A Wooden Puppet
by Nagamitz Kazuhiro
Voice of God came to Jonah, son of Amittai, ordering that he should hurry to the exceeding city of Nineveh and be an alarm to her people against a destruction purposed by Him, at whom her evil eyes were glaring. However, Jonah went away for Tarshish, thus disobeying the Almighty. [Verses 1 - 3, Chapter 1, Book of Jonah, Old Testament]
Some 750 years before Christ's first advent, there was a city called Nineveh. Its location is in northern part of modern-day Iraq, and there remain its ruins. It was one of the central cities of an ancient empire Assyria, and later it would be the capital thereof. Having a king of its own, Nineveh was a city-state as well. According to the author of Book of Jonah, it was so exceeding that it took three days for a traveler to cross it.
As is often the case with exceeding cities in all ages and lands, Nineveh was not an honorable one. Corruption, iniquity and deception were practiced at all levels of the society, ever aggravating imbalance of wealth, which invited violence. Striving to remedy the imbalance in vain, violence only added to insecurity of the city until terrorism was no longer a big news. Uncontained and gaining momentum, the violence shot outwards as well: bandits went to sack foreign communities and took home captives and spoils, bringing about wars. The history of the vicious cycle of attacking and being overly retaliated increased the mutual hatred and fear of enemies in the neighborhood region so much that nations became excessively cruel to each other, and Ninevites, for example, were notorious for flaying war prisoners alive. They scarcely feared gods.
Then, gods for Ninevites were usually idols of various myths and traditions, made by human hands in the shape of a human being or an animal or a mixture of them, which is called demigod. The idols were enshrined at various places in the city, and a wealthy family would boast of having two or more idols in their house. No small number of these gods, however, were vague about their origins of divinity, and a human-shaped idol in a shrine of a handsome temple could originally have been a wooden puppet used in a puppet show, nobody knowing how it had ever found its way up into the shrine. Such a thing was not uncommon with regard to human beings either, in that a genuine human being would be raised to rank as a divinity and treated as a living idol for a reason that he or she did or was said to have done something that seemed unexplainable unless they were a god or a goddess. (This book provides incidentally an example which might have led to such a phenomenon for both categories – a puppet and a man.)
Now, the gods, living or not, worshipped by Ninevites were far cry from the concept of a righteous and almighty being, the creator of the universe, and were more like Greek gods and goddesses, who fall short of the almightiness and, like human beings, can be unrighteous, sometimes setting examples of immoral nature.
Thus, for many Ninevites the gods they daily saw were not such terrible beings to fear. However, authorities exalted the gods for the purpose of extracting wealth from the citizens to stabilize their supremacy, especially through strengthening of their military power. Many stories were concocted to incite fear of the gods. These stories, which included laws allegedly given by the gods and mystification for thwarting scientific approach, were compiled to form holy textbooks and preached. The story makers and the cohorts availed themselves of the wealth gained. So, for example, in temples, where gods were usually wooden idols overlaid with gold or silver plates, which were cast from articles offered by worshippers, the priests would steal pieces from the gods for their private use. Their wives would pilfer the sacrifices offered to these gods and sell them, but would rarely share the gain with the poor. In fact, the general tendency was that the higher in hierarchy did a Ninevite rank, the less pious he or she turned. Gods were used by them to justify the hierarchy by which they could maintain their privileges, while they scarcely did justice to gods.
Naturally, the authorities would punish people who were found tending to be blasphemous, while they themselves were more so in fact. The laws bound people in strict obedience to gods, and any departure from the laws was severely punished. Thus, pious or not, a citizen of Nineveh would fear the authorities far more than gods.
Then, the authorities on their part feared the revolt of dissident citizens more than anything else, especially the kind tied to an enemy nation. And to prevent this, they regularly conducted public events such as cruel execution of enemy soldiers, which was designed to intimidate and discourage the citizens from revolting, as well as to satisfy certain barbaric desires. And for the purpose of the latter, the most atrocious event was this:
Despite the general belittling of gods, the Ninevites had indulged themselves in an evil practice on the pretext of being loyal to gods or demigods. They sacrificed to them their own children, and this manslaughter, borrowing the authority therefor from gods, was the greatest of all sins committed by the Ninevites.
So, according to the Book of Jonah, God, unable to live with Ninevites any further, decided to inflict a capital punishment; however, he deigned to give a final chance to the Ninevites, and rang an oracle in the ears of Amittai's son Jonah. And he did not hear.
