Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ref: Jonah in Judaism

Bonnie Cohen's work, "Jonah," above, was selected as an image for the Rosh HaShanah cards published by Women of Reform Judaism. The original has been exhibited in several museums both Jewish and secular around the country as well.
AGJA Newsletter

Wikipedia tells:

The book of Jonah (Yonah יונה) is one of the 12 minor prophets included in the Tanakh. According to tradition Jonah was the boy brought back to life by Elijah the prophet, and hence shares many of his characteristics (particularly his desire for 'strict judgment'). The book of Jonah is read every year, in its original Hebrew and in its entirety, on Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement, as the Haftarah at the afternoon mincha prayer.

Teshuva - the ability to repent and be forgiven by God - is a prominent idea in Jewish thought. This concept is developed in the book of Jonah: Jonah, the son of truth, (The name of his father "Amitai" in Hebrew means truth,) refuses to ask the people of Nineveh to repent. He seeks the truth only, and no forgiveness. When forced to go, his call is heard loud and clear. The people of Nineveh repent ecstatically, "fasting, including the sheep", and the Jewish scripts are critical of this.

When praying, Jonah repeats God's 13 traits failing to say the last one which is "...and Truthful", and changing it with "...and who is willing to forgive the bad". God responds by showing Jonah that he is "angry at doing good", and that he too would agree to spare an ephemeral plant if it has importance for him.

See also the wikipedia article on Jonah in rabbinic literature

Ref: Shrine of Jonah in Nineveh

"Tomb of Jonah" Nineveh, Iraq
Image PhotoCollection

Mosque of Nebi Younis "Jonah"
On one of the two most prominent mounds of Nineveh ruins, rises the Mosque of Prophet Younis "Biblical Jonah" (pbuh), the son of Amittai, from the 8th century BC which is believed to be the burial place of him, and where King Esarhaddon had once built a palace.

This old shrine standing on the site of a Christian church is a mere stone's throw from the built-up walls and gates of Nineveh.

In the middle of the Mosque stood a Sepulcher, covered with a Persian carpet of silk and silver, and at the four corners, great copper candlesticks with wax tapers, besides several lamps and ostrich shells that hung down from the roof. A whale's tooth, appropriate to Jonah's well-known adventure at sea, is said to be preserved there.

The sanctuary of Jama Naballa Jonas is another place that tradition says is Jonah's grave, near the city of Mosul (today in Iraq), near the ancient remnants of Nineveh. On one of the two most prominent mounds of Nineveh ruins, rises the Mosque of the Prophet Yunus (previously a Nestorian-Assyrian Church). Jonah is believed to be buried here, where King Esarhaddon had once built a palace. It is one of the most important mosques in Mosul and one of the few historic mosques that are found on the east side of the city.

Ref: Muhammad

Prophets Jonah and Jeremiah, destroyed Jerusalem
Ottoman miniature art 1583
Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts in Istanbul
image wikimedia

Wikipedia tells:

Jonah is also mentioned in a few incidents during the lifetime of Muhammad. In some instances, Jonah's name is spoken of with praise and reverence by Muhammad.

According to historical narrations about Muhammad's life, after ten years of receiving revelations, Muhammad went to the city of Ta’if to see if its leaders would allow him to preach his message from there rather than Mecca, but he was cast from the city by the people. He took shelter in the garden of Utbah and Shaybah, two members of the Quraysh tribe. They sent their servant, Addas, to serve him grapes for sustenance. Muhammad asked Addas where he was from and the servant replied Nineveh. "The town of Jonah the just, son of Amittai!" Muhammad exclaimed. Addas was shocked because he knew that the pagan Arabs had no knowledge of the prophet Jonah. He then asked how Muhammad knew of this man. "We are brothers" Muhammad replied. "Jonah was a Prophet of God and I, too, am a Prophet of God." Addas immediately accepted Islam and kissed the hands and feet of Muhammad.

In one of the sayings of Muhammad, in the collection of Imam Bukhari, it says that Muhammad said "One should not say that I am better than Jonah". This is understood by both mainstream Muslims and historians to have been stated by Muhammad to emphasize upon the notion of equality between all the prophets and the law of making no distinction between any of the messengers. The Arab tribes, of the time, may have begun to exalt Muhammad above Jonah because of the recent revelation Muhammad received, which recounted the story of Jonah's fleeing from his mission. Thus, Muhammad, by saying this, clearly made it a point to the Arabs to not make any distinction between the great apostles of God.

Ref: Jonah in Islam

Verse 38 from Surah 10 Yunus
Jonah (Yunus in Arabic) is highly important in Islam as a prophet who was faithful to God and delivered His messages. In Islam, Jonah is also called Dhul-Nun (Arabic: ذو النون; meaning The One of the Whale).

Chapter 10 of the Qur'an is named Jonah, although in this chapter only verse 98 refers to him directly. It is said in Muslim tradition that Jonah came from the tribe of Benjamin and that his father was Amittai. Jonah is the only one of the Twelve Minor Prophets of the Hebrew Bible to be mentioned by name in the Qur'an.

Jonah's Qur'anic narrative is extremely similar to the Hebrew Bible story. The Qur'an describes Jonah as a righteous preacher of the message of God but a messenger who, one day, fled from his mission because of its overwhelming difficulty. The Qur'an says that Jonah made it onto a ship but, because of the powerfully stormy weather, the men aboard the ship suggested casting lots to throw off the individual responsible for this supposed 'bad luck'. When the lots were cast, Jonah's name came out, and he was thrown into the open ocean that night. A gigantic fish came and swallowed him, and Jonah remained in the belly of the fish repenting and glorifying God to the maximum. As the Qur'an says:
So also was Jonah among those sent (by Us).
When he ran away (like a slave from captivity) to the ship (fully) laden,
He (agreed to) cast lots, and he was condemned:
Then the big Fish did swallow him, and he had done acts worthy of blame.
Had it not been that he (repented and) glorified Allah,
He would certainly have remained inside the Fish till the Day of Resurrection.
—Qur'an, chapter 37 (As-Saaffat), verse 139-144
God forgave Jonah out of His mercy and kindness for the man, and because he knew that Jonah was, at heart, one of the best of men. Therefore, the fish cast Jonah out onto dry land, with Jonah in a state of sickness. Thus, God caused a plant to grow where Jonah was lying to provide shade and comfort for him. After Jonah got up, fresh and well, God told him to go back and preach at his land. As the Qur'an says:
But We cast him forth on the naked shore in a state of sickness,
And We caused to grow, over him, a spreading plant of the gourd kind.
And We sent him (on a mission) to a hundred thousand (men) or more.
And they believed; so We permitted them to enjoy (their life) for a while.
—Qur'an, chapter 37 (As-Saaffat), verse 145-148

Jesus and Jonah

Jesus was deeply familiar with the Book of Jonah and raised it to one of the more significant books in His Bible, our Old Testament.

