- JONAH, BOOK OF
- JONAH, BOOK OF (Heb. יוֹנָה), the fifth in the collection of the 12 short prophetic books (minor prophets ). Unlike the other books of this collection the Book of Jonah contains a prophecy of only five words (3:4); the rest of the book is a story about Jonah son of Amittai. The book was added to the prophetic books, probably because a prophet of this name was known from the time of Jeroboam II (II Kings 14:25.) and because the book deals with the problem of a man whose task it was to bring the word of God to Nineveh. -Outline of Contents Jonah son of Amittai is ordered by YHWH to go to Nineveh and proclaim judgment upon its people for their wickedness. Jonah refuses to fulfill the mission and tries to escape. At Jaffa he boards a ship bound for Tarshish, a direction precisely opposite to Nineveh. YHWH brings on a great storm. The sailors try to avert the danger by praying to their gods and jettisoning the cargo. Jonah, who has gone to sleep, is awakened by the captain who asks him to pray to his God, in the hope that He may prove responsive. The sailors then decide to find out by casting lots on whose account the misfortune has come upon them. The lot falls on Jonah, and they try to find out what wrong he has done. Jonah discloses that he is fleeing from a mission of his god, YHWH, and that the only way they can make the storm abate is by heaving him overboard. The sailors first try to row back to land, but this proves futile, so they throw Jonah overboard and pray to the Lord not to hold them guilty for his murder, since it was He who has left them no other way of saving themselves. The storm subsides at once and the sailors, who now fear YHWH, offer sacrifices and make vows (Jonah 1). Jonah himself is swallowed by a great fish, from inside of which he prays to YHWH, and after three days and nights in the fish's belly he is spewed out on dry land (Jonah 2). Jonah is called by YHWH a second time to bring His message to Nineveh. This time Jonah does go to Nineveh, a huge city. He proclaims that in 40 days Nineveh will be overthrown. The people of Nineveh believe God, proclaim a fast, and put on sackcloth. The king of Nineveh too takes part in the acts of repentance and orders all the inhabitants to pray to God and to repent of their evil ways: "God may turn and relent" (3:9). As a result of Nineveh's repentance, God renounces the punishment He had planned to bring upon it (Jonah 3). Jonah is greatly displeased by this mercy and complains of it to YHWH: he had tried to escape his mission in the final place for fear that YHWH would be moved to renounce His punishment out of mercy. In his vexation Jonah asks YHWH to take his life. At this time Jonah is outside Nineveh sitting in the shade of a booth waiting to see what will happen to the city. The Lord causes a ricinus plant (see castor oil plant ) to grow unexpectedly over Jonah to provide shade over his head, to his great relief. On the following day, however, the Lord provides a worm, which attacks the plant causing it to wither. When the sun rises, the Lord causes a sultry east wind to beat down on Jonah's head. Jonah becomes faint and asks for death. Then the Lord says: "You cared about the plant, which you did not work for and which you did not grow, which appeared overnight and perished overnight. And should I not care about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not yet know their right hand from their left, and many beasts as well?" (4:10–11). -The Unity of the Book The Book of Jonah raises exegetical problems, such as the question why the king had to order the people (and the cattle too\!) to wear sackcloth and to fast, after they had already done so on their own initiative (3:5–8), or why Jonah needed the ricinus plant while he sat in the shade of the booth (4:5–6). Some scholars have tried to solve these problems by the application of the source-theory. However, some 20th century scholars argued for the unitary authorship of the book while allowing for the possibility of later additions. Some scholars regard verse 4:5, which seems out of place, as one of these additions. Others place this verse after 3:4. The Psalm of Jonah (2:3–10) is regarded by many scholars as an interpolation, particularly