—Biblical Data:

The Book of Jonah stands unique in the prophetical canon, in that it does not contain any predictions, but simply relates the story of its hero, beginning for that reason with "wa-yeḥi," like a passage taken from history. The contents may be summarized as follows:

  • Ch. i.: Jonah is commanded by Yhwh to prophesy against Nineveh. Hoping to escape from this commission by flight into another country, he goes down to Joppa to take ship for Tarshish (Tartessus in Spain). Yhwh then sends a terrible storm, and the pious heathen mariners, after all their labors to lighten the ship and all their prayers prove vain, cast lots to find out on whose account this misfortune has come upon them (comp. Achan in Josh. vii. and Jonathan in I Sam. xiv.). The lot falls upon Jonah, and upon being questioned he answers that he is a Hebrew and worships Yhwh, the God of Heaven; he admits his guilt and requests that he be thrown into the sea. After having prayed to Yhwh the mariners comply with his wish, and when the storm has subsided they give thanks to Yhwh with sacrifices and vows.
  • Ch. ii.: Yhwh prepares a great fish to swallow Jonah, who remains for three days and three nights in the monster's belly; after having there praised Yhwh, Jonah is cast up by the fish upon the dry land.
  • Ch. iii.: Yhwh's command being repeated, Jonah goes to Nineveh, and announces to the city that it shall be destroyed within forty days. Then all the inhabitants, following the example of the king and the nobles, repent in sackcloth and ashes; even the flocks and herds fast and are covered with sackcloth. Yhwh, repenting of the punishment He had intended for them, permits the Ninevites to go free.
  • Ch. iv.: Yhwh's action displeases Jonah exceedingly; he prays Yhwh to let him die. Yhwh comforts him by preparing a "ḳiḳayon" (castor-oil plant?) to spring up beside his booth, which gives Jonah great pleasure. But Yhwh prepares a worm to smite the plant, so that it withers; the sun beating upon the head of Jonah causes him to faint; and again be begs for death. Yhwh then says that if Jonah is sorry for the gourd, which sprang up of itself in one night, and withered also in one night, how much more must Yhwh feel sorrow for the mighty city which contains more than twelve myriads of innocent people besides much cattle.
E. G. H. K. B.—Critical View:

The text on the whole has been fairly well preserved. The following variants of the Septuagint deserve notice: i. 2: , probably a combination of two variants, being placed side by side with (comp. Gen. xviii. 21, xix. 13); i. 4: is lacking and not needed; verse 16: instead of ; iii. 2: κατὰ τὸ κήρεγμα τὸ ἔμπροσΘεν ὃ ἐγὼ ἐλάλησα, equivalent to , probably correct, since only absolute obedience to the first command would agree with the context; iii. 4: instead of , but probably only an error following verse 3, end; iii. 7: instead of ; iii. 9: is lacking, probably correctly so in view of the following ; iv. 2: is lacking; iv. 6: ; iv. 11: instead of —hardly the original reading, but a possible one.

H. Winckler ("Altorientalische Forschungen," ii. 260 et seq.), especially, has proposed important emendations of the text that are all worthy of careful examination. He transposes i. 13 to come directly after i. 4, which makes a better connection at both places. Again, he transposes i. 10 to follow immediately i. 7, at the same time striking out in verse 8 the words and (like many other emendators and critics) to , besides 10b entirely. This will not do, however, as verse 10a, depicting the fright of the men, with their exclamation, "Why hast thou done this?" is intelligible only after Jonahhas told the men why he was on the ship. Still this explanation should not have been given in 10b, but rather either in 9ba (which would then read ) or as an addition to verse 9 (i.e., ). If this phrase be inserted here it is necessary merely to delete the corresponding phrase in verse 10 (i.e., 10b), and to omit also 8aβ, which disturbs the context. Winckler also transposes iv. 5 to follow iii. 4, which is at the first glance a simple and entirely obvious emendation. The verse could follow ch. iii. only with the introduction , and even then would have to precede iv. 1. Ch. iv. 4 must be stricken out (as Böhme has proposed), being a poor repetition of iv. 9, which probably came in with the erroneous interpolation of iv. 5. Ch. iv. 3 connects closely with iv. 6. In the latter verse Wellhausen, and after him Nowack, strike out ; Winckler strikes out instead because Jonah was protected by the booth (iv. 5). Winckler furthermore says that the sun could not have stricken Jonah if he had been protected by the booth; he therefore proposes to insert the statement in verse 8 that the east wind blew down the booth. This is a happy conjecture; for could have easily been corrupted to form the enigmatical (even Cheyne's , "Encyc. Bibl." ii. 2566, is unsatisfactory). It must be remarked, however, that this would duplicate the motive, while verse 9 mentions the gourd only. It may be questioned therefore whether the mention of the booth is not a later interpolation, in which case iv. 5 should not be transposed after iii. 4, but should be simply stricken out together with iv. 4 and the mention of the east wind in iv. 8, so that the text would read simply: . Verse 6 would then remain unchanged.

