Jonah 3:1-4

I am continuing in Learn Biblical Hebrew, by John Dobson. In an earlier post I translated Jonah 1:1-3 and I have been slow to post my work on  Jonah 3:1-4. this post will show that much of 3:1-4 is verbatim from 1:1-3. But there are some fairly big differences.

וַיְהִי דְבַר־יְהוָה אֶל־יוֹנָה שֵׁנִית לֵאמֹר׃ 1 This is the word of YHWH to Jonah a second time:
קוּם לֵךְ אֶל־נִינְוֵה הָעִיר הַגְּדוֹלָה וִּקְרָא אֵלֶיהָ אֶת־הַקְּרִיאָה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי דֹּבֵר אֵלֶיךָ׃ 2 “Get up; Go to Nineveh, that great city, and call to it the message I speak to you.”
וַיָּקָם יוֹנָה וַיֵּלֶךְ אֶל־נִינְוֶה כִּדְבַר יְהוָה וְנִינְוֵה הָיְתָה עִיר־גְּדוֹלָה לֵאלֹהִים מַהֲלַךְ שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים׃ 3 Then Jonah got up and went to Nineveh because of the word of YHWH. Now, Nineveh was a huge city – a journey of three days across.
וַיָּחֶל יוֹנָה לָבוֹא בָעִיר מַהֲלַךְ יוֹם אֶחָד וַיִּקְרָא וַיּאמַר עוֹד אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם וְנִינְוֵה נֶהְפָּכֶת׃ 4 Jonah began to enter into the city one day’s journey and called out saying, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed.”

I’m not sure I got quite all the forms right in my mind, but the gist is fairly clear. A lot of the structure is pure duplication of the actions in 1:1-3, so I won’t beat a dead horse.

There are a couple differences though. Jonah is no longer “Jonah son of Amittai”. He is just “Jonah”. Also, in 1.2 Jonah is merely told to call against the city because of its wickedness, but no specifics about the coming judgment are given. But in 3.4, Jonah gives a very specific declaration of impending doom with a clear timeframe. This begs the question whether Jonah’s prophecy here is false, overstepping the word of YHWH in 1:1-3, or is simply new information that was not previously shared.

I don’t see the fact that Nineveh is not punished as a contradiction of the prophetic voice,  or proof of false prophecy, as it would seem the whole reason for proclamation of this sort is change that would stop there being necessity of judgment. Then again, Israel rarely accepted the message of the prophets as readily as this king of Nineveh!

One form particularly that stands out to me is the יוֹם in verse 3.4. In 3.3 we find שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים, “three days”. Why is 3.4 not אַרְבָּעִים יָמִים, “forty days”? I don’t know the answer – and as far as I can tell I have not run up to anything in Learn Biblical Hebrew that would explain the variance of number between the expressions in 3.3 and 3.4.

About George

I'm interested in theology, languages, translation and various sorts of fermentation.
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2 Responses to Jonah 3:1-4

  1. Paul D. says:

    Your comments about the prophecy suggest that you don’t understand Jonah as a satire or moral fable as most scholars do…

    • George says:

      I would hate to disagree with “most scholars”… 😉

      But in all seriousness, I don’t see my notes as contrary to reading Jonah as satire or fable. I’m simply commenting on the actions that occur within the text, whether historical fact, satire or other (and I see good reason to see Jonah as satire). The fact that Jonah might have given (within the story) the wrong message once he stops running away would only highlight the irony, made only richer when the inhabitants respond (in the story) with such repentance – quite out of character.

      Whether Jonah is being described as just relaying YHWH’s word faithfully, or is fighting it to the bitter end, is a reasonable question, to me. Is there something specific I mentioned that led you to see me as contradicting scholarly opinion on literary type?

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