Handbuch; Hitzig, 4th ed., 1904, by H. Steiner; those of G. A. Smith in his Twelve Prophets; of J. Wellhausen, Die Kleinen Propheten, 1892, 3d ed. 1898; and of Nowack in his Kleine Propheten, 1897, 2d ed. 1904; Kalisch, Bible Studies, ii.; T. K. Cheyne, in Theological Review, 1877, pp. 211-217; C. H. H. Wright, Biblical Studies, 1886; J. S. Bloch, Studien zur Gesch. der Sammlung der Althebräischen Litteratur, 1875.E. G. H. K. B.
-In Rabbinical Literature:
Reason for Flight.
Prophet in the days of Jeroboam II.; son of Amittai of Gath-hepher. He is a historical personage; for, according to II Kings xiv. 25, he predicted in Yhwh's name the extent to which Jeroboam II. would restore the boundaries of the Northern Kingdom, "from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain." Thewording of the passage may also imply that Jonah's prophecy was uttered even before Jeroboam II., perhaps in the time of Jehoahaz (thus Klostermann to II Kings xiii. 4). In any case Jonah is one of the prophets who advised the house of Jehu, and it is not unlikely that with him the series of prophets that began with Elijah came to a close. The next succeeding prophet, Amos of Tekoa, whose activity fell in the reign of Jeroboam II., begins an entirely new series, as regards not only his position toward the king and the people, but also his method of communication, in that he resorted to writing instead of the spoken word.
Jonah belongs only seemingly to the prophets who were also writers; for the book bearing his name does not afford the least evidence of having been written by the prophet himself. It merely tells his history, as the Books of the Kings tell of Elijah, Elisha, Micaiah, or Yimlah ben Zimlah. The book, however, doubtless refers to the same prophet Jonah as is mentioned in II Kings xiv. 25; for the name of both is Jonah ben Amittai. This identity has recently been denied by Hugo Winckler ("Altorientalische Forschungen," 1900, ii. 260 et seq.; see also Cheyne in "Encyc. Bibl." ii. 2570), but Winckler's reasoning, however ingenious, does not suffice to make his theory more than possible. It is one and the same prophet that is mentioned in both places: in the superscription to the Book of Jonah, with the name of his father; in the historical narrative, with the name of his home also. Indeed, the account in the Book of Jonah depends on that in the Book of Kings; nor has it been proved, as some have held, that the Book of Jonah was written to account for the non-fulfilment of the predictions against Nineveh contained in the prophecy of Nahum, and that the Jonah of Kings and the Jonah of the prophetical book can consequently not be identical. Winckler retracted his opinion in "Allgemeine Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirchenzeitung," 1903, p. 1224.E. G. H. K. B.
-In Rabbinical Literature:
The tribal affinities of Jonah constitute a point of controversy; generally assigned to Asher, he is claimed for Zebulun by R. Johanan on the strength of his place of residence (II Kings xiv. 24); these opinions were harmonized by the assumption that his mother was of Asher while his father was of Zebulun (Yer. Suk. v. 1; Gen. R. xcviii. 11; Yalḳ., Jonah, 550; Abravanel's commentary to Jonah). According to another authority his mother was the woman of Zarephath that entertained Elijah (ib.; Pirḳe R. El. xxxiii.). As this prophet, who was also of priestly descent, would have profaned himself if he had touched the corpse of a Jew, it was concluded that this woman, whose son (Jonah) he "took to his bosom" and revived, was a non-Jew (Gen. R. l.c.). He received his prophetic appointment from Elisha, under whose orders he anointed Jehu (II Kings ix.; Ḳimḥhi, ad loc.; and Ẓemaḥ Dawid). He is said to have attained a very advanced age (more than 120 years according to Seder 'Olam; 130 according to Sefer Yuḥasin), while Ecclesiastes Rabbah viii. 10 holds that the son (Jonah) of the Zarephath widow never died. The "holy spirit" descended on him while he participated in the festivities of the last day of Sukkot (Yer. Suk. v. 1, 55a). His wife is adduced as an example of a woman voluntarily assuming duties not incumbent on her, for she is remembered as having made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem on the "regel" (holiday; Yer. 'Erubin x. 1, 26a; "Seder ha-Dorot"; and "Shalshelet ha-Ḳabbalah").
Reason for Flight.
Jonah was induced to flee because, after having won his reputation as a true prophet ( = "one whose words always came true") by the fulfilment of his prediction in the days of Jeroboam II. (II Kings xiv.), he had come to be distrusted and to be called a false prophet, the reason being that when sent to Jerusalem to foretell its doom its inhabitants repented and the disaster did not come. Knowing that the Ninevites also were on the point of repenting ("ḳerobe teshubah"), he anticipated that among them, too, he would earn the reputation of being a false prophet; he therefore resolved to flee to a place where the glory of God, or His Shekinah, could not be found (Pirḳe R. El. x.; but comp. Ibn Ezra's commentary). The phrase in Jonah iii. 1, "and the word of God came unto Jonah the second time," is interpreted by Akiba, however, to imply that God spoke only twice to him; therefore the "word of Yhwh" to him in II Kings xiv. 25 has no reference to a prophecy which Jonah delivered in the days of Jeroboam II., but must be taken in the sense that as at Nineveh Jonah's words changed evil to good, so under Jeroboam Israel experienced a change of fortune (Yeb. 98a).
