Jonah And Genre -- By: T. Desmond Alexander

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 36:1 (NA 1985)
Article: Jonah And Genre
Author: T. Desmond Alexander

Jonah And Genre

T. Desmond Alexander


Some years ago C. S. Lewis, in addressing a group of theological students in Cambridge, expressed grave reservations about the presuppositions and conclusions of some biblical critics. As a sheep ‘telling shepherds what only a sheep can tell them’, Lewis made a number of astute observations, two of which are of particular relevance to this present paper. His first bleat concerned the ability (or more correctly, the lack of ability) of biblical scholars to make literary judgments. Lewis commented:

Whatever these men may be as Biblical critics, I distrust them as critics. They seem to me to lack literary judgment, to be imperceptive about the very quality of the texts they are reading . . . These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed and can’t see an elephant ten yards away in broad daylight.1

At the very heart of this complaint lay the apparent inability of critical scholars to recognise correctly, in Lewis’s opinion, the literary genre of biblical books, in particular, the Gospels.

The other bleat, to which I wish to draw attention, concerned ‘the principle that the miraculous does not occur’. On this thorny problem Lewis remarked,

Scholars, as, scholars, speak on it with no more authority than anyone else. The canon “If miraculous, unhistorical” is one they bring

learned from it. If one is speaking of authority, the united authority of all the Biblical critics in the world counts here for nothing. On this they speak simply as men; men obviously influenced by, and perhaps insufficiently critical of, the spirit of the age they grew up in.2

Now these bleats draw attention to two issues which have figured prominently in modern discussions on the book of Jonah: how should we classify this short work, and what are we to make of the miracles recorded within it? It is these issues which I wish to examine in this lecture.


1. Classification Of Jonah

Having observed Lewis’s sensitivity regarding the ability of biblical scholars to make literary judgments, one wonders how he would have reacted to modern suggestions for classifying the book of Jonah. Even a partial survey reveals a wide variety of proposals: history;3 allegory;You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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