The Human Truth Foundation

The Book of Yōnah / Jonah / Jonas

By Vexen Crabtree 2023

#bible #christianity #judaism #minor_prophets #old_testament

Jewish Tanakh
Title: Yōnah
Section: 8th book of Nevi'im - Trei Asar (The Twelve)

Prev: `ōbhadhyah
Next: Mikhayah

Protestant Bibles
Title: Jonah
Section: Minor Prophets

Prev: Obadiah
Next: Micah

Catholic Bible
Title: Jonas
Section: Minor Prophets

Prev: Abdias
Next: Micheas

Eastern Orthodox Bibles
Title: Jonah
Section: Minor Prophets

Prev: Obadiah
Next: Micah

Chapters in Jonah:
1  2  3  4 
Total verses: 48

God threatens to punish the city of Nineveh with destruction, but Jonah didn't want to preach that message, because he knew it unlikely to happen (Jonah 4:1-2). He attempts to flee. God punishes him at sea with a terrible storm. The men of the boat threw him overboard to save themselves and God makes a monstrous fish eat him and then regurgitate him three days later. The men aboard the boat were forgiven because they feared God and made a sacrifice. The teachings are, of course, that God punishes those who are disobedient and rewards those who are obedient, and if you do something terrible like murder someone at sea then all is well as long as you fear God. Jonah is finally bullied into preaching the message - and God does indeed decide not to destroy the city anyway (Jonah 3:9-10), making Jonah into a false prophet. The final message is that if you are in an unequal relationship, it is best to simply do as you are told, else, things will only end up harder for you. It's not the Bible's finest moment.

Despite those awful morals, this is a popular book and is primarily used by Christians to showcase how forgiving God is for not destroying a city full of people.

Historically, the book lacks legitimacy1,2. Nineveh was the capital of the great Assyrian empire, a trading hub, and even after its decline, many came to visit it. At no point did the events of Jonah 3:5-10 actually occur - not a single trader, traveller, statesman or historian note that the entire population suddenly gave up its old ways, embraced a new religion, and transformed itself away from its previous behaviours.

1. The 12 Minor Prophets of the Old Testament (Originally from the Trei Asar)

#12 #bible #christianity #judaism #minor_prophets #old_testament

The 8th part of the Hebrew holy text the Nevi'im is called the Trei Asar (The Twelve), and from it the Christians extracted the 12 books of the Old Testament that are together known as the Minor Prophets, including Jonah. They are not chronological and they are collected together as 'minor' prophets simply because they are shorter than the 'major' prophets3. The Hebrews wrote a great number of religious texts; the reason that 12 in particular were selected is because religious scribes would create collections of 12 wherever possible, as it was considered a magical number4.

For more, see:

2. Jonah the False Prophet5


Jonah didn't want to become a false prophet. The Assyrian empire was powerful and influential, and like all other such powerful neighbours, was hated by Israel and the Hebrews. They could do little against Egypt, Assyria nor Babylon, other than spend hundreds of years repeatedly preaching their destruction; the old testament is full of such prophets of doom. Jonah is sent on yet another end-of-Assyrian-city mission, which like all the others before, was unlikely to be fulfilled. It says in Jonah 4:1-2 that he didn't think God was going to destroy Nineveh, and so, he didn't want to go there and preach an untrue message. Jonah knew that a prophet who preaches something that doesn't come true, is a false prophet (Deut.).

Book CoverThis element was mocked by Thomas Paine, who declares: "What a fool do fabulous systems make of man!"6.

Jonah knew of these many-a-doomsayer, and so, he didn't want to go and become one of them. God forced him to by chasing him with deadly storms and a monstrous fish, until he relented. When he did finally commence the preaching that Nineveh will be destroyed "in forty days" (Jonah 3:4), what happens? God changes his mind, and doesn't do it (Jonah 3:9-10). Jonah is made a laughing-stock, and, according to Deut. 18:22, Jonah was now a false prophet, because, what he said would come to pass, actually didn't. And so in Jonah 4:1-3, he is angry. God justifies himself by saying that he can save the city if he wants to. Which simply doesn't make sense because God, as all-knowing, knew from the very beginning that he was going to save the city, and therefore, knew from the beginning that Jonah was going to be sent on a mission based on false words. The moral is: If you have enough power, you can destroy and save peoples' lives as you see fit, and if you are in an unequal relationship where one side has all of the power, it is best to simply do as you're told.

