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Labour Sunday 2024 | Mental Injuries at Work:Daily Happenings in the Workplace


香港基督教工業委員會

Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee

電話Tel: 852-2366 5860     傳真Fax: 852-2815 1739

 

Labour Sunday 2024

 

Mental Injuries at Work:

Daily Happenings in the Workplace

 

Text: Jonah 4:1-11

 

April 28, 2024

 

In Hong Kong, mental health at work is an alarming issue. Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report states that Hong Kong workers are suffering from severe stress at work. 55% of the workers in the territory share that they suffer from acute stress at work, the most severe in the East Asian region. The data in 2023 came down to 50% in Hong Kong, following China (55%)[1] as the second most severe in East Asia. Among the stressed workers, East Asian youths (60%) and people who work remotely (60%) in East Asia are the two groups most affected by mental distress at work[2].

 

According to the Gallup’s 2023 Report, only 6% of Hong Kong’s workers claim that they feel “engaged and enthusiastic” about their jobs, ranked as the second lowest in the world[3]. Such a tiny number of workers find their job satisfactory. No wonder why close to 60% of the employees across the world are in the state of “quiet quitting”, while 18% are “loudly quitting”. This means that around 80% of the employees in the world are unhappy with their current jobs[4].

 

Mental injuries at work as daily happenings in the workplace

Mental injury at work is a kind of occupational injury. It is one of the most prominent issues amongst today’s conflicts in employment relation, but its causes are complicated. Workers may suffer emotional harm due to heavy workloads and long working hours. Occupational burnout is often reported, symptoms include loss of motivation and energy to work. According to the Gallup research in 2023, 62% of the workers in the world are identified with symptoms of occupational burnout. Among them, professionals and senior executives are most affected as they often continue to work even though they are off at home. For them, the boundary between work life and personal life is blurred. They are often on call 24/7[5].

 

The risks of mental injuries at work can arise from unattainable work tasks, poor working relationship with superiors and/or co-workers, individual and/or collective bullying (including sexual harassments) in the workplace as well as conflicts between individual workers and their superiors and/or co-workers relating to work ethics, including individual workers’ professional ethics or their political and economic beliefs.

 

Responses to mental injuries at work today are mainly by therapeutic measures, like counselling or medical treatments. All measures focus on helping individual workers at risk adjust themselves to cope with or change their attitudes to bear the mental damages. If they fail to do so, they have no choice but to leave. All common measures put the blame on employees, who are on the weaker side of the employment power relation. However, most mental injuries at work, like common occupational injuries, are a matter of employer-employee conflict. It demands the duty of care of both the employer and the employee, but why do workers always have to bear all the responsibilities?

 

Based on the cases we have assisted on, several points on mental injuries at work can be summarized as follows:


1.     Bullying in the workplace usually occurs over a long period of time. It could be as simple as a comment, a “hail” of disapproval or disgust, or a work arrangement. The stress of the workers involved builds up little by little until it reaches a tipping point. The “little things” which occur before the tipping point seem to be the daily happenings in the workplace, but in fact they are the small snowflakes that contribute to the eventual occurrence of an avalanche. 


2.     Workers are advised to resume work after medical treatments of their occupational injuries (including mental injuries), but they are vulnerable to suffering further emotional injuries during this period. Two emotional risks can be identified. First, the workers’ emotion may be unstable when they come back to the workplace where the injuries were inflicted. Additional attention should be paid to the workers’ emotional needs. Second, the workers at risk may become more distressed if they face a lack of understanding or even intimidations by their superiors, or the cold stares of or even isolation by co-workers or outsiders. Both risks are mentally traumatizing for the workers concerned.

 

3.     Unclear power structure and division of labour in the workplace tend to cause mental damages to workers. The mental distress worsens if the workers at risk have no one to open up to or share their feelings with.


