From: Jonah As Genuine History Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2016
[Chapters In This Part:]
Chapter 6: Internal Evidence that the Writer “Can’t” Have Been the Biblical Jonah or a Contemporary
* Linguistic Arguments
* The Use of Distancing Rhetoric: The Use of “Was.”
* The Use of an “Unhistorical” Description of the Ruler
* The Use of Fasting in Connection with Repentance
* The Absence of Any Mention of the Journey in Kings
Chapter 7: Understanding the Nature of the Book Itself
* Misunderstanding Its Purpose
A. Missionary Nation Interpretation
B. Recognition of God’s Love for the Gentiles
C. Condemnation of Jewish Parochialism as Exclusively God’s People
* Differences Between Jonah and Allegories
* Differences Between Jonah and Parbles
Chapter 8: Assorted Other Matters
* Intentional Exaggeration Scenario to Explain the Book
* Too Many Miracles in the Book?
* Was Jonah Dead While in the Whale?
A. The Dead Scenario
B. Half Dead by Drowning When Swallowed by the Sea Beast?
C. Alive Throughout the Time Within the Monstrous Sea Creature?
* Jonah Outside the Book of Jonah (page 30)
[Chapters In This Part:]
Chapter 1: Jesus on Jonah: Matthew 12:38-42 and Luke 11:29-32
* The Parable Hypothesis
* Jesus Used It As Illustrative Truth Rather Than Historical Proof?
* The Kenosis Doctrine
* The Degree of Literalness One Attributes to Jesus’ Resurrection Predisposes
How One Thinks About Jonah’s Literalness
* Did Jesus Fraudulently “Guilt Trip” His Listeners?
Chapter 2: The Narrative of the Near Shipwreck Itself
* The Availability of the Ship Itself
* Jonah’s Ability to Sleep through the Severe Storm
* The Sailors’ “Belief” in the God of
* The Sailors’ “Unlawful” Sacrifice
* Jonah’s Knowledge that the Sacrifice Happened At All
* 7Jonah’s Attitude Toward the Mariners
Chapter 3: Challenges to the Credibility of the “Fish” Element of the Story
* On the Meaning of “Fish” in the prophet and Jesus.
* Are Their Naturally Occurring “Fish” that Could Have Swallowed Him
Whole? (inc. ‘whale’ section?)
* Was It a Specially Adapted or Even Specially Created Aquatic Creature?
* Could Jonah Have Survived Under the Circumstances Described?
* Jonah’s Knowledge of the Duration He Spent in the Creature
[Chapters In Part 2:]
Chapter 4: Challenges about
* The Choice of
* The Size of the City
A. Language Proverbial for Being a Large / Huge City?
B. Language Indicating the Duration Required to Preach At Length in Each
Section of the City or At Each Gate?
C. Language Used Not to Describe the Physical Size of the City but the
Duration Required Due to Jonah’s Continued Aversion to Being There At
Surrounding Dependent Areas?
E. Language Equivalent to the Administrative District that Was
F. Language Intended to Convey the Length of Time to Walk Around the
City’s Walls Rather tham Through the City Itself?
Chapter 5: Why did
* A Time of Heightened Religious Concern?
* A Time of Distress or Disaster?
* A Time of Self-Generated Religious Enthusiasm Due to Mass Psychology
or Specific Events?
* Other Possible Precipitating Encouragements?
* The Role of Jonah’s Own Experience?
* The Role of Jonah’s Message of Reform: Did He Directly Preach It Or Was
It Left Implicit?
* Did the People Become (Temporary or Permanent) Monotheists Due to
Divine Judgment coming upon the City?
A. The Case Against Them Doing So
B. The Case in Favor of Them at Least Temporarily Embracing Monotheism
* Secondary Issues
A. What Language did the Prophet Preach In?
B. The Actions of the Animals in the City
Internal Evidence that the Writer
“Can’t Have Been”
the Biblical Jonah or a Contemporary
* Linguistic Arguments. It has been argued that both the alleged presence of Aramaisms and the “Hebrew style and vocabulary” preclude a date near the life of the historic Jonah. Much of the analysis of this requires the kind of technical skill and linguistic expertise that I confess lies beyond my level of competency. (Though one easily understood contention will be the subject of our next section of text.)
On the other hand we have examined various objections that are easy to understand and which are also held up as definitive evidences that the book is not historical and did not come from the historic Jonah. That it amounts to an ancient “tall tale” written for the encouragement of the Hebrew people.
Truth be told, it is odd that those who take this attitude nearly always believe the book was written far later. But if the ethical structure of the Hebrew people permitted such an invention a few centuries afterward, why couldn’t the historic Jonah—or contemporary--have penned it out of a similar motive at that earlier date?
Laying aside that ignored problem, we can’t overstress the ease with which hostile authors have found “abundant” internal evidences that we can easily understand. Yet our examination of these has discovered little or nothing that lives up to their vaunted claims. Now if easily understood arguments prove “squishy” or outright untenable, why should we expect that arguments only fully understandable by a person with a doctorate are likely to be any sounder?
* The Use of Distancing Rhetoric. Thomas McWilliam argues that the text itself recognizes that it was written long after the events,
Jonah, the original
prophet, followed the times of Elijah and Elisha, and
lived in the eighth century B.C., but the author of this book distinctly refers
(3:3) to bygone days when
Now here we have a linguistic argument that is easily understood for
Jonah 3:3 reads, “So Jonah arose and went to
A. “Was” As Coming From A Still Disgruntled Jonah. The last verse of chapter three tells us that the change of heart of the Ninevites convinced God to still His hand, “Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it” (verse 10).
Chapter four begins with, “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry” (verse 1) and he, in effect, says I knew you would show mercy if they changed and that’s why I fled to Tarshish to avoid this mission (verse 2). “Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!” (verse 3). To which God responds “Is it right for you to be angry?” (verse 4)
Jonah responds with silence—and pouting. And God even provided him a shady spot to do so in and then made the growth wither and a blast of bitter heat, which causes him to proclaim yet again it would be better for him to be dead (verses 5-8). When God protests this reaction Jonah insistently holds on to his death wish, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!” (verse 9).
Now this is the bitter, outraged
author of the book. Is it mere
apologetics—or a realistic evaluation of the degree of his bitterness—that he
should write “Now
We have here the words of a still bitter man. One who does what the Lord demands, eventually. But who has absolutely no happiness in his success. He wants to wipe the success out of his mind and dump the city into the dustbin of history: It “was” (past tense) a great city.
The degree of Jonah’s bitterness is obvious. Optimistically, perhaps his attitude finally did change. I hope it did. But the text could hardly go further in presenting this negativism as his abiding attitude. “Was” fits well that mind frame. Sadly enough.
There is another way one could imagine it being worded this way and that would assume his becoming reconciled—even if not enthused—about what had happened. And that concerns how we express things that happened in our own recent past.
Think of the 1965-1965 New York World’s Fair. I never made it to there though I hear it was quite a spectacular event. (And I simply was not born in time for the preceding 1939-1940 one in New York, though that was quite an impressive show as well.) One can easily imagine someone writing, “I went to the World’s Fair and, wow, it was a huge affair. It had XXX and it had XXX and none wanted to miss XXX!”