The awesome march of the dead - the Men of Nineveh:
"The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and now something greater than Jonah is here."
Luke 11:32
The mysterious unscientific very hard-to-believe Sign of Jonah which Jesus talks about almost in spitting way but which in fact is the greatest divine Sign humanity has ever received:
"A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.
Matthew 16:4
But what is the true meaning of the Sign of Resurrection From the Dead On the Third Day?

The marvelous gem of religious literature, Book of Jonah, does contain the answer but not in expressis verbis. Rather, it runs as an underpinning in the contents of the entire book - allahu rahman urahim.

The answer is given explicitly in the New Testament in the Gospel of John chapter 3 verse 16
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

odium theologicum

Did God's laborious treatment of Jonah succeed?

Did Jonah turn into an Assyrians loving religious person praising the Lord for His mercy even towards those who sin.

A kind of second Abraham, who dared to bargain with God to save the deeply sinning Sodom and Gomorrah?

We do not know.

And here is part of the power in the writing of the Book of Jonah: it makes us to think without providing easy off-the-self answers.

This is so perhaps because the illness of religious hatred is so difficult to heal.

We know from the history of the Christian Church so many deep tragedies and catastrophes that have been caused by religious ire, odium theologicum. Just listing some of them would be a truly distressing and depressing job.

There is no worse hatred than religious hatred justified in the Name of the Father.

Book of Jonah suggests that not direct talk but indirect riddles, symbols and signs can provide a person with the way out from such state of mind. Visual art, music, theater, movies that do not dare to jump to the illogical and the world of myths, fairy tales, dreams and psychological imagery.

It is possible that Jonah was left in that pit of hatred, depression and death wish even after the logical verbal explanation God gave him about His care for Nineveh.

But we, the readers of the Book of Jonah, are left with much to ponder...

exactly because the Book of Jonah has no proper ending.

Surprising end to the Book of Jonah

The Book of Jonah is actually about Jonah and not about Nineveh and the hundred thousand Assyrians living in the city plus the animals.

It is a surprisingly modern masterpiece of literature from Ancient Near East which in few words draws an unforgettable picture so full of meanings, symbols and signs.

The most ravishing feature of the Book of Jonah is its ending.

It has no proper ending.

First the book tells about all the acts of God through Nature to influence the man - raising a storm, influencing the minds of the sailors, sending a big fish to swallow the drowning man and having it vomit him just in the right place on dry land, growing a leafy plant and sending a worm into it, raising a scorching sun.

Great Mother Nature at work for a single man, the angry and obstinate Jonah who hates bad people.

Secondly, the book tells about the Words of God that are minimalistic, to say the least. Unlike the other books of prophets filled with words of God from beginning to end, here the sentences are terse to the point of a cartoon. Yet they are meaningful and powerful. (A literary critic might complain about the limited range of expressions given to Mr Jonah in the book).

There is the underlying theme of psychotherapy, to use a modern term, of helping a man drowning in his utter hatred and also anger at God who does not know how to hate properly wrongdoers.

This deep hatred is in my opinion best explained as a post-Holocaust feeling, a Jew living after Auschwitz where all his family was gassed and their bodies burned to ashes. The horrible Assyrian conquest of the Northern Kingdom and the fall of Samaria in 701 BC.

Well, Nature put to work for the deeply angry and fatally depressed Mr Jonah, God Himself talking to him in soothing voice.

At the end of the book containing very terse sentences God speaks at  relative length about the meaning of the Sign of the Leafy Plant.

So what happens to Jonah after this extensive treatment and symbolic acts and meanings trying to get him out of the deep pit of pure hatred.

We do not know.

We really do not know!

Strange therapy for a depressed man

Depressed and very angry Jonah sat to the east from the city and builds a booth, in Hebrew סכּה sukka. From its shadow he was watching what will happen to Nineveh. The awful time of forced preaching was over and the stupid citizens repented. But perhaps there was still a change that God would change His mind and Nineveh would be destroyed by fire and brimstone raining from heaven. Jonah sat and waited.

Instead of just trying to talk with Jonah, the chosen messenger who had turned out to be a very stubborn and difficult character, God takes some action to help him out of his depression.

In an act of kindness God the Therapist grows a leafy plant to give Jonah better shadow. [The Hebrew word is קיקיון qiqayon of uncertain meaning. King James Version translated it as (nauseous) gourd.]

So where did the booth disappear?  Is there a logical break between the two paragraphs or should we see the (presumably) leafy qiqayon plant as a significant addition to the protection from heat Jonah's own boot had provided?

Result: Jonah was exceedingly happy about this plant.


Reversing the act of kindness God prepares (מנה manah) a worm ( תּולע tol'eah) to strike (נכה nakah) the pleasant plant and it withered.

Nice going, God, real psychotherapy to help a distressed sad man!

And as if that is not enough, the Great Helper did this:
"When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint." 
Jonah 4:8

Huh. This already sounds like soft torturing of mind and body.
Result Jonah wanted to die

The Healer next discusses the events with the patient:
God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
Jonah 4:9 

The question is rather similar to the real issue at hand but concerns something much more simple and manageable, the fate of a plant that grew up yesterday and died today.

Jonah is as angry about the death of the plant as he is angry about God's mercy to the Assyrians:
“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”
Jonah 4:9 

Single minded fellow, isn't he?

That does not seem to lead to anything but God continues giving explanation to the parable of the leafy plant and the worm - the meaning of the Sign.

