Undercurrents In Jonah -- By: James E. Robson

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 64:2 (NA 2013)
Article: Undercurrents In Jonah
Author: James E. Robson

Undercurrents In Jonah

James E. Robson


On the surface, the book of Jonah is marked by a certain literary simplicity and apparent artlessness. This is evident in at least three ways: its style, with few adjectives, action-oriented narrative, repetition of words and phrases, sound-plays and personifications; its plot, with extreme scenarios and a binary view of the world; its structure, with significant substantial correspondence. Yet it is often in the very places of apparent artlessness that there are hidden depths. A survey of these undercurrents suggests that the book of Jonah is best understood as an engaging exploration of how credal confessions relate to the complexities of lived experience.

1. Introduction

Phyllis Trible wrote in 1994, ‘Jonah studies have become an industry … Despite great waves of words stirring up storms on the sea of scholarship, Jonah refuses to be drowned.’1 This article adds another drop in the ocean. It has been stimulated by an article of David Clines over twenty years ago, ‘False Naivety in the Prologue to Job’.2 In that article, Clines argued that the prologue of Job, despite first appearances, is every bit as sophisticated and subtle as the dialogue. Although apparently a folk tale of artless simplicity or naivety, it is in fact something very different. ‘By naivety we understand an artless

ingenuousness, an unsubtle simplicity.’3 For him, ‘false naivety exploits the appearance of artlessness to convey a subtle message’.4

Reading through those lenses, ‘its very naivety, the excess of its naivety, is what invites more thoughtful readings, and entices the reader into a participatory scrutiny of its hidden depths’.5 For Clines, this meant something close to, as he puts it, the ‘naivety of the prologue deconstructing itself’.

In her study in Job, Contest in Moral Imaginations, Carol Newsom notes the recent penchant for seeing the prologue of Job as ‘slyly subversive’, and suggests that it arises because of the postmodern dislike for authoritarian moral discourse. Such discourse privileges a view of truth that is unitary and absolute, respects figures of authority as ‘the voice of truth’, privileges principle above situation and ‘prizes coherency’. While not denying the validity of such readings, she insists that it is also possible to read Job’s pr...

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