Jonah Among The Prophets: A Study In Canonical Context -- By: Elmer Dyck

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 33:1 (Mar 1990)
Article: Jonah Among The Prophets: A Study In Canonical Context
Author: Elmer Dyck

Jonah Among The Prophets:
A Study In Canonical Context

Elmer Dyck*

On two counts, the book of Jonah is unique in the prophetic literature. First, the prophet is the subject of stinging satire. He is clearly the anti-hero of the story. This is not the way in which prophets, unless they are deemed to be false, are portrayed.1 Second, the book is a story about a prophet rather than a collection of his oracles. Some prophetic books do contain biography, but in none—with the quite radical exception of Jonah—does it make up more than a fraction of the book.2

Jonah’s uniqueness raises a number of questions. Why was Jonah included in a collection so unlike itself? What factors were taken into account in the formation of a collection, in this case the so-called minor prophets or book of the Twelve? What does the fact of the book’s inclusion in the collection suggest about the way in which it might be interpreted?

I. Jonah As One Of The Twelve

Jonah’s place in the canon is incontrovertible. Its canonicity is unquestioned, its place among the Twelve uncontested in the MSS and in canonical lists.3 There is not the slightest hint that the inclusion of the book among the Twelve was, until modern times, considered at all problematic.4

* Elmer Dyck is assistant professor of Biblical studies at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

The modern objection to the inclusion of Jonah in the Twelve is strictly formal. The underlying assumption is that properly prophetic material is oracular. It will allow a fair bit of autobiography, even a little biography, but a book that is entirely biography is by virtue of that fact alone something other than prophecy.5 It is assumed moreover that the shapers of the collection were guided by these formal principles and that by implication they erred in the case of Jonah.

The remarkable degree of formal similarity among prophetic books notwithstanding, one might well question whether prophecy had as clearly a formal definition in ancient Israel as is generally supposed. Oracle is, by measure of quantity, the most important type of prophetic material. It is the originally spoken word put in print and so derives directly from the prophet himself. For that reason it is unquestionably prophetic. Autobiography, though it does not derive from an originally spoken word, is nevertheless equally the word of the prophet and so, like the orac...

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