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«Introduction to the Book of Jonah Canonization The book of Jonah is the fifth book of the Minor Prophets, which are called the Book of the Twelve in ...»

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Introduction to the Book of Jonah


The book of Jonah is the fifth book of the Minor Prophets, which are called the

Book of the Twelve in the Hebrew Bible. The book is fifth in the order of the

Hebrew text. It is only four chapters long preceded by Obadiah and followed by

Micah and Nahum. In the Septuagint, Micah is third and Jonah is moved down to

sixth between Obadiah and Nahum.

The Old Testament was divided into three sections: (1) The Torah (2) The

Prophets (Nabhiim) (3) The Writings (Kethubim).

The first section is called the Torah meaning “the Law” contained: (1) Genesis (2) Exodus (3) Leviticus (4) Numbers (5) Deuteronomy.

The second section was the Prophets which were divided into two sections: (1) The Former Prophets (2) The Latter Prophets.

The Former Prophets: (1) Joshua (2) Judges (3) Samuel (4) Kings. The Latter Prophets were divided into two categories: (1) Major (2) Minor.

Major Prophets: (1) Isaiah (2) Jeremiah (3) Ezekiel.

The Minor Prophets were also called the Twelve because they were all contained one book: (1) Hosea (2) Joel (3) Amos (4) Obadiah (5) Jonah (6) Micah (7) Nahum (8) Habakkuk (9) Zephaniah (10) Haggai (11) Zechariah (12) Malachi.

The third and last section was called the Writings: (1) The Poetical Books:

Psalms, Proverbs and Job (2) The Five Rolls (Megilloth): Song of Solomon, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Esther and Lamentations (3) The Historical Books: Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah (1 book) and Chronicles.

An inspired prophet could be identified using the tests for prophets in Deut.

13:1-5; 18:14-22.

Deuteronomy 18:22, “When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.” Moses wrote the Pentateuch (Ex. 17:14; 24:4-7; 34:27; Deut. 31:9,22,24; Ezra 7:6; Ps. 103:7; Josh. 8:31, 23:6; I Kings 2:3). Some prophets clearly state that they were ordered to write (Jer. 30:2; Ezek. 43:11; Is. 8:1) and each of the Twelve Minor Prophets call themselves prophets.

The historical books were written by prophets (I Chron. 29:29; II Chron. 9:29;

12:15; 13:22; 20:34; 32:32; 33:19). Daniel accepted the book of Jeremiah as scripture (Dan. 9:2) and Joshua received Moses’ writing as Scripture (Josh. 1:26) and Isaiah and Micah accepted each other's writings as scripture ©2010 William E. Wenstrom, Jr. Bible Ministries contemporaneously (Is. 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-4). Solomon, Samuel, Daniel, Isaiah and Ezekiel all had dreams and visions, which squares with God’s description of a prophet (Deut. 13:1; Num. 12:6-8).

