JPS Bible Commentary: Jonah Page 10...

This fine commentary is based closely on the author's original Hebrew commentary (Am Oved, 1992), with some revision and expansion.

INTRODUCTION x Why did he run away? The fi rst time, God sent him to restore the territory of Israel and His word was fulfi lled, as it is stated: “ He [ Jeroboam II] restored the territory of Israel from Lebo-hamath [ in accordance with the promise that  the LORD . . . made through His servant, . . . Jonah son of Amittai]” ( 2 Kings 14: 25).  The second time, He sent him to Jerusalem to destroy it. Because [ its people] repented, the  Holy One Blessed be He acted in accordance with His great mercy and repented of His fatal intention and did not destroy it. Thus Israel called him a “ false prophet.” The third time, He sent him to Nineveh. Jonah reasoned with himself, saying, “ I know that this nation is quick to repent. Now they will repent, and the Holy One Blessed be He will dispatch his anger against Israel. Is it not enough that Israel calls me a false prophet, but idol- worshippers will do so as well! I shall run away instead. . . .” ( Pirkei de- Rabbi Eliezer 10) According to this view— which was adopted by Daniel al- Kumissi the Karaite, Saadiah Gaon ( Beliefs and Opinions 3,5), Rashi, Joseph Kara, and David Kimhi ( who combined it with the second theme reviewed above), Abraham bar Hiyya, Abravanel, and many modern scholars— the Book of Jonah seeks to  teach us about the educational purpose of prophecies of doom ( cf. Ezek. 3: 16– 21  and 33: 1– 9)  through the medium of a story that criticizes a prophet who viewed announc- ing future events as  his role and full realization of the prophecy as his only test. Jonah runs away because he cannot resolve two contradictions: between  the categorization of prophecies that do not come to pass as “ false prophecies” ( Deut. 18: 21– 21)  and the revocation of the verdict against Nineveh, in response to its repentance; and between the  concept of God as unchanging and resolute ( cf. Num. 23: 19)  and His attributes of compassion and forgiveness. Never theless the Lord compelled him to prophesy  against Nineveh to teach him the para doxical nature of trueprophets, who  “ foretell punishment to make it unnecessary” ( St. Jerome in his commentary onEzek. 33: 1,  cited by Bickerman, p. 40).Such a defi  nition of the prophet’s role is undoubtedly an appropriate and weighty theme for a prophetic narrative, but there is no real sign in the Book of Jonah of the prophet’s anguish that his prediction did not come to pass, nor anything like this elsewhere in the Bible. This is why the author of the midrash quoted above had to assume that Jonah had previously been mocked by the people of Jerusalem, while  Bickerman ( p. 38) is forced to rely on a strained comparison with Jeremiah’s distress ( 20: 7– 8)  when he is ridiculed by the sinful inhabitants of Jerusalem, who, seeing that the word of the Lord  is slow to be realized, persist in their transgressions. Hence it is not surprising that most commentators who consider contingent prophecy to be the theme of the book combine it with some other theme. In addition to the absence of an adequate basis in the text, this prophetic theme is also beset by its literary implausibility, as Ibn Ezra points out: “ Furthermore, how could the prophet disobey the word of the Lord out of fear that the people of Nineveh might call him a false prophet? How would this harm him, since he does not live among them? In addition, the people of Nineveh were not fools: why should the Lord send His prophet to them unless it was to get them to return to Him? But if they did not return, then the sentence against them would be executed. And if they knew that if they returned to the Lord  He would repent of the evil, why should they call him a false prophet?” ( commentary on 1: 2).  It is extremely unlikely that what is obvious to the people of Nineveh and their king ( as well as to King Hezekiah  vis- à- vis Micah the Morashtite and to the elders of Judah vis- à- vis Jeremiah [ Jer. 26: 17– 19])  is a problem of life and death for the Hebrew prophet. What is more, relating the lesson of the plant  to the question of Jonah’s status as a prophet renders his character shallow and absurd, turning him into a stubborn, petty, and heart- less man who would rather witness the destruction of a great city than have his prestige impaired. Such an imbalance between the seriousness of the theme and the shallowness of the protagonist would detract from the expressive power of the story and weaken the force of its message  ( unless we are dealing with a satire; see “ Ironic Satire or Compassionate Irony?” p. xvii). Compassion: Justice versus Mercy The fourth view is that Jonah argues on behalf of strict justice against the merciful God, who repents of His sentence. Punishment of sinners in accordance with          C    h  a  p  t e  r   Home  |      T  O   C   

JPS Bible Commentary: Jonah


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FRONT MATTEREDITORSTitle pageCopyright pageTABLE OF CONTENTSPREFACEINTRODUCTIONThe Theme of the Book and the History of Its ExegesisJonah's Place in the Biblical CanonThe Literary GenreThe Narrative ArtThe Literary Function of the Gentiles as Supporting CharactersThe Unity of the Book and the Provenance of the PsalmLinks between Jonah and Other Biblical BooksLanguageDate of CompositionThe TextTHE COMMENTARY TO JONAHBIBLIOGRAPHYMidrashimJewish Commentaries (in chronological order)Modern Commentaries (in chronological order)Scholarly Studies (in alphabetical order)
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