What is the historical context of the book of Jonah?

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readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a great question. It must be admitted right from the beginning that there will be differences of opinion.

When it comes to historical context, there are two contexts: the context of Jonah and his activity, and  the context of the composition of the book. It is possible that the two contexts are close, but the more likely scenario is that there is time difference between the actions described in a work and the composition of it. In light of this point, most likely the book of Jonah is written after Assyria destroys Israel in 722.

Jonah’s ministry, at least according to the book of 2 Kings 14:23-28, was in the reign of Jeroboam II. This was a time of expansion, which was in process for nearly two generations. According to 2 Kings, the land of Israel even rivaled the splendor of David and Solomon. (2 Kings 14:24) Jonah, therefore, lived in a time of prosperity.

When it comes to the Assyrians, the kingdom seemed to have been experiencing various hardships. There were external threats from the Arameans and Urartians, and a number of internal revolts within their own empire. There also seems to be evidence of a widespread famine.  Later the Assyrians would not only consolidate their power, but also overthrow Israel and Samaria in 722. Nineveh was situated in the intersection of the Tigris and Khosr rivers in modern day Iraq (Mosul). Excavations have shown a flourishing urban life with niceties such as public squares, gardens and even a zoo.

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