Commenting on the book of Jonah’s placement in the Old Testament canon of Scripture, Reed Lessing writes, “Jonah is the fifth book in the section of the OT known as the Minor Prophets. There are, of course, differences between Jonah and the other books that comprise the twelve Minor Prophets. For the most part, these other prophetic books are collections of oracles, with an occasional narrative about a particular prophet (e.g., Amos 7:10–15). In stark contrast, Jonah is a narrative about a prophet with only one true prophetic oracle, and a brief one at that (3:4, five words in Hebrew; see also his confession in 1:9, by which he first carries out his prophetic office). In comparison with the other eleven Minor Prophets, who generally were faithful even under persecution, Jonah’s disobedience comes as a shock. Likewise, the miraculous incident in which Jonah is swallowed by the great fish has no parallels in the other Minor Prophets. Not quite so different are the Jonah passages that refer to Yahweh speaking to the great fish and appointing the qiqayon plant, a worm, and a wind, but these do tend to distance the narrative of Jonah from the other books in this section of the OT. In spite of these differences from the other Minor Prophets, Jonah is placed in this corpus in a position that contributes to the overall message of the OT canon. Jonah follows Obadiah to temper that prophet’s diatribes against the Gentile nation of Edom: Jonah demonstrates Yahweh’s mercy toward the Gentile sailors and the people of Nineveh. Jonah precedes the book of Micah, but it is not clear what specifically connects these two books. It might simply be that Jonah precedes Micah in a chronological manner, that is, the events recounted in Jonah took place earlier in the eighth century BC, and Micah prophesied in the second half of that century and possibly into the next. Following Micah is Nahum, which celebrates Yahweh’s destruction of Nineveh for its crimes against Israel and other ancient Near Eastern peoples. This indicates that while Yahweh shows mercy to the Ninevites when they repented in the eighth century BC, he will punish the subsequent generations in the seventh century when the city goes back to its former ways. This shows that God treats the Gentile Ninevites in the same way that he treats his people Israel, whose infidelity eventually led to their fall. Moreover, although at first glance Jonah and Nahum appear to be very different, similarities do in fact exist. In both books Nineveh is the enemy that inspires dread in the hearts and minds of people. Both books refer to the same theological themes of judgment and grace. Both draw on the same text, Ex 34:6–7: ‘You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abounding in loyal love, and changing your verdict about evil’ (Jonah 4:2), and ‘Yahweh is slow to anger and of great might, and Yahweh will by no means acquit [the guilty]’ (Nah 1:3). Both books conclude with a question (Jonah 4:11; Nah ©2010 William E. Wenstrom, Jr. Bible Ministries 3:19), and they are the only two books in the Bible to do so. Another possible reason for Jonah’s place in the order of the Minor Prophets is that the compilers of the canon believed they were placing these twelve books in roughly chronological sequence, just as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel are in historical order. The twelve are largely in chronological order, since a number of the earlier books are from the eighth century (Hosea, Amos, Jonah, Micah, whose ministry possibly extended into the seventh century, and perhaps Joel), some of the middle books are from the seventh century (Nahum, Zephaniah, and probably Habakkuk), and the three concluding books are from the late sixth and the fifth centuries (Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi). Jonah the son of Amittai (Jonah 1:1) is also named in 2 Ki 14:25, which places the prophet during the reign of Jeroboam II (2 Ki 14:23; ca. 786–746 BC). Thus it is fitting that Jonah follows other eighth-century minor prophets, Hosea and Amos, who were likely his contemporaries. Immediately preceding Jonah is Obadiah, whose date is uncertain, but it is possible that the compilers of the canon dated it to the eighth century. Jonah is slightly older than the next book, Micah, who ministered later in the eighth century and possibly into the seventh.” (Concordia Commentary: Jonah; pages 52-54) Stuart writes, “Because Jonah is so different in form from the other prophetical books, the reasons for its placement in the prophetic canon of fifteen are often debated. No less a scholar than Karl Budde actually suggested that Jonah was included among the Minor Prophets simply to bring their number to twelve (ZAW 12 [1892] 40–43). While his suggestion is hardly tenable, it reflects the almost uniform judgment of scholars that the Jonah story is closer in type to the stories of the prophets—particularly of Elijah and Elisha—in the book of Kings than it is to the prophetic works. Several suggestions have been advanced as to the placement of Jonah as a midrash on one or another of the prophets. E. König (“Jonah,” A Dictionary of the Bible II, 1899) opined that Jonah is a midrash on Obadiah 1; R.

Coote that it is a midrash on Amos (Amos Among the Prophets [Philadelphia:

Fortress, 1981]) and others that it is a midrash on Joel 2:13–14. In fact, the placement of Jonah among the prophets probably resulted from a simple combination of its length, date, and subject. Self-contained and brief, it fit easily with the latter prophets, as the similar Elisha-Elijah stories, except by being stripped from their context and perhaps condensed, could not easily do. Early in date (at least in Jewish tradition and quite probably in fact) it was sufficiently early that it was not relegated to the Writings (as was Daniel for example, a book later joined with the prophets in the Septuagintal, Latin, and subsequent canonical orderings). Its subject matter was the call and preaching of a prophet, a concern not entirely removed in some aspects from a book like Haggai or even Amos (chap. 7) even though the ratio of biography to quoted revelation is reversed in Jonah. Jonah is actually atypical of the prophetical books only in quantity; as regards quality ©2010 William E. Wenstrom, Jr. Bible Ministries (i.e., categories rather than percentages) there is little in Jonah that is not represented to some degree elsewhere in the prophetic corpus. (Word Biblical Commentary, volume 31: Hosea-Jonah; pages 433-434)

©2010 William E. Wenstrom, Jr. Bible MinistriesAuthorship

Traditionally, the authorship of the book of Jonah has been ascribed to the prophet himself. However, some modern scholars have rejected this for several reasons. First of all, they claim that the book itself does not claim that Jonah is the author but this can be rejected since the introductory formula in Jonah 1:1 is parallel to that used in Hosea, Joel, Micah and Zephaniah and closing that is used in other prophetic books of whose authorship there is little or no debate.