Incidentally, an oracle is a message given by a god to human beings, and it can easily be suspected that there were no small number of pseudo-oracles that were concocted by priests or prophets coerced by a pressure from an authority such as a king or a governor, who plotted to urge the people into a certain movement in his favor. If so, it should not have been unusual for prophets or diviners, like Jonah, to escape from "god". The present author was at a loss whether to adopt an interpretation that Jonah did hear a voice of God and escaped, or that he merely escaped from the king of Nineveh, who tried to make him propagate a fake prophecy to remedy the insecurity of his city, with a possible promise such as he would give the Hebrew a high-ranking priesthood in Nineveh (which seemed to have happened in any event, for the ruins of the city seem to include the prophet’s spacious tomb). The author eventually decided to swallow Jonah's miracle, and hence his fish.
God said to Jonah, "Let me give Nineveh one last chance for survival. You, my prophet, are to go to Nineveh and instruct the people to repent and abstain from evildoings. If they listen to you and repent, well and good, I shall stay my hands from Nineveh. If they do not, I shall put out Nineveh from the earth."
"My God!” Jonah retorted, “what are you saying? You want me to go to Nineveh to help them escape your punishment? Why? Have you forgotten? Nineveh is my number one enemy! I’d rather die than help them!”
Now, when a man or a woman is visited by God’s spirit, as Jonah was on this occasion, they become ecstatic and very talkative and would say many things that they would not say otherwise. In extreme cases they would say things they themselves do not understand, and it is called glossolalia. If not the latter, such was the state in which Jonah was, and thus he talked much in response to God’s oracle and the following is only a part of what he said, the part more relevant to this story:
“You well know that, when I was merely an infant boy, my father and mother were murdered before my eyes by the plunderers from Nineveh. I was so shocked I swooned, and when I came to myself I had lost all my memories - I even could not tell which was my right hand and which left. Every item of value was taken away from our house and the roof was burnt down. Then, many young men and women were captured and taken to Nineveh in chains and fetters. They were crying crazily. A huge number of cattle were stolen too, including what little we had. Left an orphan, I would have starved to death if it weren’t for the fig tree that grew and spread over my roofless house. I declare the scoundrels of Nineveh are not fit to live a moment longer on this earth of your creation, my Lord! Their destruction has long been my wish, as you well know. Please let that wish of mine at last come true!
“And, oh my Lord, why is this softening? What’s the matter with you? They don’t deserve your love a bit! And, why me? Why pick me to do this? Go and alarm the wicked Ninevites? I know it’ll be a false alarm! For I know you are merciful and forgiving; you always give a second chance to the bad ones and pardon them. I know you are going to do the same kindness to the wicked Ninevites! For you want to be loved even by those Ninevites! …Oh, what am I saying?! A slip of tongue! Oh my Lord, it’s a slip of tongue! Pardon me! And who am I to argue with you? It’s your holly business. Only, please do not make me the one to carry out your business. It crashes me! "
"Jonah, Ninevites are waiting for you. Hasten there."
"Pardon me, my Lord! Not Nineveh, please! Not Jonah!” The prophet whined in tears, fell on his knees, and started hitting his breast with fists. Then he had an idea. “Oh, yes, my Lord, there are more suitable servants of yours for this mission.” Jonah recovered from tears and took courage again. “You know, ones who have blood relatives in Nineveh! They will certainly be glad to hurry there to rescue them. Let them go, and they can do a far better job than I! So, please do spare me from this journey to Nineveh."
"I decided on you because you are the best for this. I never use a second best."
But Jonah did not obey. He rushed in a direction opposite to Nineveh, and arriving at a seafront city of Joppa, bought a ticket and jumped on a ship bound for Tarshish, which is thought to be modern-day Spain. He thought if he could reach a distant place way beyond the horizon of the vast ocean, he would be unreachable by God, for in those days people did not yet realize that the earth was round - still less spinning.
Jonah climbed down into the bottom of the ship and, exhausted from the hasty long journey, immediately fell into a deep sleep.
As the ship sailed outside the harbor, the wind began to turn and got stronger and pushed her off the course. A gray giant-like cloud far away began to collapse and surge to roof the vast ocean, and soon the sea line was darkened by black rain. Upon a flash of lightening and cracking of thunder, cold rain started to pour on the ship. The waves, pushed high by the strong winds, tackled the ship with such force that she squeaked and rolled dangerously and would topple any moment. Then, a whirl wind rose and started twirling her.