4.     The workers involved alone bear all the burden in most cases. When conflicts between employers and employees arise, it is usual that the workers involved are advised to endure the difficulties, or to seek assistance or counselling. Counselling, however, focuses on helping the workers change their attitude or adjust themselves to bear with the difficulties, rather than to remove the sources of harm. If the workers could not endure anymore, their only option is to leave. All responsibilities fall on the workers alone. Workers are requested to do “everything” when they suffer from mental distress at work, but what should their bosses do?

 

The Story of Jonah

The interaction between the Lord and Jonah could be seen as an interaction between the management and its staff. Many problems of mental health at work can be identified. According to the Book of Jonah, the Lord, as a boss or a top executive, alone assigned or appointed the jobs to his staff. The Lord sent Prophet Jonah to Nineveh twice and to make prophecies against the great city[6], “for their wickedness has come up before me.” [7] (1:2;3:2). The Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea (1:4), provided a big fish to swallow Jonah (1:17), ordered the fish to spew Jonah out upon the dry land (2:10), appointed a bush and made it come up over Jonah (4:6), and appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered (4:7). All the appointments were decided by the Lord himself. Prophet Jonah, the animals and the nature just took orders from the Lord, their superior. Most “staff” of the Lord completed their tasks, except Jonah who failed to do so[8]. The Lord spared the Ninevites after they had repented. But the Lord had not consulted anyone, including Jonah, before the decision was made. It was totally up to the decision of the Lord[9].

 

But Lowell K. Handy raised a question about the Lord’s action in the Book of Jonah. If order and a sense of justice came with the creation of the world, the Lord’s repentance to spare the Ninevites appears to be “chaotic and arbitrary” [10].  In fact, an unresolvable tension of Israel’s testimonies about the Lord is found. Alongside the dominant testimony of “faithful sovereignty and sovereign fidelity”, the Hebrew Scripture runs counter testimonies of “ambiguity and unreliability”. Phyllis Trible finds “divine incongruities” among the biblical portrayals of the Lord. Book of Jonah, in its portrayal of the Lord, offers an excellent demonstration of such divine incongruities[11]. The Lord is described as “an abusive parent that toys with humans, changes rule on them, and frustrates them; this may produce a chaotic world, but a world that is recognizable as the one which humans actually inhabit.” [12] 

 

From the labour perspective, an arbitrary boss with a changing mind gives the staff no clear direction to follow. Jonah was angered fiercely by the arbitrary and unreliable actions of the Lord. He protested the Lord by committing suicide. The Book of Jonah reported 2-3 “run-away” of Jonah and his 3 suicide attempts.

 

The first “run-away”

In his first assignment to Nineveh, Jonah was appointed to speak of the devastation of the city (1:1-2). Jonah made an unconventional response after receiving the assignment. He fled to Tarshish (1:3). There are examples of others who were reluctant to follow the Lord’s instructions, like Moses, Elijah and Jeremiah, but these three prophets all disputed the Lord’s orders immediately (Ex. 3:10-4:17;1 Kings 19:1-18;Jer. 1:4-10). Jonah did not argue with the Lord. Instead, he ran away. Jonah’s response appears to be unconventional and unique in the Hebrew Scripture. It was a kind of silent resistance to the Lord[13].

 

Jonah 4:2 suggests that Jonah in fact had a deep understanding of the Lord. He was confident that Nineveh would not be overthrown. Jonah was angry by the Lord’s action but it was useless for him to argue with the Lord. Jonah knew well that the Lord would not change his mind. The only choice for Jonah was to leave.

 

Jenny (pseudonym) was a research assistant in a university. She suffered from heavy workload and improper work arrangements. She wished to complain to her boss, but her colleague reminded her, “Don’t dream of any change of our boss. You either stay on or quit.” Knowing well enough about bosses, ironically, discourages workers to argue with bosses, so their only choice is to leave.

