How Big Was Nineveh? Literal versus Figurative Interpretation of City Size -- By: Charles Halton

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 018:2 (NA 2008)
Article: How Big Was Nineveh? Literal versus Figurative Interpretation of City Size
Author: Charles Halton


How Big Was Nineveh?
Literal versus Figurative Interpretation
of City Size

Charles Halton

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

This article examines the incongruity between most modern translations of Jonah 3:3 and ancient textual and archaeological evidence concerning the size of Nineveh. Every modern solution intended to reconcile a literal rendering of the description in Jonah 3:3 with ancient evidence fails. However, reading Jonah 3:3 as a figure of speech perfectly conveys the author’s intention of representing Nineveh as a very large city.

Key Words: Jonah 3:3, Nineveh, Babylon, literal, figurative, idiom, hermeneutics, Herodotus, Sennacherib, journey, prophet

On the face of it, “Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days’ journey” (Jonah 3:3b, KJV) is quite an innocuous statement. It seems like a straightforward description of size measured by means of an average day’s walk. Many modern translations render this phrase in a similar manner:

Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth (ESV).1

Now Nineveh was an extremely large city, a three-day walk (HCSV).2

Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days’ walk (NASB).3

Now Nineveh was a very important city—a visit required three days (NIV).

Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey across (NJB).

Author’s note: I dedicate this article to Professor Edwin Yamauchi and John Charles Halton III—two individuals who combine a sharp mind with a tender heart. May this young scholar follow in your footsteps. Furthermore, I extend my deep appreciation to them both for their insights in an earlier draft of this essay.

Nineveh was an enormously large city a three days’ walk across (NJPSV).4

[A] city so large that it took three days to see it all (NLT).

Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across (NRSV).

Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it (TNIV).

However, once one begins to ponder the rela...

You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
Click here to subscribe
visitor : : uid: ()