Note the constant past tense. If writing during the fair, he or she might have used the present tense. But after it was over even for a year or two, would not the past tense be the normal and expected usage?
And Jonah surely was in no mind frame to immediately share a report of what
he had been through as soon as he returned to geographic
B. “Was” As a Later Interpretive Interpolation. “Critical” writers—who, sadly, are far more inclined to be critical in the negative sense than in a constructive one and who, by what they do, seem to define piety and honesty as requiring a declaration of unconditional warfare on anything that holds the scriptures up as credible—are individuals all too ready to engage in theories of repeated and even comprehensive rewritings of the Biblical text. These envolve the wholesale interpolation of new materials and the altering of existing material on a widespread basis, their treatment of the Pentateuch being the premier example of just how far this can go.
Basically the Pentateuch writers and compilers, for example, are a bunch of well intended religious liars who thought it appropriate to modify the text they had received--rewrite, expand, add to, alter it . . . and to repeat the procedure countless times until we somehow ended up with the text of Genesis to Deuteronomy that we have today. (The “countless” is hyperbole, but it definitely captures the “flavor” of what they think happened.)
They would be unlikely to appreciate the word “liars” but what else could we call individuals if they actually did this, even out of the “best” of intentions? Especially when so much of it was intentional writings and rewritings to consolidate the power of the Yahweh “cult” and to assure the power of the priestly class? If we would call politicians who did this liars, why should we regard those who did it in the name of religion—to be blunt, religious self-interest?
And these ideas continue to pop up, in varying degrees, to the rest of the Old Testament as well.
Yet on an extremely limited scale they can occasionally
be right, however wrong the customary motives they would attribute to
alterations. 1 Samuel 9:9 has the
fascinating historical notation within it, “(Formerly in
Laying aside the multiple examples of “prophet” in the Pentateuch we find two usages of the word between it and the text we just quoted (Judges 6:8 and 1 Samuel ). Why then the notation? The Interpreter’s Bible has a logical explanation that makes full sense: Seer “was a word used chiefly by the common people” and was subject to considerable misunderstanding of just what the role of a prophet envolved.
Typically this has been considered a marginal note that was ultimately added to the text. Alternatively one could argue that it was intentionally added to the text so that there would not be a misunderstanding. Its purpose was not to add anything but to preserve the original intent. Either way it existed not to modify or alter anything but to clarify.
After a considerable period of time
C. “Was” As a Word With More Flexibility Than Just Strict Past Tense.
The Hebrew word rendered “was” normally conveys something in the past. But not necessarily in the distant past. We ourselves do this quite routinely. (See the discussion above: “ ‘Was” As Coming from a Still Disgruntled Jonah.”)
The Hebrew Bible utilizes such
flexibility just as we do. In 1 Kings
10:6 we find the Queen of
Yet the “was” is the same Hebrew word used in Jonah 3:3 and clearly refers not to something that happened centuries before—as the Jonah text is used to prove—but something from her own recent past. Because, to Modernists and other anti-Biblical skeptics, it is a “foregone conclusion” that Jonah couldn’t possibly be narrating real historical events, the “was” in his text “has” to refer to something generations before—but this example proves it doesn’t.
“Was” can also take on the connotation of something from the past that continues into the present. Hence in Isaiah 49:5 we read that “My God shall be My strength” (NKJV) or “My God is my strength” (Holman, NASB) or “My God has become my strength” (ESV, God’s Word; “is become,” WEB).
Again the Hebrew is the same. The idea is one of continuance from
the past into the present. “My
God has been my strength” (NIV) or “help” (ISV). If the book of Jonah was written within the
lifetime of the prophet himself, then the greatness of
Our third example is from Jeremiah 14:4: “Because the ground is parched, for there was no rain in the land, the plowmen were ashamed; they covered their heads.” Translators adopt varying options to convey the point:
“there is no rain in/on the land” (ESV, NIV)
“there has been no rain in/on the land” (ISV, NASB;
no rain has been in the land,” WEB)
“no rain has fallen on the land” (NASB)
The underlying Hebrew for “was” is, yet again, the same. Its intent is to reflect something that began in the past and continues in the present. And that “past” is only months away . . . not centuries before. Even if we stretch the period into a multi-year drought, it is hard to imagine any interpreter pushing it beyond that. And we would still have a reference to recent events.
In short, though the “was” could indicate a far later date of composition (like centuries), the only scenario in which that has to be the case is if one goes into the discussion with the assumption that this incidence has to be such an example.
* The Use of an “Unhistorical” Description of the Ruler. The text
refers to “the king of
For example, Terence F. Fretheim concludes “that referring to ‘the king of
A. The similar problem for those embracing a much later dating for the work. Perhaps this point, being very short, does not need its own separate heading. On the other hand, it may be the best way to slam home a fact that needs to be remembered: It has been noted that the title is also missing in the period that the critics prefer for Jonah’s origin—the Hellenistic. Yet they apparently find its absence there of no great importance in determining the “real” date of origin. . . even though it is introduced as if decisive in the earlier period where we would place it and where its apparent intended time period would place it!
B. Options that might adequately explain the unexpected usage. There are at least three broad categories under which a possible explanation might be sought. First of all . . .
Whether we have an analogy with the usage
in other places? The ancient records do speak of
a “king of
On the other hand we saw earlier that
The strongest argument against this
would seem to rely on the fact that his capital was elsewhere. But if he issues a decree for
An assertion of regal power in
An assertion of authority by the local ruler who was either in open rebellion against the central king or who was using the title to elevate his own professed importance? We can virtually “flip the above argument over” by noting that the expression “king of Nineveh” could be used because the city was in explicit rebellion against the official monarch—or extremely close to it. Hence there has been speculation that the title could refer to the de facto rulership of a governor who was using the unstable state of the empire to carry out either an independent or semi-independent reign of his own.
The simple fact—whether we like it or not—is that Jonah, if the work does come from the time of the historical figure, knew the socio-political context in a way and detail that we do not. He used it because it made full and legitimate sense to him. Accept the possibility, probability, or outright fact that such is the case . . . and one or more of the interpretive explanations makes sense of what, to us, may be surprising language. It fits the situation.
Perhaps even more important: They fit even if we deny that the work comes from its attributed time period! Does that not mean that what is a “certain” proof of dating error / misrepresentation has been stripped of its power?
* The Use of Fasting in Connection with Repentance. To some this sounds far too “Jewish” than Gentile in nature. Hence the accusation that the behavior of what would be expected from Jewish sinners has been transferred to their Gentile counterparts.
John Walton, who provides very valuable argumentation for the historicity of Jonah, concedes that the introduction of fasting with repentance is unexpected. Formalistic incantations would be one typical response of such people to the news of forthcoming danger. Worship and sacrifice were commonly utilized and even an effort to straighten out one’s moral life would be undertaken.
Yet the wearing of sackcloth and fasting are unconnected with typical Mesopotamian grieving and “repentance” behaviors. At least one goddess required an annual day of fasting, though. Furthermore the propriety of fasting was accepted for one’s astrologically determined “unlucky” days.
