Introducing the Book of Jonah

The prophet Jonah is mentioned briefly in 2 Kings 14:25 as a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel during the days of Jeroboam (II). We know nothing else of the prophet except for the account in the book of Jonah. The book of Jonah is different from the other prophetic writings as is a short story rather than a collection of the prophet’s writings. It is interesting that this story is included with the writing prophets rather than integrated into the Deuteronomistic Narrative like Samuel, Nathan, Gad, Elijah, Michaiah, Elisha, Huldah, and the others (see 1, 2 Sam; 1, 2 Kgs). The heading of the book “the word of Yahweh came to Jonah” (1:1) is significant for situating this story amongst collections of the Hebrew preachers (compare prophetic headings).

The General Structure of the Book[1]
Who is beyond the forgiveness of the Almighty?
Chapter 1
arise, go, call
the prophet flees to Tarshish
the sailors turn to Jonah’s God
the storm abates
Chapter 3
arise, go, call
the prophet goes to Nineveh
the Ninevites turn to Jonah’s God
God relents
Chapter 2
Jonah delivered
Jonah’s psalm to God
Chapter 4
Jonah angry
the prophet and God in conversation
The book uses several rhetorical devices, like word repetitions: “go down” (yarad) 1:3, 5; 2:7, also “fell into a deep sleep” (vayyeradam) has the sound of “go down” in it; “great” (gadol) city (1:2; 3:2, 3; 4:11), great wind (1:4), great storm (1:4, 12), great fear (1:10, 16), great fish (1:17 [2:1]), “great ones” of Nineveh (3:5, 7), and Jonah’s great anger (4:1), verbal use of gdl as “raising” or “growing” the plant (4:10); repetition of “appointing” (1:17; 4:6, 7, 8), and “evil” (ra’a’) (1:2, 7, 8; 3:8, 10; 4:1).[2]
Among the most significant issues is the story’s relationship to Exod 34:6-7, see Jon 4:2 (cf. Jon 3:10 = Exod 32:14).[3] The use of Exod 34:6-7 is frequent in the Hebrew scriptures, see Num 14:18; Joel 2:13-14; Nah 1:3; Mic 7:18-19; Pss 86:15; 103:8-12; 111:4; 116:5; 145:8.
The relationship of Jonah’s psalm with other biblical poems is also notable, cf. 2:2, 5a = Ps 18:4-62:3a = Exod 15:1, 4, 222:3c, 5b = Pss 69:1, 2, 14, 15; 42:7; Lam 3:542:4a = Ps 31:222:4b, 7 = Ps 18:62:6 = Ps 18:52:8 = Ps 31:6.[4]

[1] Based on my own reading, and Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture; Jonathan Magonet, “Jonah, Book of,” ABD, 3: 936-42. The student should also note that detailed work has been done on the inverted parallel structure (“chiastic structure”) of each chapter, as well as other literary phenomena, see Phyllis Trible, Rhetorical Criticism: Context, Method, and the Book of Jonah (Fortress, 1994). Some of the Hebrew discourse function of the narrative is made available to students in Robert B. Chisholm, Jr., A Workbook for Intermediate Hebrew: Grammar, Exegesis, and Commentary on Jonah and Ruth (Kregel, 2006).
[2] See Magonet, 3: 938.
[3] For more on the intertextuality of Exod 32-34 and Jonah 4, see Schnittjer, The Torah Story, 280-81.
[4] The imagery in the Song of the Sea (Exod 15), the Song of David (Ps 18 = 2 Sam 22), and David’s prayer (Ps 69), is frequently used by other biblical writers.

Also see introduction to the prophets, and see bibliography on the prophets.

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