Posts tagged with "Jonah"

Nineveh – A Great City to God

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.


Don’t Blame Me Moses … That Calf Just Came Out

Genesis 1.1 and the Importance of Comparing Translations

Psalm 1.1 – Translation Comparison

Isaiah 41 – An Interesting Translation Issue

An Ancient of Days or The Ancient of Days: Does it Really Matter?

Why Did Jonah Flee to Tarshish? (Learner-Centered)

A while back I wrote a post answering the question of why Jonah fled to Tarshish (if you’re a more advanced reader you probably would not have learned anything).  Yesterday, however, I started to think about what it would mean to take a more learner-centered approach to my blogging.  And, I thought a re-write of that post might be a good opportunity to give that a shot.  So, here goes …

Where is Tarshish?

It would likely be very difficult to know why Jonah fled to Tarshish if you did not know where it was.  So, first check out this map to locate the places mentioned in Jonah 1, namely Nineveh, Joppa and Tarshish (exact locations are not that important).

If Jonah is near enough to Joppa to find a boat going to Tarshish, is he going in the direction of Nineveh?

Now, check out the Google map of Tarhsish.  Zoom way out using the “-” sign.

What is to the west of Tarshish?  Or more leading, what might an Ancient Israelite have believed was to the west of Tarshish?

Reflection on Tarshish

At this point, you know where Tarshish is.  And, from the questions I have asked you probably know why Jonah fled there; however, now would be an appropriate time to consider why it was significant that he was unable to flee there.  In the Ancient Near East, many cultures thought of gods as being tied to a specific locality (if anyone knows of any primary sources I could link to here for reading let me know; for some reason I drew a blank on places to look online).  In light of this,

Why is it important that YHWH is able to impede Jonah on his way to Tarshish?  At what period in the history of Israel do you think this would have been important to the people, i.e. united monarchy? divided monarchy? when they are in exile? when they have returned from exile?


Okay so this a first attempt at a more learner-centered blog post.  That actually took far more effort than just writing down the answer to the question.  Of course, this is a fairly simple topic and I’m not sure how much room there would be for discussion and interaction.  But, that could take place in comments and on other blogs.  Bloggers could leave links to where they have worked through the post.  Again, we’ll see …

Related Posts:

Learner-Centered Blogging?

Why Did Jonah Flee to Tarshish?

“Old Salts” in Jonah 1.5

Saying Something Positive about Jonah

Today’s Old Testament reading is from Jonah 4.  This is a continuation of the previous two days, which were from Jonah 1 and 3, respectively.  And, throughout the book Jonah is depicted very negatively.  But, today I thought I would try to say something positive about him.  At least Jonah is honest and open.  Notice a little of the dialogue from chapter 4:

He prayed, “I beseech you, LORD, is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? This is why I fled at first to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, rich in clemency, loathe to punish. And now, LORD, please take my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Have you reason to be angry over the plant?”

“I have reason to be angry,” Jonah answered, “angry enough to die.” (NAB)

Two things that you kind of get accustomed to as a human being are people (including myself) lying about their reasons for avoiding something and people hiding their emotions.  These are two things that Jonah doesn’t do here.  Basically, he says “God, I didn’t originally go to Nineveh because I knew what you were going to do and I didn’t like it.”  We’d prefer to make up an excuse.  “God, I haven’t _____ (fill in the blank – fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, sheltered the homeless) because I’ve been too busy.”  Well, maybe.  But, more likely it is because it is just not a priority for us.  If it was, we would make time.  Why not just be honest and say “God, I haven’t _____ (fill in the blank – fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, sheltered the homeless) because there are other ways that I prefer to use my time and money.”  Doesn’t make us sound like very good people, but at least it’s honest.  And, I don’t think it is until we make an honest appraisal that we can actually make a change in our behavior.

In addition, Jonah at least doesn’t hide his emotions.  When God asks if he has reason to be angry  at least he admits that he is angry and that he believes he has good enough reason to be angry to prefer death to life.  This is I suppose better than those of us who would prefer to hide our anger and pretend like everything is okay.  In this way we are at least only angry, otherwise we are both angry and lying.