"This is a double catastrophe! A storm and tornado at once!" shouted the helmsman, who could no longer hold the spinning helm.
"Oh, my good god, help, help me this once!" cried a sailor holding to a rope lest he be blown away.
"Boatswain, lower the sail, hurry!” the captain shouted to the sailor. “And you there, drop the anchor immediately!" (The latter was to prevent the ship from dashing against rocks, for in those days ships sailed alongside the coasts.)
All the cabin lamps having gone out owing to the rough motion, passengers stirred and groped their way up to the deck from their darkened creaking corners with troubled hearts. They were rapidly outpaced by many rats running toward as high a place as possible. A few ferrets, which fed on them, appeared on the deck too and hissed and danced crazily, causing the ship dog to chase after them barking.
"My men, beseech your gods for mercy! Ask your respective gods to kindly calm the sea and lull the wind," the captain was ordering. "You, good passengers, too! You surely worship a god or two; so do pray to your dear gods and vow that when you can ever walk on the firm land again you will do a handsome offering for them!"
The terror-stricken individuals on the deck sought mercy of their gods for their dear lives. But, the stormy winds were not endeared. Nor did the ship stop making shrieks as if she were having labor pains and wanting to be delivered as soon as possible – or, perchance, was she too praying for mercy to some secret goddess?
The rats and ferrets clinging to high places squeaked and squealed for mercy too; the ship dog barked at them, but soon whined and joined their lament with pensive howling – keeping its throat stretched as perpendicularly to heaven as possible, despite the motion.
"Oh, my god, my beloved god Bel, please pardon and help us!” a rich lumber merchant cried earnestly. “I swear I will make a shrine of Lebanon cedar for you if you help me out of this peril."
“Ah, great goddess Artemis, daughter of Zeus and the twin sister of Apollo!” pleaded a gambler. “I bet a hecatomb to be sacrificed in your wonderful shrine if I’d be allowed to live to do so! So please help me I don’t have to hand in my cards yet!”
“Alas, my plentiful Dagon, the fish-god and filler of our stomach with corn and wine! Please do not allow our stomach to be filled with salty water and seaweed!” the chef.
“Abba! Jehovah, Lord of nature, heavenly being! Pardon me for the wrongs I have committed in your divine name!” pleaded a sham prophet in a low voice lest he be overheard. “I shall never prophesy again! No, no more fake prophecies in your name or any other god’s! So, for mercy’s sake, please do not wreck this ship! As you well know, it’s exactly to escape from that king of Nineveh that I got on this very ship! His men came and urged me to go back to Nineveh to prophesy…prophesy another fake prophecy of their destruction by you. But this time I repented and took flight so I do not sin again. So, please pardon me, and I will pay back the money I earned wrongfully!”
"Please turn from your anger, my lord Neptune, God of the Sea!” prayed the captain. “Please spare us our lives! What did we do to deserve this catastrophe? We did nothing wrong to you, did we? Or is there anyone among us who overlooked a duty? If so, please let us know of it and we shall amend the wrong immediately."
"Oh, Baal, my good god Baal, please! Please help Jojo! If you must sink this ship, please turn me a dolphin, for I can’t swim!" shouted an apprentice cook in tears.
"Mother, Mother, help me! I am scared!" wept a cabin boy bitterly, who had come out to sea for the first time in his life.
The sailors, while uttering respective paganish prayers, began throwing cargos and anything they could reach overboard so as to lower the gravity center of the ship as well as to lighten her.
Now, Jonah was still sleeping in the bottom of the ship, although his body was shook and rolled like a log.
The captain came down there with a lantern. Hearing a groaning in the dark, he soon found the prophet and was awe-struck that a man should be able to stay asleep in such a rough motion.
"Terrible man!” thought the captain with a shudder, “sleeping in this tumult?! …Still you are steadfastly awake to some sin or suffering you seem to have bred. …Certainly some god must be angry at you and working this storm to rouse you up…in vain. …But, how come am I here?! Alas, alas! Has the same god possessed me to come down here to kick this man up? For I don’t recollect why and how on earth I have come down in the midst of this dangerous motion!"
"Hey!” he shouted, shaking Jonah up, “How can you sleep in a moment like this? Wake up, and pray now to your god and appease his anger, whoever he may be! Maybe your god would turn merciful and help us."