 

The second “run-away”

Jonah attempted to run away from the Lord again after explaining why he had not followed the Lord’s instruction to go to Nineveh and instead visited another place (4:2). With the faith confession of the Israelite community (Ex. 34:6-7), Jonah protested against the Lord’s decision to spare the Ninevites, “You are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” (4:2)[14]  The confession reminded the Israelites about the Sinai covenant initiated by the Lord alone through Moses. The Israelites and their offsprings therefore enjoyed a unique covenantal relationship with the Lord[15]. It was ironic that Jonah’s accusation against the Lord was because of the Lord’s fidelity to the covenant, “slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing” [16], but the community chosen now were the Ninevites, not the Israelites. The exiled Jewish community believed that foreign tribes should be condemned because they did not worship the Lord and oppressed the Israelites, the Lord’s chosen people[17]. The Lord having relented from overthrowing Nineveh was incompatible to the common expectation of the exiled Israelites.

 

Why was Jonah angry with the Lord?

There have been, through centuries, two explanations why Jonah was angered by the Lord relenting from punishment of the Ninevites. First, it was a result of nationalistic response. Israel, the Northern country, was crushed by Assyria in 722 BCE and Judah, the Southern country, was also forced under the Assyrian colonial rule until Assyria was devastated by Babylon in 612 BCE. The city of Nineveh, the capital of the New-Assyrian Empire, was overthrown too. Therefore, the Assyrians were one of the die-hard enemies of the Israelites. The Lord’s decision to spare the Ninevites was unacceptable to the exiled Israelites. The Lord was the God of the Israelites only, not the God of foreign tribes[18].

 

As a prophet, prophecy was the main job of Jonah. If his prophecy would not be fulfilled; the city of Nineveh would not be overthrown, it could be seen as a matter of false prophecy. Who would believe a prophet whose prophecies would not come true? [19] The first reason mentioned above was due to the tension of political beliefs between the employer and the employee. The second reason was due to professional ethics of the employee. Both reasons were tied with the work ethics of the employee, Prophet Jonah.

 

Jonah did not serve as a traditional type of prophet who was fully submissive to the Lord’s instruction. In the late stage of the Persian Empire, the Jewish community enjoyed a relatively stable life. The literati gradually developed various kinds of thoughts. One of them was to develop a moral self and the self’s judgment. They no longer followed the teaching of the Deuteronomic School who emphasized absolute obedience to the Law of the Lord, the socially acceptable ethical rules. The literati held the duty of teaching to the common Israelites about the faith-based social ethics, but they themselves first queried the common ethical norms. Their moral self might not follow the public self, the socially acceptable norms[20]. Jonah, a typical figure of “rebellious prophet”, was a perfect demonstration of such moral self and its moral judgments. He listened to his own moral self and was reluctant to comply with the socially acceptable norms. Jonah should be a “bad” staff because he dared not observe the instruction of his master, but he could be a role model to follow among the literati in the time of the Book of Jonah[21].

 

Jonah cried for suicide after his serious complaints against the Lord (4:3). The Lord accused him, "Is it right for you to be angry?" (4:4).  In his reply, the Lord did not wish to have a conversation with Jonah, but rather make accusation against the prophet. He criticized harshly Jonah’s anger as unreasonable, unsensible, or paranoiac. Jonah made no response to the Lord. He instead left the city and made a booth. “He sat under [the booth] in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city [of Nineveh].” (4:5) Now Jonah became an outsider. He turned his anger into apathy. Jonah now could be in the state of “quiet quitting” or “loud quitting”, but it seemed that Jonah was profoundly disappointed by the Lord, or had no further hope on the Lord. Jonah did not wish to argue with the Lord anymore. It was a kind of silent resistance. Jonah and the Lord had different concerns. They stood firm in their respective ways. Jonah had no more hope on the Lord.

