Page:A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi and Jonah.djvu/486

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4 JONAH precedented that Jesus regarded it as the most astounding wonder of the story (Lk. ii**). Is it not strange that absolutely no trace has been left of the universal, whole-hearted repentance of the Ninevites and that the later prophets who prophesied against Assyria knew nothing of it ? And what shall we say of the ex- traordinarily speedy growth of the plant? It is all passing strange. We are in wonderland! Surely this is not the record of actual historical events nor was it ever intended as such. It is a sin against the author to treat as literal prose what he intended as poetry. This story is poetry not prose. It is a prose poem not history. That is the reason why it is so vague at many points where it should have been precise, if it had been intended as a historical record. The author is not interested in things which a historian would not have omitted. So he says nothing about the place where Jonah was ejected or about his journey to Nineveh. He gives no name of the king, but he calls him simply "King of Nineveh," a designation which was never used as long as the Assyrian empire stood. He does not speak of the time of his reign or of the later fate of Nineveh nor does he specify the sins which were responsible for Jonah's mission. He is so little interested in the personal history of Jonah that he does not tell us what became of him after he had received his well- merited rebuke. As soon as he has finished his story and driven home the truth he intended to teach he stops, for he is interested only in that. His story is thus a story with a moral, a parable, a prose poem like the story of the Good Samaritan, or Lessing's Ring story in Nathan the Wise, or Oscar Wilde's poem in prose, The Teacher of Truth. The very style of it with its repetition and stereotyped forms of speech shows its character, for these stylistic chacteristics are not due to the author's limited store of phrases but to his intention of giving a uniform character to the story. All its strangeness disappears as soon as we put the story into the category in which it belongs. Then we can give ourselves to the enjoyment of its beauty and submit to its teaching of a truth which is as vital and as much needed to-day as it was when it was

first told.