Jonah is a fascinating book. It takes only ten minutes to read, but ten years of study cannot explain all of the questions it raises. Jonah is a book which can be read hundreds of times. Whenever we read it again, we are caught up in a thrilling reflection of ourselves and of God, without ever tiring of it. Reading Jonah piques our curiosity, stimulates our imagination, and strikes the sensitive chords of our innermost selves. Jonah makes us laugh, smile, reflect, meditate, discuss, share, pray, confess. Sometimes we are even turned around and transformed.
Jonah is a book which is easily accessible and open to every public: to children, theology students, or simple laymen in search of a stimulating book. Jonah is a choice morsel for a preacher, a Sunday school teacher, the moderator of a discussion group. Each of them is assured of his listeners’ interest, who will not fail to expand the account in their imagination. Some consider this story to be the best missionary tract of the Bible; others view it as a biting satire of God’s people, or a book of psychoanalytical introspection, or even a doctrinal teaching on God’s character.
Yet how should we tackle the study of such a comprehensive book? This commentary proposes two means of access. The first part, entitled “Introduction”, is meant for readers who already have thorough knowledge of Jonah’s story, having already read and meditated on it in the past. The second part, entitled “Commentary”, is a better starting point for beginners who are reading Jonah for the first time. However, both parts complement each other. Some references serve as passageways between the two, and allow those who wish to do so to deal in depth with a specific point. The Introduction emphasizes the book’s literary characteristics and focuses on the dominant traits of the story’s characters. It evaluates the questions linked to historicity. The chapter on intertextuality lets the reader go beyond the story and position himself within the framework of the great divine revelation given to mankind. The Commentary follows and explains the text, verse by verse, and tries to shed light on both God’s and Jonah’s courses of action. It also explains the conflict-laden relationship between God and his prophet.