[The AMAIC would give the priority to Jonah, instead]
Taken from: http://humweb.ucsc.edu/gweltaz/courses/prophets/commentaries/Jonah/jonah.html
THE FUNCTION OF GREEK MOTIFS IN JONAH
It is not surprising in itself that motifs and characters from a version of the story of the Argonauts would appear in the book of Jonah, when one considers how widespread they are in the literary (from the fifth c. BCE) and iconographic record (from the eighth c. BCE) of the whole Mediterranean region. Furthermore, the Hebrew story is far from being a pale recasting of Jason's adventures. First of all, the related elements of flight and storm complicate the picture, in that Semitic versions of this story had been circulating for an even longer time, and had themselves been borrowed by the earliest Greek settlers of the Mediterranean. The Greeks seem to have borrowed a Boreas and sea-monsters at an early date. Textual and pictorial materials show that Greeks took over stories of sea-monsters from the East in the early, so-called “orientalizing” period.**41** Behind Jonah's story and its vestigial echoes of Jason and the Argonauts, there are remains of an older, more widely told story of a fight between a god and a sea-monster.**42** These stories all seem to belong to the category of tales of voyages to the netherworld.**43** Secondly, the creator of Jonah appears to be playing in a very conscious manner with some of the elements and motifs of the Greek story, inverting some, laminating others, or fusing them with Hebrew themes on the basis of linguistic or structural similarities.
One may begin with the complex geography of the Argonauts' saga, which has been drastically simplified in the story of Jonah, with only Tarshish and Nineveh mentioned as presumably summarizing the known world contained between these extremities. And then there is, at least at a superficial level, the beneficial dove of the Argonauts' tale which is turned into an occasion of trouble for the sailors of the Hebrew story. At a deeper level, however, it causes the conversion of the crew, who sacrifice to the proper god after they have been saved. Throughout the ordeal they act civilly, even generously, though not heroically, instead of showing the greed and lack of courage which are their normal attributes, as in the much later and edifying story of Paul of Tarsus' shipwreck in Acts 27.**44** The storm is not a dangerous moment for Jonah but rather simply a means to return the hero to the land he should not have left. Instead of being sent away on a highly risky journey by a jealous or fretful king figure, he chooses to bring his fate upon himself. The king in the second part of the story is not a frightening or vengeful character bent on eliminating or testing the hero or prophet, as are Pelias, Aeetes, or even Jezebel in Elijah's story. Rather, he is most pliable, a keen listener, obedient and prompt to repent. The never-sleeping dragon guarding the Golden Fleece has been miniaturized and become a worm. I have suggested above that some of its characteristics have been given to Jonah himself, who watches intently over the city he wishes to see destroyed. Like the dragon preventing Jason's possession of the wondrous Fleece (a magical remain of a foundational sacrifice), Jonah fiercely blocks access to divine mercy. He is willing to face God in hot anger and apparently knowing no reason. The pharmaceutical mixture which Medea uses to put the monster to sleep has changed in form but retained its soothing quality for the overheated Jonah. Yet, the leafy kikayon remains somewhat of a conundrum. In the later iconography to be mentioned below, Jonah is seen resting under, or surrounded by, a large-leafed bush which resembles some of the earlier images of the tree in which Jason finds the Golden Fleece. Perhaps tree and magic mixture have been associated from the earliest times.
The question now is whether this recasting of the Greek story has been done simply in jest, or is part of a more complex structure. The comparison of certain themes present in both stories may throw some light on this problem. Jason’s calm, contrasted with Aeetes’ anger, parallels Jonah’s extraordinary passivity. Jason needs assistance at every crucial turn of the story and appears weak, a kind of anti-hero.**45** But Jonah’s passivity does not stem from meekness, rather it comes from his extreme view of prophecy. Medea’s night monologue in Apollonius’ Argonautica 3.771ff., when she is wavering in her desire to help Jason tame Aeetes' monstrous bulls, presents interesting parallels to that of Jonah. Perhaps it is not overly speculative to say that the way in which Apollonius presents hellenism as immensely seductive to Medea, daughter of a tyrant, has its counterpart in the Hebrew author’s idea of a natural attraction that pagan sailors, and Nineveh’s king and people feel for the Jewish God. This appeal has little to do with Nineveh, whose historical kingship ended at a much earlier time than the composition of this story, but would make sense in an atmosphere of competition between Hebrew and Greek cultures. The author might be inverting the image of attraction presented by Greek civilization and so present foreigners suitably attracted to the Hebrew divinity when they are Greeks (the sailors?), and stupidly so when they are Ninevites.
Recent studies of the book of Jonah, while discovering new layers of meaning in the story, have exposed the complex structure of the narrative.**46** They reinforce the notion that the work is an ironic parable, one with a pointed question. The parallels we have detected between the story of Jonah and that of Jason point even more strongly in the same direction. To the irony underlined by several commentators,**47** it is possible to add a new twist, namely that Nineveh encompasses the “Ionians” also. Nineveh and Yavan sound similar, as do Yônah the "dove", Yôniyah the ship, and Ionia the region. Phonetically as well as mythopoetically, it appears that the author of the book of Jonah is playing with a variant or variants of Jason's adventures as told in Greek and other languages, selecting some of its motifs or sounds and refashioning them for altogether different purposes, all the while with a view to entertain. The author manipulated a myth which had become alien and re-elaborated parts of it in order to reflect on and reinforce his own culture.**48** The hero’s name, a storm caused by a fleeing/northern wind, uncontentious sailors, a sea-monster swallowing and regurgitating the hero under divine command, a monster diminished to worm size in the second part, a magic emetic ––all these serve the author’s meaning.
