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A Study of The Minor Prophets: Jonah 1 and 2

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Posted on CCPC's website 2022

The Minor Prophets Study Index page.

This is a long term, in depth, wide focus study of the Minor Prophets, drawing as much from the history of their times as possible, as well as looking at the original language of the prophet. Jonah says: "I do wel to be angry unto death” 4:9 (1560)

      We know Jonah lived and worked during the reign of Jeroboam II in (give or take) 790 BC, see 2 Kings 14:25, and was probably somewhere around the capital of Shechem when he got his travel orders that resulted in the book. However, it is generally accepted that book was written some time later about Jonah's adventure, based on oral tradition. It was more or less recorded in its current form no latter than about 200 BC, and a good copy was recovered with the Dead Sea Scrolls. You can tell when you read it as a story that it was a spoken story relayed, probably to the young, with several morals that can be drawn from it. We'll get to those as we go. There's also narrative inserted into the story that adds to the drama, and those moral lessons, that if it were purely a first person account would be hard to account for.
      The book is odd in that his entire message, which was the reason for his call, and resulted in all his other travels and issues... is less than one verse. But in going through the narrative, which has obviously been 'tinkered with for dramatic effect' between when the main character lived and when the book was written, however, the description in Jonah of the city of Nineveh is historically accurate. As well as his detour in a boat, and where he could have been going. So while it is a 'tall tale', it is definitely grounded in reality, and may well have happened, even though this story is, shall we say, fictionalized, it's a 'made for TV movie based on true events'.
      The more we looked into Jonah, and what others say about Jonah, and the stories told in Jonah, the more the idea that Jonah, if nothing else, is a very good bad example of what NOT to do if you find yourself called as a prophet, as we'll highlight those as we go through them. And now may be a good time to say this: Jonah may well be the only person who has a book of the Bible named after them that you aren't supposed to like. And for good reasons, which we will see later.

      Perhaps the SECOND most famous thing about Jonah is the reference to the 'sign of Jonah' by Christ in Mark 8 and Matthew 12.

      As to the first thing, Jonah's 'fishy friend', there is no lack of speculation, and we'll dive into that as we go as well.

      One of the other interesting aspects of Jonah is that a version of his story, with his name, is told in the Quran, toward the end of surah 37. Also, surah 10 is named after him (Yunus), and he is mentioned elsewhere in the book as well. He is the only one of the 12 Minor Prophets to be referenced to that extent. See link below.

Chapter 1

      The translations are spot on with this one.
      This is the Jonah “yow·nah” (means 'dove') from 2 Kings 14, one of the few of the Minor Prophets that we can say for sure where else they've been and what they've done, besides being a Minor Prophet.

      “qum” (stand up) “lek” (go (note: The two words are commands)) to “ni·ne·weh” city “hag·ge·do·lah” (great / large) and “qe·ra” (proclaim / speak out) “‘a·le·ha” (over / against) it for 'has come up' “ra·‘a·tam” (unethical behavior (evil / wrong acts)) “le pa·nay” (before Me)

      “way·ya·qam” (But arose) “yow·nah” “lib·ro·ah” (flee / run away) to “tar·si·sah” (see below) “mil·lip ne” (before / ahead (away from)) of “YHWH” ......
      Joppa / Jaffa is a city in what is today Tel Aviv.
      Where was “tarsisah”? Well.... it might be anywhere from Tartessos in southern Spain which is archaeologically known to have been a Phoenician base which dates to even before this period (see one example below), to Tyrseni in Italy, or was perhaps on one of the islands such as Sardinia, or even somewhere closer to Israel. In other words, we have no idea where Jonah wanted to go.
      While the Phoenicians had collapsed with the rest of the great Bronze Age civilizations some time before this period, the technology of building ocean going ships had remained in use, although it was somewhat diminished in scope. See link below for a discussion of what sorts of deepwater ships were in use during Jonah's time.

      The bad weather is good.

      “way·yi·re·’u” (afraid (but NOT frozen in terror)) “ham·mal·la·him” (mariners /sailors) “way·yiz·‘a·qu” (cried / called out) every man to “’e·lo·haw” (god / gods)...
      ... then they dump the cargo, but Jonah had gone down into the hold and was asleep.
      This gives you the idea that the ship he was on was NOT a 'rowboat' but an actual ocean going trader with a 'below deck' area. More on these sorts of ships later.

      The “rab” (chief of the boat / captain) wakes him up and wants him to pray...
      “'ulay” (perhaps) “yit·‘as·set” ('will' think) “ha·’e·lo·him” (your god) “la nu” (us) “we lo” (not) “no·bed” (perish / destroyed)

      They cast lots to see whose fault it is.

A casting of lots tangent:
      The casting of lots is a form of divination known as cleromancy. While it is mentioned several times in the Bible, exactly what sort of tokens were used to indicate the result is unknown. Items such as small stones or pebbles with different markings or colors, bits of ceramic, or even the drawing of straws is known to have been used at various times. Even six sided numbered dice cubes of stone or bone were used both for gaming and divination in the Middle East dating to at least 3000 BC.
      (just in passing: One of the games found in Egyptian tombs is Senet where a single die (or other such item, sets have been found with and without a die) was used to indicate the number of places a pawn was to move. The game is known to have spread into the Holy Land by the time of the Prophets.)
      So whatever form the 'casting of lots' took, all participants had to agree on it, and the outcome.

      OK, before somebody gets all wrapped up in the word 'divination' and says it is sorcery or 'fortune telling' and was forbidden in Deuteronomy 18 : 10 - 13 or Leviticus 19 : 31 and so on. Let's look at that.
      The important part is the intent.
      In Acts 1, the lots were cast to determine the Will of God for the replacement Apostle. The Spirit did not descend on them until after Judas's spot was filled. You can see more about lots for God's Will in Leviticus 16 : 8.
      Also in the OT lots were cast in Numbers 26 and Joshua 18 to distribute land, 1 Chronicles 25 had lots determining job assignments, and in another place in Joshua, lots determined guilt, as in Jonah.
      The divination that was forbidden was seeking information from a source 'slightly lower' than God.
.... we'll put the dice away and get back to the boat.
End ... whatever that was.
      Guess who the divination comes up with?

      Paraphrase, they tell Jonah he's the cause of their problem, and then they ask him some basic questions.
      Evidently there was no pre-boarding vetting of the passengers.

      Let's look at some interesting details here.
      He says he is a “‘ib·ri” (Hebrew) the term that is used in Genesis when Joseph got in trouble, and in Exodus 2 when Moses got in trouble. The term “Jew” isn't used a lot in the OT, but it is used.
      and YHWH, “’e·lo·he” (God) “has sa·ma·yim” (of 'the' heavens (it's the term from Genesis 1)) whom I “ya re” ('hold in reverent fear'), the Creator.

      It would seem that Jonah didn't think this trip through ahead of time if he actually believed what he just said.

      Paraphrase: the crew of the ship are not happy with what he said.
      Evidently at some point Jonah had told somebody why he was on board and heading west.

      Paraphrase: “Now what are we supposed to do?”

      Jonah makes his speech about how he knows he's the cause and what will quiet the storm.

      The crew either don't believe him, or don't want to kill him.
      This is the verse that lets us know that this was a Phoenician style trading ship, equipped with banks of oars, and in some cases, up to a hundred crew to pull on those oars. Some of these ships were over fifty feet long (the length of Columbus's largest ship), with a cargo (or troop) capacity of two hundred tons or more. This style of vessel was still in use over a thousand years later during the Roman period both for trade and war.

      Therefore the sailors cried out to YHWH, and said “'an nah” (we beseech you) YHWH, “'al” (not) “na” (please), “no·be·dah” (let us not perish) for this man's life, and not “tit·ten” (hold us) for “dam” (blood) “na qi” (blameless / innocent), for You, YHWH, “ha·pas·ta” (delighted / pleased) “‘a·si·ta” (what was done).

