Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Jonah, Chapters 1-4: Whale Tail
Some biblical literalists will bloviate themselves to exhaustion trying to come up with a rational explanation for Jonah. Not Jerry. To him, the fact that it's in the bible is proof enough that our intrepid prophet managed to stay alive in the belly of a great whale for 3 days. Some even stupider people will inform us that Jonah was an eyewitness to his own story, and we aren't, so shove it up your butt. I prefer Northrop Frye's take, which is that anyone who can only interpret this episode literally has a sad inability to appreciate metaphor.
God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh, but Jonah rebels and tries to flee to Tarshish instead. He gets on a boat, so god sends up a tempest to punish him. The sailors throw everything overboard in the attempt to keep things afloat, praying all the while. Meanwhile, Jonah retires below decks for a snooze. The captain comes down and orders him to pray as well.
That doesn't work, so they 'cast lots' to figure out who is causing the problem. I'm skeptical about this claim of divination here, because Jonah sounds like a real piece of work that anyone would be happy to throw off a boat in the middle of a storm.
Anyway, they determine that the problem is indeed Jonah and they haul him up onto the deck to interrogate him. He admits he's evading god and advises them to throw him overboard. The sailors make a valiant effort to get back to shore, but to no avail. So after an apologetic prayer, they throw him into the sea, which immediately calms down. Jonah is swallowed by a great fish (v. 17), where he stays for 3 nights.
Jonah passes his three days giving thanks to god for saving him. Never mind that he was only in the water because god sent a storm. Eventually god's ego is stroked enough that he orders the fish to vomit Jonah up on shore.
Jonah is back with the program, so god tells him to go to Nineveh and tell them that they're doomed, in 40 days, no less. Oddly, unlike all the other prophets, the people of Nineveh believe this one and start wearing sackcloth and fasting, even the king. God calls off the annihilation.
One person who isn't happy that an entire city didn't get wiped out? Jonah, because now he's a false prophet. He goes out to the desert and sits under a tree to sulk. God makes a gourd vine sprout over Jonah to provide shade. Jonah likes the vine. Then he sends a blight to kill the vine and sends a wind so dry and hot that Jonah faints in the sun and begs god to kill him. God asks him if he's angry about the gourd. Jonah answers in the affirmative. God points out that he didn't cultivate the vine, it just appeared one day and was dead the next, so why shouldn't he spare the city? Yeah, it doesn't make a lot of sense.