"My God? No! I can't pray..."
"Don't you worship any god?"
"Yes, I do. I worship almighty God Jehovah. But I am now escaping from him. I disowned him!"
"You disowned your god? What do you mean? You must tell me!"
"Well, three days ago, God told me to go to Nineveh and persuade the people there to repent and stop their sins. But it was a burden too heavy for me; so I escaped, disobeying my God."
"(Aside) Why, you are a burden too heavy for my ship!"
"So I am not fit to pray to my God anymore!"
"Not fit to pray? Yes, you must pray. You said you disowned your god. But it was you yourself that you disowned."
"(Aside) Correct! I wanted my God to disown me!"
“You said the burden was too heavy for you; but if it is godsent, isn’t it as light as a feather? God will of course speed you.”
“Light as a feather, yeah, but no speeding me, for this feathery burden petrifies me like a stone idol.”
“(Aside) A stone idol! No wonder my ship is sinking! (Aloud) But, you see, this storm must be nothing but your god's fume at you. …Suppose your god is only trying to bring you back…back to your right course. Oh, yes, you must pray to your god immediately, and say that you’ll go straight to Nineveh! The lives of many innocent men here are endangered due to your misconduct. If you do not repent and pray to your god for mercy, I as the captain of this ship in peril shall become your god's hand to do away with you.”
Meanwhile, on the deck, the captain's first mate was calling to the troubled men: "Hear me now, every one of you!Please, each one, draw one stick from this vase. And anyone whose stick is stained in red is the one who invited this storm by somehow angering some god."
So, one by one the passengers and sailors came and drew their sticks uneasily, for, like the sham prophet, each one had started thinking, "Oh, it must be that sin of mine that brought this storm!"
"Phew! I knew it was not me! Look at my lot, everyone!" said the lumber merchant with a great relief, since he knew that there was a risk of being thrown into the sea as a human sacrifice if he had drawn the wrong stick.
"Oh, thank god, me neither! I am often lucky at lotteries, so I feared I’d pick up the red one. But my good god never makes a mistake, ha-ha" said the apprentice cook with tears in his eyes, and he resumed his prayer to Baal.
"Look! I am not the one to blame either. But poor my child, he is not to blame either, but you ruffians mercilessly threw the innocent boy into the cold water to be bitten by ravenous sharks!" cried a puppeteer, who had just lost one of his dear puppets.
Thus, one after another the sticks were drawn from the vase, but none had a red mark on it. There were only a few remaining in the vase.
"Now, who have not drawn yet?" asked an astrologer.
"I made the lottery, so I draw last according to the usage," said the first mate, shaking the vase to mix the sticks, as he had done each time a person picked his stick.
“I don’t see Captain. Where has he gone?” asked the gambler.
“And that athlete…that narrowly got on board with that hop skip and jump,” said the chef.
"Ah, that monk,” said a fire worshipper, “we left him sleeping below. He’s making such a terrible noise one would suspect he is a…speak of which, here he is.”
"There is no need for further drawing!" exclaimed Jonah, who had just climbed up to the deck, helped by the captain. "This storm has arisen on account of my sake, and is a work of my God in Heaven!"
The captain explained to them how Jonah had disobeyed and escaped from his god, and grabbing the last few lottery sticks from the vase, he thrust the red-marked one toward the stormy heaven and shouted:
"I solemnly ask the god of this man Jonah! On account of this red stick, do you mean to sink these innocent sticks as well into the sea?"
However, the storm only increased its violence.
"Alas, my Jove! the anchor cable is broken!" shouted the boatswain. “We are done unless the storm stops.”
People gathered round Jonah and unanimously showered accusations and complaints upon him.
"Hey! We are in danger of losing our lives owing to your presence here!" the sham prophet.
"What manner of a man are you?" the fire worshipper.
"Where are you from?" the astrologer.
"I am a Hebrew from Gath," Jonah answered. "I fear Jehovah, the God in heaven, who made the sea and the earth."
"And what made you think you had any business running away from such a mighty god of yours?" the astrologer.
"Hey, we are not willing to get involved in a quarrel between you and your god," the gambler.
"What could we possibly do to escape this violent storm?" the first mate.
A wave jumped aboard and flooded almost the entire deck.
"Throw me into the sea. Then, the sea will be calm,” said Jonah, knowing that the time had come for him to perish. “I know it very well. It is me alone that God wants to feel this storm, and if you get rid of me, the ship and all of you will be safe."
