Subversive Boundary Drawing in Jonah: The Variation of אשׁר and שׁ as Literary Code-Switching

In: Vetus Testamentum
Robert D. Holmstedt The University of Toronto

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Alexander T. Kirk The University of Toronto

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This study presents literary code-switching as the best explanation for the variation of אשׁר and שׁ in the book of Jonah. The use of Hebrew אשׁר and a Phoenician-based שׁ in the world of the narrative is used both to create and destroy identity boundaries. The switch between אשׁר and שׁ is the central linguistic strategy supporting the subversion of the intended audience’s natural reading sympathy (initially with Jonah) and theology (an ethnically exclusive Yahwism). Jonah’s use of שׁ represents a linguistic flight from his Hebrew identity, while the sailors’s and Ninevite king’s use of אשׁר represents their recognition of Yhwh as a god worthy of devotion. And Yhwh’s use of both אשׁר and שׁ signals the author’s view that Yhwh does not exclusively belong to (or care for) the Hebrew people.

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