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 while Christians place it in 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. 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.
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 God, 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. 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 good luck telling that to a biblical literalist! Interestingly, this is a different word than the one found in Genesis 1:21, "Tanniyn," which is often translated to whale.
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.
I have several translations of this book from various bibles, and have read the NIV translation.
- (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, 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. Whenever you see the word "god," it is translated from the Hebrew word אלהים ('elohiym).
- (3:1-3) God again tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach, and, since Jonah now knows that God will murder him if he doesn't, he goes; lesson learned!
- (4:10-11) God 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 God be concerned about them? I'm guessing that the author means that, if God 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 God's direct intervention.
- (1:4) Yahweh is mad at Jonah, so he scares a bunch of sailors with a storm so dangerous, they throw out all their cargo for fear of drowning. Even though they had no idea Jonah was fleeing Yahweh, he endangering their lives and made them lose their cargo!
- (1:7-8) Despite being in a horrible storm, the sailors find the time to use divination, and the divination actually works. Isn't this the kind of psychic magic Yahweh forbids elsewhere?
- (1:9-11) Despite us being told the sailors each believe their own gods, they're afraid to learn that Jonah worships "the God of heaven who made the sea and the land." Which is even more strange when an ill-fitting line suggests that Jonah had already explained that he was on the lamb!
- (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? 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!), which only a disgusting god would accept.
- (1:17) Jonah survives in the belly of a large fish for three days and nights? No.
- (2) This is a sado-masocistic psalm. Jonah sings a song of thanksgiving to the very same god who is trying to drown 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? Nobody thought to ask, hey, maybe this Jonah guy is a nutcase?
- (3:10) God decides not to level an entire city because some people in it aren't bad. What a guy!
- (4:1-2) Jonah is mad at God because, apparently, Jonah told God that God was slow to anger, compassionate, and gracious, which is the whole reason Jonah fled in the first place. Uh, what? If Jonah believed God was compassionate, he wouldn't have fled, and obviously, God wasn't compassionate, because he scared those sailors half to death and cost them their cargo.
- (4:9) Jonah is so angry at God, that he demands God kill him (talk about emo!), but God says Jonah has no right to be angry. Then, to prove a point, God makes a vine grow to give Jonah shade from the sun, which Jonah appreciates, but the God destroys the vine, and Jonah again grows angry and demands God kill him again (seriously, this guy has severe self-esteem issues)! God then explains that Jonah has no right to be mad. Well, actually, he does! God has been making demands, threatening Jonah's life, and screwing with him, all against his wishes. That is something worth being angry about!