 

The third ‘run-away”

The Lord made the final statement in Jonah 4:10-11. A parallel of content can be identified in this biblical text. Jonah showed pity on the bush (4:10), shouldn’t the Lord have pity on the people and the animals in Nineveh? (4:11)[22]  Biblical ecologists finds special privilege of animals in Jonah 4:11. The text shows that the Lord’s pity is not limited to the Israelites, but also to foreign tribes and to animals. Animals no longer stay subordinate to humans, but rather enjoy the same status with humans before the Lord[23]. The Book of Jonah left the prophet silent at the end. Why didn’t Jonah reply? Was it because of the well-grounded arguments of the Lord, or because Jonah was silenced, or did Jonah disdain to reply? 

 

A dialogue without conversation

In the first three chapters of the Book of Jonah, both protagonists, the Lord and Jonah, did not have a dialogue with each other. Both protagonists made their own speeches respectively (monologue). In Chapter 4, Jonah was forced into a conversation with the Lord[24]. A symmetric parallel in the conversation between the Lord and Jonah is found[25]

Biblical passages

Descriptions

Hebrew words

4:2-3

Jonah’s monologue

39 words

4:4

The Lord’s query (unanswered)

3 words

4:8

Jonah’s query (sotto voce)

3 words

4:9a

Dialogue: The Lord

5 words

4:9b

Dialogue: Jonah

5 words

4:10-11

The Lord’s monologue

39 words

 

Does the dialogue between the Lord and Jonah sound like a conversation? 4:2-3 and 4:10-11 are the respective monologues of both Jonah and the Lord, and 4:4 and 4:8 are their own queries, or they crabbed respectively. The only conversation is on 4:9, but it sounds like a mutual accusation, rather than a conversation. The Lord questioned Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry (about the bush)?" (4:9a). The Lord again criticized Jonah’s anger as unreasonable and unsensible. Like 4:4, Jonah’s reply is not expected.

 

What is the reply by Jonah? He said, “I am right to be angry, even to the point of death.” (4:9b)[26] The meaning is implied behind his words, “Why [am I] not angry? I’m right to be angry. I wish to die. [Stay away from me and leave me alone.]” Jonah did not wish to reply. He rather rejected continued conversation with the Lord. He wished to get away from the Lord.

 

Overall Interests come first?

The ending of the Book of Jonah (4:10-11) is seen as the theological climax of the book.

Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

 

The Lord’s question to the prophet is an accusation indeed. It blamed the prophet for not embracing the foreign tribes and animals as what the Lord had done. Why couldn’t Jonah go beyond his own reputation (false prophecies) or Israel’s nationalistic interests, and embrace the interests of bigger communities, the whole human world or even the whole creation? In short, why couldn’t Jonah go beyond the interests of his small circle and embrace the overall interests?

 

Among cases involving mental injuries at work, a repeated accusation against the workers prevails, “Why can’t the worker go beyond his/her own interests? Why can’t s/he give priority to the overall interests instead?” Phoebe (pseudonym) has been working in a church elderly centre for many years. She has suffered from verbal abuse by her superior. We tried to approach the top management of the agency. A senior executive came to see us. He stated, “Phoebe’s work performance was found to be unsatisfactory…… Phoebe is our staff, and so are other staff members in the centre.” The meaning behind his words is, “We need to take care of the interests of the whole staff community first, rather than Phoebe’s own interests. Phoebe’s poor performance has created troubles to other staff. Their complaints cannot be ignored.”

 

The senior executive is not a ruthless superior. But when he repeatedly emphasized how much they had done for Phoebe, we heard more about the agency’s complaints about Phoebe instead. He seemed to persuade us, “We have done a lot for Phoebe. She has no idea how much we have done for her.” “Why can’t Phoebe see the issue from our perspective?” Isn’t the executive’s response the same as how the Lord accused Jonah?

 

 “Overall interests come first.” What a heavy burden on workers. They are demanded to always think of the overall interests. In other words, they must continue to endure the mental distress and sacrifice their own mental well-being. If they fail to do so, they have no choice but to leave. Angel (pseudonym) worked as a clerk in a law firm. The law firm had two lawyers and they are also the bosses. Both lawyers assigned work to the staff with different expectations. Under such work arrangement, Angel and her colleagues were forced to work overtime every day. They complained about heavy workload and acute work-related stress. Their bosses seemed to be sympathetic to the staff, but both bosses also asked the staff to first take care of the law firm’s interest. So they were asked to bear with the difficulties. Eventually, high staff turnover continues in the law firm, but the poor management remains unchanged.

