The book of Jonah, barely three pages in most Bibles, is the mighty mite of scriptural narratives. The story of the prophet swallowed by the giant fish is deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness, simple enough to delight a child and complex enough to confound a scholar. How are repentance, justice, mercy, and the will of God related to forgiveness in Jonah? Human beings hesitate and falter when trying to accept or imitate a model of divine forgiveness. Contemporary society abounds with examples of people who, like Jonah, struggle to understand when and how to forgive others. Holocaust survivors, victims of apartheid, and those injured by domestic abuse are but a few examples. The book culminates in a dialogue, informed by the best of modern biblical scholarship, between Jonah and modern dilemmas of forgiveness in accounts from the Jewish Holocaust and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The author incorporates a vast and diverse literature to illumine Jonah’s dilemma—from Henri Nouwen to Herman Melville, from the Talmud to Greek myth.
“high commendation is in order.… This book can serve us well in our essential interactions regarding human forgiveness and divine. We all need to forgive and to be forgiven. We should talk together more clearly and forthrightly about what that might entail, and this volume will certainly help us do that. I recommend especially that this book be used in small groups, not least interfaith groups. It will prompt much needed reflection and conversation and contribute to the good health of our life together.”
Janet Howe Gaines is Lecturer in English at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.