Thursday, May 20, 2010

Jonah - Parable, Myth, Allegory or Truth?

I'm not saying it couldn't happen.
I'm not saying it didn't happen.
Alls I'm saying is - there's no way to prove it happened or didn't happen.
And all things being equal - isn't the simplest explanation the best one? (Thank you, Mr. Occam)
It seems more likely that a man was NOT swallowed for 3 days by a big Mediterranean fish and subsequently vomited up onto dry land.

The only defense ever offered by my Seminary professors is that Jesus mentions Jonah - rather the Sign of Jonah - in Matthew 12:38-41.
Since Jesus mentions it, he says, it must have happened.
He says that if Jesus had compared his resurrection to a fable, or a fictional event, it could be argued that the resurrection itself was a fictional event.
(Surprise! This is what some people say anyway.)
Well, I'm not buying it.
Jesus could just have easily cited a fictional situation with which his audience was already familiar.

What if I say - "Man, seminary is tough for me! I feel like Sisyphus, who every day pushed the boulder up the steep hill, only to have it roll back down again every night. Every semester I do all this work and finally finish, only to have it start all over again the next semester."
If I say that seminary is like Sisyphus - who is clearly mythological, does that my work at seminary is mythological? Of course not. To say so would be ridiculous.

Jesus could just have easily have said, "I'm going to be like Rocky! I'm gonna take such a beating that you'll think it's all over - but you're not going to believe my comeback after that!"
Rocky is fictional. Does that mean that Jesus took fictional beating? Of course not.  To say so would be ridiculous.
Likewise, if Jesus compares himself to Rocky, it doesn't make Rocky an actual guy, or his story a true story.

It seems more likely that Jonah was an actual prophet, who likely prophesied to the people of Nineveh, possibly even leading to their repentance. But around the actual prophet Jonah - there sprung up a legend that through the oral tradition (that we KNOW existed) became bigger than the man himself.  Like Paul Revere. Or Johnny Appleseed. Or maybe like George Washington chopping down the cherry tree.

Did it happen, or didn't it?
Does it really matter? Don't you kind of get the point either way?
From Jonah's perspective - Don't try and ignore what God's asking you to do. Also - go out of your way to love the people you ought to hate the most.
From Jesus' perspective - Things are going to go from bad to worse - and then your mind will be absolutely blown. Also - go out of your way to love the people you ought to hate the most.

It's things like this that drive me crazy. It's insisting on sticking to a literal interpretation of stories like this that make us look ridiculous to perfectly intelligent people, and encourage them not to engage with Christ-followers.

4 comments:

cb said...

Where is faith in believing that Jonah was in the belly of a whale for 3 days? Ultimately isn't that what the Christian relies on? Sure, we don't stop thinking, but there will always be places in both scripture and our lives where we don't understand why or how. Our human reason fails and we stand on faith. As Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 1:25, "For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men."

Why is it impossible that such a thing happened? Why does it make you look ridiculous if you believe it did? So what if it does? Certainly we will look foolish in the eyes of the world occasionally as we follow Christ, but we weren't sent here to please the world but to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If someone chooses not to engage with a Christian it is hardly because we believe such outlandish things as Jonah living in the belly of a whale or that things like resurrections are possible. As Jesus says in John 3 it is because they love the darkness and Jesus in us illuminates that in them.

Just like in John 10, Jesus is the good shepherd, those who are his hear his voice and follow, those who aren't his won't respond.

J.T. said...

I never said it's impossible.
I never said it didn't happen.
In fact, I never said I didn't believe it.
I'm not saying I don't believe in supernatural, miraculous events, either.
I believe in the resurrection.
I believe in healings.
I believe in water turning to wine.
I believe in seas parting.
But just because you buy some, doesn't mean you have to buy them all.

And I'm not buying the only explanation I've heard about this event. I'm certainly open to other explanations.

In the end, though - the point of the book of Jonah is not:
"A dude was swallowed and spit back up by a whale!"
The point is, like I said:
"Don't try and ignore what God's asking you to do. Also - go out of your way to love the people you ought to hate the most."

And that's what's important.

cb said...

I think the thing I find the most offensive about your post here is that you're effectively looking down your nose at anyone who would insist on a literal translation.

As you said, "It's insisting on sticking to a literal interpretation of stories like this that make us look ridiculous to perfectly intelligent people, and encourage them not to engage with Christ-followers."

So what? They think we're nuts anyway. As James 4:4 says, "You adulterous people! Do you not
know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore
whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of
God."

Jesus says something similar. You also say that you believe much of this is "oral tradition" that built up around Jonah. Again, that is fine if you think that, however why does that make you superior to someone who insists that Jonah really got swallowed by a whale?

As for your statement, "But just because you buy some, doesn't mean you have to buy them all." Of course I have to agree. It's obligatory, your logic is infallible. I refuse to speak here of slippery slopes as badly as I want to warn you against going down one. Although I think any logician worth his salt would ask why you would pick one over the other when there is no corroborating evidence. At which point you would answer "faith." At which point I would wonder why its good enough for resurrection but not for being stuck in a whale but I digress.

The pride argument runs both ways, it seems to me that we are far too willing to malign others views instead of focusing on Christ crucified which is where our energy is best spent. In that I agree with you.

I think there is more to Jonah than your summary, but that isn't what I wanted to tackle tonight.

J.T. said...

Look, if we're going to believe things like this - fine.
But when we're asked why, if we're going to say "Faith", then that's one thing.
BUT, if we're then going to try and come up with explanations, they've at least got to be good explanations.