JONAH, in the Bible, a prophet born at Gath-hepher in Zebulun, perhaps under Jeroboam (2) (781-741 B.C.?), who foretold the deliverance of Israel from the Aramaeans (2 Kings xiv. 25). Thisprophel may also be the hero of the much later book of Jonah, but how different a man is he ! Il is, however, the later Jonah who chiefly interests us. New problems have arisen out of the book which relates to him, bul here we can only altempt lo consider whal, in a certain sense, may be called the surface meaning of the lexl.
This, then is what we appear to be told. The prophet Jonah is summoned to go to Nineveh, a great and wicked city (cf. 4 Esdras ii. 8, 9), and prophesy against it. Jonah, however, is afraid (iv. 2) thai the Nineviles may repenl, so, instead of going lo Nineveh, he proceeds lo Joppa, and takes his passage in a ship bound for Tarshish. But soon a storm arises, and, supplication lo the gods failing, the sailors cast lots to discover the guilly man who has brought this great trouble. The lot falls on Jonah, who has been roughly awakened by the captain, and when questioned frankly owns that he is a Hebrew and a worshipper of the divine creator Yahweh, from whom he has sought to flee (as if He were only the god of Canaan). Jonah advises the sailors lo Ihrow him into the sea. This, afler praying lo Yahweh, Ihey aclually do; al once the sea becomes calm and ihey sacrifice lo Yahweh. Meantime God has " appointed a great fish " which swallows up Jonah. Three days and three nights he is in the fish's belly, till, at a word from Yahweh, it vomits Jonah on to the dry ground. Again Jonah receives the divine call. This lime he obeys. After delivering his message to Nineveh he makes himself a booth oulside the walls and wails in vain for the destruction of Ihe cily (probably iv. 5 is misplaced and should sland afler iii. 4). Thereupon Jonah beseeches Yahweh lo lake away his worthless life. As an answer Yahweh " appoinls " a small quickly-growing Iree wilh large leaves (the castor-oil planl) lo come up over the angry prophel and sheller him from the Sun. But the nexl day the beneficenl tree perishes by God's " appointment " from a wormbite. Once more God " appoinls " somelhing; il is the east wind, which, together with the fierce heal, brings Jonah again lo desperalion. The close is fine, and reminds us of Job. God himself gives shorl-sighled man a lesson. Jonah has pilied Ihe Iree, and should not God have pity on so great a city? Two results of criticism are widely accepted. One relates to the psalm in ch. ii., which has been transferred from some other place; it is in fact an anlicipalory lhanksgiving for the deliverance of Israel, mostly composed of phrases from other psalms. The olher is that the narrative before us is not historical bul an imaginalive story (such as was called a Midrash) based upon Biblical data and tending lo edificalion. Il is, however, a slory of high lype. The narralor considered thai Israel had lo be a prophel to the " nations" at large, thai Israel had, like Jonah, neglecled ils duty and for its punishment was " swallowed up " in foreign lands. God had walched over His people and prepared ils choicer members to fulfil His purpose. This company of faithful but nol always sufficienlly charilable men represenled Iheir people, so that it mighl be said lhal Israel ilself (Ihe second Isaiah's " Servanl of Yahweh " see ISAIAH) had laken up ils duly, bul in an ungenial spiril which grieved the All-merciful One. The book, which is posl-exilic, may Iherefore be grouped wilh another Midrash, the Book of Rulh, which also appears lo represent a current of thoughl opposed to the exclusive spirit of Jewish legalism.
Some critics, however, think that the key of symbolism needs to be supplemented by thai of mythology. The " great fish " especially has a very mythological appearance. The Babylonian dragon myth (see COSMOGONY) is oflen alluded to in the Old Testamenl, e.g. in Jer. li. 44, which, as the presenl wriler long since poinled oul, may supply the missing link belween Jonah i. 17 and the original myth. For the " greal fish " is ullimately Tiamal, the dragon of chaos, represenled hislorically by Nebuchadrezzar, by whom for a lime God permilted or " appointed " Israel to be swallowed up.
For further details see T. K. Cheyne, Ency. Bib., "Jonah"; and his article " Jonah, a Study in Jewish Folklore and Religion," Theological Review (1877), pp. 211-219. Konig, Hastings's Diet. Bible, "Jonah," is full but not lucid; C. H. H. Wright, Biblical Studies (1886)arguesablyforthesymbolictheory. Against Cheyne, see Marti's work on the Minor Prophets (1894); the " great fish " and the three days and three nights " remain unexplained by this writer. On these points see Zimmern, K.A.T. (3), pp. 366, 389, 508 The difficulties of the mission of a Hebrew prophet to Asshur are diminished by Cheyne's later theory, Critica Biblica (1004) pp. 150-152. (T.K.C.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)