The figure of Jeremiah towers over the history and reception of ancient Israelite prophecy. The book named for him contains not only oracles of judgment and promise but compelling material about the prophet himself, written in poignant first-person reflections and dramatic third-person narratives. Jeremiah's initial commissioning and his struggles with the prophetic vocation have long been deemed important spiritual resources for those seeking to understand the phenomenon of ancient prophecy and its implications for religious communities' conceptualizations of prophetic witness in later times. The image of Jeremiah languishing at the bottom of a cistern has captured the imaginations of many readers over the centuries, as well. But most weighty in terms of lasting cultural influence are the prophet's fiery sermons and searing diatribes. Traces of Jeremiah's legendary forcefulness remain present in contemporary culture via the term “jeremiad” (French jérémiade), which describes a sustained denunciation that predicts imminent doom unless the relevant parties reform their ways. The book of Jeremiah offers historians an invaluable glimpse into ancient Judean politics during the turbulent years preceding and immediately following the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E. Further, an overt self-consciousness in Jeremiah about the writtenness of its oracles, combined with an unusual diversity of ancient manuscript witnesses to the Jeremiah tradition, offers scholars a unique avenue into understanding scribal practices in ancient Judah. The analysis that follows is based on the Hebrew text of Jeremiah; the tradition represented in the Septuagint of Jeremiah differs considerably (see Literary History below).

Background Information.

The name “Jeremiah” may be etymologically related to the Hebrew root rwm, “to be high, exalted,” and thus could mean “the LORD exalts.” Alternatively, it may be related to the root rmh, which could mean “to cast, shoot,” “to deal treacherously,” or “to grow loose, loosen;” in this latter case, the meaning of the name would not be entirely clear.

The prophet Jeremiah came from Anathoth, a small town about three miles northeast of Jerusalem. Situated in the territory of Benjamin, Anathoth was the place to which King Solomon had banished the priest Abiathar centuries earlier (1 Kgs 2:26–27). Jeremiah may be numbered among the levitical descendants of Abiathar who saw their authority diminish with the ascendancy of the Zadokite priestly line. Some scholars might argue that it is imprudent to assume that we can know much about Jeremiah from where he lived. But others would postulate that many passages in Jeremiah may be characterized as protest literature against kingly malfeasance, and this impulse may be traceable, at least in part, to the old conflict between the line of Abiathar and the Davidic monarchy.

History matters in Jeremiah. This can be seen from the text's careful preservation of numerous dates and names of personnel in the Judean community. The narrative setting of the book of Jeremiah is ostensibly the decades from 627 to the mid-sixth century B.C.E., although many scholars agree that significant swaths of prose material in Jeremiah were composed during the postexilic period. The distinction between narrative setting and actual historical context(s) is important because some of the ideological clashes visible in the Jeremianic prose, while having their roots in the crises of the early sixth century, came to fullest expression in skirmishes over clerical and political leadership in the postexilic period and later (from 538 into the fifth century). The waning of Assyria's power at the end of the seventh century and Babylon's growing presence as an aggressive colonizer in the Fertile Crescent meant that threatened countries such as Egypt and Judah had to seek military alliances to protect themselves.

Alliance-making was a dangerous business: vulnerable states needed to choose wisely, for if they threw in their lot with an ally who were to fail, they would be at risk for severe repercussions meted out by the victorious enemy. Stakes were high, and there are bitter recriminations in the book of Jeremiah aimed at those who sought Egypt's help and later fled to Egypt during Babylon's domination of Judah. In any event, Egypt could not save Judah. The highly esteemed King Josiah of Judah was killed in 609 in an encounter with Egyptian forces, and Judah found itself at Babylon's mercy. The king of Babylonia, Nebuchadrezzar (also called Nebuchadnezzar), gradually decimated Judah's political and artisanal leadership through three forced deportations (in 597, 586, and 582) and virtually destroyed Jerusalem. In the wake of Nebuchadrezzar's predations, a traumatized Judean community struggled to negotiate a desperate and liminal existence given widespread loss of life, the razing of its central Temple, and the scattering and shaming of its most visible citizens. Jeremiah is our chief witness to Judah's agony. It is not surprising that the book of Lamentations, which constitutes a wrenching poetic response to the fall of Jerusalem, has been traditionally attributed to Jeremiah since ancient times.

Jeremiah comes second among the major writing prophets, following Isaiah and before Ezekiel. This order reflects a rough chronology of those books' earliest material. The earliest Isaiah traditions date to the eighth century B.C.E., although many scholars agree that Isaiah 34–35 and 40–66 date to the postexilic period. The superscription beginning at Jeremiah 1:1 dates the Jeremiah traditions to the period from 627 (the thirteenth year of King Josiah's reign, 1:2) to 586 (“until the captivity of Jerusalem,” 1:3); latter chapters of Jeremiah reflect events that took place from 582 to 560 B.C.E. Ezekiel traditions are dated from 593 to 571 B.C.E. Thus the ordering of these three influential prophets reflects ancient traditionists' understanding of the unfolding of God's purposes in the life of ancient Israel and Judah from the eighth through the sixth centuries B.C.E., although eschatological hopes in each of the three prophetic books point to a glorious future beyond that time frame.

Literary History.

Because the book of Jeremiah contains first-person and third-person discourse about the prophet, it is clear that the book was composed by more than one author. Work by Sigmund Mowinckel in 1914 was influential in setting the agenda in twentieth-century Jeremiah studies regarding division of the text into four kinds of material: poetic oracles, biographical narratives, hortatory speeches or “sermons,” and oracles of hope (chs. 30–31 plus related minor additions). The assumption of Mowinckel and other modernist critics that the poetry in Jeremiah comprises the earliest layer of material is accepted by many even today, despite some tautologies in the standard reasoning for that conclusion. But it does seem clear that the prose textual traditions about Jeremiah served as a lively site of conflict for traditionists struggling to articulate the meaning of Jeremiah's prophecies in light of the fall of Jerusalem in 586 and the subsequent struggles of a colonized Judah under foreign rule. The Judeans living in Diaspora in Babylon appear to have constituted a powerful bloc in exilic and postexilic Judean politics. They transparently shaped later Jeremiah traditions to underline their own political authority and disenfranchise those Judeans living back in Judah or in Egypt (see especially Jer 24, 42–44). Other voices within the book of Jeremiah construe the relevant political events differently, tacitly undermining the theopolitical authority claimed by the Judean expatriates in Babylon.

The book of Jeremiah presents fascinating text-critical issues related to the development of the Hebrew and Old Greek traditions. The Septuagint (LXX) of Jeremiah appears to have been based on an Old Greek tradition that had material in a different order that did the Hebrew. (Notably, the oracles against the nations are placed after 25:13 in the LXX, rather than at the end of the book as in the Hebrew tradition.) Also, the Greek version is roughly one eighth shorter than the Hebrew. This difference is significant given that the scribes who preserved biblical traditions generally acted with demonstrable conservatism. Many ancient manuscripts witness to biblical texts that have changed virtually not at all over centuries of transmission, something that has become clear with analysis of the Dead Sea scrolls, discovered between 1947 and 1956 at Qumran. Some textual variants in Jeremiah may be related to translation issues, but other differences seem to indicate that differing editions of parts of the book of Jeremiah were in circulation before the Common Era. Yet other variations were generated by late expansions of the Hebrew text tradition with particular theopolitical goals in mind. For one of many possible examples: the phrase “Nebuchadrezzar, king of Babylon, my servant” is present in 25:9 in the Hebrew tradition but absent from the LXX; similarly 27:6 and 43:10, although the latter two instances present a more complicated situation textually. Many scholars agree that the phrase has been added to the Hebrew tradition, although some hold that the phrase was originally present and was suppressed by Greek translators who found its sentiment offensive. The text-critical history of Jeremiah has profound implications for our understanding of the fluidity and fixity of scriptural traditions, the role of ancient scribes in the composition and editing of texts, and ways in which the political and theological issues current in various historical contexts shaped the reception of biblical texts.

While much remains debated, it is clear that the composition of the book of Jeremiah was not due to the work of a single inspired speaker and his scribe Baruch. The Jeremiah traditions reveal a sustained communal interest in scribal activity as it relates to the writing, metaphorical “erasure,” and rewriting of Jeremiah traditions (see Jeremiah 36). The final form of Jeremiah was shaped by scribal groups who had much in common, literarily speaking, with those who produced the Deuteronomistic History (the books of Joshua through Kings). Thus the divine word has been mediated not only through the charismatic witness of individual seers but by communal witness as well. The attentive reader is invited by the book of Jeremiah to consider issues of authority, writing, and rewriting as those may reveal ancient communities' reception and elaboration of the prophetic word.

Structure and Contents.