In that context we should remember that only forty days in their future was the most “unlucky” day any of them would ever face—utter catastrophe for their home city. Would not fasting be a rationale response to help avoid this extraordinary degree of “bad luck/misfortune?”
What they had done on a personal basis they would now do on a city wide scale. It was unprecedented in this sense, but still grounded in behaviors they were well acquainted with but applied to a new and unprecedented danger.
Hence the king’s decree on these matters represented a responsible “projection” from their known practices to this totally new danger. We know that at least some other contemporary groups besides the Jews utilized fasting and this could have provided the king further incentive to order it.
Add in the knowledge that the prophet came from a land that was known to use fasting as a religious symbol of sorrow, regret, and even pledged reform, what better way was there for the king (and people) to demonstrate these attitudes and intentions? They were things the prophet himself—and the prophet’s God—would recognize as demonstrations of good intent and change for the better.
* The Absence of Any Mention of the Journey in Kings. Although
Kings refers to the work of a prophet Jonah, it makes no mention of the
Although liberal scholars are rarely sympathetic to there being a historical kernel, a few have suggested such. Fohrer considers such an exercise in futility, “Even some critical scholars consider the possibility that the early Jonah was given a message for Nineveh just as Elisha was given a message for Damascus, and that our narrative therefore has a historical nucleus (Sellin-Rost). But this makes the silence of the authors of the books of Kings, who were vitally interested in prophecy, even more inexplicable.”
I realize his concern, but yet
on the other hand . . . Let us consider for just a quick second: A genuine historical mission to the
Laying aside that fascinating dilemma, the fact remains that one must be cautious before one lands up in an untenable situation: If all events aren’t recorded in the place you would expect them to be, the incident can safely be dismissed as never having happened? Let’s move our deductions back a step or two, however: At the least it urges caution on our part: It is a “buzzer” alerting us to the existence of an oddity.
Yet at the heart of the historical craft in dealing with the events of any age--ancient or modern--is the art of supplementation, of piecing together from one, two, or even a multitude of sources the total picture of the time. It does not have to be Kings or Jonah but Kings and Jonah.
Beyond this we need to consider the uncomfortable question of whether the author(s) of Kings would be expected to include reference to the Jonah mission. If the book of Jonah existed, there might not have been the perceived need to say anything more. That source already gave the information in detail.
I suspect the real motive
lies in a different area entirely: If
Jonah was uncomfortable, offended, and angered at his mission to
Or are we to assume the Kings author(s) were the diametrical opposite in attitude on the subject than Jonah? Wouldn’t that be so unlikely as to, perhaps, justify the term “absurd”?
Nature of the Book Itself
* Misunderstanding Its Purpose.
A. Missionary Nation Interpretation. W. E. Orchard insists that, “The moral purpose of this book is, however, absolutely clear: it is an exhortation to the Jews to undertake the conversion of the heathen.”
By their behavior and their actions were the Jewish people to encourage others to embrace their faith? Of course—good example appeals to the best instincts in others, not their worst, and many of those open to such will find it attractive.
But were they commanded to do so explicitly? Isaiah 49:6, quickly quoted and ignoring the details and context, can certainly sound that way:
“And now the Lord says, Who formed Me from
the womb to be His Servant, to
bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel is gathered to Him (or I shall be
glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and
My God shall be My strength), 6
indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to
raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of
also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ” 7 Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, their Holy One, to Him whom man despises, to Him whom the nation abhors, to the Servant of rulers: “Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the Lord who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel; and He has chosen You.”
For another example where the same blending of nation and M essiah is done, consider Hosea 11:1, “When
Similar language in other places also seem to have that Messianic context specifically in mind: Isaiah 42:6-7. Converts were to be graciously received and accepted (Isaiah 56:6-7). Interestingly this ingathering is attributed to Divine action rather that proselytizing by the Jews (verse 8).
And in chapter 66: Dispersed by defeat, the Jews would carry their faith with them (“and they shall declare My glory among the Gentiles,” verse 19) and would so impress the other nations that the people would actually assist the Jews to return to their own land (verse 20). The result would be a rebirth of the Jews in their own country so dramatic that it would be like the birth of a new cosmos (verses 22-24).
Even so the Jews were commanded to have a behavioral life style that could make their religion attractive to both Jews and outsiders. But it was by their example and actions and determined adherence to their faith under trial. They had that obligation, not any explicit command to go out and convert them. Cf. Paul’s admonition concerning upright behavior when married to an unbeliever: “they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives” (NIV). In similar manner some of them would convert.
So what shall be think of the deduction of those like Orchard who insist that Jonah “is an exhortation to the Jews to undertake the conversion of the heathen”? If so, why then is the commission not given to the people at large, but just to a specialized sub-category of Jew, a prophet? And not to prophets in general but one prophet only and not repeated to other prophets as well?
Furthermore, Jonah was not sent to that nation at large, but to one locale only. Hence a “general missionary program” or demand is never under consideration in the book. The volume certainly teaches that Gentiles are important to God, but not that the Jews had some special—and continuing—role in converting them.
We have two other examples of a Jewish prophet going out among the
Gentiles. In the days of a multi-year
drought, the Lord protected the prophet Elijah by sending him to “Zarephath, which belongs
One would strongly suspect that she spread word of the healing, but it is not mentioned. More importantly not one word is spoken that hints that he attempted to convert the people to Jehovah. So far as the available evidence goes, it was a life preserving mission (of Elijah’s own) and not a missionary one.
Jesus’ commentary on this also stresses her as the beneficiary of Elijah’s stay in Sidon (Luke 4:25-26): “But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah . . . but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon. . . .” That surely doesn’t sound like he was out there either healing or teaching among the general population.
The second example of a Jewish prophet being sent out and among a foreign Gentile population can be found in the example of Elisha (2 Kings 8). Whatever we make of this strange journey, one thing we can say with confidence: there is absolute no evidence of any general teaching among the population.
All we know is that he answered the question sent by the king through
an intermediary that, yes, the king would recover. The prophet was driven to tears by the fact
that the intermediary would abort the recovery by murdering the king, would
take his place, and be a catastrophe for
So we find that only in the case of Jonah was a prophet sent among an alien people to preach. And, as we have noted, even there, there was no explicit call for conversion to Judaism. His was a message of doom and their response was, at least temporarily, moral reform.
For some that might have led to conversion assuming there was a Jewish community in the city at this time and one would hope it did. (If there was, Jonah is conspicuously not mentioned as meeting with it or even urging them to flee the city!) But we have no real reason to believe that such happened in large numbers to the degree it may have happened at all.
B. Recognition of God’s Love for the Gentiles. Significantly more restrained than those such as Orchard, are those commentators who suggest that the book was written so that the Israelites would recognize that God loved not merely the Jew but the Gentile as well. F. W. Farrar embraces this approach when he speaks of how one of the book’s intents is “to reveal God’s true relations of merciful Fatherhood towards the Gentile world.”
