Literature: Book Of Jonah
The Book of Jonah comes from the Old Testament
and is grouped with the Minor Prophets. This is The One With
The Whale.note In the reign of Jeroboam II
, the Lord speaks to his prophet Jonah ben Ammitai, telling him to go to the capital of the Assyrian Empire, Nineveh. The city's wickedness will be punished with destruction if they persist, but God wants Jonah to give them a warning so they have a chance to repent. However, Jonah doesn't want the Ninevites to be forgiven, and instead flees his mission on a voyage to Tarshish in Gaul (Spain!)
The Lord strikes the ship with a storm, and the sailors cast lots to find out why it's happening. When the lot falls on Jonah, he admits that he's a prophet who's abandoning his mission. He urges the sailors to throw him overboard so that the storm will cease upon his death. Though the sailors try to avoid this by attempting to row back to land, the storm proves too great and they toss Jonah into the sea. Immediately the storm ends.
Jonah doesn't drown, though, because God provides a you-know-what to swallow him and take him to Nineveh. For three days Jonah prays inside the beast, thanking God for giving him a second chance. The beast then vomits Jonah onto dry land and the prophet treks away to the city.
At Nineveh, Jonah preaches to the people that, unless they repent, the entire city will be destroyed in forty days due to their evil. The Ninevites are struck with fear and spend those days in fasting and mourning, thus convincing God to spare them. The Ninevites rejoice at being given mercy, but Jonah does not celebrate with them. He exits the city soon after and watches it from the plains in hope of God still smiting them anyway.
The Lord provides a vine to grow and give his prophet shade. The next day, though, Jonah wakes up to find the vine dead. He curses God for killing the plant, and the Lord responds to Jonah with a What the Hell, Hero?
for being more concerned about a plant than for a city filled with thousands of people.
- Artistic License – Biology: If the "great fish" is indeed a whale, though obviously this book was written before it was discovered whales are mammals. There's also how Jonah survived inside it without being digested or suffocating, but divine intervention is already a factor here.
- Belly of the Whale: Trope Namer, although here it's an Unbuilt Trope (see below).
- The Call Knows Where You Live: Jonah soon learns about this thanks to God.
- Easily Forgiven: Jonah thinks Nineveh still deserves to be punished despite repenting, but God lectures him about forgiveness.
- Egocentrically Religious: Deconstructed. The Aesop of the story is that Jonah is wrong to be more concerned with God's favor to him personally than with the repentance of the tens of thousands of people in Nineveh.
- Either/Or Prophecy: Sort of. The people of Nineveh are Genre Savvy enough to hear "God will smite you for your evil" as "Repent or be destroyed". The prophet himself didn't catch it, and complains.
- Happily Ever Before: Nineveh may have repented now, but eventually the city becomes wicked again, as God declares in the Book of Isaiah that now he will destroy it. Plus, Assyria became the conqueror of the northern kingdom of Israel.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Jonah probably didn't expect to survive being thrown overboard. It's a more literal sacrifice than usual because his life is actually being offered to appease a God.
- No Ending: The story abruptly ends after God's What the Hell, Hero? speech. We never see if Jonah learned his lesson, if he did anything else, or if he just died there in the desert.
- No Ontological Inertia: After Jonah is thrown in the sea, the storm suddenly ends and the ocean becomes as calm as can be.
- Pet the Dog: Compared to the wrathful God associated with most of the Old Testament, God here is incredibly benevolent to Nineveh despite their evil, even defying A Million Is a Statistic by saying he cares for everyone in the city.
- Refusing The Call: Jonah tried doing this with his voyage. It didn't work. But you do have to give the guy credit for attempting to run to the literal end of the Earth (for people in the 7th Century BC).
- Skewed Priorities: Called out by God in the closing words. Notably, Jonah is so angry about the plant's death that HE wants to die. Yet he cared nothing about letting thousands of Ninevites die.
- Unbuilt Trope: "In the belly of a whale" is often used to refer to a period in a story where the protagonist is caught in a situation with no hope. However, in the story of Jonah the whale is actually not a punishment but God's way of saving Jonah from drowning. It also represented him giving Jonah a second chance by taking him back to land. Note, though, that the Bible itself compares being in the whale as a trial, when Christ compares the three days in the whale with his upcoming three days dead before resurrection.
- What the Hell, Hero? / "The Reason You Suck" Speech: One delivered by God has got to hurt. Specifically, God chews out Jonah for caring more about his shade plant than all the people of Ninevah, which God specially points out includes those who don't know right from left and much cattle. Essentially, thousands of innocent children and animals.
- Yank the Dog's Chain: God provided a plant to give shade for Jonah, only to kill it the next day. Then caused a hot desert wind to give Jonah heatstroke. That'd get him quite mad.