- According to the information provided by Jeremiah himself in the first chapter of his prophetic book and in chapter 25 verse 3, he was active as a prophet in Judah for a period of some forty years (627-586 BC), in other words, until the beginning of the Babylonian Exile of Judah. But his writings also include events which occurred after the exile of 586 BC, such as the assassination of Gedaliah (41:2) and the flight of some of the Jews into Egypt (43:7f.).
One of the questions pondered by Bible scholars is why Jeremiah does not seem to mention the revival that took place during the last years of the reign of Josiah (probably beginning around 622 BC), as reported in the Deuteronomic histories that appear in II Kings 22-23 and II Chron. 34-35. This is a very interesting question, especially in view of the fact that Volney (1814:72-79) suggested that Jeremiah colluded with Hilkiah to either create, or at least redact, the Pentateuch in an effort to save Judah through a religious revival.
Other problems that occupy the attention of scholars include the question of who were the enemies who were to come from the north? The text itself seems to answer the question by indicating that they were the Babylonians, but a few scholars still suspect that it was really the Scythians, based on the writings of Herodotus who makes that claim. And another question is why the Septuagint version of Jeremiah is significantly shorter than the Hebrew text. Interestingly, four scrolls of Jeremiah's writings have been found near the Dead Sea (2QJer, 4QJera, 4QJerb, and 4QJerc). Three of those scrolls seem to support the longer version found in the Masoretic text, while one (4QJerb) supports the shorter version on the LXX. 1
In any case, an exhaustive treatment of such questions is outside the scope of this book. Here, we are concerned mainly with presenting the text in a translation that makes the message and the theology easier to understand.
For Latter-day Saints, Jeremiah is especially interesting because he was a contemporary of Lehi, and the two may well have known each other. The Book of Mormon also contains some details which may shed light on Jeremiah's situation vis-à-vis the temple personnel and operations. We know that he was the son of the High Priest (Hilkiah), and as noted above, it was Hilkiah who “found” the Book of the Law during the latter part of the reign of Josiah. The account of that find in the Old Testament might give people the impression that Hilkiah simply discovered a scroll on some dusty shelf, picked it up and realized it was indeed scripture. That assumption would presuppose that there was no well-developed temple library; but the other possibility is that there was indeed such a library, and that Hilkiah did not discover some lone book on a dusty shelf, but rather was pouring through the documents in the temple library, and during his reading found some material that he felt he should share with the king.
There is information in the Book of Mormon which might support this latter view, for there we read that Nephi was sent back to get records from Laban which were significant for both content and format. We are told that his records:
1) Were on plates of brass, thus proving that during that time there was technology available by which records could be preserved long-term.If Laban, as a private citizen (albeit wealthy) could have in his possession writings of such scope, and written on material that could insure their long-term survival, then we would have to assume that the same would be true for the temple. From the earliest historical periods, there were scribal schools associated with important temples, and we must assume that the same was true in Jerusalem. Furthermore, the presence of scribes implies a place to store records, and we may assume that the temple in Jerusalem would have had a library at least as comprehensive as that of Laban, and very likely much larger. Therefore, we may assume that Hilkiah had access to records containing information from the earliest times to his own day, just as Laban did. This makes the suggestion that Hilkiah and his family may have redacted some of that material into the current form of the Pentateuch (or at least a precursor thereof) all the more plausible. As for the “book of the law” which Hilkiah found, it is usually thought to have been the book of Deuteronomy, but I suspect that Jeremiah and his family probably were the editors who put that book together, since the language in the books of Jeremiah and Deuteronomy is very similar. However, if the scribe read it to Josiah, it may have been a much shorter piece of literature, probably taken from Exodus or Leviticus. I think a likely selection might have been chapters 20-23 of Exodus, which contain perhaps the most essential elements of the Mosaic law.
2) Labans records contained genealogical information (I Nephi 3:3),
3) Those records also contained the writings of prophets from the earliest times down to Lehi's time (I Nephi 3:20),
4) They also contained the Law of Moses (I Nephi 4:15-16).
And if Laban had brass plates, would not the temple also have created some documents on brass plates for long-term storage? If so, why have we not found any? The answer to that is probably quite simple: we are told that the Babylonians carried off anything of metal (II Kings 25:13-16 and Jeremiah 52:17-23), because any metal could be re-used. Therefore we can assume that any records on brass would have been carted off with the other objects.
In terms of content, Jeremiah is understandably concerned with the imminent destruction of Jerusalem and the much feared aftermath of such destruction. But he also looks forward to events in the latter days. For example, in chapter 31 he discusses the return of part or all of the Ten Tribes. He also speaks of the restoration of the Church (using the Hebrew word ‘edah) in 6:18 and 30:20.
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1. Cf. Perdue and Kovacs 1984:11.
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Jeremiah’s calling as a prophet, his pre-mortal existence confirmed.
- 1. The words of Jeremiah,1 son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin;
2. To whom the word of Yahweh came in the days of Josiah, son of Amon, king of Judah, in the 13th year of his reign.
3. And that was (also) in the days of Jehoiakim son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the end of eleven years of Zedekiah, son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the exile of Jerusalem in the fifth month.
