Some critics think it incredible that the Ninevites, including the king, responded to Jonah’s preaching. (Jon 3:5-9) In this regard the remarks of commentator C. F. Keil are of interest: “The powerful impression made upon the Ninevites by Jonah’s preaching, so that the whole city repented in sackcloth and ashes, is quite intelligible, if we simply bear in mind the great susceptibility of Oriental races to emotion, the awe of one Supreme Being which is peculiar to all the heathen religions of Asia, and the great esteem in which soothsaying and oracles were held in Assyria from the very earliest times . . . ; and if we also take into calculation the circumstance that the appearance of a foreigner, who, without any conceivable personal interest, and with the most fearless boldness, disclosed to the great royal city its godless ways, and announced its destruction within a very short period with the confidence so characteristic of the God-sent prophets, could not fail to make a powerful impression upon the minds of the people, which would be all the stronger if the report of the miraculous working of the prophets of Israel had penetrated to Nineveh.”—Commentary on the Old Testament, 1973, Vol. X, Jonah 3:9, pp. 407, 408.
After 40 days had passed and still nothing had happened to Nineveh, Jonah was highly displeased that Jehovah had not brought calamity upon the city. He even prayed for God to take away his life. But Jehovah answered Jonah with the question: “Have you rightly become hot with anger?” (Jon 3:10–4:4) The prophet subsequently left the city and, later, erected a booth for himself. There, to the E of Nineveh, Jonah watched to see what would befall the city.—Jon 4:5.
When a bottle-gourd plant miraculously grew to provide shade for Jonah, the prophet was very pleased. But his rejoicing was short-lived. The next day, early in the morning, a worm injured the plant, causing it to dry up. Deprived of its shade, Jonah was subjected to a parching east wind and the hot sun beating down upon his head. Again, he asked to die.—Jon 4:6-8.
By means of this bottle-gourd plant Jonah was taught a lesson in mercy. He felt sorry for the bottle-gourd plant, probably wondering why it had to die. Yet Jonah had neither planted nor cared for it. On the other hand, being the Creator and Sustainer of life, Jehovah had much more reason to feel sorry for Nineveh. The value of its inhabitants and that of the cattle was far greater than that of one bottle-gourd plant. Therefore, Jehovah asked Jonah: “For my part, ought I not to feel sorry for Nineveh the great city, in which there exist more than one hundred and twenty thousand men who do not at all know the difference between their right hand and their left, besides many domestic animals?” (Jon 4:9-11) That Jonah must have got the point is indicated by the candid portrayal of his own experiences.
It may be that sometime later Jonah met at least one of the persons who had been aboard the ship from Joppa, possibly at the temple in Jerusalem, and learned from him about the vows made by the mariners after the storm abated.—Jon 1:16; compare Jon 2:4, 9; see JONAH, BOOK OF; NINEVEH.
JONAH, BOOK OF
The only book in the Hebrew Scriptures dealing exclusively with the commission of a prophet of Jehovah to proclaim in and for a non-Israelite city a message of doom, and which proclamation resulted in that city’s repentance. The experiences related in this book were unique to its writer, Jonah the son of Amittai. Evidently being the same person as the Jonah of 2 Kings 14:25, he must have prophesied during the reign of Israel’s King Jeroboam II (c. 844-804 B.C.E.). It is therefore reasonable to place the events recorded in the book of Jonah in the ninth century B.C.E.—See JONAH No. 1.
Authenticity. Because of the supernatural character of many events mentioned in the book of Jonah, it has often been attacked by Bible critics. The raising of the tempestuous wind and its quick cessation, the fish swallowing Jonah and three days later vomiting the prophet out unharmed, and the sudden growth and death of a gourd plant have all been labeled unhistorical because such things do not happen today. This contention might have a basis if the book of Jonah claimed that they were ordinary occurrences back then. But it does not do so. It relates events in the life of one who was specially commissioned by God. Therefore, those maintaining that these things simply could not have happened must deny either the existence of God or his ability to affect natural forces and plant, animal, and human life in a special way for his purpose.—See Mt 19:26.
What sort of sea creature could possibly have swallowed Jonah?
A favorite contention in the past was that no sea creature could swallow a man. But this argument is not valid. The sperm whale, having a mammoth square-shaped head that constitutes about one third of its length, is fully capable of swallowing a man whole. (Walker’s Mammals of the World, revised by R. Nowak and J. Paradiso, 1983, Vol. II, p. 901) Interestingly, there is evidence that the seaport of Joppa anciently was a headquarters for whalers. On the other hand, it is possible that the great white shark was the fish that swallowed Jonah. One of these that was caught in 1939 contained two whole 2-m-long (6 ft) sharks in its stomach—each about the size of a man. And the great white sharks have roamed all the seas, including the Mediterranean. (Australian Zoological Handbook, The Fishes of Australia, by G. P. Whitley, Sydney, 1940, Part 1—The Sharks, p. 125; The Natural History of Sharks, by R. H. Backus and T. H. Lineaweaver III, 1970, pp. 111, 113) It should be noted, however, that the Bible simply states: “Jehovah appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah,” the kind of fish not being specified. (Jon 1:17) So it cannot be determined just what “fish” might have been involved. In fact, man’s knowledge of the creatures inhabiting the seas and oceans is rather incomplete. Noted the magazine Scientific American (September 1969, p. 162): “As it has in the past, further exploration of the abyssal realm will undoubtedly reveal undescribed creatures including members of groups thought long extinct.”
Some feel that the authenticity of the book of Jonah is in question because there is no confirmation of this prophet’s activity in Assyrian records. Actually, though, the absence of such information should not be surprising. It was customary for nations of antiquity to extol their successes, not their failures and humiliations, and also to eradicate anything unfavorable to them. Moreover, since not all ancient records have been preserved or found, no one can say with certainty that an account of what happened in Jonah’s time never existed.
The lack of certain details (such as the name of the Assyrian king and the exact spot where Jonah was spewed onto dry land) has been cited as yet another proof that the book of Jonah is not true history. This objection, however, ignores the fact that all historical narratives are condensed accounts, the historian recording only such information as he deemed important or necessary for his purpose. As commentator C. F. Keil fittingly observes: “There is not a single one of the ancient historians in whose works such completeness as this can be found: and still less do the biblical historians aim at communicating such things as have no close connection with the main object of their narrative, or with the religious significance of the facts themselves.”—Commentary on the Old Testament, 1973, Vol. X, Introduction to Jonah, p. 381.
Since archaeological evidence has been interpreted as indicating that the walls surrounding ancient Nineveh were only about 13 km (8 mi) in circumference, it is claimed that the book of Jonah