Sept. 21, 2020

Dr. Amy-Jill Levine and Dr. Marc Brettler on the Book of Jonah – “A World in Four Short Chapters”

Mark is delighted to be joined by Dr. Amy-Jill (AJ) Levine and Dr. Marc Brettler, the editors of the Jewish Annotated New Testament, on today’s episode. AJ is a Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University, and Marc is a Professor in Judaic Studies at Duke University. Both prolific authors, Marc has taught at Yale University, Brown University, Wellesley College and Middlebury College, and AJ has taught at Swarthmore College, Cambridge University, and in 2019 was the first Jew to teach a New Testament course at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. Together, they have chosen the Book of Jonah, which Mark considers ‘word for word the best book ever written’, to discuss today.

Their conversation is a dynamic and thought provoking one that embodies the nature of the book they have chosen. While exploring the complexity of the text, they share questions and interpretations regarding it, delving into such aspects as the prevalence of animals within it, its lessons regarding repentance, its differing meaning for Christians and Jews, and the potential content of a fifth chapter. AJ and Marc share the lessons they have learned about mankind which also relate directly to the Book of Jonah, and they offer a preview of their new book, particularly its demonstration of the differences between Christian and Jewish readings and approaches to biblical texts as well as the mutual respect that can grow out of these differences. Together with Mark, these two learned scholars bring out so many of the ‘endlessly profound lessons and teachings both for children and adults that this great book offers’, rendering this a thoroughly fascinating and informative episode.

Episode Highlights:

  • AJ and Marc’s summary of the Book and its meaning for them and all of us
  • The difference in the way Jews and Christians read the story
  • The original short story
  • The prevalence of animals in the story
  • The complex theology of the story
  • What makes this story so complicated
  • Questions the book raises for children and adults
  • What makes some Biblical books so great
  • The meaning of Jonah’s story for Christians
  • The book’s question about repentance
  • Creating a Jonah Chapter 5
  • The lessons AJ and Marc have learned about mankind
  • Their new book, The Bible With and Without Jesus: How Jews and Christians Read the Same Stories Differently
  • The differences between Jewish and Christian approaches to biblical readings


“This is a book about care, it’s a book about divine care.”

“Part of the Jewish reception history which recognizes the story is a profound meditation on issues of repentance and responsibility, and at the same time it’s rollickingly funny.” “Although the book itself is fictional, there was a real prophet named Jonah.”

“You can have more than one reading and they can both be right.”

“Jonah may be interested in preserving his people. He’s also just a remarkably whiny, passive-aggressive, self-centered puppet who may want to see this destruction because it makes him look like a great prophet who got it right.”

“It’s big, it’s big, it’s big!”

“God usually gets a pass on things, right?”

“His passive-aggressive arguments don’t seem to work.”

“What is the responsibility for having done evil if you repent of your ways?”

“I think that humanity has an infinite imagination.”

“There are many different ways of reading the same text, and really can learn to respect each other through the same text even read differently.”

“The Jewish tradition will always say, ‘But what does this text mean to me?’”

Book of Jonah -


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