The European Journal of Humour Research

Vol 9, No 2 (2021)

“Jonah’s gourd” and its early Byzantine interpretations

Dmitry Kurdybaylo, Inga Kurdybaylo


Many modern scholars consider the Old Testament book of Jonah being written in a boldly parodic manner. The narrative engages many details that sound humorous for a modern reader. However, from the standpoint of late Antique and early medieval patristic exegesis, it is often unclear whether Byzantine interpreters perceived such passages laughable or at least inappropriate for a prophetic writing. This study presents a few examples of early Byzantine commentaries to the episode with Jonah and a gourd (Jonah 4:6–11). None of the commentaries expresses any explicit amusement caused by the discussed text. However, the style, method, or context of each commentary appears to be passing the traditional bounds of Bible interpretation. The earlier interpreters adhere to the most expected moral reading of Jonah 4, but they use epithets, metaphors, or omissions, which produce the effect of paradox comparable to the biblical wording itself. The later commentaries tend to involve unexpected and even provocative senses. In such interpretations, God can be thought of as being able to play with a human or even to fool and deceive. What seems us humorous in the Bible, Byzantine commentators take primarily as a paradox, which they did not explain or remove but elaborate further paradoxically. The later an interpreter is, the bolder his paradoxical approach appears. The results of the study provide some clues to understanding how the interpretation of humorous, parodic, or ironical passages were developing in the history of Byzantine intellectual culture.



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