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Jonah in the Big Fish   Leave a comment

Above:  Israeli Stamp of Jonah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JONAH

PART II

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Jonah 2:1-10 (Protestant and Anglican)

Jonah 2:2-11 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

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The Book of Jonah tells us that a “big fish,” not a whale, swallowed Jonah.  Avoid fixating on the species of aquatic life, O reader.  The essence of these verses pertains to other issues.

I begin with two Hebrew words.

  1. Jonah 2:1/2:2 (depending on versification) tells us that the big fish “swallowed” Jonah.  The Hebrew verb for “to swallow” has only negative connotations in the Bible.  It occurs, in the context of death, in Exodus 15:12 and in Numbers 16:30, 32, and 34.  In Jonah 2:1/2:2, however, swallowing prevents death.
  2. Jonah 2:10/2:11 (depending on versification) tells us that the big fish “vomited” Jonah onto terra firma.  The story tells us that the big fish could not stomach Jonah.  The Hebrew verb for “to vomit” also occurs in Jeremiah 51:44.  The Chaldeans/Neo-Babylonians had consumed/swallowed various nations in 51:34.  They were about to consume/swallow Judah in Chapter 52.  Jeremiah 51:44 tells us that God would force the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire to “vomit” what it had “swallowed.”  One may assume reasonably that the author of the Book of Jonah may have been familiar with the Book of Jeremiah.

The prayer of Jonah derives from various Psalms.  This part of the text is of different authorship than the rest of the Book of Jonah.  Certain details of the composite prayer contradict details of Jonah 1.  The Book of Jonah is pious fiction, after all.  I quote Phyllis Trible, writing in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VII (1996):

Appearing between the genuine worship of the sailors and the Ninevites, the psalm offers counterfeit piety from loquacious Jonah.

(The Ninevites repented in Jonah 3.)

Counterfeit piety is ubiquitous, unfortunately.  It is the stock and trade of many people from a host of professions and a range of ideas.  Perhaps one needs to look no farther than into a mirror to see a practitioner of counterfeit piety.  The Biblical standard in this matter is to know a tree by its fruits.  Fruits do not lie.  The proof is in the pudding.  And actions speak louder than words.

In Christian terms, I think of a bumper sticker.  It reads,

JESUS, SAVE ME FROM YOUR FOLLOWERS.

The supreme irony of that plea is that one does not need saving from Christ’s actual followers.  One needs no deliverance from people who obey the Golden Rule.  The list of atrocities and other sins many people have committed and/or continue to continue to commit in the name of God is long and disturbing.  It is a record of counterfeit piety.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 10, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT LEO THE GREAT, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF ELIJAH P. LOVEJOY, U.S. JOURNALIST, ABOLITIONIST, PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, AND MARTYR, 1837; HIS BROTHER, OWEN LOVEJOY, U.S. ABOLITIONIST, LAWMAKER, AND CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER; AND WILLIAM WELLS BROWN, AFRICAN-AMERICAN ABOLITIONIST, NOVELIST, HISTORIAN, AND PHYSICIAN

THE FEAST OF LOTT CARY, AFRICAN-AMERICAN BAPTIST MINISTER AND MISSIONARY TO LIBERIA; AND MELVILLE B. COX, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER AND MISSIONARY TO LIBERIA

THE FEAST OF ODETTE PRÉVOST, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN, AND MARTYR IN ALGERIA, 1995

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