Jonah and Nineveh or Nineveh and Sodom

Here is a footnote [and by footnote, I mean a full page that will probably get cut out but saved for a more relevant paper] from my forthcoming paper [and by forthcoming, I just mean my term paper] on the Septuagint version of the book of Jonah.

In the Hebrew text, Jonah’s act of flight מִלִּפְנֵ֖י יְהוָֽה,“from before the Lord” (1:3a,e), is linked to Nineveh’s evil, which comes up לְפָנָֽי, “before me” (1:2c). The Hebrew provides a clue for the reader to consider. Jonah’s act of flight will not escape the attention of his God in the same was that Nineveh’s evil has not escaped his sight. This subtle connection is broken in the Septuagint as Jonah is seen fleeing ἐκ προσώπου κυρίου, “from before the Lord,” and the cry of evil comes up πρός με, “to me.” Admittedly the difference in preposition is minor, but in a book that relies heavily on lexical repetition (not just repetition of words within the same semantic field) such an alteration is noticed.

This change, though, does not appear to be for varieties’ sake. The translator appears to have made an intentional intertextual link. The clause ὅτι ἀνέβη ἡ κραυγ τῆς κακίας αὐτῆς πρός με, “because the outcry of its evil has come up to me,” appears to be an interpretive translation that connects Nineveh to the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative found in Genesis 18. Sasson writes, “The Greek versions offer paraphrases (for example, LXX: ‘for the cry of its wickedness has come up to me’), some of which are obviously influenced by the Sodom narrative of Genesis” Jonah, The Anchor Yale Bible, (Yale University Press: New Haven, 1990), 76-7. The Septuagint version of Genesis 18:20-21 reads, “εἶπεν δὲ κύριος Κραυγ Σοδομων καὶ Γομορρας πεπλήθυνται, καὶ αἱ ἁμαρτίαι αὐτῶν μεγάλαι σφόδρα·  καταβὰς οὖν ὄψομαι εἰ κατὰ τὴν κραυγν αὐτῶν τὴν ἐρχομένην πρός με συντελοῦνται, εἰ δὲ μή, ἵνα γνῶ,” “And the Lord said, ‘The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah has multiplied, and their sins are exceedingly great. When I go down, then, I will see if they are acting according to the their outcry which is coming to me.”

If this connection can be made with any confidence, then the reader is meant to read the wickedness of Nineveh and God’s just condemnation of the city in concert with his former condemnation of Sodom. Furthermore, whether intentionally or unintentionally, the translator has also strengthened the condemnation of Jonah’s actions. He has taken a subtle point about the inability of Jonah and his rebellion to escape the eye of God made by the author’s repetition of לְפָנָֽי, and turned it into an implicit comparison between the actions of Jonah and Abraham. Abraham begs God to relent from the disaster he has planned for Sodom. Jonah refuses his calling because he knows God will be compassionate and will relent from the condemnation and destruction of Nineveh.

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2 Responses to Jonah and Nineveh or Nineveh and Sodom

  1. Doug Hilliard says:

    Wow; thanks for posting this!

  2. jacobcerone says:

    I just found these comments by Larry Perkins in his article “The Septuagint of Jonah.” He writes, “The lexical parallels in the Hebrew text are not particularly obviously, but in the Greek tex, the use of ἡ κραυγή, a verb of ascension, and the phrase πρός με in combination are noteworthy, particularly as we remember that ἡ κραυγή is added in the LXX version of Jonah…Nineveh is in as much danger and for the same reasons as Sodom and Gomorrah. Destruction is certain without intervention. The refusal of Jonah to intervene on behalf of Nineveh may be contrasted with the efforts of Abraham to preserve Sodom and Gomorrah.”

    Too bad Dr. Perkins beat me to this finding. Too bad I wasn’t writing back in 1987…when I was two.

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