JPS Bible Commentary: Jonah Page 9...

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

ix INTRODUCTION ( c. 342– c. 420) and Ephrem Syrus ( 306– 373) ( whose homily on the repentance of the people of Nineveh has them say, “ Praise be to God, who mortifi ed the Jews by means of the gentiles”). In the modern scholarly version of this christological exegesis, the Book of Jonah is described as a polemic against the narrow exclusivism prevalent among the returnees to Zion that resulted from the travails of the destruction of the First Temple, the exile, and Persian domination. According to this position, the election of Israel requires the Jews to turn away from members of other nations and even justifi es disdain for them. Jonah is accordingly taken as the representative of this antipathy toward gentiles, and his fl ight is explained as a refusal to show them the way to repentance and salvation. The forceful blocking of his fl ight, by contrast, is meant to point us toward the true meaning of election: Israel was chosen to serve as the carrier of faith in order to disseminate it among all nations. To demonstrate that this awesome mission can be realized, the humble spirit and open heart of the gentiles aboard the ship and in Nineveh are juxtaposed with the arrogance of the prophet who rejects his mission. This universalist view, too, cannot be anchored in the text of Jonah, unless one can show that the prophet is characterized as the embodiment of such Israelite exclusivism, whereas the sailors and people of Nineveh are cast as faithful representatives of the pagan gentile world and its openness to the call of faith. Although there seems  to be some basis for this in Jonah’s self- identifi cation as a Hebrew who fears the Lord ( 1: 9),  his statement fi ts perfectly into the plot as a natural response to his interrogation by the sailors,  who are trying to avoid shipwreck by unmasking the guilty party and the deity who is hounding him. Jonah’s anger at the pardon extended to Nineveh might be taken as an indication that he is a xenophobe who longs for the destruction of idolaters. But this explanation is refuted by his conduct during the storm: instead of trying to force his pursuer to drown all those aboard the ship on account of his own transgression, he acts to prevent their being dragged into his quarrel with his God. In view of the absence of any manifestation of hatred for gentiles and idolatry ( the book contains no condemnation of the  sin of idolatry), it is impossible to interpret his self- stated reasons for running away ( 4: 2)  as a protest against the display of divine mercy toward idolaters. As Goitein insists ( p. 97), had  Jonah intended to protest the scope of God’s mercy he would nothave mentioned  the attributes of compassion and kindness but used a phrasing similar to that of Ps. 145: 9:  “ The LORD is good to all, and His mercy is upon all His works.” Similarly, theLord’s response,  through the incident of the plant and the explanation that follows it, is clearly intended to justify God’s mercy in and of itself, since Jonah’s painful recognition of his own dependence on the puny plant is irrelevant for someone who would deny gentiles any right to divine compassion. It is signifi cant only for someone who holds that the Lord is to be censured, not praised, for His manifestations of mercy and compassion. Thus Jonah does not symbolize Israel, and Nineveh does not symbolize the gentile world. What is more, the people of Israel and the kingdom of Assyria are not even mentioned in the book. Nineveh is described as a wicked city like Sodom, whose inhabitants deal unjustly with one another, and not as the capital of an empire enriched by plunder. The narrator makes no mention of its citizens’ worship of idols, neither in the description of their sin nor in the account of their repentance. Hence it is impossible to explain Jonah’s refusal to go to Nineveh as motivated by fear for the religious and spiritual or political and military well- being of Israel or by his opposition to the inclusion of gentiles in the kingdom of the Lord. It follows that the conspicuously gentile backdrop of the Book of Jonah has no panhumanist connotations and must be understood on the literary rather than the ideological  level ( see “ The Literary Function of the Gentiles as   Supporting Characters,” p. xxiv). Prophecy: Realization versus Compliance The third reading, which focuses on Jonah’s stub- born refusal to prophesy against Nineveh and his anger at its deliverance, grounds the story on Jonah’s jealous concern for the veracity of prophecy and his apprehension lest his credibility be undermined. The midrash illuminates Jonah’s expectations by recalling his success in Samaria and his forebodings by a hypothetical reconstruction of his failure in Jerusalem:          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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