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Jonah the Prophet


Authors: Jo Milgrom and Yoel Duman







The Prophet Jonah

On the surface, the tale of Jonah is one of the Bible’s most familiar stories. In fact, despite its many echoes in Western literature (Moby Dick, Pinocchio, and others), what is familiar is mostly a vague impression from the book itself: for example, everyone remembers that the prophet was swallowed by a whale, but very few know that the book does not mention a whale, but a fish (dag, 2:1, 11 or daga 2:2).
In Jewish tradition, the entire Book of Jonah is read annually in the synagogue on Yom Kippur. And the reason is seemingly clear: this book focuses entirely on the subject of repentance. But in effect, Jonah himself does not repent his reservations about the Divine mission and to the end, he does not want God to change His decision to destroy the city of Nineveh and its inhabitants. Basically, one may conclude that Jonah does not accept the principle of repentance.
For that and other reasons, Jonah himself, despite being a prophet and therefore revered, is not always seen positively by various commentators. For example, Abraham Ibn Ezra writes in the introduction to his commentary on the Book of Jonah:
And now, I will allude to a secret teaching: Some know to make rhymes naturally, without study and others need to learn; but even if one studies, one might not be capable and this last case is more common than the first….And the enlightened will understand.

Ibn Ezra apparently means to say that like poets, there are prophets born with a talent for the profession (such as the prophet Jeremiah, who was chosen for the job even before he was born – Jeremiah 1:5), and others learn on the job – but only a few of the apprentices/learners will truly become prophets. In this complex manner, Ibn Ezra criticizes Jonah and in effect determines that Jonah did not understand his mission. Ibn Ezra was influenced by the characterization of Jonah’s prophecy in the early midrash halakha, Mekhilta DeRabbi Ishmael (Parashat Bo, introduction), which states:
Jonah insisted upon the honor due the son but did not insist upon the honor due the Father, as it is said, But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord (Jonah 1:3). What is written about him? And the word of the Lord came to Jonah the sec­ond time, saying (ibid. 3:1). He spoke with him a second time, but did not speak with him a third time.

This midrash implies that Jonah’s prophesying stopped after the story in the Book of Jonah, because “he suppressed his prophecy” and tried to evade the command to save the people of Nineveh, because he knew that they (the Assyrians) would later on destroy the Kingdom of Israel. Because of his affection for the Jewish people (the son), Jonah did not want to save its enemies, despite the word of God (the father).
Thus, Jonah the prophet is a problematic character. And his story prompted numerous interpretations that attempt to deal with the difficulties inherent in it: Why was he chosen? Why was he sent to save a gentile city? Why did he flee? What is the significance of his stay in the belly of the fish (daga)? What is a fish (daga)? Why did the people of Nineveh believe Jonah’s words and repent? Why did Jonah get angry and still want God to destroy Nineveh?
In order to understand artists’ answers to some of these questions, we will now review the course of the story.








Flight

In the beginning of the book, Jonah is called upon to go east to Nineveh, the capital of the kingdom of Assyria and to prophesy about it (“aleha”), but he does not want the mission and runs away. He descends from his home in Gat Hefer in the kingdom of Israel and heads to Jaffa, and continues heading down to a boat that is sailing out to sea and eventually descends to the bowels of the ship and falls asleep.

 

Bo Bartlett, <i>Jonah</i>

Bo Bartlett, Jonah

 

In this picture by the American artist Bo Bartlett, Jonah lies below the waves apparently on the seabed. His chest is wrapped in a cloth, his eyes are open and it is unclear if the scene depicts his stay in the fish or his sleep in the bowels of the ship. But this indistinctness points to a recurring pattern in Jonah’s behavior – he runs away, he descends, he falls asleep, he is swallowed.
 
But God chases after him with the help of a storm at sea.

 

Mordechai Beck, <i>Jonah</i>

Mordechai Beck, Jonah

 









From the ship to the fish

When the ship is on the verge of sinking, the sailors pray, each to their own god, and for some reason decide to draw lots to find out who is the cause of the storm – and of course, the lot falls on Jonah. Left with no other choice, the sailors agree to Jonah’s pleas and throw him into the sea, seemingly to his death – but God saves him via another emissary, the famous fish.
The Bible describes the sailors positively as compassionate and God-fearing men:

Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. (Jonah 1:16)

In contrast, a tradition in

Pirke deRabbi Eliezer
refers to the sailors as idol worshipers:

Rabbi Hanina said, Men of the seventy languages were there on the ship, and each one had his god in his hand. (Jonah 1:16)

For the most part, artists portray the sailors quite favorably, even though in the standard Christian iconography they
feed Jonah to the fish instead of tossing him into the sea as is written. The impression formed is that the sailors are also
God’s unknowing emissaries.


