Redundant Quotative Frames in Jonah

Steve Runge and Josh Westbury recently released the electronic Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible (6 vols). One of the 6 volumes is an introduction to their function-based approach to Hebrew grammar. For Hebrew grammar this is the best complement to Runge’s Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament, available electronically or in print. The introduction included in the Discourse Hebrew Bible bundle is very clearly written. If you have no prior experience with “discourse grammar” this is a great place to start. The following is one attempt to put this type of analysis into practice.

Redundant Quotative Frame (RQF)

In the Introduction, Runge and Westbury define “redundant quotative frame” (RQF) as follows:

The use of extra speaking verbs to frame or introduce a speech, drawing attention to a surprising or important element of the speech that follows.

For example, they note that “the most commonly used redundant quotative frame is וַיַּעַן וַיֹּאמֶר, where וַיֹּאמֶר is unneeded” (sec. 1.5).

RQF’s in Jonah

It seems to me there are two RQF’s in the book of Jonah, one in 3:4 (וַיִּקְרָא וַיֹּאמַר) and one in 3:7 (וַיַּזְעֵק וַיּאֹמֶר). There are plenty other speeches in Jonah, but these two are marked by the way they are introduced with RQF’s. The question is why?

I propose that, taken together, these two speeches highlight the primary conflict in the narrative. Finally, after fleeing and being supernaturally put back on track, Jonah arrives at Nineveh and proclaims (וַיִּקְרָא וַיֹּאמַר 3:4) that in forty days the city will be overthrown. Then comes the real bummer for Jonah: Nineveh repents (3:5). Nineveh’s surprising response is not just stated by the narrator, the king of Nineveh himself  issues a decree (וַיַּזְעֵק וַיּאֹמֶר 3:7) that the whole city repent and cry for mercy. Jonah did what Yahweh told him and the response was exactly opposite of was expected.

Highlighting these two speeches sets up chapter 4, where the narrative tension will reach its climax. There’s no resolution. The book ends with the tension high. It is commonly thought that the key to the book of Jonah is chapter 4. Does this application of Runge and Westbury’s approach provide linguistic support for reading the story this way? How do you understand the function of the RQF’s in Jonah? What do they do? This question is for anyone, but I especially wonder what CJ Fresch, the Parks, and the HBU crew think of this analysis.

Related Post: Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible as a Reference Work

Jonah the Pharisee

How should we think of Jonah? In a previous post I noted textual features in the book of Jonah that call to mind Cain. Are there other stories in the Bible with characters like Jonah? It is interesting to read the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) with Jonah in mind.

The Laborers in the Vineyard

In this parable “the master of the house” hires people to work in his vineyard at different times throughout the day–some in the early morning, some in the middle of the day, and some “in the eleventh hour.” The text explicitly tells us that those hired early in the morning agreed to work for a denarius. At the end of the day, the master of the house began doling out payment first to those who started working in the eleventh hour. Surprisingly, he gave them a full day’s wage. The tension rises. Those who had labored all day thought for sure that they would receive more than their initial agreement. When they don’t, they protest! The master of the house sends them away with their agreed upon wage and these parting words: “Is your eye evil because I am good?” (ὁ ὀφθαλμὸς σου πονηρός ἐστιν ὅτι ἐγὼ ἀγαθός).

Here, “evil eye” is an idiom for being greedy and ἀγαθός means “generous” (BDAG 2aα). Similar language is used in Deuteronomy 15:9 and Tobit 4:7, 16 to speak of greed. The master of the house was absurdly gracious with his money, and according to Jesus this illustrates a truth concerning the kingdom of God: God is gracious in a way that causes some to have an “evil eye”; some begrudge his generosity, but in the end “the last will be first.” The message of God’s absurd generosity seems to be a fundamental reason for the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees – one is reminded of the words Jesus spoke to the Pharisees in Matthew 9:13 and 12:7, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.”

Jonah

This is the  same issue that creates conflict between Jonah and Yahweh in Jonah 4. In fact, according to Jonah 4:2 the reason Jonah fled from Yahweh in the first place was because he knew that in the end Yahweh would forgive Nineveh of their sin.

In light of the Laborers in the Vineyard, listen to the closing words of the book of Jonah. Yahweh says to Jonah,

You have been concerned about this gourd, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?

Essentially, Yahweh is saying, “Jonah, is your eye evil because I am good? Do you begrudge my generosity?”

Conclusion

The laborers in the vineyard call to mind not only the Pharisees but also Jonah. When the book of Jonah comes to a close, he looks a lot like a Pharisee. There he sits before God, angry “unto death” over God’s grace. Jonah is a grace-greedy Pharisee.

Related Posts: “Echoes of Cain in the Story of Jonah” and “Jonah as Disciple

Echoes of Cain in the Story of Jonah

There are few verbal connections between the story of Jonah and Genesis 4.
In Jonah 2:5, from the belly of the whale Jonah cries, “I am driven out from before your eyes!” (נִגְרַשְׁתִּימִנֶּגֶדעֵינֶיךָ). This echoes the complaint of Cain in Genesis 4:14: “Hey! You have driven me today from before the face of the land and from you I will be hidden!” (הֵןגֵּרַשְׁתָּאֹתִיהַיּוֹםמֵעַלפְּנֵיהָאֲדָמָהוּמִפָּנֶיךָאֶסָּתֵר). When Jonah sees that Nineveh has repented and God has relented from destroying the people, the text says, “It seemed an exceedingly great evil to Jonah, and he became angry” (וַיִּחַרלוֹ Jon 4:1ֹ, see also Jon 4:4, 9). After God rejected Cain’s sacrifice, the text says, “Cain became exceedingly angry” (וַיִּחַרלְקַיִןמְאֹד Gen 4:5). A few more: Just as God confronts Cain with a question after his crime (Gen 4:9), so also God confronts Jonah with a question in Jonah 4:4. In both stories God, at some point, confronts the antagonist with the issue of “doing good” (אִם־תֵּיטִיב Gen 4:7 ; הַהֵיטֵב Jon 4:4, 9). Finally, both Jonah and Cain “settled to the east of” (וַיֵּשֶׁבבְּאֶרֶץ־נוֹדקִדְמַת־עֵדֶן Gen 4:16 ; וַיֵּשֶׁבמִקֶדֶםלָעִיר Jon 4:5). What is the significance of making a connection between Jonah and Cain? Making the connection at the beginning of Jonah 4 casts another dark shadow over the character of Jonah. If you have entertained any notions—perhaps because of the prayer in chapter 2—that Jonah is the good guy, those thoughts are drowned by the recollection of Cain. Remembering Cain at this point in the story also foreshadows what is to come. Jonah doesn’t recover. Hatred and bitterness have their way with him (Jon 4:9).

I am not claiming that this connection was necessarily intended by the author of Jonah. Whether it was intended or not, making the connection produces a more colorful reading. After all, the characters (Jonah and Cain) are similar in the end.

For other reflections on how we might think of Jonah, see “Jonah the Pharisee” and “Jonah as Disciple“.