 

Kate (pseudonym) was a clerk in a school. She was sexually harassed at work. The school headmaster requested her to think of the interests of the school, not to discuss the issue publicly. Eventually, the headmaster left the complaint unresolved, while Kate left the school in bitter disappointment and pain. For the sake of “overall interests”, the victims of mental injuries at work are forced to endure the distress. If they fail to do so, they have no choice but to leave. Why must workers, who are on the weaker side of the employment power relation, assume all the responsibilities for mental injuries at work?

 

Other interpretations?

The book of Jonah ends without a definite ending (4:10-11). Biblical scholars generally agree that it is a good way to lead the readers to go for self-reflection. It is seen as an “art of persuasion”[27]. However, a different scene is shown if we see the dialogue between the Lord and Jonah from the labour perspective. It is rather a vivid demonstration of mutual accusation between employer and employee. More biblical scholars have taken different approaches to review the Book of Jonah. One of them is the post-colonial and trauma approach.

 

The post-colonial scholars focus on the historical background and social context of the Book of Jonah. The writing period of the book usually refers to the late stage of the Persian Empire. The city of Nineveh in the book is a symbol of a capital of an empire, the New-Assyrian Empire or the Persian Empire. It reminded the readers about the fact that the then Israelites were under the colonial ruling by an empire[28]. Therefore, if any voice claimed that the Lord would do favour their colonial rulers, wasn’t it to force the exiled Israelites to deny the fierce sufferings of their ancestors and their own under the brutal colonial ruling? The sufferings included the pains of dispossession, of land loss, and of racial prosecution.

 

Chesung Ryu goes further. He maintains that most of the scholars who favour universalism in the Book of Jonah come from the first world which has long dominated the global political, economic and religious cultures. Universalism is a domination culture indeed and its inclusive culture is also an exclusive culture, excluding the voices of the weak and the marginalized[29]. In the Church, the louder these universal thoughts are shouted, the more the oppressed are silenced because they are seen as those who will not take care of "overall interests". " Jonah did not respond at the end of the Book of Jonah (4;10-11). He could be driven away and then silenced, or Jonah, as one of the oppressed community, made a silent protest against their rulers or their employers who demand them to "take into account the overall situation" and to take care of the “overall interests”.

 

Collective bullying at work often happens to an employee when s/he is considered as one who does not take care of the overall interests. Phoebe, working in an elderly centre as mentioned above, was not only bullied by her superior, but also by her co-workers with cold stares, facial expressions of disgust and abusive language. Phoebe has been regarded as a person who does not think of the overall (the staffing community’s) interests as a priority. Such silent bullying is nothing different from the Chruch’s fierce comments of Jonah for his lack of knowledge of the Lord’s “wider concern”.

 

Jonah 4:11 is generally understood as a rhetorical question, but in fact it could be read as a declarative. Ehud Ben Zvi maintains that there is lack of a grammatical structure of an interrogation in the text. If this were a declarative, then the passage could be translated as follows, "(The Lord) should not be concerned about Nineveh…… "[30]  This meaning goes upside down, totally opposite to that of the text as a rhetorical question.