      Summary: Jonah gets wet. The storm stops.

      “way·yi·re·’u” (reverent fear) the men “yir 'ah” (feared) “ge·do·lah” (great), they offered YHWH a sacrifice and took vows.
      Question. Jonah is busy either swimming or drowning (stay tuned for that), how would he know what the guys on the ship are doing? This is one of those hints that this is what used to be called a 'morality play'.

17 Jonah meets his co-star.
      Prepared YHWH a “dag” (fish) “ga·do·wl” (great) to “lib·lo·a'” (swallow)....
      The word for where he was is “bim·‘e” (bowels / internal organs). And the term is for a 'finned fish, with scales (so it's kosher)'. As to the species, whether it was a preserved mosasaur (oceanic dinosaur roughly the size of the ship Jonah sailed on, see link below), or just an outsize catfish as some classic artwork depicts, or even, yes, a whale, we'll never know, and it doesn't matter.
      The text does specify three days and nights. This is the part Christ mentions.

Chapter 2

      'And prayed Jonah to YHWH, his God, from inside the fish.'

      Jonah, or the writer of the book, proves he had read a couple of the Psalms.
      Compare Psalm 18, Psalm 77, and Psalm 120

      Let's look at what Jonah actually says:
      “wat·tas·li·ke·n” (you threw me / cast me) “me·su·lah” (into 'the' depths) 'into the heart of the sea' and the 'waters' surround me, Your “mis·ba·re·ka” (breaking waves) and “we·gal·le·ka” (waves) pass over me.
      He's blaming God for his being fishbait.
      Jonah still hasn't admitted that if he hadn't been an idiot he wouldn't be in the fix he's in.
      Also, Psalm 77 does talk about the sea beginning in verse 16.

      “wa·’ani ’a·marti” (and I said), “nig·rasti min·neged ‘eneka” (I have been driven out / expelled of your sight), “'ak ’o·w·sip” (yet again) “le·habbit 'el” (I will look) “hekal qad·seka” ('Your' Temple Holy)
      At least there was nobody around to remind Jonah that he WASN'T 'out of God's sight', and he'd didn't stop to look at the Temple on his way to catch the boat.

      'SitRep'.... Jonah wasn't having a pleasant swim....
      .... remember the 'drowning' we mentioned earlier?

      ..... he's also given to a bit of hyperbole....
      the “qetseb harim” (extremes ('base') of the mountains) “ya·rad·ti” (I descended), 'the Earth closed its gate behind me, forever', “wat·ta·‘al” (You brought up) “mis·sa·hat” (from the pit) “hay yay” (my life), YHWH my God.

      Paraphrase: his soul faints within him, THEN he remembers to go pray in the temple.

      The wording of this verse is a bit odd. We'll look at the Hebrew, the 1611, then try to reason it out.
      “me·sam·merim” ('those' keep / observe) “hable” (futility / emptiness / idol) - “saw” (worthless / nothingness (vanity)); “hasdam” (goodness / kindness (mercy)) “ya·‘a·zobu” (lose / leave / forsake).
      “They that obserue lying vanities, forsake their owne mercy.”
      To paraphrase: “Those that believe in false gods give up true mercy”.

      Jonah promises to do what he should have been doing instead of hopping on an outbound ship.

      (fish puke)

End 2

Selected Sources for this chapter:
Encyclopedia article:

A Dead Sea Scroll 'translation'

Was this where Jonah bought his ticket to?
“The Tartessians and the Fabled Land of Tartessos”

Ancient Ships at:
The Phoenicians- Master Mariners

One of Jonah's possible friends: Mosasaur see beginning at verse 139
On page link to surah 10 named for Jonah (Yunus)

And finally, we
“cast lots”

Sources used throughout entire study:
Bible Hub Interlinear pages: We'll change this link as we change books.

the Geneva Bible downloadable

the 1611 KJV

The Minor Prophets Study Index page.

NOTE: The Bible Study Lesson presented above is posted as a reference document to begin a conversation of the topic. And that's it. Please accept it at such.

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