Duke of Alba Bible, Jonah thrown into the sea (detail), 1430

Duke of Alba Bible, Jonah thrown into the sea (detail), 1430


Bible Moralisee, Jonah thrown into the sea, c. 1465

Bible Moralisee, Jonah thrown into the sea, c. 1465


In these two pictures, the terrible act of the forsaking of a person’s life is beautified with calming images: flowers, round lines, pious looks, a ship’s mast reminiscent of a carousel at a village fair. In the picture on the right, this impression is achieved via the contrast between the gay and flowery upper portion and the lower portion full of sharp angles.


Handmade Midrash, Jonah

Handmade Midrash, Jonah

In this Handmade Midrash, God’s powerful hand replaces the fish that saves Jonah’s life in order to bring him back to carrying out his mission. It seems the wedding band is an ironic symbol of Jonah’s dedication to the role of prophet and his recoiling from this burden.

Rarely is Jonah portrayed drowning in the sea, as described in the Bible.


Albert Pinkham Ryder, Jonah,c. 1885

Albert Pinkham Ryder, Jonah, c. 1885


In this painting, God himself appears above, with His two hands representing his sovereignty and his mercifulness. The ship appears to be on the brink of breaking up and the wise and programmed fish is approaching to carry out its task. In this painting, the sea is endangering Jonah’s life, whereas the fish represents the compassion of God, who saves the prophet from certain death.


Usually, the depiction of the fish in the Christian faith actually highlights its fearsome nature, even though this is not at all reflected in the biblical story, where the fish is dispatched by God to save Jonah.


Paul Manship, Jonah and the Whale, Study for  weathervane

Paul Manship, Jonah and the Whale, Study for weathervane


This apparently stems from the Christian interpretation, which saw the fish as actually being a symbol of death itself. Therefore in the above sketch, neither a fish nor a whale, but rather a shark, catches Jonah. It is no coincidence that the life and death struggle with God is depicted in the form of a weather vane, which symbolizes the axis mundi (axis of the earth) that connects the earth and the heavens. It seems that the word, dag (fish) in the Bible comes to emphasize that this is not a sea monster, called, for example, leviathan (not the marine mammal, but rather a kind of snake) or Sea or even Death, in ancient Canaanite literature. The fish is God’s messenger, like Balaam’s ass, or Jonah’s castor oil plant or worm.


In effect, the
Christian interpretation of the Book of Jonah focuses, as its wont, on what appears to be a prefiguration of Jesus: in this case, of his death.


Biblia Pauperum , Jonah, Jesus and Joseph, 1425-50

Biblia Pauperum , Jonah, Jesus and Joseph, 1425-50


For example, in this page from the Christian commentary known as the Bible of the Poor, Jonah’s being swallowed up by the great fish is compared to Joseph’s descent into the pit and both of these are compared to Jesus’ burial (in the center).








In the fish’s belly and out

Jonah is trapped in the belly of the fish for three days and utters a prayer expressing his distress and yearning for God.

 

For You did cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas and the floods encompassed me and all Your billows and waves passed over me.
Then I said, I am cast out of Your sight, yet I will look again to Your holy Temple.

 

According to these words, Jonah “sees” the Temple while still in the depths, in the sea. In the painting below, the fish, positioned with its red head at the bottom, spits Jonah out straight into the red gate of the tower of Nineveh.

 

Hortus Deliciarum, Jonah, the fish and the Temple, 1167- 85

Hortus Deliciarum, Jonah, the fish and the Temple, 1167- 85

 

Yet this building, which soars upward and serves as a gateway, also represents (like Manship’s anemometer above) the axis mundi (the point of contact between the earth and the heavens, between the human and the divine), just at the Temple is also an axis of the world. Therefore it is possible to see here a reflection of the two elements of Jonah’s prayer: distress and the Temple.

 

Michael Sgan-Cohen, interprets the scene in a unique, personal and perhaps even a subversive fashion. He sees the stay inside the belly of the fish like a stay in a summer house – a timeout from the day-to-day frenzy, a place for soul-searching and study.

 

Michael Sgan-Cohen, Leviathan, 1983

Michael Sgan-Cohen, Leviathan, 1983

 

Even Jonah’s emergence from the belly of the fish symbolizes for the Christian interpretation a prefiguration: of the resurrection of Jesus after three days (!) in the grave.

 

Early Christian Sarcophagus, Church of Santa Prassede, Rome

Early Christian Sarcophagus
Church of Santa Prassede, Rome

Robert Eberwein, Jonah as Christ Resurrected

Robert Eberwein
Jonah as Christ Resurrected

 

As far back as the early years of Christianity, artists used Jonah’s emergence from the fish as a metaphor for the resurrection of the dead, whoever they may be, as in this Roman coffin. And in the 20th century, the Christian artist, Robert Eberwein depicted this event using the visual images of Jesus’ rise from the grave.

