BACKGROUND NOTES (& OTHER NEAT INFO)
JONAH, MINOR PROPHET, JUST A LITTLE DIFFERENT
Jonah is one of the prophetic books in the Bible, which contain sayings and speeches ascribed to the prophet named in the
title of the book. Jonah belongs to a collection of shorter prophetic books known together as the "book of the twelve."
Jonah is a little different in that he is more the main character of his book than source of prophetic sayings.
WHAT'S A PROPHET?
The Introduction to the Prophetic Books in the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV) describes a changing role for prophets over
time. For example, early on they were likely "local or itinerant holy men and women revered for their special religious powers..."
With the emergence of the monarchy in ancient Israel, "prophets appear as king-makers and king-breakers..." Then in the eighth
century, it appears "prophets began to function less as private counselors and critics of kings and more as public figures
who influenced opinion through their pronouncements in the Temple courts and in other public places."
In a nutshell, this story has two parts — sea and land. God tells Jonah to go and tell the people of Nineveh to smarten
Jonah bolts and hops on the first ship going the opposite direction. A big storm comes up and the sailors reluctantly pitch
Jonah overboard. God then sends a big fish to swallow Jonah, which after Jonah says a prayer of repentance, spits him back
Jonah finally does what he's told. Lo and behold, Nineveh repents and God spares the city. But Jonah is not happy with this
turn of events, Nineveh being "the capital of the Assyrians who destroyed Samaria in 722 BCE" (Assyria being a nation of which
Jonah is not fond). Jonah sulks, then God makes a plant grow up to shade Jonah. Just as Jonah starts bonding with this plant,
God sends along a worm to chew it up, and the plant then withers and dies. Jonah is really ticked now. But God reminds him
that it's God's job to be concerned about a city full of people and all the animals in it to boot.
To see a map of Nineveh and environs, click here.
Search for Tel-Aviv/Jaffa on Google Maps to find the modern city on the Mediterranean coast.
Here's a map. Yes, that's Southern Spain and the Strait of Gibraltar on the Mediterranean. Here's a web encyclopedia listing I like that says Tarshish is 'a place distant from Palestine.' I think that sums up perfectly exactly why Jonah went to
BIG FISH — HAVEN'T WE SEEN THIS SORT OF THING BEFORE?
Count on Canadian writer and scholar Northrop Frye to put the symbolism here in context for us in The Great Code: "We should
have enough training in metaphorical thinking by now to realize that the sea, the sea monster, and the foreign island [Jonah]
lands on are all the same place and mean the same thing. Jesus accepted the Jonah story as a type of his own Passion (Matthew
12: 40), and in medieval paintings of the descent to hell he is shown walking into the throat of a large toothy monster representing
hell. Again, metaphorically, his redemption ("harrowing") of the subterranean world is identical with his redemption of the
world above it, the latter being symbolically subterranean as well."
The Jonah story, Frye points out in Words with Power, falls in with the strain of imagery that "views Israel as a kind of
microcosm of humanity. We saw the significance of Ruth's Moabite ancestry [previously], and Jonah, with its suggestion that
Nineveh is as much under the eye and care of God as Israel, belongs also in this group."
WHAT WAS THAT VERSE FROM MATTHEW AGAIN?
At Mt 12.40, Jesus tells the disciples: "For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster,
so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth."
Frye again makes a neat set of connections here: "The Resurrection narratives in the Gospels are kept deliberately placid
and serene, full of the unearthly quiet of a spiritual event. But in the background there is the power of a God infinitely
stronger than any Samson or Hercules tearing himself loose from all the stink of death and with his face grimy from the smoke
of hell... [I]n the New Testament, much is said about the welcoming of the lame, the halt and the blind... of prodigal sons
returning... It looks as though a fair sized proletariat is included as well as the conventional pre-Christian heroes: so
large a body, in fact, to suggest that the Resurrection represents the release of everything that has been unjustly or needlessly
repressed, whether in society or in the human mind" (WWP).
NOTE ABOUT THAT SHADE PLANT.
At Jonah 4.6, the NRSV reads "God appointed a bush" to shade the prophet. Footnotes here say the plant was "possibly a castor
bean plant." However the King James Bible has it that "the Lord God prepared a gourd... So Jonah was exceedingly glad about
It's good to have a sense of the scope of traditional variations on Jonah's hospitable plant. To see why, read my notes with
pictures about a marvelous stained glass window at Oxford University called, 'Jonah surveying Nineveh.' Click here for the article. It helps to know about the gourd!
In the Arts
OTHER GREAT ART.
