Tanḥum Ha-Yerushalmi’s Commentary to the Book of Jonah: Introduction and Esoteric Commentary

In: A Philosopher of Scripture
Free access

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

[Introduction:]1

The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai as follows. (Jonah 1:1) Minds have become exceedingly perplexed in ascertaining the true meanings of this narrative, not least concerning the statement, And Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from before the Lord. (Ibid., 1:3) Similarly, [they have been perplexed by the statement that] from before the Lord he was fleeing. (Ibid., 1:10) For it is highly problematic that a prophet who has attained a true understanding of the rank of His existence – exalted is He – and His knowledge’s encompassment of all things, and His transcendence of time and place and such things belonging to the conditions of bodies, should flee His presence, exalted is He, from place to place, or that he should refuse to accept [God’s] command, exalted is He, and to carry out His mission, and such things.2

This perplexity is not removed by that which is stated concerning this narrative in the manner of [rabbinic] expositions (al-derashot) or other metaphorical or allegorical methods (ṭuruq al-taḥmīl wa-’l-taʾwīl).3 Although these may persuade some people, the effect of this persuasion does not endure when the matter is truly investigated, unless one interprets the narrative in its entirety as one of the prophetic parables, composed in order that one may understand its inner meaning (bāṭinahu) alone, in which case it is not a fundamentally factual narrative (qiṣṣa wujūdiyya aṣliyya). But this is not acceptable to us, for if we permit it in the case of this narrative, it would become acceptable in other like passages among the narratives of the prophets and their states.4 This would destroy the foundations of religion (al-sharīʿa), and that which guards its fundamental belief (iʿtiqādahu).5

Now, we shall not entirely refrain from the [allegorical] interpretation (taʾwīl) of the narrative in this discourse, but rather it is our opinion that we must affirm the truth of that which is believed concerning it and those like it, aside from the [allegorical] interpretation (taʾwīl), and only after that may it be interpreted according to that which accords with its true meanings (yataʾawwalu ʿalā mā yunāsib min al-maʿānī al-ḥaqīqiyya), after the manner of allusion and exhortation and traditional transmission (ʿalā ṭarīq al-ishāra wa-’l-tanbīh wa-’l-isnād), without believing that this alone is the initial purpose (al-qaṣd al-awwal).6

However, establishing the true meaning of this narrative is much more difficult than others, for there pertains to it another cause [of difficulty] in addition to the cause that is common to all prophecies, that is the obscurity of their methods in describing their situations (fī waṣf maqāmātihim), and their reliance upon the familiarity of the people of their time with this [this method] and the principles underlying the quality of prophecy (kayfiyyat al-nubuwwa) and the quality of those situations (wa-kayfiyyat tilka al-maqāmāt),7 so that at that time there was no need for explanation or information.8 This second cause that is additional to the obscurity [of their methods], as we explained, is that we cannot find anything in the whole of this book by means of which we might be guided to the intended purpose in reporting this entire narrative. The proof of this – in addition to that which we stated concerning The Book of Obadiah – is that it is unlikely that a great prophet would only receive a revelation concerning only one matter in his [entire] life. Indeed, the biblical text9 explicitly states that Jonah, may peace be upon him, had a book that included many prophecies and narratives. This is known from the statement in The Book of Kings that he prophesied to Jeroboam b. Joash the king of Israel, and that is the statement therein, according to the word of the Lord that He spoke through His servant Jonah b. Amittai the prophet of Gat Ha-Hefer.10 (2 Kings 14:25)

There is no doubt that this narrative is from that [work] in its entirety, and that this is what remains extant of it, the rest having been lost with the rest of what we lost of the [sciences of] felicity (al-saʿādāt), and wisdom (wa-’l-ḥikam),11 and the secrets of the Torah (wa-asrār al-torah) and the secrets of the prophecies, and all the sciences (al-ʿulūm) with which the sages and scholars of our religious community (ḥukamāʾ millatina wa-ʿulamāʾihim) occupied themselves. They were lost to us in the exile (al-galut), forgotten and transmitted to others of other religious communities, so that we must seek [those sciences] in their books.12 However, an ignorant person of our [religious community] considers them to belong to them [i.e., the foreigners], not us, as we explained in the introduction to the first part of this book (al-juzʾ al-awwal min hādhā al-kitāb).13

Now, those books which are mentioned in the biblical text (al-naṣṣ) and are no longer extant prove the existence of others that are not mentioned. Among those [that are mentioned] are also The Book of the Upright, and the book of the Words of Nathan the Prophet14 and Gad the Seer, and The Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel and the Kings of Judah.15 And similarly, the prophecies of Ahijah the Shilonite, and the Vision of Jedo the Seer, as are mentioned16 in Chronicles,17 and others of which nothing remains in the exile, as is explained in each place that they are mentioned.18

For this reason too are the Twelve [Minor Prophets] arranged in this book after Jeremiah and Ezekiel, irrespective of chronological order, which is maintained in the major books (fī al-sefarim al-kibār) such as Isaiah and Jeremiah. For the periods of Hosea, Joel, Amos, and others as well was during the lifetime of Isaiah, predating Jeremiah. Similarly, Jonah (peace upon him) predates Isaiah, as is made clear by the verse that we mentioned in The Book of Kings. Since only fragments19 of the discourses of these [prophets] were found, they were collected in a single book, although their periods vary. Chronological order was followed in the cases of some of them due only to their relationship to one another.20 Therefore, I say that it is not unlikely that if we were to find the continuation of this narrative matters might become clear to us that would remove the difficulties and would render our explication and elucidation superfluous.

