Youngblood’s Commentary on Jonah: Initial Impressions

Yesterday, my pre-ordered copy of Youngblood’s commentary on Jonah arrived. I couldn’t help but start reading it immediately. I’m already through the introduction, and I can honestly say that Youngblood does not disappoint. Here are some of my thoughts so far.

First, the commentary is well researched. Youngblood is aware of and interacts with the breadth of recent scholarly publications on the book.

Second, the introduction was an easy read. Commentators often write their introductions in a way that ensures readers will skip right over to chapter one verse one. Youngblood preserves the necessary details without bogging down the reader.

Third, I love content footnotes, and Youngblood delivers.

Fourth, Youngblood provides a balanced presentation of the canonical, historical, and literary concerns that surround Jonah.

  • On the canonical front, he writes “The book of Jonah focuses on two questions that preoccupied all of the prophets: (1) How do divine mercy and divine justice interact without canceling each other out? (2) How do God’s universal sovereignty and his particular covenant with Israel interact without canceling each other out” (28-29). I couldn’t agree more. Recently I struggled through this when teaching through Jonah, Nahum, and Habakkuk.
  • In explaining the sparsity of historical details, Youngblood suggests that three factors might account for this phenomenon: 1) the story was written some time after the events, 2) historical details were stripped from the story to universalize its message and applicability, and 3) the purpose of the book was not primarily to relate history but to teach (31).
  • Finally, Youngblood does not allow his commitment to the factual historicity of the events related in Jonah to overshadow the author’s literary strategy. He applies the principles of discourse analysis (attention to discourse markers, rhetoric, repetition, etc.) to understand the book.

Here are a few other highlights from the introduction:

  • The author’s strategic use of word רע “evil, disaster” with reference to Nineveh’s evil, the disaster God planned for Nineveh, and Jonah’s calamity in chapter four “may indicate that Jonah and Assyria deserved the same fate” (40).
  • The author’s use of textual gaping (a strategy of delaying crucial information till a later revelation) in explaining why Jonah fled “encourages readers to speculate regarding Jonah’s reasons for fleeing, potentially exposing to readers their own objections to divine mercy and their complicity in Jonah’s sinful disposition toward Nineveh and YHWH” (42).
  •  The object lesson God teaches Jonah with the qiqayon plant, the scorching east wind, and the worm breaks the parallel construction between chapters 1-2 and 3-4, placing a greater emphasis on the importance of the lesson God teaches Jonah in the overall understanding of the book’s message.

At the end of the introduction is a chart that maps the overall discourse structure of the book, which includes information about the number of words used in each section and density of key thematic concepts in each section. What a great resource!

Going forward, I look forward to seeing Youngblood’s arguments for beginning the first peak episode at 2:1c instead of 2:1. Trible’s proposal that the psalm from the belly of the fish is surrounded by a chiasm convinced me. Will Youngblood be able to dissuade me? We will see.

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