Andy Borgmann
UBBL311 - Hebrew Prophets I
Dr. Gerald Wilson
November 5, 2002
Jonah vs. Jonah
The complex book of Jonah has reached a new level complexity: a children's cartoon staring vegetables. It is amazing that after reading deep theological and exegetical works on the Biblical book of Jonah, that sometimes the simplicity and straightforwardness of a cartoon is what boldly proclaims the true message. The producers of the movie maintained the biblical correctness of the story, as well as potentially accurately filling in the gaps the original writer left out. When it comes down to it, the Artisan Entertainment version of Jonah is close to as accurate as the biblical account.
The structure of Jonah is a simple one: first chapter, the invitation by God to go to Nineveh and Jonah's pathetic attempt to flee. The second chapter goes on to show that while in the large fish, Jonah repents of his fleeing action and makes a covenant with God to do what is correct in the situation. The third chapter consists of Jonah preaching to the people of Nineveh the message God originally wanted them to hear. Jonah is found in the fourth chapter to be waiting on God to destroy Nineveh, and is eventually angered by the fact God refused to bring justice on the "evil city." The VeggieTale version of Jonah sticks to the biblical plot line perfectly. There were aspects of the movie that were added to the biblical text to fill in some gaps, but the plot line itself mirrors the biblical story. The only major addition to the movie (which will be discussed later) is the part of Jonah's life before his revelation from God to go to Nineveh. It assumes that Jonah was a prophet, and well respected by Israel, long before the revelation from God.
There are some simple questions that arise when reading the short book of Jonah. One of the biggest questions is how did Jonah become a prophet in which God entrusted to take a very hard message to Nineveh. Had he been trained in classical prophecy, and earned the respect of his peers? Was he a central or peripheral prophet? Or was he just some guy off the street in which God had chosen for this prophetic message for Nineveh? Where the Bible does not expound on this issue, the movie takes a stance. It is clear at the beginning, the writers of this movie portrayed Jonah to be the same sort of prophet as Samuel. Jonah was highly respected by the town's people, where he gave "prophetic messages" daily to the nation of Israel. It was clear he had been doing if for a while, and he had been through out the nation of Israel. This is definitely an area in which the movie writers have filled in, however, the hypothetical situation is definitely not non-biblical. It is not the exactly my stance, however, it is not any less correct. The story itself portrays Jonah as a very confident man of God, which until this particular assignment, loved being a prophet. Honestly, the Bible does not speak directly on this issue, but from what it does show in the narrative, is not exactly a confident Jonah. The Bible shows a man that is very intimidated by his assignment (not to say he is to be blamed), and in the end truly does not understand the justice of God. The movie tries to change Jonah's character by the end to the biblical understanding of him, but I think they went a little too far in their assumptions in the beginning.
With the exception of the initial projections of Jonah's character in his society, the only other major error the movie made was having a musical montage from within the belly of the fish. The Bible speaks of no visitors while in the fish, especially visits from Angels. The Bible is quite clear that Jonah's revelation of the wrong he had committed came from his own convictions, not the guidance from others. The movie did at least say Jonah responded in prayer and repentance, however, went too far to include angels in the narrative.
Of course there were other nit-picky things in which the writers were somewhat in error about. The movie portrays that Jonah's shipmates knew who he was, which I do not think is true until he makes a confession to be thrown into the sea. There was definitely not a second "person" (or worm) in the belly of the fish with Jonah. There is no indication that Jonah had any friends in Nineveh, nor where they arrested for anything. But again, these are nit-picky errors and are by no means distracting from the message. These are simply ingenious ways in which the writers made the story more appealing and graceful for the viewing by children.
The movie version of Jonah did a wonderful job of portraying Nineveh to be what the Bible portrays them being: flat out bad people. Instead of going into graphic detail about their fascination with impaling visitors, they just simply say they were liars, cheaters, and mean people (fish slappers to be exact). It is interesting for scholars to know the details of the evil and corruption of Nineveh, but honestly, the main point of the story is that the Ninevites were mean people who did not live like God wanted them to live. The movie did a great job portraying their hate for Israel, but it was not too overbearing. They went a little too overboard when on Jonah's initial entrance to the city they portrayed it like walking into the depths of Hell. However, that probably was how Jonah perceived it, so it was not that big of a stretch. The only thing that was lost on the account of the movie was the graphic reasons why Jonah would not want to go Nineveh. They turned the depravity of Nineveh into somewhat of joke by slapping people with fish, which I imagine got a laugh out of a lot of children. It would not seem like a child leaving the movie would truly grasp why Jonah was so afraid to go to Nineveh, however, as stated above, that was not the true message that needed to get across.
The movie Jonah's main message was that the God of Israel is a merciful God, and deals with people with compassion by giving them second chances to their mistakes. It goes on to explain that since God is like that, people need to be like that too. Carlisle, the worm, makes a great quote at the end of the movie when he tells Jonah, "all my life I thought I wanted to be a big person, like you, but now I realize the world does not need any more big' people. It just needs little people that have compassion and mercy." That pretty much sums up the message of the movie, as well as the biblical account. The movie did a decent job giving God the credit of being the true giver of compassion and mercy, and maybe only slightly downplayed his goodness in this situation; however, it did a terrific job of portraying the human response to a compassionate God.
There was very little the movie version of Jonah did poorly. They made a couple of big assumptions as far as Jonah's initial character, angel visits, and Nineveh's reaction to the visitor from Israel, however, over all it was a beautifully blended story that was totally grounded in biblical truth. It is being grounded in biblical truth that makes this movie a great rendition of the book of Jonah. They also did a great job of relating it today's society. At the end of the movie, one of the "do nothing pirates" was quoted saying, "It isn't what Jonah learned that is important, but rather what did you learn?" Like any person who hears the story of Jonah, the little vegetables were frustrated with the abrupt ending of the tale. However, the writers of the movie take an opportunity like this to turn the tables on all the viewers and beg the question, what is my response to a legend like this? These two simple things, biblical accuracy and contemporary relevancy, are what makes this version of Jonah brilliant. Hopefully, the writers and producers will continue to speak truth into the American lives by making more biblical stories as well as this one.
As far as this project itself goes, I think it is nothing short of brilliant. Its brilliance lies, not in the fact that it was slightly easier and fun, but because it was practical. So many biblical studies assignments force students to search with a magnifying glass the practically of the issue at hand. Sure, there is one there, and it is usually profound, but it takes a lot of extra effort in which a lot of people do not take the time to understand. The simple truth is there is a lot of biblical influence in Hollywood, and it would do Christians a lot of good if they were able to compare and contrast it. Whether it is a blatantly biblical movie like Jonah, or some of the not so obvious movies like The Matrix, it is good for Christians to get in the habit of seeing how movies relate to the truth of the Bible. Entertainment will never replace the Bible, but just as Paul used examples from society to minister to the people in Athens, it would benefit Christians greatly if they were able to extract biblical truth from societal influences today. So again I say, this assignment was nothing short of brilliance.