Know that it is not possible to substantiate this for everybody,21 so do not demand this of me, other than an allusion which will scarcely suffice those who are worthy of it.

I shall therefore consider the aforementioned two causes [of difficulty in understanding this text], and I shall return to the principles that I have set out concerning the unveiling of the purposes of prophecies and the methods of prophetic proclamations in the first part of this book, which is called Al-kulliyyāt.22 I hope that by means of this all doubt shall leave you through the attainment of certainty with God’s help, exalted is He.

The scholars and commentators (may God be pleased with them) are in accordance – and it is very obvious when one considers it – that God’s intention, exalted is He, in this narrative is to rebuke Israel for their failure to accept the guidance towards the good23 which was brought to them by the prophets from Him, exalted is He, and their lack of vigilance in repentance when they heard the exhortations and warning of punishment. But the nations – who do not have a connection between themselves and God (exalted is He) like [Israel’s] connection [to God] – are better than them in this respect, insofar as when they are exhorted and scolded for the slightest thing, it leaves its mark upon them immediately and they turn away24 from disobedience, so the result is positive, and their punishment is removed. But as for Israel, this has no salutary effect on them, though it may be repeated frequently. This is the explanation of the narrative as a whole according to its literal sense (ʿalā al-wajh al-ẓāhir), and it is in truth the initial intention (wa-huwa al-maqṣūd awwalan bi-’l-ḥaqīqa).25

As for that which it contains in addition to this, regarding its allegorical interpretation (al-taʾwīl) according to the method of allusion and exhortation (ʿalā ṭarīq al-ishāra wa-’l-tanbīh) which benefits humans and demands constant recollection and intellectual contemplation, it concerns the state of the human soul as it dwells in the sensible world (ḥāl al-nafs al-insāniyya fī ḥulūlihā fī ʿālam al-ḥiss), and the illumination of the intellect’s light upon it (wa-ishrāq nūr al-ʿaql ʿalayhā), and its attainment of perpetual felicity (wa-ḥuṣūl saʿādatihā al-dāʾima) through receiving it,26 and its wretchedness in the absence of this. There is therefore, if you reflect upon it, a powerful analogy to the general and particular aspects of the state [of the soul] (li-kulliyyāt ḥālihā wa- juzwiyyātihā [sic]27 ) in this narrative.

After presenting this introduction, I see fit to present a linguistic treatment of this narrative and the meanings of its verses,28 for this is the primary purpose (al-gharad al-awwal) of this book.29 Then I shall follow this with the exposition of its meanings according to the aforementioned [method of allegorical] interpretation with the help of the Almighty

[After completing the explication of the Book of Jonah according to its exoteric sense, Tanḥum continues:]30

Now that we have completed the explanation of the expressions whose exposition we considered necessary within this book, we shall follow it with that [allegorical] interpretation (taʾwīl) that may accord with them in addition to the literal meaning (al-ẓāhir), according to the method of the recent [scholars] (al-mutaʾakhkhirīn) who hold such views,31 and we shall relate something of that which is in this book relating to the state of the soul (ḥāl al-nafs), as we said above.

We state that it is due to this that he is named Jonah.32 For, as you will know from our explanation of the Song of Songs, this is a name that is applied metaphorically to the human soul.33 This is due to the qualities that inhere in the dove,34 that correspond with [the soul’s] condition. They include delicacy, the beauty of its appearance, its watchfulness, its integrity, which are not found in any other bird. Likewise – if it is raised in a [particular] place and becomes accustomed to it, and then it is sent away from there to some faraway place – it is in [the dove’s] nature to remember [its place of origin], and to return to it to the best of its capability. [This is true to the extent] that even if one clips its wings or imprisons it in a cage, and it remains there for a long time, as soon as it finds a means of deliverance from its imprisonment and its wings heal, it will not remain thus without moving towards its homeland. It rises, ascending, until it can see [its homeland], and thither it returns.

