Yes, I recall your previous e-mail on this. But you base your view on Jonah
on the "literary character of the book." I don't, for a moment, disagree
that it "... contains obvious exaggerations." but can the same argument not
be made for many of the Biblical records? The OT is full of descriptions
of, what we call, "miraculous events," from Baalam's talking donkey to
Daniel and his friends strolling in a fiery furnace. What are we to make of
these, and other, passages? Did the miracles ascribed to the prophets
really happen, are they included in the Scriptures to indicate that the
prophets were "men (and women) of God," (sort of a fancy business card) or
must they be read as being allegorical?
Without going into the character (literary, historical, poetic) of the
Scriptures (for which very of us have the time), separating fact from
fiction becomes very difficult. Almost like having a framed Picasso and not
knowing where the painting ends and the frame starts.
You end with "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."
Trouble is, how can we tell? Admittedly, we read the Bible through 20th
century eyes and with a mindset that reflects our current culture. The only
times we have trouble with a literal interpretation, I submit, is when what
we read is at variance with our understanding that arises from outside the
Scriptures. Thus, a pre-schooler may have no problems with a literal
interpretation of the creation account, with a rib taken from Adam's side to
create a wife for him, or with the flood and "the animals, two-by-two."
Once that pre-schooler becomes a biologist, geologist, or historian, (s)he
has to reconcile the apparent differences between a literal interpretation
and her/his view of reality. Your comments on Jonah are a good example: if
one hasn't got a clue how big Nineveh was, a 3-day journey may not have been
an exaggeration. Maybe it was "Greater Nineveh." ;-)
So, maybe we are dealing with a continuum of stories, from allegory to
undeniable historical events and, maybe, it's up to us to place each story
along this continuum. As I've mentioned before, maybe it's just as well
that there is no physical evidence (other than Scriptures) of the events
that constituted the incarnation, death, and resurrection of our Lord, so we
are free, by faith, to put it at the d "historical event" end of this
From: george murphy [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Monday August 13, 2001 7:39 PM
To: Vandergraaf, Chuck
Cc: 'firstname.lastname@example.org'; email@example.com; 'John W Burgeson'
Subject: Re: Is Jonah to be taken literally?
I tried to make the point in a recent post that the primary reason
considering Jonah not to be an historical narrative is the literary
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.)
humor is obvious:
Jonah grudgingly giving his five word sermon and the whole city, inclusing
cattle, doing penance!
& the book has a form quite different from that of any of the other
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
a theological message.
(& for what it's worth, note that prayer of Jonah "from the belly of
fish" in Ch.2 makes no reference to his supposedly peculiar situation but
as if he's simply sunk in the sea - "weeds were wrapped around my head"
The Bible certainly contains historical narrative as an essential
of it's revelation of God acting in history, most pointedly in the
But that does not mean that "historical narrative" should be our default
for reading all parts of scripture, and that we should vary from that only
compelled to by overwhelming scientific or historical evidence.
George L. Murphy
"The Science-Theology Interface"
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