Abraham, Jonah, and Sodom: Abarbanel’s Take

In a previous post, Jonah and Nineveh or Nineveh and Sodom, I made the observation that the Septuagint may have strengthened connections between the Jonah narrative and the narrative of Sodom and Gomorrah found in Genesis. In light of this connection, I offered the following thoughts:

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.

Isaac Abarbanel makes this same connection, though apart from the Septuagint. Abarbanel writes:

And how can he now pray that He will bring death upon him? And this is not what Abraham our father did when he prayed on behalf of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah to save them not to mark them for death (Go to Nineveh, 94).

Abarbanel goes on to explain why Jonah pleads for God to take his life. He foresaw the destruction of the 10 northern tribes of Israel by the hand of the Assyrians. In no way did he desire to live through that experience. He preferred death to that fate.

Though I am not certain I agree with Abarbanel on why Jonah sought death after God spared the Ninevites, I am happy to find confirmation of my comparison between Abraham and Jonah in the comments of a medieval rabbis.

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2 Responses to Abraham, Jonah, and Sodom: Abarbanel’s Take

  1. jdhomie says:

    I see another parallel: Jonah had a “garden” (one plant) built to shelter him, and he has that “garden” taken away. So when Jonah tries to flee from the presence of the Lord, I can see echoes of Adam and Eve trying to hide from God in the garden. I am curious if the Greek and Hebrew have any echoes there. I’ve read Jonah in Hebrew but (gasp) have never read the first few chapters of Genesis.

    • jacobcerone says:

      Very interesting. My initial reaction would be to say that Jonah has ceased fleeing from the Lord at this point. He has resigned himself to endure God’s judgment, whereas Adam and Eve hide from his judgment. Also, I would expect to see the appearance of the Hebrew גן somewhere in Jonah to be more certain of that connection.

      Nevertheless, I will certainly be on the lookout for commentators who might make a similar connection. I know that some have linked chapter two, the chaos of the sea and the sea monster, with Gen. 1 (creation) and Gen. 6-8 (Noah). So it’s not uncommon to see potential echoes with Genesis.

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