The last-named considerations, which were touched upon by Hitzig and Böhme, lead to the question whether Böhme (in Stade's "Zeitschrift," vii. 224 et seq.; for earlier attempts see Cheyne, l.c. p. 2565, note) is correct in attempting to trace the Book of Jonah to various sources. Since his attempt the question has been answered everywhere in the negative, probably correctly. This popular story, in its present state, rather creates the impression that extraneous matter has been added here and there, as in the cases of the Book of Daniel and that of Esther, or that such additions were transferred to the Masoretic text from manuscripts going more into detail. To this might be due the grotesque detail in ch. iii. that even the flocks and herds should take part in Nineveh's general penitence, by fasting in sackcloth, and perhaps also by uttering loud cries (verse 8). Yet the words (iii. 8) must not be simply stricken out as an addition, as Böhme, Wellhausen, and Nowack propose; for they now fit in admirably with the legendary tone of the whole. Cheyne rightly refers to what Herodotus (ix. 24) recounts of the Persians. The psalm (ii. 3-10) was in any case added to the original composition later (comp. Stade's "Zeitschrift," 1892, p. 42). As a prayer of thanks it is undeniably in the wrong place, since Jonah is still in the belly of the fish. That it was added at this point is probably due to the fact that the words (verse 2) offered a convenient connection, the interpolator wishing to give the exact words of the prayer. Originally verse 2 was immediately followed by verse 11 thus: "Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God out of the fish's belly; and the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land." The psalm certainly seemed appropriate, because it speaks, even if only metaphorically, of Jonah being cast into the midst of the seas, and of the salvation which is of the Lord. And it was perhaps added also partly because the book contained no connected speech of the prophet. The time at which this interpolation was added can be conjecturally fixed only after the sources and the origin of the book have been discussed.

Age and Origin.

The book does not bear the least evidence of having been written by the prophet or even during his time; and its age must be gathered from different indications. It has long since been held that it is one of the latest books of the Hebrew canon. This is proved in the first place by the language, as considered lexically, grammatically, and stylistically (comp. on this point the commentaries, and books like S. R. Driver's "Introduction"). Only Esther, Chronicles, and Daniel are of later date. Again, the way in which Nineveh is referred to shows that the city had long since vanished from the face of the earth and had faded into legend (comp. iii. 3). The King of Nineveh, also (iii. 6), could have been referred to only in a late myth; and the legendary atmosphere of the whole story, from beginning to end, is in accord with the length of time that had elapsed since the events recounted took place. This becomes evident both in the episode of the fish which swallows a man and then casts him up alive after three days, and in that of the plant which in one night grows high enough to overshadow Jonah. These things might, it is true, be considered as divine miracles; but such an explanation can not be offered for the three days' time that it takes to pass through Nineveh (iii. 3), nor for the fasting, sackcloth, and penitent cries of the animals (iii. 7 et seq.), much less for the conception that an Israelitish prophet could preach penitence to the city of Nineveh, and that the king and the citizens would listen to him. Everything about the story is, and was intended to be, miraculous and legendary.

The Book of Jonah is a midrash. The book must undoubtedly be placed in this class; and it remains only to see whether a more definite position can be assigned to it in the Midrashic literature. The writer of this article has attempted to do this (in Stade's "Zeitschrift," 1892, pp. 40 et seq.), suggesting that the Book of Jonah is a section from the Midrash of the Book of the Kings mentioned in II Chron. xxiv. 27, which in all probability was the chief source used by the author of the Chronicles. The suggestion is supported by the simple fact that the prophet Jonah ben Amittai is referred to in no other place except in II Kings xiv. 25. Furthermore, it is highly improbable that at the time of the earliest Midrashic literature any other notice of him could have existed; and, finally, since the Book of Jonah begins without any superscription—it begins not simply with the word "wayehi," which introduces a period of time (comp.Ruth i. 1; Esth. i. 1), but with the phrase , which certainly assumes a previous mention of Jonah—the suggestion proposed is the most natural one. If this be correct, then Chronicles of course omitted the passage found in its source and mentioning the prophet, a circumstance that is explained by the fact that the scene is laid in the Northern Kingdom, with which Chronicles has nothing to do.