 

Islam also deals with the life of Jonah who is referred to in Arabic as Yunis, and after whom a chapter of the Koran is named. In this chapter, Jonah actually represents the penitent – even though, according to the biblical story, he maintained his opposition to God’s compassion.

 

In the Islamic faith, Jonah is depicted mainly in relation to the great fish. Among others, there are paintings that show him after the fish spat him out, sitting naked on the land beneath some kind of plant and looking at the fish, while an angel approaches and gives him fresh clothing.

 

An Angel Brings Jonah Clothes, Jami a-Tawarikh (Compendium of Chronicles), c. 1425

An Angel Brings Jonah Clothes, Jami a-Tawarikh (Compendium of Chronicles), c. 1425

 

Basically, Jonah is portrayed as a newborn (note the fetal position of his legs), or in essence as being reborn after a traumatic experience, an important image in Islam, whose believers wear white clothes, like the diapers swaddling an infant, when making the pilgrimage (the Hajj) to Mecca. This image is not the exclusive domain of Islam.

 

Samuel Rothbort, Jonah and the Whale, 1930`s

Samuel Rothbort, Jonah and the Whale, 1930`s

 









Jonah in Nineveh

Jonah surrenders to the Divine command and reaches Nineveh, and we have now moved from a maritime context to an urban context:

And Jonah began to enter the city a day’s journey and he cried and said, another forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown. (Jonah 3:4)


Uriel Birnbaum, Jonah Calling to the People of Nineveh, 1921

Uriel Birnbaum, Jonah Calling to the People of Nineveh, 1921

Tortured and afflicted, yet fervent, his skeletal body reflects the sharp angles of the city of sins.

And the people of Nineveh repent (at least ostensibly):

So the people of Nineveh believed in God and proclaimed a fast and donned sackcloth from the greatest of them to the least.
(ibid, 5)


The actions of the people of Nineveh are discussed at length in the Jewish commentaries. The late
Midrash Yonah describes in great detail the actions of the king, who is identified here as Osnappar, also known as Assarhadon (?) the king of Assyria.


So the people of Nineveh believed in God – the word reached Osnappar, the king of Nineveh, who descended from his throne, removed his crown, strewed ashes on his head, took off his purple garments, and rolled about in the dust of the highways. And he and all the people of his household and all his ministers and servants and all the great people of the kingdom agreed to a fast of three days, for all the inhabitants of the city of Nineveh.

This Midrash is based on earlier Midrashim, found in the Babylonian and in the Jerusalem Talmuds.

Babylonian Talmud Ta’anit 16a

It is not written, anent the repentance of the Ninevites, that God regarded their having wrapped themselves in sackcloth and considered their fast-days, but that ‘God saw their works, that they had turned from their evil way’” (Jonah, 3:10).
Concerning the Ninevites it is written (Jonah 3:8): “But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth.” How was it done? They separated the suckling animals from their mothers and said: “Sovereign of the Universe! If Thou wilt not have mercy upon us, we will not have mercy upon them.”
And further on: “Let men call unto God with might.” What is meant by “with might”? That means to say that they said: “Lord of the Universe! Who of the two should give way unto the other? The oppressed and the one who cannot be oppressed, the righteous and the wicked?”
Further, it is written (ibid.): “And let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence which is in their hands.” What is meant by “the violence, which is in their hands”? Said Samuel: “If a man had wrongfully appropriated a beam which he had used in building a house, he would tear down the house and restore the beam to its rightful owner.”

Jerusalem Talmud Ta`anit 8b

Said Resh Lakish, The Ninevites made false repentance.
What did they do? R. Huna in the name of R. Simeon b. Halfuta said, They placed their calves indoors and their cows outdoors, their colts indoors and their mares outdoors; and these would low from here and those would neigh from there. And they said, If you don`t have mercy on us, we will not have mercy on them, as it is written, How the beasts groan! The herds of cattle are bewildered. (Joel 1:18). Said Rav Aha, In Arabia they do thus.
They shall don sackcloth – man and beast – and they shall cry to God mightily – What is ‘mightily’? Said R. Simeon b. Halfuta, As a bully takes advantage of the innocent; all the more so when the welfare of the whole is at stake.
And let everyone turn from his evil ways and return the loot that is in his hands – Said R. Yohanan, Whatever was in their hands they returned. What was stored in cupboards, chests and hideaways, they did not return.


