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Rocking the Boat: Jonah and the New Historicism

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image of Biblical Interpretation

This reading is about critical versions of texts and how they survive (or over-live) in the critical imagination. It looks at three readings of the book of Jonah, from 1550, 1781-2 and 1860, the first freezing the moment where Jonah is catapulted from the boat as the narrative's single defining moment, the second abstracting the image of Jonah looking out over Nineveh and snarling over God's change of mind, and the third zooming in on the body of the whale, its species, jawsize and body weight. In each case it is clear that the book of Jonah (and thus the Bible) is not hermetically sealed off from culture nor merely read against a cultural background, but that the "Bible" and "Society," text and context, are held in complex and reciprocal lines of force. The story of Jonah, the whale, God and the Ninevites is a stage where the transformed fears and anxieties of cultures are acted out, and gives back to society a transformed, idealised, picture of itself.

Affiliations: 1: King's College London University of Sheffield


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