Commentary on the book of Jonah
by Yair Davidiy
Jonah belonged to one of the northern tribes. One tradition said he was from Zebulon, another from the Israelite Tribe of Asher.
The northern tribes were not all exiled at once but in stages.
The events described in Jonah occurred (in our opinion) after many of the northern tribes had been exiled but some still (temporarily) remained and it was amongst these that Jonah dwelt.
Our practice until now has been as much as possible to endeavor to present our findings within the framework of conventionally accepted dating and description. This is despite the fact that often we do not entirely agree with what is conventionally accepted.
We are not going to go in depth here into the Book of Jonah. Were we to do so we would probably have to demonstrate the following points:
1. The Israelites were exiled by the Assyrians and others in stages. The first stages began at an earlier period that is commonly supposed.
2. Conventional accounts state that in ancient times Assyria had been a very powerful nation, then had suffered a decline, and after several centuries had recuperated and once again become a powerful empire. This new Assyria is known as “The Neo-Assyrian Empire” and it is this entity that exiled the northern Tribes of Israel. Much of the cultural achievements and political developments that are assumed to have occurred in the former Assyria should in reality be ascribed to Neo-Assyria. In many instances Israelites were involved in these occurrences.
3. At some stage the Assyrians did adopt notions of monotheism and did include the God of Israel in their worship. These tendencies were strengthened by the presence of Israelite exiles but they may have been present (to some degree) from the very beginning as hinted at in Talmudic tradition.
The Book of Jonah relates how God told Jonah to go to the major Assyrian city of Nineveh and there
prophecy that after 40 days it would be “overturned”. This meant according to the understanding of Jonah that Nineveh would be destroyed. Jonah did not want to go on this mission and attempted to flee to Tarshish in Spain. A storm arose at sea and the sailors of his ship realized that a supernatural power was causing it. They threw lots and the result fell on Jonah. Jonah told the seamen to cast him overboard. The crew made another futile attempt to continue against the storm after which they reluctantly threw Jonah into the sea. A “fish” swallowed Jonah and after three days spew him out onto the shore. He went to Nineveh and prophesied and the people did penitence and were forgiven and no disaster occurred (at that time) to the city.
The fish could have been a whale and there are cases of mammals (including one human being for three days) surviving inside a whale due to its peculiar physiognomy: see the case described by Ambrose John Wilson in the “Princeton Theological Review”, 1927. Jewish legends suggest that the “fish” was not necessarily a whale but a “Levityan” which may be a whale or a one-of-its-kind creature living in the depths of the sea.
The cuneiform sign for Nineveh in Akkadian (which was the language and script of Assyria) has the shape of a fish inside a house. The name Nineveh in Semitic languages can be understood as “Nun-Neveh” i.e. Fish (“Nun” in Aramaic)-Neveh (dwelling place). [see Elyakim ben Menachim in “Daat Mikra”].
[Jonah 1:1] NOW THE WORD OF THE LORD CAME UNTO JONAH THE SON OF AMITTAI, SAYING,
A certain prophet named “Jonah the son of Amittai” is mentioned in 2-Kings 4:25 and this is apparently the same person.
[Jonah 1:2] ARISE, GO TO NINEVEH, THAT GREAT CITY, AND CRY AGAINST IT; FOR THEIR WICKEDNESS IS COME UP BEFORE ME.
Some Israelite exiles had been settled in the city of Nineveh itself while others were in border areas. “Lost Israelite Identity” describes how Israelites held very important posts in the Assyrian army and administration.
[Jonah 1:3] BUT JONAH ROSE UP TO FLEE UNTO TARSHISH FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD, AND WENT DOWN TO JOPPA; AND HE FOUND A SHIP GOING TO TARSHISH: SO HE PAID THE FARE THEREOF, AND WENT DOWN INTO IT, TO GO WITH THEM UNTO TARSHISH FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD.
Tarshish means sea and is related to the Greek “Thalasos”. Tyre the major Phoenician city is called a “daughter of Tarshish” (Isaiah 23:6,10). Tarshish was in southwest Spain. It was the center of an area in which many Israelite exiles had been settled as proven in “Lost Israelite Identity.” It was explained in “Lost Israelite Identity” how the word “Tarshish” in Biblical terms could mean the Atlantic Coast area in general and could also encompass Britain.
