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

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

Jonah: Plot

The book of Jonah seems to break the rules. It does not begin by setting up a problem or lack that its characters must overcome. Nor does it begin with a conventional abstract or orientation. Rather it opens like one of the other prophetic books with Adonai's word to Jonah, and an instruction to "go to Nineveh". (1:1-2) when in the next verse the prophet flees from the presence of Adonai in exactly the opposite direction it is the reader, not the character who has a problem to solve - why does Jonah act like this?

Thus right at the start of the book we come across a plot that seems more like a who-dun-it than like a conventional ancient narrative. If a character has a problem to overcome then Adonai is that character and the problem is his prophet's disobedience.

Jonah's flight is a complication to the divine purpose so Adonai sends a storm (1:4) and eventually the sailors respond to Jonah's suggestion to throw him overboard (1:12). This might seem a final complication to Adonai's plan, for Jonah will surely die. However, God "provided" a huge fish (1:17) and Jonah is led to pray (ch.2).

At this point the story seems to start again: "Adonai's word came to Jonah a second time..." (3:1). This time the narrative starts well with Jonah going where he is told and preaching (3:2-4), this achieves great results (3:5-10).

Again at first sight the story is set to close with a happy ending. However the remark that "God changed his mind..." (3:10) reminds us that all is not in fact as simple as that. The next verses (4:1-3) introducing a major complication with the  angry prophet at last explaining the reader's problem (which has remained untouched since the start).

The byplay with the "booth", "bush" and "worm" while entertaining defies analysis in terms of conventional plotting. It does however set up nicely the final conversation and the book's point.

© Tim Bulkeley, 2003