The Bible in Its Traditions

Jonah 4:10


10 And Yhwh said,

You have shown pity on the qîqāyôn-plant for which you did not labor and you did not grow,

which came to be overnight and perished overnight.

10 And the Lord said Sto him,

You treated the gourd leniently though you did not suffer over it

Stook pity on the tendril of the gourd-vine for which you did not labor and which you did not raise,

which came to be overnight and perished overnight.

Sthat sprouted in a night and dried up in a night.

10 And the Lord said,

You grow sorrowful over the ivy for which you did not labor, nor did you do [anything] that it might grow,

that was born in one night and perished in one night.


Literary Genre

1:1–4:11 Genre of the Whole Book See the section on "literary genre" in our →Introduction to the Book of Jonah


Visual Arts

5–11 From God to Children: Playing with Jonah (Kitsch and Toys) In the biblical tale, a playful God (especially with martitime entities, cf. Ps 104:26) plays a pedagogic game with his prophet to teach him mercy. Could the frequency of Jonah as a theme for games and toy be a remote echo of such divine ways?

Anonymous, Bank, (iron, 19th cent.)

Whaling Museum, New Bedford, MA — 00.53.415 © D.R. Whaling Museum→


Because of the whale’s leviathan stature and the ease of adapting the story of Jonah into a simple morality tale, Jonah is often used in art and toys for children.

Parker Bros. Inc, Hasbro.  Pawtucket, RI (USA), Board Game, (cardboard, wood, paper, twine, metal, Manufact. 1929),

Whaling Museum, New Bedford, MA — 2001.100.4283 © D.R. Whalingmuseum→


Precious Moments Company, Inc. Carthage, MO (USA), "Jonah and the Whale" Figurine 

© D.R. Precious Moments→

One2Believe Cie, Santa Clarita, CA (USA), Jonah and the Big Fish – Tales of Glory 2-piece set, (PVC)

© D.R.→

Children can make this story come to life with this interactive Jonah play set, featuring everything you need to help a child learn about this fascinating tale.

One2Believe Cie, Santa Clarita, CA (USA), Bible Toys Jonah and the Whale, (stuffed animal), (whale: 12" X 7" X 9")

© D.R.→,

Children can make this story come to life with this cuddly, soft play set. Set includes a 7'' plush Jonah and a 12'' plush whale with zipper: Jonah fits in the whale's mouth!

One2Believe Cie, Santa Clarita, CA (USA), Bible Toys Jonah and the Whale, (stuffed animal), (whale: 12" X 7" X 9")

© D.R.→ 



Textual Criticism

10c overnight Scribal Mistake? 

  • 4Q82 f88-91i:10 (4QXIIg) reads lyly (masc. pl. cstr.; →DJD XV, 312).
  • M and Mur88 11:27 (MurXII) read lylh (masc. sg. abs.; →DJD II, 191).


Historical and Geographical Notes

1:1–4:11  Dating Jonah See our →Introduction to the Book of Jonah.



3:10–4:11 Use in Lectionary

Comparison of Versions

1:1–4:11 Jonah in the Traditional Versions  See →Jonah: Comparison of Versions.


1:1–4:11 Adaptations of or Allusions to the Book of Jonah See →Jonah: Literary Influence.


Literary Devices

1:6c,14b; 3:9b; 4:10c perish + perished — Isotopy of Death: Structuring Repetition

Sailors and the Ninevites: “We might not perish”

Hope for salvation from death is expressed by:

Jonah: “hurl me into the sea”

Jonah ultimately comes to believe that he can only escape God’s call through death. In the belly of the fish, however, he realizes that such an escape is not possible (Christian Tradition Jon 2:2–6 ). The sailor’s and Ninevites’ desire for salvation is starkly juxtaposed with Jonah’s repeated wishes for death (māwet), both on the ship amidst the storm and in his booth, beyond the walls of Nineveh, for his desire that the Ninevites would receive their comeuppance brings him great anguish when God spares them destruction (Jon 4:8–9).

The Dead Shrub

  • The shrub which perishes overnight (Jon 4:10) inspires more pity in Jonah than the potential massacre of Nineveh’s population.



