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Book of Jonah

General Information

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.

George W Coats

J Ellul, The Judgment of Jonah (1971); A / P La Cocque, Jonah (1990); H Martin, The Prophet Jonah (1952).

Book of Jonah

Brief Outline

  1. Jonah's commission, disobedience, and punishment (1:1-16)
  2. Jonah's deliverance (1:17-2:10)
  3. Jonah preaches, Nineveh repents and is spared (3)
  4. God's mercy defended (4)


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