 

E. Ben Zvi also thinks 4:11 was a rhetorical question, but the readers of the Book of Jonah did know that the city of Nineveh had been destroyed more than a century ago. How could we say God spared the Ninevites? Johan 4:11 as a declarative meets the historical record and the nationalist thought of the exiled Israelites[31]. E. Ben Zvi, however, leaves it to the reader to decide whether 4:11 is a rhetorical question or a declarative. He further states that the city of Nineveh is only a symbol, no need to be seen as a historical presence. Whether or not the Lord destroyed Nineveh is not the focus in the Book of Jonah, either. The book rather tries to articulate mixed, or even conflicting, portrayals of the Lord as it is shown in the prophetic literature. In other words, the Book of Jonah serves as a microcosm of the whole prophetic literature[32]

 

Jonah, in the Book of Jonah, is a "clown" character. Jonah as a prophet, a messenger of the Lord, should be respected by the people, but he seemed to be a madman, seeking suicide repeatedly. The social status of Jonah was turned upside down[33]. Timothy C. McNinch identifies the Book of Jonah as a "satire” and “parody". The main purpose of the book is to “satirize”. The figure of Jonah is used to satirize the traditional prophets in the exiled Jewish community who protected their own social status only, as well as their nationalistic ideology and understanding of the Lord. The Lord is the God of Israel only. This idea is ostensibly denied by the passage of the book, the Lord’s favour of the people and animals of the city of Nineveh (4:11).  The author of the Book of Jonah, however, seems also to promote another thinking through Jonah’s persistent complaints against the Lord. Is it true that all actions of the Lord could be anticipated, explained, and even supported? In this respect, both authors of the Book of Jonah and the Book of Job found their mutual recognition. Job complains of the Lord's harsh punishments and Jonah complains of the Lord's excessive mercy[34].

 

In E. Ben Zvi’s study, the Book of Jonah is identified as a microcosm of the whole prophetic literature. It aims to articulate the mixed and conflicting testimonies about the Lord as “ambiguous” and “unreliable”. The Lord is not comprehended fully by humans. T. C. McNinch focuses on the human side. Human life in the Book of Jonah is also unstable and ambiguous, if not chaotic. There is no simple rule to guide all people in all time.

 

Dialectical difficulty is also shown in mental health at work. Arbitrary management with a changing mind can be particularly stressful for workers. Conflicting orders from different bosses are confusing and difficult to handle, but it happens often in the workplace.  On the other hand, workers are demanded to prioritize collective interests over personal interests, but workers may consequently suffer from more emotional distress, or even individual or collective bullying by their superiors and/or co-workers.

 

A mental health-friendly work environment must respect the needs and interests of individual workers. It also enhances genuine and effective communication between employer and employee, rather than respective monologues, or even mutual accusation. Genuine and deep communication is indispensable and crucial to mental health at work.

 

Labour Sunday Prayer 2024

 

Leader: Lord, you are the Lord of the Sabbath.

Lord, you demand humans to work, but also order them to rest and to enjoy the leisure of rest, so that we can enjoy mental well-brings. You also demand us to serve each other and take care of the poor and those in need on the Sabbath Day, the time of rest and leisure. We pray for your guidance that both employers and employees are really concerned with mental health at work and the workers with mental distress and impairments. Please help us to work together to create a mental health-friendly working environment in which workers will not assume all the responsibilities on mental injuries at work.

 

            Hear our prayer, O Lord.

People: Lord, have your mercy.

 

 

Leader: Lord Jesus, you are the Prince of Peace.

Lord Jesus, you, on cross, make people’s mutual reconciliation possible. Inspire and guide both employers and employees to genuine communication. So listening could replace condemnation; understanding, order; gentleness, oppression; smiling, apathy or malevolence. Please help us to create a working environment in which care and smiling prevail.

 

            Hear our prayer, O Lord.

People: Lord, have your mercy.

 

 

Leader: Holy Ghost, you are the force to reborn.

We could be distressed and disappointed in our work. Sustain us and open our eyes to see friends and support around. Help us to find support and assistance in the workplace, family, agencies and professional bodies. Remind us that we are not alone. Help us to build up friendship, solidarity and mutual support among the workers who suffer from mental distress at work. So our spirits could be refreshed and strengthened.

 

            Hear our prayer, O Lord.

People: Lord, have your mercy.

