Chapter

Jeremiah

Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics

Jeremiah

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The Book of Jeremiah is set in the closing decades of the Judaean kingdom before its destruction by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah, the prophet, is represented as preaching for forty years and failing to persuade the kingdom to change its ways and thus prevent the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the deportation of its leading citizens. In that sense it is the story of a failed prophet on the edge of despair. His prediction of destruction and his poems of despair over the state of the city (2–20) have given him the reputation of a gloomy prophet and have made his name a byword for such complaints—or ‘jeremiads’. Yet in later Jewish tradition Jeremiah was known as the prophet of hope: that is, as the prophet who never despaired for the future of city and people (30–3) in spite of his vision of appalling destruction. Indeed, it was because he maintained this possibility of a future during the worst years of the city's past that his prophecies of future hope made such a big impression on later generations. The text of Jeremiah is part anthology of poems and part ‘biographical’ narrative of the prophet's activities. This is an unusual feature of the prophetic books, as the prophets are usually represented as speakers, with some symbolic actions credited to them, but not in such biographical detail as here. Linguistic similarities between some of these narrative sections and Deuteronomy and Joshua–Kings has tempted certain scholars to see in the Book of Jeremiah a Deuteronomistic ideological edition of the prophet's life. An unusual feature of the book is that a number of stories show the prophet as having a companion and amanuensis, Baruch the scribe (32: 12–15; 36; 43: 1–7; 45). The pair appear in a number of pieces of extra-biblical literature and were still going strong as a literary team when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 66–70 ce.67 The most interesting story about them is in Jer. 36, where Baruch writes a scroll of the oracles of Jeremiah and reads it in the Jerusalem temple. Eventually the scroll is brought to the king's attention, where after a further reading it is burned (36: 22–3). Once again the prophet is portrayed as belonging to the political opposition: opposed to tyranny, and incurring censorship—a common theme down to the book-burnings by the Nazis in the 1930s and of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses in Bradford in 1989.

Chapter.  818 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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