Based on a comparison of the two sources, it is possible to see that the Babylonian Talmud had a positive view of the people of Nineveh, whereas the Midrashim from Eretz Yisrael, using similar imagery, claim that the people of Nineveh tried to mislead God via emotional blackmail. According to a study by E. Urbach, this negative and strained assessment was a reaction of the rabbis in Eretz Yisrael to the Christian commentary that maintained that the gentile people of Nineveh were preferable in their actions to the Jews, who claim to be the chosen people, due only to descent from Abraham the patriarch.[1]

In Christian and in Islamic art there is little treatment of this group, but the picture in the illustrated Bible of the Duke of Alba, which was made on the eve of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, in consultation with a learned rabbi, is most interesting, given the considerable influence of the Midrashim we cited above.


Bible of the Duke of Alba, Jonah in Nineveh (detail), 1430

Bible of the Duke of Alba, Jonah in Nineveh (detail), 1430

On the right, there are separate groups of men and women standing at the edge of the picture, while to the left of the men, the king bows before the throne on which his crown rests. At the women’s feet, a group of naked children stretch out their hands, asking for food. On the left, parallel groups of colts and kids, cows and calves, look longingly at each other. This is an exact depiction of the text of our Midrashim.

Gustav Dore’s painting is well-known because of the great notoriety his illustrated Bible gained.


Gustav Dore, Jonah and the People of Nineveh, 1865

Gustav Dore, Jonah and the People of Nineveh, 1865


Dore went took pains to depict different reactions among the crowd to Jonah’s sermon/warning/threat.









Jonah and the Castor plant


After the people of Nineveh repent, Jonah goes out of the city to observe what will happen, in the hope that God will indeed destroy the city. God prepares a lesson in kindness for him by arranging a shaded place with a castor oil plant.

And the Lord appointed a castor oil plant and made it come up over Jonah that it might be a shade over his head, to deliver him from his distress. And Jonah was exceedingly glad of the plant.

Jonah 4:6

But Jonah’s happiness is cut short:

But God appointed a worm when the dawn came up the next day and it attacked the plant so that it withered.
And it came to pass, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head, so that he fainted

So he asked that he might die, and he said it is better for me to die than to live.

There are few artistic treatments of this part of the story of Jonah, compared to the great emphasis on the fish. And perhaps this is no wonder, given that the story of the castor oil plant seems like a strange turn of events. This episode also ends oddly with a rhetorical question from God (Jonah 4:10-11).

Then the Lord said, you are concerned about the castor oil plant, for which you did not labor, and which you did not rear, which came up in a night and perished in a night.
And should I not be concerned for Nineveh, that great city, where there are over one hundred and twenty thousand people, who cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand, also a lot of cattle.

The two paintings below describe two aspects of the castor oil plant.


Matthaeus Merian the Elder, Jonah and the Vine, 1625-30

Matthaeus Merian the Elder, Jonah and the Vine
1625-30


Jacob Steinhardt, Jacob and the Gourd

Jacob Steinhardt, Jacob and the Gourd

In the depiction of the end of the story by the Swiss artist, Matthaeus Merian, Jonah waits anxiously in the shade of the vine prepared by God and hopes for the destruction of the city. The city itself, however, is basking in the light of divine loving-kindness.

On the other side, the Israeli artist, Jacob Steinhardt, depicts the tragic irony of this passage by showing Jonah suffering from the ravages of God’s emissaries: the worm that struck the castor oil plant, and the burning sun and the sultry desert wind.

It seems that this scene is the essence of the story of Jonah: the prophet does not understand the principle of divine loving-kindness, does not understand the principle of repentance, and does not understand the role of the prophet. He is angry to the point of wanting to die over his personal situation and his travails and does not consider the fate of men. He is sent specifically to save gentiles, just as the most important biblical discussion of the subject of reward and punishment is uttered by Job, who is not an Israelite: these basic subjects are universal and are not limited to the Jewish people. Therefore, the reading of the Book of Jonah on Yom Kippur is significant for all of mankind, not just on a national level.


Article Sources:

Matthew 12:38-41
38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, Teacher, we want to see a sign from You. 39 But He answered and said to them, An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; 40 for just as Jonah was three days and threenights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.

Babylonian Talmud Ta`anit 16a
And he would say to them: Brethren! It is not written, anent the repentance of the Ninevites, that God regarded their having wrapped themselves in sackcloth and considered their fast-days, but that `God saw their works, that they had turned from their evil way` (Jonah, 3:10).
Concerning the Ninevites it is written (Jonah 3:8): But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. How was it done? They separated the suckling animals from their mothers and said: Sovereign of the Universe! If Thou wilt not have mercy upon us, we will not have mercy upon them. And further on: Let men call unto God with might. What is meant by with might? That means to say that they said: Lord of the Universe! Who of the two should give way unto the other? The oppressed and the one who cannot be oppressed, the righteous and the wicked? Further, it is written (ibid.): And let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence which is in their hands. What is meant by the violence which is in their hands? Said Samuel: If a man had wrongfully appropriated a beam which he had used in building a house, he would tear down the house and restore the beam to its rightful owner.
 
