Bible Review 11:1, February 1995

Staging Jonah

By Lance Wilcox

For a long time, I wanted to write a play about the comic, contentious, absurd, salvific relationship between God and us—to present a comic Everyman locked in mortal (salvific) combat with Yahweh. But I got nowhere with the idea and let it lie, until one night I read through some of the Minor Prophets and came across the Book of Jonah. My preconceptions about the book were, in retrospect, utterly ordinary and rather embarrassing. I knew the story: The guy gets swallowed by a fish, and there was something about a miraculous plant as well. But this time, armed with a copy of the Oxford Study Edition of the New English Bible, everything changed.

The introduction suggested the story was a satire, an attack on a Jewish purity movement, represented in part by Ezra and Nehemiah. Jonah, in this reading, is a believer par excellence, utterly antagonistic to other peoples of the Middle East; and Yahweh, in His mercy, makes a fool of him in the course of the story. The author was protesting the limited, parochial vision of the purity movement and insisting that Yahweh was the merciful ruler over all humanity. The Book of Jonah was satire, folk tale and theology all rolled into one. And, it struck me, it was also eminently stageable. This was the story I was looking for.

Join the BAS Library!

Already a library member? Log in here.

Institution user? Log in with your IP address.