Composition of the Book of Jeremiah

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POSTED 23 OCTOBER, 2017

Approximate date: 600s-500s B.C.E. (Right, some conservative-moderate); 500s B.C.E. (some conservative-moderate); 500s-300s B.C.E. (Left)

Time period: the Southern Kingdom before and immediately after the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem

Author: Jeremiah and/or Baruch (Right; some conservative-moderate); Baruch (some conservative-moderate); anonymous writers and editors (Left)

Location of author: Land of Israel or Jerusalem (Right, conservative-moderate); Land of Israel, Jerusalem, and/or Babylon (Left)

Target audience and their location: Southern Kingdom Israelites before the Babylonian exile (Right, some conservative-moderate, some Left); Southern Kingdom Israelites during the Babylonian exile (some conservative-moderate, some Left); Southern Kingdom Israelites after the Babylonian exile (some Left)

reproduced from A Survey of the Tanach for the Practical Messianic

Theological Summary: The Book of Jeremiah (Heb. Yirmayahu) covers the prophetic ministry of Jeremiah, with most of his prophecies being delivered immediately before the conquering of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Jeremiah is unique in that it covers more biographical and personal data than any of the other Tanach Prophets, and truly gives us an insight into who Jeremiah was as a man who served God.[1] Jeremiah’s immediate prophetic predecessor was Zephaniah, with Habakkuk and Obadiah probably being prophetic contemporaries. The sources we have to reconstruct the period of Jeremiah’s ministry are largely found in the narratives of 2 Kings 21-25 and 2 Chronicles 33-36, and some of the Prophets who succeeded him such as Nahum and Ezekiel.[2]

The Book of Jeremiah has come under some substantial criticism over the past several hundred years, particularly in liberal theological circles. It is imperative for anyone who examines the text to disregard “modern notions regarding coherent structure, logical development, and chronological sequence…Jeremiah is not a modern book and must not be judged by those standards” (ISBE),[3] as Jeremiah simply does not operate from a modern or postmodern framework of “accuracy.” Notably, Jeremiah is the longest book of the Hebrew Bible by a word count, with significant sections composed in poetry and prose, as well as personal pleadings. The Talmud indicates that Jeremiah was once placed as the first of the Prophets (b.Bava Batra 14b-15a),[4] a place now held by Isaiah.

Jeremiah was a member of the priestly house of Hilkiah, from Anathoth (1:1), and may have been a descendant of Abiathar (1 Kings 2:26). Jeremiah was a prophet who forecasted doom for Judah, and as a direct result he had few friends. However, one of those closest to him was his scribe Baruch, who often wrote down his prophecies as they were dictated (26:4-32). Jeremiah’s life was continually in danger (11:18-23; 26:8; 38:6), and he has often been described as the “weeping prophet” (Feinberg, EXP).[5] Jewish tradition largely holds that he was stoned to death while in Egypt (cf. Hebrews 11:37).[6]

Rabbinic tradition indicates that Jeremiah actually wrote his own book (b.Bava Batra 15a),[7] but upon careful scrutiny of the text this seems doubtful. The prophetic oracles are arranged in a narrative and historical framework that was surely not written by Jeremiah. The most logical choice for the final composition of Jeremiah then falls to Baruch (36:32). Conservative theologians generally feel that all of the prophetic oracles in Jeremiah are genuinely Jeremianic, with Baruch being responsible for the narrative and biographical material.[8] “[T]he book of Jeremiah is composed of a minimum of two sources” (ISBE),[9] those sources being Jeremiah’s prophecies and Baruch’s narration.

Ch. 52 is widely acknowledged to be an appendix to Jeremiah, probably an addendum composed by Baruch.[10] We also cannot disclude the possibility of further redaction of Jeremiah after Baruch, or more likely that some of Jeremiah’s prophecies were composed by people other than Baruch.

Liberals largely feel that Jeremiah did not reach its final form until after the Babylonian exile. They generally argue for three main source strands for Jeremiah: genuine Jeremianic prophecies, Baruch’s redactions, and anonymous source material.[11] It is sometimes called “a compilation of compilations” (IDB).[12] Liberals concede that there is some genuine material in the text originating from Jeremiah, but that it would be difficult to filter out with all of the presumed other additions. Whereas conservatives primarily argue that any additions to the prophecies are the narrative plots given by Baruch, liberals argue for substantially more change.[13]

It is not uncommon to see liberals also argue for the final editors of Jeremiah to be associated with the so-called Deuteronomist school,[14] with extreme liberals actually arguing that the Book of Jeremiah influenced the composition of Deuteronomy[15] (see Deuteronomy entry for a summarization of the Deuteronomist view). Liberals often assert, “the chaotic nature of the book was the result of this long process of editing pre-existing sources” (New Interpreter’s Study Bible).[16] It is frequently argued that the Book of Jeremiah is reflective upon how the Jewish exiles must now deal with God considering that Jerusalem and the Temple have been destroyed, and their independence has been taken from them. Thus, liberals commonly assert that Jeremiah did not reach its final form until after the Babylonian exile, and is the result of Jewish communities trying to rebuild their nation.

