An analysis of the Book of Jonah.
THE BOOK OF JONAH IS UNIQUE IN BOTH form and content. It is one of the smallest books of the Prophets, and it conveys its message through the medium of a story. Rarely does it fail to captivate its reader, while it the same time it poses a variety of striking questions of theme and narrative. Indeed, to the thoughtful reader, the Book of Jonah is one of the most enigmatic writings of the Prophets. Jonah is a rebellious prophet. Why? In view of his rebelliousness, why does God continue to call upon him after his attempt to flee, and then reason with him about His forgiveness of a repentant population? The earlier, remarkable repentance of the ship's sailors is matched by an even more startling repentance by the people of Nineveh. Perhaps the most significant and perplexing matter, however, is Jonah's taking exception to God's forgiving the population of Nineveh, articulated in opposition to a central Jewish doctrine of Divine mercy.
I suggest that the seminal problem for the prophet Jonah is the threat of exile of the people of Israel. Specifically, Jonah's flight is in response to the specter of the potential destruction of the northern Kingdom of Israel at the hands of Nineveh/Ashur. The issue of exile raised immense theological issues for Jonah, involving the appropriateness of justice and mercy in God's world. We will attempt to trace the development of the sub-themes related to this formulation, thereby examining the many facets of the book's main theme.
The present investigation will attempt to demonstrate the value of a literary analysis of structure[ ] in trying to solve the enigma presented by the Book of Jonah. Literary analysis assumes that communication in literature may take place through ideas as conveyed not only by words directly, but also by the use of symbols, the attribution or withholding of motives, the reprising of motifs and thematic key words, and subtle modification of near-verbatim repetition of phrases. This methodology, it will be recognized, is quite similar to accepted Rabbinic exegesis.[ ] The Rabbinic method is frequently generated by philosophical or historical considerations, and this is especially so in the Rabbinic approach to Jonah, which is limited in its textual base. The present literary approach is more anchored in the text. Moreover, while Rabbinic exegesis may focus on a single phrase or symbol, the present approach is more reliant on a pattern of meanings, all pointing to the same interpretation. What is, therefore, essential is the pattern of symbols and images that are evoked and, additionally, their interplay with context and ideas more openly articulated.[ ] Patterns of language as well as images will, thereforc, be explored to clarify ideas that are being communicated.
A second aspect of literary analysis is the technical "point of view"--that is, from whose standpoint and in whose voice is the story being told. The book is structured through the use of three main voices: the voice of God, that of Jonah, and that of the Narrator. Each will be identified, often to clarify a literary pattern being developed, or to note the emergence of svmbolic patterns.
Yet a third aspect of literary analysis is required in interpreting Jonah: intertextuality. The present analysis assumes that it was written for an audience that was fully conversant with other Biblical texts[ ] and with an ear finely attuned to detecting similarities and differences in context and phraseology. More specifically, in identifying and interpreting symbols and significance of language, emphasis will be placed upon reference to the Five Books of Moses.
The Book of Jonah can be seen as structured along various lines. It is divided into four logical chapters: the first describes Jonah's flight; the second relates his being inside the great fish and the resultant prayer; the third, his encounter with Nineveh and its consequences; and the fourth chapter relates the dialogue between God and Jonah after God's forgiveness of Nineveh. The Masoretic structure, however, suggests a different organization, of two main cycles,[ ] with the possible delineation of an epilogue.[ ] The first cycle includes Jonah's flight, his being swallowed by the big fish and his prayer (Chap. 1:1-2: 10). This is followed by a pivotal single verse (2:11) reporting the vomiting of Jonah upon dry land.[ ] The second cycle (3:1 to the end)[ ] tells of Jonah's prophecy to Nineveh and God's forgiveness, followed by the dialogue between God and Jonah.
Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah, the son of Amittai, saying: (1:1)[ ]
The name Jonah ben Amittai is significant, having been noted in 2 Kings (14:25-26), where there is a description of Jonah's involvement with the northern Kingdom of Israel, prophesying the King's restoring the border of Israel. To the knowledgeable reader, an historical background to the Book of Jonah is thus established.
