AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOKS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT. by W. O. E. Oesterley, D.D., Litt.D.,& T. H. Robinson, D.D., Litt.D. Hon. D.D. (Aberdeen), Hon. D.Th. (Halle Wittenberg). © W O E Oesterley & T H Robinson 1934. First published SPCK. 1934. - This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


HOME | Place in the Canon. | Historical Background. | Contents. | Structure and Date: | Structure of A sections. | Dating of A collections. | B sections; contents, date, and authorship. | C sections: contents, origin, and date. | The main compilation. | Jeremiah and the Reforms of Josiah. | The Man and his Message. | The Hebrew Text and the Septuagint.


In the Hebrew Bible the book of Jeremiah stands second of the " Later Prophets", following Isaiah and preceding Ezekiel. There is, however, a Rabbinic tradition to the effect that it should come first of its group. (Cp. Above p.233.)

In the Septuagint, also, Jeremiah is usually placed between Isaiah and Ezekiel, though the "Twelve" precedes these three.

In the Peshitta Jeremiah stands immediately after the "Twelve", and the Vulgate follows the Hebrew order, retained in most modern versions.


Ashurbanipal. The life and activity of Jeremiah fall in one of the great critical ages of history. His call to the prophetic ministry is dated in the year that saw the death of the last of the great kings of Assyria, Ashur-bani-pal (626BC). [Various attempts have been made to suggest another date, but none has secured serious recognition.]

At once the empire began to break up. Babylonia asserted her independence, under the Chaldean king Nabopolassar, and the great Scythian inroads shattered the northern defences. In 616BC the new Babylonian power attacked the weak Assyria, and in 614BC, with the help of the Medes, they captured the old capital Ashur. The allies took and destroyed Nineveh itself in 612BC and captured Harran, where resistance was still made, in 610BC. At this point our detailed knowledge of events breaks off, but we have grounds for believing that the last stand was made still further west, at Carchemish.

The period also saw a recrudescence of vitality in Egypt. The young king, Necho, cherished the hope of restoring the old empire of the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries BC, and definitely threw in his lot with Assyria, probably on the ground that she would now be too weak to injure him, while the Neo-Babylonian monarchy would prove a fatal obstacle to his ambitions. For several years he led armies into Mesopotamia, fighting with varied success. But he was unable to save Nineveh, and, in 605BC, he suffered a final defeat at Carchemish. This was the last occasion on which Egypt seriously grasped at world-hegemony, if we except a few spasmodic efforts in the age of the Ptolemies.

The Palestinian states had, previously, been forced to accept Egyptian dominion, but the result of Carchemish was an inevitable transfer of power to Babylon. Nebuchadrezzar, who succeeded his father, Nabopolassar, a few months after Carchemish, was satisfied with receiving tribute from the little kingdoms of the west; but, stirred up by Egyptian intrigues, they were restless and inclined to revolt. Nebuchadrezzar was forced to suppress such a rising in 597-6 BC. Jehoiakim implicated Judah, but it seems that he died before an actual attack was made on the city, and it was his son, Jehoiachin, who surrendered and was carried captive to Babylon. Zedekiah, a younger brother of Jehoiakim, was placed on the throne. He was a weak ruler, and was unable to resist the nobles who were intriguing with Egypt against Babylon. The inevitable result was the invasion of Judah by the Chaldaeans in 588BC, resulting in the capture of Jerusalem in 586BC.

The kingdom of Judah thus ceased to exist, crushed by the advancing power of Babylon. Palestine had suffered, as it seems, from the Scythian invasion in or about 626BC. Some of the oracles of Jeremiah fit this invasion better than any other, and it seems that Zephaniah was also faced with the same conditions.

In 621BC Josiah carried through his great reform, based on a law-book found in the Temple, and we may regard his action as having a political, as well as a religious, aspect. (See above, p.57, p.65.)

Since it involved the eradication of all foreign cults, it was, in fact, a gesture of independence of Assyria. Thirteen years later (608BC) he met his death at the hands of Necho, who was ostensibly on the Assyrian side. The people passed over his eldest son and placed the second, Jehoahaz, on the throne. On his return from that year's Mesopotamian expedition, Necho deposed Jehoahaz, and took him in chains to Egypt, setting his elder brother Jehoiakim on the throne. The new king was a vigorous and unscrupulous tyrant, who oppressed his people much as Solomon had done. It would seem that some of the results achieved by the Deuteronomic reform were now reversed, and Judah went back to many of her old ways.

On the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, and the absorption of Judah into the Babylonian Empire, Nebuchadrezzar appointed Gedaliah, of the family of Shaphan, governor of the country. He made his headquarters at Mizpah, and remained there for a period whose duration we cannot determine with certainty. It was, however, probably four or five years. A representative of the old royal house, Ishmael, by name, eventually assassinated him on the instigation of the Ammonites, and the last remnants of the governing body fled to Egypt, in fear of vengeance from Babylon.


The book of Jeremiah is a combination of several collections of oracular material, with others, giving an account of events which took place in the prophet's lifetime and with some descriptions of the prophet's own experiences. A detailed account of its contents, however, can be appreciated only in connexion with the study of its structure.


The book of Jeremiah, like Isaiah, is a compilation in which all three types of source have been freely used. The method adopted by its compiler, however, is quite different from that employed in Isaiah. In this latter book the material of each kind is more or less grouped together, while in Jeremiah passages from the one alternate with the others. Not infrequently the prose passages have a heading, giving the date or some other circumstance, and this is almost invariable where a prose passage precedes a group of oracular material. Once or twice a heading is followed first by type A and then by type B or C, but the other is the usual order. Occasionally little scraps of prose are found in the middle of oracular sections, and vice versa.