 

 

Leader: Holy Ghost, you are the Spirit of Renewal

            Holy Ghost, inspire the Hong Kong Government that it could be genuinely concerned with mental health at work, and that it could improve the provisions and policies to protect workers’ mental health. Inspire the business that it could promote a mental health-friendly working environment and culture. Inspire the public and the Church of Hong Kong that they could support the workers with mental distress and impairments.

 

            Hear our prayer, O Lord.

People: Lord, have your mercy.


[1] “Work Stress, Hong Kong, ‘No. 1’ in East Asia, Stress and Anxiety on the Top!” (Chinese),  July 31, 2022, HK01, https://www.hk01.com/article/797865?utm_source=01articlecopy&utm_medium=referral. “Where are the most workers dedicating to their jobs?  Japan, the last and Hong Kong the second to the last” June 19, 2023, HK01https://www.hk01.com/article/910218?utm_source=01articlecopy&utm_medium=referral, accessed on April 17, 2024.

[2] “Where are the most workers dedicating to their jobs?  Japan, the last and Hong Kong the second to the last” June 19, 2023, HK01

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid. “Quiet quitting” refers to employees who will work by rule. The employees will finish the assignments in the office hours. They will not work overtime and will not proactively do any extra assignments. “Loud quitting” refers the workers who speak of their discontent of their jobs publicly. It can be seen as an open warning about workers’ dissatisfaction of their jobs.

[5] Benjamin Goss, “The Silent Epidemic: Employee Burnout in 2023”, Oct 13, 2023. https://medium.com/@benjamin_goss/the-silent-epidemic-employee-burnout-in-2023-2b40627100bf, accessed on April 17, 2024.

[6] Jonah is not regarded as a prophet in the Book of Jonah. But Jonah 1:1 is the typical call statement of a prophet in the prophetic literature. Therefore, the Book of Jonah was edited into “The Twelve”. Prophecies made by the prophets are the main focus in the common prophetic literature, but in the Book of Jonah, only a narrative of Jonah is recorded. It is unconventional to the prophetic literature. JoAnna M. Hoyt, Amos, Jonah, & Micah (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Academic, 2019), p.414.                                                                                                                                                                                                    

[7] Unless stated otherwise, all the biblical passages quoted in this article are quoted from New Reversed Standard Version.

[8] Animals enjoy special privilege in the Book of Jonah. Like humans, they are also the agent of the Lord. In the Arab world, animal as an agent of the Lord is specially emphasized when the story of Jonah is re-introduced. Yael Shemesh, “‘And Many Beasts’ (Jonah 4:11): The Function and Status of Animals in the Book of Jonah”, Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, 2011-08, Vol.10, pp.178-179. 

[9] One of the explanations why Jonah was unhappy to the Lord’s relent from the destruction of Nineveh is because the Lord had not consulted Jonah before the decision was made. J. M. Hoyt regards Jonah as selfish if he demanded prior consultation of the Lord before the Lord made decision, because Jonah tried to control the Lord. JoAnna M. Hoyt, Amos, Jonah, & Micah, p.403.

[10] Lowell K. Handy, Jonah’s World: Social Science and the Reading of Prophetic Story (London: Equinox, 2007), p. 102.

[11] Phyllis Trible, “Divine Incongruities in the Book of Johan” in Tod Linafelt & Timothy K. Beal (eds.), God in the Fray: A Tribute to Walter Brueggemann (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998), p.198.

[12] Lowell K. Handy, Jonah’s World: Social Science and the Reading of Prophetic Story, p. 102.

[13] Phyllis Trible, “Divine Incongruities in the Book of Johan”, pp.198-199.

[14] Ex. 34:6-7 is often referred in later biblical passages, Num.14:18; Nah.1:3; Ps.86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Neh.17:31; Jonah 4:2; Joel 2:13. Joseph Ryan Kelly, “Joel, Jonah, and the YHWH Creed: Determining the Trajectory of the Literary Influence”, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 132, No. 4 (2013), pp.805-806.

