Forthcoming Article: “Nineveh Overturned: Augustine & Chrysostom on the Threat of Jonah”

Cora Timken Burnett Collection of Persian Miniatures and Other Persian Art Objects, Bequest of Cora Timken Burnett, 1956 (Met Museum; Creative Commons)

Sometime in 2019 or (more likely) 2020, the Journal of Early Christian Studies will publish my article “Nineveh Overturned: Augustine & Chrysostom on the threat of Jonah.” This was a tough piece to write, since I had to dig much deeper than I had previously into the Greek exegetical tradition concerning Jonah. This research began as part of an initiative launched by the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, which led to a panel at the Society of Biblical Literature some years back. The final version of my argument, having been tested by some really thoughtful feedback from the journal’s reviewers, should be much stronger than those tentative first steps at SBL.

Here’s the abstract:

Both John Chrysostom and Augustine of Hippo find in the story of Jonah and the Ninevites an invitation to reflect upon the moral and political challenges undergone by cities facing the possibility of disaster. While Nineveh was threatened with destruction at the hands of the divine, cities like Constantinople and Rome were instead threatened with disaster of a natural or military kind, ranging from earthquakes to invasions. Regardless, both Chrysostom and Augustine thought the lessons of Jonah could be applied to contemporary crises. The two pastoral preachers did so in quite different ways, however. For Chrysostom, the repentance of the Ninevites in the face of a divine threat served as a model for his own congregation. For Augustine, however, the divine was incapable of uttering threats, and so Jonah’s prophecy had to come true: Nineveh had to be overturned. In order to make this case, Augustine reconfigured the meaning of the word “overturning” (euersio), so that he could make the case that the repentance of the Ninevites was driven not by their fear, but rather by the combined agency of divine grace and political coercion.

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