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Historical Background on the Book of Jonah: Following information from THE MINOR PROPHETS Jonah by Al Maxey


Jonah is the only "minor prophet" ever to be mentioned by Jesus Christ. He is also the only OT figure that Jesus Himself likens unto Himself (Matthew 12:39-41; 16:4; Luke 11:29-32). Although some contend this book is a fable and that Jonah never actually lived, the biblical evidence is to the contrary. II Kings 14:25 speaks of him as an actual historical figure. So does Jesus Christ. Josephus (an early Jewish historian) also regarded him as historical rather than fictional (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 9, Chapter 10, Sections 1-2). Also, when Paul wrote that Jesus "was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (I Corinthians 15:4), he may well have been alluding, at least in part, to Jonah’s experience.

DATE & OCCASION

From II Kings 14:25 we know that Jonah lived during the time of Jeroboam II (793-753 BC). He was sent to Nineveh --- the capital city of Assyria --- to deliver a warning from God that unless they repented they would be destroyed. There are several historical clues which seem to point to a date for this prophecy somewhere in the late 750’s BC --- perhaps around 758 BC:

• During the reign of Adad-nirari III (811-783 BC) there was a swing toward monotheism. However, at his death the nation entered a period of national weakness and even greater moral decay. "During this time, Assyria was engaged in a life and death struggle with the mountain tribes of Urartu, and its associates of Mannai and Madai in the north, who had been able to push their frontier to within less than a hundred miles of Nineveh" (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 7).

• In 756 BC a plague struck the nation, followed by a second plague in 759 BC. In 763 BC there was an eclipse of the sun. These were "events of the type regarded by ancients as evidence of divine judgment, and could have prepared the people to receive Jonah’s message" (The Ryrie Study Bible). "No doubt this depressed state of Assyria contributed much to the readiness of the people to hear Jonah as he began to preach to them" (Homer Hailey).

• There is some historical evidence that during the reign of Ashurdan III (771-754 BC) a religious awakening occurred. This may have been the result of Jonah’s preaching. In 745 BC Tiglath-pileser III (745-727 BC) came to the throne and Assyria again became a major power. Under his leadership the Assyrians became "the rod of God’s anger (Isaiah 10:5) against His rebellious people Israel. Israel finally fell to the Assyrians with the capture of Samaria in 722 BC (through the efforts of Tiglath-pileser’s successors --- Shalmaneser V and Sargon II).