Jonah, overboard.

September 6, 2010 | 9 comments
By

If you haven’t heard the story in Sunday School yet, you will shortly (Jonah 1). Surprisingly, the combination of God and bad weather is still a potent force in the modern era — my stake was praying for rain earlier this year. But here is a more colorful Jonah-like account with sailors, storms, and witches from the 17th century.

In 1654, on a ship traveling from London to Maryland, sailors spread a “rumor … [that] one Mary Lee, then aboard the said ship, was a witch.” At first the captain rebuffed their urging “that a trial might be had of her”; but then, as “cross winds” rose to impede the voyage and “the ship grew daily more leaky — almost to desperation,” his attitude changed. The sailors were permitted to “search her body,” and quickly discovered “the mark of a witch upon her … [whereupon] they importuned the Master [Captain] to put her to death.” He replied that “they might do what they would, and went into his cabin.” And so, “laying all their hands to the execution of her,” they proceded finally to “hang her as a witch.”

This was taken from The Enemy Within: 2,000 Years of Witch-hunting in the Western World by John Demos (Viking, 2008; ellipses and parenthetical insertions in original). Perhaps sailors are just a superstitious lot. The sailors in Jonah’s tale were quick to discern a supernatural explanation for the storm they were braving. But when the lot fell on Jonah, they didn’t rush to judgment, as did the Maryland-bound crew in 1654. Instead, they did their best to save the ship through their own heroic efforts. Only when that effort utterly failed did they heed Jonah’s admirably humble request and toss him overboard. That these noble sailors were almost a bit too noble is the sort of feature that leads many scholars to classify the book of Jonah as a lesson-teaching short story or even satire rather than historical narrative.

9 Responses to Jonah, overboard.

  1. grego on September 6, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    Two thousand years, and just one contradictory incident casts doubt on the Jonah story? :0

  2. Chino Blanco on September 7, 2010 at 6:33 am

    Speaking of tossing stuff overboard, Dave, did you read
    Mollie Ziegler Hemingway’s piece at GetReligion before posting the link to Notes From All Over? Whatever our differences on the political and religious fronts, I hope we can agree that Mollie’s latest effort is truly unfortunate.

  3. WJ on September 7, 2010 at 8:25 am

    “Surprisingly, the combination of God and bad weather is still a potent force in the modern era — my stake was praying for rain earlier this year.”

    Surprisingly, the combination of God and matter being formed into habitable planets is still alive and kicking. Don’t these people know that God is powerless against the elements?

  4. Martin on September 7, 2010 at 10:54 am

    “That these noble sailors were almost a bit too noble is the sort of feature that leads many scholars to classify the book of Jonah as a lesson-teaching short story or even satire rather than historical narrative.”

    That’s why I take what “scholars” say with a grain of salt — they’re cynical. I think it’s pretty human to hesitate before killing someone.

  5. Ardis E. Parshall on September 7, 2010 at 11:32 am

    Sounds like you’re facing your own Attack Of The Literalists, Dave. *I* appreciated this, at least.

  6. Peter LLC on September 7, 2010 at 11:43 am

    I think it’s pretty human to hesitate before killing someone.

    Unless you’re convinced that someone is a witch, I suppose.

  7. R. Gary on September 8, 2010 at 1:58 am

    Dave, I have a few questions for you about Jonah over on my blog.

  8. WJ on September 8, 2010 at 5:18 am

    Ardis, the next time you feel that warm fuzzy feeling confirming the truthfulness of some proposition, don’t take it literally.

  9. anonymous on September 10, 2010 at 11:44 am

    “That these noble sailors were almost a bit too noble is the sort of feature that leads many scholars to classify the book of Jonah as a lesson-teaching short story or even satire rather than historical narrative.”

    “That’s why I take what “scholars” say with a grain of salt — they’re cynical. I think it’s pretty human to hesitate before killing someone.”

    Don’t be too cynical; this is hardly the only or even major feature that causes scholars to see Jonah the way they do. There are plenty of factors that are considered in this evaluation and the reasons should not be taken lightly.