Article -

Jonah the Prophet

Authors: Jo Milgrom and Yoel Duman

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.
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.
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.
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.