Re: The Flood Hoax

From: george murphy (
Date: Fri Sep 20 2002 - 09:45:17 EDT

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             I combine here responses to similar comments by Jay Willingham and
    Walter Hicks.
             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
    text is.

    Jay Willingham wrote:

    > ----- Original Message -----
    > From: "george murphy" <>
    > 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
    perhaps an
    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
    > one
    > > 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
    general philosophy
    of giving the Bible a chance to be literally or historically accurate
    before going
    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
    one commentary
    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.
    This sort
    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
    extinct fish.

             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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