The book of Jeremiah unfolds in a way that many readers have found chaotic or turbulent. Lengthy oracles of doom are interrupted by oracles of salvation; speakers change without clear identification; metaphors shift and blur into one another; redactional prose comments seem to counter or expand poetic material that has gone before; and ambiguity about historical context in the poetry contrasts with an almost obsessive historical specificity in the prose. The pervasiveness of literary disjuncture within the book of Jeremiah is doubtless due to the ways in which smaller blocks of material were composed and only later connected to one another, as well as to editorial interventions at multiple stages in the development of the larger corpus. William McKane's influential theory of the book's development suggests that discrete preexisting traditions attracted later exegetical material in isolated units, so that texts within Jeremiah accrued new meanings and an unwieldy literary shape as a kind of “rolling corpus” that picked up material over time (McKane 1986, pp. xli–lxxxxiii). While there is surely some truth to the suggestion of relatively undirected, local accretion of traditions and comments in certain passages within Jeremiah, the theory cannot account for some significant structuring devices within the Jeremiah traditions.

Chief among these is the pivotal role played by chapters 24 and 25 in the larger structure of the book. These chapters attempt to interpret Judah's past, present, and future in a clear and unambiguous way. First chronologically (the “first year of King Nebuchadrezzar,” 605 B.C.E.) is Jeremiah 25. This chapter explains God's wrath as triggered by the generations-long intransigence of idolatrous Judah, which had long ignored the warnings of God's “servants the prophets” (25:4 and elsewhere). Chapter 25 predicts an exile of seventy years followed by God's punishment of Babylon, and then launches into invective against Jerusalem and other nations, employing images of the cup of God's wrath and a sword against “all the inhabitants of the earth” (25:29). Jeremiah 24, dated after 597, has been situated in the book before Jeremiah 25 to promote the authority of the Babylonian exiles over against those back in Judah and those who fled to Egypt: restoration is promised to the former, and utter destruction will be the fate of the latter. Chapters 24–25 reveal the divisiveness that fractured the cultural imagination of Judah in the aftermath of the Babylonian invasion, and they may also point to continued internecine conflict under the rule of imperial Persia, a historical datum transparently evident from Ezra-Nehemiah.

The chapters in the first half of Jeremiah are dominated by oracles of doom, the anguished wrestling of the prophet with the word of judgment he must pronounce, and uncompromising indictments of Judah's priests, prophets, and kings. The second half of the book contains lengthy narratives promoting an accommodationist politics (“submit to Babylon and live,” Jer 27–29 and elsewhere) and scattered oracles of hope for the future. Thus the book may be seen as a diptych, with chapters 1–23 and 26–52—corresponding roughly, but only roughly, to Judah's preexilic and exilic contexts—brought into relationship via the theological hinge of chapters 24 and 25, which direct the audience's interpretation of the preceding and following material.

Beyond the widely acknowledged importance of Jeremiah 24–25, scholarly approaches to architectonics in Jeremiah have been diverse. Various macrostructural schemes have been discerned in the book, although some scholars have famously thrown up their hands at the attempt to see any structural coherence in Jeremiah. Given the difficulties, some readers are content to identify structure in a way that is mainly descriptive, sketching out broad blocks of material without necessarily assigning particular meanings, rhetorical functions, or overriding concerns to them. Another way in which scholars have thought about structure is to consider trajectories of doom and promise within Jeremiah. Three soundings from different decades reveal scholars' ongoing interest in finding a way to relate judgment and hope in the book. Clements (1988) argues for a crucial role played by chapters 30–33 that yields hope as the “center” of the book. Stulman (1998) has discerned in Jeremiah an overarching movement from destruction of old symbol systems and their illusory certitude to reconstruction of new cultural icons of hope that allow for ambiguity. Allen (2008) sees a pervasive pattern of passages of judgment ameliorated by notes of hope in many smaller blocks of material. Others, however, stress the chaotic lack of order in Jeremiah and object to the privileging of hope as the primary aim of the book's rhetoric (Lundbom 1999, p. 235). Whatever macrostructure one may propose, it is wise to concede that the text of Jeremiah is rife with both continuities and discontinuities of theme, voicing, and theological emphasis. No one trajectory or set of structural indicators, however nuanced, can control the entire book.

Acknowledging the literary unruliness of the book of Jeremiah, we may propose a descriptive outline of the structure of Jeremiah as follows.

Historical superscription (1:1–3)

I. Jeremiah's commission and inaugural visions (1:4–19)

1:4–10 the commissioning of Jeremiah

1:11–19 two inaugural visions and explanation

II. Oracles of warning to Jerusalem (2:1—10:25)

2:1—6:30 God's rejection of Judah and Jerusalem

7:1—8:3 consequences of failure of Temple leadership

8:4—10:25 further indictments; responses of prophet and people

III. Prophetic laments and sign-acts (11:1—20:18)

11:1–17 covenant warning; intercession forbidden

11:18–23 Jeremiah's first lament and God's response

12:1–6 Jeremiah's second lament and God's response

12:7–17 God's own anguish yields threat and promise

13:1–11 sign-act: the ruined loincloth

13:12–27 oracles of judgment

14:1–22 indictments and the people's responses; intercession forbidden

15:1–9 historical guilt means even ideal intercessors would fail

15:10–21 Jeremiah's third lament and God's response

16:1–13 sign-act: Jeremiah to remain unmarried and childless

16:14–21 divine promise and judgment; prophetic response

17:1–13 oracles of judgment; the people's response

17:14–18 Jeremiah's fourth lament

17:19–27 oracle urging observation of the sabbath

18:1–12 sign-act: potter reworking clay vessel

18:13–17 oracle of judgment

18:18–23 Jeremiah's fifth lament

19:1–15 sign-act: breaking a jug

20:1–6 Jeremiah in conflict with priestly authority

20:7–12 Jeremiah's sixth lament

20:13 exhortation to praise God for deliverance

20:14–18 Jeremiah?s seventh lament

IV. Against the Jerusalem leadership (21:1—29:32)

21:1—23:40 against kings and false prophets

21:1–14 against Zedekiah and his followers

22:1–9 holding Davidic kings accountable

22:10–12 against Shallum (Jehoahaz)

22:13–19 against Jehoiakim

22:20–23 against Zion

22:24–30 against Coniah

23:1–4 against evil shepherds (that is, kings)

23:5–8 promises: a righteous Davidide, restoration from exile

23:9–40 against false prophets

24:1–10 promise for exiles in Babylon; judgment for Zedekiah and those in Judah

25:1–38 disaster for Judah and the whole earth

26:1–24 threat from priests and prophets; succor from officials and people

27:1—29:32 “Submit to Babylon and live!”

V. The book of consolation (30:1—31:40)

30:1–3 an enduring promise of hope

30:4–24 oracles of deliverance, repatriation, and healing

31:1 God affirms the covenant

31:2–26 oracles of rebuilding, return, and rejoicing

31:27–40 oracles of planting, covenant renewal, and purification

VI. Struggles for political authority (32:1—45:5)

32:1–44 Jeremiah's purchase of a field and its interpretation

33:1–26 judgment will be followed by restoration

34:1–22 judgment against Zedekiah and Jerusalem leaders

35:1–19 the Rechabites as a worthy model of resistance

36:1–32 Jehoiakim's attempt to destroy God's word fails

37:1—38:28 Jeremiah survives accusations of sedition

39:1–10 the fall of Jerusalem

39:11–18 Jeremiah and Ebed-melech as emblems of survival

40:1—41:18 Ishmael's coup against Gedaliah

42:1—44:30 polemic against Judean refugees in Egypt

45:1–5 Baruch as emblem of survival

VII. The routing of Judah's enemies (46:1—51:64)

46:1–26a oracles against Egypt

46:26b restoration for Egypt

46:27–28 promise for Israel

47:1–7 oracle against Philistia

48:1–46 oracles against Moab

48:47 restoration for Moab

49:1–5 oracle against Ammon

49:6 restoration for Ammon

49:7–22 oracles against Edom

49:23–27 oracle against Damascus

49:28–33 oracle against Kedar and Hazor

49:34–38 oracle against Elam

49:39 restoration for Elam

50:1—51:58 oracles against Babylon

51:59–64 scribal sign-act performing Babylon's destruction

VIII. The destruction of Jerusalem (52:1–34)

52:1–3 evaluation of Zedekiah's reign

52:4–27 Babylon's plundering of Jerusalem and exile of its people

52:28–30 census of Judean exiles

52:31–34 ironic note about Jehoiachin?s captivity


Jeremiah begins with a historical superscription, commissioning narrative, and inaugural visions that frame the political and theological context for the audience's reception of the prophet himself and, significantly, the book that bears his name. Then come oracles of warning to Judah's capital city. These are followed by texts in which the prophet's physical actions (sign-acts) and inner emotional turmoil are presented as meaningful guides to the plans of God and the cost of prophetic witness, respectively. Following are oracles against the Jerusalem leadership: political, priestly, and prophetic leaders all come in for indictment. In the middle of the book are found luminous oracles of hope in the Book of Consolation, intended to sustain audiences through the reading experience as the grim memory of Judah's destruction continues to unfold. Fierce internecine struggles for political authority are narrated in detail in the following material, and Judah falls to the Babylonian invaders. Finally, the book concludes with oracles of judgment against Judah's enemies in a sequence that builds up to the climactic routing of Babylon. A historical appendix returns the audience to the bleak moments immediately following Jerusalem's fall: we see the execution of Jerusalem's leaders, the plundering of the Temple, the exiling of thousands of Jeremiah's people, and the captivity of Jehoiachin.

