Jonah’s Nineveh -- By: Donald J. Wiseman

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 30:1 (NA 1979)
Article: Jonah’s Nineveh
Author: Donald J. Wiseman


Jonah’s Nineveh

Donald J. Wiseman

The Tyndale Biblιcal Archaeology Lecture, 1977

When I accepted the invitation to deliver this lecture, a number of considerations were in mind.1 The least, though not without interest, was that it would be thirty years since Professor G. Aalders’ Tyndale Lecture, The Problem of the Book of Jonah (1948), which still figures in some modern bibliographies.

Secondly, the rôle of archaeology in Old Testament studies is currently being much questioned, though the controversy is at the moment concentrated on the Patriarchal period.2 The questioning is based on a methodology which tends to make presuppositions about the nature of the text in its final form dominate both interpretation and date, and which allows an unlimited speculation about the development of both the text and its contents both historically and theologically.3

In this biblical studies are, at present, at variance with Ancient Near Eastern studies, where documents can usually be dated, not merely by objective criteria such as the size, shape and arrangement of the document and the script employed, but sometimes by other internal criteria, and by external factors such as dated colophons and archaeological context, as well as by comparison with other dated texts including their

distinctive local handwriting.4 Various aspects of a text, not least its literary form and content, can often be subject to rigorous comparison diachronically with similar compositions. For example, new evidence shows us that the texts sometimes labelled ‘Legends of Agade’, which purport to recount actual historical episodes in the time of Sargon and Naram-Sin of Agade, c. 2300 B.C., were certainly written down by the Old Babylonian period; some of the later versions (e.g. šar tamhari - ‘King of Battle’) usually taken as a late composition, propagandistic fairy tale or historical romance can now, on the basis of new discoveries of earlier sources, be shown to be based on a serious and reliable historical record.5

It is now increasingly recognized that there is often an interplay of sources we call historical chronicle, biography, omen type literature (i.e. historical record plus prediction), epic and that ill-defined category commonly called ‘myth’. It i...

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