Sunday, 26 January 2014

Jonah: the Maddest Tale

The geographically-challenged author of this crackpot tale may have been trying to test 'gentile gullibility' - as Mr Tiffany has suggested:
Can a man survive for five minutes in the belly of a whale (or large fish)? Can he survive for five minutes? is this a test of gentile gullibility? Is this the word of God?

What had Nineveh got to do with Yahweh, who was a tribal god of Israel/Judah? An unspecified 'wickedness' is detected by Yahweh, in that city, and Jonah is told to go there and
'cry against it'
for no reason except that the Hebrew god discerns 'wickedness' in it - Jonah is not going there to warn the locals of what they may be doing wrong.

Jonah doesn't want to do this, and embarks on a ship at Joppa (see map). The story here tells us that Yahweh the Hebrew god is in charge of a storm that brews up, and can quieten it, whereas the deities of the ship's other passengers cannot.

So he is swallowed by a whale for three days, beaches up, then treks the six hundred miles to Nineveh, presumably with no shoes. This bedraggled figure warns the inhabitants of Nineveh to repent - without telling them what they have done wrong:: "Nineveh shall be overthrown!"

All the inhabitants believe Jonah, i.e they accept that the Hebrew God can 'overthrow' their city, in forty days. The second purpose of this tale here emerges, to negate the ancient culture of Nineveh, which would have worshipped the goddess Ishtar as Queen of Heaven.

The inhabitants fast and wear sackcloth, and as a 'result' of this nothing happens. God spares their city. "When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God repented of the evil which he had said he would do to them" So this is a story with an anticlimax, because nothing happens. So how can the story end?
       All this time Jonah had not wanted to deliver the message - in Mr Tiffany's words,
Jonah complained because this was exactly what he was afraid of because he'd have been happier seeing Assyria wiped out. and then there's this tiny epilogue wherein god makes a tree, and then kills it, and Jonah misses the shade, and god says: 'You care about trees; I care about all the people, and besides the people of Nineveh have a lot of animals.'They just don't write stories like that nowadays.' (p92)

This isn't a moral tale, there is no morality in it, its a power-dominance story where the Ninevites are supposed to accept the Hebrew deity has life or death power over them. Its a Hebrew-supremacist story, in that the word of Jonah has more authority than that of any of the other 'foreigners'.

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