Jonah 3:3 reads as follows in the NASB:

“So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days’ walk.”

On a few occasions in Jonah Nineveh is called a “great city,” but the difference here is that there may be an additional adjective. In the BHS v. 3b reads:

ונינוה היתה עיר גדולה לאלהים מהלך שלשת ימים

wĕnînĕwē hoytâ ʿîr-gĕdôlāh lēʾlōhîm mahălak šĕlōšet yāmîm

The additional adjective is where translators differ. Should it be “an exceedingly great city,” “a great city of God,” or “a great city of the gods”? How one translates this sentence depends on how one understands elohim. This is the fn. from the NET Bible explaining the matter (FWIW, the NET translates it “an enormous city”):

The greatness of Nineveh has been mentioned already in 1:2 and 3:2. What is being added now? Does the term לֵאלֹהִים (le’lohim, “to God/gods”) (1) refer to the Lord’s personal estimate of the city, (2) does it speak of the city as “belonging to” God, (3) does it refer to Nineveh as a city with many shrines and gods, or (4) is it simply an idiomatic reinforcement of the city’s size? Interpreters do not agree on the answer. To introduce the idea either of God’s ownership or of dedication to idolatry (though not impossible) is unexpected here, being without parallel or follow-up elsewhere in the book. The alternatives “great/large/important in God’s estimation” (consider Ps 89:41b) or the merely idiomatic “exceptionally great/large/important” could both be amplified by focus on physical size in the following phrase and are both consistent with emphases elsewhere in the book (Jonah 4:11 again puts attention on size—of population). If “great” is best understood as a reference primarily to size here, in view of the following phrase and v. 4a (Jonah went “one day’s walk”), rather than to importance, this might weigh slightly in favor of an idiomatic “very great/large,” though no example with “God” used idiomatically to indicate superlative (Gen 23:6; 30:8; Exod 9:28; 1 Sam 14:15; Pss 36:6; 80:10) has exactly the same construction as the wording in Jonah 3:3.

Greek Jonah translates v. 3b as follows:

ἡ δὲ Νινευη ἦν πόλις μεγάλη τῷ θεῷ ὡσεὶ πορείας ὁδοῦ ἡμερῶν τριῶν.

hē de Nineuē ēn polis megalē tō theō hōsei poreias hodou hēmerōn triōn

My translation: “Now Nineveh was a great city to God, approximately a journey of a path of three days.” * This text understands elohim to be “the God” since is in the dative singular.

What do you think the author of Jonah meant? Is Nineveh a “great city to God” or a “great city to the gods” or a “an exceedingly large city”? Does the Greek translator’s decision influence you one way or the other? 


* I am unaware of theos being used adjectively to indicate greatness or grandeur in the same way that elohim is used for this purpose. If there is an example please bring it to my attention!