According to tradition, the book of Jonah is read in its entirety during the afternoon service of Yom Kippur. Two statements in the Mishnah provide indirect evidence as to why. The first cites the Ninevites who, heed the titular prophet’s warnings to set aside their sinful ways, respond to his message with exemplary fasting and repentance. The second cites Jonah’s supplications in the belly of the fish as an archetype of efficacious prayer. Yet to see this biblical book as a straightforward story modeling prayer, fasting, and repentance betrays the back and forth in this most uniquely troubling and spare of prophetic encounters.
The Upside-Down, Perfectionist Prophecy of Jonah
Jonah is the anti-Moses: a prophet who wants to persuade the Lord that some people are that bad and should be made to pay for their sins.