Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Jonah in Greco-Roman Mythology

Typically, the famous story of the prophet Jonah appears to have been picked up later by the Greco-Romans, and re-cast, as we are now going to find.

Jonah, as we read, “went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish” (1:3). Legend has it that Joppa, or Jaffa, was founded by Noah’s son, Japheth. Now, Japheth became a primary god, Iapetos/Iapetus, for the Greeks. This important port of Joppa, Sennacherib of Assyria had high-handedly captured in the C8th BC. As König had noted, in relation to a Greek myth: “… it was in the neighbourhood of Joppa that Andromeda, too, was reduced to straits by a sea-monster …”. And Graves writes similarly:“An Etruscan vase shows the moribund king, whose name is given as Jason … in the jaws of a sea-monster: an icon from which the moral anecdote of Jonah and the Whale has apparently been deduced [sic]”. Wikipedia, too, tells of Jonah/Jason correspondences:

In 1995 the classicist Gildas Hamel revived a long-forgotten theory connecting the story of Jonah with that of the Greek hero Jason ("Taking the Argo to Nineveh: Jonah and Jason in a Mediterranean context," Judaism Summer, 1995; online).

Drawing on the Book of Jonah and Greco-Roman sources—including Greek vases and the accounts of Apollonius of Rhodes, Valerius Flaccus and Orphic Argonautica—Hamel identifies a number of shared motifs, including the names of the heroes, the presence of a dove, the idea of "fleeing" like the wind and causing a storm, the attitude of the sailors, the presence of a sea-monster or dragon threatening the hero or swallowing him, and the form and the word used for the "gourd" (kikayon, a hapax legomenon within the Hebrew Bible). ….

Indeed I seem to find in ‘Jason of the land of Iolchos’ quite a linguistic similarity to Isaiah [as Nahum] of Elkosh’. [To understand this connection, see main article on Jonah, previous post].

Sayce, writing with reference to the Book of Jonah, told of the extraordinary claim by Stephanus Byzantius, that “Gaza was also called Iônê, while the sea between Gaza and the frontier of Egypt was called “Ionian”.”