By Janet Howe Gaines

The tale of Jonah the prophet swallowed by way of the large fish is straightforward sufficient to please a baby and intricate sufficient to confound a student. This paintings culminates in a discussion among Jonah and sleek dilemmas of forgiveness in debts from the Jewish Holocaust.

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Additional resources for Forgiveness in a Wounded World: Jonah's Dilemma (Studies in Biblical Literature # 5)

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The Talmud (an ancient compendium of Jewish law, tradition, and biblical scholarship) confirms this notion and states that “Jonah himself was not informed! — Jonah was originally told that Nineveh would be turned, but he did not know whether for good or for evil” (Sanhedrin 89b). What the prophet does realize is that he receives an unambiguous, clarion call to go to Nineveh, a summons designed to shake him out of his status quo and into a new and challenging undertaking. If God’s statement were merely a prediction of Nineveh’s fall, Jonah could have declared it from within the safe borders of Israel.

The theory is that the story of Jonah, because of its independent value as midrash, was removed from its original location in 2 Kings, where it fit beside miracle stories of Elijah and Elisha, and placed Approaching the Book of Jonah 21 as a book among the twelve prophets. One can easily understand that a midrash would be added to the biblical canon to explain the conundrum of why forgiveness is extended to a foreign, heathen people (Budde 229). Another genre that is part of the Hebrew Scriptures, often aiming to instruct on such issues as forgiveness, is wisdom literature.

We want to believe that if we repent of our wrongdoing and accept our punishment, God forgives us. The purpose of divine punishment is usually redemptive, not vindictive. God loves us and wants to bring us back into the fold as soon as we are ready to come. The prophet Jonah, like many of us, finds that it is often difficult to do what is right. We will go to great lengths to avoid our own consciences and God’s will, capitulating instead to the emotional enslavement that disregard for right behavior brings.

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