But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”
Jonah 4:10-11 

Result: we do not know! 

What a surprising description of a therapy session...

God's mercy as His guilt

Jonah is angry to the point of wanting to die. Lord forced him to preach repentance and the damned people believed the message and repented in ash and sackcloth.

What could be worse?

And of course, God who is rahman urahim, goes on and forgives them instead of destroying Nineveh as they deserve.

This is an extremely deep theological teaching that is also extremely hard for us humans to accept.

Surely, God is a tool of our vengeance to those who seriously harmed us?

Surely, God hates those, who do not believe the way I believe?

Surely, God is a figment of my mind and does what I think a real God would do in order to make me satisfied!

Unfortunately, God bares the guilt of mankind.

Nothing but hatred

But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry.

He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.

Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
Jonah 4:1-4

Jonah is so angry that he would rather be dead.

He has the full freedom of a person to express his total disappointment and anger at God.

Instead of hitting him with divine lightning Lord simply asks “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Simple question, yes, but very difficult to answer.

Book of Jonah does continue from this point as a verbal discourse, philosophy of theodicy or the like.

Instead, in the following section words are combined with objects and actions that work as signs.

This is a truly powerful and unforgettable way to say things! Jesus of Nazareth had good command of this style His words and parables being choke full of objects, places and people.

Allahu rahman urahim
Daily Muslim prayers contain this sentence, one of the few allowed for describing Allah - that God is gracious and compassionate. These words are originally from the Bible and appear also here in the Book of Jonah.

חנּוּן hanun - gracious
רחוּם rachum - merciful

Fruits of Repentance

When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:

“By the decree of the king and his nobles:

Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.
Jonah 3:6-10
King of Nineveh repents
The King and the People of Nineveh Repenting c. 1586
Crispin de Passe, Maarten de Vos
Image Harris Schrank Fine Prints
When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust.
Jonah 3:6 

What a reaction from the great king of Nineveh!
Somewhat similar situation is described in the Second Book of Kings that may actually be related to the Book of Jonah more than in one way.

King Josiah repents
When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Akbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.”

Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Akbor, Shaphan and Asaiah went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the New Quarter.

She said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me,  ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.’  Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse[b] and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.’”

So they took her answer back to the king.
2 Kings 22:14-20

King Josiah ruled c. 649–609 BC which is during the time of the conquest of Nineveh in 612 BC.

Second round - Jonah 3

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
Jonah 3:1-2

Now Lord spoke slightly differently from the first round when He had said
“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
Jonah 1:2

Wickedness of a city reaching the abode of God is a theme also in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah from which "outcry has reached me":

Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.” 
Gen 18:20-21

This time Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh.

Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 
Jonah 3:3-4

A huge city, a New York of its time, and a single stranger walking and carrying a placard End is near!

But as Jonah had been afraid from the beginning his preaching was not ridiculed and ignored but taken very seriously:

Great city repents

The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
Jonah 3:5

As an external sign of repentance from evil and wickedness the people follow the public call for a fast, a kind of Ramadan in Nineveh, and put on sackcloth

שׂק saq
properly a mesh (as allowing a liquid to run through), that is, coarse loose cloth or sacking (used in mourning and for bagging); hence a bag (for grain, etc.): - sack (-cloth, -clothes).
Strong's Hebrew Dictionary

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Jonah and Psalm 139

Wings of the Dawn
Sunrise at Atlantic
Image Edupic

Poor Jonah, he really had no chance in this wrestling with God.

For it is absolutely fatally written in Psalm 139

1 You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.

23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

You cannot easily escape your maker, oh Jonah!

My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

Being an honest religious man is good...

Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.

To the end of the world? Tartessus in Spain

Tartessos cultural area
image wikimedia
But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.
Jonah 1:3 NIV
The Jewish Encyclopaedia article on the Book of Jonah identifies the destination of the ship Tarsis as Tartessus in Spain.

Wikipedia tells about this possible Atlantis
Tartessos (Greek: Ταρτησσός) or Tartessus was a harbor city and surrounding culture on the south coast of the Iberian peninsula (in modern Andalusia, Spain), at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River.

It appears in sources from Greece and the Near East starting in the middle of the first millennium BC, for example Herodotus, who describes it as beyond the Pillars of Heracles (Strait of Gibraltar).

Roman authors tend to echo the earlier Greek sources, but from around the end of the millennium there are indications that the name Tartessos had fallen out of use, and the city may have been lost to flooding, though several authors attempt to identify it with cities of other names in the area.

Archaeological discoveries in the region have built up a picture of a more widespread culture, identified as Tartessian, that includes some 97 inscriptions in a Tartessian language.

The Tartessians were rich in metal. In the 4th century BC the historian Ephorus describes "a very prosperous market called Tartessos, with much tin carried by river, as well as gold and copper from Celtic lands". Trade in tin was very lucrative in the Bronze Age, since it is an essential component of true bronze, and comparatively rare.

Herodotus refers to a king of Tartessos, Arganthonios, presumably named for his wealth in silver.

The people from Tartessos became important trading partners of the Phoenicians, whose presence in Iberia dates from the 8th century BC, and who nearby built a harbor of their own, Gadir (Greek: τΓάδειρα, Latin: Gades, present-day Cádiz).

Phoenician ships might well have stopped at Joppa to take paying passengers travelling to Spain. But instead of the five hundred km to Tarsis the trip would have been about as far away as one can get, to the end of the known world actually.

As far away as Jonah could possibly travel.

The end of the world

Region of Santiago de Compostella
For ancient Iberians and than for the Romans the end of the world was the Atlantic coast west of Santiago de Compostella in the NW corner of Spain. There opened the ultimate sea that surrounds all land and even the sailors of Christopher Columbus were afraid of falling off the world if their boats reached too far west where sun sets.

The  world famous pilgrimage of Santiago de Compostella has strong prehistoric taste to it and maybe yet another ancient Iberian cultural tradition that was baptised with the arrival of Christianity.  (The nearby northern areas till the shores of Gulf of Biscay are inhabited continuously by the Basque people considered the earliest Europeans).

Tarsis or Tartessus?
Well, to be honest - I do not know! (need to study more the matter...)

