Last night, my youth guys small group started a study on the Book of Jonah. Before we started the study, I asked the youth how deep they wanted to go into the scripture. Their response came as no surprise to me; they said we want to dig into this stuff! Excited, I replied, “Challenge excepted!” So, this is where we are now. For the next couple of weeks, I will be blogging about my personal study on Jonah. I do not claim to have all the right answers, but I hope that this study will challenge and cause you to think. I will approach the text both historically and theologically (since I believe this is the best way to interpret the Bible).
The Book of Jonah, composed of four chapters and a mere 48 verses, holds one of the most well-known VBS stories. The prophet, Jonah, gets swallowed up by a giant fish (or as some like to claim, a giant whale). Unlike the other 11 Minor Prophets, who prophesy matters regarding Israel and Judah, Jonah is simply a narrative exposition of Jonah, the son of Amittai. Scholarship is divided on this matter. Historically, Jonah son of Amittai did exist. This individual came from Gath-hepher and was actually considered a “court prophet” for King Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:25). However, scholarship calls into question whether or not the Jonah that is mentioned in the Book of Jonah actually existed. Personally, I have not done enough research to come to a definitive conclusion, but I definitely am moving more towards one direction. Phyllis Trible, in her introduction essay in The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, addresses the various proposed genres for the Book of Jonah. The two most viable options, in my opinion, claim the Book of Jonah is a parable (similar to those in Mic 2:1-5, Hab 2:6-19, etc.) or satire (though there is a serious meaning, the author of this book also uses irony, humor, and wit). So, if we approach this book from that viewpoint, I think we have to believe that Jonah is a fictitious character resembling the Jonah referenced in 2 Kings. However, this does not take away from the theological significance of the story, especially when we think of the importance of parables in the Bible.