In a pair of articles on literary structure and the book of Jonah, Ernst Wendland argues for what makes a chiasm valid, with a test case in the book of Jonah. As our church begins to study Jonah, I share the outlines from his second article. You can find his reflections on chiasms here.
They demonstrate how much the biblical authors, in this case Jonah or another prophet well-acquainted with Jonah, incorporated literary devices to express their arguments. For casual readers of the Bible, these outlines suggest that their are depths untold in the meaning and message of Scripture. For teachers, these are the structures we must find as we seek to understand the author’s original intent.
All the chiastic structures outlined below come from Ernst Wendland’s Text Analysis and Genre of Jonah (pt 2) (JETS 1996). The highlights are my own.
The Overall Structure of Jonah
A. (1:1–3) Yahweh calls Jonah the first time and he flees from Nineveh
B. (1:4–16) A life/death crisis; exhortation by the captain; Jonah’s unwilling message to the pagan sailors of the ship; result: they all repent and pray
C. (1:17) Surprising transition: Yahweh saves Jonah by means of a great fish
D. (2:1–9) Jonah’s response, a pious prayer: thank you—for letting me live
E. (2:10) Instruction: Yahweh’s miraculous object lesson is complete—Jonah is safely delivered
A’. (3:1–3) Yahweh calls Jonah the second time and he travels to Nineveh
B’. (3:4–9) A life/death crisis; Jonah’s unwilling message to the pagan people of the city; exhortation by the king; result: they all repent and pray (an even greater number)
C’. (3:10) Surprising transition: Yahweh saves Nineveh by “repenting” himself
D’. (4:1–4) Jonah’s response, a peeved prayer: please—just let me die
E’. (4:5–9) Instruction: Yahweh’s miraculous object lesson in the plant, worm and wind—Jonah is sorely afflicted
F’ (4:10–11) Conclusion (thematic peak): Yahweh’s last word to Jonah and to every current listener: “Salvation belongs to Yahweh” (cf. 2:9)
Four Chiasms in Jonah
In addition to the overall storyline of Jonah, each chapter shows remarkable literary arrangement. Again, following the work of Ernst Wendland, consider how each chapter is structured.
With these structures in mind, you are now better equipped to read this fascinating book. Even more, with these structures in mind, we find more clearly the original emphases. For more the literary structures of Jonah, see
- Studies on Jonah (BiblicalStudies.org)
- Literary Analysis of Jonah (IntheBeginning.org)
- Text Analysis and Genre of Jonah (pt 1) (JETS 1996)
- Text Analysis and Genre of Jonah (pt 2) (JETS 1996)
- Elmer Dyck, Jonah Among the Prophets: A Study in Canonical Context (JETS 1990)
- John H. Walton, “The Object Lesson of Jonah 4:5-7 and the Purpose of the Book of Jonah,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 2 (1992): 47-57.
- Eugene Merrill, “The Sign of Jonah” (JETS 1980)
Soli Deo Gloria, ds
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