because it is neither an expression of penitence nor a plea for deliverance, but is a thanksgiving psalm. The conditions referred to in the psalm also have nothing to do with the distress experienced in a fish's belly. The psalm could, therefore, have been added to the book later. However, it has been shown that the psalm is probably an integral part of the book. Some of the main expressions in the psalm relate directly to the language used in the previous chapter (cf. 1:2, 6 with 2:3; 1:16 with 2:10) and apparently came to determine the choice of psalms by narrative authors at an early date; cf. the choice of "Hannah's psalm" solely on account of I Sam. 2:5b (Y. Kaufmann). Besides, the removal of the psalm from the book would unbalance the symmetry of the two major parts (G.H. Cohen, G.M. Landes). It may therefore be assumed that the psalm – though perhaps borrowed or compiled from another source – was always part of the book. Special attention should be given to the changes in the use of God's names. YHWH ("the Lord") is His name as the God of the "Hebrew" (1:9) Jonah. In connection with the non-Israelite people of Nineveh He is Elohim, "God." The sin for which Nineveh is judged is not idolatry but lawlessness (3:8). Jonah objects to God's habit of renouncing a punishment which was merited and has already been decreed, but God's purpose in sending prophets to announce His punishments is precisely to make them unnecessary. For He has precisely the "sentimental" attachment which Job 10:3a, 8ff. accuses Him of lacking; and besides there are always the innocent children and dumb beasts (Jonah 4:10–11). -The Motifs of the Book The main motifs of the book are similar to those found in the literature of other cultures. Many stories tell about a person's being swallowed by a great fish and rescued thereafter (Heracles the Hesione, Perseus and Andromeda, etc.). However, only in the Book of Jonah is the man in the fish rescued not by force (fire from inside or sword from outside) but by prayer, his salvation thus resulting from the combined action of God and humans. It should also be noted that in the Jonah story the fish and the man remain unharmed. Thus the story of Jonah – despite its similarities to other stories – has a unique biblical character. Basically, the same situation of the Book of Jonah is found in the story of Daniel's rescue from the lion-pit and the salvation of the three boys from the fiery furnace (Dan. 3 and 6). In all these stories the motif of swallowing becomes a symbol for the act of faith between God and humanity. The common factor in all parts of the story is the acceptance of God's commands. Jonah tries to escape God's will but he learns that this cannot be accomplished. Even the sea and the great fish, which according to myth are great independent powers in the universe (cf. Isa. 51:9–10; Ps. 74:13–15; 89:10–11; Job 26:12), have to obey the orders of God. The sea becomes stormy and calm according to the wish of God (1:3, 15); the fish swallows and spews out according to God's order (2:1, 11); the castor-oil plant, the worm, and the east wind are all obedient servants of God (4:6–8). -The Teaching of the Book The purpose of the book has been explained in various ways. According to many scholars the book is to be understood in its historical context. The best-known opinion connects the book with the times of Ezra and Nehemiah and assumes that it is the expression of universalistic opposition to the particularistic ideas of that time. This has been challenged by the observation that a book which uses Nineveh as the symbol of the repenting city and which does not mention the name Israel even once has such an historic tendency. The book has also been regarded as an essay dealing with the profession of the prophet. The prophet cannot escape his mission and he should not regard it as weakness or failure if his prophecy is not fulfilled. However, since the book does not speak explicitly about prophets and prophecy (the word is not mentioned even once) and since Jonah's argumentation contains no aspects of his personal life, this explanation seems improbable too. In addition, the whole point of classical biblical prophecy is to bring sinners to repent so that they may avoid