This is the state of the soul. It emanates from His light, exalted is He, from the intellectual world, then it dwells in the body in order to govern it. It becomes immersed in the physical world, and the filth of sensible things. If it remained in such a state it would perish, after its felicity is extinguished – and that is the life of the world to come. But if it seeks out the true sciences, it remembers its place of origin and yearns for it. And if it persists in laboring for this [end] by acquiring rational and moral virtues (al-faḍāʾil al-nuṭqiyya wal-khulqiyya),35 it is capable of freeing itself from its cage, and it departs from the darkness of the body towards connection (īṣāl) with its point of origin, and it attains eternal life, subsistence (baqāʾ) and felicity (saʿāda), the peak of which cannot be grasped, as it is written, No eye has beheld God save Yours; He acts for one who awaits Him.36 (Isaiah 64:3) For this reason the sages, peace be upon them, have named it dove (yonah) in the verse, My dove in the clefts of the rock, (Cant. 2:14) [and] my dove, my perfect one (ibid. 5:2; 6:9), and others, as we shall explain in its [proper] place when we get to it, with the help of Shaddai.

Likewise regarding [Jonah’s] descent37 from Amittai: [The soul] is from the light of the intellectual world, whose existence is of abiding certainty through the existence of the First Reality, blessed and exalted is He.38 That is to say that His existence, exalted is He, is true existence in its essence, by which I mean that His necessity is part of His essence. Everything other than Him is deficient in essence, since its existence emanates from His existence, exalted is He. So nothing possesses true existence other than He, and He is real in essence. This is the meaning of His statement: And the Lord God is true, He is the living God and eternal king. (Jer. 10:10) The first existence that emanates from His existence is the world of angels (ʿālam al-malʾakhim)39 – I mean the world of forms denuded of matter40 – and from them emanates the existence of the souls that govern bodies. Their existence – I mean the existence of the intellects – is of greater reality than the existence of the souls, since [the intellects] are the medium between [the souls] and [God], exalted is He. So this ascription [i.e., the son of Amittai] corresponds with this meaning, as you see.

As for the taʾwīl of the revelation (al-waḥy) from Him (exalted is He) [to Jonah], it is an allusion (ishāra) to the appearance of the emanation (al-fayḍ) that is necessary in order to bring [the soul] into existence.41

Here one should consider that [Jonah’s] mission was for the welfare of Nineveh’s governance. This name contains an etymological derivation from naveh, which is “dwelling-place (al-maskan)”. That is to say that [the soul’s] purpose is to dwell in this domain – that is, the domain of the [physical] world (dār al-dunyā), in order to contemplate something of His handiwork (li-taʿtabir mā fīhā min ṣanʿihi taʿālā), and to acquire those of the sciences that it may make use of in order to attain its perfection in actu.

This is the reason for its distance from His presence, to the extent that the veiling [that results from embodiment in] matter necessitates it. This is the movement to flee to Tarshish from before the Lord, i.e., immersion in the sea that is called Tarshish,42 being the physical world and the crude, dark sea of hylic matter (ʿālam al-ṭabīʿa wa-baḥr al-hayūlā al-kathīf al-muẓlim),43 which is considered [to have] in its dark recesses a clarity similar to the color blue, as we explained concerning the naming of the sea Tarshish due to its blueness.44

One should also consider that [the verse] states, from before the Lord (mi-lifne ywy) and not from [the Lord’s] countenance (mi-pene), like Where can I flee from Your countenance? (Ps. 139:7), [and] Moses fled from his countenance (Ex. 4:3). But this is far removed from the Sacred Sovereign (al-ḥaḍra al-qudsiyya), the Necessary Occurrence (ḍarūrī al-wuqūʿ).

One should also consider that the flight is associated with the preparation of the ship, which is the body in which [the soul] dwells so that it might improve it, and be improved by means of it.45 [The body] is similar to a ship: For just as a ship is constructed from parts, each of which has a benefit that can only be fully realized through it [i.e., that specific part], but those benefits are fully realized through guiding agents46 who use those tools for that to which they are suited, so too is the body composed of organs shaped for functions that are necessary for its sustenance and the soul’s continuing connection to it, and it has faculties operating in those organs that help to fully realize the welfare of the soul and the body together.

Also, just as the ship has a rope that one has no choice but to hold if one wishes to set off on a journey into the sea, and if one maneuvers skillfully (in aḥsana tadbīrahu) the passenger is delivered and arrives safely at his desired destination without suffering wreckage, so too does the soul have no choice but to perfect itself in association with the body, its faculties and their governance and use insofar as they will perfect it [i.e., the soul]. If it takes control of them and is able to govern them justly as wisdom necessitates, it is saved from the sea of hylic matter and its darkness, and it arrives at the world of light and perpetual felicity. But if it maneuvers badly and one sinks in corporeal appetites, it is ruined and suffers the misfortune that comes with no repair for its fracture, and after which there is no rectification for its shattering. Thus, according to this [allegorical] interpretation (ʿalā hādhā al-taʾwīl), the ship is a symbol (mithāl) for the body carrying the soul and the faculties.

Since the soul alone possesses intellect and [the capacity for] governance, ruin or liberation is on account of it and as a result of it. And when it is engulfed in the intoxication of the physical [body and world] (sukr al-ṭabīʿa), those who are governed by it having control over it, its state deteriorates and the causes of destruction are stirred up, and the waves of that terrible sea crash against the ship, as it states, And the Lord cast a mighty wind into the sea, and there was a great tempest in the sea. (Jonah 1:4) This is due to differences in opinion, and error in thinking, leading to ruin and shattering. And it was considered as if the ship would break apart.47 (Ibid.)