1–11 Use in Lectionary

  • RML : Wednesday, Week 27, Year A.


1–11 Puzzling Plant and Anger In the Qur’an, Allah creates the plant in order to strengthen Jonah, weakened by his stay in the whale. The fish deposits Jonah in a wasteland; God sends the plant to give him food and shade. It is traditionally thought that “Yaqtin” refers to a gourd—called in a hadith “Jonah’s plant.”

  • Qur’an 37.145–146 “But We cast him forth on the naked shore in a state of sickness, and we caused to grow, over him, a spreading plant of the gourd kind.”

In the Qur’an, the episode happens at a different time than in the biblical narrative since it precedes Nineveh’s conversion. The Qur’an therefore does not link the plant’s story with Jonah’s anger after Allah spares Nineveh in spite of his prophecy. However, the Qur’an does mention that Jonah was angry (see Qur’an 21.87). This anomaly disturbed several commentators who had difficulty with understanding how a prophet could be angry with God’s will.

History of Translations

6ad,7b,9b,10b gourd-vine + ivy — High Stakes Translation in the 5th cent.  When Jerome published his translation of the Book of Jonah, it caused something of a controversy in the Church.

Accusation of Sacrilege

Jerome’s decision to translate directly from the Hebrew, rather than from the Septuagint—which was traditional and liturgical—was considered sacrilegious by some critics.

  • Jerome Comm. Jon. 4:6 “At that point a certain Canterius…is said to have accused me of sacrilege for translating ‘ivy’ instead of ‘gourd plant’” (in hoc loco quidam Canteriusdicitur me accusasse sacrilegii quod pro curcurbita hederam transtulerim).

Augustine's Objection and Jerome's Response

Although Augustine did not consider Jerome’s translation sacrilegious, he thought it wrong to use a novel translation in the liturgy.

  • Augustine of Hippo Ep. 71.5  "For, when a certain brother bishop of ours began to have your translation read in the church over which he presides, a particular passage in the prophet Jonah caused disturbance because it was presented in far different language than had become familiar to the senses and memory and had been chanted for so many ages." 
  • Jerome Ep. 112.22: Jerome suggests that Augustine’s description of events is an exaggeration. A more accurate translation better facilitates the communication of divine truth. Thus his translation should be preferred because hedera (“ivy”) better corresponds to the Hebrew qîqāyôn, which is reflected in Aquila’s translation, kissos.

Augustine's Rebuttal

Not content to leave the matter, Augustine responded to Jerome with an articulation of his view on the authority of the Septuagint and the liturgical (public) proclamation of the Scripture.

  • Augustine of Hippo Ep. 85.35 “I did not want your translation from the Hebrew to be read in the churches for fear that, by introducing something new opposed to the authority of the Septuagint, we might disturb the people of God to their great scandal, for their ears and hearts are accustomed to that translation that even the apostles approved. Hence, if in Jonah that plant is in Hebrew neither an ivy nor a gourd plant, but something else that supports itself by its own trunk without any stakes, I would prefer that we read 'gourd plant' in all the Latin translations."

In fact, the Western liturgical tradition largely sided with Augustine. The propers and lectionary of Miss. Rom. 1570 are largely drawn from the Vetus Latina, not the Vulgate, indicating perhaps that they pre-date Jerome's translation and had already been liturgically established. 


6ad,7b,9b,10b qîqāyôn-plant The Plant in Children's Stories The plant of Jon 4:6–7 is frequently omitted in retellings for children, for the focus is almost exclusively on the whale (→Jonah: Literary Influence). It does occasionally appear:

  • Marzollo 2004: While sitting in the shade, Jonah comically summarizes his motivations by saying, “Thank you, God. The vine makes waiting for the destruction of Nineveh much easier!”


Literary Devices

10f Qal Waḥomer (A Fortiori Argument) God's response to Jonah employs an a fortiori or qal waḥomer (ql wḥwmr, "light and heavy") argument. This is the technique of making a small point and using it to illustrate a larger one. That is, the city is greater than the plant, and so anything that applies to the plant will apply a fortiori to the city. Moses argues with God in this way (Ex 6) when he protests that if his own people will not listen to him, then surely Pharaoh would not either.


