[ Originally written and posted on December 25, 2011 ]
It is appropriate to look at Jonah on this day. Halley's Bible Handbook
maintains the historicity of Jonah, citing Christ's reference to it in
Matthew 12: 39-41. Central to the book is the theme of entombment and
resurrection. Looking at Jonah as a parable, however, it offers much
for analysis. The whale has always stolen the show, of course. Halley
calls it a "sea monster," not truly a whale. As a beast more
serpent-like than mammalian, it is central to the axis of falling into
darkness and rising again to the light.
There is another axis
within the book of Jonah, that of east and west. Jonah flees the Lord's
command to go east to Nineveh, He boards a ship at Joppa and seeks to
go as far west as possible in the then-known world, to Tarshish.
According to Wigoder's dictionary of the Bible, Josephus interpreted
Tarshish as being Tarsus in Celicia. Smith's dictionary of the Bible
maintains that Tarshish is the Aramaic name for Tartessus, in Spain. If
one dares to contradict Josephus, it is intriguing to think of Jonah as
seeking to flee to Spain. Paul announced his intention of going to
The meaning of the whale is too big to take on as a
topic of speculation here. Better it is to linger over that mysterious
plant (4:6-10) that gives shelter to Jonah. The New Revised Standard
Version calls it simply "a bush," but offers a footnote: "Heb. qiqayon, possibly the castor bean plant." Smith translates that Hebrew term as Ricinus communis,
the castor bean plant. He notes that this grows to be a tall tree in
India, but is only a bush in England, at most 3 or 4 feet in height.
Luther's Bible translates the plant as "Rizinus," an obvious
Germanization of the Latin name for the plant. In the New International
Version, it is only "a vine." The King James Version preserves
something of grandeur. Therein, it is "a gourd."