Re: Is Jonah to be taken literally?

From: george murphy (
Date: Mon Aug 13 2001 - 20:38:47 EDT

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    "Vandergraaf, Chuck" wrote:

    > Joel,
    > This topic seems to crop up time and time again; I've been wrestling with
    > this as well. There was an article in "The Banner" (CRC) a few months back
    > about the relationship between archaeology and the Bible by, I believe, a
    > professor at Notre Dame (van der Kam?). One of his points was sort of
    > parallel to that in the geology - Bible debate: what do we do when the
    > archaeological evidence is contrary to that in Scripture? He suggested that
    > these "difficulties" may force us to interpret the Bible differently. To
    > me, this puts a lot of things on a very slippery slope, indeed. No
    > [archaeological] evidence of Ai (or, worse, [archaeological] evidence to the
    > contrary) around the time of the conquest? No problem; we simply have to
    > read that particular passage differently than we thought. [Geological]
    > evidence contrary to a six-day creation? No problem; we simply have to
    > interpret Genesis differently. Some time ago, I raised the question about
    > the "floating axe head." Axe heads don't normally float, so is this "just a
    > story" or did God "suspend the laws of nature" temporarily to get the poor
    > woodcutter off the hook?
    > I agree with Burgy that (putting this in my own words) "blind faith" in
    > Biblical accounts like Jonah is probably not a prerequisite to eternal life
    > (even though some denominations apparently feel that it should be). "I
    > believe, help my unbelief" may be a suitable epitaph for many of us.
    > One thought that has crossed my mind lately is that, if archaeologists,
    > historians, geologists, astronomers, etc. agree that not all the narratives
    > in The Bible are factual but are open to interpretation, what's our excuse
    > for the multitude of denominations? I mean, if we don't "get" even the
    > "simple," historical events and misread the conquest of the promised land,
    > how can we understand complex theological issues?

            I tried to make the point in a recent post that the primary reason for
    considering Jonah not to be an historical narrative is the literary character of
    the book. It contains obvious exaggerations.
    (& these are not to be attributed just to ignorance: Even if the author had
    never been to Nineveh,
    "3 days journey across" would be far beyond the size of any known city.) The
    humor is obvious:
    Jonah grudgingly giving his five word sermon and the whole city, inclusing the
    cattle, doing penance!
    & the book has a form quite different from that of any of the other prophetic
            Note: I have said nothing here about the big fish. That is NOT the
    primary reason for considering the book to be a type of historical fiction with
    a theological message.
          (& for what it's worth, note that prayer of Jonah "from the belly of the
    fish" in Ch.2 makes no reference to his supposedly peculiar situation but sounds
    as if he's simply sunk in the sea - "weeds were wrapped around my head" (v.5)
            The Bible certainly contains historical narrative as an essential part
    of it's revelation of God acting in history, most pointedly in the Incarnation.
    But that does not mean that "historical narrative" should be our default setting
    for reading all parts of scripture, and that we should vary from that only when
    compelled to by overwhelming scientific or historical evidence.



    George L. Murphy
    "The Science-Theology Interface"

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