Your approach to the Jonah narrative strikes me as a responsible and
appropriate way to take into account the historical, cultural and literary
contexts of the text. Would you approach the narratives in Genesis 1-11 in a
Howard Van Till
> 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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