But as for the question would Tartessus be more dramatic and to the point in the Book of Jonah than good old Tarsis my answer is a resounding YES!

Tarsis is in the close neighbourhood of Nineveh.

When you try to run away from God, good man, get as far as you can get!

And even that may not be enough for it is written in Psalm 139...

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
Ps 139:7-12 NIV

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

IntLib: Jonah - Pope Shenoudah III

Pope Shenoudah III
Image wikimedia

"Pope Shenouda III (1923–2012) was the 117th Pope and Patriarch of the Church of Alexandria. His episcopate lasted 40 years, four months, and 4 days from 14 November 1971 until his death on 17 March 2012. His official title was Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy Apostolic See of Saint Mark the Evangelist of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. He was also the head of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria."

Contemplations on the Book of Jonah 
Saint Takla Church, Alexandria Egypt
Jonah and the Whale
Image Coptic Art
The Book of Jonah the Prophet is full of wonderful spiritual contemplation. Our aim in this book is to tackle purely the spiritual side, and not the theological side. Our aim is to benefit and not to debate. We wish to take from this beautiful Book beneficial lessons for our life. We wish to benefit from God's work and from people's virtues and faults.

How beautiful is the Church's choice! She chose this Book to be the prelude of the forty days of Lent! A beautiful story of repentance and fasting precedes the Great Lent by two weeks, that we may approach the holy forty days with a clean heart attached to the Lord.
Pope Shenoudah III

IntLib: Jonah in Jewish Encyclopaedia (1906)

The Jewish Encyclopaedia
Image governmentauction
By IntLib  - Internet Library - I mean the world wide web that began as military Arpanet and has had many other forgotten names only a gopher knows, such as Usenet... With the power of search engines IntLib allows us to know almost anything. It brings us not only references to published books but access to so many on line publications on almost any subject that nobody has time or energy to read but a small selection of them (the Professor Syndrome).

The Book of Jonah article in the Jewish Encyclopaedia (1906) is very detailed and includes valuable information and points of view from the early period of Biblical scholarship. I warmly recommend reading it and discuss here only two points - hermeneutic settings and dating.

Hermeneutic settings

Book of Jonah does not explicitly tell why Jonah was so angry at God. The theme of post-Holocaust bitterness against Assyrians I am proposing is totally absent from the 1906 Jewish Encyclopaedia article because despite of European anti-Semitism the horrors and emotions caused of Assur where not so vividly understood as after Auschwitz.

The Peircean ground on which Book of Jonah is studied in the article is that of the general cultural optimism at the turn of the 20th century and full Jewish assimilation to German life, including academic institutions and spirit of the time.

The writer is comfortable with the ideas of modern Biblical scholarship that had began only some decades before. Bible study became scientific in late 19th century in the same way so many other branches of knowledge were transformed with the introduction of Hegelian concepts of historical processes in time, layered structures of texts and evolution of society and religion.

At the time of the writing of the article on Jonah Western world was enjoying a great period of optimism; science, technology and growing economy would solve all the problems of humanity. There is no discussion on existential anxiety that marks post-WW 1 Europe but a rather dry listing of facts and critical study with many details.

In 1906 when the article was published European Jewry was enjoying the Goldene Stadt not only in Prag but also elsewhere in Central Europe having, for example, leading positions as scholars in many academic institutions in Germany.

The fundamental message of the Book of Jonah is not particularly exciting to this commentator who duly notes the point that also gojim can be good people and interestingly compares the stories of Ruth and Jonah. To deliver this - rather generic humanitarian message - someone wrote a Jewish midrash style book that is included in the prophets only because of its name.

Dating the Book of Jonah
The author of the article proposes very late date for the composing of the Book of Jonah.
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.
Jewish Encyclopaedia
In those days radical dating of the books of the Bible was in full swing in Exegetics and highly learned "aber Ich lese..." men were busily correcting Masoretic tradition where it seemed that texts had been corrupted during the lengthy period of manual copying of manuscripts.

One of the key argument for late dating is, however, in the apparently legendary nature of Nineveh and its king. Scholars were thinking that the city had been forgotten and is a kind of imaginary place, a Shangri la so to say, where entire people repent.

The fall of Nineveh was not forgotten in the Persian or even Hellenistic period: our main historical resources about the events come from classical authors writing in the Antiquity. Nineveh was unforgettable as Hiroshima of those days.

Consequently, the catastrophic fall of Nineveh fits badly with the core message of the Book of Jonah and either this is intentional irony or the book dates to the time before 612 BC.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Isaiah - Temple of God

Jews long to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem
image Christian Life Ministries

When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
Jonah 2:7 NIV

We get more understanding of the awe and spiritual meaning of the Temple of God mentioned in the prayer of Jonah from the vision of Isaiah. Scholars commonly think that the vision of Isaiah is authentic. It may have taken place in the earthly Temple of Jerusalem as Isaiah was a long-time resident in the city and must have been a frequent visitor to the Temple. However, the vision has the feel of the Heavenly Temple that was considered the model according to which the earthly Solomon's Temple was built.*
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted,seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
Isaiah 6:1-4 NIV

*The Book of Exodus tells that Moses was shown on Mount Sinai a pattern, a model, according to which he was to construct the Tabernacle

“Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you."
Exodus 25:8-9 NIV

“Then make its seven lamps and set them up on it so that they light the space in front of it. Its wick trimmers and trays are to be of pure gold. A talent of pure gold is to be used for the lampstand and all these accessories. See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain."
Exodus 25:37-40 NIV

Jonah's prayer - Back from the Pit

Jonah Leaving the Whale
Jan Brueghel the Elder, ca. 1600
Alte Pinakothek, Munich
Strangely contradictory is the way Jonah feels banished from the presence of God and yet hopes to see again the Temple. It is mentioned twice in the prayer.
I said, ‘I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.’
Jonah 2:4 NIV
Jonah was to be forever buried under earth at the very roots of mountains - but God had other plans for him.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit.
Jonah 2:4 NIV

Jonah's prayer at the moment of death reflects the importance of the Temple of Jerusalem for Jews. It was the only place where sacrifices were allowed. It was commonly perceived as the abode of God among His people although there is quite heated discourse on the subject in the Bible emphasizing that the earthly temple was only a model of the one in Heaven.
When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
Jonah 2:7 NIV

Jonah' s prayer - Death by drowning

At the bottom of the sea
Image abspoel
In the first chapter we learned that Jonah himself asked sailors to throw him overboard into the stormy sea. Yet, in the prayer he says that it was God Himself who did this. The experience of the drowning man is agonizing and claustrophobic under all of God's waters and forever buried under the mountains. Particularly touching - and wet - is the detail: Seaweed was wrapped around my head
You hurled me into the depths,
    into the very heart of the seas,
    and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
    swept over me.