That is certainly true—as far as it goes. However, it really wasn’t so much “to reveal” this universal mercy as to reaffirm it. You see it was already long known, if people were paying adequate attention to their scriptural texts. It wasn’t anything new. It was something old and well-established. But, alas, probably often forgotten.
Sometimes that knowledge came from explicit statements; other times from implicit ones underlying the text. Of the later, remember that Abraham was considered the father of the Jewish nation. Yet centuries before him, Noah was rescued from the coming destruction by flood through obeying a Divine revelation.
Since he wasn’t a Jew, wasn’t that mercy to a Gentile? Wasn’t the event the prototype of anyone who refuses to embrace the decay and depravity of their time? If he had been Jewish then wouldn’t the entire human race be Jewish?
Shall we go back even further to the Biblical Adam who was the ancestor of both Jews and Gentiles and without whom there would have been neither? Since Jews did not become a distinct group till later, would he not have to be classed as Gentile since a “Jewish” grouping did not yet exist?
And of that pre-Jewish exclusively Gentile time we read the admonition to Noah after the Flood, “Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6). Humankind did not become “in the image of God” at the birth of the Jews; it had always been counted as such even when there were just Gentiles and the Jews not yet “called” into existence as a people.
Even under the Jewish Law itself provisions were included to govern proper treatment for resident Gentiles. Those are no secret. One unidentifiable writer provides a useful jumping off point for a consideration of such texts, which can be added to or subtracted from the list as the reader deems best:
The laws given to the
Israelites were also meant to get the world's attention (Deuteronomy 4:6) and
included several provisions for Gentiles.
God loved the Gentiles and provided for them (Deuteronomy ), and instructed the Israelites to love foreigners as themselves
(Leviticus -34, Deuteronomy ), particularly because they had been foreigners in
This included providing for needy immigrants (Leviticus ;
Deuteronomy 24:19-22) and not mistreating or oppressing them (Exodus 23:9, Deuteronomy 24:14-15, 17-18, Deuteronomy 27:19) but treating them equally under the law (Numbers -16, Leviticus 24:22). Those who became followers of God would be Israelites in God's view (Jeremiah ) and could participate in Passover (Exodus -49).
Could this frame of mind be successfully maintained and yet utter rage be embraced toward the brothers and sisters of those same people who happened to live on the other side of the border? Yes, the human mind is capable of holding diametrically opposite beliefs at the same time. On the other hand how could the Mosaical injunctions properly result in such a double standard?
Furthermore the Jewish people had
been taught to envision a world in which Gentiles should be accepted for
embracing Yahweh of
Throughout the Old Testament there are pointers to God's global vision. The Psalms often refer to God as the God of all nations (Psalms 47:8-9, 99:2). They prophesy that all nations will worship God (Psalms 86:9) and call on them to worship him in the present (Psalms 47:1, 117:1). Other Psalms speak of God revealing himself to all nations (Psalms 98:2, Psalms 67), through his deeds and through the Israelites praising him to other nations (Psalms , 96:3, 10, 105:1). Several passages in Isaiah also talk about God's plans to include the Gentiles (42:6, 56:7, 66:19), especially 49:6.
Although she blunders a bit on the interpretation of Isaiah 49:6 (as we have shown in our previous discussion) and even though she seems to demand more of intentional “evangelism” than anything we know that existed, the basic point of God wanting the Gentiles’ embrace and expecting Jews to accept their embrace seems clearly undeniable:
If one accepts the traditional Biblical datings for the Old Testament writings, all the Psalms writings came prior to Jonah. Jonah’s role in all this is to show that such admonitions were to be taken seriously. It was not designed to create an embracing attitude toward cooperative Gentiles. That had already been taught.
It was, at most, giving an example of Jehovah “kicking in the rear” a stubborn prophet to exhibit in his own behavior a mind frame sympathetic to these teachings that he should already have accepted.
C. Condemnation of Jewish Parochialism as Exclusively God’s People.
Although we saw earlier how F. W. Farrar stressed that Jonah was written to stress God’s mercy to the Gentiles, he flips that “coin” over to also emphasize that it was a sharp rebuke to the Jewish people as well: it was written “to overthrow the narrow conceit of Jewish particularism.”
A rebuke to Jewish pride, yes; I wrestle with that term “narrow conceit of Jewish particularism.” What “narrow conceit” are we talking about. They were God’s special people weren’t they? “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6).
If that isn’t sufficient, it is almost exactly repeated only seven chapters later, “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 14:2).
The Jews went wrong, not in believing that they were uniquely God’s people, but by blotting out the Divinely imposed conditionality of that status: continued obedience to the Divine will. They too easily fell into the trap of thinking they were guaranteed that as a permanent standing by virtue of their Jewish ancestry; i.e., as such they remained His people regardless of how much and how long they defied His will. Right genealogy was all that mattered.
But to Jehovah it was only the beginning of what mattered. Failure to fulfill its conditions for but so long and punishment would come. Do it enough times, even permanent repudiation and repeal of their special status was an option—both fully consistent with the conditionality of their being “the chosen.”
Note the proviso that Deuteronomy 26 repeatedly includes in regard to their special status:
16 “This day the Lord your God commands you to observe these statutes and judgments; therefore you shall be careful to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul. 17 Today you have proclaimed the Lord to be your God, and that you will walk in His ways and keep His statutes, His commandments, and His judgments, and that you will obey His voice. 18 Also today the Lord has proclaimed you to be His special people, just as He promised you, that you should keep all His commandments, 19 and that He will set you high above all nations which He has made, in praise, in name, and in honor,
and that you may be a holy people to the Lord your God, just as He has spoken.”
To be His special people they had to keep being special—by faithfully obeying His will. Or as John the Baptist thundered, “And do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 10 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire’ ” (Matthew 3:8-9).
God’s “time clock” was running and unless they grasped again the original condition of being God’s exclusive people—continued obedience—they were going to lose that status. He who gave that status had set the condition and they were, sadly, losing sight of it.
One might regard Jonah as a “shot across the bow” of this mentality. Or, in effect, saying: “I will have mercy on any who obey Me.” Perhaps the expression “narrow conceit of Jewish parochialism” does fit this mind frame and I’m only being overly sensitive to a quite accurate description. That has to be left to the reader. The conditionality of the selection remains in either case.
Differences Between Jonah
and Allegories. In the allegorical approach, Jonah
recounts in non-historical form the tragedy of Babylonian captivity that befell
There is at least some Biblical precedent for this because the sea monster imagery is used of foreign captivity. First we will examine the claim in light of the “proof text” itself, standing alone:
the king of
“Monster” here renders the Hebrew tanniyn and in some passages there seems universal agreement that it means “snake,” especially a poisonous one (equivalent to the “fiery serpents” reading in some older translations). In others the reference is uncertain. In Jeremiah 51, both religious liberals and conservatives will sometimes agree that “dragon” is a good verbal fit, though modernists will tend to read into it a “mythological” aspect and conservatives as a euphemism for “big, mean, ugly, and dangerous.” Something you do not want to open your back door and find outside.
