Narrative :: Jonah: Introduction Notes on ch:  3  4  

Study Notes on Jonah (including Hebrew narrative) by Tim Bulkeley


Jonah: Genre

Deciding the genre of Jonah may well be the most important decision an interpreter makes. Some genre attributions lead us to expect historical information from the book. Others lead us to dismiss the supernatural elements of the story as "merely legendary". 

As always our decision will open some possibilities for interpretation while closing others. For example if Jonah is some sort of historical document (say the "memoirs of Jonah son of Amittai") then we will hardly expect humour. 

Like Ruth the category "history" does not really fit, for there is no sign of dependence on archives or other documentary sources, and the style is highly artful.

In most respects Jonah fits well with Ruth in the categories of either novella or Hebrew Short Story. 

Like texts classified as "novella" (novelle) Jonah has few characters, but at least some subplots. Characterisation is less well rounded than is usual. Yet Jonah does not tell of everyday events, and God is very evident as a character in this story.

Campbell's list of features of Hebrew Short Stories also fits well: 
the use of elevated style (Kunstprosa) especially for speech, 
the mixture of public and private interests, 
the apparent desire to both entertain and to instruct and 
the use of highly individualised characters;
the "Hebrew short story" also often describes historical events and shows some concern for historical accuracy.

Yet the presence of miracles in Jonah distinguishes it from Ruth, as does the presence of humour.

Didactic intention is also more evident in Jonah. Not least in the final scene where God evidently seeks to instruct his prophet (and so presumably also the reader).


© Tim Bulkeley, 2003