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This article is taken from PN Review 253, Volume 46 Number 5, May - June 2020.

On the Surface of Events
Rereading the Book of Jonah
Iain Bamforth
When I was small and Biblical and made to realise that my Brethren parents saw no nuance in the matter of salvation – either you were swallowed whole by giant belief or spat out among the unsaved – I was irresistibly drawn to the story of Jonah’s going down to the lower deck of the ship taking him from Joppa to Tarshish. He is trying to reach the latter place, which present-day historians believe to have been the city of Carthage or a port on a trading island in the western Mediterranean, perhaps Sardinia, in order to avoid the divine command to get up and go to the glittering capital of the Assyrian empire, Nineveh – ‘that great city, and cry against it’. Nineveh lay overland, in the opposite direction altogether.

Like Adam in the Garden of Eden, Jonah is trying to hide from his maker.

Even as the wind starts to torment the haunted waters of the eastern Mediterranean, Jonah, who must have known that fish were more likely to climb trees than he ever get to Tarshish, decides to steal a quick nap in order to prepare himself for the possibly sterner trials ahead. Jonah goes to his sleeping quarters during what turns out to be an almighty bluster called up by the same Divine One, a squall so sudden and fierce even the ship itself has terrible visions, as the Hebrew original says: it thinks it’s going to capsize. This little ship would have much preferred to stay in a harbour.

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