September 27, 2016

Saint Jerome's Commentary on the Book of Jonah (5 of 5)

...continued from part four.


1. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly and he was very angry. And he prayed unto the Lord, and said: 

LXX: Jonah was saddened by a great sadness, and he was confounded. And he prayed to the Lord, and he said:

Seeing the crowd of gentiles enter[168], and that fulfils what is written in Deuteronomy: "they annoyed me with these gods who are not gods, so I will annoy them with a people that is not one; I shall anger them like a foolish nation"[169]. He despairs of Israel's safety and is hit by a great suffering which breaks out in words. He shows the signs of his suffering and more or less says this: 'I have been the only one of the prophets chosen to announce my people's ruin to them through the safety of others.' Thus he is not sad that the crowd of gentiles should be saved, as some people believe, but it is the destruction of Israel. Moreover our Lord wept for Jerusalem and refused to take bread away from the children to give to the dogs[170]. And the apostles preach firstly to Israel, and Paul wishes to be anathema for his brothers who are Israelites[171] and have adoption, glory, alliance, promises and law, and from whom the patriarchs come, and from them too according to the flesh came Christ.[172] But suffering in vain, which is interpreted as the word Jonah, he is smitten by suffering, and 'the spirit is sad until death'[173]. For lest the people of the Jews should die, he has suffered as much as he was in power. The name of the sufferer also is appropriate to the story, since it signifies the toil of the prophet, weighed down by the miseries of his journey and the shipwreck.

2-3. "I pray you, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish, for I knew that you are a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and you repent of the evil. Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech you, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live."

LXX: "O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still in my country? This is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish. For I know that you are rich in mercy and are kind, patient, and full of compassion, and ready to repent for the evils that you promised. But now all-powerful Lord, take my spirit, because it is better for me to die than to live."

What I have interpreted as 'I pray you' and which the Septuagint has translated as 'O indeed'[174] is read as anna in Hebrew, which seems to me to express the prayer with a kind of coaxing . For when he had said quite justly that he wanted to flee his prayer accuses the Lord of injustice in a certain manner, and he tempers his complaints by a suppliant and rhetorical speech. Was this not what I said when I was in my country? I knew that you would do this. I am not unaware that you are merciful: this is why I refused to denounce you as harsh and cruel. Therefore I wanted to flee to Tarshish, to be free to think, and I preferred the quiet and rest on the sea of this age. I abandoned my home and left my inheritance, I left your lap and came here. If I had said that you are merciful, gentle, that you pardon wickedness, no one would have repented. If I had denounced you as a cruel God only fit to judge, I should have know that such is not your nature. In this dilemma I preferred to flee, rather than to deceive the repenters with mildness, or to preach things about you that you are not. "Therefore Lord take my spirit for death is better for me than life."[175] "Take my spirit which has been sad even until death."[176] "Take my spirit. I place my spirit in your hands."[177] I was not able to save the whole nation of Israel by living, but I will die and the whole world will be saved. The story is clear and regarding the prophet's character, we can note as has often been said before that he is saddened and wants to die so that Israel should not be destroyed for ever after the conversion of such a multitude of gentiles.

4. Then said the Lord, "Do you well to be angry?"

LXX: The Lord replied to Jonah, "Are you so much afflicted?"

The Hebrew word hara lach can be translated as 'are you annoyed?' and are you afflicted?'. And each one pertains to the prophet and to the Lord: either he is annoyed and fears appearing a liar to the inhabitants of Nineveh, or he is afflicted, knowing that Israel is going to be destroyed. And with reason God does not say to him: 'you are wrong to get angry' or 'to be afflicted', not wanting to reprehend one suffering, nor does he say, 'you have reason to be angry or afflicted', so as not to contradict his former sentence. But he asks him whether he is angry or afflicted so that he replies the causes of his anger or suffering, or even, if he remains quiet, so that God's truth can be proved by his silence.

5. So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city. 

LXX: similar.

Cain who initiated civilisation by fratricide and homicide in killing his brother was the first to build a city, and he gave it the name of his son Enoch.[178] This is why the prophet Hosea declares, "I am God, and not a man, amongst you I am a saint, and I will not come into the city".[179] For the Lord, says the psalmist, is the charge of "the transition of the dead"[180]. This is why one of this cities of refuge is called Ramoth[181], which is translated as 'vision of death'. Therefore quite justly anyone who is a fugitive and on account of his sins does not merit living in Jerusalem lives in the city of death and is across the waves of the Jordan, which signifies 'descent'. The dove, or the suffering, comes out from such a town and lives in the east whence the sun rises. And it is there in his tent, where having contemplated every hour that passes, he hears what is going to happen to this city. Before Nineveh was saved and before the gourd dried up, before the Gospel of Christ becomes famous and the prophecy of Zechariah is realised: "here is a man whose name is East"[182], Jonah was under his shelter. And nor had Truth come, about which the apostle of the Gospel says: "God is truth"[183], and he adds elegantly, "and he made there a shelter" near to Nineveh. He makes it himself, for no inhabitant of Nineveh of that age would have been able to live with the prophet, and he was seated under the shade in the attitude of a judge or if you like, constrained by his majesty, "having pulled in vigorously his reins"[184], so that his robe did not fall upon his feet and upon us who are low down, but was held together by a straighter belt. More precisely with regard to what he says, "to see what would happen to the city", this uses the accustomed usage of recourse to Scriptures to preach to God about human feelings.

