Several scholars have challenged the reading of the final line of Jonah as a rhetorical question (“Should I not be concerned about Nineveh?”) and understand the Hebrew text instead to be a declaration by God that he will not be concerned about Nineveh. This reading has been resisted by some who argue that it would make little sense for the book to end on a negative note that God does not care about people who repent. This thesis examines the grammatical issues to determine which of the interrogatory or declarative readings has the stronger case; how a declaratory reading of the final line has an impact on how we read the book overall; and what such a reading has to say about the primary messages of the story.
This thesis proposes that the book of Jonah was written to challenge theodicies which failed, from the writer’s perspective, to provide satisfying answers or offer comfort in the context of the exile. It examines evidence of irony, satire or parody in the Hebrew Bible in general and in Jonah in particular to determine if the use of these literary devices should also guide our interpretation of the final lines of Jonah. It analyses other texts in the Hebrew Bible which seem to be cited or alluded to in Jonah, concludes that these literary precursors are often parodied in Jonah, and argues that the purpose and effect of such parody is not to ridicule the earlier texts themselves, but rather a theological position taken by some who appealed to them. Possible targets of this parody and the book’s likely audience are discussed, and similarities with other biblical literature of the period are analysed. It concludes that the book of Jonah is best described as a satirical challenge to theodicy of the exile. The final line has the effect of turning the reader’s or listener’s attention back to an earlier question: “Who knows? Perhaps God will turn and relent” and implies a satirical answer to this question: no one knows, or can know, what God will do.