Jonah Bible Commentary: Interview with Kevin Youngblood

Kevin Youngblood (PhD, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Associate Professor of Bible and Religion at Harding University.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Jonah?

I first became interested in Jonah when I translated it as a student in college for my first Hebrew readings course. The book came to life for me when I was able to see all of the rhetorical and literary devices often only discernible in the original language. My doctoral studies in OT interpretation (Septuagint) and text linguistics with Professor Peter J. Gentry equipped me with many more tools for even greater insight into the genius of this literary master piece. When Daniel Block, Editor in Chief for the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the OT, invited me to contribute a volume to the series and serve on the editorial board, Jonah was one of the books we all decided should be part of the series debut. I volunteered to submit a sample of how to handle Hebrew narrative for the series, made Jonah my test case, and ultimately wound up writing the entire volume.

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

The goal of the commentary is to make the latest insights of biblical scholarship, especially in the areas of text linguistics and discourse analysis, accessible to pastors, Bible class teachers, and interested Bible students. The editorial board and authors make a special effort to either avoid technical language or, where it cannot be avoided, explain it very simply and succinctly, and to maintain an emphasis on the book’s primary message to both the original audience and the contemporary one. We really want the insights we enjoy as handlers of the Hebrew text to become available to the church as a whole. Therefore our primary target audience includes pastors, church leaders, seminary students, and Bible class teachers. Scholars have also been receptive to the early volumes in the series due to the attention to cutting edge research and insights as well as the methodological distinctiveness of our linguistic/literary approach.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Jonah?

The consistent application of discourse analysis to the entirety of the Book of Jonah is the first unique feature of the commentary. In addition, I tried to draw insights from some lesser known but nonetheless insightful resources such as T. A. Perry’s delightful treatment in “The Honeymoon Is Over: Jonah’s Argument with God” and a little known, seldom referenced article by Isaac Kikiwada and Arthur Quinn on the relationship between Jonah and Genesis 1-11. Bringing these resources to light by letting them inform my own treatment brings much needed and deserved attention to these generally overlooked works. I also think that concluding each exegetical unit with a discussion of the unit’s canonical and practical significance helps to locate Jonah both in the Christian Bible and in the Christian life – two emphases seldom found in traditional biblical commentaries.

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

Jonah by Jami al-Tavarikh

Jonah by Jami al-Tavarikh

I especially enjoyed and struggled with Jonah 4:5-11. This concluding section of the book has always puzzled me. It’s hard to know exactly what Elohim’s point is with the object lesson involving the plant, the worm, the sun, and the wind, but writing this commentary really forced me to think about the significance of this final exchange between Elohim and Jonah in light of the entire book. I found that once I understood the author’s penchant for genre manipulation and his decision to parody the well known commission narrative genre, the meaning of this final unit of the book opened up to me. The experience resulted in a deepening of my own understanding and of my own ability to relate appropriately to the God whose mercy knows no bounds, especially those that separate me from my most dreaded enemies.

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

I was continually amazed by YHWH’s patience, and even playfulness, with Jonah. YHWH brilliantly balances Jonah’s severity, depression, and anger with a gentle playfulness that encourages both Jonah and the reader to take ourselves less seriously and God more seriously. Seeing YHWH in this light renewed my appreciation for many of the occasions when Jesus revealed this side of God in his own ministry, especially in his dealings with certain priests and certain Pharisees whose concern for their own and their people’s survival sometimes blinded them to the larger mission of God.

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Jonah?

Jonathon Magonet’s “Studies in the Book of Jonah”

T. A. Perry’s The Honeymoon Is Over: Jonah’s Argument with God

And for technical issues I recommend Jack Sasson’s Jonah in the Anchor Bible Commentary

7. What’s next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

I am currently working on the Lamentations volume in this same ZECOT (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the OT) series as well as on a separate commentary on the Septuagint version of Lamentations for the NETS (New English Translation of the Septuagint) Commentary series to be published by Scholars Press.

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