Due to Mercer’s exciting NCAA tournament run (in which our team showed themselves to be the epitome of class in both victory and defeat), last week’s discussion of Jeremiah was (1) somewhat truncated and (2) rather poorly attended. So I’ve decided to post my lecture notes (admittedly rough; I like to wing it) so everyone can get their bearings as we move forward into a discussion of the exile.
I. Jeremiah’s complicated literary history.
A. Some sections are repeated elsewhere (Jer 7:1-15 = Jer 26:1-9; Jer 39 = Jer 52)
B. There is great variation among ancient texts. The Septuagint (LXX) is 1/8 shorter than the Masoretic Text (MT) and has the later chapters in an entirely different order.
C. What can account for these variations?
- A reflection of the chaos of the time?
- A reflection of an open-ended understanding of the book? (i.e., editors felt free to revise, expand)
D. Three major times of material, traditionally divided into 3 different sources.
- Source A: Poetic oracles, perhaps from Jeremiah himself?
- Source B: Biographical narratives—written by Baruch?
- Source C: Deuteronomic editing and expansion.
II. The Contents of Jeremiah
A. Chapters 1–25 are the nucleus of the book, mainly consisting of poetic oracles. Is this the “first scroll” Jeremiah dictated to Baruch (36:4)? Jer 25:13 hints that this part may have originally stood alone.
1. The Call of Jeremiah. Jer 1:4-19 is an overture to the whole book. Jeremiah has a perception of having been called all his life.
- Looking backwards – a trail of Yahweh’s leading, a working together of things – haven’t come this way accidentally! Jeremiah senses this as a liability.
- Appointed a prophet “to the nations” – the only prophet so designated – doesn’t seem to be a missionary – perhaps so named because the fate of nations was tied up with Israel and Judah.
- Perhaps he was so named because he ministered during a time of great upheaval in international affairs? YHWH using Nebuchadnezzar, etc, bring message of what God is doing.
2. The Temple Sermon (ch. 7). Jeremiah rebukes Israel for their misdirected confidence that they are safe because they have the temple in which to worship. Their worship means nothing if they don’t get their act together—only after they change their ways will God meet them in the temple. (But don’t bet on this happening, see 7:16.)
3. The Potter’s House (ch. 18). God gives Jeremiah an object lesson about what Judah looks like from the divine perspective. They are as intransigent as a flawed lump of clay that resists what the potter is trying to do to it. Therefore, like the clay, they must be “worked over” so that the Potter can make of them a fitting vessel. (And this reworking is not going to be pleasant!)
4. The “Confessions” of Jeremiah. Five soliloquies that give insight into the prophet’s psyche: 11:18–12:6; 15:10-21; 17:14-18; 18:18-23; 20:7-18. Individual lament form.
- Deep unhappiness with his mission.
- Prayers for God to punish those who oppose him.
- Enduring commitment to the divine will.
5. Prophetic “gestures.” Like several other prophets, Jeremiah seems to have been a fan of “performance art.” He occasionally sought to make his point not through words alone but symbolic acts such as:
- Breaking the jug (19:11)
- Wearing a yoke (27:12)
- Buying a plot of land (32:15)
**What follows is an almost random assortment of oracles, laments, prose narrative, and speeches.
B. Chapters 26–29: Encounters between Jeremiah and the establishment, mainly other prophets. Chapter 29 is Jeremiah’s famous letter to the exiles, encouraging them to get on with life—they’re in it for the long haul, so they might as well get used to it.
C. Chapters 30–33: “The book of Consolation”—hope and comfort for the future. Many affinities with Deutero-Isaiah.
- 1. A new future for Israel. This is a pivotal passage—reversal of fortunes.
- 2. The “new covenant” (31:31-34)
D. Chapters 34–45: More prose narratives, mostly from the reign of Zedekiah and after the Fall of Jerusalem.
E. Chapters 46–51: Oracles against the Nations—some are quite formulaic, stereotyped.
- 1. The same language is used in Obadiah, Isa 15–16
- 2. Parts are repeated elsewhere: Edom (Jer 49:19-21) = Babylon (50:44-46)
F. Chapter 52 is an appendix taking from the Deuteronomic History (2 Kgs 24:18–25:30)—the Fall of Jerusalem and its aftermath.
III. The Message of Jeremiah is complex. Changing with the changing political landscape.
A. Encourage the reform of King Josiah.
- 1. The “temple sermon” (ch. 7), esp. 7:16, “Do not pray for this people.” Time has run out!
- 2. False assurances of a speedy return (ch. 27:16-17). Rather, serve the king of Babylon (cf. ch. 29—seek the peace of the city where you find yourselves)
C. Hope: YHWH will not entire abandon his people (esp. chs. 30–33).
Peter Enns’s new book (coming out in August) looks like a winner, not least because of this riveting excerpt:
The book is just over 65,000 words long, and I am proud of each and every one of them. All that remains for me now is to arrange them in the right order and make sentences out of them (at which time I will give an exerpt or two).
Until then, here are some of the words that will appear in the book, some more than once.
- Alexander Graham Bell
- New Jersey
- iPhone 17
- tube socks
- Red Sox
- Herman Munster
- White Russian
- Screen Actors Guild
- Justin Bieber
That’s the first paragraph.
I can’t wait!
I’m back from my church’s family retreat just in time to alert readers to the most recent Biblical Studies Carnival, hosted this month at Mosissimus Mose.
You might also want to check out the seventh installment of Abram K-J’s Septuagint Studies Soirée.
And finally, Brian Small has once again provided a rundown of interesting recent posts on the most fascinating book in the New Testament.
The first Biblical Studies Carnival of the new year is now posted at NT Exegesis. Enjoy!
What does your choice of Bible translation say about who you are and where you locate yourself within the Christian tradition? Scot McKnight has some thoughts on the idea, although he mostly seeks to demolish the question by pointing to the original next as the true authority and not any translation, no matter how good.
Do read this, especially if you are not conversant with the original biblical languages, as this post offers a thumbnail sketch of translation theory and why translators make the choices they do. I especially appreciated this gem:
I’d like to contend today that most words are translated in all Bible translations with formal equivalence and that some words are translated more or less in a dynamic, or functional way. In other words, there isn’t really a radical commitment to dynamic equivalence — as if one can find some better way in English to the original languages “and” or “but” or “the” or “God.” Or a radical commitment to “formal equivalence,” as if the Greek word order can be maintained in English and make sense, though at times the NASB gave that a try (much to the consternation of English readers). No one translates “God’s nostrils got bigger” (formal equivalence) but we translate “God became angry.” There are some expressions that can’t be translated woodenly unless one prefers not to be understood.