The general distribution of the three types is as follows:

A B C Notes
[Oracular Poetry] [Prose in the 3rd person] [Prose in the 1st person]  
I:15-iii.5.   i.1-14.  
Iii.19-vi.30.   iii.6-18.  
viii.4-x.25.   vii.1-viii.3. [Except for the heading in vii.1 (where the prophet is mentioned in the third person, & this may be due either to redaction or to accidental corruption of the text; a similar heading is found in xviii.1 & xxvii.1, though both passages are clearly C, not B), there is no formal indication of the type to which this passage belongs. But in character it identifies itself with C rather than B, & a part of it clearly refers to the same occasion as xxvi, which is obviously B. We thus have a reference to the same event from the two types of source.]
xi.15-ii.17.   xi.1-14.
i.15-27.   i.1-14.
xiv.1-10.   xiv.11-16.
xiv.I7-xvii.18.   xvii.19-27.
xviii.13-23.   xviii.1-12.
xxx.7-18.   xix.1-xx.6.
xxi.11-14.   x.1-5.
x.6-xi.40. xxvi. xxiv.
xxv.30-36. xxix. xxv.1-29.
xxx.4-xxxi.22. xxx.1-3. xxvii.
xlvi-li.58. xxi. xxviii.
  xxxiv. xxxi.23-40.
  xxxvi-xlv. xx.
  li.59-64. xxxv.

We now turn to the headings that appear from time to time in the book. These are found in the following places: i.1, ii.1, iii.6, vii.1, xi.1, i.1, xiv.1, xvii.19, xviii.1, xxi.1, xxv.1, xxvi.1, xxvii.1, xxviii.1, xxix.1, xxx.1, xx.1, xxi.1, xxxiv.1, xxxiv.8, xxxv.1, xxxvi.1, xxxvii.1, xxxix.1, xl.1, xliii.8, xliv.1, xlv.1, xlvi.1. [Not found in the text of the Septuagint.]

It will be seen at once that in the earlier parts of the book these headings occur most often at the beginning of prose passages that are followed by poetical pieces. Later, when the poetical portions have practically come to an end, they occur in the course both of B and of C groups. This seems to imply that the compiler had before him collections of B and C material, divided into sections, all of which had headings of some kind, many of them being dated. These headings were no part of the original pieces, since in more than one instance the heading of a C passage is in the third person, e.g. in xviii.1, xxv.1, xxvii.1 and xxxv.1. It is possible that some of the oracular sections had such headings, and one may survive from this source in xiv.1. This, however, is the only case in which a poetical section precedes the prose that is linked up with it.

These facts give us a clue to the methods of the compiler. He had before him a number of little collections of oracular material in poetry, some of which had prose appendices or expansions of no great length. He had also a collection of descriptive material from the hand of a biographer, and a similar collection of passages in the first person, mainly consisting of oracular material worked over into rhetorical prose form. [In one illuminating passage, x.10-12, we have the two, side by side, first the poetic oracle, then a prose version of it. In this instance the compiler has displaced the prose sections from their original setting in order to combine them with the poetic form.]

 His method was to take each small collection, or group of oracular utterances, and to prefix to it a suitable selection from one of the two prose collections. We may safely assume that if he had had but a single poetic collection, he would have made it more continuous, and the result would have been a book much more like that of Isaiah in general appearance. For his purpose he preferred passages of the C type, and used but little of the B class until the others were nearly all exhausted. It is not until we reach ch.xix that we have a B passage. It seems probable that the collection of C passages was much fuller for the earlier period of Jeremiah's ministry, though it included passages dating from the final siege of Jerusalem, while the B passages cover the later period only. The first of the latter (ch.xix) has no heading, while the second (xxi.1-10) is dated in the reign of Zedekiah. Ch.xxvi is dated at the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim (608-597BC). But there is little else of this type that can be placed earlier than the fourth year of that king's reign, i.e. the time of the battle of Carchemish, when the Egyptian power was finally broken, and Babylon became the one great world-power.

i. Structure of A sections.

We may now note in rather more detail the contents of the various little oracular collections that have been utilized by the main compiler. We can distinguish no less than fourteen in all, none of them as long as the majority of those preserved in Isaiah and, perhaps, in some other books.

They are as follows:

  1. i.15-iii.5: The first two of the pieces included here may not have belonged to the original collection. The first (i.15-16) evidently owes its position to its suitability as a sequel to the vision of the boiling pot, and the second forms a natural conclusion to the story of Jeremiah's call to the prophetic ministry. [The "title" in ii.1-2 is absent from the Septuagint, & may well be a scribal addition. See below on the Hebrew text, pp.312 f.] The remainder, however, consists of utterances which may all belong to the earlier part of the prophet's work, either before or during the Deuteronomic reform. We may distinguish the following: ii.2-3, 5-8 (verse 4 is clearly a collector's note), 9-12, 13 (probably mutilated at the end), 14-17, 18-19, 20-22, 23-24, 25 (a fragment), 26-29, 30-31a (only the beginning of this piece has been preserved), 31b-33, 34-351 36-37, iii.1 (this is prosaic in form, and may include a commentator's explanation as well as a fragment of an original oracle), 2-5. Throughout all these oracles the influence of Hosea seems to be particularly strong, inasmuch as most of them present the relation between Yahweh and Israel as that of husband and wife. They are best assigned to a time not later than the reform of Josiah, and there is nothing to indicate that the compilation itself was made late.

