There are several historical references that one encounters while reading the Book of Jonah. Rather than include this detail in later posts when the references appear, I thought it good to provide some details early on. The setting of the book is a period of Israel’s history when there is a lot going on – inside and outside the traditional boundaries of the Promised Land. The Kingdom of David had split into the Northern Kingdom (confusingly called Israel and consisting of 10 tribes) and the Southern Kingdom (called Judah consisting of two tribes) still loyal to the throne of David and centered in Jerusalem. Beyond the borders was the ever-looming threat of the Assyrian Empire whose capita city was Nineveh. It was located in the area of modern-day Mosul in Northern Iraq. Compared to Israel, it is to the northeast at some distance.
When Holy Land pilgrims returned home, they often brought back a bit of Palestine. In addition to relics, the pilgrims also brought back the desire to re-create scenes from the Holy Land in order to share their experiences with those unable to visit the holy places firsthand. When the Holy Land was closed to western visitors, European replicas of the sacred sites became increasingly popular. Outside of Jerusalem, the tradition of walking the via sacra in commemoration of Christ’s passion, death, and burial with “stations” is mentioned as early as the twelfth century and all of the references point to an outdoor celebration. There was no standard celebration of the via sacra. Depending on the location there were as few as seven and as many as 42 stations. Interestingly, in the beginning, the customary route apparently was the reverse of ours, starting with Calvary and ending at Pilate’s house – and included many other stops that are no longer considered part of the Via Dolorosa (“Sorrowful Way”).