Israelite exiles may have already been settled in Tarshish or there may have been an Israelite settlement there prior to the exile. King Solomon in partnership with the King of Tyre had sent ships to Tarhsish.
Cf. The Commentary of “Daat Sofrim”: <<It is possible that in Tarshish there already existed a Jewish [i.e. Israelite] settlement from days of Solomon and that Jonah desired to join this settlement and not just to be amongst Gentiles.” Spanish legends also speak of Israelite settlement in Spain dating from the time of Solomon.
[Jonah 1:4] BUT THE LORD SENT OUT A GREAT WIND INTO THE SEA, AND THERE WAS A MIGHTY TEMPEST IN THE SEA, SO THAT THE SHIP WAS LIKE TO BE BROKEN.
[Jonah 1:5] THEN THE MARINERS WERE AFRAID, AND CRIED EVERY MAN UNTO HIS GOD, AND CAST FORTH THE WARES THAT WERE IN THE SHIP INTO THE SEA, TO LIGHTEN IT OF THEM. BUT JONAH WAS GONE DOWN INTO THE SIDES OF THE SHIP; AND HE LAY, AND WAS FAST ASLEEP.
[Jonah 1:6] SO THE SHIPMASTER CAME TO HIM, AND SAID UNTO HIM, WHAT MEANEST THOU, O SLEEPER? ARISE, CALL UPON THY GOD, IF SO BE THAT GOD WILL THINK UPON US, THAT WE PERISH NOT.
[Jonah 1:7] AND THEY SAID EVERY ONE TO HIS FELLOW, COME, AND LET US CAST LOTS, THAT WE MAY KNOW FOR WHOSE CAUSE THIS EVIL IS UPON US. SO THEY CAST LOTS, AND THE LOT FELL UPON JONAH.
[Jonah 1:8] THEN SAID THEY UNTO HIM, TELL US, WE PRAY THEE, FOR WHOSE CAUSE THIS EVIL IS UPON US; WHAT IS THINE OCCUPATION? AND WHENCE COMEST THOU? WHAT IS THY COUNTRY? AND OF WHAT PEOPLE ART THOU?
[Jonah 1:9] AND HE SAID UNTO THEM, I AM AN HEBREW; AND I FEAR THE LORD, THE GOD OF HEAVEN, WHICH HATH MADE THE SEA AND THE DRY LAND.
<<I AM AN HEBREW; AND I FEAR THE LORD>>
Here we have the name Hebrew connected with worship of the God of Israel as if the two were mutually relevant to each other. Jonah was a Hebrew going to Tarshish in Spain from where the Hiberi (Hebrews) moved onwards into Gaul and the British Isles. The Celtic inhabitants of Britain were all referred to as Iberni or Hebrews by Ptolemy and the name Hebrew is a root word in western Celtic nomenclature as explained in detail in “Lost Israelite Identity.”
The term “Hebrew” in some opinions was always only applied to the Israelites. It stands to reason however that “Hebrew” applied originally to any descendant of Eber and that is was Abraham the patriarch was referred to as “The Hebrew”. The word in Hebrew also connotes “sojourner” and “somebody from the other side.” Throughout the Ancient Middle East there were groups identified as “Hebrews”. These according to conventional records predate the Israelites and were precursors to them.
Our impressions are: 1. After the Israelites achieved predominance they became identified as THE HEBREWS and if there were any other groups of “Hebrews” these amalgamated with the Israelite ones
And became identified with them.
2. Many groups identified as “Hebrews” and said to predate them were (at least in most cases) actually Israelite descendants.
We can take the equation of Israelites with Hebrews and of Hebrews with Israelites in Biblical times as a given fact. The expression of Jonah confirms this:
<<I AM AN HEBREW; AND I FEAR THE LORD>>
Jonah was fleeing to Tarshish which was on the Atlantic coast of Spain and controlled much of Spain and probably also parts of Gaul and Britain. Opne meaning of ‘Tarshish is the Atlantic Ocean region and the “Isles of the Sea” (i.e. Britain) in general.
If Jonah lived before any of the Assyrian exiles there could still have been an early Israelite settlement in “Tarshish” to which Jonah was fleeing.
Somewhere after ca. 750 BCE Spain was settled by Israelites deported by the Assyrians and controlled by Phoenicians. These exiles were known as “Iberi’ (i.e. Hebrews) and gasve the name “Iberia” to the Spanish peninsula. They adopted Celtic culture and moved to gaul and the British Isles. See “Lost Israelite Identity.” This is confirmed by archaeology, ethnic and place names, and by Scottish and Irish legends.