  2. iii.19-vi.30: The separate pieces included here seem to have been: iii.19-20, 21-22, 23-25, iv.1-2, 3-4 (modified by addition at the end, unless it be mutilated), 5-8, 9-12 (worked over and recast as prose, though clear signs of the original poetic form are to be seen, especially in vv.11f), 13-17, 18 (possibly a fragment); 19-21 (to which 22 has been appended), 23-26, 27-28, 29-31, v. 1-6, 7, 8-9, 10-13 (this has probably been expanded towards the end), 15-17 (with a prose introduction in 14 and conclusion in 18-19, the style of which suggests the age of Malachi), 20-25 (much worked over near the beginning), 26, 27, 28-29, 30-31, vi.1-5, 6-8, 9-12, 13-15 (mutilated at the beginning; the complete form appears in viii.10-12), 16-19, 20, 21, 22-26, 27-30. Many of the pieces in this collection date from a time of foreign invasion, possibly that of the Chaldaeans in 596BC or 587BC, but more probably that of the Scythians in 626BC. While there is nothing that we cannot ultimately ascribe to Jeremiah, several of the pieces have been worked over and recast, and there appear to be traces of the style of the age of Malachi. It is possible that we must date the final form of this collection as late as the end of the fifth century BC. It may here be noted that the last piece but one (vi.22-26) appears in l.41-43, in a form which has been mutilated and adapted to Babylon instead of to Jerusalem.

  3. viii.4-x.25: We may note the following pieces: viii.4-7, 8-9, 10-12, 13-14 (with a verse taken from xiv.19 appended), 16-18, 19-23, ix.1-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-10, 11-13, 14-15, 16-18, 19-21, 22-23, 24-25, x.1-10 (a late passage which has received considerable accretions since the translation of the Septuagint, and is followed by an Aramaic verse which must be a late addition), 12-16 (an extended doxology, probably post-exilic, which appears again in li. 15-19), 17 (a fragment), 18 (probably also a fragment), 19-21, 22, 23-25. While there are portions of this collection that are certainly due to Jeremiah, there are others which are equally certainly derived from a much later source, especially in ch.x. The first sixteen verses cannot be earlier than the Exile, and may well be much later. The curious Aramaic verse (x.11 is apparently a sort of charm to be used by pious Jews when confronted with heathen gods. We cannot place this collection earlier than the end of the fifth century, and it is probably somewhat later still.

  4. xi.15-.17: This section includes pieces which, though resembling the usual oracles in their poetic form, yet differ from them in that they tell us of the prophet's inner experiences rather than of his message to his people. These are among the most valuable and important passages in the book. The collection, however, includes other oracles-as well: xi.15-17 (text corrupt and often obscure), 18-20, 22-23 (verse 21 is introductory to this), .1-3, 4-6 (possibly not originally a single Piece), 7-13 (this has been considerably modified at the end, but it is no longer possible to restore the actual conclusion of the original oracle), 14-17 (a promise of a restoration which, in its present form, can hardly be pre-exilic, though its basis seems to have been originally the work of Jeremiah). Here again, amid much that is obscure and uncertain, we have some undoubted utterances of Jeremiah, and unmistakable signs of a much later worker. While the collection cannot be very early, it need not be placed much later than the return from the Exile.

  5. xi.15-27: This contains only two poems, the first (15-16) being a rather vague warning, and the second (17-27) a denunciation and threat against the king and the queen-mother, especially the latter. It would seem that an attempt has been made to transfer the threat from the queen mother to the city of Jerusalem, but the real character of the poem is quite clear. The prominence given to the queen mother makes it practically certain that the second poem comes from the short reign of Jehoiachin (597-6 B.C.). The other might be from almost any period, though its style suggests Jeremiah himself.

  6. xiv.1-10: Verses 2-6 describe a drought, and the remainder seems to be a prayer of national confession, possibly used in some ritual which was intended to secure the favour of Yahweh in such a time. There is no clue to the dates, except that the interest shown in wild life in the former poem would be quite characteristic of Jeremiah, and inclines us to accept his authorship of it.

  7. xiv.17-xvii.18: This is another of the sections in which we have material describing Jeremiah's immediate experience in his dealings with Yahweh; xiv.17-22 forms a prayer for deliverance, followed by xv.1-4 (an oracle much worked over), 5-9, 10-14 (the original form much expanded, partly by the inclusion in 13, 14 of material also found in xvii.3-4), 15-18, 19-21, xvi.1-4, 5-8) 9, 10-13 (much modified), 14-18 (a prose passage apparently from near the close of the exile), 19-21, xvii.1-4 (modified and worked over), 5-8 (a psalm which forms the basis Of Ps. i), 9-10, 11, 12-13 (the last two mere fragments), 14-18.

  8. xviii.13-23: This seems to contain only two pieces, 13-17 and 18-23, the latter being an imprecation on Jeremiah's personal enemies.

  9. xx.7-18: The little collection opens with Jeremiah's complaint in 7-10, to which fragments from various sources have been appended in 11, 12, and 13. Verses 14-18 were the model for job iii.

  10. xxi.11-14: A single oracle which may have been originally included in the next collection; it has received additions to its original form.

  11. xxii.6-xxiii.40: The nucleus of this collection is a group of oracles dealing with the various kings contemporary with Jeremiah. The opening section, 6-7, is a mutilated oracle, which has been continued in prose. Other oracles follow this in 10-12 (Jehoahaz), 13-17, 18-19 (Jehoiakim), 20-23 (Judah in general), 24-27, 28-29, 30 (all three refer to Jehoiachin, though they have been worked over and are now prose in form). Ch. xi.1-8 consists of a group of Messianic prophecies, which seem to have been gathered round 5-6. These last may be a relic of a dirge over Zedekiah, promising a better king whose name shall be the reverse of his. Verses 7-8 have appeared already in xvi.14-15. The remainder of the chapter is a conglomeration of utterances, mostly small fragments, which have the prophets as their subject. As usual in such cases, a few oracles are clearly defined near the beginning of the little collection, e.g. 9-11, 13-15, 21-22, 23-24, 25-29 (much modified), 33-40 (also much worked over).

