Nineveh has been the focus of a post here in the past, but this one’s a little different. It’s a translational issue. I’ve pointed out in the past that many if not most translations are relatively boring. Jonah 3:3, which is a part of today’s lectionary reading, is a wonderful case in point. Here’s a task for you (please don’t peak down, I think it’s a better learning experience if you do this yourself): Compare the King James Version, New Revised Standard Version, and New American Standard Bible in their renderings of Jonah 3:3 (Here’s a good site for doing so). Pay particular attention to the description of Nineveh.
Notice anything interesting about the description of Nineveh? …
Nope. And, you very well should not have. The relevant translations are “an exceedingly great city” (KJV), “an exceedingly large city” (NRSV), and “an exceeding great city” (NASB).
Boooo … booooooriiiiiiing. The Hebrew text underlying those translations is actually something along the lines of “a great city to God” (my fakey Hebrew transliteration ‘iyr gedolah lelohim). Now that’s more interesting. What could it mean for a city to be “great to God”? If it’s exceedingly great, that’s one thing. But, if it’s great to God, that’s quite another. That’s really huge. That’s as big as the vacant cavity inside Joel‘s skull (sorry I had to take my shot back after that little jab ;-)).
Well, I guess that’s one of the many wonderful benefits of knowing some Biblical Hebrew. You can see random stuff like that and get completely distracted from the whole point of the lectionary reading you were reading for your spiritual benefit … and then you can blog about it and really blow some good quality time … consign it sheol I did it again.