A Deep Dive into Jonah: Part II
I II III IV V VI VII VIII IX X XI XII XIII XIV XV
A portion of Scripture as popular as Jonah necessarily attracts scholars from a wide array of backgrounds, traditions, and theological perspectives. Along with that diversity comes a variety of hermeneutical approaches its interpretation. It goes without saying that ones’ hermeneutic plays a nearly immeasurable role in the understanding and eventual application of any text.
Thus, as anyone sifts through the countless resources available on the book of Jonah, they must be aware of the approach that colours each work. This is true of any study, clearly.
Meet my friend, Frank
I want to be frank. I have little interest and patience in combing through scholarly arguments on the historicity, veracity, and reliability of the book of Jonah in an effort to offer a defence of the text and my interpretation of it.
The study of its genre for example, is almost a field of its own. Some suggest, or even, at times, state with conviction, the book to be imaginative literature (1), wholly parabolic (2), allegory (3), parody (4), satire (5), or didactic story (6) … and I’m bored, overwhelmed, and confused already.
Does genre play a role in the way a text should be interpreted and understood? Obviously and certainly! But, in my estimation, it does not give licence to question historicity as it is often used to do. (Or, at the very least, place an asterisk or two next to this piece of Scripture as somehow less true than, say, the Gospel of Luke.)
My starting point
That being said, I approach this small Old Testament book as fact. As historical narrative. I believe there was an actual man named Jonah who was a prophet of Yahweh, the God of Israel.
I believe there was a true moment in his life when God gave him an assignment and he ran the opposite direction.
I believe he was actually, literally, swallowed by a great fish (of some sort), carried for three days, vomited out, and re-called by Yahweh.
I hold that there was indeed mass repentance of a great pagan city in history, a real plant, and a very real worm.
I recognize these stances would never garner academic credibility with all, and I can’t state strongly enough here how little I care. I have no interest in spending time defending what I already know to be true (i.e. the inerrancy, infallibility, sufficiency, veracity, and authority of all Scripture) to people who I will never convince. This conviction will be seen throughout the posts of this series and it is best to be clear up front with the authorial approach.
And another (couple) thing(s)
A related conviction is that I believe it is the text of Scripture that is inspired. Not the events behind the words of the text, not the people and places the text describes, but the actual words the Holy Spirit wrote through human people. In the places I unavoidably “fill in blanks” and “speculate” I do so knowing the further I stray from the text the less authoritative the assertions and observations become.
Finally, a brief comment on Jonah and the rest of Scripture. I do not believe a student of the Bible must go outside of the book of Jonah to find meaning and application in Jonah.
While many great theologians have found intertextual application, fascinating parallels, and christological foreshadowing beyond what our Lord himself drew (Matt. 12:38–41; Luke 11:29–32), I hold that there must be an applicable theological thrust within the very work of Jonah, as the Holy Spirit inspired its recording.
All this to say, there is a near infinite amount of study that could be done on setting, canonical placement, the person of Jonah, eschatological and christological implications, etc. I applaud (many of) these efforts and have benefited greatly from (many of) them. However, the scope of this work will remain largely within the four chapters of the wayward prophet’s book (7).
Exegesis and theology
While there are many theological issues that the book of Jonah brings to the fore—e.g. God’s repentance, disobedience of God’s people, divine judgement and mercy, the sign of Jonah, etc.—time and space do not permit an exhaustive treatment of most.
Instead, the focus of the work that lays ahead will be exegetical with splashes of theological discussion thrown in where appropriate.
Again, my desire is to explore the text itself as exhaustively as I’m able. It is my conviction that it is only upon the solid foundation of deep exposition that a profitable theological structure can be erected and from which valid application can be hung (8).
Terence E. Fretheim, “The Exaggerated God of Jonah,” Word & World 27 (2007): 125.
Telford Work, “Converting God’s Friends: From Jonah to Jesus,” Word & World 27 (2007): 165.
Blumenthal, “Jonah, the Reluctant Prophet,” 106.
Arnold J. Band, “Swallowing Jonah: The Eclipse of Parody,” Prooftexts 10 (1990): 179.
John C. Holbert, “‘Deliverance Belongs to Yahweh’: Satire in the Book of Jonah,” JSOT 21 (1981): 59–81.
Leslie C. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 177–79. In the mentioned pages, Allen also admits elements of parody and satire while downplaying the necessity of a literal, historical interpretation away from these suggested genres.
I understand that entire papers could also be written on each of my authorial caveats. However, I thought it best to be upfront with my presuppositions even though space would not warrant an exhaustive explanation of each.
Though, I’m aware, my theology also informs my exposition to an extent. However, if we are to be truly people of the Book, then even theology must grow out of Its study and submit itself to Its truths.
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