Gospel Doctrine Podcast 33- Jonah (u)

Gospel Doctrine Podcast 33- Jonah (u) September 10, 2010
[audio:http://media.patheos.com.s3.amazonaws.com/Media/MormonPodcastLesson33.mp3 ]

(Right-click and save here to download.)

Openining clip: Loreena McKennit, “Marco Polo.”

Transcript (I ad libbed a bit more this time.)

Notes and references:

Jonah’s an unusual book, being a didactic narrative about a prophet, instead of containing the record of his prophet’s teachings.

LDS Bible Dictionary- “The present book of Jonah does not claim to be from the hand of the prophet; it describes an episode in his life, and is due to some later writer.” 

Point 1– Parables/allegories are one example of a genre that is both true and nonhistorical in nature. Aesop’s tortoise and the hare, for example.  The Good Samaritan.

Example 1, genre of “junk mail” from Marc Brettler, How to Read the (Jewish) Bible. Start in chapter 3, p13.
Example 2, Galaxy Quest and “genre confusion.” Watch the whole movie! (Trailer)

Point 2– Historicity of Jonah should be based upon its genre, not our opinion of the probability of surviving in a whale.  Joseph Fielding Smith, in the Institute manual. (Also, look on the blog here soon for a separate blog post about this.)  Mosiah 4:9- “Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.”

Point 3– Both the historical and non-historical viewpoints have place in the Church.

“While they [the First Presidency] thought Jonah was a real person, they said it was possible that the story as told in the Bible was a parable common at the time. The purpose was to teach a lesson, and it ‘is of little significance as to whether Jonah was a real individual or one chosen by the writer of the book’ to illustrate ‘what is set forth therein.’ They took a similar position on Job. What is important, Penrose and Ivins insisted, was not whether the books were historically accurate, but whether the doctrines were correct.”

– As cited by BYU prof. Thomas Alexander, Mormonism in Transition (p. 283), a history of the LDS Church from 1890-1930, originally commissioned by the Church.

Where are Nineveh and Tarshish?

You can see from this map I made (click on it for the non-distorted view) that you can’t really confuse Tarshish with Nineveh. 

“Whatever the sailors may think, Jonah knows that God has caught up with him. What was in his mind before this is hard to figure out. Jonah was probably familiar with Psalm 139 (“O Lord … you know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar … where shall I flee from thy presence? … If I … dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there thy hand shall lead me”). Jonah no doubt knew that you really can’t escape God. He knew that, but probably figured that if he could slip away for a while, God would try someone else, or, when he ultimately found Jonah, by that time either the commission would lapse or somebody else would have done it—and that’s all Jonah wanted. But with the casting of lots, Jonah realizes that that’s not to be. From that point on, Jonah is fully cooperative.”David Noel Freedman, “Did God Play a Trick on Jonah at the End?” Bible Review 06:04 (2004)

JST Jonah 3:9-10 Does God repent?

KJV “repent” often = Hebrew nicham, which means either “to feel regret/remorse” or “to change one’s mind.”

Freedman (cited above), summarizing the last few verses of Jonah

“In short, God says, “the plant has no significant value, yet you, Jonah, are ready to die about it. If you had the power, Jonah, you would surely have spared the plant. How do you think I feel?” God asks: “Should I not feel sorry for Nineveh that great city of more than 120,000 people who do not know their right hand from their left?”

1) Religious/theological– Jonah thinks salvation is for the Jews, not the world. 1 Nephi 1:19 “And it came to pass that the Jews did mock [Lehi] because of the things which he testified of them; for he truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations; and he testified that the things which he saw and heard, and also the things which he read in the book, manifested plainly of the coming of a Messiah, and also the redemption of the world.”

2) Political– Jonah would prefer to see Israel’s large and powerful enemy destroyed.

3) Justice– Jonah wants the oppressor to get what’s coming to them.

There’s a lot of irony, humor and contrast here in Jonah. Contrast, for example, the piety of the pagan sailors with Jonah’s rebellion. Contrast the concern of the pagan sailors for Jonah’s life, even knowing that he’s the cause of their problems and after he tells them to throw him over, with Jonah’s complete lack of concern over all the people in Assyria, but his anger over the gourd.

“…nothing is more ridiculous than a prophet who tries to run away from God (whose dominion over sea and land he evidently acknowledges), who sleeps soundly while the ship is in danger of foundering, and who must be summoned to pray to his God by the pagan captain. Moreover, there is delicious irony in God’s frustration with Jonah’s plans: the man who tries to run away from his prophetic vocation unintentionally increases the gentile sailors’ reverence for the Lord; the man who flees from his God toward death must eventually call to him, even against his will, from the belly of a fish. How ludicrous is this man who tries to run away to Tarshish in the hold of a ship and is returned to dry land in the belly of a fish! How humiliating is it for him to be swallowed by a fish and, even more so, to be vomited forth from its mouth. The proponents of this view are astounded by the double standard of the prophet, who can utter a psalm of thanksgiving to God for rescuing him from drowning but has no qualms about protesting the salvation of Nineveh. The contradiction reaches its zenith in the rapid turnabout from “This was a great evil to Jonah” (after the reprieve granted to the city) to his “great joy” (over the growth of the plant), which is so quickly rescinded (when the plant withers and dies). We are also supposed to laugh out loud at the thought of beasts clothed in sackcloth, bawling to God because they have been deprived of food and water; to nod our heads at the ironic contrast between the gentile city’s response to the call of the foreign prophet and Jerusalem’s refusal to heed Jeremiah’s warning (chapter 36); and to smile when we read Jonah’s plea for death after his astounding success in Nineveh, recognizing it as a close parody of Elijah’s similar plea after his failure in Jezreel.”- JPS Torah Commentary, Jonah.

Other references

Charles Halton, “How Big was Nineveh? Literal versus Figurative Interpretation of City Size.” Bulletin for Biblical Research 18.2 (2008). PDF

McCarter, P. Kyle, Jr. “The River Ordeal in Israelite literature.” Harvard Theological Review 66, no. 4 (1973): 403-412. LINK


1) Excessive literalism?

2) Jonah’s co-whale survivors?

3) A response to these first two posts.

4) Some excellent reflections on teaching Jonah.

5) My thoughts on the New Testament argument that Jonah must be historical.

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