Jerusalem Talmud Ta`anit 8b
Said Resh Lakish, The Ninevites made false repentance. What did they do? R. Huna in the name of R. Simeon b. Halfuta said, They placed their calves indoors and their cows outdoors, their colts indoors and their mares outdoors; and these wood low from here and those would neigh from there. And they said, If you don`t have mercy on us, we will not have mercy on them, as it is written, How the beasts groan! The herds of cattle are bewildered. (Joel 1:18). Said Rav Aha, In Arabia they do thus. 
They shall don sackcloth—man and beast—and they shall cry to God mightily - What is `mightily`? Said R. Simeon b. Halfuta, As a bully takes advantage of the innocent; all the more so when the welfare of the whole is at stake.
And let everyone turn from his evil ways and return the loot that is in his hands - Said R. Yohanan, Whatever was in their hands they returned. What was stored in cupboards, chests and hideaways, they did not return.
 
Koran
10.98
Why was there not a single township (among those We warned), which believed,- so its faith should have profited it,- except the people of Jonah? When they believed, We removed from them the penalty of ignominy in the life of the present, and permitted them to enjoy (their life) for a while.
 
21.87-88
And remember Jonah, when he departed in wrath: He imagined that We had no power over him! But he cried through the depths of darkness, There is no god but thou: glory to thee: I was indeed wrong!
So We listened to him: and delivered him from distress: and thus do We deliver those who have faith.
 
37.139-148
So also was Jonah among those sent (by Us).
When he ran away (like a slave from captivity) to the ship (fully) laden,
He (agreed to) cast lots, and he was condemned:
Then the big Fish did swallow him, and he had done acts worthy of blame.
Had it not been that he (repented and) glorified Allah,
He would certainly have remained inside the Fish till the Day of Resurrection.
But We cast him forth on the naked shore in a state of sickness,
And We caused to grow, over him, a spreading plant of the gourd kind.
And We sent him (on a mission) to a hundred thousand (men) or more.
And they believed; so We permitted them to enjoy (their life) for a while.
 
Qisas al Anbiya on Jonah 
Jonah was angry because his people repented and God did not destroy them. So he rode a ship in the sea when a storm hit them, the seas rolled, the ship was heavy and almost sank. The people drew lots among themselves to see who was the cause, that this person might be thrown overboard. The lot fell on Jonah, the prophet of God, so they drew lots again, and a second time it fell on Jonah. Then a third time they drew lots, and it fell on Jonah again, so they knew that God had intended him in this matter.
God sent a great fish from the great sea to swallow Jonah. God commanded the fish not to eat him as meat and not to bite him, for he was not his food. The fish took him and circled around all of the seas with him. It is also said that this fish was swallowed by another fish even bigger than the first. When Jonah finally determined that he was in the belly of the fish, he thought that he was dead. But then he moved his limbs and knew he was alive, so he prayed to God and said: My Lord, I am praying myself to you in a place unlike any where you have been worshipped before.

Ibn Ezra on Jonah 1:1

This prophet prophesied concerning Jeroboam b. Joash, as is written Which the Lord spoke by way of His servant Jonah b. Amitai of Gath Hepher. And it is perplexing how a wise man, who knew the Lord and His ways, could think to flee from Him, since he is in His power and all is filled with His glory? And how could a recalcitrant prophesy, since it written that he was a prophet? Now the Gaon (Saadiah) says that he indeed went to Nineveh and prophesied against it, but Scripture does not mention this, [as in the case of Moses] call him that he may eat bread (Exod. 2:20) [where his coming and eating is not described]. But I say that this case is not like that, because there is no need to mention that he ate or didn`t eat, if they didn`t call him and only met and spoke with him. Additionally, if Jonah had obeyed the command of God, why would he have fled? And he says [later], Therefore I was quick to flee to Tarshish. And now, we have seen that Moses did not want to perform the Lord`s mission to free his people; so much the less would Jonah have wanted to go and cause Nineveh to repent. And thus our Sages have said that he was concerned more for the honor of the son. And now, I will allude to a secret teaching: Some know to make rhymes naturally, without study and others need to learn; but even if one studies, one might not be capable and this last case is more common than the first. And all the prophets, except for Moses—who saw the Divine countenance— received their revelations through visions and dreams. So have I stated regarding our father Abraham, regarding his revelation of the Divine trial, that he took the knife, but he inclined his ear to hear quickly. And although I searched the entire Bible, I did not find the word "flee" except in conjunction with the word "face, presence" (penai), as in I will flee from your presence(Ps 139:7) and Jephthah fled from the presence of his brothers (Judges 11:3). But I did not find in Jonah`s prophecy that he fled from the presence of God, but rather "from before the presence of God", as in the phrase As the Lord lives before whose presence I stood. Now, when he [a prophet] is receiving his revelation he is "before", in other words, before the presence of God. And similarly and Cain went out from before the presence of the Lord, so that afterwards and from your presence I will be hidden, because the face of the earth means before the Lord.  Additionally it is written to enter the crevices of rock and the passages of stone facing the fear of the Lord. And further it is written to come with them to Tarshish from before the Lord. And the enlightened will understand. 

 Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book ix, chap. 10

So Jeroboam made an expedition against the Syrians, and overran all their country, as Jonah had foretold.
2. Now I cannot but think it necessary for me, who have promised to give an accurate account of our affairs, to describe the actions of this prophet, so far as I have found them written down in the Hebrew books. Jonah had been commanded by God to go to the kingdom of Nineveh; and when he was there, to publish it in that city, how it should lose the dominion it had over the nations. But he went not, out of fear; nay, he ran away from God to the city of Joppa, and finding a ship there, he went into it, and sailed to Tarsus, in Cilicia (19) and upon the rise of a most terrible storm, which was so great that the ship was in danger of sinking, the mariners, the master, and the pilot himself, made prayers and vows, in case they escaped the sea: but Jonah lay still and covered [in the ship,] without imitating any thing that the others did; but as the waves grew greater, and the sea became more violent by the winds, they suspected, as is usual in such cases, that some one of the persons that sailed with them was the occasion of this storm, and agreed to discover by lot which of them it was. When they had cast lots, (21) the lot fell upon the prophet; and when they asked him whence he came, and what he had done? he replied, that he was a Hebrew by nation, and a prophet of Almighty God; and he persuaded them to cast him into the sea, if they would escape the danger they were in, for that he was the occasion of the storm which was upon them. Now at the first they durst not do so, as esteeming it a wicked thing to cast a man who was a stranger, and who had committed his life to them, into such manifest perdition; but at last, when their misfortune overbore them, and the ship was just going to be drowned, and when they were animated to do it by the prophet himself, and by the fear concerning their own safety, they cast him into the sea; upon which the sea became calm. It is also reported that Jonah was swallowed down by a whale, and that when he had been there three days, and as many nights, he was vomited out upon the Euxine Sea, and this alive, and without any hurt upon his body; and there, on his prayer to God, he obtained pardon for his sins, and went to the city Nineveh, where he stood so as to be heard, and preached, that in a very little time they should lose the dominion of Asia. And when he had published this, he returned. Now I have given this account about him as I found it written [in our books.]

Mekhilta deRabbi Ishmael, Parashat Bo (Introduction)
You can learn from the following that the Shekinah does not reveal itself outside of the land. It is said, But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord (Jonah 1:3). Could he have thought of fleeing from the presence of God? Has it not been said: Where shall I go from Your spirit or where shall I flee from Your presence? If I ascend up into heaven You are there; if I make my bed in the nether world, behold, You art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the utter­most parts of the sea; even there would Your hand lead me, etc.? (Ps 139:7ff.). And it is also written: The eyes of the Lord, that run to and fro through the whole earth (Zech. 4:10); and it is also written: The Eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch upon the evil and the good (Prov.15:3); Though they dig into the netherworld. Though they climb up to heaven ... Tough they hide themselves in the top of Carmel ... Though they go into captivity, etc. (Amos 9:2­4); There is no darkness, nor shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves (Job 34:22). But Jonah thought: I will go outside of the land, where the Shekhinah does not reveal itself. For since the Gentiles are more inclined to repent, I might be causing Israel to be condemned.` They give a parable for this: A priest had a slave who said: I will run away to the cemetery whither my master cannot follow me,  Buthis master said to him: I have other heathen slaves like you. Similarly Jonah said: I will go outside of the land, where the divine presence does not reveal itself, for since the Gentiles are more inclined torepent, I might be causing Israel to be condemned. But the Holy One, praised be He, said unto him, I have other agents like you, as it is said, But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea (Jonah 1:4)             Thus you find that there were three types of prophets. One insisted upon the honor due the Father as well as the honor due the son; one insisted upon the honor due the Father without insisting uponthe honor due the son; and one insisted upon the honor due the son without insisting upon the honor due the Father.

Jeremiah insisted upon both the honor due the Father and the honor due the son. For thus it is said, We have transgressed and have rebelled; You have not pardoned (Lam. 3:42). Therefore his prophecy was double as it is said, And there were added besides unto them many words (Jer. 36:32).

Elijah insisted upon the honor due the Father but did not insist upon the honor due the son, as it is said, And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of Hosts  (I Kings 19:10). And thereupon what is said? And the Lord said unto him, Go return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; and when you come, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Aram; and Jehu the son of Nimshi shall you anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah shall you anoint to be prophet in your place (ibid., 15-16). The expression in your place, used here, can have no purport other than: I am not pleased with your prophe­sying.