3. A Book With No History and Little Editing5


It is not clear when Jonah was written7; most scholars place it after the reign of "Jeroboam II of Israel (782-747)", perhaps in the 6th century BCE7, and therefore he isn't the same Jonah mentioned in 2 Kings 14:258. Some think it was even hundreds of years later than that:

The lateness of the book and its remoteness from the events it records, are proved in other ways. Its language has the Aramaic flavour of the later books, and such a phrase as "the God of heaven," i. 9, only occurs in post-exilic literature [and] its ideas are most intelligible as the product of post-exilic times. [...] All the conditions point to a date not much, if at all, earlier than 300 [BCE].

"Introduction to the Old Testament" by John Edgar McFadyen (1905)1

There is evidence that chapter two, the psalm, was inserted much later by someone else1, and integrated into the story "with skill"8. It is a nice addition, but, if you skip it (except the final sentence, where the creature spits Jonah out), the entire story reads just as well. The psalm contains a few references to older Hebrew texts, but doesn't progress the meaning of the story, nor does it contain any real change in Jonah's outlook.

The long and well-documented rise of Nineveh and its status as the capital of the Assyrian empire, and then its decline, sacking and general abandonment, leave no space for a sudden period where the entire city changes religion en masse, changes its behaviour, and transforms from an "utterly sinful" city into something else. As such a well-known and well-referenced place in history, such a miraculous and sudden shift in its entire population would have got mentioned by writers, traders and visitors and created an international stir. But there is not one mention of the epic events of Jonah 3:5-10 by other writers. Because of this, there is no evidence or clear place in history that can pin down when exactly the text was written.

In "Introduction to the Old Testament" by John Edgar McFadyen (1905)9, even the author who is otherwise strict in his traditional approach to the bible, feels he has to treat very carefully with what he claims about Jonah:

Book CoverOn the face of it, the narrative is not meant to be strictly historical. [...] Its important lies, not in its facts, but in the truths for which it pleads. Much detail is wanting which we should expect to find were the narrative pure history. [...] Such a wholesale conversion of a foreign city...

"Introduction to the Old Testament" by John Edgar McFadyen (1905)1


A fit story for ridicule, if it was written to be believed.

"The Age of Reason" by Thomas Paine (1807)2

A copy of Jonah was found amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls that is textually largely the same as the traditional copy, meaning, that this short book has not undergone much other editing aside from the insertion of chapter 2. Also, for whatever reason, the Dead Sea Scroll community's writings don't refer to Jonah or its events at all, meaning that they didn't read it, disregarded it, or ignored it.

It's mentioned a few times in the New Testament: Matt. mentions Jonah being in the belly of a great fish, and Luke mentions his preaching in Nineveh, but uses it to condemn Jews who won't convert to Jesus.

4. The 4 chapters of Jonah (48 verses)

Jonah 1 (17 verses) - Jonah is too scared to go to Nineveh, God punishes him.

1Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,And there is a word of Jehovah unto Jonah son of Amittai, saying:

