JPS Bible Commentary: Jonah Page 7...

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

vii INTRODUCTION INTRODUCTION The Theme of the Book and the History of Its Exegesis Biblical narrative tends to prefer indirect expression over explicit ideological, ethical, or psychological statements. This tendency reaches its most radical manifestation in the Book of Jonah. As a result, it is particularly diffi cult to identify the central theme that unites all the elements of the story into a literary and conceptual whole. The broad variety of opinions on this subject— from the talmudic sages through modern commentaries— can be subsumed under four basic headings. Each offers its own answer to the three interrelated questions: Why was Jonah unwilling to prophesy against Nineveh? What did the Lord teach His prophet by means of the tempest, the fi sh, and the gourd? What are readers supposed to learn from the book? Atonement versus Repentance The designation of Jonah as the haftarah for the Afternoon Service of the Day of Atonement ( B. Megillah 31a) refl ects the view that this book depicts the concept of repentance so starkly and completely that it can stir hearers to repent of their ways and even modify their conduct. The Ninevites’ repentance does indeed seem to be an exemplary combination of fasting, prayer, and deeds ( abandoning their evil ways), just as its acceptance by the merciful God is tantamount to a guarantee and confi rmation that authentic repentance has the power to nullify the fatal decree. Accordingly, the return of the people of Nineveh from their evil ways is cited as an example to be included in the admonition delivered by the elder on the occasion of a public fast ( M. Ta‘ anit 2, I). The sages go further and magnify its extent beyond the bare  statement of the text: “ What is meant by ‘ and from the injustice which is in his hands’ ( 3: 8)?  Samuel said: ‘ Even someone who had stolen a beam and built it into his house destroyed the  entire building and returned the beam to its owner’” ( B. Ta‘ anit 16a; compare Midrash Jonah, ed. Jellinek, pp. 100– 102; ed. Horovitz, pp. 19– 20; and see Maimonides’ Code, the Mishneh Torah, Laws of Theft and Loss 1,5). According to Yehezkel Kaufmann, “ Jonah is the classic state-ment of the Israelite idea of repentance” ( p. 285), which aims to reject the ancient view, expressed by Jonah’s unwillingness to warn the transgressors and his protest against the clemency shown them, that only punishment can cleanse sin. Like the Book of Job, this is a book of rebellion and protest, “ except that Jonah complains that divine mercy detracts from divine justice, whereas Job complains that divine anger infringes upon divine justice” ( p. 284). Were repentance the thread that unites the book, we could  expect that all its episodes would relate to it, in some fashion or other. Yet only chapter 3  deals with this theme. Unlike the people of Nineveh, the sailors are not described as transgressors;  consequently their submission to the will of the Lord and their great reverence for Him do not constitute a turning back from sin. Jonah does indeed sin, but his prayer from the belly of the fi sh is quite devoid of contrition, while his silence at the end of the book leaves the extent of his change outside the narrative. Most importantly, the attempts by Kaufmann ( ibid.) and Bickerman ( p. 41) to interpret the  prophet’s protest against the divine attributes of compassion, mercy, and repenting of evil ( 4: 2)  as a moral protest against the atoning power of repentance are too limited to encompass the  full com-plexityof the theme.  Evidence of this is that the incident of the plant and the Lord’s reply to Jonah ( 4: 6– 11)  clearly relate to quite a different subject: Nineveh merits its Creator’s protection not because of its  citizens’ remorse, but because it is a great metropolis, teeming with children who have never sinned, and many beasts as well. Universalism versus Particularism The second view is that Jonah preferred loyalty to his people Israel over his duty to obey the Lord of the universe, his master. For this approach, the          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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