6. And the Lord God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd. 

LXX: And the Lord commanded a gourd to grow up over the head of Jonah to form a shade to protect him from his evils. And Jonah was very glad of the gourd indeed.

In this place a certain Canterius from the ancient family of Cornelii, (or as he himself says from the lineage of Asinius Pollion), has accused me recently, it seems, of sacrilege for having translated 'ivy' instead of 'gourd'. Apparently he feared that if ivy were taken instead of gourds that there would not be anything to drink in his secret place and his shade. And justly on the veins of this gourd, which are called saucomariae in general, it is customary to paint the image of the Apostles from which this individual has borrowed his name, which is not his own. If it is this easy to change ones name, (after having been the Cornelii, seditious consuls, they renamed themselves Paul Emile consuls), I ask myself why in surprise I should not be allowed to translate ivy instead of gourd. But let us return to more serious matters. For gourd or ivy in Hebrew we read qiqaion, which is also written qiqaia in the Syriac and Punic languages. It is a type of shrub or sapling with wide leaves like a vine, and which casts a large shadow and is supported by a trunk and often is found growing in Palestine especially in sandy areas. It is interesting to note that if the seed is cast on the ground it germinates quickly and in a few days it can be seen to have grown from a seedling to a bush. For my part when I was translating the prophets I wanted to just transliterate the Hebrew word seeing that Latin has no word for this kind of tree. But I feared that the men of letters would find in this some argument, imagining those animals of India or the mountains of Boeotia or even other marvels of this type. I have also followed the example of the former translators who translated it as ivy, in Greek chissos, because they had no other word to use. let us now look carefully at the story, and having looked at the mythical meaning then go on to study each word individually. The gourd and the ivy creep along the ground by their nature, and if they have no restraints or ladders as support they do not try to climb. How is it possible then that a gourd could grow up without the prophet knowing in one night to provide shade, if its nature is not to climb unless it has some supports, reeds or pegs to hold on to? Although the gourd, offering a miracle in its sudden appearance, and showing the power of God in the protection of a leafy shade, was only following its own nature. Even this though can refer to the person of the Lord Saviour, let us not completely abandon our gourd on account of our philocholochunthon, so that we remember that passage of Isaiah, which says, "and the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, or as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city."[185] And because we do not find a gourd mentioned elsewhere in the Scriptures let us say then that where the cucumber grows gourds usually grow too. And Israel is compared to this kind of plant because, at a certain time, it protected Jonah with its shadow whilst he was waiting the conversion of the gentiles and made him feel greatly happy. It made more a shady shelter for him rather than a house, and that suggests a roof of some kind but not having the foundations of a house. Moreover the gourd, our little bush, which grows quickly and dries quickly, could be compared to Israel, pushing its little roots into the ground and trying to raise itself up, but is not able to equal the height of cedars[186] and cypress trees[187] of God. It seems to me that one could interpret the locusts that were food for John similarly, who said symbolising Israel, "It must grow but I must die"[188]. The locust, a small animal with weak wings managing to rise up from the ground but not able to fly very high so that it is better called a reptile yet not similar either to birds.

7. But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, "It is better for me to die than to live." 

LXX: And God commanded a worm early the next morning, which smote the gourd that it withered. When the sun had risen the Lord immediately commanded a hot and burning wind. The sun hit upon Jonah's head in his distress and suddenly became very exhausted and he said, "It is better for me to die than to live."

Before the sun of justice[189] rose the shade was verdant and Israel was not dry. But after it rose, and when the darkness of Nineveh had been dispersed by its light, a worm obtained for the first light of the next day smote the gourd, (the worm, which is mentioned in the title to psalm twenty-one: "in honour of the morning incarnation", and which was born from the earth without any seed, can say, 'I am a worm and not a man'[190]. And Jonah, abandoned by God's aid, loses all his strength. The Lord ordered a hot and burning wind, which was prophesied by Hosea: "the Lord will bring a wind out of the desert, which will dry up the rivers and abandon his fountain"[191]. And Jonah began to get hot and once again he wants to die in the baptism of Israel to receive in this basin the moisture which he lost in his refusal to do God's word. This is why Peter speaks to the Jews who are parched, saying, "Repent, and let each of you be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for payment for your sins, so that you might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit"[192]. There are those for whom the worm and the burning wind represent the Roman generals who, after the resurrection of Christ, completely destroyed Israel.

9. And God said to Jonah, "Do you well to be angry for the gourd?" And he said, "I do well to be angry, even unto death." 

LXX: And the Lord God said to Jonah, "Are you so afflicted for a gourd?" He replied, "I am very afflicted even to the point of death."