None of the faculties is able to escape at all, nor does it know its true path, since this is not part of its function. Rather, each one fulfils only the function with which its Creator entrusted it, as is the inclination of the ship’s crew – each one turning to the one that he serves [i.e., his god]. And this is useless for [their] liberation. This is [the meaning of] the statement: The sailors were afraid, and they cried out, each to his own god. (Ibid., 1:5)

As a result of the great confusion in their state they are unable to carry the tools in order to fulfil their functions – so they cast them [overboard]: And they cast [their] belongings in the ship into the sea in order to lighten the load. (Ibid.)

The true cause (al-sabab al-aṣlī) [of their waywardness] is hidden from them; that is, the deep sleep that has come upon Jonah in the ship’s hold. This is [the meaning of] the statement: Jonah had descended into the ship’s hold, lay down, and fell asleep. (Ibid.) This despite the fact that the leader entrusted with his instruction (al-muwakkal bi-tanbīhihi),48 meaning the captain (rab ha-ḥobel cf. ibid., 1:6) – and he is the angel responsible for the guidance of the rational soul and its perfection (wa-huwa al-malak al-mutawallī hidāyat al-nafs al-nāṭiqa wa-takmīlahu)49 – constantly calls out to him spurs him on to arouse himself to fulfil the function that is particular to him with regard to the service50 of his Lord (min ʿibādat rabbihi). This is [the meaning of] the statement: Wherefore dost thou slumber? Arise and call to thy God!” (Ibid., 1:6) Since [Jonah] did not fulfil his duty, searching instead for a cause for punishment for the ship and its crew, it came about on account of him alone.

And the lot fell upon Jonah (ibid., 1:7), and he acknowledged this to them, since the soul is obliged with the governance and neglectful in its duty, so due to it is the decree of ruin for all [of the faculties and the body] by accident, and [the soul] in essence. That is [the meaning of] the statement: for on my account has this great tempest come upon you. (Ibid., 1:12.)

As for the analogy of the statement I am a Hebrew (ʿibri anokhi; Jonah 1:9) according to this [allegorical] interpretation (li-hādhā al-taʾwīl), there are multiple meanings. One of them is its etymological derivation (ishtiqāquhu) from traveling the paths of the seas (ʿober orḥot yammim; Ps. 8:9) – meaning a traveler (ʿābir sabīl), not one of the inhabitants who dwell in this realm, but one necessarily moving away from it (lā min al-sākinīn al-qāṭinīn fī hādhā al-dār bal muntaqil ʿanhā ḍarūratan). Another is that it is derived from across the river (me-ʿeber ha-nahar),51 meaning from another side and an area other than this one. This is because the soul emanates from the world of the intellect, as [explained] above (wa-hādhā li-anna al-nafs fāʾiḍa kamā taqaddama min ʿālam al-ʿaql), and is foreign and distant in the world of sense-objects.52 Another is according to its literal sense (ʿalā ẓāhirihi) as a title of kinship (nisba) to the school (madhhab) of Abram the Hebrew (abram ha-ʿibri; cf. Gen. 14:13), that being the school of monotheism (madhhab al-tawḥīd).53 The meaning is that the root of the human soul is in the world of simplicity and true unity (ʿālam al-basāṭa wa-’l-tawaḥḥud al-ḥaqīqī).

The meaning of the sea and the dry land (Jonah 1:9) according to this [allegorical] interpretation is “the lower world and the supernal world” (al-ʿālam al-suflī wa-’l-ʿālam al-ʿalawī). For just as the sensory world is likened to the sea, the world in which one who is delivered from this sea arrives is likened to dry land. But the soul – despite the knowledge imparted to it through the aforementioned exhortation, and due to the strength of the slumber – chooses immersion in that sea and succumbs to ruin within it, and prefers to weary itself minimally in the virtuous practice of abstinence and discipline (al-zuhd wa-’l-riyāḍa) and the betterment of one’s dispositions, and the acquisition of the true sciences. This is due to its ignorance of the happiness (al-naʿīm) that will come to it, which bears no resemblance to its present enjoyment of sleep and intoxication. That is [the meaning] of the statement: Pick me up and cast me into the sea. (Ibid., 1:12)

When this is done to it, its misfortune increases and the creatures of that terrible sea swallow it up. That is [the meaning of] the statement: The Lord provided a giant fish etc. (2:1) At that point, it would be doomed to ruin, and destruction would be inevitable, were it not for that wondrous tendency and extraordinary fineness – that is, turning oneself towards His door, exalted is He, and awakening from the sleep of ignorance, humbling oneself before Him in seeking deliverance. This is [the meaning of] the statement: Jonah prayed to the Lord his God54 from the belly of the fish. (Ibid., 2:2)