Christian Tradition

10b pity on the qîqāyôn-plant God's Lesson for Jonah

  • Calvin Prael. proph. min. "Here God explains the design he had in suddenly raising up the gourd, and then in causing it to perish or wither through the gnawing of a worm; it was to teach Jonah that misconduct towards the Ninevites was very inhuman. Though we find that the holy Prophet had become a prey to dreadful feelings, yet God, by this exhibition, does in a manner remind him of his folly; for, under the representation of a gourd, he shows how unkindly he desired the destruction of so populous a city as Nineveh."

1:1–4:11 Veracity of Jonah as a Miraculous Account

  • Luther Tischr. 3705 “The majesty of the prophet Jonah is surpassing. He has but four chapters, and yet he moved therewith the whole kingdom, so that in his weakness, he was justly a figure and a sign of the Lord Christ. Indeed, it is surprising, that Christ should recur to this but in four words. Moses likewise, in few words describes the creation, the history of Abraham, and other great mysteries; but he spends much time in describing the tent, the external sacrifices, the kidneys and so on; the reason is, he saw that the world greatly esteemed outward things, which they beheld with their carnal eyes, but. that which was spiritual, they soon forgot. The history of the prophet Jonah is almost incredible, sounding more strange than any poet's fable; if it were not in the Bible, I should take it for a lie; for consider, how for the space of three days he was in the great belly of the whale, whereas in three hours he might have been digested and changed into the nature, flesh and blood of that monster; may not this be said, to live in the midst of death? In comparison of this miracle, the wonderful passage through the Red Sea was nothing. But what appears more strange is, that after he was delivered, he began to be angry, and to expostulate with the gracious God, touching a small matter not worth a straw. It is a great mystery. I am ashamed of my exposition upon this prophet, in that I so weakly touch the main point of this wonderful miracle” (Hazlitt 1857, 239).


Literary Devices

1:1–4:11 Lord God Significance of the Names for God? Throughout Jonah readers find several names for God: Yhwh (22x); ’el /ĕlôhîm (13x); and Yhwh ĕlôhîm (4x).

  • Magonet 1983 suggests that the generic name is used in the context of punishment, whereas the Tetragrammaton is used in the context of mercy and forgiveness.
  • Sasson (1990, 17–18) charts their usage and concludes that the only sensible solution is to admit to no discernable pattern.


6ad,7b,9b,10b  What Is the Qîqāyôn-Plant? The term qîqāyôn is a hapax legomenon. The identity of this plant has been a mystery since Antiquity, as the diversity of interpretations among ancient translations shows (Historical and Geographical Notes Jon 4:6ad,7b,9b,10b).

Tg. Jon., Aquila, and Theodotion simply transliterate the word (Ziegler 1984 ad loc.). In our translation we have opted to follow their lead by simply denoting it “the qîqāyôn-plant”: this clearly notifies the reader of its genus without proffering a particular species (Literary Devices Jon 4:6ad,7b,9b,10b). 

Literary Devices

6ad,7b,9b,10b qîqāyôn-plant Neologism? It is possible that the author did not intend to designate a specific plant by qîqāyôn ( Vocabulary Jon 4:6ad,7b,9b,10b; Historical and Geographical Notes Jon 4:6ad,7b,9b,10b ). This opens up several interpretive possibilities.

  • It is an exotic term, employed to reinforce the impression of a foreign, exotic setting. Perhaps it was drawn from a foreign language; the exact meaning of qîqāyôn may even have been unknown to the author.
  • It is a nonce-word—a word invented just for a single occasion. It is possible that it plays on the verb 

    qy’ (“to vomit”), especially since it is used earlier when the fish vomits Jonah onto the shore (Jon 2:10). 


Historical and Geographical Notes

6ad,7b,9b,10b qîqāyôn-plant BOTANICS Qîqāyôn-Plant: Unknown Plant Based on the flora of the region, one can hazard some guesses as to the plant’s identity (cf. Comparison of Versions Jon 4:6ad,7b,9b,10b).