When Jonah went to Joppa he found no ship, for the vessel on which he had intended taking passage had sailed two days before; but God caused a contrary wind to arise and the ship was driven back to port (Zohar, Ḥayye Sarah). At this Jonah rejoiced, regarding it as indicating that his plan would succeed, and in his joy he paid his passage-money in advance, contrary to the usual custom, which did not require its payment until the conclusion of the voyage.
According to some he even paid the full value of the ship, amounting to 4,000 gold denarii (Yalḳ., l.c.; Ned. 38a). But all this happened to teach him the fallacy of his conclusion that God could be evaded (Yalḳ., l.c.; and Rashi, ad loc.), for the contrary wind affected his ship only; all others on the sea at that time proceeded uninterruptedly on their courses.
The storm which overtook Jonah is quoted as one of three most noteworthy storms (Eccl. R. i. 6). After the sailors' prayers to their idols, as well as their efforts to turn about and lighten the ship, had proved futile, the crew finally was compelled to believe Jonah's statement that this calamity had befallen their craft on his account, and assented to his petition to be thrown overboard. Praying that they might not be held accountable for his death, they first lowered him far enough for the waters to touch his knees. Seeing that the storm subsided, they drew him back into the ship, whereupon the sea at once rose again. They repeated this experiment several times, each time lowering him deeper, but taking him out again, and each time with the same result, until finally they threw him into the sea (Yalḳ., l.c.).
The fish which swallowed Jonah had been created in the very beginning of the world in order to perform this work (Zohar, Wayaḳhel; Pirḳe R. El. x.; see also Gen. R. v. 5). Therefore this fish had so large a mouth and throat that Jonah found it as easy to pass into its belly as he would have found it to enter the portals of a very large synagogue (ib.). It had eyes which were as large as windows, and lamps lit up its interior. According to another opinion, a great pearl suspended in the entrails of the fish enabled Jonah to see all that was in the sea and in the abyss. The fish informed Jonah that he was to be devoured by Leviathan. Jonah asked to be taken to the monster, when he would save both his own life and that of the fish. Meeting Leviathan, he exhibited the "seal of Abraham," whereupon the monster shot away a distance of two days. To reward him for this service the fish showed Jonah all the wondrous things in the ocean (e.g., the path of the Israelites across the Red Sea; the pillars upon which the earth rests). Thus he spent three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, but would not pray. God then resolved to put him into another fish where he would be less comfortable. A female fish quick with young approached the male fish in which Jonah was, threatening to devour both unless Jonah were transferred to her, and announcing her divine orders to that effect. Leviathan confirmed her story at the request of both fishes, and then Jonah was ejected from one fish into the over-filled belly of the other. Cramped for room and otherwise made miserable, Jonah finally prayed, acknowledging the futility of his efforts to escape from God (Ps. cxxxix.). But he was not answered until he had promised to redeem his pledge to capture Leviathan. As soon as God had his promise, He beckoned to the fish and it spat out Jonah upon the dry land, a distance of 968 parasangs. When the crew of the ship saw this they immediately threw away their idols, sailed back to Joppa, went to Jerusalem, and submitted to circumcision, becoming Jews (Yalḳ., l.c.; Tan., Wayiḳra, ed. Stettin, 1865, pp. 370 et seq.; see also Pirḳe R. El. x.).
In the Zohar (Wayaḳhel) it is related that the fish died as soon as Jonah entered, but was revived after three days. When Jonah was thrown into the sea his soul immediately left his body and soared up to God's throne, where it was judged and sent back. As soon as it touched the mouth of the fish on its way back to the body, the fish died, but was later restored to life. The fish's name is given in "Shalshelet ha-Ḳabbalah" as (i.e., "cetos" = "whale"). The fate of Jonah is allegorized in the Zohar (Wayaḳhel) as illustrative of the soul's relation to the body and to death. In the assumption that Jonah is identical with the Messiah, the son of Joseph, the influence of Christian thought is discernible (comp. Matt. xii. 39-41).
The gourd of Jonah was enormous. Before its appearance Jonah was tortured by the heat and by insects of all kinds, his clothes having been burned by the heat of the belly of the fish; he was tortured again after the worm had caused the gourd to wither. This brought Jonah to pray that God should be a merciful ruler, not a strict judge (Pirḳe R. El. x.; Yalḳ. 551).S. S. E. G. H.
Emil G. Hirsch, Karl Budde, Solomon Schechter
Jewish Encyclopedia, published between 1901-1906.
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