The second of the three great prophetical books following Isaiah and preceding Ezekiel. Many of Jeremiah’s prophecies were preserved by his secretary Baruch (Jer. 36), but scholarly attempts to determine which parts of the book were written on that scroll have not been generally agreed. Substantial editorial work was done on all parts of the book. The influence of the Deuteronomist circle has left its stamp on the theology: it was the aim of this school to update the words of Jeremiah in such a way that they addressed the situation of a later generation. But some historical details have been confirmed: the siege of Lachish (34: 6–7) is mentioned in the Lachish Letters; and the fate of Carchemish (605 BCE) is correctly dated by 46: 2.
This influence is clearly the case with Jeremiah’s famous Temple sermon (ch. 7) and the following units, which contain Deuteronomist words and phrases. Authentic words of the prophet have been edited, and it is likely that the material took its final shape among the exiles in Babylon. These are the people addressed in Jer. 29. Moreover, there can be discerned in the book traces of the contempt felt by the exiles for those Judaeans who remained in their native land. The emphasis on the Law, which took the place of the Temple as the focus of devotion, and the development of the Jews in exile as the People of the Book, were significant features in Babylon which led to an antagonism against those not deported. This feeling was intensified after the Return (Ezra 4: 1–5) but claims for the moral superiority of the exiles (‘the remnant’) are made in Isa. 46: 3, contrasted with the desolate land of Judah (Isa. 43: 28), and especially in Ezek. 33: 23–9. In Jer. 29–33 words of the prophet Jeremiah himself are adapted to suit the community in exile who are the true remnant of Israel. After the account of the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE (Jer. 37–9) comes the indication that the future of the covenant people lies with those in Babylon, whereas those left in Judah are strongly condemned. It is therefore argued that this material in the book of Jeremiah reached its shape in the Babylonian Exile and was intended to support and encourage the Jews who were there. For them the book, as it proceeds through a complex construction of poetry and prose, with sermons and oracles against foreign nations (46: 51), provides an historical explanation of their past and a hope for their future. The people left in Judah after 586 BCE are dismissed by Jer. 40: 7–44 as offering no hope for the nation’s future. That is to be found in the Babylonian exile (2 Kgs. 27–30); but it depends on their acceptance of the Babylonian regime. Their rebellion had led to destruction and death (ch. 52), the burning of the Temple, and the blinding of the king. Jeremiah has been vindicated, as the exiles surely well knew, but at the very end of the book, they are lifted out of despair towards hope. Jehoiachin—king for a mere three months (2 Kgs. 24: 8)—was not only released from prison but even elevated to the palace dining table (Jer. 52: 33). There was a future.