When he was asked about the repentance of the inhabitants of Nineveh and the safety of the city of the gentiles, 'do you well to be angry?', the prophet replied nothing, yet justified God's question by his silence. For he knew that God is kind, merciful, patient, and full of pity[193], pardoning wickedness and he did not feel sad for the safety of the gentiles; but once the gourd, (Israel) had dried up, when he is asked, 'do you well to be angry for the gourd?', he replies with assurance, 'I do well to be angry and to suffer even unto death. I did not want to save one only to see the others perish, to gain foreigners only to lose my own'. And in truth up until this day Christ weeps for Jerusalem and he weeps until death; not his own death, but that of the Jews, so that they die refusing and rise up again confessing the Son of God.

10-11. Then said the Lord, "You have had pity on the gourd, for the which you have not labored, neither made it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night, and should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six-score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?"

LXX: And the Lord said, "You wanted to keep safe a gourd which has done you no wickedness, that you have not cared for, which was born in one night and died in one night. But should I not spare Nineveh the great city in which live over three thousand people who are unknowing of their right and their left, and an equal number of cattle?"

It is too difficult to explain how according to tropology this is said to the Son of man: 'you worry for a gourd that has done you no harm, that you did not plant'[194], since all has been done by him and with him absent nothing has been done. This is why someone interpreting this passage and wanting to resolve the question which he asked himself, fell into blasphemy. For, if we look at the text of the Gospel, which says, "why do you call me good? Nothing is good except God himself."[195] He interprets the Father as good and places the Son one place lower, in a comparison with one who is perfectly and completely good. And he has not seen that this opinion made him fall into the heresy of Marcion, who proposes a God that is uniquely good, with another for judging and for creating, rather than the opinion of Arius who proposed a superior Father and an inferior Son yet admits the Son as creator. We must be indulgent therefore for that which we are about to say, and our attempts ought to be encouraged with good criticism and prayer, rather than declaimed by an argumentative audience. Criticism and declamation are easy for those who are most ignorant, but one must be learned and know the labours of workers to stretch out ones hand to those weaker or to show the way to those who are lost. Our Lord and Saviour did not work for Israel as for the people of the gentiles. In this instance Israel declares in faith, "Look these many years do I serve you, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, you have killed for him the fatted calf."[196] And in spite of all he is not reprimanded by the Father, but he says to him kindly, "Son, you art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found." The fat calf has been slaughtered for the people of the gentiles, and its precious blood has been spread about, about which Paul to the Hebrews (9 and 10) explains in great detail. And David in the psalm says, "the brother does not redeem, man will redeem"[197]. Christ decided that this people would be great and he died so that they might live; he went down to the underworld so that this people might rise up to heaven. For Israel there is no comparable toil. This is why he is jealous of his young brother, seeing that after having spent his fortune on his prostitutes and pimps, he receives the ring and the robe and recovers his former dignity. The phrase 'which was born in one night' can be applied to the time just before the arrival of Christ, who was the light of the world[198], about which is said, "the night has passed, and the day is near"[199]. And this people died in one night when the sun of righteousness[200] set for them, and they lost the word of God. The city of Nineveh which is great and very beautiful, prefigures the Church in which there is a greater number of inhabitants than the ten tribes of Israel: this is what the rest of the twelve baskets in the desert represent[201]. "they do not know the difference between their right and their left", either on account of their innocence and their simplicity (to show first childhood and let it be known what the number of those is who have reached an older age, when the very young are so numerous), or even, (because the city was great, and "in a great house there are not only golden and silver objects but also some made of wood and pottery"[202]) because there was a great crowd that needed to repent and was ignorant of the difference between good and bad, between their right and left. And there is a great number of animals and of men who do not possess the faculty of reason and who can be compared to mad animals to whom they are similar.[203]


[168] Rom. 11:25.
[169] Deut. 32:21.
[170] Mt. 15:26; Mk. 7:27.
[171] Act. 13:46.
[172] Rom. 9:3-5.
[173] Mt. 26:38; Mk. 14:34.
[174] [Gr. 'w dh']
[175] III Kings 19:4.
[176] Mt. 26:38; Mk. 14:34.
[177] Ps. 30:6; Lk. 23:46.
[178] Gen. 4:17.
[179] Os. 11:9.
[180] Ps. 67:21.
[181] Deut. 4:43.
[182] Zac. 6:12.
[183] Jn. 3:33; 14, 6; 1 Jn. 5:6.
[184] Prov. 31:17.
[185] Is. 1:8.
[186] Ps. 79:11.
[187] Is. 37:24; Zac. 11:2.
[188] Jn. 3:30.
[189] Mal. 4:2.
[190] Ps. 21:7.
[191] Hos. 13:15.
[192] Act. 2:38.
[193] Ex. 34:6; Ps. 102:8.
[194] Jn. 1:3.
[195] Mk. 10:18.
[196] Lk. 15:29-32.
[197] Ps. 48:8.
[198] Ioh. 8:12; 9:5.
[199] Rom. 13:12.
[200] Mal. 4:2.
[201] Mat. 14:20; Mk. 6:43; Lk. 9:17; Jn. 6:13.
[202] 2. Tim. 2:20.
[203] Ps. 48:21.