Jonah 1:9 is referenced on this page in

2Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.`Rise, go unto Nineveh, the great city, and proclaim against it that their wickedness hath come up before Me.'
3But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.And Jonah riseth to flee to Tarshish from the face of Jehovah, and goeth down `to' Joppa, and findeth a ship going `to' Tarshish, and he giveth its fare, and goeth down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the face of Jehovah.
4But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.And Jehovah hath cast a great wind on the sea, and there is a great tempest in the sea, and the ship hath reckoned to be broken;
5Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep.and the mariners are afraid, and cry each unto his god, and cast the goods that `are' in the ship into the sea, to make `it' light of them; and Jonah hath gone down unto the sides of the vessel, and he lieth down, and is fast asleep.
6So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.And the chief of the company draweth near to him, and saith to him, `What -- to thee, O sleeper? rise, call unto thy God, it may be God doth bethink himself of us, and we do not perish.'
7And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.And they say each unto his neighbour, `Come, and we cast lots, and we know on whose account this evil `is' on us.' And they cast lots, and the lot falleth on Jonah.
8Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou?And they say unto him, `Declare to us, we pray thee, on what account this evil `is' on us? what `is' thine occupation, and whence comest thou? what `is' thy country, seeing thou art not of this people?'
9And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.And he saith unto them, `A Hebrew I `am', and Jehovah, God of the heavens, I am reverencing, who made the sea and the dry land.'
10Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him. Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.And the men fear a great fear, and say unto him, `What `is' this thou hast done!' for the men have known that from the face of Jehovah he is fleeing, for he hath told them.
11Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous.And they say unto him, `What do we do to thee that the sea may cease from us, for the sea is more and more tempestuous?'
12And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.And he saith unto them, `Lift me up, and cast me into the sea, and the sea doth cease from you; for I know that on my account this great tempest `is' upon you.'
13Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.And the men row to turn back unto the dry land, and are not able, for the sea is more and more tempestuous against them.
14Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee.And they cry unto Jehovah, and say, `We pray Thee, O Jehovah, let us not, we pray Thee, perish for this man's life, and do not lay on us innocent blood, for Thou, Jehovah, as Thou hast pleased, Thou hast done.'
15So they look up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.And they lift up Jonah, and cast him into the sea, and the sea ceaseth from its raging;
16Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.and the men fear Jehovah -- a great fear, and sacrifice a sacrifice to Jehovah, and vow vows.
17Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.And Jehovah appointeth a great fish to swallow up Jonah, and Jonah is in the bowels of the fish three days and three nights.

Jonah 2 (10 verses) - The fish regurgitates Jonah.

1Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish's belly,And Jonah prayeth unto Jehovah his God from the bowels of the fish.

Jonah 2:8 is discussed on Christianity: The Bible Teachings on Those Who Believe Wrongly

Jonah 2:8 comments: Christianity: The Bible Teachings on Those Who Believe Wrongly

Jonah 2:8 is mentioned on Pascal's Wager is Safer in Reverse: Picking a Religion is Dangerous Business: 3.2. The Christian Bible - Believing the Wrong Things is a Ticket to Hell

2And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.And he saith: I called, because of my distress, to Jehovah, And He doth answer me, From the belly of sheol I have cried, Thou hast heard my voice.
3For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me.When Thou dost cast me `into' the deep, Into the heart of the seas, Then the flood doth compass me, All Thy breakers and Thy billows have passed over me.
4Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.And I -- I said: I have been cast out from before Thine eyes, (Yet I add to look unto Thy holy temple!)
5The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head.Compassed me have waters unto the soul, The deep doth compass me, The weed is bound to my head.
6I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God.To the cuttings of mountains I have come down, The earth, her bars `are' behind me to the age. And Thou bringest up from the pit my life, O Jehovah my God.
7When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.In the feebleness within me of my soul Jehovah I have remembered, And come in unto Thee doth my prayer, Unto Thy holy temple.
8They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.Those observing lying vanities their own mercy forsake.
9But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.And I -- with a voice of thanksgiving -- I sacrifice to Thee, That which I have vowed I complete, Salvation `is' of Jehovah.
10And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.And Jehovah saith to the fish, and it vomiteth out Jonah on the dry land.

Jonah 3 (10 verses) - Jonah goes to Nineveh and preaches its destruction, and they all repent en masse.

1And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying,And there is a word of Jehovah unto Jonah a second time, saying,

Jonah 3:4 comments in

Jonah 3:5-10: The 12 Minor Prophets of the Old Testament (Originally from the Trei Asar)

Jonah 3:5-10 comments in a different section

Jonah 3:5-10 is discussed on this page in

Jonah 3:9-10: See The 12 Minor Prophets of the Old Testament (Originally from the Trei Asar)