1:1–3 Historical Superscription.

“The words of Jeremiah”—this is an unprecedented way for a biblical prophetic book to begin. Normally, any mention of words at the beginning of a prophetic book would involve the “words of the LORD,” but here, the prophetic tradition itself is named first, and only in 1:2 do we have the subordinate clause, “to whom the word of the LORD came.” Jeremiah is located geographically and socio politically among the priests in Anathoth. This datum points proleptically toward conflict—the “people of Anathoth” are later identified as adversaries of the prophet (11:21–23)—and toward hope, for the prophet will purchase land there as a sign of the future stability of the region (32:6–15). The kings named in the superscription are the admired Josiah (22:15–16), the despised Jehoiakim (36:20–32), and Zedekiah, who remains an ambiguous figure in the complex politics of the book. The “captivity of Jerusalem” is the ominous final reference in the dating of the superscription, but the book does contain material reflecting events that unfold years after the fall of the city as well.

1:4–19 Jeremiah's Commission and Inaugural Visions.

Jeremiah relates his call: the LORD had plans for him from before the prophet was “formed in the womb” (1:5). Specifically, Jeremiah is to be a “prophet to the nations.” This is surprising, for the vocation of biblical prophets was chiefly and fundamentally to warn their own people. To be sure, there are small collections of oracles against the nations in several prophetic books, and the prophesying of three entire books is ostensibly directed against foreign nations (Obadiah speaks to Edom; Jonah and Nahum prophesy concerning Nineveh, a city of Assyria). But the apostrophizing of the enemy in these instances may be directed to a Judean audience eager to overhear predictions of the future discomfiture of their enemies. Here in Jeremiah 1, prophesying to the nations will be a unique dimension of God's commissioning of this prophet. This signal of Jeremiah's significance for global politics will be played out in a variety of ways within the book. Jeremiah's objection that his youth makes him ill-equipped for such a position (1:6) stands in a long line of objections to prophetic calls in the Bible. As always in such cases, God rebuts the objection, underlining the inescapability of the commission and putting divine “words” into the mouth of the prophet. Jeremiah's mission will involve destroying and rebuilding “nations and kingdoms” (1:10). In this construal of the prophetic word, the prophet is mighty indeed.

Jeremiah's inaugural visions set the stage for the entire book that follows. First, a wordplay with “almond” (šāqēd) and “watching over” (šōqēd) underlines the point that God's word is efficacious and will be brought to fruition—something that could yield grim or joyous consequences depending on whether it is a word of judgment or a word of promise. Then, Jeremiah's vision of a tilted boiling pot dramatizes the danger that is pouring toward Jerusalem: northern hordes are sweeping toward Judah. “I will utter my judgments against them” (1:16): a hint of semantic ambiguity here (“them” could be the enemy hordes) allows the audience a moment of hope that God may be planning to defeat the invaders. But no: unease stirs in the audience when God makes the charge of them “forsaking me,” and the target becomes clear in 1:18, where Jeremiah is told to stand against his own king, royal officials, priests, and people as “a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls.” (Although the NRSV has the singular “wall,” the Hebrew is plural.) Jeremiah has been constructed as an indomitable and faithful version of the city of Zion. God is no longer a defender of the actual Jerusalem; God stands now with the prophet over against God's own people and holy city (1:19). These two inaugural visions articulate motifs that will have powerful resonance throughout the book: God will perform God's word, and Jeremiah—his fortified “body” now replacing the once-protected city of Jerusalem—will be God's chosen warrior in the conflicts that follow.

2:1—10:25 Oracles of Warning to Jerusalem.

A number of scholars have speculated that in 2:1—6:30, we glimpse the historical Urrolle, the earliest Jeremiah scroll that would have existed. In this material, the prophet unleashes blistering oracles of judgment against Judah and Jerusalem. Chapter 2 opens with a reminiscence about an ancient “golden age” in the history of Israel with God: a devoted Israel followed God obediently in the wilderness after Israel's deliverance from slavery in Egypt. This intimate covenantal relationship degenerated, in the rhetorical “memory” of the prophet, into a time of faithlessness. Upon entrance into the land of Canaan, Israel went astray: its priests abdicated their role to teach the Torah, its kings sinned, and its prophets prophesied by the Canaanite storm-god Ba‘al. Thus a holy and cherished people became “worthless” (2:5), forsaking the “fountain of living water” that is God and looking to useless cracked cisterns of their own devising (2:13). The prophet indicts Israel here for military alliances, which are construed as demonstrating a lack of trust in Israel's divine sovereign. Vivid metaphors come fast and furious in Jeremiah 2: Israel has become plunder, the prey of lions, a whore sprawled under a tree, an untended wild vine, a garment that is irreparably stained, a camel in heat, a thief apprehended in thievery, and a wicked woman whose skirts are spattered with the blood of the poor. Noteworthy is the metaphorical gendering of sinful Israel as a female whose sexual purity has escaped the control of males. In the patriarchal culture of ancient Israel, honor and shame were closely tied to the ability of males to guard the bodies of their female kin; it fell to Israel's clerical and political leaders to protect the cultural boundaries of the “social body” of Israel from illicit political and religious alliances. The metaphors of adultery and prostitution plied by Jeremiah (and Hosea before him) would have been intended to shame the chiefly male ancient audience. The prophet's rhetorical onslaught is merciless, and Israel's abortive attempts at repentance are scorned (3:1–5).

The possibility that Israel might return to the LORD is explored in more depth in 3:12—4:4. God pleads, “Return, faithless Israel,” and twice more, “Return, O faithless children” (3:12, 14, 22). The poetry throughout this section plays on the root šûb, which can mean returning or backsliding/turning away. Divine promises of succor and blessing could be fulfilled if only Israel would acknowledge her guilt. But the intransigence of apostate Israel is already signaled proleptically here: in 3:21, a reference to a voice heard weeping, that of Israel's children because they have forgotten the LORD, gestures toward another text with the motif of a voice heard weeping: 31:15, where Rachel is weeping for her children “because they are no more.” Rachel will eventually be comforted (31:16–17), but her anguish at the loss of her children serves to underline the inevitability of Judah's destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. Thus even this early in the book of Jeremiah, the audience experiences a tense interplay between uncompromising words of judgment and the tenuous possibility of restoration.

The prophet writhes in grief at the impending doom of his people (4:19), and here we glimpse divine pathos as well, as the voice of the prophet blends into the voice of God lamenting the ignorance of hapless Judah (4:22). The punishment of God's beloved people has cosmic implications (4:23–28): the whole earth will be laid waste in a return to primal chaos. Here and elsewhere in Jeremiah (e.g. 25:29), the poetry plays on the ambiguity of the word ᾽ereṣ (“land” or “earth”) to suggest that the destruction of Zion, God's chosen city, requires the destruction of the whole earth.

The remainder of this early material brims with terrifying images of destroyers: lurking lion, wolf, and leopard (5:6), brutal threshing (5:10), a devouring fire (5:14), a horde of mighty warriors with incomprehensible speech (5:15–17). For her idolatry, social injustice, and religious malfeasance (5:26–29), Judah must be punished. Her prophets have failed. False prophets have prophesied šālôm (“peace” or “well-being”) when dire warnings were what were needed (6:14, 8:11, 14:13–16, and elsewhere). True prophets—God's appointed sentinels, per Ezekiel 3:17–21—have gone unheeded by this recalcitrant people (6:17). Now Jerusalem faces “terror on every side,” a catchphrase evoking the horrors of military invasion (6:25; see also 20:3, 10; 46:5; and 49:29).

In Jeremiah 7 comes the first of many lengthy prose passages written in a style reminiscent of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History. Important themes sounded in this material include the conditional nature of Israel's covenant with God, the historical role of the prophets as God's servants, and the necessity of repentance and amendment of life. Jeremiah's “Temple sermon” (7:1–15) exhorts the people to turn from apostasy and immorality. Because of the people's stubborn idolatry and refusal to obey God's voice, God declares that any intercession by Jeremiah will be futile (7:16, 11:14, 14:11–12), thereby sealing Judah's fate. The prophet is rendered helpless; later, the narrative will suggest that even the mighty Moses and Samuel would not be able to intercede effectively on behalf of this wayward people (15:1). Following is a turbulent dialogue between the prophet and God: Jeremiah's impassioned sympathy for his fellow Judeans is met by God's recital of the people's insistent refusal to know the LORD (8:18—9:11). An ironic note is struck: while Israelite wisdom tradition would claim that no one can know God's plans apart from divine revelation (9:12), God has indeed spoken through the Law and the prophets (9:13); true wisdom and strength consist only in knowing the LORD (9:23–24). Following in Jeremiah 10 come an extended acclamation of God as incomparable Creator and an acknowledgement by personified Zion that the judgment, while severe, is deserved due to the malfeasance of Judah's leaders (10:21).

