Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Wind Storm in the Jonah and Jason Stories

[The AMAIC would give the priority to Jonah, instead]


Boreas the fleeing wind

There is a further connection to Phineus, who in Apollonius’ Argonautica, is pursued by the vengeful Harpies because he has betrayed prophetic secrets. After promising the Argonauts that he will help them with his prophetic gifts, he is delivered from his pursuers by the Boreads, the “fleers,” sons of Boreas, the northern wind that brings the worst storms at sea.**16** The story of Jonah begins very abruptly with his flight, right after God's command that he go and deliver his oracle to Nineveh. Jonah betrays nothing of the divine message entrusted to him, but he flees to avoid its accomplishment (as he sees it), and does so without explanation. He flees from the consequences of the message he has received but, paradoxically, not the structure of prophetic tales, in which one expects failure. In these stories, the structure is as follows: the more trustworthy the prophets, the less willing to hear them their audience will be. Above all, kings are expected to resist the message and punish the messenger, thereby increasing the element of veracity for the audience of the story. In fear of retaliation, Elijah flees to the Horeb after his victory over the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, walks one day in the desert, sits under a broom tree, and asks for death, saying: "Israel has forsaken the covenant, slain prophets, and I, even I only, am left."**17** In the second part of his adventure, Jonah also flees to an analogue of the desert, that is, a dry place, with wind, as opposed to the fluid and humid vastness stirred up by storm winds. But he is not pursued. Jonah does what prophets (and Jason and his friends) are supposed to do, namely, he flees, but for no apparent reason. He is pushed by rhetorical reason alone, the force of the text and previous biblical stories.

The puzzling motif of Jonah's flight, however, is connected to the Argonautic cycle of stories in two ways. First of all, it indirectly creates a storm caused by God’s great wind, in Hebrew ruah gdolah. Secondly, the Hebrew word for fleeing in Jonah 1.2, boreah, corresponds closely to the name of Boreas, the storm god and father of the Boreads. A "fleeing" sea creature, a leviathan, actually appears in the texts of Ras Shamra and is mentioned in Isaiah 27.1 and Job 26.13. It is a sea monster originating in the primordial chaos and threatening chaos. In the story of Jonah, however, the "fleeing" is separated from the monster, yet still connected to a storm. I propose therefore that the Greek word Boreas has a semitic origin, perhaps the Ugariticboreah. Chantraine’s Dictionnaire étymologique du grec classique gives no sure origin for the Greek word, but the presence of other Argonautic elements in the story of Jonah makes it distinctly possible that mythical elements surrounding Boreas were borrowed by the Greeks, together with the name, from Semitic mythology. The stories surrounding this divinity or hero associated with storms were adopted at a much earlier stage, perhaps at the end of the second millennium before our era. The sound change from a pharyngeal to an alveolar fricative ("heth" to "s") is natural, since Greek lacked the former (a later example of this sound change appears in one of Jerome's letters, in which he speaks of a Silas whose Hebrew name is Shaloah).

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