Jonah 3:9-10 is referenced on this page in a different section

Jonah 3:9-10 comments in

2Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.`Rise, go unto Nineveh, the great city, and proclaim unto it the proclamation that I am speaking unto thee;'
3So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days' journey.and Jonah riseth, and he goeth unto Nineveh, according to the word of Jehovah. And Nineveh hath been a great city before God, a journey of three days.
4And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.And Jonah beginneth to go in to the city a journey of one day, and proclaimeth, and saith, `Yet forty days -- and Nineveh is overturned.'
5So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.And the men of Nineveh believe in God, and proclaim a fast, and put on sackcloth, from their greatest even unto their least,
6For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.seeing the word doth come unto the king of Nineveh, and he riseth from his throne, and removeth his honourable robe from off him, and spreadeth out sackcloth, and sitteth on the ashes,
7And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:and he crieth and saith in Nineveh by a decree of the king and his great ones, saying, `Man and beast, herd and flock -- let them not taste anything, let them not feed, even water let them not drink;
8But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.and cover themselves `with' sackcloth let man and beast, and let them call unto God mightily, and let them turn back each from his evil way, and from the violence that `is' in their hands.
9Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?Who knoweth? He doth turn back, and God hath repented, and hath turned back from the heat of His anger, and we do not perish.'
10And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.And God seeth their works, that they have turned back from their evil way, and God repenteth of the evil that He spake of doing to them, and he hath not done `it'.

Jonah 4 (11 verses) - God doesn't destroy Nineveh, which makes Jonah angry.

1But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.And it is grievous unto Jonah -- a great evil -- and he is displeased at it;

Jonah 4:1-2: See The 12 Minor Prophets of the Old Testament (Originally from the Trei Asar)

Jonah 4:1-2 is referenced on this page in a different section

Jonah 4:1-2 comments in

Jonah 4:1-3 is mentioned on this page in

2And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.and he prayeth unto Jehovah, and he saith, `I pray Thee, O Jehovah, is not this my word while I was in mine own land -- therefore I was beforehand to flee to Tarshish -- that I have known that Thou `art' a God, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in kindness, and repenting of evil?
3Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.And now, O Jehovah, take, I pray Thee, my soul from me, for better `is' my death than my life.'
4Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry?And Jehovah saith, `Is doing good displeasing to thee?'
5So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.And Jonah goeth forth from the city, and sitteth on the east of the city, and maketh to himself there a booth, and sitteth under it in the shade, till that he seeth what is in the city.
6And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.And Jehovah God appointeth a gourd, and causeth it to come up over Jonah, to be a shade over his head, to give deliverance to him from his affliction, and Jonah rejoiceth because of the gourd `with' great joy.
7But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.And God appointeth a worm at the going up of the dawn on the morrow, and it smiteth the gourd, and it drieth up.
8And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.And it cometh to pass, about the rising of the sun, that God appointeth a cutting east wind, and the sun smiteth on the head of Jonah, and he wrappeth himself up, and asketh his soul to die, and saith, `Better `is' my death than my life.'
9And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.And God saith unto Jonah: `Is doing good displeasing to thee, because of the gourd?' and he saith, `To do good is displeasing to me -- unto death.'
10Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night:And Jehovah saith, `Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for which thou didst not labour, neither didst thou nourish it, which a son of a night was, and a son of a night perished,
11And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more then sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?and I -- have not I pity on Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than twelve myriads of human beings, who have not known between their right hand and their left -- and much cattle!'

5. Why Did God Involve Jonah at All?5

#god #omniscience

Jonah need not have been through this ordeal at all. At the end, he is bitter and angry, deceived and mistreated, for no purpose at all. The sailors on the ship converted out of fear, as a result of the storm, and the magic of drawing lots to see who was to blame. Rather than permitting the magical lots, God could have sent them a terrible storm and a message - writing on the wall, a voice from heaven - anything at all - to say simply: fear me. Then they would still have made a sacrifice out of fear, just as they did in Jonah 1:16.

Jonah also wasn't required in order for God to save Nineveh. God, as all-knowing, knew that Jonah will run away, and the sin will continue. Apparently, no-one else can save the city other than Jonah, or God would have picked someone else. What's so special about Jonah? All the things that Jonah does - his words to the cityfolk, his accent, his clothes: God could simply have created a simulacrum to do all of those exact things, and therefore, save the city, at any point. He didn't need Jonah to personally come do it.

He didn't need to punish Jonah for being reluctant to spread a lie, and, he could have ended the awful sin of the city earlier. But God didn't do those things, because, the writer of the story of Jonah had limited imagination, and had a way of thinking about God that was small-minded, and uneducated, and therefore, the God of that story was inferior in its methods. A simple story, a fable, written by a simple person: it says more about the author than it does about God. It's hard to see why this story is in the Bible at all.