[Jonah 1:10] THEN WERE THE MEN EXCEEDINGLY AFRAID, AND SAID UNTO HIM. WHY HAST THOU DONE THIS? FOR THE MEN KNEW THAT HE FLED FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD, BECAUSE HE HAD TOLD THEM.
<HE FLED FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD>, from the Land of Israel, a land on which the eyes of God are set from the beginning of the year until its end (Deuteronomy).
[Jonah 1:11] THEN SAID THEY UNTO HIM, WHAT SHALL WE DO UNTO THEE, THAT THE SEA MAY BE CALM UNTO US? FOR THE SEA WROUGHT, AND WAS TEMPESTUOUS
[Jonah 1:12] AND HE SAID TO THEM TAKE ME UP AND CAST ME FORTH INTO THE SEA; SO SHALL THE SEA BE CALM UNTO YOU: FOR I KNOW THAT FOR MY SAKE THIS GREAT TEMPEST IS UPON YOU.
JONAH 1:13] NEVERTHELESS THE MEN ROWED HARD TO BRING IT TO THE LAND; BUT THEY COULD NOT: FOR THE SEA WROUGHT, AND WAS TEMPESTUOUS AGAINST THEM.
[Jonah 1:14] WHEREFORE THEY CRIED UNTO THE LORD, AND SAID, WE BESEECH THEE, O LORD, WE BESEECH THEE, LET US NOT PERISH FOR THIS MAN'S LIFE, AND LAY NOT UPON US INNOCENT BLOOD: FOR THOU, O LORD, HAST DONE AS IT PLEASED THEE.
[Jonah 1:15] SO THEY LOOK UP JONAH, AND CAST HIM FORTH INTO THE SEA: AND THE SEA CEASED FROM HER RAGING.
[Jonah 1:16] THEN THE MEN FEARED THE LORD EXCEEDINGLY, AND OFFERED A SACRIFICE UNTO THE LORD, AND MADE VOWS.
[Jonah 1:17] NOW THE LORD HAD PREPARED A GREAT FISH TO SWALLOW UP JONAH. AND JONAH WAS IN THE BELLY OF THE FISH THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS.
[Jonah 3:1] AND THE WORD OF THE LORD CAME UNTO JONAH THE SECOND TIME, SAYING,
[Jonah 3:2] ARISE, GO UNTO NINEVEH, THAT GREAT CITY, AND PREACH UNTO IT THE PREACHING THAT I BID THEE.
[Jonah 3:3] SO JONAH AROSE, AND WENT UNTO NINEVEH, ACCORDING TO THE WORD OF THE LORD. NOW NINEVEH WAS AN EXCEEDING GREAT CITY OF THREE DAYS' JOURNEY.
[Jonah 3:4] AND JONAH BEGAN TO ENTER INTO THE CITY A DAY'S JOURNEY, AND HE CRIED, AND SAID, YET FORTY DAYS, AND NINEVEH SHALL BE OVERTHROWN.
[Jonah 3:5] SO THE PEOPLE OF NINEVEH BELIEVED GOD, AND PROCLAIMED A FAST, AND PUT ON SACKCLOTH, FROM THE GREATEST OF THEM EVEN TO THE LEAST OF THEM.
[Jonah 3:6] FOR WORD CAME UNTO THE KING OF NINEVEH, AND HE AROSE FROM HIS THRONE, AND HE LAID HIS ROBE FROM HIM, AND COVERED HIM WITH SACKCLOTH, AND SAT IN ASHES.
[Jonah 3:7] AND HE CAUSED IT TO BE PROCLAIMED AND PUBLISHED THROUGH NINEVEH BY THE DECREE OF THE KING AND HIS NOBLES, SAYING, LET NEITHER MAN NOR BEAST, HERD NOR FLOCK, TASTE ANY THING: LET THEM NOT FEED, NOR DRINK WATER:
[Jonah 3:8] BUT LET MAN AND BEAST BE COVERED WITH SACKCLOTH, AND CRY MIGHTILY UNTO GOD: YEA, LET THEM TURN EVERY ONE FROM HIS EVIL WAY, AND FROM THE VIOLENCE THAT IS IN THEIR HANDS.
