Now we come to the most famous short story of the entire Bible: Jonah! Again, since it is “short” it does not take long to read – just four brief chapters – and it’s surprising so few people have actually read it. And a pity. It’s a terrific little book that is adventurous and thought-provoking. Here is what I say about it in my textbook The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction (Oxford University Press).
Of the various short stories found in the Hebrew Bible, Jonah is no doubt the best known of all. As it happens, the book is not located among the Writings, as are the other short stories we are considering. Jonah is one of the Minor Prophets, included among “the Twelve” in the Hebrew Bible. To some extent that makes sense, since the book is about Jonah making predictions of a coming destruction brought by God against a sinful people—a motif that we saw repeatedly in the other prophets. Moreover, the main character, “Jonah son of Amittai” (1:1) is named as a prophet in 2 Kings 14:25, where he is reported as having pronounced to King Jeroboam II that his kingdom would be largely extended. But the book of Jonah is not itself a book of prophecy.
It is a short story about a prophet—one who was reluctant to do God’s bidding, was punished for it, learned from the error of his ways, went on to make the proclamation that God demanded him to make, and then was bitterly disappointed when his preaching was effective. Jonah is the only prophet we know of who
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