Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Rewriting Jonah

When Josephus mentions Jonah in Ant. Book 9 Sections 204-214, the storm is important while mention of the whale occur almost an afterthought. The sermon to the Ninevites is altered as well. It becomes a prophecy foretelling their loss of dominion over Assyria. The repentance of the people of Nineveh is not mentioned at all.[1] This is quite surprising since Josephus claims both at the beginning and at the end of his story of Jonah to tell the story as he found it in Hebrew scripture.

The judgments threaten by the prophets are conditional; if sinners repent they will be saved. This is the teaching of Jeremiah, Joel and Jonah. Anyone reading about the Josephan Jonah would not know that Jonah had preached to the people of Nineveh that they would be destroyed nor would they know that the people had repented and the city was not destroyed.

Luke tells us that Jesus uses the repentance of Nineveh as a rebuke to the present unrepentant generation and that he even uses the failure of Tyre and Sidon for the same purpose. Jesus invited his audience to reflect on Pilate’s killing of the Galileans and on the death of those on whom the tower in Siloam fell. He said, “Unless you repent you will all perish likewise.”

When there is repentance, there is joy in heaven. The Lucan Jesus in successive parables repeats this statement. Repentance means an end to sinning. When this happens there is joy beyond this earth. Matthew has a parable about a shepherd looking for a lost sheep and his joy in finding it. In Luke’s version of the story, Jesus says “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

The Jonah story is about the capability of God to complete his plan. Jonah and Jesus are both great preachers who are vindicated. The people of Ninevah repented; the people of Israel should follow their example. The Lucan Jesus is repeating this message and has emphasized it with his numerous references to repentance, more so than Matthew and Mark, so much so that Luke has been called the gospel of repentance.

Jonah is also about unexpected reversals. In 2 Kings 14:25-27, God permits the expansion of the borders of Israel “according to the word that his servant Jonah uttered” despite the nation’s persistent sinfulness. In Jonah 3:10, God reverses the evil that Jonah pronounced against Ninevah.

The Sign of Jonah is about repentance and eschatological reversals. Luke understood. Luke refers to the future reversal of social roles in the Magnificat at the beginning of his gospel. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is the final part of the unique Lucan triad, the parables having in common the theme of lost and found or recovered. For those who have studied the various implications, it is the story of the ultimate outcast, a person reduced in status to feeding pigs, expressed in the language of economics. Darrell Bock has said the message is that “absolute reversal results from repentance. . . .”

Josephus delivered a political message in his rewriting of the story of Jonah, not a religious message. He did so to undermine the use of story of Jonah by Luke to support the need for repentance and the inclusive views of Luke and Paul for those who do repent.

Copyrighted 2009

[1] Josephus does not deny the importance of repentance. Josephus rehabilitated Rehoboam and Ahab by depicting their sincere repentance.


Post a Comment

<< Home