When it attains sincere repentance (al-tawba al-khāliṣa) and is properly inclined, it receives the noble emanation (al-fayḍ al-karīm) that assists the soul in governance [of the body and faculties], and its state improves, as does the state of those governed by it.55 They submit and acknowledge [the soul’s] rulership, and are bound by its command, and turn away from their wickedness and their injustice, and unite in their purpose – that purpose being one, and being [the soul’s] purpose.56 That is [the meaning of] the statement: The people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and great and small alike put on sackcloth. (Ibid., 3:5)

This took place when [Jonah] brought them the divine command (al-amr al-ilāhī), which cannot be resisted, [and] through which the animal to which it is fed becomes intoxicated, so that one may lead it to one’s destination, by which I mean the soul’s conjunction with its intellectual point of origin (īṣāl al-nafs bi-’l-mabdaʾ al-ʿaqlī), and its reception of emanation from it (wa-qubūl al-fayḍ minhu), although it is still associated with the body.57 That is [the meaning of] the statement: The Lord commanded the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon dry land. (Ibid., 2:11)

At that time, [Jonah] returns to the governance of the people of Nineveh, as is proper, and they submit to receive from him, and their king is humbled at his command – and he is the evil inclination (yeṣer ha-raʿ), as the sages also exemplified this matter in Qohelet on the verse There was a small town with few men in it, and to it came a great king (Qoh. 9:14), as we shall explain in its place with God’s help.58

The meaning of an enormously large city (ʿir gedolah l-elohim; Jonah 3:3) according to this [allegorical] interpretation is that it must necessarily be led to knowledge of Him (innahā ḍarūriyya muwaṣṣala ilā maʿrifatihi).59

The meaning of a three days’ walk across (Jonah 3:3) is that there are three loci of the principle faculties (maḥallāt ummahāt al-quwā) in the body. They are the heart, the brain, and the liver. But the nearest to the soul are the faculties of conceptualization (quwā al-taṣawwur) that are in the brain, not to mention cogitation (al-mufakkira), for it is [the latter] to which meanings come. Therefore, Jonah’s call in the city was the distance of one day’s walk.60 (Jonah 3:4)

Thereafter, the news spread and achieved its goal. The meaning of the statement human and beast (3:7, 8) is “both those of the faculties that are noble like a human, and those that are base like a beast.” [Alternatively,] if you wish, say: “The cognitive faculty that is characteristic of the human (al-quwwa al-fikriyya al-khāṣṣa bi-’l-adam), and the similar faculties that are in the animal.”61

The statement [that] “forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown” may be interpreted (wa-yataʾawwalu) with respect to a very peculiar sense, that being that the purpose of the body is the perfection of the soul, as [discussed] above, and the age at which the attainment of this perfection becomes possible is one’s fortieth year, much as the ancient ones (al-awāʾil) of blessed memory stated: At the age of forty did Abraham come to know his Creator.62 Meaning that if this body is far from perfection and keeps one from true conjunction (al-ittiṣāl al-ḥaqīqī), one must break it and weaken it by renouncing it (itlāfuhu wa-ifsāduhu bi-’l-takhallī ʿanhu). This is what appears to the soul at first, before speculative demonstration concerning this [matter]. But when one engages in speculative demonstration through the light of the intellect, it is revealed to [the soul] (ūḥā ilayhā) that this is not the case.

Therefore, because [the destruction] was not brought about, but rather they repented, their state became orderly, and their continued existence was ensured, it pained Jonah according to his present view. For he thought that they are the cause of his ruin, and he will only be liberated after a mighty struggle – so he yearned to be free of them. But God, exalted is he, informed him that neither his wisdom nor his justice require such a thing: Wisdom, since perfection constantly increases with respect to that to which it adheres; and justice, since it requires providing anything that is prepared [to receive something] with that which it deserves. So as long as this body is prepared to receive life and governance from the soul, neither is it proper to rob it of its right, nor to submit to that which is not necessary for it. Rather, justice is [served] when both are afforded their rightful lot, until the period of preparedness that God wills is complete.63

The parable of the gourd is presented in accordance with what we explained above, concerning the meaning of the statement, “You cared about the plant etc. (Jonah 4:10) And should I not care about Nineveh etc.” (Ibid. 4:11)64

[This passage] may also be interpreted as an allegory for seeking the welfare of the people of Nineveh, which are an expression for the rational souls which are immersed in the sensible world (al-nufūs al-nāṭiqa al-munghamira fī ʿālam al-ḥiss). That is to say that the soul – once it has attained some conjunction with the intellect (idhā balaghat min al-ittiṣāl bi-’l-ʿaql), while it is [still] associated with matter – cannot attain union with it (mā yumkinuhā al-wuṣūl ilayhi). At that time, it is not satisfied solely with its own liberation (bi-khalāṣihā), but it becomes like its source by emanating goodness (fī ifāḍat al-khayr) upon the other inhabitants of this dwelling-place – by which I mean the souls that cling to the bonds of the body – and exhorts them with instruction and admonition. It becomes the cause of their liberation, just as Jonah (may peace be upon him) became a cause of the liberation of the people of Nineveh after his own liberation. This too is a beautiful interpretation, but the most fitting interpretation for the end of the narrative is the one that we mentioned first.65