destruction. In that case any successful prophet of rebuke would fail the test of prophecy (e.g., Ezek. 3:18). The Book of Jonah has to be understood as a lesson in divine governance, forgiveness and mercy. Jonah tries to escape his mission, explaining to God that he had fled because he knows that God often relents after having decreed punishment (Jonah 4:2; cf. Joel 4:13). Indeed, God renounces his punishment after the repentance of the city out of mercy for the inhabitants. As pointed out by Simon, underlying Jonah's complaint is the notion that divine forgiveness should not wipe out all penalty (cf. Jonah 4:2 with Exod. 34:6–7), the threat of penalty serving as a deterrent. But whereas human rulers require deterrence in order to maintain the social order, God does not require it. As the story shows, God has the power to intervene at anytime. He sends the storm (1:4); "appoints" the fish to swallow Jonah (2:1); commands the fish to spew him out (2:11); "appoints" the plant (4:6); and the worm that makes it wither (4:7). The book begins and ends with the word of God, an assertion of God's absolute power over all creation, the sea and the dry land (1:9). The greatest theological challenge facing the author was the identity of the god in whose name Jonah's prophecy (3:4) was delivered. To use the specifically Israelite name Yahweh as the source of Jonah's words would have implied conversion of the Ninevites. In contrast, to have had the Ninevites turning to their native gods, Asshur and Ishtar for example, would have been a theological enormity for a Hebrew writer. Accordingly, the neutral elohim (3:5) was employed. -The Date of Origin Opinions vary greatly concerning the date of the book's composition. Some date it as early as the eighth century B.C.E. and accept it as a story told about Jonah the prophet who lived in the time of Jeroboam II similar to stories about Elijah and Elisha (cf. II Kings 8:4). Others date it as late as the third century B.C.E. As the book is mentioned by Ben Sira (49:10) it cannot have been written later than his time. The main points for fixing the date are the following: (1) The language: Some words seem to be late like the relative pronoun she and the Aramaisms mallaḥ (1:5); yitʿashet (1:6); taʿam (3:7); and ribbo (4:11). However, she is attested very early in northern Israel (Jud. 5:7; 6:17) and, for geographical reasons, Aramaisms may likewise have penetrated there at an early date. The presence of many Aramaisms however, suggests a relatively late date. (2) Reference to Nineveh: It is said about Nineveh that it "was an enormously large city" (3:3) and it seems therefore that the book was written after the destruction of this famous city (612 B.C.E.). In contrast, it has been pointed out that the past tense can also be used to describe a continuous existing situation (cf. Jer. 1:18). This, however, does not account for the unhistorical title "king of Nineveh" and the legendary size of the city. (3) The identity of the prophet: The question of the date of the book is related to the time of the prophet, who, apparently, was a historical figure (II Kings 14:25). However, if the prophet's name was chosen only to give a later book more authority, the prophet's identity cannot be helpful in fixing the date of the book's composition, especially since it is possible that the story is connected with a historical prophet, but the book itself was written much later. (4) Parallels to other books: The Book of Jonah contains parallels to the stories about Elijah (cf. Jonah 4:3 with I Kings 19:4); to the prophecies of Jeremiah (cf. Jonah 3:8–10 with Jer. 18:7–8); and particularly to the Book of Joel (cf. Jonah 3:9 with Joel 2:14; Jonah 4:2 with Joel 2:13). It is, however, impossible to prove if and in which way these sources influenced the Book of Jonah or were influenced by it. It is quite probable that the book recounts an early story, since the people of Nineveh are worshiping idols, but the prophet only speaks, as in early times, against their moral sins. The lack of any national aspect has also been cited in favor of an early date of the story, which was perhaps first told orally and written down only at a later date. The Book of Jonah aroused special interest