10 Dec A Blog for the Book of Jonah?
Certainly, no book in the Minor Prophets is as well-known as Jonah. It is the only book among the twelve that translates well into Flannelgraph. A person may spend his or her life in church—twice on Sunday and midweek service—and never hear a Sunday school lesson or sermon on Obadiah, Nahum, or Zephaniah. It is doubtful, however, that the same person would graduate from preschool without hearing about Jonah and the whale.
Something has happened to Jonah, however. The book has been patronized. People love it—in a condescending way. They are grateful to have a book in the Old Testament that speaks so clearly of God’s love for the nations. The book has served as the theme for many conferences and launched countless missionaries. People see it as a wonderful counter-balance to the relentless messages of judgment in the other Minor Prophets. Yet, the story of Jonah is so fantastic, is it really believable?
As deference to Scripture has diminished, the voices ridiculing Jonah’s historicity have increased. “Why?” you may ask. I will let one particularly well-spoken skeptic answer:
At almost every step the reader who takes the story as a record of actual happenings must ask questions. How was it possible that a true prophet should disobey a direct divine command? Is it likely that God should send a storm simply in order to pursue a single person and thus cause many others to suffer too? Do such things happen in a world like ours? Is it not curious that the lot should fall upon Jonah at once, and evidently without manipulation on the part of the sailors, and that the sea should become calm directly after he had been thrown overboard? That the great fish was at once ready to swallow Jonah may be passed, but that Jonah should have remained in the fish for three days and three nights and should have prayed a beautiful psalm of thanksgiving inside, exceeds the limits of credibility, not to mention the point that the fish did not simply eject him but threw him up on the shore. What an exaggerated idea of the greatness of Nineveh the author had! What language did Jonah speak in Nineveh? How could the people understand him? And what a wonderful result followed his preaching! The greatest prophets in Israel had not been able to accomplish anything like it. It is so unprecedented that Jesus regarded it as the most astounding wonder of the story (Lk. 11:29). Is it not strange that absolutely no trace has been left of the universal, whole-hearted repentance of the Ninevites and that the later prophets who prophesied against Assyria knew nothing of it? And what shall we say of the extraordinarily speedy growth of the plant?
These words were written over a century ago by a man named Julius Bewer. Bewer’s perspective has only become more firmly established by those in the hallowed halls and moldy basements of academia. My concern, though, is not primarily what the academics say but what the people in churches believe. Unfortunately, academic skepticism inevitably influences those in the pew. Bewer’s barrage of questions lingers in basement, hall, and pew. Some have been addressed more successfully than others. This blog is my invitation to you to join me as I investigate the biblical and historical evidence that a real, flesh-and-blood prophet preached in the historical city of Nineveh sometime in the eighth century B.C. I hope, along the way, to give Dr. Bewer some posthumous answers.
 Julius A. Bewer, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Jonah, International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh, T & T Clark, 1912), 3–4.