The book of Jonah is one of the minor prophets, the Twelve. Rather than being a record of prophecies, this book is the story of a prophet.
In 2 Kings 14 a prophet named Jonah is mentioned. It is not clear if this Jonah is the Jonah of the book of Jonah.
The author of Jonah is unknown and it was written relatively late, probably the third century BCE. Scholars date this book by looking at the language used (vocabulary and syntax) and how historical events are described. Also there are echoes of earlier biblical texts in this book. As we read see if you can notice the ways Jonah recalls earlier biblical texts, often by portraying Jonah in an opposite manor from the biblical counterpart. It was probably written after the fall of Ninevah in 612 BCE.
While Jonah is not a historical text, it has an important point to make. One theme is repentance. Nineveh sins, Jonah sins,Nineveh repents, Jonah repents and God is merciful to all. But also Jonah has to do with prophecy. The validity of a prophet was believed to lie in the reliability of the prophecies. Did what the prophet describe happen? But in the case of prophecies of destruction, they are conditional, if the people repent, the destruction can be avoided. Prophecies of peace are meant to be fulfilled but prophecies of destruction are meant to be calls to repentance rather than things to be fulfilled. Salvation is more important than a prophets reliability and a prophecies realization.
Jonah is also interesting because of its use of humor. The author makes serious points by using humor and exaggeration.
Judaism reads the book of Jonah on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Christians will notice several references to the book in the New Testament where Jonah is cited as a prefiguring figure of Jesus.
The book of Jonah has a symmetrical form. Both calls have similar language, both 1.3 and 3.3 begin with the same words “Jonah set out”, both sections present foreigners favorably and Jonah prays in both final scenes.
Outline of Jonah from Zakovitch
I. God’s first call to Jonah
A 1:1-3 Jonah’s commission and an attempt to flee
B 1:4-16 The moral: one cannot flee from God
C. 2:1-11 Jonah, in the fish, prays and is saved
II. God’s second call to Jonah
A. 3:1-4 Jonah’s mission and its completion
B. 3:5-10 The repentance of Nineveh and God’s forgiveness
C. 4:1-11 Jonah’s prayer/complaint, and the moral he learns from God
Read More About It:
Here are several good sources to aid your reading of Jonah..
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Crawford, Sidnie White, “Jonah” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
Trible, Phyllis, “Jonah” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Vol 7, Keck, Leander E. ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press) 2001.
Zakovitch, Yair “Jonah” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version.Coogan, Michael D.; Brettler, Marc Z.; Perkins, Pheme; Newsom, Carol A. (2010-01-20) Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.