Re: Is Jonah to be taken literally?

From: Howard J. Van Till (
Date: Tue Aug 14 2001 - 08:52:50 EDT

  • Next message: Vandergraaf, Chuck: "RE: Is Jonah to be taken literally?"


    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
    similar spirit?

    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
    > obligation.
    > 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
    > everyone.
    > Hope this helps.
    > Bob

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