Jonah's name is quite fortuitous, for, in addition to the historical reference, his Hebrew name, Yonah, would have elicited a number of images.[ ] First, the sounds of the word itself have a distinct softness to them. More significantly, yonah, in Hebrew, means dove. The main image of a (love for the Biblical mind is the dove of the Flood of Noah, that signaled the end of the deluge and destruction, the beginning of rebirth and peace (Genesis 8:8-12). But the image of the soft dove stands in sharp contradistinction to the images elicited by the name "son of Amittai." Amittai is a derivative of the word emet, meaning truth. Truth is a stark image, verging upon uncompromising justice or din." Indeed, the tension between Yonah and Amittal articulates a basic conflict in the book, the conflict between love and justice.
An extension of the symbol of the dove can be noted here. In the sacrificial order of the Temple, a dove could substitute for a lamb (see Leviticus 12:8). The ram/lamb is a popular symbol of Israel, derived from the ram that was sacrificed in Isaac's stead. The dove, therefore, represents Israel.[ ] Thus, the name Yonah associates love specifically with the people of Israel, while, at the same time, it reminds us of the story of Noah and the destruction of the world, a manifestation of God's justice. Jonah's name thereby introduces the tension of Israel versus universal concern, of love versus justice, in the story to come.
"Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim against it; for their wickedness is come up before Me." But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord; and he went down to Jaffa, and found a ship going to Tarshish, from the presence of the Lord. But the Lord hurled a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty storm in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken (1:2-4).
Quoting God's command, the second verse uses a number of phrases which will be repeated later, thereby establishing a semantic unity to the book. The formula "Nineveh, the great city," is repeated numerous times, emphasizing the importance of the metropolis and its universal character. But not only is Nineveh a "great" city; the wind and the storm (1:4), God's creations and punishing instruments, are equally "great." Nineveh and nature are both great, both being creations of the Lord, reflective of His Power and justice, and His Love. This is later reflected in the story of the gourd, created and then destroyed, evoking a parallel to Nineveh and its masses. Additionally, Jonah Is not told what to say. The reason for this ambiguity will be discussed below, after further thematic development. In response to the command, "Arise ... call," the narrator, perhaps ironically, notes that Jonah does rise, but not to obey God; rather, "To flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord" (1:3).
And the sailors were afraid, and cried every man unto his god; ... But Jonah went down into the innermost parts of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep (1:5).
In response to fear, every man prayed to his god. This suggests that the ship, containing its diverse group of sailors, microcosmically represents humanity. This is enhanced by the image of the ship upon the sea as reminiscent of the pre-creation spirit or wind of God moving over the surface of the waters (Genesis 1:2). The image is one of chaos about to be changed by creation. It is likewise reminiscent of Noah and his ark upon the vast waters during the great flood. Again, the image is one of chaos as a prelude to a demonstration of Divine power, control and order in the world. The image of an entity above chaotic waters becomes a universal salvation symbol.[ ] Jonah's mission to Nineveh has been associated with saving universal man from danger.
The story of the ship moves quickly from introducing the motif of universal man to presaging Jonah's coming encounter with Nineveh. While the frightened sailors cried every man to his god, Jonah went down to the recesses of the ship. This heralds Jonah's later dissociation from the prayers of Nineveh's population. Moreover, this is the first instance of Jonah's proclivity for retreating into an enclosed space, later in a fish, and eventually reprised in his retreating from Nineveh into a booth (succah).
