And that's the end of the Book of Jonah. As the professor explained it to us in my Prophets of the Hebrew Bible class, the Book of Jonah is a joke, and this is the punch line. You can love a vine, but you demand the deaths of a hundred and twenty thousand people? (I don't think there were that many people within the walls of Nineveh at that time, or ever. I don't think you could reasonably fit that many people in two Central Parks. God must be counting all the people who lived around the city proper -- in the suburbs, as it were.) There's no denying this aspect of human nature. We can feel compassion for beings that have been useful to us, but that's not enough. Everyone has value. Even goats. Even Ninevites. Even people who have hurt you have value; even the death of an animal cannot be handwaved away. Jonah is big on handwaving, I think. The Ninevites aren't real people to him. So God gave him something he could accept as real, a real qiqayon, and he loved it at once. Remember the other time he felt compassion? You might have to think hard. It was back in chapter one, when he told the sailors to save themselves by throwing him overboard. Why does Jonah handwave tens of thousands of Ninevites, including women, children, slaves of many nations -- hell, maybe some Hebrew slaves, for all I know -- but willingly surrender himself to what looks an awful lot like death in order to save a handful of sailors, none of them Hebrew? Well, maybe it's because none of the sailors were Assyrian either. The text doesn't say one way or the other. But I think at least a part of the reason is that the situation made Jonah realize that they were human beings. He saw their terror and heard their prayers. God didn't force him to save them; God doesn't speak to him again until chapter three. He just does it. In contrast, he doesn't interact with the Ninevites at all. He doesn't even talk to the king himself; the king declares a general fast because "word came" to him. Jonah's able to stomp into town, say his sentence, and stomp out again without having a single conversation or looking a single person in the eye.
That brings us to the qiqayon. See how easy it is to love when you are near a thing, Jonah? When you see it spring up, when you look at it, when it gives you shade, when you know that it's real and exists outside you? It's so easy to feel love that you don't have to do anything but have that realization. (Certainly you don't have to actually cause the thing you love to appear, because you didn't do that with the qiqayon, you were too busy sulking.) You stumble around so full of love that in less than a day you give your whole heart to a vegetable; why not use some of that love on human beings? Goodness knows they need it more.
And of course we don't know what Jonah's reaction is. Does he finally get the point? Does he refuse to listen and just keep demanding to die? Normally I hate cliffhanger endings -- remember "The Lady, or the Tiger?" -- but this one is gloriously fitting. It leaves us with a kind of Heisenberg Jonah who is simultaneously enlightened and benighted. And I like him both ways, I really do.
Whither stix Jonah? First I'm going to go do some reading at the Dorot Jewish Division, which is evidently where the New York Public Library keeps all its Jewy books. The Dorot Jewish Division has a Jonah section. I wanted to draw the story without being influenced too much by other people's commentary on it, but now that I'm done I want to see what they say and decide if I want to stick any of it in. Then (through the magic of the light box) I'm going to do a second draft, adding detail and redoing panels that don't work as well as I'd like. Then I'm going to somehow make all the panels and all my commentary conform to a single page size, and then I'll have a book! Nothing simpler.
The Book of Jonah will be read at synagogues everywhere next month for Yom Kippur, which seems a bit incongruous to me -- such a funny book on the holiest of days. Sure there's a fast in it, but it's not the Jews who do it! Maybe I'll observe Yom Kippur by going around telling other people not to eat.