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Jonah 3:3

Context
3:3 So Jonah went immediately to Nineveh, as the Lord had said. (Now Nineveh was an enormous city 1  – it required three days to walk through it!) 2 

Jonah 4:11

Context
4:11 Should I 3  not be even more 4  concerned 5  about Nineveh, this enormous city? 6  There are more than one hundred twenty thousand people in it who do not know right from wrong, 7  as well as many animals!” 8 

1 tn Heb “was a great city to God/gods.” The greatness of Nineveh has been mentioned already in 1:2 and 3:2. What is being added now? Does the term לֵאלֹהִים (lelohim, “to God/gods”) (1) refer to the Lord’s personal estimate of the city, (2) does it speak of the city as “belonging to” God, (3) does it refer to Nineveh as a city with many shrines and gods, or (4) is it simply an idiomatic reinforcement of the city’s size? Interpreters do not agree on the answer. To introduce the idea either of God’s ownership or of dedication to idolatry (though not impossible) is unexpected here, being without parallel or follow-up elsewhere in the book. The alternatives “great/large/important in God’s estimation” (consider Ps 89:41b) or the merely idiomatic “exceptionally great/large/important” could both be amplified by focus on physical size in the following phrase and are both consistent with emphases elsewhere in the book (Jonah 4:11 again puts attention on size – of population). If “great” is best understood as a reference primarily to size here, in view of the following phrase and v. 4a (Jonah went “one day’s walk”), rather than to importance, this might weigh slightly in favor of an idiomatic “very great/large,” though no example with “God” used idiomatically to indicate superlative (Gen 23:6; 30:8; Exod 9:28; 1 Sam 14:15; Pss 36:6; 80:10) has exactly the same construction as the wording in Jonah 3:3.

2 tn Heb “a three-day walk.” The term “required” is supplied in the translation for the sake of smoothness and clarity.

sn Required three days to walk through it. Although this phrase is one of the several indications in the book of Jonah of Nineveh’s impressive size, interpreters are not precisely sure what “a three-day walk” means. In light of the existing archaeological remains, the phrase does not describe the length of time it would have taken a person to walk around the walls of the city or to walk from one end of the walled city to the other. Other suggestions are that it may indicate the time required to walk from one edge of Nineveh’s environs to the other (in other words, including outlying regions) or that it indicates the time required to arrive, do business, and leave. More information might also show that the phrase involved an idiomatic description (consider Gen 30:36; Exod 3:18; a three-day-journey would be different for families than for soldiers, for example), rather than a precise measurement of distance, for which terms were available (Ezek 45:1-6; 48:8-35). With twenty miles as quite a full day’s walk, it seems possible and simplest, however, to take the phrase as including an outlying region associated with Nineveh, about sixty miles in length.

3 tn The emphatic use of the independent pronouns “you” and “I” (אַתָּה, ’attah, and אֲנִי, ’ani) in vv. 10 and 11 creates an ironic comparison and emphasizes the strong contrast between the attitudes of Jonah and the Lord.

4 tn Heb “You…Should I not spare…?” This is an a fortiori argument from lesser to greater. Since Jonah was “upset” (חוּס, khus) about such a trivial matter as the death of a little plant (the lesser), God had every right to “spare” (חוּס) the enormously populated city of Nineveh (the greater). The phrase “even more” does not appear in Hebrew but is implied by this a fortiori argument.

5 tn Heb “Should I not spare?”; or “Should I not show compassion?” The verb חוּס (khus) has a basic three-fold range of meanings: (1) “to be troubled about,” (2) “to look with compassion upon,” and (3) “to show pity, to spare (someone from death/judgment)” (HALOT 298 s.v. חוס; BDB 299 s.v. חוּס). In v. 10 it refers to Jonah’s lament over the death of his plant, meaning “to be upset about” or “to be troubled about” (HALOT 298 s.v. 1.c). However, here in v. 11 it means “to show pity, spare” from judgment (BDB 298 s.v. b; HALOT 298 s.v. 1.a; e.g., 1 Sam 24:11; Jer 21:7; Ezek 24:14). It is often used in contexts which contemplate whether God will or will not spare a sinful people from judgment (Ezek 5:11; 7:4, 9; 8:19; 9:5, 10; 20:17). So this repetition of the same verb but in a different sense creates a polysemantic wordplay in vv. 10-11. However, the wordplay is obscured by the appropriate translation for each usage – “be upset about” in v. 10 and “to spare” in v. 11 – therefore, the translation above attempts to bring out the wordplay in English: “to be [even more] concerned about.”

6 tn Heb “the great city.”

7 tn Heb “their right from their left.” Interpreters wonder exactly what deficiency is meant by the phrase “do not know their right from their left.” The expression does not appear elsewhere in biblical Hebrew. It probably does not mean, as sometimes suggested, that Nineveh had 120,000 small children (the term אָדָם, ’adam, “people,” does not seem to be used of children alone). In any case, it refers to a deficiency in discernment that Jonah and the initial readers of Jonah would no doubt have considered themselves free of. For partial parallels see 2 Sam 19:35; Eccl 10:2; Ezek 22:26; 44:23.

8 tn Heb “and many animals.”



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