Now we have already treated this book at great length, and departed from our usual method concerning other [books]. But this has been our intention, considering that which is in this [allegorical] interpretation of the benefit that comes from a person’s arousal of their soul, and their contemplation of their point of origin and the place to which they return. This is particularly so when the narrative is expounded during its recitation aloud at the end of the fast of Yom Kippur day,66 when one’s gross matter has passed away and ones corporeal faculties have been weakened, and the matter that results in the purification of the inner faculties (al-quwā al-bāṭina) has become supple, and souls have become attentive to some of that which is required of them through the prayers and the confessions that come in addition to contemplation of one’s sins, remorse for them, and seeking forgiveness.

At that time, the soul has usually become supple and it is ready to receive insights, and to choose freedom from the darkness of the appetites. For it is to this end – by which I mean for the purpose of guidance towards the benefits of repentance and the lesson of the people of Nineveh – that our Rabbis of blessed memory established this book as the haftarah at this time [i.e., Yom Kippur afternoon].67 And if that [practice] also connects to this inner interpretation [of the book], then even greater the benefit. Repentance is assured and accomplished both inwardly and outwardly (wa-tammat al-teshuvah ẓāhiran wa-bāṭinan) as a result of this interpretation, which accords with that which is appropriate. There necessarily follows from this interpretation an effort to attain human perfection, through which one attains perpetual subsistence and eternal bliss, rapture in the cups of delightful drink, the delight of whose drunkenness never ends, and the intoxication of whose wine never passes. May God, exalted is He, place us – together with everyone who applies himself to [human perfection] – among those who attain it, who scoop up that which overflows from Him, who glory in the delight of its sweetness. As it is said in the statement of [God’s] Intimate One (al-walī),68 peace upon him: They are satiated by the rich fare of your house, and you give them to drink of the stream of your delights.69 (Ps. 36:9)

The Book of Jonah is complete, with the help of God Most Faithful, blessed is His name and exalted His renown.

1

The translation is based on the edition published by Shy (Perush, 108–139). The introductory passage appears in ibid., 108–113.

2

These problems were most notably raised by Yefet b. Eli, Saadia Gaon, and Abraham Ibn Ezra. Although his formulation of the problem most closely echoes Ibn Ezra, Tanḥum is evidently not satisfied by any of the earlier solutions to the problem. See discussion above, p. 76–79.

3

For Tanḥum’s attitude towards rabbinic exegesis, see above, p. 55–56. For his hermeneutical dualism, according to which the text possesses an outer, literal stratum of meaning (ẓāhir) and an inner stratum (bāṭin/taʾwīl) which is accessed through allegorical modes of interpretation (taʾwīl), see above, p. 57–70.

4

Arabic: qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ wa-aḥwālihim. Cf. Shy’s translation of wa-aḥwālihim as ve-hitnabbeʾutam (“and their prophesying”; Perush, 108).

5

For such discomfort with radical allegoresis that denies the literal truth of the narrative, cf. the third exegetical method discussed by Ibn Ezra in the introduction to his commentary to the Torah.

6

For this expression, see our discussion above, p. 58–61.

7

From context, it appears that Tanḥum is employing the term maqām in a nontechnical (i.e., non-Sufi and non-philosophical) sense. In adopting this understanding, I follow Shy, Perush, 108.

8

That is to say that all of the prophetic literature assumes a degree of familiarity with prophetic methods, which assume knowledge of the events referred to in the course of the discourses.

9

Arabic: al-naṣṣ. This may narrowly mean “verse” or more broadly “text”. Neither translates elegantly into English in the present context, but the meaning of the Arabic is clear.

10

This identification is made in Pirqe de-rabbi eliʿezer, and subsequently by both Yefet b. Eli and Abraham Ibn Ezra in their commentaries to Jonah. See Yefet’s commentary to Jonah 1:1 in Andruss, The Judaeo-Arabic Commentary, 31–32; and the opening passage of Ibn Ezra’s commentary to Jonah 1:1. For more on these sources and the extent to which Tanḥum builds upon this observation, see above, p. 79–80.

11

The Arabic is plural. The term ḥikma/ḥikam is employed by Tanḥum in his commentary to Qohelet as a synonym for ʿilm/ʿulūm (science/sciences), although here both are employed separately. However, this may reflect stylistic rather than substantial concerns.

12

For the notion that sciences were known to the ancient Israelites that were subsequently forgotten as a result of exile, a conception common to Ibn Ezra and Judah Ha-Levi, see Sela, Abraham Ibn Ezra and the Rise of Medieval Hebrew Science, 309–310.

13

I.e., Al-kulliyyāt. See above, p. 24–26.

14

See 2 Chr. 9:29.

15

See e.g., 1 Kings 15:23; 22:39; 22:46; 2 Kings 14:28; 20:20.