Jonah insisted upon the honor due the son but did not insist upon the honor due the Father, as it is said, But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord (Jonah 1:3). What is written about him? And the word of the Lord came to Jonah the sec­ond time, saying (ibid., 3:1). He spoke with him a second time, but did not speak with him a third time.

R. Nathan says: Jonah made his voyage only in order to drown himself in the sea, for thus it is said, And he said unto them: Take me up and cast me forth into the sea (Jonah 1:12).
 
Pirke deRabbi Eliezer 9(10)
On the fifth day Jonah fled before his God. Why did he flee? Because on the first occasion when (God) sent him to restore the border of Israel, his words were fulfilled, as it is said, And he restored the border of Israel from the entering in of Hamath (II Kings14:25). On the second occasion (God) sent him to Jerusalem to (prophesy that He would) destroy it. But the Holy One, blessed be He, did according to the abundance of His tender mercy and re­pented of the evil (decree), and He did not destroy it; thereupon they called him a lying prophet. On the third occasion (God) sent him against Nineveh to destroy it. Jonah argued with himself, saying, I know that the nations are nigh to repentance, now they will repent and the Holy One, blessed be He, will direct His anger against Israel. And is it not enough for me that Israel should call me a lying prophet; but shall also the nations of the world (do likewise)? Therefore, behold, I will escape from His presence to a place where His glory is not declared. (If) I ascend above the heavens, it is said, Above the heavens is his glory (Ps. 113:4). (If) above the earth, (it is said), The whole earth is full of his glory (Isa. 6:8). Behold, I will escape to the sea, to a place where His glory is not proclaimed. Jonah went down to Joppa, but he did not find there a ship in which he could em­bark, for the ship in which Jonah might have embarked was two days journey away from Joppa, in order to test Jonah. What did the Holy One, blessed be He, do? He sent against it a mighty tempest on the sea and brought it back to Joppa. Then Jonah saw and rejoiced in his heart, saying, Now I know that my ways will prosper before me.
 
He said to the (sailors), We will embark with you.
They replied to him, Behold, we are going to the islands of the sea, to Tarshish. He said to them, We will go with you. Now (this) is the custom on all ships that when a man disembarks therefrom, he pays his fare; but Jonah, in the joy of his heart, paid his fare in advance, as it is said, But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord; and he went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them (Jonah 1:8).
They had traveled one day`s journey, and a mighty tempest on the sea arose against them on their right hand and on their left hand; but the movement of all the ships passing to and fro was peaceful in a quiet sea, but the ship into which Jonah had embarked was in great peril of shipwreck, as it is said, But 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 (ibid. 4).
Rabbi Hanina said, (Men) of the seventy languages were there on the ship, and each one had his god in his hand, (each one) saying, And the god who shall reply and deliver us from this trouble, he shall be God. They arose and everyone called upon the name of his god, but it availed nought. Now Jonah, because of the anguish of his soul, was slumbering and asleep. The captain of the ship came to him, saying, Behold, we are standing between death and life, and you are slumbering and sleeping; of what people are you? He answered them, I am a Hebrew (ibid.9). (The captain) said to him, Have we not heard that the God of the Hebrews is great? Arise, call upon your God, perhaps He will work (salvation) for us according to all His miracles which He did for you at the Reed Sea. He answered them, It is on my account that this misfortune has befallen you; take me up and cast me into the sea and the sea will become calm unto you, as it is said,  And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you (ibid. 12).
Rabbi Meir said: One pearl was suspended inside the belly of the fish and it gave illumination to Jonah, like this sun which shines with its might at noon; and it showed to Jonah all that was in the sea and in the depths, as it is said, Light is sown for the righteous (Ps. 97:11).
The fish said to Jonah, Do you not know that my day has arrived to be devoured in the midst of Leviathan`s mouth? Jonah replied, Take me beside it, and I will deliver you and myself from its mouth. It brought him next to the Leviathan. (Jonah) said to the Leviathan, On your account have I descended to see your abode in the sea, for, moreover, in the future will I descend and put a rope in your tongue,` and I will bring you up and prepare you for the great feast of the righteous.` (Jonah) showed it the seal of our father Abraham (saying), Look at the Covenant (seal), and Leviathan saw it and fled before Jonah a distance of two days` journey. (Jonah) said to it (i.e., the fish), Behold, I have saved you from the mouth of Leviathan, show me what is in the sea and in the depths. It showed him the great river of the waters of the Ocean, as it is said, The deep was round about me (Jonah 2:5), and it showed him the paths of the Reed Sea through which Israel passed, as it is said, The reeds were wrapped about my head (ibid.);and it showed him the place whence the waves of the sea and its billows flow, as it is said, All your waves and your billows passed over me (ibid. 3); and it showed him the pillars of the earth in its foundations, as it is said, The earth with her bars for the worldwere by me (ibid. 6) ; and it showed him the lowest Sheol, as it is said, Yet have you brought up my life from destruction, o Lord, my God (ibid.);and it showed him Gehinnom, as it is said, Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you did hear my voice (ibid. 2); and it showed him (what was) beneath the Temple of God, as it is said, (I went down) to the bottom of the mountains  (ibid. 6). Hence we may learn that Jerusalem stands upon seven (hills), and he saw there the Eben Shethiyah (Foundation Stone) fixed in the depths. He saw there the sons of Korah, standing and praying over it. They said to Jonah, Behold you stand beneath the Temple of God, pray and you will be answered. Forthwith Jonah said to the fish, Stand in the place where you are standing, because I wish to pray. The fish stood (still), and Jonah began to pray before the Holy One, blessed be He, and he said, Sovereign of all the Universe! You are called the One who kills and the One who makes alive, behold, my soul has reached unto death, now restore me to life. He was not answered until this word came forth from his mouth, What I have vowed I will perform (ibid.9), namely, I vowed to draw up Leviathan and to prepare  it before You, I will perform (this) on the day of the Salvation of Israel, as it is said, But I will sacrifice unto You with the voice of thanks­giving (ibid.).Forthwith the Holy One, blessed be He, hinted (to the fish) and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land, as it is said, And the Lord spoke unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land (ibid. 10).
The sailors saw all the signs, the miracles, and the great wonders which the Holy One, blessed be He, did unto Jonah, and they stood and they cast away everyone his god, as it is said, They that regard lying vanities forsake their own shame  (ibid. 8). They returned to Joppa and went up to Jerusalem and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins, as it is said, And the men feared the Lord exceedingly; and they offered a sacrifice unto the Lord(ibid. 1:16). Did they offer sacrifice? But this (sacrifice) refers to the blood of the covenant of circumcision, which is like the blood of a sacrifice. And they made vows every one to bring his children and all belonging to him to the God of Jonah; and they made vows and performed them and concerning them it says, Upon the proselytes, the proselytes of righteousness.
 