The suggestion would be invalid if Winckler (see, however, Jonah, Biblical Data, end) and Cheyne were correct in maintaining that the Jonah of the story is a different person from that mentioned in the Book of Kings. It is impossible, however, to refute the suggestion by referring to the distinctive character of that midrash, as König (Introduction, p. 379) and Smend ("Alttestamentliche Religionsgesch." 1st ed., p. 409) have done. If extensive stories of personal events happening to Elijah have been included in the Book of Kings (e.g., I Kings xvii., xix.), why should not the same have occurred (against König) in the case of Jonah? And Smend's assertion that, compared with the Book of Jonah the Midrash of the Book of the Kings was "a work of such a different character that its (Jonah's) author would not have buried his book therein," can not be substantiated.

On the contrary, just the passage in the midrash referring to Jonah seems to be closely related to the Book of Jonah as regards the contents. The author of the Book of Kings puts into Yhwh's mouth warm words of mercy toward the sinful Northern Kingdom (II Kings xiv. 26 et seq.). It is easy to see how a midrash could be added showing that this mercy was extended even to an alien, heathen empire. If there were any reasons for assuming the existence of another Midrash of the Book of the Kings than the one mentioned in Chronicles, the Book of Jonah might have been taken from the latter; but at present the writer of this article does not see what reasons could be brought forward in support of such a theory. In any case the connection of the book with II Kings xiv. 25 must be insisted upon. In agreement with the view here expressed, the date of the book would fall some time toward the end of the fourth or in the fifth century; such a date is supported by other considerations.

Inclusion in Canon.

The inclusion of the Book of Jonah among the Minor Prophets is paralleled by the inclusion of II Kings xviii.-xx. in the Book of Isaiah (ch. xxxvi.-xxxix.), but with this exception that in the latter (as also in Jer. lii.) historical passages are added to an already existing prophetical book, while an entirely new personality and an entirely new book are added to the canon of the Prophets with the Book of Jonah. How may this have happened? Smend's assumption (l.c.), that the author wrote the book with the intention of adding it to the "Twelve Minor Prophets," may be set aside, for the styles of the two differ too widely, as noted above; nor, if that had been the intention, would it have been necessary to introduce a psalm in order to make the book fit into its surroundings: there are numerous examples to show that the writers of later periods knew how to reproduce the style of the Prophets when they desired to do so. On the other hand, it can not have been the intention of inserting stories of the Prophets in the books of the Prophets; for if it had been, the "Earlier Prophets" would have offered the right place therefor. This is proved in the case of I Kings xiii., a story, relating to a prophet, which has many points of similarity to the story of Jonah and is of about the same length. It likewise is probably derived from the Midrash of the Book of the Kings (comp. Stade's "Zeitschrift," 1892, xii. 49 et seq.) and was added later to the canonical Book of Kings. The reasons for the inclusion of Jonah in the "Twelve Minor Prophets" must be sought in the book itself. The fixing of the number of the "Minor Prophets" at twelve was certainly intentional, and the Book of Jonah must have been included in order to make up that number, although it does not harmonize with the other books, and originally belonged elsewhere. The necessity for including it arose, perhaps, only in later times; for the enumeration (without Jonah) of precisely eleven books in the canon is not entirely self-evident. It need only be pointed out that Zech. ix.-xi. and xii.-xiv. are added very loosely to Zechariah, and may equally well have been regarded as independent books; that Malachi, on the contrary, at first probably had no superscription (comp. Mal. iii. 1), and might have been added as an appendix to Zechariah. According as these matters were arranged, it might occur that there were only eleven books found where formerly twelve had been counted. The passage in Num. R. xviii. seems in fact to refer to a time when the Book of Jonah was not included in the twelve Prophets.

Purpose and Teachings.

It becomes necessary to inquire into the purpose and teaching of the book, because of the fact that it is not a historical narrative, but a midrash, and also because of its conclusion. The whole story ends with the lesson received by Jonah, the purpose of the book having thus been accomplished; and as one can not follow the effects of this lesson on Jonah's further career (unlike the story of Elijah in I Kings xix.), the lesson itself is in reality addressed to the reader, i.e., to the Jewish congregation. It is not probable that the story was carried on further in its original place in the Midrash of the Book of the Kings.