16

Lit. “as he mentioned,” where the subject is ambiguous.

17

See 2 Chr. 9:29.

18

For a list of these non-extant extra-biblical works mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, and a brief discussion, see Leiman, The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture, 17–19.

19

Arabic: qalīl. Literally, “a little”.

20

For Tanḥum’s understanding of the redactional history of the Minor Prophets, see discussion above, p. 80–82.

21

Tanḥum seems to be referring to the esoteric sense of the Book of Jonah. An alternative reading might identify the redactional theory as the subject of this statement (i.e., that it can or should be demonstratively proven only to certain individuals). However, based on the continuation of the passage, and the fact that Tanḥum has already argued openly and persuasively for his redactional theory, I consider the latter possibility unlikely.

22

For a discussion of Al-kulliyyāt, see above, p. 24–26.

23

Arabic: al-istiṣlāḥ. This is to say that the prophets prescribed istiṣlāḥ. For this term, see above, p. 82 fn. 34.

24

Lit. “return.”

25

For Tanḥum’s use of the term al-qaṣd al-awwal and its cognates, see discussion above, p. 58–61.

26

I.e., the illumination or light. The Arabic employs the partative min; thus, more literally, “though receiving [something] of it.”

27

I.e., juzʾiyyātihā. See Blau, Dictionary of Mediaeval Judaeo-Arabic Texts, 88.

28

Arabic: arā an ākhudha fī sharḥ alfāẓ hādhihi al-qiṣṣa wa-maʿānī nuṣūṣihā. I have translated this sentence in light of the technical sense of sharḥ alfāẓ as a lexically (and more broadly, linguistically focused) commentary, for which see above, p. 279 and fn. 76.

29

For the literal sense of Scripture as al-qaṣd al-awwal/al-maqṣūd awwalan/al-gharad al-awwal, and for a discussion of these expressions, see above, p. 58–61.

30

The esoteric commentary appears in Shy, Perush, 129–139.

31

The reference appears to be to Maimonides, who advocated the allegorical interpretation of passages that he identified as prophetic parables. For a comparison between Maimonides’ method and that of Tanḥum, see above, p. 63–70.

32

Hebrew: yonah.

33

Cf. Tanḥum’s commentary to Canticles 2:14, in MS Pococke 320, 37b; Zoref, Tanchum Ha-Yerushalmi’s Commentary on Canticles, vol. 2, 43. See in particular MS Pococke 320, 9a–b; Zoref, Tanchum Ha-Yerushalmi’s Commentary on Canticles, vol. 2, 9–10, translated and discussed in detail above, p. 306–322.

34

The Hebrew term for the dove (yonah) is identical with the name of the prophet.

35

For Tanḥum’s program of philosophical self-cultivation and its soteriological significace, see above, p. 180–217.

36

Although elohim may be read as vocative in this verse, I have translated it as the direct object, as this appears to be more consistent with Tanḥum’s own reading.

37

Lit. “Likewise, the nisba to Amittai …”

38

Arabic: fa-innahā min nūr al-ʿālam al-ʿaqlī al-ladhī wujūduhu taʿālā {lit. whose existence, exalted is it (!)} thābit al-taḥaqquq bi-wujūd al-ḥaqq al-awwal tabāraka wa-taʿālā. If the referent of the pronominal suffix of wujūduhu is taken to be God – which is strongly implied by the expression taʿālā – this seems to imply a distinction between God and “the First Reality” (al-ḥaqq al-awwal), the latter which undoubtedly refers to God. The only resolution seems to be that the referent is “the intellectual world” (al-ʿālam al-ʿaqlī), and the expression taʿālā is used due to the divine or angelic nature of that realm, or that it is a scribal error born of habit. I have thus omitted the expression taʿālā from my translation.

39

This is an allusion to the intellectual realm known as ʿālam al-malakūt, for which see above, p. 125–127.

40

For the angels as “forms separated from matter,” see above, p. 124–125, p. 209 and fn. 275.

41

For a discussion of Tanḥum’s emanationist theory of the soul’s origin, see above, p. 120–124.

42

In the MS: tarshishah, with the directive he. This may be a scribal error or a deliberate choice based on the form in Jonah 1:3.

43

Cf. the description of the immersion of human souls in “the sea of matter, which is called in their language hayūlā,” in Mozne ha-ʿiyyunim, a thirteenth century Hebrew translation of an earlier Muslim treatise, cited in Langermann, “Astrological Themes,” 72–73.

44

See Tanḥum’s exoteric commentary to Jonah 1:3 (Shy, Perush, 113) and our discussion, above, p. 88–90.

45

For antecedents and parallels to the figure of the ship as the human body, see above, p. 137–139.

46

Arabic: bi-mudabbirīn, from tadbīr (governance, rule, management, direction).

47

For this understanding of the verse, see Tanḥum’s exoteric commentary to the verse, translated and discussed above, p. 90, p. 93–95.

48

Here the referent of the pronominal suffix in the Arabic tanbīhihi is conveniently ambiguous: The captain is responsible for overseeing and advising the crew, and also attempts to arouse Jonah from his sleep.

