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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.

The Traditions That Jeremiah Used

Rather than writing a theological treatise as a modern preacher might, the prophets of Israel interpreted the traditions of their people. The people evidently knew their traditions well and could appreciate the variations and the new slants the prophets introduced. The national traditions were usually in the form of narratives that dealt with serious issues of national identity, found expression in symbols (institutions like the Temple or events like the Exodus), and included a way of living, action. Each prophet focused on different aspects of the national traditions. Isaiah of Jerusalem, for example, employed the traditions about Mount Zion (the site of the Temple) and about the Davidic king as the legate of the Holy One whose task was helping the people serve their Lord. In contrast, Jeremiah concentrated on the Exodus, which for him was the Lord's great act of love for Israel, which demanded a sincere response of exclusive fidelity. The Exodus was the time when Israel was faithful to the relationship (e.g., Jer 2, 1–13; cf. 31, 2–6 ). The Exodus also included symbols, such as the law given on Mount Sinai ( 9, 12; 9, 12 16, 11; 31, 33 ) and the teaching office of Moses. The Exodus entailed action, for the people were expected to respond in faithful love to the Lord who had loved and chosen them, and they were expected as well to obey the commandments given on Sinai. A sign of how powerful the Exodus was for Jeremiah is his call, for 1, 4–10 is modeled on the call of Moses (Ex 4, 10–12 ). Like Moses, he resists the call of God and must have his resistance overcome by divine reassurances. There are differences, however. One is that, unlike Moses ( 15, 1 ), Jeremiah is expressly forbidden to exercise the traditional prophetic role of interceding for the people (Jer 7, 16; 11, 14 ) in contrast to Moses' magnificent intercession in Ex 32–34; Dt 9, 20. Another tradition important for the prophet is that of the Davidic king, which is most clearly set out in 2 Samuel 7 , and widely celebrated thereafter, especially in the psalms (e.g., 2, 72, 89 , etc.). As noted, Jeremiah once promoted King Josiah's reform. Even when he excoriated Josiah's royal successors, he did so with a keen sense of their dignity and responsibility as legates of the Lord. Jerusalem was rich with traditions about the grandeur of Zion as the city of the Lord and the site of the divine dwelling (e.g., Pss 46, 48, 76, 87; Is 2, 1–4; 60–62 ). Although Jeremiah did not employ the exalted language about Zion and the Temple that was in the tradition, he regarded Zion with awe, for it was the Lord's beloved city. But he expressly rejected blind trust in the Temple (Jer 7, 1–15; 8, 19 ). Though Zion was devastated and forlorn ( 4, 31; 26, 18; 30, 17 ), he promised that the people would one day return there in peace ( 3, 14; 31, 2–6 ). Such were the major traditions and symbols that Jeremiah interprets. It is obvious that in the book they were not mere items in a list of national lore, but powerful stories and symbols feeding people's imagination and stirring them to action.

How did Jeremiah interpret these venerable traditions and symbols for the sake of the people in their hour of crisis? As regards the Exodus, his early preaching gives the clearest indication: it was a time when Israel's identity was formed and they were faithful to the Lord.

I remember the devotion of your youth, how you loved me as a bride, Following me in the desert, in a land unsown. Sacred to the Lord was Israel, the first fruits of his harvest ( 2, 2–3 )

Jeremiah believed that the people became corrupted when they entered the land and worshipped the local deities: “When I brought you into the garden land to eat its goodly fruits, you entered and defiled my land, you made my heritage loathsome. The priests asked not, ‘Where is the Lord?' Those who dealt with the law knew me not: the shepherds rebelled against me. The prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after useless idols” ( 2, 7–8 ). Amos might indict the people for not observing specific precepts of the Mosaic law (Am 2, 4–3, 2 ), but Jeremiah was concerned with the quality of the relationship itself. The people's fault, he never tired of repeating, was that they corrupted the relationship and pursued other gods (2–6). His concern with the sincerity of the people's commitment to the Sinai covenant prompted him to mention again and again the inclination of the human heart to rebel against the commands of the Lord (e.g., 5, 23; 7, 24; 9, 13; 11, 8 ). He used the striking metaphor of the uncircumcised heart ( 4, 4; 9, 25 ). In short, Jeremiah proclaimed that the people violated the Sinai covenant. His task was not completed with this announcement, however. A pastor as well as theologian, he had the task of moving them to respond with appropriate action, in this case to accept the divine punishment—the Babylonian invasion—and to wait in hope for restoration in the form of a new exodus ( 16, 14–15; 23, 7–8; 31, 8 ).

He also interpreted the traditions about the Davidic king. Though critical of the kings of his time (with the exception of Josiah in 22, 15–16 ), Jeremiah and the Jeremiah tradition envisioned a blessed future with the Davidic king playing a positive role: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; as king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land” ( 23, 5; cf. 33, 14–26 ). The most explicit vision of the future is the Book of Consolation in chapters 30 and 31 . These chapters (apart from 30, 9) do not, however, assign a major role to the king.

Some of the traditions Jeremiah used are associated with those that had evolved in the Northern Kingdom. Among these traditions are the sermons collected in the book of Deuteronomy and the stories in the Deuteronomistic books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings. By contrast, Isaiah of Jerusalem was a “southerner,” attached to Jerusalem and its Temple, to the covenant with the Davidic dynasty, and to the promises granted to each of these institutions.

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