The text of Jeremiah is problematic, with two distinct versions of Jeremiah in existence.[17] The Hebrew Masoretic Text edition is the base for most English translations. However, the Greek Septuagint version is one-eighth shorter, with some chapters laid out differently. Chs. 46-51 from the MT appear between 25:13 and 15 in the LXX.[18] Some believe that the LXX is a witness to an alternative Hebrew edition that once existed. It is also fair to say that the turmoil surrounding Jeremiah’s life accounts for the two versions, with more than one collection of his messages circulating when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians.[19] We do know that a part of Jeremiah’s prophecies were burned by King Jehoiakim (26:32), which meant that it would have to be re-written.[20]

One of the textual traditions clearly stands behind the LXX, whereas the longer textual tradition is what was traditionally used by Judaism. Witnesses to both textual traditions were discovered at Qumran among the Dead Sea Scrolls,[21] causing some to speculate that the Hebrew vorlage behind the LXX was expanded into the current MT version.[22] Some feel “that the MT of Jeremiah, originating in Palestine, is full of secondary expansions…while the LXX, originating in Egypt, gives in most cases a ‘purer,’ less expanded text tradition” (Holladay, IDBSup).[23] “The debate since Qumran has shifted, focusing now on the relationship between these two different text types” (Dillard and Longman).[24]

The fact that there are two versions of Jeremiah’s prophecies should neither affect nor subtract from Jeremiah’s message. However, knowing (or not knowing) about this can affect our exegesis where Jeremiah (perhaps from the LXX) is quoted in the Greek Apostolic Scriptures.

Jeremiah’s prophecies were delivered during the final period of the Southern Kingdom from the reigns of Josiah to Zedekiah in the Seventh-Sixth Centuries B.C.E.,[25] with Jeremiah likely beginning his ministry in 627-626 B.C.E. Jeremiah was commissioned for the Lord’s work against the backdrop of the expanding Babylonian Empire and the fall of Assyria.[26] The Egyptians attempt to defeat the Babylonians, but are defeated instead. Tensions are rife in the Judahite court between those who favor an alliance with Egypt, and Jeremiah who favors Babylon. The Prophet Jeremiah is politically engaged, believing that opposing Babylon was contrary to God’s will.

While prophetic, Jeremiah is interspersed with historical data. It is easy for some interpreters to be confused as to which is which, as Jeremiah’s oracles are likely not composed in any distinct chronological order. But “In spite of the fact that the book is not at all in chronological order, it is possible to date many of its sections because they contain chronological notations” (NIDB).[27] Furthermore, the discovery of the Lachish letters in 1932-1938 has shed some interesting light on the possible circumstances surrounding Jeremiah,[28] possibly being a major extra-Biblical witness to his existence. We find that many of Jeremiah’s prophecies were fulfilled in the short term following his ministry, yet many remain to be fulfilled in the future.

Divine judgment is a major theme seen in the Book of Jeremiah, but so are repentance and restitution also major themes. God is portrayed as the Creator of all, and One who is in control of the affairs of humanity. The Prophet Jeremiah in his service to Him is concerned with the responsibility of the individual, and indicates many times that sin will have its consequences. “The idea of a close, personal walk with God lies at the heart of Jeremiah’s conception of being a prophet” (NBCR).[29] While God will judge His people, He nevertheless promises a New Covenant where they will be restored to His favor (31:31-34). We see that Judah as a state would be judged, but individuals would not be lost to God’s grace. Jeremiah frequently speaks words of rebuke to false prophets who would deter God’s plan.

The message of Jeremiah was not popular. The most significant factor that led to Jeremiah’s widescale rejection was his support of Babylon as God’s instrument of judgment upon corporate Judah. Jeremiah warns the people of their sin, and urges individuals to repent and seek restitution with God. Jeremiah does offer hope, but recognizes that chastisement is necessary. Some theologians have compared Jeremiah to being like Moses, but unlike Moses seeing his people out of bondage, Jeremiah oversees them entering the exile.[30]

The time period of Jeremiah is very important for anyone to understand the ultimate restoration of Israel. “Included in Jeremiah’s vision of a new future for Judah and Israel was…a restored line of David, embodied in the person of the Messiah (33:14-26)” (ISBE).[31] These are undoubtedly themes that we see in the ministry of Yeshua and His Apostles.

There is presently not a great deal of Messianic examination of Jeremiah as a whole. We may occasionally see bits and pieces of teaching dealing with certain end-time themes, or the promise of a New Covenant. Yet, the historical and textual issues of Jeremiah are seldom, if ever, addressed. Today’s emerging Messianic movement would do well to improve its understanding of Jeremiah, and his sincere call for the people to return to God and His ways of obedience.