throughout the ages not only because of its dramatic content and literary devices but also because of its important role in the religious world. The book of Jonah is read in the synagogue at the Day of Atonement afternoon service (Meg. 31a). (Gabriel H. Cohn / S. David Sperling (2nd ed.) -In the Aggadah When sent to prophesy against Nineveh, Jonah suppressed his prophecy, although liable to suffer death at the hands of Heaven for doing so (Sanh. 11:5), and did not go, preferring rather to honor the son (the people of Israel) than the Father (the Almighty). For were he to go to Nineveh, Jonah argued, its people would immediately repent, with the result that the Almighty would have mercy on them and hold Israel blameworthy, declaring that, unlike the gentiles, they became stubborn whenever He sent His prophets to them (cf. Matt. 12:41). Jonah tried to flee abroad to a gentile country "where the Divine Presence neither dwells nor appears." First the sailors plunged him in the sea up to his knees and then up to his neck, each time the sea became calm but grew stormy again when they lifted him back on deck. Thereupon they hurled Jonah into the sea, which immediately stopped its raging (Mekh., Bo, Introduction: Tanh., Lev., 8; PdRE 10). (Elimelech Epstein Halevy) -In Christianity Jonah is regarded in Christianity as the proof of the capacity of the gentiles for salvation and the design of God to make them partake of it. This is the "sign of Jonas" referred to in Luke 11: 29–30. In the same passage he is referred to, as are many of the prophets, as a forerunner of Jesus. "The men of Nineveh … repented at the preaching of Jonas; and behold, one greater than Jonas is here" (ibid., v. 32). Similarly the three days and three nights which he spent in the whale's belly are seen as a prefiguration of the three days and three nights he would be "in the heart of the earth" (Matt. 12:40). -In Islam Yūnus (Jonah) the prophet, "the man of the fish," was one of the most prominent descendants of Abraham. He was one of the apostles of Allah, even though he fled from his mission because he thought that Allah did not control him (Sura 6:86; 22:87). Sura 10 of the koran is named after him. In Sura 37:139–49, muhammad relates how Jonah hid in a ship loaded with freight. His fate, however, designated him for destruction. Had he not praised Allah, he would have remained in the belly of the fish until the day of the resurrection of the dead. The myriads who were warned by Jonah believed in Allah and continued to enjoy His mercies for a time (Sura 10:96–98). Umayya ibn Abi al-Ṣalt (Schulthess, 32:21) knew that Jonah had stayed only a few days in the belly of the fish. The story of Jonah was a favorite subject in Islamic legend; several motifs worthy of adaptation are found in it: the repentance of the inhabitants of Nineveh on the day of ʿāshūraʾ: the sojourn of Jonah in the belly of the fish; his prayer, etc. (Haïm Z'ew Hirschberg) -In the Arts The allegorical nature of the Book of Jonah and the colorful episodes which it contains have inspired writers, artists and musicians throughout the ages. One of the earliest literary works based on Jonah was Patience, an anonymous English adaptation in verse probably dating from the mid-14th century. The theme of the punishment awaiting the "sinful city" was exploited by English puritanical writers of the 16th and 17th centuries. Thus, A Looking Glasse for London and England (London, 1594), a play by Robert Greene and Thomas Lodge, weaves the story of Jonah into a dramatic account of the kingdom of Israel after the overthrow of Jeroboam. In their comparison of Nineveh with vice-ridden London, the playwrights mingled Elizabethan satire with biblical and moralistic elements in the spirit of the Reformation. The subject also inspired A Feaste for Wormes (1620), a paraphrase of Jonah by the English royalist writer Francis Quarles, in whose Divine Poems (1630) the story later reappeared. Two other works of the 17th century were the anonymous English tragicomedy Nineveh's Repentance (c. 1656) and Jonas by the German Protestant poet Martin Opitz. The subject fell into comparative neglect until the second half of the 19th century, when the Historie of Jonah, a dramatic poem, appeared