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Date: 8th century BC


The prophet Jonah is known for his adventure with the big fish. Jonah comes from a small city in the Kingdom of Israel. He was born in the reign of Jeroboam II (782-753 BC). He is commissioned by GOD to preach repentance in the capital Nineveh of the feared enemy Assyria. The city of Nineveh is hundreds of years old and named after the goddess Isthar. In Genesis 10:11, Nimrod is said to have built this city. Archaeological research has shown that this place was already inhabited in prehistoric times. About 1800 BC it is an important city. Both King Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) and Sargon II (722-705 BC) have their palaces here. Sennacherib (705-681 BC) restored the city, the walls and the water supply. In this city are:

  • Government buildings,

  • Parks,

  • Residential houses,

  • Temples,

  • Statues,

  • Palaces.

The records of Assyrian history and foreign policy are collected in the public library of Nineveh. At the height of its power, the city had a wall more than 11 km long and about 175,000 inhabitants.

When God told Jonah to leave his hometown to preach in Nineveh, Jonah became enraged. What did God care about those heathens? He deliberately took a ship that was going to sail exactly the other way. A great storm arose. Jonah felt responsible for the danger and asked to be thrown overboard. A large fish (perhaps a whale, but I can't be sure) swallowed Jonah and after three days spat him on the land. Purified, Jonah now goes to Nineveh to preach. But if the people of Nineveh actually repent, Jonah is not happy. On the contrary, he is sulking in the field outside the city. Using a gourd, God teaches him a lesson: If Jonah can have pity on a plant, shouldn't God have pity on an entire city and its inhabitants?

The discussion surrounding this book centers on whether these events actually took place. Some regard the book as an extended parable, which should not be taken literally. The Rabbis often used these kinds of teaching aids, as did Jesus. Others believe it is better to let the report speak for itself. The book seems historical in the name of the prophet and the fairly detailed description of his life. There is no denying that it took a miracle for Jonah to survive in the fish for so long. But for God, the creator of the earth, the fish and Jonah, nothing is impossible (1:17).

Interestingly, even in our days there are known cases of fishermen who were swallowed by a fish and survived. All in all, the book can best be viewed as a mind-boggling but true story of God's offer of conversion to the Assyrians of Nineveh.

Theological Themes

The purpose of the book is clearly stated: Shall I not then spare Nineveh, the great city(..)? (4:11). God's compassion for all people, even the enemies of Israel, is at the heart of the book

Main features

1. The refusal of Jonah at the command of God (1:1-17),
2. The conversion of Jonah (2:1-3:10),
3. Jonah's regret for the conversion of the city of Nineveh (4:1-10),
4. God's compassion for Nineveh (4:11).