The Book of Jeremiah

Composition, Reception,and Interpretation

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Editor(s): 
Jack R. Lundbom, Craig A. Evans, Bradford A. Anderson
Vetus Testamentum, Supplements

Review

The Book of Jeremiah: Composition, Reception, and Interpretation is a multi-author, edited volume that arrived as the eighth volume in the Formation and Interpretation of Old Testament Literature series (FIOTL), which is a part of the Supplements to Vetus Testamentum (VTSup). The volume itself is composed of twenty-four chapters, authored by different scholars.  These authors come from a myriad of backgrounds, perspectives, and approaches. This means there is not a central approach or perspective but a spectrum of ideas converging on the intriguing and complex book ascribed to the prophet Jeremiah. To address the many aspects of this biblical book, the editors grouped the essays into four sections: General Topics, Issues in Interpretation, Textual Transmission and Reception History, and Jeremiah and Theology. These sections do not constrain the essays in their content or focus, as many address overlapping issues. For instance, chapters 3 and 22 both discuss the role of Jeremiah as a type of Moses, though coming to slightly different conclusions. Likewise, several chapters discuss the textual relationship of the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint, though with differing conclusions as well. This of course helps balance some of the perspectives espoused by the authors and shine light on the difficulty of these issues.   

The intended audience is a well-informed student of the Bible and religion. It contains many untranslated words and passages from languages such as Hebrew, Greek, and German. That said the content is not overly technical or accessible only to a niche group of scholars. Rather, the tone and intention seems to aim at cross-pollination for students and interdisciplinary discussion among scholars. With this approach, the volume has something for everyone. It covers a wide variety of topics, including: history, biblical studies, textual issues, intertextuality, philosophy, and theology. The central focus, amidst this diversity, is unraveling the mysteries of this popular yet enigmatic book of the Bible. Although not everything can be covered in a single work, the aim of this volume is to provide a broad overview of many interesting and important issues regarding Jeremianic studies.

Due to this volume’s breadth and depth, a comprehensive critical analysis is not possible. However, a few positive and negative highlights will serve the interested reader before engaging with this book. To begin, it is fascinating to follow the scholarship regarding Jeremiah’s textual history, transmission, and traditions. This biblical book is undoubtedly a complicated textual puzzle, perplexing even the most astute. So, an analysis of the various texts and languages would be a monumental task for any single individual. Yet, the collective expertise and knowledge observed for the textual traditions – Greek, Syriac, Latin, Qumran, and others – is indeed illuminating. Furthermore, although repetition in books can feel superfluous, it was beneficial to see the new covenant (Jer 31) addressed from several angles. Such a multifaceted analysis provided a feast of food for thought. This central idea for both Jewish and Christian theologies was addressed in several chapters with word studies, historical reception, analysis of intertextuality, biblical theology, and the New Testament’s interpretation. Despite some of the contending views, the overall picture rightly situated the importance of the covenant and God’s work in a new way, involving Israel and the nations. Finally, although a scholarly work, many of the chapters provided theologically rich material, even penetrating the heart: “God’s filling the earth is not static or neutral … God is always lovingly at work in every nook and cranny of the universe” (464).

While the overall tone and value of the volume was positive, there were a few issues for the reader to take into consideration. First, there was a dueling and subtle contention throughout many of the essays. This was due to varied presuppositions and ideologies held by the authors. Several authors approached the text from an a priori critical perspective. This led some to overly deconstruct the text and assign verses to various periods and redactors or mere borrowing from other literature. Such a view also led to differing opinions on the dating and role of Deuteronomy in relation to Jeremiah. Of all the OT books, Jeremiah certainly has the most complex textual history. Yet, one’s presupposition about the text and textual development greatly affects one’s conclusions, as is evident in this volume. While some were perhaps overly critical of the text, many others pushed back against these presuppositions, supporting and providing evidence for early readings and authorship. Similarly, several authors alluded to or directly affirmed contradictory content among the biblical prophets, eg.: “Isaiah’s earlier promises of divine protection … must now be viewed as false prophecy” (33). Interpretations like this are evidence of a critical perspective on the biblical text. Yet, the early compilers of the canon were sensitive to weigh texts against the Deut. 18 stipulation, which would question the validity of such hypotheses. These negative points are, of course, not comprehensive but only cursory. The reader will have to weigh the diverse views and points to arrive at their own conclusions regarding the authenticity and authoritative place of the biblical text.

Although many more particulars could be assessed and debated, these points serve to intrigue and alert the reader to some of the core issues found within this volume. As already stated, The Book of Jeremiah is an overall useful resource for any student of Jeremiah along with the biblical prophets, textual history, and intertextuality. Despite some of the potential accessibility barriers for the lay reader, this volume opens for the informed reader a helpful window into some of the most important and difficult issues relating to Jeremiah – the book and the prophet.

 

About the Reviewer(s): 

Jesse W. Harris is a doctoral candidate at Gateway Seminary.

Date of Review: 
October 15, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Jack R. Lundbom is a Life Member at Clare Hall, University of Cambridge. He has published numerous scholarly articles and books, including the three-volume Jeremiah (1999; 2004).

Craig A. Evans is the John Bisagno Distinguished Professor of Christian Origins at Houston Baptist University. He has published several books on archaeology, Jesus, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, including Jesus and His Contemporaries (1995) and Jesus and the Remains of His Day (2015). 

Bradford A. Anderson is Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Dublin City University, Ireland. His research focuses on the Hebrew Bible and its reception, and publications include An Introduction to the Study of the Pentateuch (2017).

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