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3 thoughts on “From A Great Book To A Great Fish – Leaving Rome And Heading For Ninevah?”

  1. Simon,
    Raised with Nigel some background reading I have done. Reading some Jewish commentaries that read Jonah as midrash. Doesn’t sit quietly with me, but does raise an interesting perspective.

    Thoughts about the validity of that approach?

    1. Thanks Chris for this excellent question. Please accept this slightly late coming response :o)

      I’ll admit straight away that I wasn’t familiar with the term, midrash, until you brought it up. Thank you, again, for adding words to me vocabulary. After coming to terms with this word, here is one link that I think was most helpful for the definition because it is to the point (for the benefit of others reading this):

      There are three possible conclusions to come to with a book like Jonah (Daniel and perhaps Ruth fit the same profile)…
      1) It is completely true including the people, the places and the things which took place
      2) It is an imagined story written so that we could still learn theology from it
      3) It is based on true events but has been exaggerated over time (like a fisherman’s story)

      I’ll deal with options 1 and 2 only.

      Those who take the story of Jonah as historical are likely to do so on the basis that it is set in a real time and place with a person who has a genealogy and is referred to elsewhere in scripture (2 Kings, Matthew). Such folk will accept the extraordinary features of the book such as the big fish, the three days, the one man preaching to a whole city and the sudden growth of a plant as miracles just like creation, the 10 plagues, the red sea, the fire from heaven for Elijah and so on. The biggest support for this position is that Jesus speaks of both Jonah and the repentance of Nineveh as though both were reality.

      Those who take the story of Jonah as fashioned and invented in order to teach theology (a fine technique that preachers use all the time) do so because it is unlike any other book in the bible – Jonah is almost unknown and we are expected to know him as the book begins, no other minor prophet is written like this, Jonah contains no predictive material, the miracles listed in the last paragraph are of a comical or satirical nature – a bit like a political cartoon in the newspaper. The biggest, perhaps, support for this view is that the city of Nineveh doesn’t appear to have been as big in reality as it is described in chapter 3.

      Both parties need to examine themselves to be aware of their preconceptions. I suspect that those who fall into category A have adopted a view of scripture that says that everything must be as it appears to be – end of story. Those who align with category B have been influenced (probably without knowing it) by a generation of sceptics which flooded the world with bible commentaries in the early 20th century.

      Although I align myself with the first category, believing the events in the story to have happened, I marvel most of all in the way that the story has been carefully crafted. I believe that the whole bible was written by a very impressive author. I am constantly blown away by the craft of the scriptures. Jesus taught often through story-telling and the Holy Spirit has used that technique right from the beginning of human time.

      One last point, which probably comes closer to answering your question, is that there are different levels to read Jonah on. I alluded to this in the blog above but wasn’t very clear.

      1) Jonah is a story about a prophet who had to learn how universal Yehweh was with his love and compassion.
      2) Jonah is a story about judgement, mercy, patience, compassion and the power of God for salvation which describes the gospel
      3) Jonah is a story about the nation of Israel and their involvement on the world stage – A nation priviledged to know the one true God but is willing to deny the truth and is therefore sent into exile (the big fish) but is given another chance to be a city on a hill for the whole world only to find that Israel is unwilling to watch God be compassionate for anyone other than Israel.

      It is quite possible for a story to be both historically true, yet retold in such a well crafted way that the reader sees, not the historical facts, but the glory of God. All of scripture is like that.

      Thanks again Chris for opening this can of worms – very important for us to have our eyes open to other ways of thinking about things and to wrestle with them together. We don’t want to be blind followers but people who are seeking the truth.

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