However, the sailors went back to the oars and tried once more to row the ship toward a nearest harbor. Nonetheless, the rough sea and the violent winds pushed her farther away from the coast until the land disappeared from their view.
Now, the people urged the captain to make the decision.
The captain tore his coat and grabbed Jonah from behind by the shoulders and said with his face looking to the rain-pouring heaven: "Oh, god of this man Jonah, who is said to have created the earth and the sea, if you are not a merciless god, please do not take our lives just because this man is with us! But if you cannot pardon him, then we shall but have to put him into the deep sea, for we cannot go against your will. We can act only as you ordain, and our hands shall be clean of the life of this man. So, please show mercy to us and save at least our lives."
So saying, the captain pushed Jonah forward and Jonah jumped overboard.
In a moment, there shone a bright golden light along the far swelling horizon as if it were a golden bow, and the dark clouds gave way to the blue sky, which expanded quickly from the horizon upwards and over. And, as Jonah had prophesied, the sea grew calm and flat, and it was as if someone had laid a vast blue carpet across the ocean.
At this the people were filled with awe and gratitude, and did not forget to pray and give praise to Jonah's god with thanks for saving their lives. The ship dog resumed barking at the noisy rats and the ferrets, which quickly disappeared.
Suddenly, a shout was heard over the noise of numerous prayers:
"Ahoy, look! Jonah is there!” It was the helmsman at helm shouting with his right hand pushed to the starboard side, which was opposite the side of the prophet’s jumping. “He is alive! Let us go rescue him while he is afloat!"
The men rushed to the starboard and discerned that Jonah was drifting in the distance, and he was holding to a wooden puppet that had spilled from a wooden box of the puppeteer.
"(Aside) But if we rescue him, will not the storm come back?" everyone.
"Lower the boat now!" the captain.
“Aye, aye, sir,” the first mate.
"Ahoy, Jonah, we will come and rescue you in a moment, so hang in there!" the helmsman.
But no voice returned from Jonah.
As soon as the boat was on the calm water, the captain jumped into it, followed by two sturdy sailors and the dog. The three men rowed the boat toward Jonah as hard as they could. It was when the boat got within a stone's throw from Jonah that a sailor who had just climbed up to the mast-head of the ship shouted with his eyes popped:
"Captain, beware! Something big is coming! It's fast!"
“Where-away?” the captain.
“There!” the sailor pointed in a direction beyond Jonah.
Captain and the others in the boat stopped rowing and turned their heads in the pointed direction. A huge role of water was seen to rise and fall repeatedly as it approached.
The dog ran to the bow and began barking furiously at the strange apparition.
“Wha…what is that?!” the lumber merchant.
“Alas, it’s Hydra the sea serpent!” the astrologer.
"I bet it's a kraken! A giant squid! Look, it’s white!" the gambler.
"No, that's a whale!" the pop-eyed sailor on the mast-head, “It has flukes.”
"It’s going to attack Jonah!" the chef.
“It’s opened the mouth! It’s gonna bite him!” the fire worshipper.
"Ah, poor man! He is done at one gulp!" the first mate.
"Look, there goes the jet! So, it's a whale!" the astrologer.
"Ye, bloody monster, get this!" shouted Captain fiercely, as he stood up at the bow of the boat, and lanced a long boat hook, which had been in the boat.
It scratched and left a red thin line on the vast white forehead of the sea monster.
Whether offended by this or not, the monster wriggled its body and with the snow white flukes scooped and flipped the boat high in the air. The three men in the boat (to say nothing of the dog) shrieked as they were thrown into the air and down into the water and they did not come to the surface too soon. When they popped up near the capsized boat, the monster jetted again raising an instant rainbow.
"Captain, are you alright?!" asked the sailors and passengers on the starboard of the ship, which rolled gently as the waves caused by the white whale’s exercise reached her.
"Ye, crook-jawed man-eating fish!" shouted Captain as he clutched at the boat, "if you claim to be on a god's errand, show us a sign now!"
The whale gave a glance at the captain with its left eye, and blew again and swam away dividing the peaceful green sea.
"That was the fate of Jonah, a runaway prophet that disobeyed Jehovah. How terrible!” the sham prophet. “(Aside) But Jonah, did you really hear the voice of God? and yet run?"
(continues to chapter II)
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