Re: Is Jonah to be taken literally?

Date: Tue Aug 14 2001 - 06:23:19 EDT

  • Next message: Michael Roberts: "Re: Is Jonah to be taken literally?"

    In a message dated 8/13/01 8:40:09 PM, writes:

    << 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
    the book. It contains obvious exaggerations. >>

    Let me weigh into this discussion. The exaggerations are obvious. The story
    is in the class of stories, such as, Irish tall tales. It is told in this
    form, I believe, to catch the attention of the people of Israel who were
    known not listen to a straight sermon. A good story can do more to demolish
    an attitude than other didactic literary devices.

    It is not enough, however, to call it a parable or tall tale or myth. We
    need to ask about its purpose. Why was the story written, and why was it
    preserved? With the help of others I have come to believe that the book was
    written to correct the unhealthy ethnocentricity of the Jewish people, who
    had wrapped themselves in the belief that God loved them alone to the
    exclusion of other nations. Here God tells his people that he is concerned
    about even the wicked city of Nineveh.

    Moreover, it hints at the point made in Isaiah, that the Jews were to be a
    light to the Gentiles, and that they, like Jonah were running away from that

    George Murphy pointed out to me that Jonah may be seen as a counterbalance to
    the book of Nahum, which gloats over the destruction of Nineveh. In Jonah we
    find God having a tender spot in his heart for even the cattle there. By
    picking the most extreme cases--the most wicked city and ignorant people and
    lowly animals--the story makes the point that God's concern extends to all
    lesser cities and creatures as well.

    Why did Jesus refer to Jonah to confirm that he will rise again in three days
    if Jonah was not a historical character? I suggest that Jonah was so well
    fixed in the collective consciousness of the Jews, with all the nuances of
    the story, that Jesus had to say no more. Just as we might say, "As honest as
    Old Abe," and everyone would get the point, so Jesus' meaning was clear to

    Hope this helps.


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