Thursday, December 6, 2012

An observation of the book of Jonah

Imagine yourself when you were a child watching the old time Disney movie, “Pinocchio” and seeing the inside of the whale that Pinocchio was trapped in, after it swallowed him. Of course he was a wooden boy, but did the whale really swallow him or was that something completely fictitious? My point is, Pinocchio claims to be fiction by what the author places in the story. A living wooden boy, who also has a chance of turning into a real boy someday if he doesn’t blow it, and his wooden nose grows when he lies; everything about that story is fictional. Let’s take a look at something real.
Although the author of the book of Jonah doesn’t explicitly tell the readers who the actual author really is, I believe that Jonah was the author for many reasons. One reason would be because of the way it ends. The book ends with a question directed towards Jonah from God and there is no reply from Jonah. I feel that once one sees the tone of the remote context, it can be observed that most likely there would be a reply (to God’s final question) if this book were a fictional story that was written after the death of the prophet, or if someone else was writing about Jonah’s experiences. If it wasn’t Jonah, then the actual author was acting bitter while writing the book. It can seem that Jonah wanted to write in the third person because he didn’t want to give himself credit for writing the book.
The argument of the sailor’s conversation in Jonah 1:5, being knowledge that Jonah didn’t have because he was below deck, can be refuted by reading the surrounding verses and analyzing them grammatically. Jonah 1:5 says, “All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship” (NIV, Jonah 1:5). An analysis of this can tell us that the cargo of the ship was missing when Jonah woke up. So naturally, he could have either asked, or, it was obvious why it was missing because the captain of the ship went to him and woke him up to pray to his god to calm the storm as one can see in verse six. This could explain how Jonah knew of the sailor’s conversation.
In Jonah 1:16 however, after the calming of the storm, the sailors made a sacrifice to God because they saw with their own eyes that throwing Jonah overboard was the cause of the calming of the storm. This information that Jonah had could have been gained after the great fish put him on land and the possible meeting of the sailor’s again.
The date the book of Jonah was written has to be between the “time of Jonah’s ministry, which 2 Kings 14:25 places in the first half of the eighth century” (Smith and Page, 206), and 200 B.C. because the “twelve prophets” are mentioned in an apocryphal book written at that time (Smith and page, 206). This allows either the author to be Jonah himself, or anyone else in that period of time. Some scholars argue that the size of the city of Nineveh mentioned in Jonah is way too big for its time; therefore the book had to be written quite some time after Jonah died. Some scholars argue that this could also explain how the author had knowledge of the sailor’s conversations and such. But, as we have already seen earlier, so could have Jonah himself had the knowledge.
Nineveh is located “on the east bank of the Tigris River opposite Mosul. Its ruins consist of a number of small mounds and two large tells in an 1800-acre enclosure surrounded by a brick wall almost eight miles in circumference” (achtemeier, 707). According to Genesis 10:11, “Nineveh was one of the Northern cities founded by Nimrod or Ashur after leaving Babylonia and excavation 25 m down to virgin soil shows that the site was occupied from prehistoric times (c. 4500 B.C.)” (Wood and Marshall, 825). One argument on the accuracy of the book of Jonah concerning whether or not he is the author, is that the dimensions of the city mentioned in 3:3 and 4:11, are clearly off. However, “at the height of its prosperity Nineveh was enclosed by an inner wall of which, according to Felix Jones’ survey of 1834, more than 175,000 persons could have lived” (Wood and Marshall, 826).
“Though the city was occupied from prehistoric times, it reached the height of its fame at the turn of the eighth century B.C., when Sennacherib made Nineveh the capital of the expanding Assyrian Empire” (Achtemeier, 707). The city of Nineveh definitely reminds one of the histories of ancient Egypt and ancient Greece. There were large stone figures of winged lions with human faces at the gates of palaces in the city and on the walls one could view mythological, hunting, and military scenes that were carved into the walls. (Negev, 3rd ed. 1996)
The occasion for writing the book of Jonah could be for many reasons. One, that through the author’s experiences, he turned to realize Gods love, care, and concern for the gentiles (Walvoord, Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary, 1:1462). [I feel that the occasion for writing must be figured by observation and analysis of the author’s purpose in this situation because they seem to be so tightly intertwined.] This idea seems most probable to me for the occasion for writing for obvious reasons. Such as, the entire New Testament pretty much shows that Jesus died for ALL of us and not just the Jews. For instance, Jesus himself said, “For God so loved the world, that He  gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (NIV Jn. 3:16 emphasis added).
Secondly, remembering how repentant the gentiles were, when they were polemically told that they were living in sin, could be the occasion for writing, and it being a possible model for Israel to look to and mimic, could be the author’s purpose. I personally feel that the tone of the near context of the final two chapters would allow this to be highly possible. The author could have thought, “Look at what the gentiles did! That’s what the Israelites need to do!”  One thing that could argue the death of this theory would be the whole first two chapters of the book of Jonah. Why would he speak about his being swallowed experience if this was just to show Israel that they need to repent? What purpose would that have had in this? Unless of course, he was trying to show his own stubbornness or if one were to add two of the theories of occasion for writing together, such as this, and the sovereignty of God which brings up another subject.
It is possible that the author’s purpose could be to show the readers that sometimes we do not understand things that God does because we can’t see the whole picture but must trust in his loving, sovereign ways. This could be the author’s realization that God is sovereign and taking action by telling an audience about the experiences that the author had not only to glorify God but to push his readers in the right direction.
In the book of Jonah, it can be observed that there are three main parts in the first two chapters. One part would be the request from God, asking Jonah to preach against the wickedness in Nineveh. Another part would be Jonah’s refusal and fleeing from God. Finally, we see the consequences of Jonah’s action which is being delivered by God through being swallowed by a great fish.
In the next two chapters, we see that Jonah obeys the Lord, seemingly hesitantly, but follows through anyways. Then, Jonah confesses to God his true feelings towards Nineveh, and finally, Jonah, like Job, finds that he cannot defend himself against God’s wisdom. 

 Written by Nace Howell through the grace of the Lord Jesus
Works Cited
The Holy Bible: New International Version, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984).
            Billy K. Smith and Franklin S. Page, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1995).
            Paul J. Achtemeier, Publishers Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature, Harper's Bible Dictionary, 1st ed. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985).
            D. R. W. Wood and I. Howard Marshall, New Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed. (Leicester, England;  Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1996).
Avraham Negev, The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land, 3rd ed. (New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1996, c1990).
John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-c1985).

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