Friday, February 22, 2013

post-Holocaust Jonah

The generic historical background in the Book of Jonah can be understood as "post-Holocaust" Israel not totally different from the atmosphere prevailing in the State of Israel after 1948.

The events in Jonah are set to the reign of Jeroboam II and thus before the awful destruction of the Northern Kingdom by the Assyrians. But a lingering cold religious hatred reflecting the times after the events at 721/701 BC is there and the writer of the book is taking aim at the hearts of believers justly angry at the God of Israel.

Impaling and skinning prisoners of war.
Lachish relief British Museum
Image Architecture of the Bible
Assyrians really were the Nazis of ancient Near East aggressively expanding their Empire with fearsome military power. For in addition of being excellent soldiers nobody, not even Egypt, was able to resist, they not only bragged about their cruelties in their cuneiform documents but also depicted them in art showing, for example, impaling and skinning prisoners at Lachish.

For the first time in Near Eastern history Assyrian great kings wanted to secure their occupied countries by using forced population transfers. It was not ethnic cleansing but rather moving the people around Stalin style in order to destroy their national identity and interests.

Entire Northern Kingdom was utterly destroyed never to rise again. The surviving population was largely moved to other countries and the Ten Tribes of Israel disappear from history. Assyrians brought people from other occupied regions to live in Samaria giving birth to the Samaritans so despised by the Jews.

So how can God ask Jonah to go and help these hated "Germans" and help to bring them to peace with God?

Noway, Jose... the only justice in the world is to utterly smash the surviving people of Niniveh and to crash their newborn children on rocks, as the famous Psalm 137 wishes at the rivers of Babylon

Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks.
Psalm 137:8-9 NIV

The hatred of Assyrians is easy to understand and religion gives it icy depth.

Jonah ben Amittai decides to skip the job of preaching because he knows that God will forgive.

Jonah does not forget nor forgive.

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