11:1—20:18 Prophetic Laments and Sign-Acts.

Jeremiah is an embodied prophet. The book of Jeremiah narrates his life not simply as history but as a symbolic resource for the audience's interpretation of his prophetic witness. The body of the prophet writhes in agony at the approaching doom of his people (4:19), and Jeremiah's corpus, as it were, has become exhausted with the futile effort to hold in the wrath of God (6:11; 20:9). Compelled to proclaim God's word, Jeremiah has been made into a fortress that can withstand any opposition. But Jeremiah is also riven by doubt, anger, and fear—as is his community. He deplores the adversarial position he must inhabit within his community, and he laments the terrible cost of witnessing to God's purposes. Thus Jeremiah the prophet is joined by “Jeremiah,” a culturally constructed sign of faithfulness that acknowledges the internecine conflict and deep trauma experienced by the Judean community.

Disaster may be inevitable (11:11), but Jeremiah's warnings are not welcomed in his community. His first lament (together with those that follow, often called “confessions”) and God's response (11:18–23) show the high stakes involved in public witness: Jeremiah's life has been threatened by the leaders in Anathoth. God's promise to dispatch the foes is met immediately by Jeremiah's second lament, which protests the prospering of the wicked (12:1–4) and emphasizes the prophet's innocence. God replies that the danger will only escalate. An intimate grief suffuses the deity's words as God mourns over the fate of “my house,” “my heritage,” “the beloved of my heart,” “my vineyard,” “my portion,” and “my pleasant portion” (12:7–10). Again, primeval chaos looms: while it is the land of Judah that is under immediate threat, the entire earth will stagger because of God's punishment of Jerusalem and Judah (12:12). God's sword will consume from one end of the earth to the other (not “land,” contra the NRSV; the same phrase unambiguously indicates global destruction in 25:33). In a sharp refutation of the false prophets, and perhaps of the Babylonian Diaspora group that sees itself as privileged, “there will be no šālôm for anything living” (the NRSV's “no one shall be safe” is too tame a translation). The destruction of God's beloved Zion strikes at the heart of creation itself.

Jeremiah's first sign-act (13:1–11) dramatizes God's message of punishment: the ruined loincloth represents those who “follow their own stubborn will.” The loincloth is to be buried by the Euphrates—symbolically, as the journey would be too far in realistic terms—or perhaps in nearby Parah, a town five miles from Jerusalem whose name would evoke the Euphrates in any case. The sign may be directed against Judean élites (“the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem”) in Babylon who have “become ruined” by being “buried” in that foreign country during the exile. But it could also symbolize that all God's people have been “ruined” by their longstanding failure to trust God; Babylon is the agent of their ruination.

Following are oracles predicting the humiliation of Jerusalem and Judah. The prophet anticipates weeping bitterly over the fate of his people, God asserts that accountability for the disaster lies with the sinful nation, and a communal voice acknowledges guilt (“we have sinned against you,” 14:7, 20). Images of drought, woundedness, and bereavement dominate this material. The people's penitence seems only pathetic, for even the glorious Moses and Samuel could not help them now. Judah will be “let go” as in the original Exodus, but this time they will be released not to the promised land but to pestilence, sword, famine, and captivity (15:1–2; in 34:17, a similarly ironic “release” is proclaimed to Judeans who have reneged on their manumission of Hebrew slaves). Jeremiah complains again about the conflict in which he is mired. Picking up on bereavement and drought imagery, he laments his birth (15:10) and accuses God of deceitfulness using an image of “waters that fail” (15:18). God responds with a reaffirmation of the divine promise to fortify Jeremiah against opposition (15:20–21). The beleaguered prophet's embodiment of divine purposes continues with a sign-act that represents the devastation coming to Jerusalem (16:1–13): Jeremiah is to remain unmarried and childless, symbolizing the breakdown of social normalcy as death ravages the land. An oracle of hope (16:14–15) momentarily disrupts the rhetoric of doom, only to yield to a terrifying metaphor of God ruthlessly hunting the people (16:16–18). Here, the textual currents are turbulent; it is difficult to say whether hope is responding to doom or vice versa.

In his fourth lament (17:14–18), Jeremiah pleads for God's saving help, embodying the panic of the community in his desperate words. A lengthy peroration on keeping the sabbath follows, implicitly serving as God's response. “For the sake of your lives,” observe the sabbath (17:21), the LORD thunders. The parable of the potter (18:1–11) would seem to bear out this conditional approach to covenant: perhaps survival will still be possible if the people learn to obey God. But that possibility is immediately foreclosed as the people are made to reassert their stubborn sinfulness (18:12). Jeremiah's opponents plot against him, actively resisting his message of doom (18:18), and the prophet laments once again, this time crying out for vengeance. Again following in the narrative as a divine response is a sign-act. After offering some unusually vivid rhetoric of judgment, God commands Jeremiah to break an earthenware jug as a sign of God's “breaking” of the people. The reliability of Jeremiah's prophecies of doom is thus affirmed.

Conflict with priestly authorities is one result of the prophet's continued public witness. Pashhur, a head official of the Temple, strikes Jeremiah and puts him in the stocks overnight. This vignette dramatizes the antagonism of the Jerusalemite priesthood toward the purposes of God; Jeremiah excoriates Pashhur, blaming his obtuseness and the faulty leadership of the other priests and officials for the Babylonian “terror all around” that will devastate the land of Judah. Jeremiah's prophecy of the exiling of Pashhur and his family represents a harsh assessment of the failure of Judah's priestly leadership and, possibly, an oblique attack on the authority of the Diaspora group in Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem.

Jeremiah's sixth lament is a cry of rage against a God whose compelling word has become an irresistible force within the prophet. Ironically, because he is forced to shout “Violence and destruction!”—that is, to preach doom to his people—Jeremiah himself feels violated by the God he serves. The verbs used in 20:7, “enticed” and “overpowered,” elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures have the connotations of “seduced” and “raped.” Where Ezekiel uses florid sexualized language to shame his people, Jeremiah reserves his strongest language for a bitter assessment of the prophetic vocation itself. This suffering prophet is schemed against, mocked, and threatened by his people; his only refuge is in God (20:11–12). Even though Jeremiah can acclaim God as divine warrior and his protector, he succumbs once more to despair (20:14–18). Sin may be disastrous, but faithfulness is costly too. Once again the prophet's anguish may be read as emblematic of the deep distress of his community.

21:1—29:32 Against the Jerusalem Leadership.

Opposition characterizes this block of diverse materials. Jeremiah delivers himself of blunt words of judgment against not only the people but King Zedekiah and other royal figures. Social injustice and covenant faithlessness are the prophet's chief charges. His poetic expression remains vague in places—“to the house of the king of Judah,” 21:11; “O King of Judah sitting on the throne of David,” 22:2—which lends these indictments a universal applicability and timelessness. They may be heard and appropriated by interpretive communities of later generations as reflections on the flaws of Israelite leadership more generally. But prose comments—awkward and clearly secondary to the literary context—do make clear the identity of some targets. The monarchs who followed the beloved Josiah are judged: Jehoahaz (called Shallum), who ruled just three months after the death of Josiah in 609; Jehoiakim, who ruled from 609–598 B.C.E. and directly challenged Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 36); and Jehoiachin (called Coniah and Jeconiah), who ruled only three months in 598/597 before he was deported to Babylon in Nebuchadnezzar's first attack on Jerusalem. Ignominy, exile, and death will be the fate of these rulers. God will step into the role of “shepherd”—a metaphor for kingship used widely in the ancient Near East—and will gather up the defeated remnant of the people who have been so terribly failed by their earthly rulers (23:1–3; compare Ezek 34). Hope for a coming righteous ruler (23:5–6; similarly, 33:14–16) and an eventual end to the Babylonian Diaspora are articulated. Remarkably, the acclamation of God for bringing back the sixth-century exiles will eclipse the enduring praise of God for deliverance of Israel in the ancient exodus from Egypt long ago. As Second Isaiah waxes lyrical about a new exodus from Babylon (Isa 35:1–10, 43:14–21, 52:11–12), so this Jeremiah prose tradition exults over the prospect of a renewed, messianic kingship. Historically, though, the monarchy would come to an end with the blinding and imprisonment of Zedekiah until his death (52:11) and the confinement of Jehoiachin, who would live out his years in captivity in Babylon.