The introduction of the ship's captain further develops the Nineveh encounter. The captain of the ship says to Jonah, ". . . what meanest thou that thou sleepest? Arise, call upon thy God so that God will think of us, that we perish not" (1:6). It is interesting to hear the captain exhort a prophet. By reporting the actual words of the captain, "Arise, call," the Narrator alerts us to the very same words in Hebrew used by God in His initial command to Jonah to "arise ... proclaim." The Narrator indulges once more in a favorite device--the ironic/verbal echo. The captain, too, commands Jonah to act like a prophet. Taking the metaphor of the sailors representing all humanity and the ship representing the world, the captain of the ship, in a sense, represents God Himself. There is, however, a dual quality to this representation. While the Hebrew words used for "captain," rav ha' hovel, may be captain or shipmaster, the literal meaning is far more ominous, namely, "master of injury." The Narrator thereby identifies God as the God of punishment, as indeed He is in terms of the threatening storm that He has hurled against the ship (1:4). However, the captain wants Jonah to pray for the innocent sailors, just as God wants Jonah to be compassionate for the innocent of Nineveh. He even uses the same language as the King of Nineveh will later use: ". . so that we perish not" (3:9). The ship's captain thereby represents the attribute of justice, demanding that Jonah be a messenger of mercy and love. But Jonah's response is, "Throw me overboard," like his later request for death (4:3,8,9) rather than accepting Nineveh's redemption. The eventual contention between God and Jonah regarding Nineveh has been introduced on a thematic level.
The developing story begins to present, Jonah's position in his conflict with God. The ship is in danger, and the sailors throw lots to identify the cause of their impending destruction. They then ask Jonah to identify himself fully. Jonah's response is instructive: "And he said to them, I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, "Who hath made the sea and the dry land" (1:9). But this assertion of a central tenet of Judaism--here as later in Nineveh (4:2)--stands in apparent contradiction to his attempt to escape the command of the God Whom he fears (1:3), the Almighty, Who is inescapable. We must conclude, then, that Jonah's flight was not from God's authority, but from His presence, that is to say, His compassionate providence.
Jonah's concern for the Hebrew people is developed as a challenge to God's universal perspective. Jonah's response, "I am a Hebrew (Ivri)," associates[ ] with Abraham (the archetypal Jew) (Genesis 14:13), and with Joseph, who is referred to as a Hebrew three times in Genesis (39:14,17;41:12; in related fashion 40:15). Additionally, the name "Hebrew" is used seven times in Exodus (2:6,11,13; 3:18, 5:3, 7:16, 9:1) in reference to Israel under Egyptian slavery. All of these allusions are to Israel caught in a Gentile world of war,[ ] imprisonment and tyranny.
After Jonah is thrown overboard, a great fish appointed by God swallows him. For a second time, Jonah finds himself in a hidden, enclosed space. The midrash describes Jonah's entering the fish's mouth as one entering a great synagogue.[ ] "I called out unto the Lord ... and He answered me. . . " (2:3) cries Jonah. This suggests that Jonah perceives a more positive image than one would have expected in this strange dungeon.[ ] It becomes a kind of holy enclave in the midst of terror. In the middle of his prayer, he says: ". . yet I will look again toward Thy holy Temple" (2:5), and again, "...and my prayer came in unto Thee, into Thy holy Temple" (2:8). While Radak and Ibn Ezra interpret the phrase, "holy Temple," to refer to the heavens, to this writer the term more likely refers literally to the Temple in Jerusalem, as the Targum and the Midrash postulate.[ ] Jonah's focus upon the holy Temple, and the possible significance of enclosed spaces as holy enclaves, suggest an interpretation of spatial "support" as significant and necessary. This interpretation will be developed further.
