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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Nineveh, Ninevites

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NINEVEH, NINEVITES.—The great city of Nineveh was on the eastern bank of the Tigris, opposite the modern city of Mosul. (For account of it see art. in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible iii. 553 f.). In Matthew 12 and Luke 11 are grouped several logia of our Lord, short pithy passages, each of which appears to be a whole in itself. Two of these contain references to Jonah and the Ninevites.

1. Matthew 12:38-40 || Luke 11:29-30. It would seem that on two occasions, the second of which is narrated in these passages, the Pharisees asked for a sign. Christ’s preaching and miracles were not enough for them. They wanted Him to prove His Divine mission by some overwhelming marvel that would force them to believe in it, if it were truly Divine. The first occasion is in Mark 8:11 f. || Matthew 16:1-4, where they asked for ‘a sign from heaven.’ This He met with a definite refusal (Mk.). St. Matthew, however, adds to the answer words which really belonged to the second occasion—‘except the sign of Jonah.’ The answer on the second occasion contains this exception in both Gospels. (In St. Matthew the Pharisees are addressed, in St. Luke the multitudes ‘when they were coming crowding up,’ ἐπαθροιζομένων). But the meaning of the explanation which our Lord adds is somewhat obscure: ‘for as Jonah became to the Ninevites a sign, so shall also the Son of Man be to this generation’ (Lk.). It is important to notice that the ‘sign’ did not consist in the preaching of Jonah and of the Son of Man. Jesus had been preaching already, whereas the sign was still future (‘shall be’). And the story of Jonah in the OT does not, of itself, throw any light on the difficulty. Jonah started from Joppa to sail westward (Tarshish), and the storm occurred near enough to the shore to make the sailors try to row back for safety. When Jonah, therefore, was vomited up by the fish on to the dry land, it was presumably near Joppa. Then he received the second command to go to Nineveh. According to the story, therefore, Jonah was in no sense a sign to the Ninevites. One of two conclusions is inevitable; either that there was a current Haggadic tradition about Jonah and Nineveh which was known to our Lord and His hearers but has been lost to us, or that the word ‘Ninevites’ has supplanted some other word in the original text of St. Luke, having been introduced by the influence of Luke 11:32. St. Matthew obviates the difficulty by omitting the name altogether; but he (or some later writer, cf. Sanday, Bampton Lectures, p. 433) represents our Lord as teaching that ‘as “Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale” (= Jonah 1:17), so shall the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.’ The ‘sign of Jonah’ is thus the sign of the resurrection. That, and that only, will be the supreme vindication of Christ’s Divine mission. [In St. Luke’s passage, after Luke 11:30 D [Note: Deuteronomist.] and some Latin Manuscripts add the harmonistic statement καὶ καθὼς Ἰωνᾶς ἐν τῇ κοιλίᾳ τοῦ κήτους ἐγένετο τρεῖς ἡμέρας καὶ τρεῖς νύκτας οὕτως καὶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐν τῇ γῇ, ‘and as Jonah (was) in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so also (is, or shall be) the Son of Man in the earth.’ It is conceivable that this was the more original form of the words in St. Matthew]. The question whether this passage necessitates the belief that our Lord accepted the story of Jonah as historically true is dealt with in art. Jonah.

2. Matthew 12:41 || Luke 11:32. The words in the two Gospels are identical. [D [Note: Deuteronomist.] omits the whole passage in St. Luke]. St. Matthew places side by side the two logia relating to Jonah, and then introduces the one that relates to Solomon and ‘the queen of the south.’ St. Luke transposes the latter two, ‘either for chronology, or effect, or both’ (Plummer). Our Lord again addresses the ‘evil generation.’ ‘Ninevites (ἄνδρες Νινευεῖται, no article; Authorized and Revised Versions ‘the men of Nineveh’) shall stand up (as witnesses) in the judgment with this generation and shall condemn it, because they repented in accordance with the message preached by Jonah (εἰς τὸ κήρυγμα Ἰωνᾶ),’ whereas this generation has not repented though a far greater than Jonah is preaching to it; ‘something greater (πλεῖον, cf. Luke 11:31, Matthew 12:6) than Jonah is here.’

A. H. M‘Neile.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Nineveh, Ninevites'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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