[15] Joel Edmund Anderson, “YHHW's Surprising Covenant Hesed in Jonah”, Biblical Theology Bulletin, 2012-02, Vol.42 (1), pp. 5-6.

[16] Phyllis Trible, Rhetorical Criticism: Context, Method, and the Book of Jonah (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994), pp.203-204.

[17] Lowell K. Handy, Jonah’s World: Social Science and the Reading of Prophetic Story, p.102.

[18] Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer, Jonah Through the Centuries (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2022), pp.205-206. Jonah served as a prophet in the Northern regime under the ruling of Jeroboam II (709-749 BCE) (2 Kings 14:25). Jonah’s historical setting does not meet the time of the City of Nineveh as the capital of the New-Assyrian Empire since the early 7th century BCE. It is generally agreed that the writing time of the Book of Jonah should be in the late stage of the Persian Empire (the late 5th century to the 4th century BCE). At that time, Nineveh had been demolished. Lowell K. Handy, Jonah’s World: Social Science and the Reading of Prophetic Story, pp. 5-7; Christine Gunn-Danforth, Transforming Culture: A Model for Faith and Film in Hollywood (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2009), pp. 106-109.

[19] This view was well adopted by the early Fathers in the Church and the rabbis in the early Judaism. Calvin also took this view. Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer, Jonah Through the Centuries, pp204-205.

[20]  Jonathan Kaplan, “Jonah and Moral Agency”, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 2018-12, Vol.43 (2), p.147-151.

[21] Lowell K. Handy, Jonah’s World: Social Science and the Reading of Prophetic Story, pp. 100-101.

[22] Phyllis Trible, Rhetorical Criticism: Context, Method, and the Book of Jonah, p.216.

[23] Yael Shemesh, “‘And Many Beasts’ (Jonah 4:11): The Function and Status of Animals in the Book of Jonah”, pp.195-201.

[24] Tzvi Abusch emphasizes that Jonah was forced into the dialogue with the Lord. Tzvi Abusch, “Jonah and God: Plants, Beasts, and Humans in the Book of Jonah (An Essay in Interpretation)”, Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions, 2013, Vol.13 (2), p.149.

[25] Phyllis Trible, Rhetorical Criticism: Context, Method, and the Book of Jonah, p.224.

[26]See the translation of Hoyt. JoAnna M. Hoyt, Amos, Jonah, & Micah, p.503.

[27] Phyllis Trible, Rhetorical Criticism: Context, Method, and the Book of Jonah, p.225.

[28] Gerald O. West, ‘Juxtaposing "Many Cattle" in Biblical Narrative (Jonah 4:11), Imperial Narrative, Neo-indigenous Narrative’, Old Testament Essays, 2014-01, Vol.27 (2), pp.738-740.

[29] Chesung Justin Ryu, “Silence as Resistance: A Postcolonial Reading of the Silence of Jonah in Jonah 4.1-11”, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 2009-12, Vol.34 (2), pp.199-200.

[30] Ehud Ben Zvi, “Jonah 4:11 and the Metaprophetic Character of the Book of Jonah”, Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, 2009-05, Vol.9, p.7.

[31] Ibid., pp.8-9.

[32] Ibid., p.13. The view of E. Ben Zvi may have support evidence. In the Dead See community, the Book of Jonah was arranged as the last one in the “The Twelve”. It looked like a concluding remark of the whole “The Twelve”.  This practice looks like what E. Ben Zvi purposes. Lowell K. Handy, Jonah’s World: Social Science and the Reading of Prophetic Story, pp. 7-9.

[33] Timothy C. McNinch, “"Who Knows?": A Bakhtinian Reading of Carnivalesque Motifs in Jonah”, Vetus Testamentum, 2021-12, Vol.72 (4-5), pp.707-708.

[34] Ibid., pp. 712-713. Lowell K. Handy, Jonah’s World: Social Science and the Reading of Prophetic Story, pp. 101-104.

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