From: george murphy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Fri Sep 20 2002 - 09:45:17 EDT
I combine here responses to similar comments by Jay Willingham and
I should point out that what is going on here is not - as
fundamentalists often like to portray such conversations - a debate between
those who believe the Bible is true & those who think it isn't. It's a debate
between those who make & want to defend _a priori_ assumptions about the genre
of a biblical text and those who are willing to learn from Scripture itself, as
well as from external evidence, what sort of literature a particula biblical
Jay Willingham wrote:
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "george murphy" <email@example.com>
> The reason for such assessment is that there are features
> > of the story that indicate in various ways that it is fiction. I take the
> > liberty to repeat this list from an earlier post of mine.
> > The well-known site of the city of Nineveh was not "three days
> > journey in breadth" (3:3).
> ----George: My NIV says "a visit required three days" in Jonah 3:3. Jay
Is there a revised version of NIV? My copy (of 1978) reads "it took
three days to go all through it."
In any case, a literal rendering of the Hebrew _mahalak shelosheth
yamim_ is "a journey of three days" - cf. KJV "of three days journey." Adding
"in breadth" (RSV) or "walk across" (NRSV) is interpretive but does seem the
most natural sense. "to go all through it" is, I think, intended to convey the
idea that it would take that long to go through all its streets, & is
attempt to "harmonize" with the known size of the city. But there is no
justification for this. Among other things there is nothing to indicate that
Jonah in fact did go through all the streets. He went into the city, spoke his
minimal message, and left. Even less do I see any justification for "a visit
required three days."
> > "The king of Nineveh" is a title equivalent to "The president of
> > Washington." The king who might have been resident in Nineveh would have
> > been "the king of Assyria."
> ----- George, I always thought that figure of speach could also mean the
> king of Assyria. Jay
The question is whether any contemporaries ever used thr phrase, or if
it is rather something written long after the Assyrian empire had fallen.
> > There is no historical evidence for a mass conversion of the whole
> city of Nineveh in the time of historical prophet Jonah (II Kg.14:25), some
> time around 765 B.C.
> -----George, our best historical source for the period documentarily
> speaking is the canon of scripture.
Not as far as Nineveh and the Assyrian empire is conncerned.
The city &
its library have been excavated & we know far more about it from archaeological
sources than from the relatively limited references to it in Scripture. (BTW
there's an article on Assyrian archaeology in the September _Discover_.)
> By Jonah's day, knowledge of God would
> have been widespread, so when a miraculously appearing prophet of God's said
> "You're toast", they figured correctly this God was to be reconed with. Jay
As I'll note below, there would have been nothing "miraculous" to the
Ninevites about Jonah's appearance.
> > The prayer of Jonah in Chapter 2 makes no reference to his being
> "in the belly of the fish" but seems to be that of a man threatened with
> drowning (2:5).
> Exactly, George, a man saved from drowning by a fish. Jay
There is no reference in Chapter 2 to Jonah being in the belly of a
fish, a situation that certainly would have seemed perilous in itself.
> > There are obvious exaggerations. I already mentioned the size of
> > Nineveh. Jonah's "sermon" in 3:4 is 5 words in Hebrew - enough to satisfy
> > the minimum conditions of his commission but hardly enough to convert the
> > whole city.
> -----George, if a fish just puked a man on the beach and that man told you
> were about to be annihilated, you would probably start praying for some
> relief, too. Jay.
Look at a map. Nineveh is 600 km or more from anyplace on the
Mediterranean coast, leaving Jonah quite a journey. & "the beach" would hardly
have been visible to the Ninevites.
> This is manifestly false. The point of Lk.12:16-21 is not lost if
> > the events in it didn't actually take place.
> > (& of course many other parables of Jesus could be mentioned. I note this
> > because God appears in it directly rather than via some representation
> like the
> > father in the story of the prodigal son.)
> -----George, Jesus expressly posed his stories and parables as such. Jonah
> and Job are named as are many others in their stories. Jay
Jesus did not always do this. In the case I mentioned the gospel
writer introduces the parable by saying "He told them a parable" but that
doesn't mean that Jesus said, "I'm going to tell you a parable." In many cases
there's no such introduction at all. I pick out Lk.14:16-24 as a random
Job is never mentioned by Jesus. & the fact that some figure is
referred to for illustrative purposes doesn't require that the historical
character of the events be affirmed.
Walter Hicks wrote:
Several comments to your post, George. These are based upon my
of giving the Bible a chance to be literally or historically accurate
to a "theological only" reason for a text. Now certainly Jonah has a
lot of great
theology, but does not automatically make historically invalid. As a counter to
the notion that it must be a religious fable. I note that;
1.) Jonah was a real person according to other Biblical texts
Sure - II Kg.14:25. People write real characters into historical
novels. All the references in the NT are to the Book of Jonah whose historical
character is what's in question.
2.) Nineveh was a real place.
Who ever denied this?
3.) References to a "king of Nineveh" may be found in other places
than the Bible
(Do a Goggle search)
You do it. Are there any contemporary records in which this title is
4.) Our definition of the boundary limits of Nineveh may not be the same as in
Jonah's time since some 2700 years have passed. I have seen a least
that suggests a limit of 60 miles to include the "outlying regions"
of Nineveh or
other credible suggestions
Sure - in order to solve precisely the problem I pointed out.
of "coulda -woulda-shoulda-" argument carries little weight.
5.) It doesn't even need a "miracle fish", just a miracle by God --
or even a now
You'll note that I did not list the fish as one of the indicators.
6.) Jesus spoke of Jonah (a real person) as having been in the
stomach of a fish
for 3 days.
I have made references to "The Lord of the Rings" in sermons. I hope
nobody thinks I was "teaching" that Frodo was a real historical figure.
7.) Jesus said that the people of Nineveh repented (not converted) at Jonah's
OK, there's no historical evidence of a mass repentance of the
8.) It is generally acknowledged that the Holy Spirit convicts men -- not the
preaching of a reluctant witness like Jonah.
& the Holy Spirit generally works through means - in particular, the
proclamation of God's Word. See Romans 10. & the fact that God is pictured as
working this way in the story is shown by the very fact that Jonah
was called to
go to Nineveh to begin with. If God was going to bring the people to
miraculously then Jonah was otiose.
All told, there seems to me to be more reasons to accept the story of Jonah as
historical rather than as a fable.. Just because it "reads like a
story" and has
theological merit ------ well there a true stories and fictitious stories. Both
"tend to read like stories"
Please point out where I sued the term "fable" for Jonah.
George L. Murphy
"The Science-Theology Interface"
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