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The Book of Jonah

Updated on February 1, 2010

Jonah was a Hebrew prophet and a book of the Old Testament that recounts his supposed experiences. The name is spelled "Jonas" in Roman Catholic translations. The man Jonah is described in II Kings 14:25 as being attached to the court of the kingdom of Israel. Most scholars think that he lived in the 8th century B.C. but that the book was most likely written by someone else between the 5th century and 3rd century B.C. The writer was probably using the story of Jonah to persuade the Jews after their return from captivity in Babylonia not to isolate themselves from Gentile peoples. He believed, according to some scholars, that God cared for Gentiles as well as for Jews or, according to others, that the Jewish religion embodied universal values or teachings.

The book of Jonah relates that Jonah was ordered by God to go to Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrians, to prophesy its destruction if the inhabitants did not repent of their wickedness. Jonah tried to escape God's will by boarding a ship that was going in another direction. God caused a violent storm at sea, and the sailors cast lots to find out who was to blame. When the lot fell on Jonah and he admitted his guilt, they threw him overboard to calm the sea. Jonah was swallowed by a great fish sent by God, and after three days inside its belly he was thrown up on dry land. The remorseful Jonah then preached to the Gentile people of Nineveh so successfully that they repented and God spared the city, thus undoing Jonah's prophecy of destruction. The angry Jonah left the city, but God rebuked him for not caring about Nineveh.

The implication of the writer is that God cares for Gentiles as well as for Jews. Jonah may represent the Jews, whom God intends to prophesy to the Gentiles.

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