Now there are some real
problems equating this passing reference to the Jonah narrative. First of all Jonah is a sea story but
Furthermore Jeremiah is clearly intended to be (1) a collective disaster to the Jewish people and not to just an individual, (2) figurative (“like a monster”), and (3) descriptive of a long period of time (multi-decades) while Jonah’s “monster” experience--though terrifying to him--is a brief three days. Did we mention there is nothing in the description that would have provided authority for a fictionalization of the very real national tragedy of exile?
There are further difficulties as well. Even assuming that Jonah is a fictionalization of the Jeremiah text, Jonah’s journey to Nineveh is not to punish the city but to warn it—and, with wisdom on their part, to save it as well. In contrast, the Babylonian captivity was Divine wrath inflicted upon His people for prolonged, blatant disobedience.
The swallowing by the fish, strangely enough, is to save him from drowning in the sea and dying there. The “swallowing” of the Jews represented the opposite, their “destruction.”
In Jonah the trip to
Yet there are even more
“disconnects” between the book of Jonah and the Jeremiah text. John B. Taylor cites Psalms 137 as evidence
that the Jews did not regard captivity as a time for rejoicing and prayers of
thanks. In contrast the fish in
Jonah—which should be a parallel to the captivity since it was a
fictionalization of the Jeremiah text’s reference to a beast—was the
very place that Jonah gives thanks from for not perishing! But it can’t be equivalent to the captivity
because he doesn’t go to
Aren’t we really being forced to the conclusion that all Jeremiah provided the hypothetically fictional Jonah was (1) the name of the place he was going and (2) the mention of a giant creature. Out of that little our book of Jonah was constructed?
Those acquainted with the Old Testament remember the idea of “making bricks out of straw,” but here do we even have the minimal amount of straw? (Cf. Exodus 5:7) In other words, between Jeremiah’s brief “inspiration” for the writing of Jonah and the book of Jonah itself, we have pitiful little to work with to actually link the two. It is all vague and nothing that would provide any obvious direct encouragement for the writing of Jonah as an intentional work of pious fiction rather than historical fact.
final oddity that should be considered. John Walton reminds us that Jonah was prophet
And to return to the subject of allegory in particular--since all of the above grew out of the need to analyze the claim that the “allegory” of Jonah grew out of Jeremiah 51:34 . . . It should be stressed that Jonah has something not present in any of those texts that are conceded by liberals and conservatives alike to be the equivalent of Old Testament “allegories” or “parables.”
Whichever one we care to label Jonah, George L. Robinson justly notes that, “No other allegory in the entire Old Testament has as its hero an historical person.” In other words, it simply fails to meet the pattern, the precedent set by cases where there is a general consensus that such type stories are being presented.
But now we will examine the relevant text in its broader context. Even quoting the “proof text” itself had problems; quoting the broader segment in which it appears causes even bigger headaches:
27 Set up a banner in the land, blow the trumpet among the nations! Prepare the nations against her, call the kingdoms together against her: Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz. Appoint a general against her; cause the horses to come up like the bristling locusts. 28 Prepare against her the nations, with the kings of the Medes, its governors and all its rulers, all the
his dominion. 29 And the land will tremble and sorrow; for every purpose of the Lord shall be performed against
30 The mighty men of
of war are terrified.
33 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “The daughter of
36 Therefore thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will plead
your case and take vengeance for you. I
will dry up her sea and make her springs dry. 37
Note that the context is utter disaster. So then this “prophetic encouragement” should
have resulted in the book of Jonah ending something like this: Jonah went to
Yet it isn’t. (Much as Jonah would have preferred a Jeremiah 51 type conclusion to his journey!) Instead we find the city grasping for mercy and being given it. The walls stay intact. The people stay alive. The monarch is still on the throne. And Jonah is pouting outside the walls.
Unless we are going to argue that Jonah is spun out on the basis of verse 34 alone—and developed in a manner utter alien to the outcome in the broader context—then we no longer have a reliable proof text. We have overworked imagination.
(Not to mention that we have absolutely no reason for his hesitancy in
(And if the “gigantic sea monster” representing Nineveh enters the picture at all, would not this “imprisonment” have taken a more literal form as a local prison that they had thrown him into and which God rescued him from so he could continue his short ministry of denunciation?)
* Differences Between Jonah and Parables. G. Charles Aelders notes that the claim of Jonah being a parable can be checked against other recognized and possible parables found in the Old Testament,
First of all we notice that the Old Testament does indeed present us with a few instances of parables. These are the well-known story of the ewe lamb told by the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 12:1-4), that of the two brethren and the avengers of blood narrated by the wise widow of Tekoa (2 Samuel 14:6-7), the parable of Jotham to the men of Shechem, concerning the trees which went forth to anoint a king over them (Judges 9:8-15), and that of Jehoash, to Amaziah, the king of Judah, concerning the thistle and the cedar (2 Kings 14:9). Perhaps we might also regard as a kind of parable the tale which a man of the sons of the prophets told king Ahab about a missing captive (1 Kings -40).
Even if we question whether certain of these should be classified as being in a parable form, even invoking just the remaining ones still provide an adequate sample to test whether Jonah fits the Old Testament parabolic approach. Aelders suggests that Jonah fails to measure up because of two phenomena. First,
The parables are simple; they treat only one subject: the king of the trees, the ewe lamb, the quarrel between the two brothers, the proposal of the thistle to the cedar, the escape of the captive. Now if we compare these with the book of Jonah, we cannot fail to serve a marked difference: the book of
Jonah is decidedly compound; it has at least two
distinct parts: (1) the flight of Jonah and his adventure
with the fish, followed by (2) his preaching in
(Personally, I would divide his second point into two separate entries: (2) the preaching in
Even if we expand the basis of comparison to the New Testament, the latter only has one parable—out of the large number preserved—that has two distinct points. Although we commonly speak of “the parable of the prodigal son” that only describes the first half of the narrative. The second half concerns the “unforgiving and ungrateful older brother.” Such a multiple part parable is otherwise unprecedented in the New Testament and totally unprecedented in the Old.
The second difference between Jonah and parabolic tales lies in what is done with the parable. As Aelders words it,
The parables are always followed by a clear indication of their meaning. Jotham immediately adds the interpretation of his parable: it refers to the fact that the men of Shechem have made Abimelech king (Judges ).
David may not have grasped the idea of Nathan’s parable at once, but the striking words of the prophet, “Thou art the man,” leave no room for misunderstanding (2 Samuel 12:7).
The woman of Tekoa does not neglect to explain her parable, “for the king doth speak this thing as one which is faulty, in that the king doth not fetch home again his banished” (2 Samuel ).
Neither does king Jehoash leave his meaning doubtful . . . (2 Kings ).
And in the case of the escaped captive the son of the prophet addresses King Ahab with the Divine message . . . (1 Kings ).
It is obvious that such an explanation is entirely lacking in the book of Jonah.
Aelders concedes that one might not expect a complete explanation, but it is incomprehensible to him that there is not “at least a slight clue which would help us to discover the true sense. But not even a slight hint can be found.” How then can we fairly describe Jonah as a parable?
