“Who Knows?”: A Bakhtinian Reading of Carnivalesque Motifs in Jonah

In: Vetus Testamentum
Timothy C. McNinch Graduate Division of Religion, Emory University Atlanta, GA USA

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This brief study dialogues with Mikhail Bakhtin’s insights to evaluate the rhetoric of Jonah’s humor. The “carnivalesque” lens invites the reader to revel in the dialogic dissonances of the book, for in carnival fashion, the humor of Jonah counters the seriousness of a seemingly determined world with the liberating laughter of open-ended ambiguity. In Jonah, social hierarchies are collapsed, the hero is debased, and the world is depicted in grotesque and hyperbolic form. By embodying a “carnival sense of the world,” the humor in Jonah wonders aloud: What if the world is not as simple, ordered, and predictable as the prophetic voice often assumes? That idea is provoked and prodded by embodying the idea of “the prophet” in the character of Jonah and dropping him into unusual circumstances, as an authentically open-ended, literary, thought experiment. In that experiment, “Who knows?” Anything could happen.

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