4. And the word of Yahweh came to me saying;
5. Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; and before you emerged from the womb I consecrated you (and) made you a prophet to the nations.
6. And I said, Alas, Yahweh, behold I do not know how to speak, for I am a youth.
7. And Yahweh said to me, Do not say, I am a youth, for wherever I send you, you will go, and whatever I command you, you will say.
8. Do not fear them, for I am with you to save you, says Yahweh.
9. And Yahweh stretched forth his hand and touched my mouth, and Yahweh said to me, Behold, I have placed my words in your mouth.
10. See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, to uproot and to break down, and to destroy and to tear down, to build and to plant.
11. And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, What do you see, Jeremiah? And I said, I see a rod of an almond tree.
12. And Yahweh said to me, You have seen well, for I will be watchful2 to accomplish my word.
13. And the word of Yahweh came to me again saying, What do you see? And I said, I see a bubbling pot, and it is facing northward.
14. And Yahweh said to me, Evil will be let loose from the north upon all the inhabitants of the land.
15. For behold, I am calling to all the families of the kingdoms of the north, says Yahweh, and they will come and each one will place his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, and near all the city walls around (it), and near all the cities of Judah.
16. And I will speak my judgments against them for all their evil, because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods, and worshiped the work of their hands.
17. And you will gird your loins and arise, and you will speak to them everything which I will command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I should give you cause to be dismayed before them.
18. And I, behold, this day I have made you into a fortified city and into an iron pillar, and into city walls of bronze 3 against all the land, from the kings of Judah to her leaders, to her priests and to the people of the land.
19. And they will fight against you, but they will not prevail against you, for I am with you, says Yahweh, to deliver you.
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2. In Hebrew there is a word play between “almond tree” in the previous verse, which is shaqed and “to be watchful” in this verse, which is shoqed.
3. Concerning copper vs. brass vs. bronze, see the footnote to Isa. 45:2.
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Jeremiah is to prophesy in Jerusalem and declare their apostasies
- 1. And the word of Yahweh came to me saying:
2. Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem saying, Thus says Yahweh, I have reminded you of the charity of your youth, the love of the time of your betrothal, when you followed me in the desert, in a land not seeded.
3. Israel is holy to Yahweh, the first of his crop; all who eat it will be guilty; evil will come upon them says Yahweh.
4. Hear the word of Yahweh, Oh house of Jacob and all the families of the house of Israel.
5. Thus says Yahweh, What iniquity did your fathers find in me, that they distanced themselves from me and went after vanity and became vain? 1
6. And they did not say, Where is Yahweh, who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the desert, in a land of steppes and pits, in a land of drought and darkness, in a land where no man had passed through, and no man dwelled there?
7. And I brought you to a fruitful land to eat its fruit and its goodness; but you came and desecrated my land, and you turned my inheritance into an abomination.
8. The priests did not say, Where is Yahweh? And those who handle the law did not know me, and the pastors transgressed against me, and the prophets prophesied according to Baal and went after things that are of no benefit.
9. Therefore I will still contend with you, says Yahweh, and with your children's children I will contend.
10. Therefore pass over (to) the isles of the Cypriotes2 and see, and send to Kedar3 and consider diligently, and see whether there was (ever) anything like this.
11. Whether a (gentile) nation exchanged gods, and they are not gods (anyway), but my people exchanged their glory for something of no benefit.
12. Be appalled at this, Oh heavens, and rage (and) become quite desolate, says Yahweh.
13. For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the spring of living water, to hew out for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns which do not hold the water.
14. Is Israel a slave? Was he born (in) the household? Why has he become a prey?
15. Young lions roar over him; they have raised their voices and turned his land into desolation; his cities have been kindled (and left) without any inhabitants.
16. Even the children of Memphis4 and Tahpanhes5 will break the crown of your heads.
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17. Are you not doing (all) this to yourself by leaving Yahweh, your God, when he was leading you in the way?
18. And now, what (good is it) to you (to be) on the road to Egypt and to drink the water of the Shihor,6 or what (good is it) to you (to be) on the road to Assyria and drink the water of the Euphrates?7
19. Your (own) evil will chasten you, and your apostasies will reprove you. Therefore know and see that evil and bitter is your forsaking of Yahweh, your God, and your not having (any) fear of me, says the Lord Yahweh of the Heavenly Hosts.
20. For anciently I broke your yoke; I undid your bonds, and you said: I will not serve (you); for on every high hill and under every luxuriant tree8 you bend over (like) a whore. 9
21. But I had planted you as a choice vine stock, entirely of true seed. So how did you become unto me (like) the rebellious (parts) of a foreign vine?
22. For though you wash with natron10 and use much soap,11 your iniquity is stained before me, says the Lord Yahweh.
23. How can you say, I have not become defiled; I have not gone after the Ba'alim? Behold your way in the valley. Know what you have done, Oh swift young camel who clings12 to her ways.
