The Dust from which Jeremiah’s Scroll Arose

Scholars find the Book of Jeremiah to be an obstinate specimen; disinclined to reveal its progression and inner cohesion.[1]  They say its chronology is messed up.[2] Its themes (supposedly) are limited, overly negative, and too often repeated.[3]  They postulate that many authors and editors at various stages of its development created the garbled, confusing text that we have today.[4] Mountains of ink and paper (and of course time) have been spent postulating which authors/redactors contributed to this portion or that part; and at what time in the text’s evolution.[5]

Such “scholarship” [sorry to be blunt] is built on a scaffold of outdated assumptions and falsehoods.

Please consider a fresh approach.

This book[6] offers an explanation of the structure of Jeremiah’s scroll as seen through the following five assumptions:

  1. The author[7] of Jeremiah was a very adept thinker and writer.[8]
  2. The author of Jeremiah was intentional in his arrangement.[9]
  3. The content, arrangement, and progression of the book was driven by the following motivations:
    1. Driven by the immediate and long-term needs of its target audience: The Jewish captives scattered throughout many nations over a huge geographical area.
    2. Their greatest need (as individuals and especially as communities) was heart-change and life-change through a radical move to repentance and reconciliation with their Living God.[10]
    3. They also had great hurts, and perhaps anger and bitterness, but especially communal shame, through and because of the tragic events that they as a people had suffered. They needed help. Help to face these issues head-on. So that, with God’s help, they could find healing and be restored to spiritual, emotional, and mental health.
    4. They were no doubt confused over what, how and why these tragedies happened. They needed to face these cognitive issues, discuss them thoroughly, and gain an apologetic regarding who they are and especially who their God is.
  4. The author of Jeremiah could organize the material free of restrictions, such as chronology or pedantic progression. His audience was well aware of their long-term and immediate history.[11] So much knowledge was “shared-knowledge” or “common knowledge” among his readers that he could assume their comprehension.[12] Also, the relevance of the messages was unquestioned.
  5. The intended audience read/heard it through radically different eyes/ears than us. They saw and felt everything in 3D. Their wounds were real and emotions raw. Public readings of the lengthy scroll became a momentous event in their lives. The written words spoke to the very heart of their deepest issues and concerns. And it is indeed conceivable that the words in the scroll delivered them from drudgery and hopelessness, and brought them to the light, to purpose, and to the hope of a future community. A community planned and waiting to be actioned by their amazing God.

Greatest Insight

The greatest insight into the organization of the Book of Jeremiah will come through a well-studied and well-prepared empathetic reading of the text. The goal? To crawl into the skin of the original hearers and absorb it through their eyes and ears and needy hearts.

  • What passages of Jeremiah produced the highest interest of the original readers?
  • What passages of Jeremiah incited the greatest pain, shame, and anger?
  • What passages in Jeremiah were the hardest for the original audience to believe?
  • Which passages spoke so loudly they were never forgotten?

It is perhaps not possible to answer these questions with certainty; but keeping these issues in mind while reading the text definitely pays high dividends.

“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope … I will bring you home again to your own land.” Jer. 29:11-14.

[1] “The modern reader of the Book of Jeremiah is faced at the outset with a difficult task. What has survived is not a book, in the normal sense of that word; it does not move from beginning to end, following a clear logic and inner development. Indeed, the major portion of the substance of this “book” was never designed for the literary context in which it has survived” Craigie, Peter C. et all, p xxxi.

[2] One commentator in his introduction uses the heading: “The Disorder of the Book”.  “No one can pretend that the book of Jeremiah is an orderly book. It could only be made so by severe pruning away of additional material and by drastic rearrangement to present a relatively accurate chronological scheme.” Cunliffe-Jones, p. 15. [Why is chronology so important? Cunliffe-Jones].

[3] “Parke-Taylor… finds the prose to be “monotonously repetitive” and “pedantic.” Brown, Kindle Location 1974.

[4] “The disorder of the book comes, indeed, from accumulated additional material added without editorial supervision.” Cunliffe-Jones, P. 20.

[5] An example: “This chapter [24] has the form of a prose vision report. Although prose, Mowinckel placed it with his “A” material. Although some commentators have assumed that the passage is Deuteronomistic (Nicholson and Hyatt), and others put it as later (Duhm and May), many take it to be largely Jeremianic (Rudolph, Bright, Holladay). The passage appears to have several later expansions.” Craigie, Peter C., p.357.

[6] The title of the book, when completed, will be Masterful Communication from Deity – The Book of Jeremiah.

[7] Authorship of the scroll is covered in another paper. Basically, it is believed by this writer that almost the entirety of the Masoretic text was composed by Jeremiah and Baruch in Egypt. At a later date, the final 4 verses where added by leaders of the faith community. They were happy to add this addendum, bringing completeness and a final note of hope to the scroll.

[8] Evidence is displayed in each column of the scroll.

[9] He ordered and arranged his material for a Specific Audience. As readers and students of this document, we are obligated as best we can to crawl into the skins of that audience. Hear it with their ears. Evaluate it with their experiences and needs and expectations. And feel its message with their hurting, disillusioned, and needy hearts. The Book of Jeremiah is excellent material for testing (and experiencing) Relevance Theory. (See Appendix ?TBD).

[10] This assumption is made based on the contents of Jeremiah and the Captivity Psalms. See Other Original Documents, pp TBD.

[11] History for these people was not a subject taken in school, it was their binding heritage, their unique identity, their strength for the present and their hope moving forward. History was “taught” through story telling every night around the fires, the elderly teaching the younger ones who there are, where they came from, and where they want to go. Events like Yom Kippur and the Feast of Booths.

[12] The shared cognitive environment was very broad and very deep, and not only knowledge was shared, but also experiences and interests and hopes overlapped greatly between writer and receptors.

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