  • It may be some type of climbing gourd (e.g., bryonia cretica). This is supported by G, Vetus Itala, and S (cf. Wolff 1986, 170–171).

  • It may be a climbing ivy, as in V and Symmachus (Ziegler 1984, ad loc.; cf. History of Translations Jon 4:6ad,7b,9b,10b )

  • Finally it could be the castor-oil plant—ricinus communis— which grows rapidly, has broad leaves, and provides excellent shade (first identified as such by R. Samuel ben Hofni; see also Kimchi Comm.). On the other hand, the plant is rather small.


Comparison of Versions

6ad,7b,9b,10b qîqāyôn-plant The Identity of the Plant in the Versions While the precise identity of the plant in M remains unknown (Historical and Geographical Notes Jon 4:6ad,7b,9b,10b), the versions all identify it as some type of vine plant.

  • G: kolokuntha (“gourd-vine”);
  • Vetus Latina: cucurbita (“gourd-vine”);
  • V: hedera (“ivy”);
  • S: šrwr’ dqr’’ (“tendril of a gourd-vine”).

Jerome Ep. 112.22 cites his Jewish teachers when he asserts that the plant is a type of ivy and not a fruit-bearing gourd plant (History of Translations Jon 4:6ad,7b,9b,10b). S offers a periphrastic translation that identifies more specifically the part of the plant affected. It is possible that the translator was thinking of a kind of melon plant that was particularly vunerable to sun damage (cf. CAD 17.2, s.v. šarūru).

Suggestions for Reading

9ff Divine Lesson in Mercy God’s repeats the question posed in v. 4, thereby forming a narrative frame that encapsulates the object lesson of the plant and worm. Whereas Jonah previously remained silent, here he answers, repeating his desire for death. As the book concludes with a final poignant question regarding the welfare of 120,000 ignorant persons as well as many animals, the narrative is left unresolved; there is no tying up of loose ends, no response from Jonah, and no indication of how the prophet’s story ended. Why would the author leave the audience with such an unsatisfying ending? Perhaps it is because the purpose of the book is not so much to tell the story of an 8th c. prophet as it is to examine a theological topic: God’s mercy. On the one hand, the interrelationship of knowledge and culpability underlies God’s final question. God’s mercy toward the Ninevites has to do with their lack of knowledge; compared to Jonah (and, by extension, Israel), who has the privilege of divine revelation, they might as well be ignorant of right and left. Moreover, the narrative implies that Jonah has never considered their position. It is therefore possible that Jonah receives new knowledge about God’s mercy, namely that God has especial care for those who are ignorant of him.

This message, however, seems to contradict that of many other biblical prophets, such as Amos and Jeremiah. For them, ignorance is a sign of idolatrous pride, not a reason for mercy. As usual with the Bible, paradoxical contradictions are to be held together. God is compassionate towards the ignorant yet will bring judgment to the idolatrous. Is it possible, then, that the author of Jonah seeks to direct the book’s final question to his contemporary audience—Jewish(?) readers of the Persian period who might have a one-sided understanding of the extent and meaning of God’s mercy? In order to be thoughtfully provocative in this manner, the author places the reader in a position of knowledge that is greater than that of Jonah, since this enables the reader to make judgments about Jonah’s attitudes and behaviors.

Structure of Qal Waḥomer Argument

The placement and structure of God’s repeated question (Jon 4:4,9) aids the reader in deciphering the elements of God’s rhetorical argument. 

  • The plant corresponds to the city, Jonah to God, and the destruction wrought by the worm and scorching wind to the potential destruction of Nineveh.
  • If Jonah, who had nothing to do with the creation of the qîqāyôn plant, was so distressed about its destruction, how much the more would God, who did in fact create Nineveh as well as every person and animal within it, be distressed about its destruction?

Within the argument, it is important to note the subtle insinuation that Nineveh is like the plant not only because it is created by God but also because it is ignorant or not guilty, a quality that is explicitly mentioned in God’s final question to Jonah.

Contrast with Usual Happy Endings

Other short narrative portions of the Bible (e.g., Tobit, Judith, Esther, Job’s frame narrative, and Daniel) typically end with accounts of the protagonists living to old age, having families, and being blessed by God. 