Of course Jonah could have contained
an explanation for its narrative and still not be a parable. After all Jonah had gone through, he still
was not happy about
The fact that an explanation could be given—regardless of whether Jonah be historical fact or simply illustrative parable/allegory--is useful to remember since some claim that the text does provide an explanation . . . an interpretation of what has been said. Peter C. Craig argues that it is found in Jonah 4:11, “And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left, and also much livestock?”
What God is directly doing is paralleling Divine pity (verse 11) and human pity—pity for something that was not even human (verse 10)! If the human may properly engage in it, who are we to begrudge God doing the same?
This I have no problem with. However we are not talking about a short narrative, but a “longish” one, a four chapter book. Yet it is only an “extended parable” Craig informs us .
How do I put this politely? Isn’t that a rather longwinded way of getting the point across if that is all that is being taught? Four chapters makes sense if it is intended as history (accept it as such or reject it as such as you will), but as just a parable? Isn’t this pushing probability?
If written to be read as genuine history, there are additional lessons that leap out at you above and beyond the one Craig mentions: the willingness of God to punish even His prophets, His ability to use nature (the sea beast) to further His ends, His power over nature (causing and stopping the storm), His own willingness to warn those in danger of Divine wrath . . . and be willing to accept their moral reform. And if we were to take the time, the list could surely be extended further.
But if parable, would it not have--at least in most cases--just one intended point however much creative sermonizing might and has “massaged” far more out of many of them? Would not the ease in finding multiple easily seen and grasped lessons in Jonah argue against the work being intended as just a parable?
A third difference between parables and what we have in the narrative of Jonah is certainly worth of being added: the lack of a specific name being given to any character in the Old Testament parables. One also faces a considerable problem finding a named person in the New Testament parables as well. Here at least one has the “parable” of Lazarus and the rich man to appeal to. Of course that assumes it was intended as a parable to begin with! An assumption many of us see absolutely no need to grant.
If it be parabolic, then that would still be the only example of Jesus referring by name to contemporaries in parabolic teaching. When one has, so to speak, every other case leaving identities unspecified, would not the practical operating definition of a parable have to include “provides no personal identifications”—or, at least, “almost never provides a personal identification”? Either should provide a major disincentive to labeling the book of Jonah as such.
Robinson suggests that we should add a fourth difficulty, “the presence in it of the miraculous.” With those stories of Jesus that are either labeled parables by the text or which seem clearly intended to be such, this lack of an explicitly miraculous element remains true. One reads of sowers going forth to sow. Real life—not anything miraculous envolved.
One reads of unjust stewards. Again real, everyday life. One reads of a prodigal son who has wasted his money in wild living and an outraged brother who refuses to accept him back. Everyday behavioral actions and responses. Nothing envolving supernatural interventions.
The problem with Jonah is even more severe. A miracle is not peripheral to the story—it is at the core of the story. In the monster sea beast in the first chapter unquestionably . . . and in Jonah’s survival . . . and in a less frightening guise in the gourd in the fourth chapter. How do miracles--that do not occur in either New or Old Testament parabolic like forms--suddenly become transformed to be at its heart?
Isn’t the most reasonable answer, that Jonah was never intended to be read as parabolic in the first place?
Assorted Other Matters
* Intentional Exaggeration Scenario to Explain the Book. Terence F. Fretheim argues that “[i]f most,
if not all, of these references to
Of course the book can have these two themes without the presence of any vast exaggeration as well—if what is recorded is serious history. Indeed, without any exaggeration at all.
The fundamental problem with Fretheim’s approach is not whether Jonah exaggerates—be it little or much—but whether if it does, whether the basic framework is strictly historical. The sad truth is that Freitheim’s scenario is used to argue that next to nothing found in the book actually happened. It goes far beyond whether there is “exaggeration” to whether there is anything “historical” in the work beyond, perhaps, the prophet’s name.
The giant fish creature did not swallow Jonah. Jonah didn’t pray while in the sea or the sea beast. The ruler did not urge the people into a public demonstration of sorrow. The people didn’t embrace such an agenda.
So how can we possibly be talking about “exaggeration” when the real agenda being furthered is outright invention? Do we really believe that an honorable man much less any genuine prophet of God could be guilty of such pervasive outright lies? Unfortunately the operating assumption of Modernist theology seems to be “yes,” that the ancients felt justified on the grounds of “honorable” pious intentions.
But if it is really nothing but a monstrous pile of lies, why in the world are they wasting their time teaching about it in institutions created by men and women who thought these ancient documents were pivotal to our salvation? Why should they expect to be paid salaries to undermine the credibility of those very books? The historical cynic in me can’t help but wonder whether this shouldn’t be branded a “false flag operation,” in which one agenda—radical unbelief—is hiding behind an innocent exterior to further its own diametrically opposed agenda.
Perhaps I am too much a cynic. Or am I?
One other point about Fretheim’s evaluation of Jonah. He believes that the term “satire” is a fairly decent description of the book though “not precise enough.” What then is the book making fun of? As anti-Israelite propaganda mocking any efforts to “convert the heathen”? Perhaps as “satire” of Jewish disinclination of wishing well for their enemies?
But would Israelites even notice that it was satire? Would they not regard it as the Ninevites getting the rebuke—if not the destruction--they fully deserve? Of what value is it to write “satire” if no one recognizes that is what it is?
* Too Many Miracles in the Book? It is no secret that the miracles in the narrative have been prime targets of skeptical rejection. J. Alberto Soggin approaches it in a different way: he argues that the problem is not really the miraculous, but the presence of too many of them,
Miracle appears in the book as an obvious and customary event in the life of the believer, and occasions none of the surprise which would be the normal reaction of those who witnessed a happening that in their opinion transcended the natural course of events. The story of the great fish, which is
certainly the best known, is not unique in this context: the waters subside after the crew has thrown Jonah into the sea, the gourd grows and dies in the space of twenty-four hours, and thousands of inhabitants of the Assyrian capital are converted after preaching which we cannot even be sure was in Assyrian.
Jonah has no surprise at the fish saving him from drowning—or surprise. Hmm. Would not “astonishment,” “joy,” and even “shock” be more accurate descriptions of his mind frame? In a crisis situation you are beyond much in the way of surprise in the usual sense--you are fully “in the moment,” living it and reacting to it.
To the extent that “surprise” is the right word at all, would it not be that he was regarded as still worthy of being saved? Surprise at survival itself—rather than the specific means God used to accomplish it? That God could, if He wished, save him was a given; whether He would was not. That would be the natural center of surprise.
Then there are the seamen who exhibit no “surprise” at their salvation. Wouldn’t the natural and primary operative words in their minds naturally be “joy” and “thankfulness.” Would not these be pushing out the element of surprise? Or are they supposed to be so obsessed with the surprise element that the greater and more profound reactions should be squeezed out?
These are deductions but reasonable and responsible ones that can be made from the text. The narrative itself simply says, “Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows” (Jonah ). That “fear” is typically regarded as reverential fear or, if a different expression is desired, then perhaps something along the line of the New Living Translation’s choice of “The sailors were awestruck by the Lord’s great power.”
But their near death experience could easily argue for a stricter and more “literal” meaning of the term, something along the line of God’s Word rendition “The men were terrified of the Lord.” Or as the New English Translation of the Septuagint has it, “And the men feared the Lord in great fear.”
