Jonah 1:8–9

I am having some difficulties in understanding Jonah 1:8–9. It’s not in the translation of the passage. That is rather straightforward. It is in the structure, and in Jonah’s response. In Jonah 1:8, the sailors hail a barrage of questions at Jonah:

‏וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ אֵלָ֔יו הַגִּידָה־נָּ֣א לָ֔נוּ ‏בַּאֲשֶׁ֛ר לְמִי־הָרָעָ֥ה הַזֹּ֖את לָ֑נוּ מַה־מְּלַאכְתְּךָ֙ וּמֵאַ֣יִן תָּב֔וֹא מָ֣ה אַרְצֶ֔ךָ וְאֵֽי־מִזֶּ֥ה עַ֖ם אָֽתָּה׃

And they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil is among us. What is your occupation and where are you from? What land do you come from and what people?

Jonah’s response seems incongruous to modern readers:

וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֲלֵיהֶ֖ם עִבְרִ֣י אָנֹ֑כִי וְאֶת־יְהוָ֞ה אֱלֹהֵ֤י הַשָּׁמַ֙יִם֙ אֲנִ֣י יָרֵ֔א אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֥ה אֶת־הַיָּ֖ם וְאֶת־הַיַּבָּשָֽׁה׃

And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and the Lord God of the heavens I fear, who made the sea and the dry land.

The question that consumes interpretive discussions is whether or not Jonah has answered any of the questions asked by the sailors. I have read countless takes on this passage with no agreement.

Youngblood suggests that all of the questions are summed up in “on whose account this evil is among us.” The sailors what to know what God is responsible for the storm. Occupation, home, land, and can be governed by different gods in the ancient world. Knowing all this information might help to locate the specific god responsible.

While I certainly agree that Youngblood has provided an excellent analysis of the passage, I wonder if there is a more nuanced structure at work.

The clause, “Tell us on whose account this evil is among us” does indeed strike me as a summary for the questions that follow. It is not, however a question in and of itself. The following four questions are joined by only two conjunctions producing was seems to be only two compounded questions:

  1. What is your occupation and where are you from?
  2. What land do you come from and what people?

If this is correct, then Jonah’s response makes greater sense. He begins by answering the last series of questions and proceeds to answer the first series. This produces a chiastic structure as follows:

What is your occupation and where are you from?
     B What land do you come from and what people?
     B’ I am a Hebrew
A’ And I fear/worship the Lord God who made the sea and the dry land.

The fact that Jonah is a Hebrew answers the questions concerning his native land and his people. I admit that the link between A and A’ is strained. Part of the strain is place on the link between occupation and “where are you from” in A by the use of the conjunction ו. This is further strained by the fact that we must construe Jonah’s confessional response as somehow related to his prophetic office in order to view it as an answer to the question of occupation. The confession and the office are not difficult to connect. The difficulty is whether or not the sailors would have in any way understood this as an answer to the question “what is your occupation?”

The Septuagint has issues of its own. First, the LXX translator adds καί so that each clause is linked with a conjunction. Second, he has misunderstood the consonantal text rendering עברי as δουλος producing the translation “I am a servant of the Lord” instead of “I am a Hebrew.” Furthermore, the verb σεβομαι is used instead of φοβεομαι. When lined up, the questions and answers look like this:

1) What is your occupation
2) And where are you from?
3) And what land do you come from
4) And what people are you from?
1)’ I am a servant of the Lord
1)’ And I worship the Lord God of of the heaven who made the sea and dry land.

In the LXX, Jonah specifically answers only the first questions. The rest of the questions, however, might be inferred by his use of the divine name. The Hebrews, who hail from Israel, worship YHWH.

In both the MT and the LXX, the sailors’ overall concern for the identify of the God responsible for the storm is answered. It is a matter of great difficult, however, in construing the nature of their questions and Jonah’s response. Any help in the comments section would be greatly appreciated.

This entry was posted in Greek, Jonah, LXX, Old Testament Studies. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Jonah 1:8–9

  1. Pingback: Septuagint Studies Soirée #8: The One Week Late Edition | Words on the Word

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