1902 Encyclopedia > Jonah


JONAH. The Book of Jonah is so named from the principal personage of the narrative, only mentioned elsewhere in 2 Kings xiv. 25. Jonah there appears as a native of Zebulun, and a contemporary of Jeroboam II. (8th century B.C.). If the book of Jonah were written then, it has a claim to rank as the oldest of the prophetic writings (Joel being in all probability of post-exile origin). The problems connected with this little book are, however, so great that no judicious critic would think of admitting such a date as proved. The problems are twofold :—(1) was the book written at one jet î and (2) is it to be under-stood as a history, or as an allegorical tale, and, if the latter, is it, or is it not, based at all upon tradition, or upon a nature-myth 1 Köhler thinks that he can trace " the hand of a late reviser, who has made alterations, interpola-tions, and transpositions of verses and sentences .... There is at the very beginning of the story a perceptible lacuna in the second verse, where we are not told what Jonah was to announce to the men of Nineveh." He offers very plausible grounds for preferring the reading of the Septuagint in iii. 4, "yet three days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown," and points out that the alteration into " forty days " involves an interference with part of the details of the narrative. He detects traces of interpolation in i. 8, ii. 2-10 (A. V. 1-9), iii. 9, iv. 1-4, and other passages, and regards the passage iv. 5-8 as " full of inser-tions and variants." After purging the text from later additions and enlargements, we obtain a brief but simple and striking story, which, according to Köhler, formed part of a book of prophetic narrations, and therefore com-menced with "And." Later Jews, by very plausible conjec-tures, in search of a lesson-book on penitence for reading in times of public calamity, modified and interpolated it (comp. Mishna, Taaniyyoth, ii.). This is not the place to discuss this conjecture in detail • it is favoured by analogy and cannot be rejected without consideration. It enables us to account for comparatively primitive conceptions of the Godhead, and the naivete in the description of the heathen mariners, and supplies a locus standi to the orthodox view of the book which would otherwise be destroyed by acute rationalistic criticism. The additions may be later, but the kernel of the narrative may be old.

At the same time, it will be seen at once that to grant that the kernel of the narrative may be pre-exile is not to grant that it is historical. From a purely literary point of view it has been urged that " the marks of a story are as patent in the book of Jonah as in any of the tales of the Thousand and One Nights." The greatest of the improba-bilities is a moral one; can we conceive of a large heathen city being converted by an obscure foreign prophet 1 " To judge of the degree of this improbability, it is enough to read any inscription you please of an Assyrian king. Fancy Sargon or Sennacherib in the presence of Jonah. The case quoted by the Speaker's Commentary of a Christian priest frightening a Mahometan town into repentance is not to the point, for Christians and Mos-lems have a common basis in theism. How could the Ninevites give credence to a man who was not a servant of Asshur 1" It is obvious that in New Testament times (see Matt. xii. 39-40, Luke xi. 29-30, and Matt. xvi. 4) the symbolic meaning of the book was the most im-portant part of it. Why should it not have been origin-ally composed with a symbolic or allegorical object? For the hearers of Christ, one symbolic meaning was the most important, but probably enough (for Scripture is many-sided) other ages saw different meanings. The truths of the equality of Jews and heathen before God, the prophetic and missionary character of the people of Israel, and the conditional character of prophecy, have all been suggested as possible meanings, and all possess great plausibility.

Mr Tylor (Early History of Mankind, pp. 336, 337, and Primitive Culture, i. 306) has already pointed out the close superficial resemblance between the story of Jonah and various solar myths; and indeed the former was long ago connected with the myths of Hercules and Hesione, and Perseus and Andromeda. To suppose a direct imita-tion of these Greek myths is, indeed, quite gratuitous. Preller's handbook will show that the most circumstantial parallels to the Hebrew only occur in the narratives of later writers. These late narratives, however, are not improbably derived in part from earlier sources, and at any rate M. Lenormant and M. Clermont Ganneau have pointed out Babylonian and Egyptian affinities for the Greek myths in question. " In Mesopotamia the story is naturally more original and more transparent. In Mr George Smith's translation, Tiamtu the dragon opens its mouth to swallow Bel Merodach, but in vain (Smith's Chaldeean Genesis, by Sayce, p. 111)." A remarkable passage in Jeremiah (li. 44), evidently alluding to a popular mythic story, seems to supply a missing link between the narrative of Jonah and the original myth. " Like the latter, it describes the destroyer as the dragon, like the former, it converts both destroyer and destroyed into symbols," no uncommon phenomenon in poetical passages of the Old Testament.1

The evidences of date are difficult to seize. The use of the uncommon phrase, Yahveh Elohim (iv. 6), points to a date synchronizing with that of Gen. ii., iii., but when those chapters were written is a debatable question. Many have argued the exile or post-exile origin of the book from the supposed Aramaizing character of the style ; against this view, Pusey's introduction deserves reading. The arguments from internal evidence have been made best use of by Kuenen, who couples it with the book of Buth as a product of the opposition to the strict and exclusive policy of Ezra towards heathen nations. Kalisch's theory is that the book is a romance founded perhaps on fact. " Why should not the substance of the story, though the historical annals make no allusion to such enterprise, be founded on a real fact ? Jonah, being on intimate rela-tions with his sovereign, might have been employed by him for important offices; foreign embassies were not unusual, and some such legation from the king of Israel to the king of Assyria is actually mentioned by Jonah's contemporary Hosea (v. 13)" (Bible Studies, ii. 122).

Modern Literature.—Besides the commentaries, see Kuenen, Religion of Israel, ii. 237-44 ; Nöldeke, Die Alttestamentl. Liter-atur, Leipsic, 1868, pp. 72-80; Cheyne, "Jonah, a Study in Jewish Folklore and Religion," in Theological Review, 1877, pp. 211-19 ; Kalisch, Liile Studies, part ii., 1878 (reviewed by Oort, Theologisch Tijdschrift, 1878); Köhler, "The Original Form of the Book of Jonah," in Theological Review, 1879, pp. 139-44. (T. K. C.)


1 It is worth noticing that the " fish " of Jonah is found five or six times in paintings in the Roman catacombs assigned to the first two centuries, and that it is distinctly a dragon.

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