Next, Jeremiah excoriates the false prophets, both for their immorality—the charge of “adultery” is used to discredit political opponents and should not necessarily be taken literally—and for prophesying šālôm when doom was at hand (23:17). Prophet and priest alike are accused of spreading ungodliness instead of guiding the people in obedience to God's purposes. Jeremiah's impassioned refutation of lying prophets (23:18–40) reveals the Judean community's anxiety about the difficult matter of distinguishing true from false prophecy (see Deut 18:15–23). The prophet employs a sarcastic wordplay on maśśâʾ, “burden,” which can mean either something to be carried or an oracle, to dismiss the claims of false prophets that they have received a bona fide “burden” (i.e., revelation) from God. Rather, they themselves are a heavy load to be borne, because


Babylonian Chronicle (605–594 B.C.E.)

Cuneiform tablet summarizing the campaigns of Nebuchadrezzar II (r. 605–562), king of Babylonia, in the west. Size: 3 × 2.5 inches (8 × 6 centimeters). The text records Nebuchadrezzar's march westward in 598 because Jehoiakim, the king of Judah (r. 609–598), had ceased to pay tribute; the siege of Jerusalem in 597; and the capture of the new Judean king, Jehoiachin (r. 598 or 597; cf. Jer 24:1).


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they have trusted in their own words instead of in “the words of the living God” (23:36), to the detriment of their people.

Jeremiah 24 reveals with chilling clarity the divisiveness of the exilic and postexilic community. Here the political authority of the Diaspora Judeans in Babylon is privileged: they are the group that deserves God's care and protection in the postexilic world. By contrast, Judeans back in Judah and those who fled to Egypt will be made “a horror, an evil thing … a disgrace, a byword, a taunt, and a curse”; they will be exterminated by a ruthless God. No substantive reason is provided for this extraordinarily bitter invective against fellow Judeans. In Jeremiah 42–44, it becomes clear that intractable political disagreements about whether to surrender to Babylon may be motivating the internecine hatred, at least in part. But it is likely that postexilic struggles for political authority also underlie the narration of the diatribe we see in Jeremiah. For abundant evidence of the bitter divisions in postexilic Judah, one need look no further than the book of Ezra-Nehemiah.

In Jeremiah 25, several motifs are articulated that are thematically crucial for the theology of the book. First comes a summation of Jeremiah's career as a prophet (25:3–7). On display here is the cultural consciousness of an enduring prophetic tradition that repeatedly has met with the willful stubbornness of the people. Though God has persistently spoken through “his servants the prophets” for many generations, the people have refused to listen (25:4; see also 7:25–26, 26:5, 29:19, 35:15, and 44:4–5). The prophets' function of warning the people to repent has been fruitless in the history of Israel and Judah, leaving us with a picture of the Israelite prophet as a frustrated and marginalized figure. This is a conception of prophecy strikingly different from the view characteristic of the Deuteronomistic History, where the prophetic word is an efficacious predictive word that is completely fulfilled.

Also in the foreground of Jeremiah 25 is the notion of retributive justice: the disastrous fall of Jerusalem and exiling of Judean leaders constitute God's appropriate punishment of a rebellious people. This conviction is fundamental to the theology of the book of Jeremiah. In perhaps the most scandalous assertion of this motif in the book, Jeremiah's God identifies the king of Babylon, Nebuchadrezzar, as “my servant” (25:9, 27:6, 43:10). Such thinking is not unique to Jeremiah: in Isaiah 10:5–6, Assyria is wielded in God's hands like a club to punish God's people, and in Isaiah 45:1–7, God deploys King Cyrus of Persia as a weapon in international politics.

A prediction that the nations will serve Babylon for seventy years (25:11) here is used to show that Babylon's domination is for a prescribed time only. After that time, Babylon will be made an “everlasting waste” (25:12), a prediction that would not have been welcomed by the Judean group that had been established for many generations in Babylon and that had such a strong hand in shaping the prose in Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 29:10, this prophecy of a seventy-year exile is used toward a diametrically opposed political end: to shore up the long-term legitimacy of the Judean expatriate community in Babylon. The seventy-years prophecy is cited toward various theological ends in later books of the Hebrew Bible (Dan 9:2, 24; Zech 1:12; Ezra 1:1; 2 Chr 36:21–22), showing how malleable even highly specific prophecies can be in the hands of skilled traditionists. Situated after 25:13 in the Old Greek textual tradition are the oracles against the nations, definitive evidence that different editions of Jeremiah were in circulation before the Hebrew text received its final form.

The rest of Jeremiah 25 reflects on an extended and terrifying metaphor: the cup of God's wrath will be forced upon all the nations of the world, including Judah and Babylon. All will be destroyed by the sword: “those slain by the LORD … will extend from one end of the earth to the other” (25:33) in a gruesome tableau of corpses. The ideological perspective here is certainly not that of the Diaspora Judeans, who expect their own political group to thrive in exile and enjoy God's favor. Internecine conflict is foregrounded in Jeremiah 26: the prophet pronounces words of judgment and is immediately surrounded by a hostile mob of priests, prophets, and people. Jeremiah defends himself against the implicit charge of sedition, and the officials and the people are persuaded of his reliability as a prophet. Micah's prophecy about Zion being plowed as a field (Mic 3:12) is cited in Jeremiah's defense: oracles of doom need not necessarily be seen as antagonistic toward political authorities but may be intended simply to catalyze repentance in the hearers. Despite the eloquent citation from tradition, the threat against Jeremiah persists; the point is driven home via an anecdote about Jehoiakim doggedly pursuing and executing a prophet who had spoken just as Jeremiah did (26:20–23). Jeremiah's rescue is effected by one Ahikam son of Shaphan; here and elsewhere in Jeremiah, the Shaphanides play an important political role as allies of the prophet.

Stylistic and semantic considerations have led scholars to propose that Jeremiah 27–29 originally had an independent transmission history (telling evidence: the variant name “Nebuchadnezzar” appears only in these chapters in Jeremiah). These chapters promote the accommodationist politics of the Diaspora group over against opposing views (27:14): submitting to the Babylonians is the only faithful response, and the exile will be long enough for Diaspora Judeans to flourish for generations in Babylon. According to the theopolitical program laid out here, resisting the invaders or even simply hoping for a speedy return of the Temple vessels looted by Nebuchadnezzar count as acts of rebellion against God (28:16). Jeremiah 29 attempts to handle what must have been an inconvenient datum, that the community's true prophet, Jeremiah, is not with the Diaspora group but has chosen to remain back in Jerusalem with the despicable and doomed “rotten figs” (24:8–10). Jeremiah writes a letter commending the flourishing of the Diaspora community and urging that they pray for the welfare of enemy Babylon (29:7), thus underlining the authority of the Diaspora group from afar. That there was opposition to this position is clear (29:24–32). A lengthy passage in the Hebrew text directing harsh invective at those back in Judah (29:16–20) is entirely absent from the Old Greek tradition, showing that intra-Judean struggles for authority continued after the Jeremiah tradition represented in the LXX had been finalized.

30:1—31:40 The Book of Consolation.

Luminous oracles of hope are collected in these two chapters. The opening oracle displays a self-consciousness about the writtenness of the collection (“Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you,” 30:2). The consolation expressed here takes full account of the suffering and terror of the Judean people, acknowledging the difficulty of the narratological “present” of the book and candidly naming Judah's sin, a notion inseparable from the theology of retributive justice that governs the book. But this material looks beyond the dire circumstances of the Babylonian invasion to divine promises of political autonomy, healing, rebuilding, and peace. God's enduring faithfulness and love for Israel are underlined (31:1–3, 9, 20). The building and planting promised in Jeremiah's commissioning (1:10) will be fulfilled, although not necessarily soon. “The days are surely coming” and “in those days” are formulaic phrases in the Bible signaling that a distant or even eschatological context is being envisioned.

32:1—45:5 Struggles for Political Authority.

Following the Book of Consolation is a story (Jeremiah 32) that dramatizes a radical hope for Judah's future: Jeremiah purchases land in Anathoth while the Babylonians are besieging Jerusalem. The narrative is anxious to make the point that the prophet's “submit to Babylon” politics is not seditious; rather, Jeremiah sees surrender and even collaboration (29:7) as the only viable route to long-term survival for Judah. An elaborate prayer from Jeremiah and a hyperbolic divine response (“This city has aroused my anger and wrath from the day it was built,” 32:31) work rhetorically to emphasize that God remains in control despite the evident decimation of God's holy city, Zion. Creator imagery is not prominent in the rest of Jeremiah but is important here: God is acclaimed as the one who “made the heavens and the earth” (32:17; cf. 33:2). Eventual restoration is promised to Judeans in Diaspora in every land, not just Babylon (32:37), something that stands in notable discontinuity with rhetoric elsewhere in the book that aggressively privileges the Babylonian exiles and envisages the utter annihilation of Judeans in Egypt. The reversal of Judah's grim fate (33:6–13) will be a cause for rejoicing and a sign that God's covenant with Israel is everlasting and unbreakable—not conditional, as many of the prose passages in Jeremiah would have it (31:35–37, 33:17–26).