49

For this figure as representing the Active Intellect, see above, p. 124–125.

50

Or: worship.

51

See Josh. 24:3, 15; 2 Sam. 10:16; 1 Chron. 19:16. For the use of this expression to shed light on the expression abram ha-ʿibri in Gen. 14:13, see the interpretation of “the rabbis” (rabbanin) in Genesis Rabbah ad loc. (parashah 41 [42], eds. Theodor and Albeck, 414). This interpretation is adopted by Ibn Janāḥ (Neubauer, Uṣūl, 500), Rashi (commentary to Gen. 14:13), and cf. Ibn Ezra’s commentary to Ex. 1:16. Cf. also Joshua 24:3. An explicit connection between these verses is made by Ibn Janāḥ (Neubauer, Uṣūl, 500).

52

Cf. Genesis Rabbah, parashah 41 (42) (eds. Theodor and Albeck, 414): “Rabbi Judah said: The whole world was on one side (me-ʿeber eḥad), and [Abram] was on the other side.”

53

See Ibn Ezra’s commentary to Ex. 1:16, where he explains Abraham’s appellation ha-ʿibri as reflecting his origins over the river (me-ʿeber ha-nahar; cf. previous note), and adds that the Israelites are known as Hebrews (ʿibrim) due their faith (ve-ʿal emunato yiqqare ʿibri), that faith being peculiar to the descendants of Eber. Cf. Ibn Janāḥ (Neubauer, Uṣūl, 500), who notes descent from Eber as a possible reason for Abraham being called ʿibri.

54

The MS reads elohim (God) in place of elohav (his God).

55

I.e., the body and its faculties.

56

The Arabic wa-huwa maqṣaduhā is ambiguous, as the feminine pronominal suffix may refer either to the soul or to the faculties. Although either interpretation would make sense, the former is less redundant and therefore reads better in context. Compare Shy’s Hebrew translation (Perush, 134): ve-hi maṭṭaratah.

57

That is to say that the divine command weakens the animal soul, and rendering it more docile for the intellectual soul to govern, and attain a measure of conjunction with the Active Intellect, even while embodied.

58

Cf. Babylonian Talmud, Nedarim 32b. For Tanḥum’s interpretation of this passage and his sources, see Zoref, Tanchum Yerushalmi’s Commentary on Ecclesiastes, 14–17.

59

This interpretation plays on the literal sense of l-elohim as “to God”. In its literal narrative context, Tanḥum understands to the expression to refer to the size and political influence of the city, as he writes in his exoteric commentary: “A mighty and great city (madīna ʿaẓīma wa-kabīra), being the base of the king of Assyria (wa-hiya qāʿidat malik ashūr).” (Shy, Perush, 121.) The Arabic muwaṣṣala also hints at aforementioned conjunction (īṣāl) with the intellectual realm (called in its fullest sense wuṣūl; see above, p. 128, p. 142, p. 258–259, p. 327–328, p. 333).

60

Or: Jonah’s call was the distance of one day’s walk into the city. While this alternative division of the verse does not fit the masoretic cantillation, it is a somewhat more comfortable reading of Tanḥum’s own citation in this passage, which begins with the term ba-ʿir (into the city). Rather than breaking up the verse, this maintains its unity. Tanḥum does not discuss the division of the verse in his exoteric commentary.

61

For a discussion of Tanḥum’s allegorical commentary to Jonah 3:3–7, see above, p. 29–133.

62

Cf. Maimonides’ Mishneh torah, Laws of Idolatry and the Practices of the Gentiles, 1:2: “… and at the age of forty, did Abraham come to know his Creator.” Cf. Genesis Rabba, Noah, parashah 30: “At the age of forty-eight did Abraham come to know his Creator.” (In Bereshit Rabba, eds. Theodore and Albeck, vol. 1, 274, line 2.) Cf. also Pesiqta Rabbati 21 (ʿaseret ha-dibberot #1), where the ages given are three years, forty eight years, and fifty years. Cf. also bTalmud Nedarim, 32a: “At the age of three did Abraham come to know his Creator.”

63

For this passage as reflecting Tanḥum’s moderate asceticism, see above, p. 133–134.

64

See the discussion of Tanḥum peshaṭ commentary to Jonah 4:10–11, above p. 99–114.

65

For these two interpretations – namely, that the fully realized intellectual either guides others towards perfection, or the proper governance of the corporeal faculties – see above, p. 133–136.

66

Hebrew: yom ṣom kippurim.

67

For the public recitation of the Book of Jonah on Yom Kippur, see Maimonides, Mishneh torah, Laws of Prayer and the Priestly Blessing, 13:11.

68

For the significance of this term, see above, p. 140–141 fn. 309.

69

Cf. Maimonides’ interpretation of the following verse of the psalm (Ps. 36:10; For with You is the source of life, in your light do we see light), which he associates with an emanationist cosmology, in Guide II.12 (Pines, 280).

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.