The Sorrows of Young Werewolf (eyeteeth) wrote,
The Sorrows of Young Werewolf
eyeteeth

Gas, grass, or Assyria



This one took longer than usual for a couple of reasons, one of them being that my mother follows my comic and she grew up on a farm so I had to make those oxen really good. This is where I get creative, because the text just does a jump cut from the beach to the gates of Nineveh, which is more than five hundred miles away from the closest point on the Israeli Coastal Plain. (In my mind God cuts Jonah the barest bit of slack and has the whale spit him out there, near Antioch and the source of the Orontes River, where he is taking his bath in panel four.) I could have done that, but I'm curious about the stuff in the middle. How does a Biblical prophet with little or no wherewithal travel five hundred miles in a foreign country? In order to find out more about this I did what I should have done to begin with, which is find out when the events of the Book of Jonah take place. Eighth century BCE, as it turns out. This brings a lot of the events of the story into sharper focus, because that places it smack in the Neo-Assyrian Empire, the world's first superpower, which ran the entire Fertile Crescent. It's because of being conquered by the Assyrians that the Ten Lost Tribes got lost, though this might not have happened yet when Jonah goes there -- it was in 720 BCE. Regardless, the Assyrians were bloodthirsty, they ran everything, and were they friendly toward the Jews? Well, they really weren't friendly toward anyone, so I don't know that they can properly be called Jew-haters specifically. (The term antisemitic is even less useful for subjects like this than it usually is.) God's telling Jonah to go preach to the people of its capital city might not have been quite like telling Sigmund Freud to go give the people of Berlin a stern talking-to in 1940, but it might not have been far off, either -- and it's certainly how Jonah feels about his assignment. I can't blame him for being kind of petulant about it. "You want me to save the Assyrians the work and just deport myself, is that it?"

(Is that why Jonah's name is what it is? Did the dove mean peace even back then? Is he like the dove I saw a few days ago harassing the hawk to protect her chicks?)

But every cloud has a silver lining. Being a militaristic superpower, Assyria was way ahead of everyone when it came to transportation. In some places it had these things called paved roads, and wells like the one in panel two were set up for the refreshment of travelers. The camel had been domesticated for only a couple of hundred years; I was surprised to learn that. People also got around via pony or oxcart. And all that conquering the Assyrians did meant they needed a lingua franca, that being Aramaic. Aramaic wouldn't be common among ordinary Hebrews for a couple hundred years, but clearly Jonah is able to make himself understood to a variety of foreign peoples, such as the sailors from Chapter One; a prophet was a kind of diplomat, so it makes sense that he'd know Aramaic, though he might have an accent that would make the Assyrians look at him funny. On the other hand, maybe not; when your people have conquered the entire Middle East I figure you're probably used to hearing a lot of different dialects. I'm curious about how much Jonah would have stood out on his journey to Nineveh. Certainly the Assyrians also had dark curly hair. (I found all kinds of useful reference images, as well as information about people being flayed, here.)

It's got to be a nice change from the climate of Israel, if nothing else. Check out all the rivers and forests, Jonah!
Tags: gruesome historical information, research, the bible, the book of jonah
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