“And Many Beasts” (Jonah 4:11): The Function and Status of Animals in the Book of Jonah

  • Yael Shemesh


This article examines the special role and function of animals in the book of Jonah. Throughout the book, all elements of creation (natural forces, flora and fauna) serve as emissaries of the Lord. Among animals, this applies specifically to the “great fish” and the worm. Their subjection to God’s will contrasts with the behavior of His human messenger, Jonah, who runs away and tries to evade his mission. At the end of the book animals are viewed as part of the penitent community and an object for divine forgiveness, alongside the human citizens of Nineveh. In fact, the book’s concluding words are “many beasts,” who also merit God’s mercy. I believe there may be a link between the role of animals in the story as divine emissaries and their special status as members of the community and as worthy of divine compassion.