So this has to be “packaged in” with their reaction as well—all of them. Is it any particular surprise that they are not overwhelmed by surprise but by the power that had been demonstrated and with joy and thankfulness that it had been used?
And then there is the lack of surprise at the gourd’s fast growth and death. Did Jonah think that because he was a prophet . . . and on a mission he explicitly states he didn’t want to go on (4:2) . . . that he was entitled to such a protection? At least that much comfort from a job he despised! That would certainly explain the lack of any mention of surprise. He viewed himself as “being owed it.”
But perhaps there is an even better explanation. Before the gourd grows he is wishing for death in his horror at the city being spared (4:3) and after the gourd dies he is still harping on his wish for death (4:8). Does this not sound like a self-centered, self-absorbed man whose resentment is so deep that the element of miraculous assistance through the gourd doesn’t really register . . . or who simply doesn’t care since his main hope had been totally frustrated? Was he not too angry and feeling too sorry for himself to feel surprised?
Then we have the “thousands of inhabitants of the Assyrian capital [who] are converted after preaching” and we hear not one word of surprise. Are we speaking of among themselves? If so, aren’t we back to the seamen’s response of being so absorbed in what was going on that “surprise” isn’t the word we would expect to describe their reaction?
They would be passionately envolved in their acts of public sorrow and, presumably after the forty days were over, rejoicing at the city being spared. Should they, though, have been “surprised”—having made good faith efforts to show guilt and, implicitly, to pledge to remove the causes for their condemnation? Are they not getting what they hoped for? Should they be surprised when that happens? Really?
So the “surprise” element is conspicuously not emphasized. On deeper examination, weren’t there good reasons for it?
* Was Jonah Dead While in the Whale? The text that provides the evidence behind any discussion is found in John 1:17-2:10:
Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. 2:1 Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish's belly. 2 And he said:
“I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, and He answered me. Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice. 3 For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me; all Your billows and Your waves passed over me.
4 Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ 5 The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; the deep closed around me; weeds were wrapped around my head. 6 I went down to the moorings of the mountains; the earth with its bars closed behind me forever; yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God.
7 “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer went up to You, into Your holy temple. 8 Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy. 9 But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.
10 So the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
A. The Dead Scenario. Many equate believing in the historicity of the Jonah narrative with believing that he was alive while in the sea beast throughout the three days. That such could have been the case is certain. After all, if God could arrange for that beast to be at the right place at just the right time—perhaps even after miraculously adapting it to be able to safely carry Jonah—there can be no a priori objection to Jonah’s survival throughout. But that does not necessarily mean that this was what happened.
As the long time radio preacher J.
As he explains at greater length a few pages earlier,
“Out of the belly of hell cried I” (2:2). The New Scofield Reference Bible translates this as “out of the belly of sheol,” and that certainly is accurate for that is the original Hebrew word. Sheol is sometimes translated in Scripture by the word “grave” and in other places as “the unseen world,” meaning where the dead go. That is a word that anyway you look at it, has to
do with death.
It is a word that always goes to the cemetery, and you cannot take it anywhere else. Therefore, my interpretation of what Jonah is saying is that the belly of the fish was his grave, and a grave is a place for the dead—you do not put a live man in a grave. Jonah recognized that he was going to die inside that fish and that God would hear him and raise him from the dead.
Furthermore Jesus paralleled Jonah being in the sea beast with His own being in the tomb. The parallel would suggest that both were dead--except for an unknown period immediately prior to being released from it at the end of the three day period. The clerical enemies of Jesus realized that the body might be stolen, but did not for a second believe it could be resurrected, nor can we imagine the seamen in Jonah’s story believing he could escape death. Wouldn’t that be further suggestive of real, objective death in both cases?
B. Half Dead by Drowning When Swallowed by the Sea Beast? H. L. Ellison, intentionally or otherwise, strikes a midway position between the living and the dead while in the “whale” approaches, “He was half-drowned before he was swallowed. If he was still conscious, sheer dread would have caused him to faint. . . .”
This would certainly explain the powerful description by Jonah himself of being at death’s door while buried in the deep. It also argues that “out of the belly of Sheol I cried” in verse 2 fits not only the presence within the sea monster but also equally well his state of perishing in the depths of the sea:
3 For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me; all Your billows and Your waves passed over me. 4 Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ 5 The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; the deep closed around me; weeds were wrapped around my head. 6 I went down to
the moorings of the mountains; the earth with its bars closed behind me forever; yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God.
Is this not being buried in the depths of the Sheol of the sea . . . regardless of what additional application it has to his time within the sea creature? He prayed in the depths of the sea surely fits praying in the water just as much as praying within the sea monster, does it not?
It can be reasonably objected that there was no way possible that he could have said what is attributed to him within the waters, “I have been cast out of Your sight; yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.” Isn’t this likely to be a poetic reiteration of a much simpler version actually uttered at the time: “Lord, save!”—elaborated out into its full implications? (And for that matter repeated at greater length and in more detail while within the sea monster?)
And if one prefers to reject this, one must then deal with explaining how our text seems to specifically place him in the water while uttering the words. Being within the “fish” which was in the waters? Perhaps, but doesn’t this sound a rather odd way of expressing such a thought? Potentially sounder would be to supplement this by arguing that on the basis of 2:1, Jonah also prayed inside the sea creature: “Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish's belly.”
This idea of half-dead (or more) naturally edges into a related
option: that the time in the “whale” was
one in which he lay for all or the most part in a semi-conscious state--miraculously
imposed upon him to keep him alive.
Robert S. MacArthur points to cases in nature
where an animal’s bodily functions are cut back dramatically for a prolonged
period of time. (Hibernation in winter
time comes to my mind.) Likewise in the
If God’s skill produces the first type of phenomena in nature and the skills of man the latter, there can be no a priori objection to God using a method analogous to either to preserve Jonah alive while in the sea creature. Alive, but more or less unconscious. Or perhaps sporadically conscious. Or even unconscious till shortly before the expulsion from the sea beast itself. There are multiple options available in this type of approach.
C. Alive Throughout the Entire Time Within the Monstrous Sea Creature? Several lines of argumentation can be introduced to defend this scenario.
The Intended Parallel is Between Length of Time “in the Tomb” and Not Both Being Dead. C. F. Hogg argues against the view that Jonah was dead while in the “whale” on two grounds. The first is that, “The parallel is not between the condition of Jonah while he was in the deep and the condition of the Lord while He was in the grave, but between the fact that Jonah was in the deep for a certain time and the fact that the Lord was to be in the grave for a certain time.”
This is true as far as it goes: The central point is that three days were to pass. But how much of that three days was Jesus dead? The entire three days, of course (except for whatever short period was envolved in His revival and angelic assistance from the tomb). On that basis how much of the three days would we expect Jonah to have been dead? Alive the entire three days while Jesus was dead the entire three days—hmm: doesn’t there seem to be some serious tension in making the parallel under those circumstances?
This doesn’t absolutely prove Jonah was dead the vast bulk of the time (as was Jesus), but isn’t it what we would expect barring good evidence otherwise? Some think they find it in the next objection.
