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.


Christian Tradition

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

  • Luther Tischr. Vol. 1, 551 “But this story of the prophet Jonah is so great that it is almost unbelievable, yes it even sounds like a lie, and more full of nonsense than any poet’s fable. If it were not in the Bible, I’d consider it a silly lie. Because if one thinks about it, Jonah was three days in the huge belly of the whale, where he could have been digested in three hours and changed into flesh and blood of the whale. He could have died there a hundred times, under the earth, in the sea, inside the whale. Isn’t that living in the midst of death? In comparison with this miracle, the wonder at the Red Sea was nothing.” 


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

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.



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.



6f,9f qîqāyôn-plant Unknown Referent 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 4:6–7,9–10). 

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 4:6–7,9–10). 


Comparison of Versions

6,7,9,10 qîqāyôn-plant The Identity of the Plant in the Versions While the precise identity of the plant in M remains unknown, 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 Jon4:6a). 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 susceptible to damage by the sun (cf. CAD 17.2, s.v. šarūru).

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.→ 


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 merciful to 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 in 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 Ending

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 16:25). 

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.


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).

Literary Devices

1:6,14,3:9,4:10 perish Isotopy of Death: Structuring Repetition

Sailors and the Ninevites: “We will not perish”

Hope for salvation from death is expressed by:

Jonah: “hurl me into the sea,” “it is better for me to die”

  • 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 Jon2:2-6 ). 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.

6f,9f qîqāyôn-plant Neologism? It is possible that the author did not intend to designate a specific plant by qîqāyôn ( Vocabulary Jon 4:6–7,9-10; Historical and Geographical Notes 4:6–7,9–10 ). 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 qî’(“to vomit”), especially since it is used earlier when the fish vomits Jonah onto the shore (Jon 2:10). 

10f Qal Wahomer (A Fortiori Argument) God's response to Jonah employs an a fortiori or qal wahomer (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.


Historical and Geographical Notes

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

6f,9f qîqāyôn-plant BOTANICS Unknown Plant Based on the flora of the region, one can hazard some guesses as to the plant’s identity.

  • 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 4:6a).
  • Finally it could be the castor-oil plant—ricinus communiswhich grows rapidly, has broad leaves, and provides excellent shade. On the other hand, the plant is rather small (first identified as such by R. Samuel ben Hofni; see also Kimchi Comm. ad loc.).



3:10–4:11 Use in Lectionary

1–11 Use in Lectionary

  • RML : Wednesday, Week 27 in Year 1.

Christian Tradition

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

  • Calvin Prael. proph. min. ad loc. 4:10 "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 Adaptations of the Story

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

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 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 Licence→

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.

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, היהודים באים [HaYehudim Baim: The Jews are Coming], A compilation of sketches featuring Jonah the prophet with English subtitles, (6'50 , TV Show, 2014-...), with Moni Moshonov, Yael Sharoni, Yaniv Biton etc.

Yoav Gross Productions, Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA)

© Licence YouTube standard

At 3'03→, Jonah meets with Pinocchio (cf. Cinema Jon 1:17a).

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.