in Zachary Boyd's Four Poems from "Zion's Flowers" (1855). This was followed by John Ritchie's dramatic poem The Prophet Jonah (1860), John T. Beer's play The Prophet of Nineveh (1877), and Profeta-lomb ("The Prophet Bough," 1877), a work by the Hungarian writer János Arany. There was a revival of interest in the theme among writers of the 20th century. A.P. Herbert's The Book of Jonah (As almost any modern Irishman would have written it) (1921) was a novel, comic dramatization of the biblical story written in a broad Irish brogue. Behind the superficial frivolity of the Scots playwright James Bridie's Jonah and the Whale (1932; revised as Jonah 3 in Plays for Plain People, 1944) lies a more serious and sympathetic approach to the central issue. This contrasts with Laurence Housman's playlet The Burden of Nineveh (in Old Testament Plays, 1950), an attempt to debunk the Bible. Two other works in English were A Masque of Mercy (1947), a play in blank verse by the U.S. poet Robert Frost presenting the theme of man's relationship with God in Christian terms; and the English novelist and critic Aldous Huxley's poem "Jonah" (in The Cherry Tree, 1959). Der Mann in Fisch (1963) was a novel about Jonah by the German religious writer Stefan Andres. Perhaps because of its nautical interest, the subject has also inspired works by several Scandinavian authors, notably Haakon B. Mahrt's Norwegian novel Jonas (1935), Harald Tandrup's Danish novel Profeten Jonas privat (1937; Jonah and the Voice, 1937), and Olov Hartman's modern Swedish miracle play Profet och timmerman (1954). Works about Jonah by 20th-century Jewish writers include the U.S. novelist robert nathan 's Jonah; or the Withering Vine (1925; published in Britain as Son of Amittai, 1925); M.C. Lichtenstein's Yiddish novel Yonah ben Amittai (1929); a Hebrew play of the same title by Meir Foner (1930); and It Should Happen to a Dog (1956), a one-act play by wolf mankowitz utilizing the humor and idiom of London's Jewish East End. In art, there are no less than 57 examples in catacombs in Rome and on numerous sarcophagi, from the second to the first centuries, some of which may possibly be Jewish. The four scenes are: the storm, the swallowing and spewing forth by the whale, and Jonah chiding God. In specifically Christian typology, the story has three parts, the parallelism between Jonah and the whale and the visit to Limbo by Jesus being paramount. The Jewish tradition appears fully in the four-part Jonah sarcophagus of the British Museum. The Jonah cycle may well be older than its Christological interpretation, and the sarcophagus would thus afford an indication of a lost Jewish pictorial prototype. (Helen Rosenau) Individual representations of Jonah are rare. The two major examples are the figure by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, Rome, and the marble statue designed by Raphael and executed by his pupil Lorenzetto di Ludovico Lotto(?) in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome. The prophet, who is generally represented as bald, is here shown as a nude youth with curly hair. The story of Jonah and the fish as a prefiguration of the Entombment and Resurrection and the resurrection of the individual soul and the hope of life hereafter accounts for its extraordinary popularity in the funerary art of the early Christians. An interesting fourth-century ivory relief of the subject is found on the Lipsanoteca in the Museo Civico Cristiano at Brescia. Jonah was also a popular subject in Byzantine manuscripts of the 6th–11th centuries, including the sixth-century Rabula Codex, the Topography of Kosmas Indikopleustès (Vatican), the ninth-century Homilies of Gregory of Nazianz, and the 11th-century Khlyudov Psalter (Moscow). In these, new episodes are illustrated, such as the "calling" of Jonah (Jonah 1:2), his embarkation at Joppa (Jonah 1:3), and his preaching before the king of Nineveh (Jonah 3:4ff.). The theme was less popular in the Middle Ages, but survived as one of the types of the Resurrection. Some notable medieval examples are the early 13th-century sculpture at Bamburg showing the bald Jonah engaged in animated conversation with the prophet Hosea; and the delightful illuminations in the 12th-century