The engulfing waters threatened me,
    the deep surrounded me;
    seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
    the earth beneath barred me in forever.
Jonah 2:3,5-6 NIV

Dispair and hope at the same time
The dying man is not hopeless as God hears his cry

In my distress I called to the Lord,
    and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
    and you listened to my cry.

Jonah 2:1 NIV

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sea serpent

Planning a sea trip to America?
 Carta Marina, Scandinavia
Olaus Magnus Venice, 1539
image wikimedia
Isaiah Chapter 27 is commonly dated to the Assyrian period and has rather archaic language  in describing Leviathan

 ביום ההוא יפקד יהוה בחרבו הקשׁה והגדולה והחזקה על לויתן נחשׁ ברח ועל לויתן נחשׁ עקלתון והרג את־התנין אשׁר בים׃

the Lord will punish with his sword—
his fierce, great and powerful sword—
Leviathan the gliding serpent,
Leviathan the coiling serpent;
he will slay the monster of the sea. Is 27:1 NIV

King James Version translated התנין אשׁר בים׃ dragon of the sea.

In modern Hebrew tannim is a word used for whales.

Wikipedia informs us
Sea serpents feature prominently in the mythology of the Ancient Near East, attested as early as the 3rd millennium BC in Sumerian iconography depicting the myth of the god Ninurta overcoming the seven-headed serpent.

Examples of the storm god vs. sea serpent trope in the Ancient Near East can be seen with Baʿal vs. Yam (Canaanite), Marduk vs. Tiamat (Babylonian), and Atum vs. Nehebkau (Egyptian) among others, with attestations as early as the 2nd millennium as seen on Syrian seals.

In the Ugaritic texts Lotan, or possibly another of Yam's helpers, is given the epithets "wriggling serpent" and "mighty one with the seven heads."

Isaiah 27:1 uses the first of these phrases to describe Leviathan (although in this case the name "Leviathan" apparently refers to an unnamed historical/political enemy of Israel rather than the original serpent-monster).

In Psalm 104, Leviathan is not described as harmful in any way, but simply as a creature of the ocean, part of God's creation.

It is possible that the authors of the Job 41:2-26, on the other hand, based the Leviathan on descriptions of Egyptian animal mythology where the crocodile is the enemy of the solar deity Horus (and is subdued either by Horus, or by the Pharaoh). This is in contrast to typical descriptions of the sea monster trope in terms of mythological combat.


Descturction of Leviathan
Gustave Doré (1885)
Image wikimedia
The word Leviathan appears five times in the Old Testament: twice in Isaiah, once in Job and twice in the Psalms:

Isaiah 27:1  In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.

Job 41:1  Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down?

Psalm 74:14  Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.

Psalm 104:26  There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein.
King James Version

Intriguing, eh!

Psalm 74:17 - Scholars discuss in this context Babylonian Tiamat, the mythical being at the beginning of world, that Marduk cut with his sword into two creating heaven and earth from the parts. Babylonian cuneiform tablets have several versions of this mighty Urgeschichte. The engraving by Gustave Doré has strong underpinnings in the Tiamat myth.

Isaiah 27:1 - leviathan the piercing, crooking serpent is a mysterious reference to a sea monster translated by KJV as a dragon (see the next blog text).

Job 41:1-34 describes leviathan in detail. The text apparently refers to a powerful creature living in the water. The text brings to mind the scary crocodile.

Ps 104:26 talks about a benevolent leviathan created by God to play out there in the open sea where ships are sailing.

Book of Jonah does not use the word leviathan or explain the "big fish" in the terse verses about the event. From the Bible passages above the others are very aggressive and hostile. Only Psalm 104:26 would seem possibly associated with the great sea creatures created by God.

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures,and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the seaand every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
Genesis 1:20-21 NIV

Thomas Hobbes
Online dictionary Wikipedia tells
Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil — commonly referred to as Leviathan — is a book written by Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) and published in 1651. Its name derives from the biblical Leviathan. The work concerns the structure of society and legitimate government, and is regarded as one of the earliest and most influential examples of social contract theory.

Leviathan ranks as a classic western work on statecraft comparable to Machiavelli's The Prince. Written during the English Civil War (1642–1651), Leviathan argues for a social contract and rule by an absolute sovereign. Hobbes wrote that civil war and situations identified with a state of nature and the famous motto Bellum omnium contra omnes ("the war of all against all") could only be averted by strong central government.

Lachish reliefs

Lachish reliefs in British Museum
Image bibleplaces

God of Israel is not "only" Creator but also God of history. In fact, Jewish Bible contains much more text in the history books than in the stories of creation. God's interest in human history is a deep matter but one aspect is the existence of extra-Biblical materials about crucial events and times in the long story of His people.

For example, the authentic memoirs  in the Story of Sinuhe illuminates the background of the Patriarchal narratives. Similarly, the father of history, Herodotos, talks about Persian period Gazza. Josephus gives in his Antiquities a complementary account of the life and times in the Kingdom of the Herods and in Jewish Wars particularly detailed account of the Jewish Revolt so intimately related with New Testament times and Messianic tensions.

The lack of any Jewish historical sources about the Bar Kochba Revolt during emperor Hadrian's rule is considered by many as a reflection of the utter darkness and lack of hope in the major catastrophe that almost totally ended two thousand years of Hebrew presence in the Promised Land.

For the crucial and horrible Assyrian period that is so important for the understanding of the Prophets of Israel and Judea we have photographic quality evidence in the Lachish reliefs. The artists were present following Sanherib's army. The great king was himself following the battle of Lachish. He was apparently  so proud of that particular conquest of a double walled city that a relief describing the progress of the war was made covering the walls of an entire room in his palace at Nineveh.

