Jonah – parody of a prophet? (1)

I have an interest in Biblical humour which began by exploring Jesus’ frequent use of humour. I went on to look at whether Jesus use of humour  was typical or atypical of teachers of his time, and I am now investigating whether this first century Jewish humour of Jesus had its roots in the Hebrew Bible. Because my mind is open to the idea that the Bible contains humour I may see humour where it wasn’t intended. My comments in earlier posts about humour in the Book of Job led one friendly critic to say “well, it must be black humour then!” I suggested in a post on Job that the Book may in fact be a parody of Deuteronomistic theology, bearing in mind that parody is a form of humour.

This leads me to look at the unusual prophet Jonah, and I’d like to explore the possibility that this little Book may be a parody of a prophet.

It is reasonable to assume that the prophet in the Book of Jonah is the same “Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet” who is mentioned in 2 Kings 14:23-27 as prophesying during the reign of Jeroboam II (786-746 BCE) in Israel. His message there was one of comfort and hope for Israel “for the Lord saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter, for there was none left, bond or free, and there was none to help Israel”.  Jeroboam II is said to have “restored the border of Israel … according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah.” Nothing is said in this text about Jonah’s mission to Nineveh, nor is there any mention in the Book of Jonah of his message concerning Jeroboam’s military campaigns. The Deuteronomistic History specifically named Nineveh as the home city of Sennacherib, King of Assyria (705-681 BCE) who came against Judah during the reign of Hezekiah: “Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went home and lived at Nineveh” (2 Kings 19:36). The Assyrian Empire destroyed the Kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE. Significantly however, during the reign of Jeroboam II Nineveh was relatively weak and posed no immediate threat to Israel. The message of the Book of Jonah, in that setting, is anachronistic.

Rolf Rendtorff has observed that “Jonah does not portray Nineveh as a real political power. Nineveh is not seen primarily as a danger for Israel but as the prime example of a Gentile city that is sinful thus deserving divine judgment.”[1]

… to be continued

[1] Rendtorff, R., “How to Read the Book of the Twelve as a Theological Unity” in Nogalski, J., and Sweeney, M., (eds) Reading and Hearing the Book of the Twelve (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature) 2000, 75-87, p83.

5 comments on “Jonah – parody of a prophet? (1)

  1. […] Stephen Cook also recently argued for this perspective in a series of interesting blog posts: 1 2 3 4 5 […]

  2. Regina says:

    Paul L. Redditt (2008) challenges Mark Twain’s reputed contention that the Bible is without humour with reference to examples of irony, exaggeration and satire in the Jonah narrative. He further points out that the very name Jonah indicating “flighty” or “unstable” is in ironic contrast to his father’s name, Amittai, which comes from the Hebrew root meaning “truth” or “faithfulness”. David L. Petersen (2002) likewise comments on the irony of Jonah’s name and how “the author has created a satiric version of prophetic performance.”

    To what end is Jonah ironic or intended as humorous? Perhaps related and also of interest is the view that Jonah is “the final word” on prophecy in Israel, i.e. according to Christopher Seitz (2007) and what could be the implication of its position in Blenkinsopp’s A History of Prophecy in Israel (1983). It is proposed by Seitz that the book’s special status is to be prophet to the prophets. As such, it seems the message to the prophet is not to be recalcitrant in the face of God’s will or not to take himself so seriously.

  3. robjhyndman says:

    Tim Bulkeley also argues that Jonah is a humorous parody. See and

    • Stephen Cook says:

      Rob, thanks for the links. Here are a couple earlier articles which read Jonah as parody. I’m sure you can access them through Monash, but let me know if you have trouble.

      John A. Miles, Jr., “Laughing at the Bible: Jonah as Parody” in The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 65, No. 3 (Jan., 1975), pp. 168-181 (University of Pennsylvania Press).

      Robin Payne, “The Prophet Jonah: Reluctant Messenger and Intercessor” in The Expository Times, 1989, Volume 100, Issue 4, pp. 131 – 134

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