The next verse, in a sense, is the fulcrum of the Book of Jonah itself. It is short, deceptively simple, yet, upon analysis, complex and explosive. As previously mentioned, in the Masoretic Text this verse occupies a central and separate section. It summarizes the developing themes of the Book--Jonah versus God; justice versus mercy; universality versus the particularity of the Jewish people; inevitability of history versus the possibility of avoiding it--and looks forward to the Narrator's resolution of these confrontations. The text reads, "And the Lord spoke unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land" (2:11). The word "vomited" (vavakei) is surprising and intense. It is found in only one other context in the Bible--referring to the expulsion from the Land of Israel, especially of a sinful Israelite people (Leviticus 18:25,28;20:22). It is the term that introduces the consequences of exile to the Jewish people.[ ] With this pivotal sentence, the Narrator solidifies Jonah's misgivings about saving the great city of Nineveh, and confronts us with the future of the Jew in a non-Jewish world--exile. With self-sacrifice, Jonah has attempted to evade God's mission to Nineveh so that Nineveh will not repent, but will be destroyed, so that the Kingdom of Israel will not be destroyed eventually by the forces of Ashur/Nineveh. But Jonah the dove/ram/lamb, the defender and representative of Israel, has been vomited out from his enclosed, holy place. Does this suggest that its very enclosedness and over-inclusiveness has undermined its holiness? Moreover, is this symbol telling us that the destruction of the Land of Israel and the ensuing exile has already been ordained? Is this the truth (Amittai) that Jonah has been evading, that he finds so frightening?
The word of God now comes to Jonah a second time. As at the time of the first command, the same formula is used. "Arise, go unto Nineveh the great city and call unto it the call that I say to thee" (3:2, my emphasis). Again, the "arise ... call" formula is used, perhaps to show that God's intentions have not changed, and to communicate to Jonah that God is Master. Again, the content of the message is not divulged. Jonah goes to Nineveh, but it is no longer simply the "great city", it is now gedolah lelohim (3:3). While the meaning might well be "exceedingly great city," literally it reads, "a great city unto God." Perhaps this is to suggest that Nineveh, indeed the entire world, is God's creation.
In fulfillment of God's command, Jonah called and said, "Another forty days, and Nineveh shall be overturned" (3:4). These are perhaps the strangest five words (in Hebrew) ever proclaimed by a prophet. They certainly had a most dramatic effect upon the masses of Nineveh and, the Narrator probably hoped, on his readers as well. Biblical echoes abound. "Forty days" reminds us of the flood in the time of Noah (Genesis 7:12), when a whole generation refused to repent and suffered total destruction. God's decision to destroy the world with the flood is introduced with the statement, "And the earth was filled with violence ... for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth" (Genesis 6:11-12, my emphasis), precisely the terms used by the King of Nineveh: "Let every one turn from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands" (3.8, my emphasis).[ ] As for the word nehepakhet, "overturned," it is strongly associated with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.[ ] "And He overturned those cities. . . " (Genesis 19:25)--cities like Nineveh literally called, "the cities of God." A similar phrase to the term nehepakhet is used a few times in reference to the destruction of Egypt (Exodus 7:15,17,20; 10:19 and perhaps 14:5), another great nation, again like Nineveh, that was warned, and suffered the consequences of not heeding. An intriguing association of linguistically-rooted terms is to be found in the Bible's description of Adam's, i.e., universal man's expulsion from the Garden of Eden:[ ] "So He drove out the man; and He placed at the east of the Garden of Eden the cherubim, and the flaming sword which turned every way (hamithapekhet), to guard the way to the tree of life" (Genesis 3:24). This connects the story of man's sin and expulsion from Eden with the problem of Nineveh. Nineveh's guilt and possible destruction are associated with original, universal man and his tragic failure.
Nineveh's response to Jonah's call is dramatic; the people of Nineveh proclaimed/called a fast (3:5) and the king commanded them to call to God (3:8). What Jonah had failed to do in response to God's initial command and to the call of the ship's captain, the people of Nineveh now did in response to the prophet and in response to their king. Indeed, an ironic comparison is being made between Jonah, the representative of an apparently righteous Israel, and the King of Nineveh, the symbol of the sinful world, to the detriment of Jonah.
