The Book of Jonah: On Tribalism and Self-Criticism

Keeping with the week's theme of tribalism and self-criticism, we have to pause to take note of the book of Jonah.

Again, as I've argued this week, it's impossible to step away from tribes, but we avoid tribalism if our tribe can be self-critical, if our tribe can prophetically speak into its own darkest impulses. On Monday I cited Amos 9.7 as evidence of Israel's self-criticism.

The book of Jonah is another example.

Consider the scandal of Jonah: a prophet of Israel sent to save her enemy, the Assyrian empire.

Israel had every moral right to wish for the destruction of Assyria. Let those deplorables rot in hell!

Instead, the book of Jonah ends with God's great question: "Should I not pity Nineveh?"

The book of Jonah is an amazing example of a tribe cultivating resources for self-criticism. The book of Jonah is a moral scandal. It's so transgressive! As David Benjamin Blower points out in his book Sympathy for Jonah, the companion book to his album The Book of Jonah, it's a miracle that Jonah was allowed into the canon and that its author was not burnt at the stake.

But there Jonah sits, a standing indictment of the darkest tribal impulses that haunted Israel's soul.

Tribes may be inevitable, but you better make sure your tribe has a book of Jonah.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply