Book of Jonah
|Book of Jonah
The Book of Jonah, often called simply, Jonah, is an ancient Jewish writing canonized into the Minor Prophets section of the Nevi'im. Christians later appropriated it into their old testament. It is a narrative fable written in Biblical Hebrew. The author doesn't identify himself, but Hebrew tradition attributes the story to the main character. This book is in the public domain.
In the story God tells Jonah to go to a city because the people there are evil, but Jonah disobeys, so God tortures him and everyone around him until he eventually obeys.
I read this book to better familiarize myself with the Jewish religion.
Authorship and Dating
The author doesn't identify himself, but religious people usually attribute the book to Jonah without reason. This would be like a future generation uncovering "The Great Gatsby" with a missing title page and attributing it to Jay Gatsby.
To me, the story appears to have been written as a fable with a moral that, if you disobey Elohim, he will ruin your life and the lives of everyone around you until you obey him. However, like most ancient books, the story is badly disjointed and there are multiple suspected alterations and injections of explanatory text. These changes ruin the comprehensibility of the story leaving it morally ambiguous.
Although the fish is often depicted as a whale in re-tellings of the story, the Hebrew text for the animal is dag gadol, which literally means, "great fish." However, since the author most likely didn't know that whales aren't fish, a whale is an acceptable variation. Interestingly, this is a different word than the one found in Genesis 1:21, Tanniyn, which is often translated to "whale." Also interesting, the sex of the fish is not consistent. The first two times the fish is mentioned, it is written with the Hebrew word dag (masculine), but the third time it uses daga (feminine). This is most likely a typo that was never corrected since the words are so similar, but, if you're a biblical literalist, you must believe the fish had a sex change!
In the story, there is a major shift in the culture of the city of Nineveh, but there has never been any archeological evidence in the excavations of Nineveh to verify such a claim.
- This book inadvertently shows an interesting curiosity in Biblical Hebrew. Whenever you see the word "god," whether it references the sailor's gods or Jonah's god, the Hebrew word being used is אלהים ['elohiym], which is plural. The authors of the book (and pretty much every other book in the Tanakh) do not make a written distinction between their god and their gods of others, even though they could have referred to their god using the singular form, 'eloah. In fact, the word 'elohiym is based off of the Northwest Semitic creator god, El, whose symbol was the bull (a symbol which shows up all over the oldest books of the Tanakh.
- (1:1-3) Terrible opener. Without any backstory or setting, Yahweh suddenly appears to Jonah and demands he go to a city because the entire city is evil, but Jonah runs away instead. The author doesn't mention how Yahweh appeared, how or why the city was evil, what Jonah could do to fix the problem, why Jonah ran away, or how he even thought it possible to run away from a god.
- (1:5-6) There is an interesting use of political grammar in the KJV translation of these two verses. When the sailors pray to their personal gods, the KJV uses lower case indicating that it's a regular noun, however, when the sailors wake Jonah and tell him to pray to his god, the KJV capitalizes the word because, even though the sailors are using it in the generic sense, the KJV authors refused to let their god be treated as a regular noun, and demand it be treated as a proper noun, even when the context clearly isn't. Later translations like the NIV and NLT correct this bad grammar.
- (3:1-3) Yahweh again tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach, and, since Jonah now knows that Yahweh will violently murder him if he doesn't, he goes; lesson learned!
- (4:10-11) Yahweh explains that it was Jonah's fault the magic vine died shortly after it grew because Jonah didn't immediately tend it (why would he?). Then explains the city of Nineveh has over 120,000 ignorant people (don't forget the cattle), and shouldn't Elohim be concerned about them? I'm guessing that the author means that, if Yahweh doesn't care for the morons of Nineveh, they will die like the vine. Pretty terrible to think that there could be such a large city of people so incompetent they'll wither and die without Yahweh's direct intervention.
- (1:4) Yahweh is mad at Jonah, so he scares a bunch of sailors with a storm so dangerous to the point where they throw out all their cargo for fear of drowning. The sailors had no way of knowing Jonah was fleeing Yahweh, but he still almost kills them and makes them lose all their cargo, even though they're innocent.
- (1:7-8) Despite being in a horrible storm, the sailors find the time to use divination, and the divination actually works! This is precisely the same kind of psychic magic Yahweh forbids elsewhere.
- (1:9-11) Despite us being told the sailors each believe their own gods, for some reason, they're afraid to learn that Jonah worships "the god of heaven who made the sea and the land." This would be like a Hindu taxi driver becoming afraid when they learn their Zoroastrian passenger worships Ahura Mazda, the Zoroastrian god who create the heavens and earth. This makes even less sense because Jonah had already explained that he was on the lamb! This passage seems out of order.
- (1:12-16) The beginning paints Jonah as a coward, too afraid to even preach, but now he's willing to kill himself to save these sailors? Talk about abrupt character growth! And kudos to the sailors for not wanting to kill Jonah, and only throwing him in the water because Jonah's god angrily refuses to let them return to land safely. The sailors are so afraid of Jonah's god that they even make sacrifices and vows to him (guess they don't care about their own gods after all!), only a disgusting god would accept such sacrifices.
- (1:17) Jonah survives in the belly of a large fish for three days and nights? This isn't possible without magic, but, if you're going to invoke magic, why not go all out and have invisible pink unicorns?
- (2) This is a sado-masocistic psalm. Jonah sings a song of thanksgiving to the very same god who is drowning him.
- (3:3-9) Worst conversion story ever! Jonah shows up at the city, tells everyone that his god will destroy their city in 40 days if they don't renounce their evil ways, and everyone in the city, from the poor to the king, immediately replace their clothes with sack cloth and begin fasting. Really? Jonah didn't have to do anything to prove his god, the entire city just takes him at his word? Nobody thought, hey, maybe this Jonah guy is just a nutcase?
- (3:10) Yahweh decides not to level an entire city because some people in it aren't bad. What a swell guy!
- (4:1-2) Jonah is mad at Yahweh because, apparently, Jonah told Yahweh that Yahweh was slow to anger, compassionate, and gracious, which is the whole reason Jonah fled in the first place. Uh, what? If Jonah believed Yahweh was compassionate, he wouldn't have fled, and obviously, Yahweh wasn't compassionate, because he almost killed those sailors and cost them their cargo.
- (4:9) Jonah is so angry at Yahweh that he demands Yahweh kill him, but Yahweh says Jonah has no right to be angry. Then, to prove a point, Yahweh toys with Jonah some more by making a vine grow to shade him from the sun, only to destroy the vine just as Jonah was beginning to appreciate it, so Jonah again grows angry and demands Yahweh kill him! Yahweh again explains that Jonah has no right to be mad. Well, actually, he does! Yahweh has been making pointless demands, threatening to kill Jonah, torturing him, being a vindictive puppet master, all against Jonah's wishes. All that is worth being angry about!