Posted by: mattcolvin | January 8, 2012

Jonah 1

Monday of the first week after Epiphany: Jonah 1.

Perhaps no book of the Bible is so elegantly put together as Jonah. It is a gem. It was also the favorite book of my favorite Bible scholar, David Daube.

1:2 – As a privy councilor of YHWH, Jonah is informed that YHWH has a message to deliver to Nineveh. His job is to “cry out against it” so that the Ninevites will “cry mightily” (3:8) to YHWH in repentance. This verb “to cry out” (za’aq) is a frequent one in Scripture, and a motif in the story of the Exodus.

1:3 – Jonah arose to “flee to Tarshish from the presence of YHWH.” When she heard this, my 8 year old daughter said, “That’s silly! You can’t do that.”

1:4 – “But YHWH sent out a great wind…” The wind is the first of many things — fish, plant, worm, east wind, sun — that obey YHWH’s commands, whereas Jonah does not.

Jonah is a missionary. By this, we mean that he has been sent, not to make the Ninevites into Jews, but to make them worshippers of YHWH. He will succeed in this mission, malgre lui, but notice that he already has the same effect on the men on the ship bound for Tarshish: they begin by crying out “every man to his god”, but they end by crying out to YHWH (1:14).

David Daube says that “there is a kind of universalism in the book…an enthusiasm for everything the exists and its or his or her allotted part. In Jonah: the storm, the sea, the sun, the gourd, the insect that kills the gourd, the whale…” He points to a similarity with Job, which also rejoices in the creatures: ‘Satan, family, friends, Sabean invaders, earth, sea, stars, the wild goats, the ostrich and her eggs, unicorn, behemoth, leviathan…” (CWDD 3. p. 887)

1:5-6 – Jonah is asleep in the hold. The next person to occupy this position — asleep in a boat during a gale — will be Jesus Himself. I’m not sure what to make of the parallel.

1:8 – The sailors assume, without any good reason, that the storm must be “because of someone” on board. They present a comical sight as they cast about for which man is responsible. It is almost as though they conclude that, since none of their own gods have proved responsible, there must be someone else. Sure enough, there is Jonah, asleep.

1:9 – Jonah says that he fears YHWH, whom he identifies pregnantly as “the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” This locution also designates YHWH as the One responsible for the fate of the ship.

I have noticed before that Paul is an anti-Jonah in Acts 27. Another similarity between the two chapters now strikes me: the sailors, decent fellows, try to row to safety even though Jonah has told them that they must throw him overboard. Likewise, in Acts 27:30, as the Roman sailors “were seeking to escape from the ship, when they had let down the skiff into the sea, under pretense of putting out anchors from the prow, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, ‘Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.'” In both cases, human attempts to escape the predicament are doomed. There is nothing for it but to obey the words of YHWH’s emissary.


  1. How does the 2008 five essay Cambridge U book “Studies in Biblical Law” ( ) compare to the unavailable CWDD 3 (Calum Carmichael’s 2003 Collected Works of David Daube vol 3: Biblical Law & Literature)?

    • I haven’t seen Studies in BL, but if it only has 5 essays, then it’s a pamphlet compared to the 900 page CWDD vol. 3.

      If you’re judging vol. 3’s availability from Amazon, you might try Berkeley’s Law School, where I got my four volumes:

      Vol 2 and 3 are the ones to get. Yes, they’ll set you back $110, but I really believe they’re worth every penny.

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