Jonah chapter 2 is basically the prayer that Jonah says from the belly of the great fish. In it he “rehearses” to Yahweh the events that have led up to his rescue. Now some of these events were things that he said to Yahweh at that earlier time as those events were unfolding. Thus, some of the statements in ch. 2 can “point” to more than one place on a chronological time line. There is the moment in time when Jonah prayed the psalm to Yahweh, and there is the (earlier) moment in time when Jonah actually spoke to Yahweh the words later reported in the psalm. And finally, the thing that Jonah spoke at that time sometimes refers to some other event which has its own place on the time line!!
(An additional feature of ch. 2 is that it is structured chiastically, and so that in itself immediately alerts us to the possibility that the chronological time line will not simply track the sequential order of the lines and stanzas of the psalm.)
What is the value in going through chapter 2 in this way? Is it not being a bit pedantic?
Well, I actually found that it really helped me understand the order of events (or at least helped me to reach a conclusion about the order of events!) and I think that that lays part of the groundwork for attempting the difficult task of interpreting the book of Jonah as a whole. I thought that, in general, it did not unequivocally rule in or rule out many of these competing interpretations, but it did nudge me in the direction of some of them more than others. And in that respect, the “time analysis” of ch. 2 is in keeping with much of the rest of the book: the narrator really does treat this as something of a “detective story” – teasing us with clues and trails which might or might not “lead anywhere”. For example, we are in suspense about Jonah’s reasons for fleeing from Yahweh’s presence in 1:3; not until chapter 4 does the narrator allow us to know Jonah’s reason, and then that enigmatic, even “shocking”, reason itself raises yet more questions! As alert readers, we have been mentally forming and abandoning hypotheses about “what is going on” as the exciting narrative proceeds (and we are being presented with yet more “nudges” this way and that in our theorising!) Appropriately, the book ends with a question, and by the end of the narrative, we are surely left with many questions and we have to go back, re-read, sift and reflect to try to answer them: the art of the narrator in action!!
Well, back to the timeline!
Here is the article, preceded by the chiastic analysis from a previous post:
Categories: Chiastic and Other Structures, Jonah, Old Testament Exegesis
Leave a Reply