Saved by the Whale: on idiot redactors and reading the psalm in Jonah
Tyler has the pleasure of teaching Jonah
, in Hebrew! (Though, unless I've missed something he is only at chapter one still, "good things take time" as the cheese advert down here says
;-) Meanwhile John Hobbins at ancient hebrew poetry
and I have got ahead of the class and have been discussing chapter two
I took exception to John's statement that:
Since the psalm is not a prayer but a praiseful narration of a deed of deliverance in answer to prayer, it suits the context only approximately.
This is not a new thought, dozens of commentators have said the same thing, but in this case I'm sure the crowd is not displaying its true wisdom ;-)
So I wrote:
Jonah has asked to be thrown into a raging sea, he seems to expect to die (and the sailors, surely the more expert witnesses do too 1:14). However, far from drowning Jonah, his God sends a fish to swallow him - hardly a chance outcome - and he survives. He prays a pious thanksgiving for his deliverance from drowning... His piety may seem misplaced, his castigation of "those who forsake their true loyalty" may seem hypocritical, but surely the form of the prayer is appropriate?
John's riposte begins:
From the point of view of the narrator of the book of Jonah, that is true. From Jonah's implied point of view, it is not - at least not while Jonah found himself within the fish. Note the parallel expressions "from the viscera of the fish" (2:2 in the Hebrew) and "from the belly of Sheol" (2:3). That's not how Jonah would have talked if, in the moment of distress which the psalm looks back on, he understood the fish to be a vehicle of salvation.
(It is good stuff, so go and read the full version
of our conversation!)
I'm still not convinced... The two phrases, (מִמְּעֵי הַדָּגָה and מִבֶּטֶן שְׁאוֹל) are as you say parallel, but they are NOT in lines that are in a direct relationship. The mention of fish guts occurs on the narrator's lips introducing the psalm. While "from Sheol's belly" comes from the lips of Jonah, in the psalm. The parallel does create an undertone of "this is salvation!?" but does not diminish Jonah's so human arrogance in supposing that the fish is intended to save HIM. And saved from Sheol he has been, from Âthe heart of the seas, and the flood [that] surroundedÂ him! And, though not the most salubrious of habitations, I'd rather be alive in the fish guts, than dead at the bottom of the stormy sea Â which is the fate the sailors expected for their landlubber passenger. I find it difficult in such a well-told, ironic tale to accept that the delightfully ironic psalm is a mere accident or clumsy mistake. The hypothesis of the idiot redactor won't float!