The climax of the book presents God's forgiveness of Nineveh and Jonah's explosive reaction. "And God relented of the evil which He said He would do unto them; and He did not do it" (3:10). God invokes the same formula of forgiveness as applied to Israel after the sin of the Golden Calf: "And the Lord relented of the evil which He said He would do to His people" (Exodus 32:14 my emphasis).[ ] God's position is clear: the same forgiveness is applicable to both Jew and non-Jew alike. Significantly, it is after this statement of God's forgiveness that the Narrator notes, "But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry" (4:1). Jonah's objection to God's forgiveness can be tentatively formulated as follows: In relation to the Golden Calf, the forgiveness was "to His people;" as to Nineveh, it was "to them." Regarding the Golden Calf, forgiveness was given within the context of a second set of tablets (Exodus 34:1) signifying an affirmation of the covenant; as to Nineveh, no holding structure existed. To Jonah, this was a tremendous error. Jonah is astonished by the fact that the language used by God to forgive the Jews at the time of the Golden Calf is now applied to forgive an alien people--indeed, a people who will presently destroy the Kingdom of Israel.
The next few verses repeat the word "evil" five times, but with change of nuance and meaning.[ ] In a book examining justice, mercy, and human culpability, it is not surprising that we are treated to a discourse on evil. The king commands the people of Nineveh to repent, to "turn every one from his evil way" (3:8, my emphasis). The Narrator tells us, "God saw" that they repented "from their evil way; and God relented of the evil which He said He would do unto them" (3:10, emphasis mine). Now Jonah speaks. He describes God as "relenting of evil (4:2). This comes, however, after the Narrator uses the identical word "evil" to describe Jonah's feeling when God forgave the people of Nineveh: "But it displeased Jonah greatly" is translated more literally as "And Jonah perceived it as evil, a great evil." Jonah appears to judge God's action as a great evil. It appears that evil is, in fact, multifaceted, depending upon one's perspective.[ ] In addition to the difference between the human and Divine view of evil as explored in Job, we are introduced to a difference between a Jewish and universal perspective of evil.
Jonah's words are described as a prayer, but the content and purpose are quite different from his previous prayer from the belly of the fish. With shocking intensity and barely contained exasperation, if not actual anger, Jonah "explains" himself. He begins his prayer with the formula, "I pray Thee, O Lord" (4:2), the same ritualistic phrase that was (surprisingly) used by the non-Jewish sailors of the ship (1:14) and similar to the prayer of Moses to save Israel after the sin of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32:3 1). Jonah proceeds, "Was this not my saying, when I was yet in my own country? Therefore I fled beforehand unto Tarshish" (4:2). Jonah is going to clarify the great puzzle: he will explain his thinking and motivation in fleeing from the Lord: ". . for I knew that Thou art a gracious God, and merciful, long-suffering, and great in love, and relents of the evil" (4:2). This declaration of Jonah is obviously a rephrasing of God's attributes of mercy as given in Exodus (34:6-7), the "Thirteen Attributes" associated with God's forgiveness of Israel after the sin of the Golden Calf. Jonah ends his prayer with the plea, "Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech Thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live" (4:3), like when he was on the ship. But do we now know why Jonah fled? To what does he object? Jonah appears to obscure as much as he reveals![ ]
It has been suggested that Jonah's objection denies the appropriateness of mercy and forgiveness in this world,[ ] or, at best, denies their applicability to the non-Jewish world.[ ] Neither interpretation, however, is tenable. Does he deny the validity of God's attributes of mercy and compassion? Obviously not.[ ] The graciousness and mercy of God are among the most wonderful and beautiful of Judaism's teachings. Jonah himself seems to say it with love and affection. Moreover, the institution of the Temple worship, at least in part, is founded upon the possibility of God's mercy and forgiveness. Jonah himself has stated his commitment to the Temple (2:5,8). A prophet of Israel would not deny such a central tenet of Judaism, which Jonah himself attests to when he says, "For I knew that..." (4:2).[ ]
To suggest that Jonah denied the applicability of mercy to non-Jews as a general category suggests a rebellion against a universal historical principle of Judaism. Abraham's prayer for Sodom indicates his concern for non-Jews.[ ] Solomon's dedication of the Temple specifies (2 Kings 8:41-43) that His House is a House for all people. Jonah himself volunteers to be thrown overboard so that the ship's sailors (originally, at least, non-Jews) may live (1:12), suggesting internal evidence of the prophet's universal concern.
