Well it’s Jonah. A Biblical story about the titular prophet. In our group we performed it as a pantomime, as a traditional British end to the year (it also marked the end of our look at the Old Testament).
NARRATOR: The LORD’s word came to Jonah, Amittai’s son
GOD: Get up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it, for their evil has come to my attention.
NARR: So Jonah got up—to flee to Tarshish from the LORD! He went down to Jaffa and found a ship headed for Tarshish. He paid the fare and went aboard to go with them to Tarshish, away from the LORD. This was not very successful…
ALL: He’s behind you.
JONAH: Oh no he isn’t.
NARR: But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea…
ALL: WIND NOISES AND WAVES
NARR: …so that there was a great storm on the sea; the ship looked like it might be broken to pieces. The sailors were terrified, and each one cried out to his god.
SAILORS 1, 2, 3: CRIES OF ‘HELP’
NARR: They hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to make it lighter. Now Jonah had gone down into the hold of the vessel to lie down and was deep in sleep.
NARR: The ship’s officer came and said to him
OFFICER: How can you possibly be sleeping so deeply? Get up! Call on your god! Perhaps the god will give some thought to us so that we won’t perish.
NARR: Meanwhile, the sailors said to each other,
SAILOR 1: Come on, let’s cast lots so that we might learn who is to blame for this evil that’s happening to us.
NARR: They cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. So they said to him,
SAILOR 2: Tell us, since you’re the cause of this evil happening to us: What do you do and where are you from?
SAILOR 3 What’s your country and of what people are you?
NARR: He said to them
JONAH: I’m a Hebrew. I worship the LORD, the God of heaven—who made the sea and the dry land.
NARR: Then the men were terrified and said to him,
SAILOR 1: What have you done?
NARR: The men knew that Jonah was fleeing from the LORD, because he had told them. They said to him
SAILOR 2: What will we do about you so that the sea will become calm around us?
NARR: The sea was continuing to rage [ALL: WAVES / WIND SOUNDS]. He said to them
JONAH: Pick me up and hurl me into the sea! Then the sea will become calm around you. I know it’s my fault that this great storm has come upon you.
NARR: The men rowed to reach dry land, but they couldn’t manage it because the sea continued to rage against them. So they called on the LORD, saying,
SAILOR 3: Please, LORD, don’t let us perish on account of this man’s life, and don’t blame us for innocent blood!
SAILOR 2: You are the LORD: whatever you want, you can do.
NARR: Then they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased its raging. The men worshipped the LORD with a profound reverence; they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made solemn promises. Meanwhile, the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah.
FISH: GULP NOISE
NARR: Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish:
JONAH: I called out to the LORD in my distress, and he answered me.
From the belly of the underworld I cried out for help; you have heard my voice.
You had cast me into the depths in the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounds me.
All your strong waves and rushing water passed over me.
So I said, ‘I have been driven away from your sight. Will I ever again look on your holy temple?
Waters have grasped me to the point of death; the deep surrounds me.
Seaweed is wrapped around my head at the base of the undersea mountains.
I have sunk down to the underworld; its bars held me with no end in sight.
But you brought me out of the pit.’
When my endurance was weakening, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, to your holy temple. Those deceived by worthless things lose their chance for mercy.
But me, I will offer a sacrifice to you with a voice of thanks.
That which I have promised, I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the LORD!
NARR: Then the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto the dry land.
FISH: [VOMIT NOISE]
NARR: The LORD’s word came to Jonah a second time
GOD: Get up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and declare against it the proclamation that I am commanding you.
NARR: And Jonah got up and went to Nineveh, according to the LORD’s word. Now Nineveh was indeed an enormous city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah started into the city, walking one day, and he cried out
JONAH: Just forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!
NARR: And the people of Nineveh believed God. They proclaimed a fast and put on mourning clothes, from the greatest of them to the least significant. When word of it reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, stripped himself of his robe, covered himself with mourning clothes, and sat in ashes. Then he announced
KING: In Nineveh, by decree of the king and his officials: Neither human nor animal, cattle nor flock, will taste anything! No grazing and no drinking water! Let humans and animals alike put on mourning clothes, and let them call upon God forcefully! And let all persons stop their evil behaviour and the violence that’s under their control!
NARR: He thought, Who knows? God may see this and turn from his wrath, so that we might not perish. God saw what they were doing—that they had ceased their evil behaviour. So God stopped planning to destroy them, and he didn’t do it. But Jonah thought this was utterly wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the LORD
JONAH: Come on, LORD! Wasn’t this precisely my point when I was back in my own land? This is why I fled to Tarshish earlier! I know that you are a merciful and compassionate God, very patient, full of faithful love, and willing not to destroy. At this point, LORD, you may as well take my life from me, because it would be better for me to die than to live.
NARR: The LORD responded
GOD: Is your anger a good thing?
NARR: But Jonah went out from the city and sat down east of the city. There he made himself a hut and sat under it, in the shade, to see what would happen to the city. Then the LORD God provided a shrub, and it grew up over Jonah, providing shade for his head and saving him from his misery. Jonah was very happy about the shrub. But God provided a worm the next day at dawn, and it attacked the shrub so that it died. Then as the sun rose God provided a dry east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint. He begged that he might die, saying,
JONAH: It’s better for me to die than to live.
NARR: God said to Jonah,
GOD: Is your anger about the shrub a good thing?
NARR: Jonah said,
JONAH: Yes, my anger is good—even to the point of death!
NARR: But the LORD said
GOD: You ‘pitied’ the shrub, for which you didn’t work and which you didn’t raise; it grew in a night and perished in a night. Yet for my part, can’t I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than one hundred and twenty thousand people who can’t tell their right hand from their left, and also many animals?
But we weren’t just having fun, we also asked some serious questions about the Bible, albeit about how non-serious this particular book appears to be.
What are your general thoughts about the story?
Although we imposed the pantomime tradition onto our telling of it, it is humorous as it speaks for itself- the words we used were from the Bible. It is ironic in many ways, the biggest example is that Jonah was so hesitant to preach and then when he did he was so angry it didn’t come true.
Indeed, anger and the correct position of anger is a major theme.
As is fear of the distant other- here the Assyrians.
It appears to be a satire of prophetic literature, particularly with Jonah as an caricature of a prophet- for instance in his exaggerated desire to die.
And a satire of religious stories in general, with it’s implausible and seemingly random story about the fish.
But most of all it seems to mock false religiousity. Job’s Psalm in the fish is a pastiche of psalms of righteousness – and God’s response to it is with vomit!
If so, why is it in the Bible?
It’s suitable for children.
The story is good for telling in groups. This was probably done causally but perhaps also in the Temple.
For what it says about God.
What does it say about God?
God’s sovereignity is established by his power of creation- as we are told in Job.
Why would God choose such a petulant, childish person? If so, why this one when there are so many? We are not told.
God is judging, yet merciful.
He gives people another chance- reborn (out of the pit, the fish). Foreshadowing Christ- three days in the fish is like three days in the tomb.
Jonah is happy living on his own in a garden -in innocence- but this not good enough for God? God doesn’t just want us to preach but to act.
- Finally, can you think of any other examples of humour in the Bible?