Jeremiah's complex maneuverings with Zedekiah absorb much of the attention of the following chapters. In chapter 34, the prophet predicts Zedekiah's capture and eventual death, and the people are indicted for enslaving Hebrews after having briefly offered them manumission. Jeremiah 35 offers a politically freighted parable: the semi-nomadic Rechabites have never compromised their principles until the siege of Jerusalem drove them inside the city walls, and just so, Judah should not compromise its obedience to the LORD (“‘Can you not learn a lesson?’” [35:13]). Jeremiah 36 is a fascinating account of writing, potentially devastating erasure, and rewriting. The people of Judah show themselves capable of repentance, proclaiming a fast and listening to Jeremiah (36:9–10), but King Jehoiakim openly disdains God's word, destroying the scroll of Jeremiah's prophecies column by column. Jeremiah and his scribe reconstitute the scroll, even adding new words; thus the indestructibility of the prophetic word is asserted as a sign of hope for later readers. In chapters 37–38, Zedekiah warily consults Jeremiah. The monarch reveals himself to be a weak leader, first allowing Jeremiah to be thrown into a cistern and then yielding to pressure to rescue the prophet, and also confessing to fear of adversaries within his own community (38:19). Jeremiah 39 narrates the fall of Jerusalem, the attempted flight of Zedekiah and his officials, the slaughter of Zedekiah's sons and Judean nobles, the blinding of the king, and the Babylonians' lenient treatment of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 40–43 narrates in feverish detail the political intrigues and betrayals that lead to the assassination of Gedaliah, the official who had been appointed governor by Nebuchadrezzar. Various others are brutally executed, and surviving Judeans flee to Egypt, fearful of Babylonian reprisals. Jeremiah counsels against the migration to Egypt, promising that God will restore those who stay in the land (this is ironic, given the strongly adversarial rhetoric elsewhere in the book about those remaining in Judah being exterminated by God). But the prophet is unsuccessful; moreover, he himself is taken to Egypt against his will. Jeremiah 44 records the prophet's searing sermon against the Judean exiles in Egypt on the charge of idolatry involving other gods and, notoriously, the cult of the Queen of Heaven (the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar, possibly identified by ancient Judeans as the Canaanite goddess Astarte). The Egyptian expatriates' hyperbolically proud affirmation of their idolatry is meant to confirm that their disenfranchisement in the postexilic period is justified.

Words of attenuated but real protection are offered to two who have acted as Jeremiah's allies throughout this conflict: Ebed-melech, who drew Jeremiah out of the cistern (39:15–18), and Baruch (45:1–5) will be allowed to live. These enigmatic figures—one a foreigner serving in the royal court, the other a scribe who ensures the preservation of the written prophetic word—become emblems of survival for the entire postexilic community.

46:1—51:64 The Routing of Judah's Enemies.

Oracles against foreign nations serve as a near-final word in the Hebrew text tradition of Jeremiah, followed only by the narrative of Jeremiah 52. Various international and local opponents are rhetorically dispatched by means of humiliating taunt songs, sarcastic ventriloquism of the enemy, faux laments, ironic reversals, and straightforward oracles of doom. The collection begins with Egypt and ends with Babylon, framing the general discomfiture of exilic Judah's enemies by means of attacks on the two most significant global powers of her time. Formal collections of oracles against other nations are embedded in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Amos, suggesting that prophetic traditions may have been composed and shaped with an eye to cultural expectations for written prophetic books. Unusual in the Jeremianic oracles against the nations are a few scattered notes of promise (to Egypt in 46:26, to Moab in 48:47, to Ammon in 49:6, and to Elam in 49:39). The oracles against Babylon are by far the longest and most elaborate of any oracles in Jeremiah. Interwoven with poems of harsh invective and gloating over Babylon's impending fall are poignant passages that focus on the healing of Israel (50:4–5, 6–7, 17–20, 28, 33–34). This intercalary technique intensifies the overall dramatic impact of the oracles predicting Babylon's ruination. The poetry of the oracles against the nations is widely acknowledged to be sophisticated, displaying subtle wordplay, elegant chiastic structures, striking apostrophe, and vivid metaphors. While these bellicose oracles celebrating the destruction of Israel's enemies may be considered as oracles of implicit hope for God's people (and indeed, that is how many scholars have read them), they also showcase the sovereignty of Israel's God over the entire earth, surely another rhetorical motivation for their placement in the book.

The last verses of this chapter narrate a performative sign-act in which Jeremiah inscribes oracles of disaster against Babylon and has an emissary, Seraiah, throw the weighted scroll into the Euphrates at Babylon to enact the destruction of the foe. The end of Jeremiah's prophetic testimony is signaled in 51:64, marking as a clear secondary accretion the material in Jeremiah 52.

52:1–34 The Destruction of Jerusalem.

This historical appendix, which is found almost verbatim in 2 Kings 24:18—25:30, brings the audience of the book of Jeremiah back to the horrifying moment of crisis when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonian marauders. Words of hope for the future in the Book of Consolation may have bolstered the spirits of readers; many ancient audiences must have cheered as divine vengeance was promised in the oracles against the nations. But now, in a gesture of extraordinary pathos, the book of Jeremiah compels its audience to return to the most destabilizing disaster of ancient Israel's history. In agonizing detail are narrated the besieging of holy Jerusalem, the execution of key political and religious leaders, and the plundering and burning of the Temple. The walls of Jerusalem are razed, leaving the city vulnerable to future enemy predations; four thousand six hundred Judeans are marched into captivity. Of the prophet himself we will hear no more. Jeremiah disappears into the history of the Egyptian Diaspora community. The reader may be permitted the sense that Jeremiah has been annihilated, at least literarily, by his own uncompromising rhetoric of judgment against that group.

The surviving Davidic monarch, Jehoiachin, languishes in a Babylonian prison for a span of thirty-seven years. In a final narrative gesture that may be read as sardonic rather than truly hopeful, Jehoiachin is elevated to a position of prominence among the kings held captive by King Evil-merodach of Babylon. We are offered a glimpse of Jehoiachin relying on a daily allowance from the hand of his Babylonian overlord—thus we watch him inhabit a position of pathetic impotence under Babylonian house arrest for the remainder of his life. This darkly ambiguous ending leaves both Judah and the book of Jeremiah in a liminal place of vulnerability. The uncomfortable ending of Jeremiah (both the prophet and the book) drives the implied audience back to the beginning of Jeremiah—or on to Second Isaiah—to seek consolation and deeper understanding.

Reception History.

The figures of Jeremiah and Baruch have compelled the attention of writers from the Second Temple period to the present day. A pseudepigraphical letter of Baruch survives in Greek and other versions; likely written in the second or first century B.C.E., it includes an exhortation to those in Jerusalem to enact a confessional liturgy concerning Judah's past sins, a reflection on wisdom, and poetic oracles of consolation for Jerusalem. A document known as the Letter of Jeremiah, extant in Greek and dating to the Hellenistic period, appeared as the sixth chapter of Baruch in Latin manuscripts; it is an extended polemic against idolatry couched as prophylactic advice for Judeans about to be taken into exile in Babylon. An early Christian work called Lives of the Prophets (dated to the first century C.E. or a bit later) describes legends involving Jeremiah, including his martyrdom by stoning at the hands of Jews in Egypt. A pseudepigraphical work in Greek and other languages, Paraleipomena Jeremiou (or 4 Baruch), dates to the early second century C.E.; it narrates events involving Jeremiah, Baruch, and Abimelech (Ebed-melech) from the eve of the fall of Jerusalem through sixty-six years later, and includes visionary and fabulous elements and Christian theological redaction.

The “new covenant” of Jeremiah 31 is applied by New Testament writers to the redemption secured by the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus (Matt 26:27–28, Mark 23–24, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25, 2 Cor 3:6, Heb 8:6–13); the new-covenant motif has become foundational for Christian sacramental theology. The Gospel of Matthew interprets Herod's slaughter of Bethlehem's children as fulfillment of the image in Jeremiah 31 of Rachel weeping for her children (Matt 2:17–18). Matthew may also be reading the chief priests' purchase of a field with Judas's reward money in light of the prophet's purchase of land in Jeremiah 32.

Jeremiah traditions are explored in numerous intertextual references within Talmudic and midrashic literature. The rich diversity of allusions there makes any summary of them impossible, but one may remark the interest of the rabbis in connecting Jeremiah and Moses (see Deut 18:18). Similarly, allusions to


Jeremiah with Unfurled Scroll.

Romanesque statue, c. 1115–1130. Located in the Benedictine Abbaye de Saint-Pierre, Moissac, France.


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Jeremiah in patristic literature are too numerous to discuss in any detail here, but one may note a number of homilies on Jeremiah by Origen (184–254) and commentaries on Jeremiah by Jerome (345–420) and Theodoret of Cyr (393–460). Subsequent centuries of reflection on Jeremiah have yielded 193 lectures on the biblical book by John Calvin (1509–1564) amid a veritable flood of other offerings.