  12. xxv.30-36: Evidently taken from a collection of oracles dealing with foreign nations, perhaps that which is now found in chs.xlvi-li. It contains several more or less fragmentary Pieces: 30-31, 32-33, 34-36.

  13. xxx.4-xxxi.22: This collection owes its position in the book to the fact that it is primarily composed of promises of a happy future. This, however, is not the only type of oracle found in it, though the gloomy utterances tend to have a happy ending affixed to them. Thus we have: xxx.4-7 (with 8-9 appended), 10-11, 12-15 (text very doubtful in parts), 16-17, 18-21, 22, 23-24 (also found in xi.23-24), xxxi. 2-6, 7-9, 10-14, 15-17) 18-20, 21-22. While there is a good deal in this collection which suggests the tone of the later years of the Exile, there is also a certain amount of material which we can certainly attribute to Jeremiah.

  14. xlvi-li: A collection of oracles dealing with foreign nations. Each group contains several oracles, and the phenomena of their composition resemble those of the other collections. The nations dealt with are as follows: Egypt (xlvi.1-26, with an appendix in vv.27f, which is also found in xxx.10f.), Philistia (xlvii.1-7), Moab (xlviii.1-47, including passages also found in Isa.xv, xvi), Ammon (xlix.1-6), Edom (xlix.7-22, including two oracles also found in Obadiah), Damascus (xlix.23-27), Kedar (xlix.28-33), Elam (xlix.34-39), and Babylon (l.1-li.58)

This brief outline survey of the general structure of the book has made certain facts evident. Of these we may select three as being the most significant for the history of the book, and, indeed, of much of the prophetic literature. The first is the brevity of most of the independent pieces we have isolated from one another. To some extent this is due to the "scrappiness" of the material, which the various collectors found ready to their hands. There are many mutilated pieces; sometimes we have definite proof of the fact in the appearance of a fuller form, either in this or in some other book. In many cases we have nothing but brief fragments, whose original context it is impossible to guess, and these have been flung together, almost haphazard, by some of the collectors. There is more of this type of material in Jeremiah than in any other prophetic book, and it tends to make exegesis difficult and uncertain.

The second point that strikes us is the frequency with which we meet with little prose pieces in the midst of what are, otherwise, poetical collections. Naturally, there is seldom, if ever, enough evidence to show whether the prophet was mentioned in the first or in the third person in these small sections. But, since they consist of messages and not descriptions of events, they attach themselves more readily to the C type than to the B type. They are, in fact, oracles which were probably once poetic in form but written down in prose form before the formation of the collections. Often we have snatches of the poetic rhythm and parallelism in these pieces, and in one instance (x.10-12) we have the two forms side by side, and can see something of the process that resulted in these "prose oracles".

There is one feature of these pieces, which deserves special notice. The style and language in which they are cast is usually reminiscent of Deuteronomy, especially of the hortatory portions of that work. It has been usual to suspect that they, or many of them, were produced by the "Deuteronomic School", but a little consideration will show that this hypothesis is not necessary to account for the facts. The so-called "Deuteronomic style" is simply the form that Hebrew rhetorical prose took in the latter part of the seventh century and the first part of the sixth.

The aims and ideas expressed in these passages would often be acceptable to the compilers of Deuteronomy, but that is not inconsistent with their being ultimately of Jeremianic origin. [For the relation between Jeremiah & the Deuteronomic position see below, pp.307 ff.]

We are justified in believing that these passages were originally poetic oracles, many of them uttered by Jeremiah himself, which have been reduced to prose (and expanded in the process), either when they were first written down, or at some point in their transmission. The former is the more likely explanation.

The third point which strikes us at once is the number of oracles and fragments in Jeremiah which occur elsewhere either in this or in other books. We have passages that are common to Jeremiah and Isaiah (especially in the Moabite sections, Isa.xv-xvi and Jer.xlviii), and others that are found in Jeremiah and Obadiah (among the oracles on Edom, Jer.xlix, 7-22). We have a fair number of parallel passages in the book of Jeremiah itself. The most striking of these is the parallel vi.22-26 = l.41-43, where, by a very slight change, the same oracle is made to refer to both Judah and to Babylon. Further, the form in ch.l has been mutilated at the end, though in other respects its text seems to have been rather better preserved. These facts lead us to the conclusion that, in the age when the collections were made, a great deal of the oracular matter attributed to Jeremiah was fairly widely known, and that independent collectors found a number of "floating" oracles, in whose Jeremianic authorship they had reason to believe.

ii. Dating of A collections.

In our brief survey of the material contained in the oracular sections of Jeremiah we have had occasion to note, from time to time, that certain sections cannot be attributed to the prophet himself, and that, therefore, some of the collections must be exilic or post-exilic. The most obvious case of a late date is to be found in x.1-16, which is almost universally regarded as being fairly late post-exilic. Few commentators to-day would be prepared to argue for a date earlier than the end of the fifth century, and to many this would seem far too early. The fact that fragments, follow it whose Jeremianic authorship is hardly disputed, shows that it cannot be merely a late appendage to its collection, but must have been included in the original form. Another passage on which there would be general agreement is xvii.21-27 (insistence on the observance of the Sabbath). This inevitably reminds us of Nehemiah's regulations on the same subject, and may well come from his time, or, perhaps, a little later. While it is impossible to fix with any certainty on a period for the compilation of the collections, we may safely say that some of them cannot have existed (in the form in which they came into the hands of the main compiler of the book) until the end of the fifth century or the beginning of the fourth.

iii. B sections: contents, date, and authorship.

