JPS Bible Commentary: Jonah Page 8...

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

INTRODUCTION viii key to the story is that it is set exclusively among gentiles, who are presented in a positive light. Not only is Jonah dispatched to bring the word of the Lord to a gentile metropolis, whose citizens are astonishingly quick to repent; even the crew of the ship, who represent many nations and languages, astonish us with their religious and moral sensitivity. Against this background, the Hebrew prophets refusal to go to Nineveh is explained by his fear that the anticipated repent- ance of the gentile city will cast a heavy shadow on the stiff- necked Israelites. According to this interpretation, the Book of Jonah is meant to extirpate the particularistic belief that regards the welfare of Israel as a supreme value and to assert that the prophet’s love for his people must not keep him from fulfi lling the mission imposed by the one  universal God, as Elisha did when he was sent to Hazael, the enemy of Israel ( 2 Kings 8: 9– 15). This view can be traced back to a midrash: Jonah said, “ I will go outside the Land of Israel, to a place where the Divine Presence is not revealed, so as not to render Israel guilty”— because the Gentiles are quick to repent There were thus three prophets: one asserted the dignity of the father [ i. e., God] and the dignity of the son [ i. e., Israel]; one asserted the dignity of the father but not the dignity of the son; and one asserted the dignity of the son but not the dignity of the father. Jeremiah asserted the dignity of the father and the dignity of the son. . . . For this reason his prophecy was repeated. . . . Elijah asserted the dignity of the father and not the dignity of the son. . . . And what is said there? “ The LORD said to him, ‘. . . anoint  Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel- meholah to succeed you as prophet’” ( 1 Kings 19: 15– 16)—“  to succeed you” means “ I do not want your prophecy.” Jonah asserted the dignity of the  son and not the dignity of the father, as it says, “ Jonah  arose to fl ee” ( 1: 3),  followed by “ the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time” ( 3: 1)—  He spoke with him a  second time, but not a third time! Rabbi Nathan says: Jonah went only  to throw himself into the sea, as it is stated, “ Lift me and cast me into the sea” ( 1: 12).  So too you fi nd that the Patriarchs and the prophets gave themselves on behalf of Israel. . .  . ( Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael, Masekhta de- Pisha, § 1, ed. Horovitz- Rabin, pp. 3– 4) This interpretation was adopted by Rashi, Joseph Kara, David Kimhi ( who combined it with the third theme presented below), and Abraham ibn Ezra. Don Isaac Abravanel, however, demurs: “ It is in truth a very weak interpretation, since the repentance of the people of Nineveh might make Israel ashamed of their sins, so that they would return to the Lord who would have mercy on them” ( preface to his commentary on Jonah, Second Question). Abravanel offers, in- stead, the same idea, but in its political version: Jonah— whom he assumes to have survived until after the campaigns ( 734– 732 B. C. E.) by the Assyrian  king Tiglath- Pileser III in the Transjordan and the Galilee ( see his commentary on 1: 1 and 3: 4)—  refused to save Nineveh “ because he knew the evils and exiles that it would bring on the tribes of  Israel in the future; hence he yearned that the nation of Assyria be destroyed and Nineveh its capital be utterly smitten. This is why he fl ed instead of going there” ( Introduction, “ The Overall Intention”). This view has no substantial anchor in the text. Its keystone— the prophet’s willingness to give his life rather than expose his people’s stubbornness to God and man, or in order to prevent the salvation of the power destined to destroy Israel— is simply not to be found in the book. Hardly any Jewish Bible scholar still adheres to this exegetical line, but it remains attractive to most Christian scholars. Urbach ( pp. 119– 121) noted the striking similarity between the midrash that juxtaposes the Ninevites’ immediate response to a single prophet with the indifference of the people of Jerusalem to many prophets ( Lamentations Rabbah, Introduction, 31), on the one hand, and Jesus’ remark that the people of Nineveh who responded to Jonah’s call were superior to the people of his own generation, who ignored him ( Matt. 12: 41; Luke 11: 32). Urbach concludes from this similarity that the self- criticism in the Jewish homily was appropriated by Christian thought and intensifi ed in the anti- Jewish strictures of the Church fathers St. Jerome          C    h  a  p  t e  r   Home  |      T  O   C   

JPS Bible Commentary: Jonah


About Book JPS Bible Commentary: Jonah

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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