[Jonah 3:9] WHO CAN TELL IF GOD WILL TURN AND REPENT, AND TURN AWAY FROM HIS FIERCE ANGER, THAT WE PERISH NOT?
[Jonah 3:10] AND GOD SAW THEIR WORKS, THAT THEY TURNED FROM THEIR EVIL WAY; AND GOD REPENTED OF THE EVIL, THAT HE HAD SAID THAT HE WOULD DO UNTO THEM; AND HE DID IT NOT.
[Jonah 4:1] BUT IT DISPLEASED JONAH EXCEEDINGLY, AND HE WAS VERY ANGRY.
[Jonah 4:2] AND HE PRAYED UNTO THE LORD, AND SAID, I PRAY THEE, O LORD, WAS NOT THIS MY SAYING, WHEN I WAS YET IN MY COUNTRY? THEREFORE I FLED BEFORE UNTO TARSHISH: FOR I KNEW THAT THOU ART A GRACIOUS GOD, AND MERCIFUL, SLOW TO ANGER, AND OF GREAT KINDNESS, AND REPENTEST THEE OF THE EVIL.
[Jonah 4:3] THEREFORE NOW, O LORD, TAKE, I BESEECH THEE, MY LIFE FROM ME; FOR IT IS BETTER FOR ME TO DIE THAN TO LIVE.
[Jonah 4:4] THEN SAID THE LORD, DOEST THOU WELL TO BE ANGRY?
[Jonah 4:5] SO JONAH WENT OUT OF THE CITY, AND SAT ON THE EAST SIDE OF THE CITY, AND THERE MADE HIM A BOOTH, AND SAT UNDER IT IN THE SHADOW, TILL HE MIGHT SEE WHAT WOULD BECOME OF THE CITY.
[Jonah 4:6] AND THE LORD GOD PREPARED A GOURD, AND MADE IT TO COME UP OVER JONAH, THAT IT MIGHT BE A SHADOW OVER HIS HEAD, TO DELIVER HIM FROM HIS GRIEF. SO JONAH WAS EXCEEDING GLAD OF THE GOURD.
[Jonah 4:7] BUT GOD PREPARED A WORM WHEN THE MORNING ROSE THE NEXT DAY, AND IT SMOTE THE GOURD THAT IT WITHERED.
[Jonah 4:8] AND IT CAME TO PASS, WHEN THE SUN DID ARISE, THAT GOD PREPARED A VEHEMENT EAST WIND; AND THE SUN BEAT UPON THE HEAD OF JONAH, THAT HE FAINTED, AND WISHED IN HIMSELF TO DIE, AND SAID, IT IS BETTER FOR ME TO DIE THAN TO LIVE.
[Jonah 4:9] AND GOD SAID TO JONAH, DOEST THOU WELL TO BE ANGRY FOR THE GOURD? AND HE SAID I DO WELL TO BE ANGRY, EVEN UNTO DEATH.
[Jonah 4:10] THEN SAID THE LORD, THOU HAST HAD PITY ON THE GOURD, FOR THE WHICH THOU HAST NOT LABOURED, NEITHER MADEST IT GROW; WHICH CAME UP IN A NIGHT, AND PERISHED IN A NIGHT:
[Jonah 4:11] AND SHOULD NOT I SPARE NINEVEH, THAT GREAT CITY, WHEREIN ARE MORE THEN SIXSCORE THOUSAND PERSONS THAT CANNOT DISCERN BETWEEN THEIR RIGHT HAND AND THEIR LEFT HAND; AND ALSO MUCH CATTLE?
Archaeology shows that the Assyrians could be thoroughly evil people. Inscriptions of the Assyrians speak of bestiality and depict homosexuality. They were cruel and sadistic and could be about as bad as you can get – much worse than some of us are reputed to be.
The case of Nineveh shows that no matter what the case, yopu can always repent.
God wants you to repent. He can forgive you. Punishment that would otherwise be inflicted upon you
Through repentance can be averted. Instead of a curse we can receive a blessing.
Anyway, even though Nineveh was saved in the time of Jonah through an act of repentance the people apparently returned to do evil. Nineveh was eventually destroyed and Israelite soldiers participated in its destruction. Some of the Prophets spoke of this. One of these Prophets was Micah. Jonah speaks of the saving of Nineveh from destruction in his time, Micah speaks of the destruction of Nineveh and other Assyrian cities at a later time. Micah is the next Prophet in our study.