We may now turn to the passages we have classed as type B, which consist of narratives describing the events in the life of the prophet, making no claim to have been written by himself, and containing little of his message, except so much as is necessary to explain or illustrate the events recorded. Most of the incidents are carefully dated. The first of these pieces (xix.i-xx. 6), however, lacks both introduction and date, and describes Jeremiah's breaking of the clay vessel over the valley of Hinnom, together with the resultant imprisonment by Pashhur. It contains rather more of the preaching of Jeremiah than the majority of the passages in this class, and the "Deuteronomic" style is evident in the prophet's utterances. xxi.1-10 records a message given by Jeremiah in answer to an inquiry by Zedekiah. Ch.xxvi contains an account of an address given by Jeremiah in the Temple, early in the reign of Jehoiakim. The occasion is clearly the same as that indicated in the opening verses of ch.vii, and some commentators have gone so far as to attempt a reconstruction in which both passages are used. But, while ch.vii gives a much fuller account of what Jeremiah said, ch.xxvi narrates the effect of his utterance and the peril into which it brought him. It is noticeable that we have here the only instance in which one of our canonical prophets is expressly quoted by name in the work of another there is a direct reference to Mic.iii.12 in verse 18. Ch.xxix describes a letter written by Jeremiah to certain exiles in Babylon after the deportation of Jehoiachin. In xxx.1-3 we have little more than an expanded heading for what follows, but the order to write down the prophecies that follow may justify us in classing the verses with this type of material. Ch.xxi gives, in another form, the message of ultimate hope already communicated in the preceding chapter. It is to be noted that from verse 14 onwards this passage has no representation in the Septuagint, which suggests that the latter part of the chapter is a very late addition. Ch.xxxiv dates from the final siege of Jerusalem, and the latter part (from verse 8 onwards) deals with those who liberated their slaves during the siege, only to claim them again when the Chaldaeans had temporarily departed. In ch.xxxvi we have the account of the way in which Jeremiah's prophecies were first written down, of the burning of the document by Jehoiakim, and the preparation of a new roll. This is dated in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, i.e. the year of the battle of Carchemish. Chs.xxxvii-xlv give a nearly continuous record of events, especially those in which Jeremiah was most concerned, from the early part of the final siege of Jerusalem until the flight of the last remnant and their settlement in Egypt. It closes with a pronouncement of a final breach between Yahweh and Judah. Ch.xlv records a private oracle given to Baruch; li.59-64 records a journey taken by Zedekiah to Babylon in the fourth year of his reign. Jeremiah sends a copy of oracles he has uttered against Babylon; these are to be read and then sunk in the Euphrates. The Jeremianic authorship of the surviving oracles against Babylon is a matter of very serious doubt, and we have no other record of, or reference to, this visit of Zedekiah's to Babylon, either from Israelite or from other sources. The originality, therefore, of this passage has been widely contested, and it is generally held to be a piece of "Midrash" attached by a later hand to the "Babylonian" oracle collection. Finally, ch.Iii is an extract, either from ii Kgs.xxiv.18ff., or from a source employed by the writer of that section. It adds a certain number of details to the record as we now have it in Kings and may represent an earlier form of the source. It has little or nothing to do with Jeremiah himself.

Except for certain obvious additions and expansions, this collection of the "Acts of Jeremiah " has all the marks of being the work of a contemporary, and there are good grounds for the general opinion that Baruch was the writer. It will suffice to mention two of them. It was in the fourth year of Jehoiakim (i.e. the year of the battle of Carchernish), as far as we know, that Baruch came into official contact with Jeremiah. Only one incident recorded in this collection can be placed earlier than this date, and that is the attempt made by the religious leaders of the people to put Jeremiah to death after his address in the Temple. Here we have a date given to us in the early part of the reign of Jehoiakim. The incident was a very public one, and Baruch must have been aware of the details, as every other inhabitant of Jerusalem would have been. The probability thus created by the general body of the collection becomes a practical certainty when we note that it includes a private oracle delivered to Baruch himself. It is hardly likely that another would have known of this, and still less likely that he would have troubled to record it.

While the greater part of this collection consists of narrative, there is still a certain amount of space devoted to the actual message delivered by Jeremiah. If we may judge by the one instance in which we can form a comparison, i.e. that of the parallels between chs.vii and xxvi, the utterances of the prophet were condensed and abbreviated. Nevertheless, the whole carries the stamp of the "Deuteronomic" style. This is less obvious in the narrative portions, since the plain telling of a story, in the simple style imposed by the very nature of Hebrew syntax, does not leave very much room for wide differences. But where the words of the prophet are recorded the style is unmistakable. As we have seen, this "Deuteronomic" style is nothing more than the form which Hebrew rhetorical prose took from the middle of the seventh century and for some time onwards. Every consideration points to the same general conclusion as to date and authorship of this "biography" of Jeremiah.

iv. C Sections: contents, origin, and date.

