Soulen-Islam and Nineveh

A few years ago I posted several summary/evaluations of Kendall Soulen’s The Divine Name(s) and the Holy Trinity.  I was a little out of my depth.  Trinitarian theology–ugh. Unitarianism, although mistaken, would be less of a strain on the brain.

However, Kendall Soulen has been a stalwart in pointing out the problems with replacement theology or supersessionism.  This is the theme of Christian theology that has marginalized Judaism as something God rejected in favor of Christianity.  Soulen has developed his own theology pointing to how Judaism and Christianity both worship the God who intends to consumate creation (see his God of Israel and Christian Theology).

Now Soulen has written an article that deals with Christian, Jewish and Muslim relations. This is certainly a topic of contemporary interest.

Soulen’s article uses a kind of typological interpretation of the Book of Jonah.  The article is “The Sign of Jonah on the Relation of the Abrahamic Faiths”.  For a link to the article, see here.

Jonah lends itself to such interpretation because it is a parable.  Jesus, himself, made such a typological interpretation according to Matthew 12:39-42.  Several early church interpretors, such as Irenaeus and Augustine also had their own typological and allegorical interpretations.

This method draws comparisons between episodes in the Jonah story and later events. Matthew, for instance, draws a comparison between Jonah’s time in the belly of the fish and the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Soulen sees Jonah as a parable about conversion.  Jonah was converted from rebellion against God to obedience.  The sailors on the ship on which Jonah initially fled from God’s call were converted from praying to other gods to appealing to Jonah’s God.  And the king and people of Nineveh were converted from paganism to a belief in the compassion of Jonah’s God.

It is not surprising, given Soulen’s work on the names of God, that he uses the book of Jonah’s use of God’s names to develop his typology.

When God calls Jonah the name used is YHWH.  This means that Jonah represents Judaism which knows God by that name.

But the sailors at first called each to their own god (1:5).  But in the end they cry out to Jonah’s God, YHWH (1:14).  So the sailors correspond to Gentiles who convert to Israel’s god, in other words, Christians.

Finally, the Ninevites come to believe in and call upon God as Elohim (3:5-9).  They never use YHWH.  So Soulen sees them as corresponding to believers in Islam.  The name YHWH has never figured in Islam.  Rather, the God of Abraham is known as Allah. Muslims know him as “the merciful, the compassionate.”  The Ninivite king banks on God’s compassion (3:9).

Jonah does not really play any role in the development of Ninevite religion after his initial preaching.  The king, on his own intiative, constructs a response to God for his people (3:7 ff.)  So Soulen sees a correspondence with Mohammed who developed a religion.  The book of Jonah does not see the king as a prophet like Jonah, yet gives him much credit for fashioning a fitting response to God.

In the story the conversion of Nineveh does not please Jonah.  This is partly because he fears being labled a false prophet.  Does God’s compassion undermine the spiritual authority of his messengers?  So Jonah needs a kind of second conversion.

This applies to Judaism with regard to both Christianity and Islam.  But it also applies to Christianity with regard to Judaism and Islam.  The book of Jonah leaves it up in the air whether Jonah experiences this second conversion.

Soulen wants to offer an alternative to Augustine’s typology which just saw Jonah as a type of carnal Israel which grieved at the salvation of the Gentiles.  Augustine’s mistake was to see himself in all the characters of the story except Jonah.

Soulen’s perspective also gently challenges Islam.  “Perhaps Islam too, is at times prone to overestimate its self-sufficiency and to minimize what it owes to biblical revelation generally and to Judaism in particular.”


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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