  • For example, the conclusion to Judith relates that no one attacked Israel again during her lifetime, or for long after her death (Jdt 16:30 [G-25]). 

One of the most remarkable aspects of the Book of Jonah is that it does not conclude with any information about the rest of the prophet’s life, the later fate of Nineveh, or any kind of concluding note such as “Jonah agreed with God.” Though purposeful, such an ending can seem unsatisfying to a reader, and this is likely why in the course of reception history, one encounters various attempts to complete the story.


1:1–4:11 Adaptations of the Story

A Full-Length Feature Film for Children:  Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie

 Vischer Phil and Mike Nawrocki (dirs.), Owens Amenko (prod.), Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie (Animated Movie, 83', 2002)

text: Vischer Phil and Mike Nawrocki, Score: Heinecke Kurt and Phil Vischer

Big Idea Production – Cartoons For Everyone © Youtube Standard License

Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie is a 2002 adaptation of the Book of Jonah as a full-length, feature film for children that received mostly positive critical reviews. VeggieTales is a popular computer-animated production of anthropomorphized vegetables that includes retellings of biblical stories, moral tales, and humorous songs. The creator, Phil Vischer, made VeggieTales in response to MTV. He wanted to create “something healthy and beneficial,” that was also entertaining, with good storytelling and humor (Visher 2006, 30).

Jonah employs a narrative frame in which Bob the Tomato and Dad Asparagus drive children to a concert, experience a conflict, and end up with two flat tires. While they await help at a restaurant, The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything (a grape, a cucumber, and a gourd) tell one of the children the biblical tale of Jonah. The Pirates act as a thread between the two plots as storytellers of the Book of Jonah within the narrative frame and also minor characters in the Book of Jonah—sailors on the ship with Jonah.

The film’s depiction of Jonah is noteworthy because it depicts the episode with Jonah, the gourd, and the worm (named Khalil). This is usually excised from children’s adaptations of the story. Jonah and the worm part ways without a real resolution. Jonah states that he wishes he were back in the whale, and Khalil declares that he has run out of patience with Jonah and leaves. Jonah calls after him, struggling to remember the worm’s name (a reference to Jonah’s self-importance). The storytellers suddenly shout, “The end!” and close a divider between them and their audience at the restaurant, humorously conveying the tale’s abrupt and unsatisfying ending. When one of the children asks what Jonah learned, one of the Pirates opens the divider and says, “The question, my friends, is not ‘what did Jonah learn.’ The question is—‘what did you learn?’” At that point, the movie concludes with a moral.

The narrative frame allows the biblical character of Jonah to have little in the way of ethical growth as a character while the movie as a whole ties up the secondary story with a moralizing ending. The decision to incorporate a narrative frame was a factor in Jonah becoming a full-length film instead of a 45-minute film as Vischer first envisioned (Visher 2006, 162). As Vischer describes in his memoir, the financial difficulties of making the full-length Jonah precipitated the bankruptcy of his production company, Big Ideas (Visher 2006, 185). The decisions involved in creating an adaptation that is both faithful to the biblical text and culturally acceptable as children’s media entail not only creative possibilities, but also financial and business risks.


