Jonah's Authenticity and Historicity

Although the majority of modern secular scholars prefer to view Jonah as fictional, this is a relatively recent development. Only in the past one hundred years has there been a marked departure from what was once the almost unanimous opinion that the events described actually occurred. The fact that generations and generations of scholars and writers were convinced that the author of Yonah did not intend to write fiction argues against the modern view that the form or style of the narrative conveys this very impression. Were these earlier generations completely blind to features that we are asked to believe are so obviously apparent? Did these earlier writers not live and study in an environment much closer to that of the author of Jonah than we do? And if so, would they not have been more attuned to the generic signals of an ancient narrative? With these factors in mind, we must surely expect good reasons for ignoring or rejecting the traditional interpretation of Yonah.5

Critical secular scholars with their anti-supernatural bias, have denied the authenticity of the Book of Jonah for five reasons. The rebuttal to these objections to the authenticity and historicity of Jonah will be in the text of the commentary and not here. First, critics scoff at the miracle of the great whale swallowing the reluctant prophet. Scholars, however, have demonstrated the validity of such an event (for example, A. J. Wilson, “Sign of the Prophet Jonah and Its Modern Confirmations,” Princeton Theological Review 25 October 1927, pages 630-642; George F. Howe, “Jonah and the Great Fish,” Biblical Research Monthly. January 1973, pages 6-8). Second, some “scholars” have questioned the size of Nineveh (3:3) and its population (4:11). Third, the reference to the king of Assyria as the king of Nineveh (3:6). Fourth, some reject the book of Yonah because of the sudden repentance of the Ninevites (3:5). And fifth, some scholars reject the authenticity of the book because of the rapid growth of the leafy plant (4:6).

Three main arguments support the historicity of the book. First, known cities are mentioned in the book, including Nineveh (1:2, 3:2-4 and 6-7, 4:11), Tarshish (1:3, 4:2) and Joppa (1:3). Second, Jonah is viewed as a historical person, not a fictional character. He was said to be a prophet from Gath Hepher (2 Kings 14:25) who lived in the reign of a historical person, Jeroboam II. Third, Yeshua recognized the historicity of Jonah (Matthew 12:41; Luke 11:29-30, 32), calling him a prophet (Matthew 12:39) and acknowledging his death and resurrection from inside the sperm whale (Matthew 12:40). In fact, Jesus based His call to repentance in His day on the validity of Yonah’s message of repentance (Matthew 12:41; Luke 11:29-32). If the story of Jonah is merely a parable such a literary form is extremely unusual and would be different from all the other prophetic books.6

However, the true root of the difficulty is the denial of the miraculous and the work of the Holy Spirit. Was the sign of Jonah not the death and resurrection of the Lord Yeshua Messiah? If we exclude the miraculous from our Bibles, how much do we have left? And more importantly, what kind of God do we have left? It is nothing less than shortsighted unbelief to think that the difficulty is solved by the removal of this miracle from the book of Jonah. The trusting child of God is not afraid of the miraculous. And more, this perennial scorn of the miracle of the swallowing of Jonah by the large sperm whale has served all too long to swallow up the central message of the book, which is that God is the God of second chances.7

The book is full of miracles. Note these clear miracles in the book: the storm, the selection of Jonah by lot as guilty, the sudden subsiding of the sea, the great whale appearing at just the right time, the resurrection of Yonah, his ejection from the whale onto dry ground, the worm, the east wind, last but not least, the repentance of the entire city of Nineveh, which is more difficult to believe than Jonah being swallowed by a whale.


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