This group of material opens, appropriately enough, with the call of the prophet, followed by two introductory visions (i.1-14). The next passage (iii.6-18) is dated in the time of Josiah, and is either connected with, or earlier than, the Deuteronomic reform. It shows strongly the influence of Hosea. In vii.1-viii.3 we have a series of utterances, which begins with the "Temple-sermon", and is dated by the parallel in ch.xxvi, in the early part of the reign of Jehoiakim. The latter part of this section, from vii.21 onwards, is devoted to condemnation of the cultus, especially of sacrifices in various forms. Ch.xi.1-4, apparently, is a statement of Jeremiah's early attitude towards the Reform. Ch.i.1-14 falls into two parts, of which the first recounts Jeremiah's acted parable of the girdle, and the second is a prophetic application of a popular saying. Since the oracular matter that immediately follows belongs to the short reign of Jehoiachin, it is possible that the compiler attributed these two passages to the same time. In xiv.11-16 we have a short denunciation of insincere worship, xvii.19-27 insists on Sabbath observance. The passage looks late, and may come from the time of Nehemiah. Ch.xviii.1-12 (supplied with a heading which speaks of Jeremiah in the third person) gives Jeremiah's parable of the potter and the clay. Ch.x.1-5 is a general introduction to the group of oracles on the kings. The vagueness of its language suggests a comparatively late date. Ch.xxiv, which comes from the reign of Zedekiah, records the vision of the two baskets of figs, and draws the contrast between the exiles and those who remain in Jerusalem. In xxv.1-29 (like ch.xviii supplied with a heading) we have a group of utterances belonging to the critical year of Carchemish, in which first the consequences to Judah of the epoch-making battle are indicated, and then the results for the rest of Jeremiah's world are described. From the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah (so read for "Jehoiakim" in xxvii.1) we have chs.xxvii, xxviii, a series of utterances in which Jeremiah sought to impress on his people the supremacy of the Chaldaeans, and the necessity of remaining loyal to them. The immediate occasion was the prediction of certain prophets, especially of Hananiah, that Babylon would shortly fall and Jehoiachin and his fellow-exiles be restored. Ch.xxxi.23-40 consists of a group of utterances concerning the happy future of Judah, which probably Jeremiah expected under the rule of Gedaliah, after the fall of Jerusalem. It includes the great prophecy of the New Covenant. Ch.xx tells the story of the purchase of a piece of land by Jeremiah during the final siege of Jerusalem. Finally, ch.xxxv draws a lesson for all the people from the fidelity of the Rechabites. This is dated in the reign of Jehoiakim.

It is at once obvious that these passages are no longer in their original order-if that order was chronological. In contrast to the B passages there is comparatively little that can be placed after the year of Carchemish. The tone and style are strongly "Deuteronomic", though there are passages, such as vii.21ff., which suggest that the prophet did feel, at some time in his life, that the Reform had not gone far enough. He would have abolished sacrifices altogether, and would have secularized the "burnt-offering" as well as the "peace-offering".

The Deuteronomic flavour which these passages carry with them has led some modern commentators (Particularly Duhm, Mowinkel & Holscher.) to believe that they had, for the most part, nothing to do with Jeremiah whatever, but that they were the free inventions of the Deuteronomic school, who sought to use the name of the prophet to secure acceptance for their own views and theories.

Even so, there are several passages whose Jeremianic authorship is universally admitted; no one has denied the "authenticity" of i.1-4. And when the remainder are more closely examined, it will be seen that the question of authorship is not to be dismissed in summary fashion. Granted that there are passages that are probably due to a much later age than that of Jeremiah, there remain a number, probably the larger number, against which no real objection can be urged. It may at once be admitted that the style is Deuteronomic, but, as we have observed more than once, this is no more than the rhetorical prose of the period, which begins about the time of Jeremiah and extends probably till after the Return. As we have seen, the style of the B passages, almost universally accepted as the work of a contemporary, is also strongly Deutoronomic.

We meet from time to time with words, phrases, metaphors, ideas which are not to be paralleled in the Deuteronomic literature, strictly so called, i.e. in Deuteronomy itself, or in the Deuteronomic framework of the historical books. [As a single instance we may take the use of the word "conspiracy" in xi.9.]

And certainly the Deuteronomists would not have approved of Jeremiah's attitude towards sacrifice. [Cp.vii.21-26.]

We have, however, more direct evidence of the comparatively early date of some of these passages in the relation that they bear to Ezekiel. The latter book has been subjected to some very drastic criticisms of late, but the passages universally recognized as original include chs.xviii and xi. When these are compared with Jer.xxxi.29-30 and iii.6-11 respectively there can hardly be any doubt that the Ezekiel passages are based on those found in Jeremiah - in fact they look like sermons on the Jeremiah texts. [For a discussion of one of the main grounds for rejecting these passages (the attitude of Jeremiah to the Deuteronomic reform), see below, pp.307 ff.]

We must not, however, assume that every section and sentence we find in this type is to be accepted ipso facto as being from Jeremiah. Each must be judged on its merits, and there is a good deal, which a commentator would wish to refer to a time long after that of Jeremiah. In iii.14-17, for instance, we have a passage that, at the earliest, belongs to the close of the Exile, and may be post-exilic. It has been inserted in the collection in the place where it now stands on account of the use of the words "return" and "backsliding" - both being derived from the same Hebrew root. We may even suspect that these verses were written by a scribe of a later age for the position they now occupy. And in most of the sections that we have we may suspect, occasionally, a later addition; the most obvious, xvii.21-27, has already been mentioned.

When, then, we speak of the "origin" of these passages, we must think of the original form, the nucleus around which the final structure was built up. The material is clearly the "prose oracle". We have no reason to doubt that, when an oracle was first uttered, it was poetic in form, and that a prose edition of it would come only later, possibly when it was written down. We have already referred to x.10-12, where we have both forms, a short, yet full, poetic utterance, followed by an expansion in prose of the latter part of it.

Baruch Bulla. If we may hazard a conjecture as to the origin of this collection of C passages, we may surmise that it is to be found in the "roll" which Baruch wrote at Jeremiah's dictation in 605BC (see Jer.xxxvi). [Cp. T. H. Robinson, Baruch's Roll, in ZATW, 1924, pp.209-221.]

It has been usual to try to reconstruct this document by putting together all the oracles that seem to have been delivered before 605BC. This, naturally, leaves room for subjectivity in determining the dates of the various passages. Our present suggestion does not wholly eliminate this possibility, since there certainly are some passages in the C collections that are later than Jeremiah. But we are on more solid ground when we recognize that such a document as that prepared by Baruch will probably have been couched in the rhetorical prose of the age. And that the scribe is very likely to have prefixed from time to time such headings as we have in vii.1, xviii.1 and xxi.1-2. The greater number of the oracles included in this collection belong to the period which closed with the battle of Carchemish - the time at which they were first written down. But, as we are expressly told in xxxvi.32, in the second edition of the roll "there were added besides unto them many like words". This surely means that the process was continued after 605BC, and that, so long as Jeremiah, and Baruch, were associated, additions were made from time to time to the roll. As we hear in xliii.3, the connexion between the prophet and the scribe lasted till after the fall of Jerusalem. At the same time, many of Jeremiah's utterances were heard and remembered in the usual way, and were handed down by oral tradition till they were included in various oracle collections.

v. The main compilation.