Bob the Tomato is driving the Veggie children and Dad Asparagus to see the popular singer "Twippo" in concert. During the drive, Laura taunts the other children because she won a backstage pass, which particularly annoys Junior. Meanwhile, Bob is frustrated with Dad for singing songs and playing his guitar instead of helping him with the map. After Laura's taunting distracts Dad and causes him to accidentally strike Bob on the head with his guitar, he unwillingly breaks off the steering wheel. This causes Bob to lose control of the van, leading Laura to lose her pass before Bob reattaches the steering wheel. Soon afterwards, a porcupine shoots out two of the van's tires with her quills in order to protect her babies, causing the van to veer off the road and careens down a hill, stopping short of a river. In a nearby seafood restaurant, Bob (with a porcupine quill attached to his behind) blames Dad Asparagus for the crash and Junior tells Laura losing her pass was her own fault. While Bob goes to call a tow truck, Junior is met by The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything, who tell Junior he was being rather tough on his friend and encourage him to show some compassion. To emphasize, they tell all the Veggies a story about a man of God named Jonah. Jonah (played by Archibald Asparagus) is a Prophet of ancient Israel who goes from town to town delivering God's messages. But when God asks him to deliver a message to Nineveh, a town notorious for its corrupt citizens, he resents Him and runs away to Tarshish with The Pirates. After leaving port, a guilt-stricken Jonah goes below deck to rest where he meets a salesman caterpillar named Khalil, who agrees to go with Jonah to sell his merchandise. After experiencing a nightmare, Jonah awakens to find the ship beset by a great storm. Captain Pa Grape concludes the storm has been sent because God is angry at someone on the ship. The group decides to play Go Fish to divine who is at fault. Jonah loses the game and is forced to walk the plank. As soon as Jonah is off the ship, the skies clear. The Pirates attempt to reel Jonah back in, but before they can do so, Jonah is swallowed by a giant whale. The pirates attempt to attack the whale using a cannon with cannonballs and a bowling ball as ammo, but the whale merely swallows the ball (which Khalil is hiding in), disgorges Jonah's lifebelt, and swims away. Inside the whale's stomach, Khalil finds a grieving Jonah and the pair are soon visited by a host of God's angels, who explain that if Jonah repents, God will grant him a second chance. Upon repenting, Jonah and Khalil are spit up onto the shore, where they ride Jonah's camel Reginald to Nineveh. As Jonah reaches the entrance, The Pirates appear and help sneak him into the city under the guise of having won the Mr. Twisty's Twisted Cheese Curls sweepstakes. The group is soon arrested after Larry tries to steal the King's Cheese Curls and are sentenced to death. As a last request, they are granted an audience with King Twistomer. Jonah then delivers the message given to him by God that the Ninevites should immediately repent of their ways forever or Nineveh will be destroyed; King Twistomer and the Ninevites quickly agree. Still expecting God to destroy Nineveh for their past sins, Jonah watches and waits from a distance in the hot sun. God provides a plant to shade Jonah, only for Khalil to eat a single leaf off the plant, which kills it. Jonah laments the dead plant, and Khalil is disappointed Jonah shows compassion for a plant, but not the Ninevites. Khalil then tries to explain God is compassionate and merciful and that he wants to give everyone, both Israelites and non-Israelites, a second chance. Jonah refuses to accept this and states it would be better if he was dead. The story ends with Khalil and Reginald leaving Jonah to his sulking. Back in the present day, the Veggies are disappointed in the anti-climactic ending, but come to understand the point of the story: God wants everybody to show compassion and mercy, even to those that do not seem to deserve it. Twippo, who was Jonah's descendant, then appears in the restaurant unexpectedly and offers to give everybody a lift to the concert, while Bob forgives Dad Asparagus and Junior gives his Twippo ticket to Laura. The film ends with a song and the surprise arrival of the tow truck driver, who is none other than Khalil.

An Israeli Comic Show

Israeli pop culture develops in its own way many humorous features found in the story of Jonah.

Beiser Assaf, Yoav Gross, and Natalie Marcus, כאן 11 - תאגיד השידור הישראלי, היהודים באים - אלוהים מחפש את יונה הנביא | [HaYehudim Baim: The Jews are Coming], A reluctant Jonah at Long Last Answers to his Vocation,A compilation of sketches featuring Jonah the prophet, Hebrew, Israel TV Show (2014), with Moni Moshonov, Yael Sharoni, Yaniv Biton etc.

Yoav Gross Productions, Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA), © Standard YouTube License

As expected in a popular show, Jonah ends up meeting... Pinocchio

Beiser Assaf, Yoav Gross, and Natalie Marcus, כאן 11 - תאגיד השידור הישראלי, היהודים באים - יונה ופינוקיו בבטן הדג | [HaYehudim Baim: The Jews are Coming], Jonah Meets with Pinocchio, A compilation of sketches featuring Jonah the prophet, Hebrew, Israel TV Show (2014), with Moni Moshonov, Yael Sharoni, Yaniv Biton etc.

Yoav Gross Productions, Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA)

© Standard YouTube License

(cf. Cinema Jon 1:17a).