24. A wild donkey accustomed to the wilderness, in her desire she pants (like) the wind, (and) when she is ready (to copulate), who will turn her away? All who seek her will not tire; they will find her at the time of her estrus.
25. Protect13 your foot from going bare, and your throat from thirst; but you said, I am in despair, (but) not because I have loved strangers and I go after them.
26. Like the shame of a thief when he is discovered, so have the house of Israel been ashamed; they, their kings, leaders, and priests and prophets.
27. They say to a tree, You are my father, and to a stone, You gave birth to me. For they have turned their back 14 to me and not their face; but in their time of trouble they will say, Arise and save us!
28. So where are your gods, which you made for yourselves? Let them arise if they can save you in the time of your trouble; for (like) the number of your cities were your gods,15 Oh Judah.
29. Why do you strive with me? All of you transgressed against me, says Yahweh.
30. In vain I struck your children. They did not accept any discipline. Your sword has devoured your prophets like a destroying lion.
31. Oh you of this generation! See the word of Yahweh. Was I a wasteland to Israel? Or a land of darkness? Why have my people said, We have descended.16 We will no longer come to you.
32. Will a virgin forget her ornaments, (or) a bride her ribbons? But my people have forgotten me for countless days.
33. How you rejoice on your way to seek love! Therefore you have even taught the evil things17 (and) your methods.
34. The blood of the souls of the innocent poor is found even in your skirts. You did not catch them breaking (into your houses), but on account of all these (other) things (you killed them). 18
35. And you said, I am innocent, surely his anger will turn away from me. Behold, I have a controversy with you because you said, I did not sin!
36. How you ridicule (the idea of) changing your ways! You will be shamed even by Egypt, like the shame of Assyria.
37. You will also leave this (situation) with your hands on your heads, for Yahweh has despised those whom you trust, and you will not prosper with them.
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2. Sometimes the Hebrew word kittim is given in translations. But the connection with Cyprus is pretty well established.
3. This refers to a some nomadic tribe in the Arabian desert. Kedar was one of the sons of Ishmael (Gen. 25:13) and also the name of a later tribe of Arabs descended from him.
4. The main event connected with Memphis in the 7th century BC was the fact that it was center of Egyptian resistance against the Assyrians under Pharaoh Taharqa of the 25th Dynasty (her reigned from 690 to 664 BC), but the city was captured by the Assyrian king Esarhaddon in 671 BC. It was then sacked by Ashurbanipal in 664 BC, putting an end to the Kushite (Ethiopian) rule of Egypt. Therefore, by the time of Jeremiah, Memphis had lost its glory.
5. Tahpanhes was a city/town in the eastern delta of Egypt, on Lake Manzala, to which some Jews fled after the assassination of Gedaliah. This was around 582/1 BC, i.e. about 4 years after the deportation of Jews to Babylon. It is mentioned in Jer. 43:7-9; and according to Jer. 44:1 there were also Jews who had apparently fled to Memphis (Noph) as well. That may explain the reference to those two cities in the verse currently under consideration.
6. The Shihor was a river (probably an eastern branch of the Nile) on the Egyptian border.
7. On the use of nahar “river” to mean the Euphrates, see footnote to Micah 7:12.
8. This phrase – under every luxuriant tree – is translated in the KJV as “under every green tree,” but luxuriant is more precise. In any case, the significance is undoubtedly the fact that a luxuriant tree, being very leafy, provides plenty of shade, and therefore provides a suitable location for certain pagan practices. Jeremiah uses this phrase repeatedly.
9. Although this is often translated more euphemistically, I thought it best not to soften language which Jeremiah himself did not try to soften. He wanted his audience to feel the full effect of this chastisement.
10. Apparently the ancients used natron for handwashing. The BDB (sub נֶתֶר) points to a discussion by August Meineke in his Fragmenta comicorum on hand washing among the ancient Greeks.
12. The BDB indicates the meaning for this word is “to twist,” but since it is a hapax legomenon, and since the Aramaic word סרך means “to adhere,” and since even Rashi interprets it as “to cling” (as indicated in the Chabad translation), we will follow that lead.
14.Lit. “the back of their neck.”
15. Indeed, in ancient Mesopotamia there were a number of gods worshiped in each of the larger cities, but each city had its chief god. Therefore, this statement may have been intended to liken them to Babylonia in their polytheistic practices.
16. The verb form is written רדנו, but some authorities (and indeed the Peshitta translation reflects this) assume it is a shortened form of ירדנו.
17. The vowel pointing of the word in question in the MT is הָרָעוֹת, which means “the evils” or “the evil ones.” However, as pointed out previously, the vowels were added centuries after the consonantal text was written, and as it currently stands, it does not make much sense. But if we change just one of those vowels so that the word is written הָרֵעוֹת, the word would then mean “companions” and this may fit the context better. In that case, an alternate translation of the last part of this verse could be; “Therefore you have even taught (your) companions your methods/ways.”
18.To put it even more plainly, he says that they did not kill people who were in the act of committing a crime, but rather, they killed people who might have opposed or condemned the behavior of apostate Israel.
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