Jeremiah 1:5–10 has become an influential text for services of ordination in the Christian tradition; the motif of the call of the prophet is appropriated in theologies of the Christian pastoral vocation. The anguished question of the prophet, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” (Jer 8:22), was turned into a confident Christian affirmation in the tradition of the African-American spirituals: “there is a balm in Gilead” jubilantly affirms the power of God to “heal the sin-sick soul.” The earliest date of that lyric is unknown; it appeared in Washington Glass's hymn “The Sinner's Cure,” published as hymn #64 in a hymnal entitled The Revivalist: A New Selection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs (Scott & Bascom 1853).

Poets and artists have long mused on Jeremiah. In southwestern France, the Benedictine Abbaye de Saint-Pierre in the town of Moissac boasts a well-preserved Romanesque statue of Jeremiah (c. 1115–1130) on the east side of the trumeau in the central doorway of the church; there, the sad-faced prophet holds an unfurled scroll. Donatello's 6′ 3″ statue of Jeremiah (1427) shows the prophet with furrowed brow and grief etched around his mouth. Michelangelo painted Jeremiah in the series of prophets and sibyls that edge the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (1508–1512). Rembrandt van Rijn's oil painting of Jeremiah (1630) depicts the prophet in a posture of despondency as Jerusalem burns in the background. In the work of John Donne (1572–1631), Holy Sonnet #14 (“Batter my heart, three-person'd God”) may allude obliquely to Jeremiah 20:7 in the lines, “for I, / Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, / Nor chaste, except you ravish me.” Chapter VII of George Herbert's The Country Parson, His Charter, and Rule of Holy Life (1632) quotes Jeremiah 10:23 and commends Jeremiah as worthy of emulation in his apostrophizing of God. An oil painting by Ilya Yefimovich Repin (1870) shows the devastated prophet, hand on head in a gesture of wrenching grief, leaning against a broken wall of Jerusalem with rubble strewn about him. A watercolor by James Tissot (c. 1888) depicts the prophet about to shatter a clay vessel he has lifted above his head. Among Marc Chagall's many artistic renderings of biblical figures are dramatic etchings of “Jeremiah in the Pit” (c. 1931–1939) and “Sufferings of Jeremiah” (1956), as well as color lithographs of “Jeremiah” and “Jeremiah's Lamentations” (1956). Adam Sol's 2008 novel in poems, Jeremiah, Ohio, explores the voicing of a modern-day Jeremiah and his scribe, Bruce, on a prophetic road-trip through rural North America.

The books of Lamentations and Jeremiah have seemed to blur in the imaginations of some artists, which testifies to the tenacity of the ancient attribution of authorship of Lamentations to Jeremiah. The prophet's grief has been referenced in a variety of musical forms, from two sets of “Lamentations of Jeremiah” by Thomas Tallis (1565), to settings of the lamentations of Jeremiah by other composers including Tomás Luis de Victoria, François Couperin, and Ernst Krenek, to Leonard Bernstein's Symphony No. 1 “Jeremiah” (1943). Particularly influential has been Jeremiah's eloquent expression of the coerciveness of the divine word, “like a burning fire shut up in my bones” (20:9). Many references to that powerful image can be found in works of theology, homiletics, ministerial studies, and sacred music.



