🔼The name Jonah: Summary
- Dove, Vexer
- From the noun יונה (yona), dove.
🔼The name Jonah in the Bible
Jonah is a son of Amittai and minor prophet who worked during the days of Jeroboam the Second (782-753 BC), just after Elisha and just before Amos and Hosea. God sends Jonah to Nineveh but he flees to Tarshish (or perhaps Tarsus). During the journey, a storm compels Jonah's shipmates to throw him overboard and he is swallowed up by a great fish (which was not a whale; something that is made very clear by the Hebrew wording of the story).
Another connection between Jonah and Jesus occurs when the Pharisees state that 'no prophet arises out of Galilee' (John 7:52). They were wrong because 2 Kings 14:25 states that Jonah was from Gath-hepher, which is a town in Galilee, in between the Sea of Galilee and Mount Carmel on the Mediterranean coast.
Altogether, this Old Testament hero is mentioned 13 times in the New Testament; see full New Testament concordance.
🔼The story of Jonah
The story of Jonah can be explained in all kinds of ways, but one of them is equating Jonah with Yahwism at large, which was preserved thanks to the temporary exile in Babylon. This exile is traditionally much lamented but it appears that king Hezekiah deliberately tried to bring it about, and that with the approval of the prophet Isaiah.
From 2 Kings 20:12 (and Isaiah 39:1) we learn that Hezekiah was quite friendly with king Merodach-baladan of Babylon, who sent a delegation to see about his colleague king. Hezekiah proceeded to show the Babylonians his wealth the way Jonah diverted to Tarshish, a proverbial port of commerce where he boarded a ship, which can only have been a commercial cargo vessel.
Isaiah told his king that the Babylonians would come back to take his wealth and people, and comforted him by stating that his sons will be high officials at the royal court of Babylon, which was how Yahwism was indeed preserved during the stormy times of the Assyrian conquests (2 Kings 20:18).
🔼Etymology of the name Jonah
There's something deeply peculiar about the name Jonah. Pretty much all sources derive it of the root יון, and render the name Dove. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names, however, makes a striking observation (or perhaps even an error). Jones suggests that the Hebrew word for dove comes from the verb ינה (yana), meaning to oppress, vex, do wrong. Taking the name Jonah from this verb, it would interestedly mean Vexer, Wrongdoer. Traditionally however, the name Jonah is understood to come from the root יון and particularly the word יונה (yona), meaning dove:
Assumed root יון (ywn) yields the noun יון (yawen), meaning mire or swampy, boggy ground. Mire's signature failure to provide secure footing is often used proverbially. Note that in the Bible dry land often signifies factual and consensual certainty, whereas water (seas and rivers) denote liquidity, growth and potential. This is why in the Bible the great cultures are always associated with their respective great rivers.
From the same or identical second root יון (ywn) comes noun יונה (yona), meaning dove. In the Bible the dove serves both as a symbol of weakness or indecisiveness, and of vast abundance (as well as being the bodily form of the Holy Spirit). Apparently, in antiquity doves were everywhere. They were recognized to show no resolute dedication to an ecological niche (like, say, the eagle), and to flutter about in uncertain circles, much unlike the straight paths of, say, ravens. Ravens are associated with hearing and doves with sight. The Greek word for dove is περιστερα (peristera), of which element περι (peri) indeed describes both a broad circle and ubiquity.
Curiously similar to the word for dove, the verb ינה (yana) means to do someone wrong or to oppress or vex someone. Perhaps the two have nothing to do with each other but where the great leaps are most celebrated, it's the little irritations in life that provoke the most massive progress. Or in other words: for every one brilliantly engineered iPhone there are hundreds of staples, paperclips and rubber bands that tie much more of life together.
The noun יין (yayan) is of unclear pedigree but is obviously similar to the previous. It means wine; either simply fermented grape juice or mankind's culture at large, seeing that in the Bible humanity's cultural world is often depicted as a vineyard: many separate grapes make much liquid wine, and many separate minds make much liquid culture.
For a meaning of the name Jonah, all the consulted sources go with Dove, but it also means Vexer.