The Ninevites as the Model of Repentance

In today’s Old Testament reading from Jonah 3, we find the Ninevites as the model of repentance.  Check out the perfect pattern of repentance here:

When the news reached the king of Nineveh,
he rose from his throne, laid aside his robe,
covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in the ashes.
Then he had this proclaimed throughout Nineveh,
by decree of the king and his nobles:
“Neither man nor beast, neither cattle nor sheep,
shall taste anything;
they shall not eat, nor shall they drink water.
Man and beast shall be covered with sackcloth
and call loudly to God;
every man shall turn from his evil way
and from the violence he has in hand.
Who knows, God may relent and forgive,
and withhold his blazing wrath,
so that we shall not perish.” (NAB)

Clothes are stripped off, sackcloth is adorned, the king trades his customary throne for a throne of ash, and a total fast is put in place for man and beast.  But, the Ninevites are supposed to be evil pagans, namely the evil pagans that God used to punish the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722/21 when the Assyrians conquered it.

But, this is really the pattern in the Book of Jonah.  First, the pagan sailors in chapter one who are calling on their gods display exceptional qualities (i.e. they do everything they can to try to save Jonah) and experience conversion (i.e. they make vows and sacrifice to YHWH).  Then in chapter 3, we find this ideal repentance from the evil pagan Ninevites.  Yet the prophet Jonah is the antithesis; Jonah runs away from YHWH and protests against his mercy.

The story of Jonah as I said yesterday would have been pertinent for the people in exile.  In chapter 1, I noted the importance of the idea that YHWH can deal with Jonah on his way to Tarshish.  This means that YHWH is not confined to a particular space.  In addition, these positive portrayals of foreigners (and perhaps even the negative portrayal of the Israelite prophet) would have been important either for those in exile who were living among foreigners or for those after the exile who were living under foreign rule.  This is in direct contrast to the Book of Nahum, and in fact Jonah’s attitude very much resembles that of Nahum, where the downfall and destruction of the Assyrians is a cause for joy (e.g. in the NRSV, the section beginning in Nahum 1.12 is entitled “Good News for Judah”).

I dare not get to homiletical here, but the book still today makes us examine our attitudes about foreigners and those who are different from ourselves.  And considering the past encounters of Israel and Nineveh, the book today makes us examine our attitudes even toward those who have done us harm.

"Old Salts" in Jonah 1.5

In most English translations of the Bible, one of the words in Jonah 1.5 is usually translated as “sailors” or “mariners” (NRSV, ESV, NJPS, NASB, and others).  I can remember discussing this in my very first Biblical Hebrew class under Charles Isbell at Lousiana State University.  He uses the Book of Jonah (minus the poetry in chapter 2) to introduce the language inductively.  I remember him noting that the word translated “sailors” actually comes from the Hebrew word “salt.”  So, his proposed translation was something like “Then the old salts were afraid…”  I think this is an absolutely fabulous translation, but I’m not sure the idiom is well known enough for it to make it into English translations.  It is just a shame that many modern English translations miss these types of opportunities when they are available in favor of a generic (boring?) rendering.

Why Did Jonah Flee to Tarshish?

If you’ve read the lectionary reading for today, you know it is from Jonah 1.  To give a little background, it is helpful to know a little about Tarshish.  According to the Bible Background Commentary on the Old Testament:

Tarshish was the farthest known geographical point.  While its exact location is unknown, most believe it was in Southern Spain, though some have favored Carthage in North Africa.  We can be certain that it was a port in the western Mediterranean known for its trade in exports (emphasis added).

Jonah was trying to get as far away from God as possible.  Those who have heard the story before, as most of us probably have, realize that he couldn’t get away from God.  That may seem like old hat to those who have grown up being taught that God is omnipresent, but consider the meaning for an exile from the land of Israel.  The Ancient Near East was a place in which deities were tied to particular locations. When the people were exiled they may have wondered if their God was present with them there or if he was tied to the land of Israel.  That YHWH was able to reach Jonah on his way to Tarshish is a sign that YHWH is not tied to a locale.  Thus, YHWH can also be with his people in exile.