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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

Dateable Utterances and Events in the Book of Jeremiah

The previous section sketched the history and politics of the period from Isaiah of Jerusalem to Jeremiah, and made a few passing references to passages in Jeremiah. This section focuses on the passages in the book that carry a date or can be dated from the context. Although the book was not edited according to a strict chronology, datable passages provide a good way to understand the prophet's response to the events of his time. For many of the oracles and sermons, an editor took great care to provide information on their time and place. The dates provide valuable clues to understanding a complex and dense book. Although the events described in the passages below are dated to chronological periods, one must always recognize that the passages themselves may in some cases have been edited at a later time in view of the whole message of Jeremiah.

The first passage is 1, 4–19 , the prophet's call, which dates to the thirteenth year of Josiah's reign ( 1, 2 ) in 627. A few scholars believe 627 was the year of Jeremiah's birth and the call came much later, but few scholars have been persuaded by the arguments in support of it. The year is important, for it shows Jeremiah began his ministry during the early years of the Josianic reform, which was inspired in part by the “book of the law [or instruction]” found in the Temple (2 Kgs 22 ), the nucleus of the present book of Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy, Moses proclaims the law to the people about to cross over into the promised land so that they will know how to live in the land so as to enjoy God's blessing. Significantly, Jeremiah's call is modeled on that of Moses (Ex 3–4); like Moses, he first resists until the divine word is placed in his mouth. Deuteronomic themes are important in the book: avoidance of idols, insistence on wholehearted observance of Moses' words, association of heart and covenant, inevitability of divine punishment for breach of covenant yet possibility of renewal and return. Another passage that seems to reflect the early ministry of Jeremiah in the time of Josiah is Jer 16, 1–13 , where the Lord commands the prophet not to take a wife. Such a command, contrary to the culture of the time, must have been given when Jeremiah was at an age to choose a wife, that is, when he was a young man. Many scholars believe that chapters 30 and 31 were originally addressed to Israel, the Northern Kingdom. Evidently, Jeremiah supported Josiah's invitation to the former Assyrian provinces in the north to join their kinfolk in the south and become again one people as in the great days of the united monarchy under David and Solomon. Chapters 30 and 31 were later reinterpreted as applying not to the exiles of the former Assyrian provinces but to the sixth‐century exiles scattered in Babylon and Egypt. There is no reason why Jeremiah himself could not have redirected his own oracles.

With Josiah's death in 609, his reform collapsed. Any lingering hopes attaching to Josiah's son Jehoahaz were shattered when the Egyptians replaced him with another son of Josiah, Jehoiakim. Among the passages interpreting this frustrating turn of events is 22, 10–19, which evaluates the three kings of the period, Josiah, Jehoahaz, and Jehoiakim. Jeremiah's bold sermon attacking mindless confidence in the Temple ( 7, 1–15; abbreviated in 26, 1–24 ) was given in 609 according to 26, 1. It would have been natural for Jeremiah to support Josiah's son as he supported his father, but by this time the prophet appears to have reached the conclusion that Josiah's reform was dead and that the Babylonians were the instrument of divine judgment. Isaiah's earlier interpretation of Assyria as the instrument of Israel's punishment provided a precedent for a similar interpretation of Babylon. The lackluster performance of the sons of Josiah only reinforced his gloomy conclusion.

In the fourth year of Jehoiakim (605), Jeremiah dictated to his secretary Baruch his oracles up to the present (Jer 36 ). When the scroll was read to the king, he was outraged and personally burned the scroll, making it necessary for Jeremiah to dictate the scroll again. The scroll that Jeremiah dictated to replace the burned scroll is presumably the basis of the present text of Jeremiah, and scholars have speculated endlessly about its contents. From Jehoiakim's reaction, one can assume that the scroll contained predominantly prophecies of woe and vigorous criticism of the king and the establishment. These are the chief themes of chapters 1 through 25 . After the stressful conflict with the king, Jeremiah spoke reassuring words to his secretary Baruch, who was caught in a situation that was not of his own making. Those words were reinterpreted as applying to the greater distress of the exile (Jer 45 ). Jeremiah's praise of the austere lifestyle of the Rechabites is editorially linked to chapter 36 , so is likely to have taken place at the same time as the encounter with Jehoiakim. In the same year, Jeremiah predicted the Babylonian captivity and specifically identified “the enemy from the north” as Babylon ( 25, 1–14 ). Perhaps three or four years later, Jeremiah smashed the clay jug, a prophetic gesture symbolizing the Lord's smashing of the people ( 19, 1–15 ). The gesture provoked the priest Pashhur's punishment ( 20, 1–6 ).

Two passages are concerned with Jehoiachin's three‐month reign in 597: Jeremiah 22, 24–30 regards the king as having no hope of success; 24, 1–10 with its vision of the basket of good figs and the basket of bad figs, teaches that the deportees, not those left behind, will form the basis of a new community.

Another important date is 594, when emissaries from Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon came to Jerusalem to persuade King Zedekiah (597–587) to rebel against the Babylonians. Egypt would also join them, some hoped. Jeremiah vigorously opposed the plan with the shocking assertion that the Lord intends that all those nations submit to Babylon ( 27, 1–22 ). Such assertions did not go unchallenged. The prophet Hananiah vehemently opposed Jeremiah (though ultimately to his own cost, 28, 1–17 ) in that same year. It was then that Jeremiah wrote a letter to the exiles telling them to resist such prophets of weal and prepare for an exile of seventy years ( 29, 1–32; 51, 59–64 ). The above chronology is based on the Septuagint (Greek) rendering of Jeremiah 28, 1.

The largest number of dated passages occur in the period leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 589–587. Zedekiah asked Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord as Babylon closed in ( 21, 1–10 ), but, according to 34, 1–7, the prophet predicted that Babylon would burn down Jerusalem and capture the king. When King Zedekiah freed Hebrew slaves in an attempt to gain divine favor in the crisis and then reneged, Jeremiah excoriated him: “But then you changed your mind and profaned my name by taking back your male and female slaves to whom you had given their freedom; you forced them once more into slavery. Therefore, thus says the Lord: You did not obey me by proclaiming your neighbors and kinsmen free. I now proclaim you free, says the Lord, for the sword, famine, and pestilence. I will make you an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth” ( 34, 16–17 ). In contrast to such waffling, Jeremiah during the crisis redeemed a relative's field to demonstrate his trust that the exiles would eventually come back to Judah. Chapters 37 and 38 narrate how during that tumultuous time Jeremiah was imprisoned.

In 586 Jerusalem was destroyed (Jer 39 ). Jeremiah was freed from prison and given the opportunity of going to Babylon ( 40, 1–6 ), but he declined. The final dated passages narrate events of 586–582, when civil order was collapsing and groups were making plans to leave the ruined city ( 40, 7–43, 7 ). After receiving the word of the Lord, Jeremiah counseled people to remain in Jerusalem ( 42, 7–17 ). The prophet, however, ended up in Egypt, having been forced to accompany a group trying to escape further Babylonian violence ( 43, 8–13 ).

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