Today, the Lachish Reliefs are a priced trophy of the British Museum exhibited in the Lachish Room near the entrance to the building.

For an authentic eye-witness view of the architecture, weapons, clothing, means of transportation, war practices, the Assyrian ramp (which has survived) study the Lachish reliefs. With photographic accuracy and reliability they take you to the world at the times following king Jerobeam II, the time of the Assyrian conquest and prophet Isaiah.

The world, that the Book of Jonah remembers with shiver.

IMHO the Assyrian destruction of the Northern Kingdom gives better psychological and theological background to the Book of Jonah than the nationalistic tendencies in post-Exilic Judea visible in the books of Esra and Nehemia.

The fall of Nineveh

The Fall of Nineveh
John Martin (1789-1854)
Image John Martin Gallery
The happy ending of the city of Nineveh in the Book of Jonah is in stark contrast to the historical reality. The fall of the great city in 612 before the birth of Christ is among the deep tragedies in the history of humanity.

Wikipedia summarizes
Nineveh's greatness was short-lived. In around 627 BC after the death of its last great king Ashurbanipal, the Neo-Assyrian empire began to unravel due to a series of bitter civil wars, and Assyria was attacked by its former vassals, the Babylonians and Medes.

From about 616 BC, in a coalition with the Scythians and Cimmerians, they besieged Nineveh, sacking the town in 612 BC, after which it was razed to the ground. Most of the people in the city who could not escape to the last Assyrian strongholds in the north and west were either massacred or deported out of the city. Many unburied skeletons were found by the archaeologists at the site.

The Assyrian empire then came to an end by 605 BC, the Medes and Babylonians dividing its colonies between them.

Following the defeat in 612 BC, the site remained largely unoccupied for centuries with only a scattering of Assyrians living amid the ruins until the Sassanian period, although Assyrians continue to live in the surrounding area to this day.

The city is mentioned again in the Battle of Nineveh in 627 AD, which was fought between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Sassanian Empire of Persia near the ancient city. From the Arab conquest 637 CE until modern time the city of Mosul on the opposite bank of the river Tigris became the successor of ancient Nineveh.

"The best recounting of the actual battle is taken from the excepts of Persica written by Ctesias, preserved in Diodorus Siculus and Photius, whose account may have been embroidered with accounts of other battles." For additional facts read also the main article on the Battle of Nineveh from wikipedia.

Today, Nineveh's ruins are across the river from the modern-day major city of Mosul, in the Ninawa Governorate of Iraq.

Comment on dating of the Book of Jonah
In light of the utter desolation of Nineveh in Persian period and the dominance of Babylon a 7th century date for the writing of the Book of Jonah would look natural, wouldn't it?

Men of Nineveh

Reconstructed mashki gate of Nineveh
Image wikimedia
"The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and now something greater than Jonah is here."
Jesus   Luke 11:32 NIV 

That must be some sight one day - the march of the men of Nineveh!

Lord says at the end of the Book of Jonah about Nineveh:

But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”
Jonah 4:10-11 NIV

Arabic name for one of the tells at the huge site is Nebi Yunus, Prophet Jonah. In the Bible Lord knows the population statistics of this great city - over 120.000 people and also many animals. But what means the expression "cannot tell their right hand from their left"? Are these toddlers, preschoolers who know nothing about the evils of the world. In that case the entire indicated population would be closer to a million which is way too many. So what about the left and right hands? (I do not know).

Nineveh - Nabi Yunus

Map of Nineveh Image E.A.E.Wallis

The origin of the name Nineveh is obscure. Possibly it meant originally the seat of Ishtar, since Nina was one of the Babylonian names of that goddess. The ideogram means "house or place of fish," and was perhaps due to popular etymology (comp. Aramaic "nuna," denoting "fish").

Ancient Nineveh's mound-ruins of Kouyunjik and Nabī Yūnus are located on a level part of the plain near the junction of the Tigris and the Khosr Rivers within an area of 750 hectares (1,900 acres) circumscribed by a 12-kilometre (7.5 mi) brick rampart. This whole extensive space is now one immense area of ruins overlaid in parts by new suburbs of the city of Mosul.

Nineveh was an important junction for commercial routes crossing the Tigris. Occupying a central position on the great highway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean, thus uniting the East and the West, it received wealth from many sources, so that it became one of the greatest of all the region's ancient cities, and the capital of the Neo Assyrian Empire.
Nineveh was one of the oldest and greatest cities in antiquity. The area was settled as early as 6000 BC and, by 3000 BC, had become an important religious center for worship of the Assyrian goddess Ishtar. The early city (and subsequent buildings) were constructed on a fault line and, consequently, suffered damage from a number of earthquakes. One such event destroyed the first temple of Ishtar which was then rebuilt in 2260 BC by the Akkadian king Manishtusu.

Sennacherib's Palace Without a Rival
It was Sennacherib who made Nineveh a truly magnificent city (c. 700 BC). He laid out new streets and squares and built within it the famous "palace without a rival", the plan of which has been mostly recovered and has overall dimensions of about 503 by 242 metres (1,650 ft × 794 ft). It comprised at least 80 rooms, many of which were lined with sculpture.

A large number of cuneiform tablets were found in the palace.

The solid foundation was made out of limestone blocks and mud bricks; it was 22 metres (72 ft) tall. In total, the foundation is made of roughly 2,680,000 cubic metres (3,505,308 cu yd) of brick (approximately 160 million bricks).

The walls on top, made out of mud brick, were an additional 20 metres (66 ft) tall.

Some of the principal doorways were flanked by colossal stone door figures weighing up to 30,000 kilograms (30 t); they included many winged lions or bulls with a man's head. These were transported 50 kilometres (31 mi) from quarries at Balatai and they had to be lifted up 20 metres (66 ft) once they arrived at the site, presumably by a ramp.

There are also 3,000 metres (9,843 ft) of stone panels carved in bas-relief, that include pictorial records documenting every construction step including carving the statues and transporting them on a barge.

