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THE ZOHAR ON JONAH: RADICAL RETELLING OR TRADITION?Aryeh Wineman I The Zohar's midrashic exegesis relates generally to specific words or verses of a biblical text, and rarely to an entire episode or narrative. It is partly for this reason that one particular passage of zoharic exegesis stands out: a running, extended commentary on the first two chapters of Jonah. This commentary, found toward the end of the second part of the Zohar (II, 199ab), is also an example of homiletical exegesis of a narrative text which appears to create a new story. In this passage, the zoharic author understands the story of Jonah to be a parable of the totality of a person's career in this world and of what follows one's death, a parable of human experience from the soul's entering the body until God's awakening the dead when death will be no more. Jonah himself, representing the soul, enters the body, which is symbolized by the ship endangered by the storm-a body weak by nature and incapable in the long run of maintaining itself in the face both of the hostile elements and of man's own sins. The storm is the demand of judgment which threatens a person throughout life. It afflicts a person more and more until his death, and though it allows for repentance, the calls to repentancevoiced by the ship's captain, the good inclination-are generally ignored. The storm-scene in the first chapter of Jonah is read as a scene of judgment , as an actual court-scene. At that hour the court is fonnect There are those who speak in his defense and also those who press for conviction. And the coun insists that justice be done. And if the person is not acquitted, what is written? "Nevenheless, the men rowed hard to regain the shore, but they could not"-those who speak on his behalfsuive with great effon to restore him to this world, but they are unable to do so. What is the reason?-"For the sea was growing more and more stonny about them" (Jonah 1:13).1 - This study reflects. in pan. resean:h conducted in Jerusalem during Ihe summer of 1989 wilh Ihe assis· tance ofa resean:h stipend awarded by Ihe National Endowment for Ihe Humanities. 1 Translations of biblical passages in Ihis anicle are generally taken from Tanakh (lhe new Jewish Publication Society translation, 1985) except in cases in which Ihe zoharic context clearly calls for a different understanding ofIhe verse. Translations from !heZohararc Ihose of the aulhor. Hebrew Studies 31 (1990) 58 Wineman: 2ohor on Jonah With death, the stonn (the judgment-summons) gives way to the calm which follows. The great fish in the narrative is understood as the grave: scene of chastisements until the soul separates from the body and ascends to its own abode. The body remains in the grave until the time that God will awaken the dead and death will be no more. At that time the grave will cast out its dead, the happening represented by God's command to the fish to cast out Jonah onto the dry land. At this point in its reading of Jonah, the Zohar-text includes verses from Isaiah to provided prooftexts for its theme of resurrection. After the thirty days following death, when the soul ascends, the body is decomposed in the ground until that time that the Holy One, blessed be He, will awaken the dead. A voice will then resound throughout the graves, announcing, "Awaken and shout for joy, you who dwell in the dust!-for Your dew is like the dew on fresh growth; You make the land of the shades come to life" (Isa 26:19). The fish spewing out Jonah represents the graves casting out all their dead at the moment of resurrection. And in the account of the fish one finds words of healing for all the world. After swallowing Jonah, the fish died ... (and after three days) ... it was restored to life and cast out Jonah....Similarly the land of Israel is destined to be stirred to new life fll'St, and following that "the earth will...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-1681
Print ISSN
0146-4094
Pages
pp. 57-69
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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