  • Achtemeier, Elizabeth. Jeremiah. Knox Preaching Guides. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1987. An accessible, brief theological reading of Jeremiah for the Christian church. Regularly draws connections to New Testament texts, homiletics, and Christian theological concepts (e.g., Dietrich Bonhoeffer's notion that immature believers are seeking “cheap grace” is applied to the hapless Zedekiah).
  • Allen, Leslie C. Jeremiah. Old Testament Library. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2008. A balanced, solid commentary that focuses on the final form of the text rather than redaction-critical stages. Few interpretive risks are taken here. The hermeneutical approach may be assigned to the historicist camp, as over against the ideological-critical volume on Jeremiah by Robert P. Carroll in the same series. Allen cites Carroll a few times but does not engage Carroll's robust critique of historicist readings.
  • Bauer, Angela. Gender in the Book of Jeremiah: A Feminist-Literary Reading. Studies in Biblical Literature 5. New York: Peter Lang, 1999. This feminist analysis explores gendered metaphors of Israel as faithful bride and promiscuous woman; probes the function of tropes such as divorce, labor pain, birth, and maternal bereavement; considers Israelite women's roles historically in mourning rituals and in the cult of the Queen of Heaven; and reflects on the potential of eschatological motifs to subvert patriarchal cultural norms in the book of Jeremiah.
  • Brueggemann, Walter. A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1998. Gracefully written with an eye to articulating the enduring theological truths that may be discerned in the biblical text. Brueggemann's compelling expository style makes use of evocative language to describe the creative and abrasive dimensions of prophetic witness. The text is treated not as a transparent historical record but, rather, as an artistic cultural production of the ancient Judean imagination. Engages twentieth-century scholarship on Jeremiah lightly and lucidly, making relevant technical conversations accessible to the non-specialist.
  • Brueggemann, Walter. The Theology of the Book of Jeremiah. Old Testament Theology. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Well suited for students, pastors, and theologians who would like to work with Jeremiah but do not have time for in-depth exegetical study. Brueggemann focuses on major theological motifs and historical issues addressed in Jeremiah, demonstrating ways in which the book of Jeremiah draws on Deuteronomy, other prophetic traditions, the Psalms, Job, and other biblical texts. Methodologically, this book affirms postmodern hermeneutical convictions while continuing to draw lightly on historicist notions in the exegesis.
  • Calvin, John. Jeremiah and Lamentations. Crossway Classic Commentaries. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2000. Contains an abridged version of the 193 lectures that Calvin gave on Jeremiah extemporaneously in Latin at the Geneva Academy in Switzerland. These expository lectures were transcribed by some in Calvin's audience and thereby preserved. Here, the abridged material is presented in commentary form, ordered according to the chapters of Jeremiah.
  • Carroll, Robert P. Jeremiah: A Commentary. Old Testament Library. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1986. An ideological-critical commentary based on an avowedly minimalist approach to what can be known of the historical Jeremiah and his context: Carroll insists that vested literary representations of history are not to be equated with history itself. This book regularly calls attention to political agendas and ideological biases discernible in the relevant texts. Despite his conviction that firm historical data elude the interpreter of Jeremiah, Carroll engages many traditional historical critics in an evenhanded way as he works through the text.
  • Clements, Ronald E. Jeremiah. Interpretation. Atlanta: John Knox, 1988. Argues for understanding the book of Jeremiah as a book of hope; even the fulfillment of harsh oracles of judgment leads the audience to trust in the reliability of Jeremiah's words. In keeping with the aim of the series to address students and pastors, this commentary is accessibly written without footnotes and offers substantive but uncomplicated exposition of the text.
  • Dempsey, Carol. Jeremiah: Preacher of Grace, Poet of Truth. Interfaces. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2007. This lucidly written book aimed at undergraduates uses rhetorical criticism and narrative criticism to explore Jeremiah as a literary character who evolves through interactions with God and others. The series means to offer creative character studies that will intrigue those who do not normally read the Bible. Toward that end, Dempsey freely psychologizes Jeremiah's relationships and offers a portrait of the prophet as spiritual hero.
  • Diamond, A. R. The Confessions of Jeremiah in Context: Scenes of Prophetic Drama. Sheffield, U.K.: JSOT Press, 1987. This intelligent exegetical and redaction-critical analysis makes a case for reading the laments as a literarily integrated whole organized along two rhetorical axes. The first axis maps the nature of the prophetic mission via conflicts between the prophet and the LORD, and the second axis shows the prophetic word being challenged and rejected by Judah.
  • Diamond, A. R. Pete, Kathleen M. O'Connor, and Louis Stulman, eds. Troubling Jeremiah. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament: Supplement Series 260. Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999. This volume presents twenty-five essays on Jeremiah divided into four sections: “Text-Centered Readings,” “Reader-Centered Readings,” “Theological Construction,” and finally, responses by Walter Brueggemann and Robert P. Carroll. A number of contributions, not least the nuanced introduction by A. R. Pete Diamond, help to illustrate the paradigm shift that was going on in late twentieth-century biblical studies as interpreters moved from historicist approaches to reception-focused and postmodernist approaches.
  • Holladay, William L. Jeremiah 1 and Jeremiah 2. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986 and 1989. This detailed historical-critical commentary pays close attention to text-critical and literary features of the biblical text. Holladay's work is notable for tying passages closely and with confidence to specific historical dates and contexts in the life of the historical Jeremiah.
  • Janzen, J. G. Studies in the Text of Jeremiah. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973. This detailed study of textual variants in Jeremiah was influential in setting the agenda for late twentieth-century text-critical work on the prophetic book. Janzen argues: that the Hebrew text tradition was demonstrably expansionist; that the shorter Old Greek text was original and often to be preferred to the Hebrew tradition, as over against an alternative theory that the Greek translators abridged their text; and, more tentatively, that the Hebrew text tradition may have had its provenance in Palestine rather than Babylon.
  • Kessler, Martin. Battle of the Gods: The God of Israel Versus Marduk of Babylon: A Literary/Theological Interpretation of Jeremiah 50–51. Assen, Netherlands: Van Gorcum, 2003. A richly detailed poetic and theological analysis of Jeremiah's oracles against Babylon. Kessler attends to textual features such as inclusio, concentric structures, alliteration, concatenation, and irony to explore the artistry of Jeremiah 50–51, which he considers the climax of the book of Jeremiah. His thesis is that these oracles articulate a sustained theology of history in which the LORD bests the god of Babylon, Marduk. Persuasive arguments are directed at those who might dismiss the oracles against the nations as secondary, merely formulaic, or ethically unusable for the contemporary reader.
  • Kessler, Martin, ed. Reading the Book of Jeremiah: A Search for Coherence. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2004. Thirteen contributors, including Walter Brueggemann, R. E. Clements, and Louis Stulman, argue for various kinds of thematic and theological coherence in the book of Jeremiah via historical-critical and literary approaches to the text. Attention is given mainly to the oracles against Babylon, the persona of Jeremiah, and oracles of hope. Contributors acknowledge the polyphony of the book of Jeremiah but in creative ways subordinate that complexity to some overarching structure or theme that is argued to drive toward unity or coherence.
  • King, Philip J. Jeremiah: An Archaeological Companion. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox, 1993. This is a clearly written and detailed compendium of various artifacts from material culture dated to the Iron Age II period (1000–586 B.C.E.). King offers descriptions, photographs, and diagrams of: geographical settings; excavated cities and towns; and archaeological finds related to worship and architecture, funerary practices, agriculture, ceramics, and more.
  • Leuchter, Mark. The Polemics of Exile in Jeremiah 26–45. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2008. This work suggests that Jeremiah 26–45 is a Shaphanide supplement that works with earlier Jeremiah traditions in order to counter Ezekiel's promotion of a Zadokite agenda. Defends the decidedly minority position that much of the so-called “Deuteronomistic” material in the book of Jeremiah was in fact written by the historical prophet himself.
  • Lundbom, Jack R. Jeremiah: A Study in Ancient Hebrew Rhetoric. 2d ed. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1997. Originally a 1973 dissertation, this book grounds its exegetical and structural explorations of Jeremiah in analysis of two features of ancient Hebrew rhetoric: inclusio and chiasmus. Lundbom argues that a “rhetoric of descent” is characteristic of Jeremianic rhetoric: the prophet consistently lowers the level of abstraction as an argument progresses, moving from the ironic to the straightforward, the figurative to the literal, and the abstract to the concrete.
  • Lundbom, Jack R. Jeremiah 1–20, Jeremiah 21–36, and Jeremiah 37–52. Anchor Bible 21A, 21B, and 21C. New York: Doubleday, 1999, 2004, and 2004. This commentary pays close attention to semantic and structural features of the Hebrew text, focusing in particular on chiasmus, inclusio, repetition, and poetic balance. Lundbom attributes significantly more material to the historical Jeremiah than many commentators would. Graceful connections are drawn to sacred music and poetry from the Renaissance onward.
  • McConville, J. G. Judgment and Promise: An Interpretation of the Book of Jeremiah. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1993. An accessible exposition that focuses on larger sections of Jeremiah in order to draw broad theological trajectories. McConville argues against the consensus view that the prose in Jeremiah may be termed Deuteronomistic, cautiously acknowledging correlations between Jeremiah and Deuteronomistic literature but emphasizing significant differences as well. McConville is particularly interested in the deferral and revival of hope in the Jeremiah traditions and ways in which the persona of the prophet is constructed.
  • McKane, William. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Jeremiah. 2 vols. International Critical Commentary. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1986 and 1996. This learned commentary introduced an influential theory for the gradual composition of the book of Jeremiah as a “rolling corpus” that gathered localized accretions to specific passages as the tradition was transmitted. McKane pays minute attention to text-critical issues and regularly offers insights from classical rabbinic interpretation.
  • Mills, Mary E. Alterity, Pain, and Suffering in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies 479. New York: T & T Clark, 2007. This hermeneutically sophisticated volume analyzes ways in which the biblical prophetic corpus addresses pain, suffering, and loss. Chapters focus on chaos traditions in Isaiah 1–39, the monstrous in Ezekiel, body and pain in Ezekiel, and prophetic pathos in Jeremiah. Regarding Jeremiah, Mills argues that the prophet's discursive practices enunciate the fragmentation and pain of the socio-cultural, political, and spatial worlds of Judah and Jerusalem.
  • Neusner, Jacob. Jeremiah in Talmud and Midrash: A Source Book. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2006. Seven chapters collate the hundreds of direct and oblique references to Jeremiah in the Mishnah, Tractate Avot, the Tosefta, halakic and haggadic midrashim, and other classical rabbinic texts. Neusner supplies very brief interpretive annotations.
  • O'Connor, Kathleen M. The Confessions of Jeremiah: Their Interpretation and Role in Chapters 1–25. Atlanta: Scholars, 1988. This close literary-structural reading of the laments argues that a chief aim of the lament poetry is to vindicate Jeremiah over against the accusation that he was a false prophet. Briefly but effectively explores the potential significance of the laments for contemporary readers.
  • Polk, Timothy. The Prophetic Persona: Jeremiah and the Language of the Self. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament: Supplement Series 32. Sheffield, U.K.: JSOT, 1984. This reevaluation of biographical interest in Jeremiah carefully distinguishes between the “Jeremiah of history” and the “Jeremiah of the text.” Polk examines metaphorical constructions of the prophetic persona and identity in the biblical book, with special attention to Jeremiah 4 and the confessions.
  • Sharp, Carolyn J. Prophecy and Ideology in Jeremiah: Struggles for Authority in the Deutero-Jeremianic Prose. Old Testament Studies. London: T & T Clark, 2003. Argues that political and theological arguments between two distinct groups can be seen in the prose of Jeremiah. The dominant voice is that of Judean leaders in the Babylonian Diaspora; the claims for authority of that Diaspora group are contested by the submerged but still audible voice of traditionists back in Judah. Analyzes the linguistic evidence and argumentation of consensus claims for “Deuteronomistic” language in Jeremiah, suggesting that a more precise account would acknowledge unique semantic and thematic characteristics of the prose as “Deutero-Jeremianic.”
  • Soderlund, Sven. The Greek Text of Jeremiah: A Revised Hypothesis. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament: Supplement Series 47. Sheffield, U.K.: JSOT Press, 1985. This revised dissertation responds to the text-critical theories of Emanuel Tov and J. G. Janzen regarding Jeremiah. Soderlund focuses on LXX Jeremiah 29, which is represented in the Hebrew text tradition at Jeremiah 47:1–7 and 49:7–22. He critiques the arguments for a shorter and generally superior Old Greek tradition, noting that local translational issues and contextual considerations must always be taken into account and, further, that questions of length and superiority ought not be conflated.
  • Stulman, Louis. Jeremiah. Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries. Nashville: Abingdon, 2005. This elegantly written and nuanced commentary pays close attention to literary features of the text of Jeremiah and argues for a coherent theological purpose in the book as a whole, namely, to move the postexilic community toward hope. Structural symmetries and theological reversals are seen to express the deconstruction of traditional Israelite symbol systems and the articulation of a revitalized theology that emphasizes restoration.
  • Stulman, Louis. Order Amid Chaos: Jeremiah as Symbolic Tapestry. Sheffield U.K.: Sheffield Academic, 1998. Stulman argues that the structuring of Jeremiah traditions moves from the dismantling of old institutional symbols in Jeremiah 1–25 to the configuring of a new conceptual world in Jeremiah 26–52 that allows for trust despite ambiguity and mystery. Creating continuity across the two halves of the book are three motifs: the transition from orality to writing in prophecy, the claim of God's sovereignty over the nations, and the pattern of judgment always being followed by restoration.
  • Wenthe, Dean O., ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament XII: Jeremiah, Lamentations. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2009. Offers selections from patristic exegesis and homiletics. Here, Jeremiah passages are discussed or alluded to by Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Lactantius, Pachomius, Athanasius, Horsiesi, Ephrem the Syrian, Methodius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil the Great, Ambrose, Jerome, John Chrysostom, Rufinus of Aquileia, Augustine, John Cassian, Cyril of Alexandria, Theodoret of Cyr, Salvian the Presbyter of Marseilles, Leo the Great, Cassiodorus, Gregory the Great, Bede, Isaac of Nineveh, and others.
  • Wilson, Robert R. Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel. 2d. ed. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011. The author applies insights from sociology, cultural anthropology, and comparative religion to the study of ancient Israelite prophecy. Wilson presses for more precision in historical analysis of regional and social conditions that supported and constrained the exercise of prophetic intermediation in communities.

Carolyn J. Sharp