John J. Collins
The book of Jonah is unique among the Prophets for two reasons. First, it is not a collection of oracles but a narrative, and second, Jonah is in many ways an antiprophet, whose behavior is approximately the opposite of what we expect from a prophet. The story may be termed a fable, because of the role of the fish (compare the role of animals in Aesop's fables). It can also be considered as a parable, in the sense that it is a short story that goes against our expectations, like many of the parables of Jesus. The story is set in the Assyrian period (like the prophecies of Hosea and Amos), but there is general agreement that it comes from a much later time. While we cannot pinpoint the time of composition, it was certainly sometime in the postexilic period. The actual setting, then, was close to the time of Joel and Obadiah, but Jonah has a very different perspective on the problems of the period.
The division of the book is adequately represented by the chapters. The long psalm in chapter 2 stands out from its context. It may have been added by a later editor who was more interested in the miracle of Jonah's survival than was the original author.
Three considerations are especially important for appreciating the book of Jonah:
1. The story is quite deliberately humorous,
2. Its primary subject matter is the proper attitude to foreign nations, not Jonah's miraculous escape from drowning,
3. The story gives a mildly critical perspec‐ tive on the religious zeal that is a trademark of prophecy.