J.R.R. Tolkien had a Day Job

I was cruising the autosurfers today, and this post popped up.

One of those was Michael White’s biography of JRR Tolkien (Abacus 2001). White discusses in some detail the Inklings Club that met regularly at the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford, as well as his Catholic conversion and complex relationship he had with ‘Jack’ (CS Lewis).

Of course, most people know JRR Tolkien as the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It is less known that he was actually an Oxford professor and a philologist.

I knew that he was a Bible Translator, but nothing beyond that – use to wow the hobbits with that tidbit. He actually translated the Book of Jonah in the Jerusalem Bible. The publishers will be releasing the original manuscript sometime soon – Here in the U.S. and here in Europe.

You will note the rather large price difference. Anyway, thought it might be interesting for some of you.

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Did Jonah Die in the Belly of the Great Fish?

Another entry in this series, but not the last. I have once concerning historical context.

A comment was made on TC’s site concerning Jonah as an example who had a second chance after death (Here). We know who Jonah was, of course, and we know that according to Christ (Matthew 12.39-42), his story served as a sign of his death, burial, and resurrection. Because I don’t want to give a full answer and litter TC’s site, I wanted to give a better answer here.

Chapter 2 of the book encompasses all of Jonah’s prayer to God. The debate concerns whether or not Jonah was dead in the belly of the great fish.

Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the stomach of the fish and said, “I called out to the LORD from my distress, and he answered me; from the belly of Sheol I cried out for help, and you heard my prayer. You threw me into the deep waters, into the middle of the sea; the ocean current engulfed me; all the mighty waves you sent swept over me. I thought I had been banished from your sight, that I would never again see your holy temple! Water engulfed me up to my neck; the deep ocean surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. I went down to the very bottoms of the mountains; the gates of the netherworld barred me in forever; but you brought me up from the Pit, O LORD, my God. When my life was ebbing away, I called out to the LORD, and my prayer came to your holy temple. Those who worship worthless idols forfeit the mercy that could be theirs. But as for me, I promise to offer a sacrifice to you with a public declaration of praise; I will surely do what I have promised. Salvation belongs to the LORD!” Then the LORD commanded the fish and it disgorged Jonah on dry land.  (Jon 2:1-10 NET)

We first have to understand Hebrew poetry and allegory. Remember, in Psalms 139, David mentioned making his bed in Sheol – yet how many of would think that David died and was resurrected by God (See Psalm 18.5; 30.3; 88.4;)? Sheol is the Hebrew word for the grave, corresponding to the Greek hades.

The key verse to this verse 7 – the NET translates it as ‘ebbing away.’ To support this translation, I present this from K&D:

Jonah 2:7 is formed after Psalm 142:4 or Psalm 143:4, except that נַפְשִׁי is used instead of רוּחִי, because Jonah is not speaking of the covering of the spirit with faintness, but of the plunging of the life into night and the darkness of death by drowning in the water. הִתְעַטֵּף, lit., to veil or cover one’s self, hence to sink into night and faintness, to pine away. עָלַי, upon or in me, inasmuch as the I, as a person, embraces the soul or life (cf. Psalm 42:5). When his soul was about to sink into the night of death, he thought of Jehovah in prayer, and his prayer reached to God in His holy temple, where Jehovah is enthroned as God and King of His people (Psalm 18:7; Psalm 88:3).

Note, while commentaries hold little weight, something I find it necessary to present support for the translation. Since Jonah had life enough to pray (contrary to the Rich Man in Luke’s parable), and lamented that his life was flowing from him into the final regions, he must in fact be alive.

Referring to the rest of the imagery, we must remember first that only it was common in Hebrew poetry to use the grave as the feeling of being separate from God – not always an actual death.

Now, what do you think?

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