Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Book of Jonah
Overview of Contents
The Book of Jonah is a book in the Bible Old Testament and Jewish Tanakh. It is traditionally believed that the book was written by Jonah himself. The story also in appears in the Qur'an, wherein Jonah is called Yunus (see Similarities between the Bible and the Qur'an).
The book gives an account of the prophet Jonah and the well-known story in which God tells Jonah to prophesy to the people of Nineveh to persuade it to repent or face destruction. Jonah attempts to run the other direction, is thrown from a ship in a storm, swallowed by a giant fish, and transported to Nineveh. He decides to take the hint and preaches to the city. The population is so moved by the warning that there is a general call to fasting and repentance which satisfies God enough to spare the city from destruction. Jonah is angered by God's mercy until God rebukes him about the need for him to show mercy.
An exact dating of the book of Jonah is difficult. Traditionally the book has been thought to have been as early as the 8th century BC but many scholars now place it in the post-exilic period (c.530BC), but note that it may be based on older text or tradition.
Sections and Themes
The book gives an account of the prophet's divine commission to go to Nineveh, his disobedience, and the punishment following (1:1-17);
- his prayer and miraculous deliverance (1:17-2:10);
- the second commission given to him, and his prompt obedience in delivering the message from God, and its results in the repentance of the Ninevites, and God's long-sparing mercy toward them (ch. 3);
- Jonah's displeasure at God's merciful decision, and the rebuke tendered to the impatient prophet (ch. 4).
Nineveh was spared after Jonah's mission for more than a century.
Popular understanding of the story of Jonah holds that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, and as a result the story has been ridiculed because this is generally considered to be impossible. This is not what the story states, however, but mentions that he was swallowed by “a great fish” which is an accurate translation of the Hebrew dag gadol.
This book professes to give an account of what actually took place in the experience of the prophet. Regardless of how one interprets its historical accuracy, Jonah's story is interpreted theologically as a parable or allegory about God's mercy for all people.
Jonah in the New Testament
(all quotations from the NRSV)
But he answered them, 'An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was for three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here (Matthew 12:39-41)
'An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.' Then he left them and went away. (Matthew 16:4)
When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, 'This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!' (Luke 11:29-30,32)
Jonah in Qur'an
The story of Jonah (abridged)
“The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’ But Jonah ran away from the LORD” (1:1-3)
To escape God’s command, he boarded a boat on its way across the Mediteranean to Spain, on the other side of the known world.
A storm threatened to destroy the vessel, when Jonah instructed the others on board to throw him overboard as a way to save them from sinking. Reluctantly, they took his advice and threw him into the sea, thereby saving their lives.
“But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.” (1:17)
“And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” (2:10)
“Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh… (3:3)
On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed.’” (3:4)
When the people of Ninevah repented in response to Jonah’s prophecy, God “had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened” (3:10).
"But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry." (4:1)
Jonah complained to God that he had always known that God would forgive the people when they repented. Jonah had wanted them destroyed, and was so upset that he wanted to die.
"But the LORD replied, ‘Have you any right to be angry?'" (4:4)
“…Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?" (4:11)
- Jewish Encyclopedia Book of Jonah
- Catholic Encyclopedia Jonah
- Study notes on the Book of Jonah Dr Tim Bulkeley
- Jonah at The Great Books (New Revised Standard Version)
- Joel at Bible Gateway New International Version and others:
- Jonah at EText Center Revised Standard Version (RSV)
- Jonah at Wikisource (Authorised King James Version)
- Jonah at BlueLetter Bible King James Version and others, plus commentaries
James Limburg, Jonah: A Commentary. Old Testament Library. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1993)
Terrence Fretheim, The Message of Jonah: A Theological Commentary. (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1977)
William Sanford LaSor, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdsmans Publishing Co., 1996)
As of March 18, 2005 the majority of this article was prepared for the course BIBL5023, Old Testament Survey at Acadia Divinity College
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