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Introduction to Jonah
Jonah: Introduction and Commentary.
Illuminations; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2021.
Reviewed by Andy Judd (andyjudd.com)
Amy Erickson’s new commentary on Jonah is a splendid book. It is the second title to be released in the new Illuminations series from Eerdmans, the long-awaited follow up to Seow’s volume on Job 1-21 published in 2013 (at this rate whoever writes the Revelation commentary will discuss the millennium with the benefit of hindsight).
Erickson is clear in her introduction what she thinks of traditional readings of Jonah:
“The dominant interpretation is simply stale and flat. It takes all of the power, pathos, and subtlety that is characteristic of great literature and processes it down to an easily digested, gluten-free kernel. It takes a theologically robust, richly allusive, and provocative biblical book and pitches it as a children’s story designed to deliver a saccharine “moral of the story” (e.g., “you can’t run away from God!” or, even sweeter, “God loves everyone!”). What I hope to offer in this commentary is a reading that is a bit meatier and more savoury. (5)
I’m inclined to agree, and welcome this commentary’s attempt to shine a spotlight on the literary complexity of the book, as well as its fascinating history of interpretation (which in this series is called somewhat ominously its “History of Consequences”).
From this opening shot, the introduction dives straight into the textual form and linguistic features that indicate a late date for the book. It’s a logical place to start, though I would not have complained had we tarried a little on the bigger picture of the book's literary and historical context before diving into the Peshitta et al (though we get to provenance and historical setting a few pages later).
I enjoyed the discussion of genre and particularly the way Erickson (following Yvonne Sherwood) deals with the tendency to cast Jonah as “satire” rather than (more sensibly) seeing the book as participating in several different genres with irony and humour two tones within a much more complex palette. Now, as a genre theorist I’m biased, but it might have been good to have some explicit modern genre theory pulled in at this point, but the understanding of genre as multivalent participation (which seems to be mediated by Carol Newsom’s 2005 survey on genre theory) is on the money.
Verse by verse commentaries tend to kill narrative, so it’s great that we begin with an extended study of the characters. Then we move to the reception history (sorry, "history of consequences”) which includes Jewish, Christian, Muslim and modern approaches. It is wonderful to see some attention given to the visual arts in amongst the standard far of commentators and theologians.
It is 238 pages in that we get to the discussion of the story itself, and the Gadamerian in me likes the way reception history (sorry, “history of consequences”) is foregrounded before we do exegesis. The way this series works is there is a fairly accessible “Interpretation” section, which is designed to be readable by humans. This is followed by a “Commentary” section that discusses in most technical terms the translation decisions. Hebrew is transliterated, but it’s not bedtime reading. A bibliography is provided for each section, as well as occasional breakout boxes returning to specific reception history (sorry, “history of consequences”) and other issues. The book ends with Subject, Author, Scripture and Ancient Sources indexes.
This is a superb commentary which offers a really great way into the book of Jonah as a complex and provocative work of literature. Here’s to more like it!