If it is true that the element of mockery of the Greeks is part of this story, then all the more reason to set aside the view of the book of Jonah as a didactic parable teaching that divine compassion knows no boundaries and is universal.**49** Christian exegetes in particular have often propounded a universalistic interpretation, put forward by Jerome, for instance, and especially by Ephrem the Syrian, who had his own neighborly reasons to offer a literal interpretation and present the Ninevites in a flattering light.**50** Philo of Alexandria could have been expected to offer this kind of interpretation but it is absent from his commentaries on Jonah.**51**
In line with tradition, I would argue rather that the problem posed by God's boundless compassion is the primary subject of this story. The question is framed in an ironic and even tragic mode, in spite of the author's apparently jocular manner. The geographical or ethnical considerations on the bounds of divine compassion which later (Christian) interpretation found congenial add a new, secondary dimension to the original story, the main point of which is to highlight a debate or question intrinsic to Israel. It is the answer to that question, in turn, which may be given universal significance.
As commentaries have long shown, the book of Jonah presents a reflection on the dangers of prophecy. In Israel, oracles of doom had long before given place to conditional oracles, which were better suited to the vagaries of historical circumstances. But the conditions for belief in conditional oracles appear to have developed also in the Graeco-Roman world. Even though on the surface they differ in mode, goals, and significance, a self-questioning or ironic discourse on prophetic traditions arose in both cultural areas.**52** Similar questions were raised in Hebrew and Greek stories regarding the functioning of divine justice and mercy and their mechanism. This is not to say that the Greek and Hebrew Weltanschauungen of the time were identical. Rather their differences are to be sought at another level, in the tautness of the question that the author is asking Israel, as will presently be seen. This tenseness, I suggest, stems from the structure of the Hebrew faith, in which the dialogue regarding the mechanisms of history was projected as being conducted with a God who is creator of the universe, and therefore free and totally gracious, above any contingency. This divinity might well decide to reverse or change the flow of nature or history, thus lifting the burden of fatality. From the prophet's point of view, however, the kind of conditional oracles that the nature of the divinity required made the dangers of life altogether too predictable.
Yet, the story of Jonah contains a more poignant idea than a concern for the prophet's thorny position. If the tale places its hero Jonah in a rhetoric of prophecy that is problematic, it also implies a basic questioning of Israel's relation to God. Jonah is apparently caught in a dilemma between basic tenets of Israel's faith whose consequences the author exaggerates to bring them into clear conflict. Jonah is shown as trapped between two extreme ideas: one is the notion of the automaticity, swiftness, and infinite range of God's justice and anger in response to Israel's failures; the other is its converse, namely the automaticity, and infinite patience, of divine compassion.
One may imagine the ancient Hebrew or Judaean audience of the story smiling at the Ninevites' (or Ionians') expense, for how could the latter be so dense as to think of divine mercy as remotely possible for them? Furthermore, how could this compassion be exercised towards people who, in Israel's estimation, did not even know the boundaries of sinful action and included in it their domestic herds? Here, there may have been a dark joke or innuendo, still having force for later Jewish commentators, regarding the sexual mores of Ninevites (or Greeks/Ionians; it may have been a joke often reciprocated). But Nineveh is the converse of Israel, where prophetic and Deuteronomistic traditions would have it that conversion has hardly ever been completed in the past, or that it has been accomplished by a few rare individuals, and specifically not by kings, who need repeated warnings in the normal discourse of prophecy.
The story contains a logical exercise or equation which can be formulated as follows: If a conversion which is rhetorically and historically wrong (no effort by the "prophet;" too obedient a king; in Nineveh the paradigmatic enemy) brings about the immediate and full benefits of divine mercy, then shouldn't the listeners ask themselves what is the proper dynamics of conversion and mercy? "How much" conversion is actually necessary, at what point does mercy "kick in," and what must one do, short of total conversion, which is actually so impossible that it looks silly? The author's vision of what a divine determinism would entail is amusing, at least superficially. But this vision of the world is ironic, in that it questions the listeners' ordinary notions, which are of a world bound by determinisms of all kinds, yet freed, even at the most physical level, by the word of God.
In the book of Jonah, physical nature is entirely removed from the reach of determinism: storm, fish, worm, are all appointed by divine command. But, and this to me is part of the irony of the book, determinism is applied to the divine sphere. In Greek stories, on the contrary, there is considerable fickleness to be found in the Greek gods. So, here too, the author might be thinking about Greek conceptions of the world, under cover of anti-ninevism. The lesson of the book, if there is one, is the strengthening of "ordinary" or common perceptions —I mean ordinary for a listener or reader of the biblical stories— not for a non-Hebrew, say a Greek, who precisely has these beliefs, namely that the gods are all powerful, and that nature is essentially ruled by unpredictable gods. The hidden philosophy of the book, to be derived from its ironical posture, would be exactly contrary to its surface story and to popular forms of Greek wisdom. It would be suggesting that there is determinism in nature, but complete divine freedom.
In Greek mythology and theater, the precautions taken to keep the heroes away conspire to bring them back to the center of the drama through a complicated chain of events. The book of Jonah does away with the niceties of the complex mechanism which Greek drama slowly unfolds and presents a hero who, though naked and battered, remains proud before his God.