As we have seen, there appear to be three main collections lying behind our present book of Jeremiah. All three of them contain material which must be a good deal later than the prophet himself; some of it may be as late as the early part of the fourth century BC, and it is to that century to which we can most safely assign the main compilation. Even then the book was subject to additions and alterations, though most of these can be ascribed to the zeal of the scribes who copied them. There are, however, instances of longer insertions, e.g. xxi.14-26, which must be deliberate enlargements of the book. Moreover, we have reason to suspect that the collection of oracles against foreign nations was not included in the book till a much later period still - after the divergence of the Palestinian and Egyptian texts.


In attempting to understand Jeremiah's position there is one point that requires fuller mention. This is the relation of the prophet to the Deuteronomic reform. A number of modern scholars - it is enough to mention Duhm and Kennett - believe that Jeremiah could not possibly have approved of a movement that permitted sacrifice still to continue. His utterance in vii.21,

"Add your burnt offerings unto your sacrifices and eat ye flesh",

is interpreted as a universal condemnation of sacrifice. The limitation of sacrifice to a single altar would not satisfy Jeremiah; he would have had neither victims nor altar, but a purely spiritual form of worship. It is true that in ch.xi Jeremiah appears to be an enthusiastic supporter of the Reform, but ch.xi is among the C-sections whose authenticity is so widely suspected. (Incidentally, it may be pointed out that ch.vii usually falls under the same condemnation as ch.xi.) But in ch.viii.8 we have a less equivocal expression of opinion,

"How do ye say, We are wise, And the law of the Lord is with us? But, behold, the false pen of the scribes hath wrought falsely."

In other words, Jeremiah believed that Deuteronomy, the first law-book of which we know that it claimed absolute authority, was nothing but a forgery.

"But for this passage," says Duhm, "we might believe that he was not a contemporary of the Reform, or that he intentionally ignored it. And this solitary passage is hostile!" [Jeremia, p.89 (1901).]

These considerations create a difficulty that cannot lightly be set on one side. Yet there are others, which may be set against them. In the first place there hardly seems to be enough reason to reject all the C passages; on the contrary, as has been already suggested, at least a large nucleus of them may reasonably be ascribed to Jeremiah's own dictation. We have, further, especially in the earlier chapters of the book, a number of undisputed oracles that might well have been delivered either before or during the progress of the Reform. Certainly they would have been out of place for some time afterwards.

Further, it may be that we should assume too much if we insisted categorically that Jeremiah was opposed to sacrifice throughout the whole of his career. Room must be granted to him to make further discoveries, to change his mind, to take into consideration new factors as they appeared. If vii.21 belongs to the same date as the passage that precedes it, it comes from the early years of the reign of Jehoiakim, thirteen years after the Reform. If Jeremiah, as a young man, had seen in the Reform a means of achieving some part of the ideals for which he stood, he might well have been prepared to compromise, and it does not follow at this stage that he was opposed to sacrifice in principle. With the local cults he was familiar, as a member of a family that probably officiated at one of them, and he realized their dangers. So did the compilers of Deuteronomy, and Jeremiah may well, at this stage in his life, have shared their belief, that a cult centralized in Jerusalem could be controlled and kept pure.

Doubtless the years brought disillusionment. It would be difficult to find a more emphatic pronouncement than that already cited from viii.8 where the most natural rendering of the Hebrew consonants in the latter part of the verse is that actually adopted by Duhm -

"The lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie."

But Duhm's interpretation that the "scribes" are the authors, not the copyists, of Deuteronomy, is not the most natural explanation. On the contrary, the idiom used implies that the document in question had not always been "a lie", but had been turned into one since it first came into being. Thirteen years is ample time in which a man may discover that a document was being misused, misquoted, and misinterpreted-perhaps even deliberately altered to suit the convenience of the priesthood. At first the Reform looked likely to succeed, and Josiah retained the respect and admiration of Jeremiah till his death, though not necessarily on theological grounds. But, as time passed, it became clear that the movement had certain fatal weaknesses, and Jeremiah was forced to admit that it had failed. It was, as he suggests in viii.8, too much exposed to manipulation and corruption. At the same time, the prophet may well have grown into the belief that all sacrifice was contrary to the will of Yahweh, at least as expressed in the Mosaic age. Finally, he saw the truth; its fundamental weakness was that, however perfect in itself, it was externally imposed, and a law of this kind would never be worth more than a "scrap of paper". So he was led to the enunciation of the profound truth that a covenant, to be effective, must be written on men's hearts, and his new conviction ultimately found expression in the great prophecy of the New Covenant - xxxi.31-34.


"Ah, Lord, I cannot speak, for I am a child",

was the response Jeremiah made to the divine call.

It was typical of the man's character. All his life he felt himself to be a person of extreme insignificance, carrying no authority of his own, and temperamentally unfit for public work of any kind. Tender, shy, and sympathetic as he was, his modest spirit would have been satisfied to the full with the peace and joy of quiet domestic life in his village home. He loved wild nature, and had observed the ways of beast and bird as carefully as Amos had done, while he had watched them with an understanding and a sympathy that we do not find in the older prophet. His affections were strong, and no small part of the cross he had to bear lay in the barrier that kept him from forming the closest and dearest of human relationships.

