Context of the Book of Jonah


The Old Testament scholars claim that the Book of Jonah is a midrash[1] – a constructive, homiletical application of a story written for a specific reason. It is not a historical journal of events, but rather a story with a message. The midrash contains eight successive scenes, each one pointing to God’s all-embracing plans for the Gentiles and Jonah’s efforts to sabotage these plans.[2]

jonah jensen chartMost scholars place the book in the post-exilic period, in the fifth century B.C.E. A prophet named “Jonah, son of Amittai” from Gath-hepher is mentioned in 2Kgs 14,25 as giving a word of deliverance to Jeroboam II in the eight century B.C.E.[3] The author of the Book of Jonah used the name of this prophetic figure for his own purposes. A fifth century date would make the Book of Jonah contemporary with the works of Ezra and Nehemiah, and the book may even represent a protest against the exclusivist tendencies of the period.[4] Jonah’s crafty evasion efforts represent a lazy and unfaithful Israel which does not heed to Yahweh’s command. God has to wrestle against Israel’s narrow ethnocentrism which tries to restrict His activity to the boundaries of Israel alone. The author is bent on convincing his readers that the radius of God’s liberating activity is wide enough to cover both Israel and Gentiles.[5]

[1] Cf. P. Trible, The Book of Jonah: Introduction, Commentary and Reflections, NIB, Vol. VII, Abingdon Press, Nashville, (1996), 472-473.

[2] Cf. J. C. Okoye, Israel and the Nations: A Mission Theology of the Old Testament, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, (2006), 82-88.

[3] Cf. D. Stuart, Hosea – Jonah, WBC, Vol. 31, Word Books Publishers, Texas, (1987), 431.

[4] Cf. J. Barton and J. Muddiman (eds.), The Oxford Bible Commentary, Oxford University Press, New York, (2007), 593.

[5] Cf. J. M. Sasson, Jonah: A New Translation with Introduction, Commentary and Interpretation, AB, Vol. 24B, Doubleday and Company, Inc., New York, (1990), 24-26.

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  1. Thank you for the wonderful background on the Book of Jonah. Jonah is one of my favorite stories from the Hebrew Bible, in part because I can very much relate to Jonah with his reluctance to answer God’s call and his pettiness and lack of gratitude towards God’s grace.

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