Bibliography
Cawley, F., and A.R. Millard. “Jeremiah,” in NBCR, pp 626-658.
Diamond, A.R. Pete. “Jeremiah,” in ECB, pp 543-616.
Dillard, Raymond B., and Tremper Longman III. “Jeremiah,” in An Introduction to the Old Testament, pp 285-302.
Feinberg, Charles L. “Jeremiah,” in EXP, 6:357-691.
Graybill, John B. “Jeremiah, Book of,” in NIDB, pp 508-509.
Harrison, R.K. “The Book of Jeremiah,” in Introduction to the Old Testament, pp 801-821.
Holladay, W.L. “Jeremiah the Prophet,” in IDBSup, pp 470-472.
Lundbom, Jack R. “Jeremiah, Book of,” in ABD, 3:706-721.
Muilenburg, J. “Jeremiah the Prophet,” in IDB, 2:823-835.
O’Connor, Kathleen M. “Jeremiah,” in New Interpreter’s Study Bible, pp 1051-1139.
Soderlund, S.K. “Jeremiah, Book of,” in ISBE, 2:985-991.
Sweeney, Marvin A. “Jeremiah, Book of,” in EDB, pp 686-689.
________________. “Jeremiah,” in Jewish Study Bible, pp 917-1041.


NOTES

[1] Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, pp 808-809; Jack R. Lundbom, “Jeremiah, Book of,” in ABD, 3:707; Dillard and Longman, pp 287-289.

[2] S.K. Soderlund, “Jeremiah, Book of,” in ISBE, 2:985.

[3] Soderlund, “Jeremiah, Book of,” in ISBE, 2:987; cf. Dillard and Longman, pp 289-291.

[4]Our rabbis have taught on Tannaite authority: This is the correct order of the prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, the twelve prophets” (b.Bava Batra 14b; The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary).

Cf. Marvin A. Sweeney, “Jeremiah, Book of,” in EDB, 686.

[5] Charles L. Feinberg, “Jeremiah,” in EXP, 6:358-360.

[6] Cf. F. Cawley and A.R. Millard, “Jeremiah,” in NBCR, 627.

[7] “Jeremiah wrote the book that is called by his name, the book of Kings, and Lamentations” (b.Bava Batra 15a; The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary).

[8] John B. Graybill, “Jeremiah, Book of,” in NIDB, 508.

[9] Soderlund, “Jeremiah, Book of,” in ISBE, 2:989.

[10] Ibid., 2:988.

[11] Lundbom, “Jeremiah, Book of,” in ABD, 3:712-716.

[12] J. Muilenburg, “Jeremiah the Prophet,” in IDB, 2:831.

[13] Lundbom, “Jeremiah, Book of,” in ABD, 3:711-712; Sweeney, “Jeremiah, Book of,” in EDB, pp 687-688.

[14] Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, 805.

[15] Ibid., pp 810-811.

[16] Kathleen M. O’Connor, “Jeremiah,” in New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1052.

[17] Muilenburg, “Jeremiah the Prophet,” in IDB, 2:831; Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, pp 817-818; Cawley and Millard, in NBCR, 627; Graybill, “Jeremiah, Book of,” in NIDB, 508; Soderlund, “Jeremiah, Book of,” in ISBE, 2:990; Lundbom, “Jeremiah, Book of,” in ABD, 3:707-708; Dillard and Longman, pp 291-294.

[18] Cf. Archaeological Study Bible, 1240.

[19] Graybill, “Jeremiah, Book of,” in NIDB, 508.

[20] Feinberg, in EXP, 6:362; Dillard and Longman, 290.

[21] Sweeney, “Jeremiah, Book of,” in EDB, pp 686-687.

[22] Marvin A. Sweeney, “Jeremiah,” in Jewish Study Bible, 919.

[23] W.L. Holladay, “Jeremiah the Prophet,” in IDBSup, 472.

[24] Dillard and Longman, 292.

[25] Feinberg, in EXP, 6:363-367.

[26] Cawley and Millard, in NBCR, 626; Soderlund, “Jeremiah, Book of,” in ISBE, 2:985; Dillard and Longman, pp 286-287.

[27] Graybill, “Jeremiah, Book of,” in NIDB, 508; cf. Soderlund, “Jeremiah, Book of,” in ISBE, 2:988; Dillard and Longman, 302.

[28] Graybill, “Jeremiah, Book of,” in NIDB, pp 508, 509.

[29] Cawley and Millard, in NBCR, 628.

[30] Dillard and Longman, pp 299-300; Sweeney, in Jewish Study Bible, 917.

[31] Soderlund, “Jeremiah, Book of,” in ISBE, 2:986.