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

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

From the East window of the Chapel Lincoln College, Oxford
"an implausibly toothsome whale ejecting Jonah (and glad to be rid of him it seems)."



Jonah: Humour


"Warning: if a congregation has no conception of spiritual humour, if it has no sense of irony and has quite failed to discover the secret of laughter, it is perhaps better to let [Jonah] lie; for here the laughter never lets up." (Mishkotte, 422)


Cartoon from the Caleb Project

The humorous nature of the story of Jonah is evidently apparent to many lay readers of translations. The emphasis on the more outlandish elements in popular retellings of the story, and puns about "whales of a story" or "fishy tales" are clear evidence of this. Technically two different types of humour are dominant in Jonah. 

The first is satire

(1891-1979) Painter, Decorative Painter
Glass paintings in the cemetery chapel of Alfred Cordelin, Rauma. 1921
©Photographs: Anu Lehtonen
Anonymous. (16th century, German)
Die Errettung des Jonas 
[Jonah Cast on Dry Land]
Watercolor and gouache on parchment, illustrating Jonah 2:10. 
©1996 The Kendall Whaling Museum

Irony and satire, as the definition of satire suggests, are closely related. Wolff (1986, 84-85) claims that, by the end of the book, Adonai God's efforts to convert his prophet are pure irony. At the least they have a kinder tone, though Jonah was not overjoyed when the bush wilted! Jonah's extreme self-pity and exaggerated grief over a bush suggest that even if Adonai is above satire, the narrator is not.

But then Adonai cares for all his creatures, even Nineveh and its animals, even Jonah the rebel Hebrew prophet.


© Tim Bulkeley, 2003