Tag Archives: Nineveh

The Bible in and as History: Obadiah and Jonah

6979159895_8a8f4be133_bThese two minor prophets were quite short, so I figured I’d put them together as I race for the end of the old testament.  In truth, I finished reading it a little while ago, but in a bit of irony, it’s a bit harder to write about the shorter books than the longer.  Less material I suppose.

So Obadiah is a simple 21 verses, short, sweet and to the point.  The shortest book in the Bible.  Its historical authorship is in question and even its date is unknown for certain.

The book is about the Divine Judgement against Edom and the restoration of Israel.  Edom was a small Semitic state located south of the Kingdom of Judah, in what would be modern Jordan.  The prophet speaks of Edom having abandoned Israel, of not having come to its aid.  This leads to two potential periodizations; Either 853-851 BCE, when Jerusalem was attacked by a combined force of Arabs and Philistines, or 607-585 BCE, when Babylon invaded under Nebuchadrezzar II.  The historical consensus seems to favour the more recent date.  The book itself is simple enough; Edom failed to come to Israel’s aid, God will bring down a horrible judgement, Edom will no longer exist.  Thematically it bears some resemblance to other prophets we have seen, with their judgement of foreign nations.  A recurring theme of the old testament appears to be the use of foreign states to illustrate points for a domestic audience.  “Look out at what happened to those guys!” or “Those people are like this, and they will be destroyed!”

The Book of Jonah is very different.  Famed as the source of the ‘Jonah and the Whale’ story, and countless ‘Guy swallowed and surviving inside big Fish’ stories that have followed, the text itself is an actual story.  Jonah is called by God to be a prophet and to convert the people of the city of Nineveh to the lord.  Nineveh is, of course, a city of iniquity in which the people don’t know how far they have deviated from Gods will.

Jonah refuses the call and seeks to flee.  Getting on a  boat God creates a storm and Jonah gets the sailors to throw him overboard to appease Gods wrath.  Here is the famous consumption by a ‘Whale’ or ‘Big Fish'(a sea monster of some sort). Inside the belly of this creature he repents and prays and after three days he is thrown out of the whale at Gods will.

So Jonah goes to the city and becomes a most successful prophet, turning the whole city to repent.  The city is spared destruction and starts a sort of altercation between Jonah and God, a sort of ‘Well here is the lesson fo the story Jonah’ sort of situation in which God explains his mercy.

This work has obvious implications in Judaism and Christianity.  In the later there is a parallel in some levels with Jesus; Three days in Darkness(the Whales Belly for Jonah, the Tomb for Jesus), the demonstratable mercy of God.  Jonah has, in a way, a typical Hero’s Journey.  Leaving his home, refusing the call, a confrontation with a number of trials, the acceptance of the Quest, etc.

Dating this work is also a bit difficult; It is ‘set’ in the 8th century BCE, given its nature it’s hard to accept as a simple historical account.  It has a more directly mythical character and many scholars consider it allegorical.  Those that do tend to date it to the post-Exilic period, perhaps the 3rd or 4th centuries BCE.

Well, two short books, and more short ones as we push through the minor Prophets; Next up Micah and Nahum!

 

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