Another reason put forth by modern scholars in rejection of Jonah as the author of the book that bears his name is that the book refers to the prophet in the third person. However, again the introductory formula demonstrates this to be common practice that is found in the works attributed to Moses, Xenophon and Julius Caesar. In the Torah, Moses always refers to himself in the third person and Xenophon in his Anabasis and Julius Caesar in his Gallic Wars does so as well.

Some modern scholars reject Jonah as the author of the book that bears his name contending that it is later than the eighth century and thus it cannot be by Jonah ben Amittai. So to accept Jonah as the author would necessitate a date in the eighth century. However, 2 Kings 14:25 relates Jonah to the reign of Jeroboam II, thus making the events in the book of Jonah as taking place during Jeroboam’s reign (793-753 B.C.), thus refuting the idea that the book of Jonah was composed later than the eighth century. This would make the date of the book of Jonah somewhere in the mid-eighth century B.C. perhaps around 760 B.C.

Therefore, Jonah wrote this book at the end of his career as he looked back on the decisive turning point of his ministry, which would account for his use of the (hāye â) in referring to Nineveh (3:3) for over a period of decades it past tense might be expected that conditions would have changed in that city since the time of Jonah’s visit (Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, page 342).

Commenting on the late date of composition for the book of Jonah that is put forth by liberal scholarship, Archer writes, “Liberal critics date the composition of Jonah about 430 b.c. on the supposition that it was composed as an allegory of a piece of quasi-historical fiction to oppose the “narrow nationalism” of Jewish leaders like Ezra and Nehemiah, at a time when the Samaritans were being excluded from all participation in the worship of Yahweh at Jerusalem, and all the foreign wives were being divorced under the pressure of bigoted exclusivism. It was most timely for some anonymous advocate of a more universalistic ideal to produce a tract for the times that would call the nation back to a more liberal viewpoint. Thus the chief ground for the 430 date is a theory of the sequence of the development of ideas in the history of Israel’s religion. Following through with this concept of Jonah, its allegory is interpreted as follows: Jonah himself represents ©2010 William E. Wenstrom, Jr. Bible Ministries disobedient Israel; the sea represents the Gentiles; the whale stands for the Babylon of the Chaldean period; and the three days of Jonah’s confinement in the whale’s belly points to the Babylonian captivity. Just as Jonah was commanded to be true to his evangelistic responsibility to the heathen, so also it was the will of God in fifth-century Judah for the Jews to rise to their opportunities of witness to the one true faith and cast aside the hampering limitations of hidebound exclusivism. As for the miraculous gourd whose sudden demise so grieved Jonah’s heart, this has been interpreted by some to refer to Zerubbabel. A closer examination of the text, however, shows that numerous features of the narrative can scarcely be fitted into the allegorical pattern. If the whale represented Babylon, what did Nineveh represent? As for the ship that set sail from Joppa, it is hard to see what this would correspond to in the allegory; nor is it clear why three days should be selected to represent seventy years of captivity. Furthermore, there is not the slightest historical evidence to show the existence of any such universalistic sentiment among the fifth-century Jews, as this theory predicates. While there were undoubtedly some Jews who believed in maintaining harmonious relations with pagan neighbors, their motives seemed to have been materialistic and commercial rather than missionary in character. For critics to point to the books of Jonah and Ruth as testimonies to this zeal is simply a bit of circular reasoning: these two books must have been written at this period because they fit in with the supposed stage attained by Jewish thought as attested by these two books. (Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, pages 342-343) Some like Stuart contend that it is “highly unlikely” that Jonah was the author of the book that bears his name “in that the story is so consistently critical of Jonah.” (Douglas Stuart, Word Biblical Commentary, volume 31, page 432).

However, in Exodus, Moses records himself murdering an Egyptian and in Numbers, he records himself as disobeying the Lord. The gospel of Mark, which is attributed to Peter, records the latter denying the Lord three times. Paul calls himself the chief of all sinners in 1 Timothy 1:15. So Stuart’s argument does not hold water.

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