Being Dead While in the
First, let us lay aside that silly red herring that he drags across the path: Jesus is “the only man to die as a sacrifice at God’ command”—as if Jonah is narrated as a “sacrificial” death if he was actually dead! Jonah was punished with death due to his rebellion; Jesus suffered death to redeem others. Let us get the purposes of the respective deaths straight!
Laying aside such silly diversions, let us get to the more important argument that Jesus “is the firstfruits” from the dead. Here he has a scripture (1 Corinthians 15) but in what sense was He the “firstfruits from the dead”?
Certainly not in the sense of the first to ever be resurrected. Elisha resurrected a boy during his life (2 Kings -37) and we have a very strange case envolving that prophet’s bones (2 Kings -21). Did this compromise Jesus’ resurrection being the “firstfruits from the dead”? Of course not. Why then would Jonah’s?
Or, in the New Testament, we find that Lazarus was dead even longer than Jesus before he was resurrected! “So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days” (John ). Does that somehow make Lazarus the true “firstfruits from the dead”?
Again, of course not. Jesus was the “firstfruits from the dead” in that He was the first to be raised from physical death never ever to die again. That made His death and resurrection unique.
Jonah, in contrast, did die again. As, so far as we have any reason to believe, did every other person resurrected in both testaments.
Then There is the Argument That Jonah Was Not Dead Inside the Sea Creature Because We Know that He Prayed While There. C. F. Hogg’s second objection to the scenario that Jonah was dead in the tomb rests on the fact that, “So far from dying he is found praying in the ‘belly of the great sea monster.’ ”
Yet Jesus was also alive—briefly at least—before He left His tomb, was He not? Or are we to argue that the angels carried Him out and He was restored to life outside the tomb? We do not know what happened at that time, but it would really seem probable that a prayer of thankfulness would have passed His lips—would it not?—while He was still in the tomb.
For Jonah to have come to life for a period before being ejected by the
sea creature would meet the interpretation of John 2:1 (“Then Jonah prayed to
the Lord his God from the fish’s belly”) while doing justice to verses 3-6
where He seems clearly presented as praying while in the sea itself:
3 For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me; all Your billows and Your waves passed over me. 4 Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ 5 The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; the deep closed around me; weeds were wrapped around my head. 6 I went down to
the moorings of the mountains; the earth with its bars closed behind me forever; yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God.
To repeat ourselves from earlier: Is this not being buried in the depths of the Sheol of the sea (verse 2) . . . regardless of what additional application it has to his time within the sea creature? He prayed in the depths of the sea itself surely fits praying in Sheol just as much as praying within the sea monster, does it not? (The reader may wish to return to that earlier section for more on this.)
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Exorcism in Early Modern
Farrar, F. W. The Minor Prophets.
Introduction to the Old Testament. Translated from the German
by David Green.
Fretheim, Terence E. The Message of Jonah: A Theological Commentary.
Glaze, A. J., Jr., “Jonah.” In The Broadman
Bible Commentary: Hosea-Malachi.
Hanson, Anthony. Jonah and Daniel.
Hart-Davies, D. E. Jonah:
Prophet and Patriot.
Helle, Jean. Miracles, translated
by Lancelot C. Sheppard.
Henderson, Ebenezer. The Book of the
Hogg, C. F. What Saith the Scripture?
“Divination and Oracles at the
Karraker, William A. The Bible in Questions
Laetsch, Theodore. The Minor Prophets.
MacArthur, Robert S. Bible Difficulties.
Martin, Hugh. The Prophet Jonah.
McGee, J. Vernon. Jonah and Micah.
McGee, J. Vernon. Thru
the Bible with J.
McWilliam, Thomas. Speakers for
God: Being Plain lectures on the Minor
Miller, Dave. “Jonah and the ‘Whale’?” Part of the Apologetics Press website. At: http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=6&article=69. [Accessed February 2014.]
Nogalski, James D. The Book of the Twelve: Hosea-Jonah. In the Smith & Helwys Bible Commentary series.
Orchard, W. E. Oracles
of God: Studies in the Minor Prophets.
Orelli, C. von. The Twelve Minor Prophets. Translated from the German
by J. S. Banks.
Overduin, Jan. Adventures of a
from the Dutch by Harry Van Dyke.
Perowne, T. T.
F. and Eugene A. Nida. A Translator’s
Handbook on the Book of Jonah.
Price, Brynmor. “The Book of Jonah.” In David J. Clark, et al., A
Translator’s Handbook on the Books of Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah. UBS Handbook Series.
Raven, John H. Old Testament Introduction.
Robinson, George L. The Twelve Minor Prophets.
Smith, Billy K. Layman’s
Bible Book Commentary: Hosea, Joel,
Amos, Obadiah, Jonah.
Soggin, J. Alberto. Introduction to the Old
English Edition. Translated from the Fourth Italian Edition by John Bowden.
Steinmueller, John E. A Companion to Scripture
2. Revised and Enlarged Edition.
Taylor, John B. The Minor Prophets.
Unger, Merrill F. The New Unger’s Bible Handbook. Revised by Gary N. Larson.
Walton, John. “Jonah.” In John Walton and Bryan Beyer. Obadiah, Jonah.
Watts, John D. W.
Worth, Jr., Roland H. Concise Handbook of Biblical Inspiration: Almost 800 Internal Assertions of Accuracy and Revelation. 2012. At: http://www.biblicalresearchresources.com. [Accessed February 2014.]
 Georg Fohrer, Introduction to the Old Testament, translated from the German by David Green (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1968), 442.
 Thomas McWilliam, Speakers for God: Being Plain Lectures on the Minor Prophets (London: H. R. Allenson, 1902), 337.
 John H. Raven, Old Testament Introduction (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1910), 225.
 Walton, 66-67, provides the three Biblical texts we will examine in order to exhibit the flexibility of usage that must be confronted when evaluating the use of “was” to establish a dating for the book.
 Fretheim, 65.
 Hanson, 20.
 Soggin, 416.
 Walton, 67.
 Ibid., 68, provides a summary of such possibilities.
 Fohrer, 441.
 Orchard, 148.
 F. W.
Farrar, The Minor Prophets (
 Farrar, 232.
 Walton, 76.
 Robinson, 86.
 G. Charles Aelders, The Problem of the Book of Jonah (The Tyndale Old Testament Lecture, 1948) (London: Tyndale Press, 1948), 15.
 Ibid., 15-16.
 Ibid., 16-17.
 Ibid., 17.
 Craig, 214.
 Ibid., 217.
 Robinson, 87.
 Fretheim, 65.
 Ibid., 63-65.
 Ibid., 70-71.
 Soggin, 416.
 McGee, Thru the Bible, 751. McGee’s writings are where I first came across this approach.
 Ibid., 749.
 Ellison, 375.
 Robert S. MacArthur, Bible Difficulties (New York: E. B. Treat & Company, 1898), 447-449.
 C. F.
Hogg, What Saith the Scripture? (
 James D. Devine, A Journey with Jonah to Find God’s Will for You (Glendale, California: Regal Books, 1977), 63.
 Hogg, Page 78.