One picture shows 44 men towing a colossal statue. The carving shows three men directing the operation while standing on the Colossus. Once the statues arrived at their destination the final carving was done. Most of the statues weigh between 9,000 and 27,000 kilograms (19,842 and 59,525 lb).

The stone carvings in the walls include many battle scenes, impalings and scenes showing Sennacherib's men parading the spoils of war before him. He also bragged about his conquests: he wrote of Babylon "Its inhabitants, young and old, I did not spare, and with their corpses I filled the streets of the city." He later wrote about a battle in Lachish "And Hezekiah of Judah who had not submitted to my yoke...him I shut up in Jeruselum his royal city like a caged bird. Earthworks I threw up against him, and anyone coming out of his city gate I made pay for his crime. His cities which I had plundered I had cut off from his land."

At this time the total area of Nineveh comprised about 7 square kilometres (1,730 acres), and fifteen great gates penetrated its walls. An elaborate system of eighteen canals brought water from the hills to Nineveh, and several sections of a magnificently constructed aqueduct erected by Sennacherib were discovered at Jerwan, about 65 kilometres (40 mi) distant. The enclosed area had more than 100,000 inhabitants (maybe closer to 150,000), about twice as many as Babylon at the time, placing it among the largest settlements worldwide.

Read the entire article from wikipedia 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Sheol - Hades and Imprisoned spirits in 1 Peter

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
1 Peter 3:18-22

Imprisoned spirits that Jesus meets after His death and after being made alive again.

We could think that those who drowned in the Great Flood are kept in some kind of after-life storage place built especially for human spirits a la Sheol-Hades. This concept was quite prevalent in pre-Christian Greece and also in Judaism. But the specific steps mentioned in 1 Peter 3 - Jesus dying and being made alive again and after that preaching to the dead souls brings a complication to our simple reasoning.

We note also in the NIV translation the idea of a sign, salvation through water: "this water symbolizes baptism". Howver Greek text has here antitypon, ἀντίτυπον corresponding (“antitype”), that is, a representative, counterpart: - (like) figure (whereunto).

 ὃ καὶ ὑμᾶς ἀντίτυπον νῦν σώζει βάπτισμα

Water has crucial role in the Book of Jonah, as well, but there is no reference to that in the New Testament as far as I can see.

Gustave Doré - Sea monster orc in action

Gustave Doré’s illustration of Ludovico Ariosto’s “Orlando Furioso”
image wikimedia
Orlando Furioso (The Frenzy of Orlando, more literally Mad Orlando; in Italian furioso is seldom capitalized) is an Italian epic poem by Ludovico Ariosto which has exerted a wide influence on later culture. The earliest version appeared in 1516, although the poem was not published in its complete form until 1532. Orlando Furioso is a continuation of Matteo Maria Boiardo's unfinished romance Orlando Innamorato ("Orlando in Love", published posthumously in 1495).

The action takes place against the background of the war between Charlemagne's Christian paladins and the Saracen army that is attempting to invade Europe. Ariosto has little concern for historical or geographical accuracy, and the poem wanders at will from Japan to the Hebrides, as well as including many fantastical and magical elements (such as a trip to the moon, and an array of fantastical creatures including a gigantic sea monster called the orc, and the hippogriff). 

Many themes are interwoven in its complicated episodic structure, but the most important plot is the paladin Orlando's unrequited love for the pagan princessAngelica, which develops into the madness of the title. After this comes the love between the female Christian warrior Bradamante and the Saracen Ruggiero, who are supposed to be the ancestors of Ariosto's patrons, thed'Este family of Ferrara.

Gustave Doré - Ruggiero and Angelica

From Orlando Furioso. Gustave Doré
Image tumblr

The theme in Orlando Furioso where Ruggiero saves Angelica from the dragon is Renaissance version of the Perseus and Andromeda story.

The drawing by legendary Bible illustrator Gustave Doré (1832-1883) retains the power of the original myth penetrating deep into the submerged torrents in our mental structures, relations between men and women and the power of evil. These themes underlying the story largely explain the durability and popularity of the story of human sacrifice that has its ancient origins by the stormy seas in front of Joppe.

Human sacrifice at Joppe

There are some scholars who suggest that Canaanites actually sacrificed a virgin once every seven years to the sea monster and that this took place at the rocks in front of Jaffa.

Phoenician sailors heard about this and the message reached the refined Greeks. As was their habit, they created a fabulous web of stories involving vivid characters and dramatic events around the rather cruel core.

The Greek version of Perseus, Pegasus and Andromeda is unforgettable and inspiring and has reached the stars above us!

So when the Greeks converted to Christianity they carried this gem of myth with them to the new religion.

But ah, the process required that also the ancient story is converted to Christianity and so Perseus became a mighty night fighting the devil and Andromeda a pure virgin symbolizing the holy church.

What a story - what a history!

Yam, the fearsome sea god

Yam, the fearsome sea god of Canaanites
The discovery of authentic original Ugaritic documents have given much new light on the attitude of Bronze Age Canaanites towards the Sea.
Yam was the god of the sea, and became popular in the Ancient Egyptian times. Yam, from the Canaanite word Yam, (Hebrew ים) meaning "Sea", also written "Yaw", is one name of the Ugaritic god of Rivers and Sea. Also titled Judge Nahar ("Judge River"), he is also one of the 'ilhm (Elohim) or sons of El, the name given to the Levantine pantheon. Others dispute the existence of the alternative names, claiming it is a mistranslation of a damaged tablet. Despite linguistic overlap, theologically this god is not a part of the later subregional monotheistic theology, but rather is part of a broader and archaic Levantine polytheism.
Yam is the deity of the primordial chaos and represents the power of the sea untamed and raging; he is seen as ruling storms and the disasters they wreak. The gods cast out Yam from the heavenly mountain Sappan (modern Jebel Aqra; "Sappan" is cognate to Tsephon. The seven-headed dragon Lotan is associated closely with him and the serpent is frequently used to describe him. He is the Canaanite equivalent of the Sumerian Tiamat, the primordial mother goddess.
Of all the gods, despite being the champion of El, Yam holds special hostility against Baal Hadad, son of Dagon. Yam is a deity of the sea and his palace is in the abyss associated with the depths, or Biblical tehwom, of the oceans. (This is not to be confused with the abode of Mot, the ruler of the netherworlds.) In Ugaritic texts, Yam's special enemy Hadad is also known as the "king of heaven" and the "first born son" of El, whom ancient Greeks identified with their god Cronus, just as Baal was identified with Zeus, Yam with Poseidon and Mot with Hades. Yam wished to become the Lord god in his place. In turns the two beings kill each other, yet Hadad is resurrected and Yam also returns. Some authors have suggested that these tales reflect the experience of seasonal cycles in the Levant.