This short story, as Wellhausen has best expressed it, is directed "against the impatience of the Jewish believers, who are fretting because, notwithstanding all predictions, the antitheocratic world-empire has not yet been destroyed;—because Yhwh is still postponing His judgment of the heathen, giving them further time for repentance. Yhwh, it is hinted, is hoping that they will turn from their sins in the eleventh hour; and He has compassion for the innocent ones, who would perish with the guilty." In agreement with this synopsis of the purpose, the book is closely akin to and emphasizes the basic passage, II Kings xiv. 26 et seq., which also shows, and as it were explains, how it is possible that Yhwh can grant a prophecy of good things to come to the disloyal Northern Kingdom and to a king who, according to verse 24, persists in all the sins of all his predecessors, and can then fulfil what He has promised. This purpose harmonizes perfectly with the idealized description of the piety of the heathenmariners (ch. i.) and of the king and the inhabitants of Nineveh (ch. iii.). The book is therefore in a way the negative pole to the positive pole in the Book of Ruth. The first shows why Yhwh does not destroy the heathen; the second, why and how He can even accept them among His people and bring them to high honor. Both these tendencies became apparent in Israel after the puristic reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah, which rigorously drew a sharp line between Israel and the pagan world. The opposition to this dominating doctrine was clothed in the unassuming but all the more effective garb of poetry and of story, as has happened time and again in similar cases. Cheyne rightly points to the parable of the good Samaritan in the New Testament and to the story of the three rings in Lessing's "Nathan der Weise."

Details of the Story.

All the details of the book are subordinated and made subservient to this one purpose; and there is every probability that it was invented only for that purpose, whereby of course appeal to other, well-known motives also is not excluded. The story of Elijah on Horeb (I Kings xix.) furnished the model for the general outline, and for the lesson taught the prophet, who was filled with doubts and was weary of his office. No search was necessary for the name of the hero, which was given in I Kings xiv. 25. The fact that "Jonah" means "dove" is a coincidence which must not be interpreted allegorically, as Cheyne has done. Nor must the fact that Israel is spoken of as a prophet in Deutero-Isaiah and is called "Servant of Yhwh" be used in order to attenuate the personality of Jonah to an allegory of the people of Israel; nor that he was swallowed by the sea, to an allegory of the Exile. All these are comparisons, it is true, which may easily be made and which are fully justified as secondary considerations, but they must not be allowed to confuse the simplicity of the original story.

Nor must mythological motives, although they may easily be deduced from the story, be regarded as constitutive elements that were introduced consciously. This applies to the Andromeda myth as well as to that of Oannes, of Nineveh as the "Fish City" ("nun"), etc., and to the chaotic dragon Tiamat, which has recently become a favorite myth with scholars (comp. Cheyne, l.c., s.v. "Jonah," for details). The author of the story was of course familiar with all the current conceptions regarding the sea; and he probably had in mind, whether consciously or not, the myths and sagas clinging to it (comp. the rich collection of material relating to these myths in Hermann Usener, "Die Sintfluthsagen," 1899). It was probably the intention of the author, however, to confine himself to the narration of a story which, dealing with the prophet Jonah known to tradition, should be a vehicle for the lesson he meant to teach.

Later Uses and Interpretation.

In the New Testament Jesus (Luke xi. 29-32) makes use of the book in its original sense, referring to the people of Nineveh as examples of the faith and repentance that he missed among his contemporaries, while refusing them the miracle that they were asking at his hands. The endeavor to find more than this simple reference in the "sign of Jonas," which is akin to the tendency of the artificial inter pretations mentioned above, has led in the parallel passage (Matt. xii. 39-41) to the interpolation (verse 40), according to which Jonah's three days in the belly of the fish are a prophecy of the three days that Jesus would spend in the grave. The early Christian Church more correctly elevates Jonah's rescue from the belly of the fish into the standing type of the resurrection from the grave, a type which is found in all the plastic representations that decorate the early Christian sarcophagi and other monuments.

As far as can be seen, the canonicity of the book has never been seriously doubted. One might rather find in the Midrash ba-Midbar and perhaps also in Ta'an. ii. a vague reference to a time when the book was classed, not with the "Nebi'im," but with the "Ketubim." In that place it would at least find a sufficient counterpart in Ruth. This, however, is only a remote probability, and does not touch the question of the origin of the work.

  • The commentaries contained in Lange's Bibelwerk (Kleinert) and in the Kurzgefasstes Exegetisches Handbuch;
  • Hitzig, 4th ed., 1904, by H. Steiner;
  • those of G. A. Smith in his Twelve Prophets;
  • of J. Wellhausen, Die Kleinen Propheten, 1892, 3d ed. 1898;
  • and of Nowack in his Kleine Propheten, 1897, 2d ed. 1904;
  • Kalisch, Bible Studies, ii.;
  • T. K. Cheyne, in Theological Review, 1877, pp. 211-217;
  • C. H. H. Wright, Biblical Studies, 1886;
  • J. S. Bloch, Studien zur Gesch. der Sammlung der Althebräischen Litteratur, 1875.
E. G. H. K. B.