While Jonah's words appear to obscure his thinking and motivation, a review of patterns of images shows that the Narrator has been quite effective in conveying the issues of contention between God and His prophet. One such pattern is the following: the destructive flood of Noah, the destruction of Sodom, and the punishment of Egypt. They all depict situations of monumental evil, involving universal man deserving punishment, and, eventually, being punished or destroyed. With a background of concern for the threatened future of the northern Kingdom of Israel at the hands of the very kingdom that he is sent to save, Jonah formulates a theological position differentiating between error on the one hand and vicious brutality on the other. The potential of such evil to cause immense suffering to others must be considered. Mercy and forgiveness must have limitations, and Jonah argues that brutality should not be forgiven.
A different pattern of images communicates a further development of Jonah's argument for limiting the universal application of mercy. Jonah has sought protection and found solace in enclosed places. He will continue to seek protective shelter under the booth that he will later build upon leaving Nineveh. This pattern of symbols signifies the holiness of God that is "contained" in the Temple as well as the uniqueness of the Jewish people versus universal man. Moreover, it indicates that, in order for good to triumph and for evil to be contained, there must be a holding frame, a structuring quality that supports man. Man can repent, but if' there is no set of mores or values that protect him from the temptation to backslide, like an enclosed space to which he may go, the choice for good is temporary. This is Jonah's position: The Sinaitic Covenant provides Israel with a holding quality--an enclosed space for the Jewish people, then and forever, ensuring their repentance. For non-.Jews, a degree of righteousness, of ethical and moral sensitivity, provides a protective frame. Violence, tyranny and brutality destroy the frame. The repentance of Nineveh is quick but temporary, that of Jews is long lasting. To forgive brutal and dangerous Nineveh for a short lived repentance that would bring about the destruction of Israel is untenable to Jonah, and would constitute the corruption of mercy and 'justice. For Jonah, life is no longer bearable.
Returning to the text, Jonah's attack can now be understood more fully. From the beginning, Jonah had been fearful that God would apply the same thirteen attributes of mercy and graciousness to Nineveh that He had applied to Israel. "Therefore I fled beforehand unto Tarshish" (4:2). We can understand Jonah as explaining his flight on another level as well, one of symbolic communication. He fled from "before God" (1:3, literal translation), a phrase used twice and therebv emphasized by the Narrator. Jonah never doubted the authority or power of the God Whom he feared, "The God of heaven, Who hath made the sea and the dry land" (1:9). But, Jonah implied, God must admit that there is a lack of sanctity outside the Land of Israel, since it is not "before God." That is why there can be no prophecy there.[ ] If that be the case, there arises the unspoken question in his mind, "How can You consider forgiving and saving Nineveh, through a prophet?" For Jonah, there is neither righteousness nor holiness to hold and guide them.
Jonah's articulation of the thirteen principles of mercy clarifies previously noted problems with the term "call:" 1) Why is the term "call" repeated, especially in God's commands to Jonah (1:2, 3:2)? Why is there continual vagueness in the content of the call? Does the very vagueness of the charge suggest that there might be another hidden call involved? To an audience attuned to Biblical idiom, the best known use of the term "call" is to be found precisely in the thirteen attributes of God to which Jonah referred. "And the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and he called the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed by before him, and called, `The Lord, The Lord, God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth'" (Exodus 34:5-6, my emphasis). This is the possible hidden "call." God commands Jonah to call to Nineveh, but the call is ambiguous and will depend upon man's interpretation, upon Nineveh's response. If they remain evil, the call will be one of destruction, "And he (Jonah) called and said, `Another forty days and Nineveh shall be overturned'" (3:4 emphasis mine). But if they repent, the call shall be the call of forgiveness, "The Lord, The Lord, mighty, merciful and gracious. . ." Interestingly, the Talmud (B. Sanhedrin 89b) develops a similar idea but focuses upon the ambiguity of the phrase "Nineveh shall be overturned." The Talmud relates that, originally, Jonah was told that the city would be nehepakhet--a Hebrew word which can mean either "transformed" or "overturned," i.e., destroyed.[ ] The Book of Jonah demonstrates that God's call to mankind is frequently ambiguous, and its ultimate interpretation is dependent upon man's moral and ethical response to the call.[ ]
The ensuing "dialogue," until the end of the book (4:3-11), appears to constitute an epilogue.[ ] Jonah's mission has been completed. Nineveh has repented and been forgiven, and, Jonah has explained his Position. What is there left to do?[ ] The answer lies in the necessity of elaborating God's response to Jonah's attack. The existence of the epilogue demonstrates that it is the philosophical controversy between God and Jonah regarding the universal application of mercy that is the central theme of the book.