Sea Monster Yam, Joppe and St. George

St George and the Dragon
Tintoretto 1555-58  National Gallery, London
image  Web Museum
Saint George, Hagios Giorgios, is among the most important saints for Arab Orthodox church in the Near East. He is also venered by Muslims by the name el-Khader. The two most important sanctuaries are the monastery and church in the village of el Khader near Bethlehem and the church in Ramle near Tel Aviv.

St. George is also a truly remarkable example of cultural persistence on one hand and of the process of reinterpretation of ancient heritage in changing times within a culture or civilization.

The home of the story is Joppe and the villain is a sea monster. Sounds familiar?

Greec Orthodox Iconic representation
Standard iconic representation
Image mysterygirl
The icon of St George is to be found in almost every Orthodox church in the Holy Land, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria as his cult is widespread. The theme of the icon is often carved over the front door of Christian houses and their gates. The icon is placed in respected corner or place on the wall in almost every Orthodox home.

The icon usually has the following basic elements

  • Saint George as a robed knight riding a mighty horse in the act of killing the dragon using his spear
  • A fearsome dragon at the foot of the victor's horse
  • A building in the background 
  • A woman standing in front of the building

There are many modifications and embellishments to the basic themes. I have noticed that for reasons of modesty - or cultural change diminishing the role of the woman in the society - the girl is getting smaller or is completely missing from the icon.

It is very important to realize that while Hagios Giorgios is widely recognized and respected saint often mentioned in prayers and blessings (yaa Khader!) the local population has very vague and varying understanding of who he is or what is depicted in the icon.

The imagery has carried on but the contents have faded from minds.

Greek presentation
Perseus frees Andromeda
Fresco from Pompay
Wikipedia tells
In Greek mythology, Andromeda is the daughter of Cepheus, an Aethiopian king, and Cassiopeia. When Cassiopeia's hubris leads her to boast that Andromeda is more beautiful than the Nereids, Poseidon sends a sea monster to ravage Aethiopia as divine punishment. Andromeda is chained to a rock as a sacrifice to sate the monster, but is saved from death by Perseus, her future husband.

(In northern night skies you can see not so far from the Great Dipper the jealous queen Cassiopeia, the beautiful constellation of Perseus and the faint stars of Andromeda, the home of our closest galactic neighbor.)

Greeks and foamy rocks in the sea
Ancient Greeks had a truly fancy imagination that captivates us even today. But at the core of their fantastic and unforgettable stories there are seeds of reality, historical and psychological and other.

For example, at the core of the stories about goddess Aphrodite there is a location on Cyprus where foamy waves surround sharp rocks - the birthplace of Venus! Students of the history of Greek and Minoan-Mycenaean religion have a field day studying the roots of Aphrodite in Cyprus and her way to mainland Greece. (for a 360 degree photo of the birthplace of Venus click here)
St Peter's Church, houses of old Jaffa
Image wikimedia

Similarly, at the core of the story of Perseus and Andromeda is a very physical thing, a shallow rocky formation in front of the ancient harbor city of Joppe. In the same way as the foams raise human thoughts and imagination in Cyprus also these rocks are associated with a famous Greek myth.

To be continued...

Man inboard! Jesus at stormy Kinneret

Jesus calms the sea.
Rembrandt 1633

Stormy sea calmed when Jonah was thrown overboard.

Stormy sea calmed when Jesus entered the boat.

One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.

The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”

He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?”he asked his disciples.

In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”

Luke 8:22-25 NIV

Jonah's suicide - ultimate escape or noble sacrifice?

The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”

“Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”

Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before.Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.”

Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.
Jonah 1:11-16 NIS
Jonah's life is at the end. The attempted escape from the will of God has turned sour and not only he but the entire crew of the ship and other passengers are in mortal danger in stormy seas.

The sailor's distress is very real and gives us the feeling that the writer of the Book of Jonah knows about men at sea. When there is perfect storm it is overwhelming in a way we on safe ground find hard to imagine and many turn to God in prayers and promises. For example, many Finnish churches on coastal regions have votive ships - models of ships promised to God when life is in danger in stormy sees. Wretched has been the fate of many sailor's wife standing on the rocks during stormy night waiting for her husband and sons return from the perilous fishing trip.

Jonah's suicide as escape
Unable to escape to the safety of faraway Tarshis and seeing what misfortune his attempt has brought Jonah volunteers to be thrown to the sea.

Putting his own life to end Jonah can cheat life, cheat God and avoid His will so clearly expressed to him - go and preach to the men of Nineveh.

This is a human wrestling with God on the final front of earthly life. The ultimate escape from an impossible situation.

Jonah's suicide as noble self-sacrifice
Jonah realized that the only way to calm the monstrous sea is to throw a human sacrifice to the waves. Such a belief was deeply rooted among the Canaanites and other ancient inhabitants of the Mediterranean region as we shall later see in more detail.

The prophet has lost the purpose of his calling - to proclaim the Word of God - and his life has no more meaning. The blind justice in casting lots had picked him up - he did not volunteer as the guilty one - and the truth has been told in awesome and awful words that make the sailors shake in terror.

Jonah gives up on life "but at least, let my death have some value". So he gives the tragic advice - "sacrifice me to the monstrous sea, throw me in there. In this way your lives will be saved."

Sailor's code of ethics
The Book of Jonah does its best to free the terrified sailors from responsibility. Instead of blaming the non-Hebrews the writer emphasises the moral stand of these pagans. They refuse the horrific offer and do their best to manage the boat threatened by the wind and waves. Only when everything is lost and they know that the ship will surely sink they agree.

The moment Mr Jonah thrown overboard dives to the waves the wind calms.