It’s always odd when you see something in a text that seems incredibly out of place. I took a lot of Latin in high school and college. I remember the first time I was doing some translation and ran across the word Britannia. I looked up the word in the Latin dictionary to see that it was the Roman word for Great Britain.
I don’t know about you, but when I think of ancient Rome, I somehow don’t think of Great Britain having been a thing. Or maybe I thought they would have been familiar with the region, but that it would have had a different name or something. I don’t know. It was just a really unexpected thing to come across.
A similar experience happened when I was going through the book of Galatians for the first time. In the opening chapter, Paul is telling the story of his conversion, and he randomly says that after he became a Christian, he went down to “Arabia” for three years to, in a sense, figure out what this Gospel was that he would bring to the Gentiles. This is a very odd gap in the understanding of Paul’s life, and no scholar has any idea what he was doing in this time. But, more oddly, Arabia? Again, another regional name I wasn’t expecting to see casually thrown into a Mediterranean-based ancient biblical text.
The forceful rejection of the doctrine of mercy is voiced by a man who was willing to die rather than cause others to die, and who was willing to leave his native land and pay with his life rather than serve the compassionate God. His vigorous and sincere opposition to divine mercy is striking evidence that it is desperately needed. Just as the flight is unqualified, so is the pursuit relentless…
Jonah must bow his head before the absolute sovereignty of the divine will…before he can hear and understand the explanation given by God, who forgives without being lenient. The gates of escape are shut in the prophet’s face; precisely this provides the opening of the gates of repentance to the transgressors with its full significance, since both are direct outcomes of the Lord’s love for His creatures.
The paradoxical tension between the Lord’s inordinate severity with Jonah and His extraordinary leniency with Nineveh teaches us about the absolute sovereignty of the divine will; it is resolved only when Jonah comes to realize that the will of the Lord is not arbitrary, but compassionate, for those who are near and for those who are far from Him.
–from the JPS Bible Commentary on Jonah, by Dr. Uriel Simon
My Hebrew class has moved from learning grammar to the actual process of translation and interpretation. To do this, we’re going through the book of Jonah. Our first interpretive assignment was to look at all the Jonah-related verbs in the first six verses and draw some theological conclusions. Here was my contribution.
But first, my incredibly literal and somewhat stilted translation of the opening verses [Jonah 1.1-6], including all the odd word order and idioms of Hebrew:
(1) And the word of the LORD was to Jonah son of Amittai, in order to say, (2) “Rise, go to Ninevah, the large city, and cry out against her because their evil arose to my face.” (3)And Jonah rose in order to flee in the direction of Tarshish from the toward-facing faces [Hebrew idiom for “Presence”] of the LORD and went down to Joppa and he reached a ship going to Tarshish and he gave its fare and went down in it in order to enter with them to Tarshish away from the toward-facing faces of the Lord. (4) And the LORD hurled a large wind upon the sea and it manifested as a large storm among the sea and the ship thought to shatter towards itself. (5) And the sailors were afraid and they cried out, man to his God, and they were made to throw the receptacles which were in the ship into the sea away from them towards making themselves small and Jonah had gone down into the rear of the vessel and had laid down and slept heavily. (6) And the chief sailor came to him and said to him, “Why are you sleeping? Arise! Cry out towards your gods! Perhaps the god of you will bear us in mind and we will not perish.”
And now for some lessons we can draw…