Note: The following analysis is based on the article by Jerome T. Walsh
Jonah 2,3-10 : A Rhetorical Critical Study Jerome T. Walsh, Biblica Vol. 63, No. 2 (1982), pp. 219-229
The prayer forms an ABBA chiastic structure. The introductory couplet A (v2) outlines the major themes of the prayer; the distress of Jonah and the response of Yahweh. The first halves of each line of the couplet are chiastically arranged. What follows is a poem of two stanzas. The first lines of each stanza both include “the flood/deep surrounded me” and both last lines conclude with “holy temple”.
The first stanza (B) is made up of two couplets. The first couplet (v3) is a description of Jonah sinking; the second couplet (v4) reveals Jonah’s crying out mentioned in verse 2. Here we learn Jonah feels distanced from Yahweh.
The second stanza (B’) is larger and elaborates on the first. It is also in two halves but each consists of an initial line followed by a couplet. In both cases the couplets expand on their preceding opening lines. The first line + couplet continues with a description similar to the opening of the first stanza. Here the poetry is even more vivid and the metaphor for death is introduced – the deep chaotic waters. Two images are here arranged chiastically – Walsh describes the first as ‘the terror of being trapped and held, unable to break free’ and the second as ‘sinking to the ultimate depths, to the eternal abode of death’. The second half of this stanza develops material from the Introductory unit (A); this time it draws upon the second halves of the opening lines in verse 2 – the answer of Yahweh.
The prayer is concluded with a final unit (A’). Again we have a line + couplet. The couplet is the last occurrence of chiastic parallelism in the prayer. The concluding unit lies outside of the narrative form and details the main exhortation and lesson of the prayer: being thankful of Yahweh’s salvation. The opening voice of distress has here been transformed into the “voice of thanksgiving”.
The prayer comes at the heart of the book of Jonah. In only 8 verses it has demonstrated so many different structural and poetic devices. The level of intricacy is awesome! This prayer beautifully illustrates the sophistication of God’s Word.
One thought on “Jonah 2:1-10* (Jonah’s prayer)”
Thanks Sam, this is a truly remarkable structure. We are learning all the time. We have previously posted an ABCDCBA type chiasm but this did not take into account other literary features which you have set out for us. Also, that proposal did not take into account the repetition of “surrounded me” but used less significant words such as “soul”. I have updated the “Complete books” page to take this new discovery into account.
We should also note that Hebrew scholars point out there is abundant play on the sound of words in the original prayer, which is lost in translation.