Thursday, March 7, 2013

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!

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