One of the Minor Prophets in the OT; the ‘hero’ of the book lived in the 8th cent. BCE (2 Kgs. 14: 25) but the book is an extended parable probably written in the 4th cent. BCE, since it appears to know the book of Jeremiah (18: 18), and to be familiar with Aramaic. It describes how Jonah was sent to warn Nineveh, capital (as it became later, under Sennacherib, 704–681 BCE) of Assyria, of its great evil and of the consequences. Jonah embarked on a ship to avoid this uncongenial mission, but in a storm he was suspected by the crew of causing divine anger and was cast overboard. The sea at once calmed and Jonah was saved by a great fish (Jonah 2), after which Jonah accomplished his mission with success. But the prophet deplored the success; he thought the people of Nineveh deserved to suffer. For this curmudgeonly attitude, he was soundly rebuked. As a parable the book therefore seems to imply God’s universal mercy on all mankind, Gentiles equally with Jews, and is a tract repudiating the narrow nationalism associated with Ezra after the Exile.
In Matt. 12: 38–42 the Pharisees who demanded a sign from Jesus are told that they are to have only the sign of Jonah—the necessity of repentance. However an editorial addition, which looks like a piece of early Christian reflection, regards Jonah as a type in the OT of Jesus’ resurrection (12: 40).