What evidence is there to suggest the story of Jonah in the whale is not intended to be taken literally?
The Book of Jonah belongs to those prophetic books of the Bible that include Daniel and Isaiah. The most famous section of the Book of Jonah also happens to be the part of the book that is most clearly intended as metaphor, while the content most clearly intended to be prophetic remains largely unknown to the greater majority of those who known their scripture only through secondhand associations. The premise of Jonah literally being swallowed by a fish and coming out a live is so fantastical as to relieve it of being anything worthy of greater significance than as fanciful distraction likely intended to maintain the interests of those with a belief system that existed outside the Judaic religion. Jonah is representative of pious Israelites who questioned the possibility of God showing mercy to the wicked.
Such a question would clearly be of great concern to any who existed outside that belief system seeking answers on the crucial issue of whether God showed mercy to sinners. The central piece of evidence supporting the contention that the story is not meant to be taken literally and that therefore the Book of Jonah does actually belong to the collection of prophetic books is that God orders Jonah to make out for Nineveh and rail against the wickedness that is being engaged there on a regular basis by its residents. The question becomes not why God chose Jonah for this task, but why did he choose Nineveh of all the places that he could have sent a man clearly not ready for such responsibility. The answer is that Nineveh was one of the biggest, most crowded and bustling cities during the period covered by the Old Testament…but not during the period when a prophet known as Jonah was alive. Nineveh was already in decline when Jonah lived and so there is little sense in taking the story literally because it is literally a story out of time.
What is the connection between the story of Cain and Abel and story of Beowulf and Grendel?
The first person born of woman on earth, Cain was Adam and Eve’s eldest son. Cain also becomes the central player in the first murder in the history of the human species. In fact, the central subject in the telling of the story of Cain and his younger sibling Abel deals almost exclusively with this element of his life. For this sin, Cain is punished by being sent away but with a mark upon him warning those who would kill that he remains under the protection of the Israelite God.
Cain is said to be the ancestor of Grendel, the horrific monster in Norse mythology who rises from the depths of the sea to eat and kill human beings. It is after his battle with Beowulf that that Grendel is presented in the context of the biblical story of Cain and Abel: “On kin of Cain was the killing avenged, by sorvan God for slaughtered Abel.” Grendel is bequeathed through association with Cain as the inheritor of carrier of the ultimate act of immorality in the Bible: disobeying the commandment that man shall not kill man.
What evidence suggests that Capernaum was a more important city for Christianity at the time Jesus preached his ministry than Jerusalem or Nazareth?
Capernaum is a city situated northwest of the Sea of Galilee in proximity to the where the River Jordan empties into that body of water. During the period in which Jesus conducted his ministry, Capernaum acted as a border town drawing a line of separation between the territories under the rule of Herod Antipas and Herod Philip. Several passages in the gospels lend weight to the argument that Jesus early on chose Capernaum to become the center of his ministry. For instance, in Matthew 4:13 the writer asserts that that Jesus made out for Capernaum after leaving Nazareth and Mark 2:1 describes Capernaum as being a place in which Jesus was at home.
Further underlining the possibility that Capernaum was the epicenter of Christianity are several gospel mentions of Jesus performing miracles in or near the village. Among the miracles which connect Jesus strongly to Capernaum are His healing of the paralytic which was lowered into the area where Jesus preached through an opening in the roof above (Mark 2:1–12) as well as Jesus performing an exorcism there (1:23–28).
Capernaum’s status as one of the most important cities related to the spreading of the word of Jesus is deepened by the revelation than no less than five his disciples were picked by Jesus in Capernaum. James and John were fishing with their father Zebedee when Jesus called them to join him (Mark 1:21) while Peter and Andrew also both left their homes in Capernaum to follow Jesus (Mark 1:16, 29). The tax booth in which Matthew toiled before becoming a disciple was located in Capernaum as well (Matt 9:9–13). Finally, lifting Capernaum to a special place in the heart of Jesus is His expression of woe against the city for failing to recognize his call (Matt. 11:23).
What is the significance of the short epistle to Philemon?
The epistle to Philemon is the shortest of all the letters written by Paul: “Interpreters ancient and modern have responded to criticisms of Philemon by drawing out from it a variety of moral lessons, pointing to its value for showing the depths of Paul's humility and caring as an example to all Christians, and emphasizing the letter's value in showing how Christian persons from different social levels are to relate to one another" (Freedman, Myers, & Beck, 2000, p. 1046).
The target of this letter was one of the leading figures in the emerging society of those following the way of Jesus in the city of Colossae. The subtext of Paul’s epistle to Philemon is concerned with the instruction to Philemon on the subject of his son Archippus arriving at a greater awareness about the significance and importance of the ministry. The text itself utilizes a slave owned by Philemon named Onesimus who had managed to escape and flee from his owner at some previous point in time.
During this period of freedom, Onesimus traveled to Rome and was converted by Paul to Christianity. The epistle may be notable for some in that at no point does Paul seem to find the concept of human slavery incompatible with the teachings of Christ, although this is not the point of the short book. What does become an essential point of the book is Paul’s entreaty to Philemon to begin considering a more humane treatment of his slave (10-16).
Freedman, D. N., Myers, A. C., & Beck, A. B. (Eds.). (2000). Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.
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