Well, there is 'that other Jonah window' at Oxford, also by van Linge, that does show the traditional big fish with sharp
teeth. To see it, click here, and scroll down a bit.
I also quite like the sculpture by Phillip Ratner found on this page. Click on thumbnail for better view.
And that's gotta be enough about Jonah!
Questions for Discussion
• Why does Jonah go the opposite way God asks him to?
• Is this how we generally think prophets behave?
• What would you do if you were Jonah?
• Do you relate more or less to Jonah because of his actions?
• What do you think the big fish represents?
• What do you think the good/bad people of Nineveh represent?
• How do you feel about the idea that God decides not to destroy the city when the citizens show remorse?
• What do you think of God sending Jonah a nice shade plant, and then a worm to kill it?
• If you were a person from Nineveh, how would you feel on hearing the news that God changed his mind and wasn't going
to destroy your city after all?
• Have you ever had to forgive somebody for something you thought was pretty bad?
• Have you ever been forgiven by someone for something that was pretty bad?
• Can you think of other Bible stories about forgiveness?
• Can you think of other Bible stories with fish in them?
Please find below suggested workshops for this unit. For each one, when you are in real time with the children:
1. Quickly review or recap the story with them before starting activity. Each week, see how much more detail each group of
kids can supply on the story they've been studying.
2. Link or explain your activity to the current story.
Arts -- inky picture
Why: this inverted crayon resist drawing will remind the children that resisting God is futile -- God's purpose will show
Materials: paper, white wax crayon or wax candle, pencil, water, paint brushes, 2 colours of watercolour paints.
Sketch simple design in pencil on white paper. Outline thickly, pressing hard with white crayon or wax candle.
Brush over entire page with paintbrush loaded with water.
Load brush with one of the colours. Drop colour onto waterlogged page.
Do again with second colour. Use only 2 colours or will look messy.
Let dry. Colours will merge on drying.
(This excellent idea can be found on the website for the show, Art Attack, under Inky Pictures.)
Kitchen -- Zucchini cookies
Why: Zucchini have a huge leaf like a squash or pumpkin. See if you can bring in a bit of the plant with fairly mature leaf
attached. Maybe take a photo of a spreading zucchini plant in a friend's garden. Will show the kids it's more than a little
Ingredients and Directions:
Use your favourite zucchini bread or loaf recipe. The one I used came from the Looneyspoons cookbook. Plop the batter in spoonful
on to a cookie sheet. Bake for cookie length time -- approx 8 - 10 mins on 350 degrees. They are a broad cookie. If time,
you could consider spreading with icing and adding sprinkles.
Try variations on these classic 'maritime' games to reinforce the whale part of the Jonah story.
Instead of Octopus, call it 'Big Fish,' or 'Grouper.' The IT gets to be the big fish with expanding school.
For Ship to shore, make stations key plot points in Jonah story. NSEW points can be various cities, ie Nineveh, Tarshish...
Centre actions can be Swallow Jonah, Spit out Jonah, Cool off under green plant, Sad about green plant...
Computer -- Jonah
From Sunday Software. Just use it. These programs are great.
Why: use sound effects and action to reinforce key plot points of this bible story.
How it works.
Divide class into 4 groups or parts.
Brainstorm 4 different parts to produce together like a round.
Have groups practice separately. Then try each other's parts. Then come in in sequence like a round.
Take your Beat Box to another, perhaps younger class. Or share during worship at children's story time.
Suggestions for 4 parts.
1. Say, God called Jonah, Jonah, Jonah (hand beside mouth calling action)
2. Jonah skipped town (make hitchhiking thumb a ride motion)
3. A whale swallowed Jonah, a whale spat him back again (i can think of lots of actions here!)
4. You can't run from God. (in pairs, have teams mime friends reuiting, like each with arm around shoulders)
Writers's note - Beat Box is inspired by the Treehouse tv show, 4 Square, especially the Beat Team. Perhaps it has to be seen
to be fully appreciated. To see the Beat Team in action go to Treehousetv.com > Videos > Scroll down to 4 Square (not far down on the Video index.) Their bits on Factory and Soup are near the top. Soup
is one of my faves - turns simple soup making into a cool routine. Little kids love this, and while big might not be as much
into performing, they do like coming up with new routines, and they don't mind performing them for little kids.
Review, Activities from Jonah 1
- Drama/ play. Click here for the scripts for older and younger children.
- Kitchen/pumpkin pies or tarts.
- Movie/ Veggie Tales Jonah.
|'Jonah Surverying Nineveh.' Christchurch, Oxford.
|Painted glass window by Abraham van Linge, 1631. Photo by Ann Wiltshire.