And the Lord said: "Thou hadst had pity on the gourd, for which thou hast not labored, neither madest it grow, which came up in a night, and perished in a night; and should not I have pity on Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand, and also many animals?" (4:10-11)
Traditionally, the Book of Jonah has been read on Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement." The relationship between the two can now be seen as relating to a set of similar issues: destruction and salvation on the one hand, and particularism and universalism on the other. Like the Book of Jonah with the call to Nineveh, the theme of Yom Kippur is one of threatened destruction and a call for repentance and forgiveness. In retrospect, the Day of Atonement theme had been evoked by the lots cast by the sailors of the ship (1:7), leading to Jonah being thrown overboard. This is reminiscent of the lots used by the High Priest in the Temple service of Yom Kippur to choose between the scapegoat to save the Jewish people destined for the "wilderness" (destruction), and the goat designated for sacrificial service in the Temple (Leviticus 16:8-10).[ ] In addition, the image elicited by the phrase "forty days" (3:4) need no longer be limited to destruction (Noah's flood). Indeed, Moses' ascent to Mount Sinai to commune with God for three periods of forty days is also brought to mind. This suggests a complex image of threatened destruction after the tragedy of the Golden Calf (Deuteronomy 9:9-16) and then forgiveness associated with Moses' third ascent to Sinai (Exodus 34:28).[ ]
Particularism and universalism relate to the Day of Atonement as well as to the entire High Holiday period including Succot. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is universalistic in its commemoration of the creation of the world and the challenge to humanity generated by this awareness. The Day of Atonement, on the other hand, begins with a marked shift to the Jewish people. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik suggested[ ] that it was in order to return the congregation's experience to univeralistic concerns that the Book of Jonah was introduced into Yom Kippur's afternoon service. This focus continues throughout the holiday of Succot, demonstrated by the seventy sacrifices brought during this festival as a symbol of concern for the "seventy nations of the world" (B. Succah 55b). The Book of Jonah not only expresses the Yom Kippur call for repentance, but reveals the High Holiday themes of responsibility, Divine forgiveness, and the vision of universal compassion.
This literary, symbolistic, and conceptual analysis, with emphasis on the patterning of images, analyzed in Jonah and extended by intertextuality, has provided a many-faceted but ultimately unified theme to the book. The analysis of the pivotal verse of Jonah being vomited out upon dry land has reinforced the significance of Israel's threatened exile, and has supplied us with the motivation of Jonah for his flight from "before God." For Jonah, however, the issue of the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel and the ensuing exile has raised the much broader issue of the appropriate applications of justice, mercy and forgiveness in this world. Jonah has argued that a culture of brutality, coupled with a lack of parameters of societal ethics and morality, does not provide for satisfactory repentance. Therein, argues Jonah, lies a significant difference between universal man and Israel, for whom the Sinaitic covenant provides such a frame. God does not repel Jonah as His prophet but, rather, sustains His charge to him, thereby demonstrating a tolerance of Jonah's position. But God counters Jonah's argument by demonstrating the universal human potential for good, and by defending the universal application of mercy and forgiveness.
By PAUL KAHN
PAUL KAHN was Rabbi of the Young Israel of Mapleton Park in Brooklyn, N.Y., and now lives in Jerusalem.