1. In Bringing the Hidden to Light, I read Robert Harris’ essay, “Contextual Reading: Rabbi Eliezer of Beaugency’s Commentary on Jonah”. Dr. Harris teaches at Jewish Theological Seminary, and, even though I saw him at weekly Bible lunches, I never took a class with him, probably because I wasn’t comfortable with my level of Hebrew knowledge at the time.
There were two points in Harris’ essay that stood out to me. First, Harris referred to Christian tendencies to interpret Jonah as a type of both Jesus and also the Jews who rejected Jesus. For Christians, Jonah’s experience in the sea-monster foreshadowed Jesus’ burial in the tomb prior to his resurrection. But Jonah’s flight from God’s instructions resembled the Jews’ rejection of Jesus. So the “positive” stuff is related to Jesus, while the negative stuff is applied to the Jews.
Christian typology. Is it an exact science? I wouldn’t say that there’s nothing to it, for there are similarities among things. But, if you can make Jonah a type of Jesus and the Jews who rejected Jesus, then one can legitimately argue (in my opinion) that typology is rather arbitrary. It’s like applying God’s blessings of Israel to the church, and God’s curses of Israel to the Jewish people, as some Christians have done.
Second, Harris referred to the Jewish interpretation that Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh because he knew God would spare it, and Jonah (as an old man) didn’t feel like making all that effort for nothing. That reminds me of an experience I had at a Presbyterian church where I worked. An intern was about to put on a skit about the Jonah story, and he asked me why Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. I told him that the Assyrians were an enemy to Israel, and Jonah didn’t want God to spare them. But my explanation apparently didn’t sink in, for the intern made Jonah look like he was upset that he had to travel all the way to Nineveh for nothing.
Well, it turns out that my friend’s interpretation has some medieval company!
If Jonah were concerned about effort, why did he travel all the way to Tarshish? Didn’t that take effort, as well? Maybe, but I can still identify with Jonah, on a certain level. When I’m afraid of a certain group of people, I will make a great effort to accomplish my tasks in a way that doesn’t involve me being around them. In a sense, I’m giving myself more work, but I have the relief of not having to be around that group of people. Maybe Jonah was doing the same thing: he feared God’s mission. He didn’t want to go to Nineveh, especially if it was to be for nothing. (But what is “nothing”? Helping to bring about a national repentance is quite an accomplishment!) He took great pains to protect himself from God’s commission.
2. As I read Benjamin Sommer’s A Prophet Reads Scripture: Allusion in Isaiah 40-66, I was impressed that Sommer didn’t buy into the claim that Second Isaiah contradicts Jeremiah. I’m not saying that I’m a fundamentalist who thinks that all of the writings of the Bible have to agree, or say the exact same thing, in the exact same way (not that all fundamentalists even believe this). I just think that some scholars tend to toss out nuance when they characterize the ideologies of biblical writings or set them against one another.
I’m not going to mention any specific names. It’s just that, in my exposure to biblical scholarship, I’ve heard scholars set Jeremiah against Isaiah of Jerusalem. Isaiah of Jerusalem believes in the inviolability of Zion, whereas Jeremiah does not. The false prophets of Jeremiah’s day were echoing Isaiah, in their insistence that God would protect Jerusalem, notwithstanding her sins. So the spiel runs! But I doubt that Isaiah of Jerusalem would agree with the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day, for Isaiah often preached against sin and warned of divine punishment. He was not a cheap-gracer, by any stretch of the imagination!
Second Isaiah presents God as loving and gracious, as God undoes the punishment that Jeremiah talks about. But does Second Isaiah contradict Jeremiah? Is Second Isaiah’s God one of grace, while Jeremiah’s God is one of wrath? I don’t think so. Second Isaiah says repeatedly that there is no peace for the wicked. Plus, God may act in different ways at different times. There are situations in which discipline is appropriate, and situations in which grace is more fitting. We see this even in the Book of Jeremiah: there is exile, but also restoration.