Pirke deRabbi Eliezer 42
Rabbi Nechunia, son of Hakanah, said: Know the power of repentance. Come and see from Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who rebelled most grievously against the Rock, the Most High, as it is said, Who is the Lord, that I should hearken unto his voice? (Ex 5: 2). In the same terms of speech in which he sinned, he repented, as it is said,Who is like you, a Lord, among the mighty?(ibid.15:11). The Holy One, blessed be He, delivered him from amongst the dead. Whence (do we know) that he died?` Because itis said, For now I had put forth my hand, and struck you (ibid. 9:15).` He went and ruled in Nineveh. The men of Nineveh were writing fraudulent deeds, and everyone robbed his neighbor, and they committed sodomy, and such like wicked actions. When the Holy One, blessed be He, sent for Jonah, to prophesy against (the city) its de­struction, Pharaoh hearkened and arose from his throne, rent his garments and clothed himself in sackcloth and ashes, and had a proclamation made to all his people, that all the people should fast for two days, and all who did these (wicked) things should be burnt by fire. What did they do? The men were on one side, and the women on the other, and their children were by themselves; all the clean animals were on one side, and their offspring were by themselves. The infants saw the breasts of their mothers, they wished to have suck, and they wept. The mothers saw their children, (and they wished) to give them suck. By the merit of children more than twelve hundred thousand men (were saved), as it is said, And should not I have pity on Nineveh, that great city; wherein are more than six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle? (Jonah 4:11); And the Lord repented of the evil, which he said he would do unto them (ibid. 3:10). For forty years was the Holy One, blessed be He, slow to anger with them, corresponding to the forty days during which He had sent Jonah. After forty years they returned to their many evil deeds, more so than their former ones, and they were swallowed up like the dead, in the lowest Sheol, as it is said, Out of the city of the dead they groan (Job 24:12).
 
Midrash Jonah
So the people of Nineveh believed in God - the word reached Osnappar, the king of Nineveh, who descended from his throne, removed his crown, strewed ashes on his head, took off his purple garments, and rolled about in the dust of the highways. And he and all the people of his household and all his ministers and servants and all the great people of the kingdom agreed to a fast of three days and nights, for all the inhabitants of the city of Nineveh. And the herald went out from the king to announce: For three days and nights you may neither eat nor drink, but all will don sackcloth and ashes and lament before the Holy One, blessed be He, in every market place and every street and every home and every gate in the city of Nineveh. Raise your suckling infants to heaven and lament loudly saying, Act for the sake of these who have done no evil; perhaps the Holy One, blessed be He will have mercy on us and will not destroy us in anger.
Said R. Simeon b. Halfuta, The people of Nineveh repented fraudulently.