This material was prepared by Professor Thomas J. Sienkewicz for his Classical Mythology class at Monmouth College. If you have any questions, you may contact him at

Jonah as a Hero

A. Structure of the Book

Chapter 1: Jonah's Rebelliousness

"tall fish tale"

Chapter 2: Jonah's Prayer

conventional psalm of thanksgiving for deliverance from trouble

Is this an intrusion by a second hand?

Chapter 3: Conversion of Nineveh

This is pure fiction: the idolatrous people of Nineveh never converted to Judaism

Chapter 4: Lord's answer to Jonah

The parable of gourd

B. Study Questions

1. How does Jonah express his reluctance to heed his heroic call? Is such reluctance typical of other heroes?

2. How is Jonah's encounter with the whale similar to an heroic encounter with a wild beast? How is it different?

3. What is Jonah's heroic journey?

4. What is his impossible task?

5. What characteristics does the Book of Jonah share with traditional myths you have read?

6. How can this book be read as a charter myth?

Book of Jonah

written c. 350 B.C. or later Setting: 8th century B.C. Assyria

short story--tale Can be interpreted as allegory, parable & satire

parable of tolerance (Frank) & God's mercy

narrative re universality of God (Dartmouth Bible)

the religious problem: How should Jews relate to non-Jews?

Jonah as prophet--spokesman for God


image of fish


symbolic 1) the Exile -- in Babylon 586-536 B.C.

2) personal despair

3.) Christian--Christ's resurrection

allegory of the gourd

Story can be seen as ironic satire

1) stupid & vindictive prophet

(He tries to escape God)

2) addresses good people (Gentiles yet!) who actually repent their sins

vs normal prophetic story where people don't repent.

Who is the real prophet of this book?

Perhaps the author, not Jonah, is the real prophet, the true spokesman of God's will.

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