Hortus Deliciarum (University Library, Strasbourg) and Admont Bible (National Library, Vienna). In both manuscripts, Jonah is shown emerging from a fish, in the latter case with a rhetorical gesture, as if about to make a speech. Illuminations of Jonah were also included in medieval Hebrew Manuscripts, such as the Spanish Cervera Bible (1300; Lisbon National Library) and the Kennicott Bible (1476; Bodleian Library, Oxford). In an early 15-century German maḥzor (Academy of Sciences, Budapest), there is a casual, but vivid, sketch of a bald and mustachioed Jonah sitting under the gourd (Jonah 4:6). After the Middle Ages, the subject was comparatively rare. Rubens included a painting of Jonah thrown into the sea as the predella of a triptych of the miraculous draught of fishes ordered by the Malines Fishmongers Corporation in 1618; and there is a stormy landscape of the same subject by Gaspard Poussin at Windsor Castle, England. In Italy, Salvator Rosa painted a picture of Jonah preaching to the Ninevites. The Israel wood-engraver jacob steinhardt illustrated the Book of Jonah in 1953. Musical compositions on the Jonah theme are less abundant. One of the early masters of the oratorio, Giacomo Carissimi (1605–1674), wrote an oratorio, Jona (of which a 19th-century revision by ferdinand hiller has remained in manuscript); two notable oratorios dating from 1689 are G.B. Bassani's Giona, which has an opening instrumental "Sea Symphony," and the Giona of G.B. Vitali. In the 18th century P. Anfossi (1727–1797) composed Ninive conversa and, in the 19th century, the subject was represented, like most biblical stories, in the English festival-oratorio production. Some increase in musical interest has been noticeable in the 20th century, with hugo chaim adler 's cantata Jonah (1943) and oratorios by Lennox Berkeley (Jonah, 1935), mario castelnuovo-tedesco (Jonah, 1951), and vladimir voegel (Jonah ging doch nach Ninive, for speaker, baritone solo, speaking-choir, mixed choir, and orchestra, 1958). (Bathja Bayer) -BIBLIOGRAPHY: INTRODUCTIONS: S.R. Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament (1913), 321–32; R. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament (1948), 586–9; A. Bentzen, Introduction to the Old Testament (1952), 144–7; O. Eissfeldt, The Old Testament, An Introduction (1965), 403–6; H.L. Ginsburg, The Five Megilloth and Jonah (1969). COMMENTARIES AND SPECIAL STUDIES: H. Schmidt, Jona, Eine Untersuchung zur vergleichenden Religionsgeschichte (1907); S.D. Goitein, in: JPOS, 17 (1937), 63–77; A. Feuillet, in: RB, 54 (1947), 161–86; G. Ch. Aalders, The Problem of the Book of Jonah (1948); H. Rosin, The Lord Is God (1955), 6–54; Kaufmann Y., Toledot, 2 (1960), 279–87; N. Lohfink, in: BZ, 5 (1961), 185–203; H.W. Wolff, Studien zum Jonabuch (1965); G.M. Landes, in: Interpretation, 21 (1967), 3–31; E.J. Bickerman, Four Strange Books of the Bible (1967), 1–49; L. Frankel, in: Ma'yanot, 9 (1967), 193–207; G.H. Cohn, Das Buch Jona (1969). IN THE AGGADAH: Ginzberg, Legends, 7 (1938), 261 (index); Urbach, in: Tarbiz, 20 (1950), 118–22. IN ISLAM: D. Sidersky, Les origines des légendes musulmanes dans le Coran et dans les vies des Prophètes (1933), 130; H.Z. (J.W.) Hirschberg, Juedische und christliche Lehren im vorund fruehislamischen Arabien (1939), 63–64; Umayya ibn Abi al-Ṣalt, Umajja ibn Abi's Salt; die unter seinem Namen ueberlieferten Gedichtfragmente, tr.by F. Schulthess (1911); H.A.R. Gibb and J.H. Kramers (eds.), Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam (1953), S.V. Yūnus b. Mattai, incl. bibl. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: "Yūnus," in: EIS2, 11 (2002), 347–49 (incl. bibl.). IN THE ARTS: H. Rosenau, in: Journal of the British Archaeological Association, 3rd Series, 24 (1961), 60ff.; U. Steffen, Das Mysterium von Tod und Auferstehung: Formen und Wandlungen des Jona-Motivs (1963); G. Landes, in: Eretz Israel, 16 (1982), 147–70; J. Magonet, in: ABD, 3:936–42 (with bibliography); idem, in: DBI, 1:620–22; U. Simon, The JPS Commentary Jonah (1999); D. Marcus, Review of Biblical Literature 10/30 (electronic review of Simon; 2000).
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.
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