Jeremiah - perhaps owing to the unfortunate tradition, which fathered on him the book of Lamentations - stands to most men as the type of the mournful pessimist. Unhappy he certainly was, and could not have been otherwise. He was a man with a double passion and a twofold loyalty devoted equally to his people and to his God. His patriotism was of that supreme quality which makes a man identify himself with his country, feel her troubles as his own sorrows, and repent for her sins with a personal remorse. His consuming desire was to see a permanent union established between Israel and Yahweh. Not only was he intensely conscious of the spiritual peril to Israel involved in her separation from her God, but also he realized that the course she followed throughout the greater part of his ministry could end only in her material ruin. For forty years he pleaded that his people should return to Yahweh, and, save for the last half of Josiah's reign, he pleaded in vain. So for forty years, with his prophetic experience, he lived through the horrors of her coming fall, helpless to turn her into safe paths or to ward off the fatal blow. He could have been happy only at the cost of truth, only by saying (as men about him said) "Peace, Peace" where there was no peace. Yet his prophetic vision could carry him beyond the worst disaster and see recovery and restoration in the future, however distant it might be. The destruction of Jerusalem, city and Temple falling together, would not be the final issue. And, though for himself life ended with the last apostasy of his fellows in Egypt, and the bond between Yahweh and the Israelite fugitives was there irreparably snapped, he left the world the grandest triumph that true optimism ever achieved in his prophecy of the New Covenant.

Only Hosea, some of the Psalmists, and the poet of Job, surpass Jeremiah as a poet in the Old Testament. Stirred to the depths of his passionate soul by the sin and by the, inevitable doom of his country, he gave to his lyrics intensity and a power, which thrill us to this day. It is impossible to read without a sense of wild horror such a passage as the great chaos-vision (iv.23-26), which we may, albeit feebly, paraphrase somewhat thus:

"I looked on the earth and saw chaos' rude birth, At the heavens - and from them no light brake; I looked on the hills In their agony-thrills - All the mountains did totter and quake. I looked o'er the ground. No man there I found, All the birds had winged far their flight; Unto Carmel I faced - And its gardens were waste, All was blasted beneath the fell blight."

In a sense this overwhelming picture of tossing, mountains and lifeless plain was a reflection of Jeremiah's own spiritual experience.

In doctrine (apart from the New Covenant) he added little to the teaching of his eighth-century predecessors.

He reminded his contemporaries of Micah, and his positive demands recall to us little more than that threefold insistence on Justice, Love, and Holiness, which summarizes for us Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah.

But Jeremiah was himself greater and more significant than his message.

He had received at his call the promise that he should be as a pillar of iron and walls of bronze, and as far as we know, he never once flinched in the face of king, priest, or hostile crowd.

It was otherwise in his dealings with his God.

His ministry became an intolerable burden to him, an unquenchable and devouring flame within him; like others of his day, he believed that the prophet whose word remained unfulfilled was "seduced" by Yahweh Himself to his utter ruin, and for forty years Jeremiah's word was unfulfilled.

Not once only, but again and yet again, he struggled to free himself from the toils of divine inspiration, and always in vain.

Yet his meaning for the world lies in his very failure to rescue his own soul.

Religion implies a relation between God and man, and, in the older view, the human unit was not the individual but the community. Jeremiah, first of all men, as far as our records go, was cut out from among his people in his spiritual life.

He was left alone, and God wrestled with him.

So, out of this agony of spirit, human religion won a new aspect.

Historically, it is to the lifelong torture of Jeremiah's soul that man owes one of his most glorious possessions. While the conception of the group or of the community as a religious unit has never been, and must never be, wholly lost, it is the birthright of every individual that he can claim personal fellowship with God. When we realize the incalculable wealth of spiritual life that this discovery has meant to later ages, we shall be inclined to feel that Jeremiah, not through his words, but through his experience, gave the world more than any other single person in the whole history of Israel.


There is no book in the Old Testament in which the differences between the MT and the Septuagint are more striking than they are in Jeremiah. Hints of this have already been given, and, even here, it is impossible to enter into great detail. It must, however, be said, that the Greek text is very much shorter than the Hebrew.

It has been computed [Giesebrecht, Jeremia, p.xix (1894).] that there are about 2700 words in the MT which are not represented in the translation, while the text followed by the translators had about 100 words not found in our present Hebrew texts. In many cases the "omissions" of the Greek are small matters, expansions of the divine name, and occasional words that take little or nothing from the sense. But there are very many instances in which the differences go further than this; in particular, we have already noticed how often the shorter text of the Septuagint gives us a metrical regularity that is lacking in the MT. (See above, p.146.) In these cases we may assume that the preference lies with the Egyptian tradition. Once or twice we have longer passages omitted in the Septuagint, e.g. xxi.14-26, and in these cases the presumption is that the sections in question have been imported into the MT at a point later than the divergence of the two lines of tradition. But the most striking difference of all is to be found in the arrangement of the oracles against foreign nations. In the MT this collection stands at the end of the book, and the chapters containing it are numbered xlvi-li. But in the Septuagint they are placed immediately after xxv.13, verse 14 is omitted altogether, and the text proceeds with xxv.15 after the foreign oracles have been inserted.

Not only so, but the order of the oracles in the two recensions is different.

It runs as follows:



Egypt Elam
Philistia Egypt
Moab Babylon
Ammon Philistia
Edom Edom
Damascus Ammon
Kedar Kedar
Elam Damascus
Babylon Moab

Differences such as this carry us beyond the borders of textual criticism proper into that of higher criticism.

It is useless to discuss which was the original order of the prophecies, or what was the original place of the collection in the completed book.

It is fairly clear that this group must have maintained a separate existence until after the divergence of the two texts. Only later than this point in the history of the book was it included in either form, and even then there were two recensions in existence.

The Palestinian scribes put it at the end of the book, while those of Egypt, not unnaturally, included it in the short section, already devoted to the same subject, displacing a verse, (xxv.14) which was no longer necessary.