Prophetic Word Or Editorial Words? A Contextual Reading Of Jeremiah 7 And 26 -- By: Ben F. Philbeck

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 02:1 (Fall 1984)
Article: Prophetic Word Or Editorial Words? A Contextual Reading Of Jeremiah 7 And 26
Author: Ben F. Philbeck

Prophetic Word Or Editorial Words?
A Contextual Reading Of Jeremiah 7 And 26

Ben F. Philbeck

Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament,
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Most studies of the book of Jeremiah since Bernhard Duhm’s commentary in 1901 have sought in one way or another to make a distinction between the prophet’s own words and those added by later compilers.1 Although rarely articulated, it has been assumed that the authentic words of the prophet carry more weight than secondary additions. The interpreter only has to determine how the prophetic word is to be separated from editorial words.

In the case of Jeremiah, however, this task is a formidable one. Interestingly enough, the book contains the story of an editorial process in which a scroll was written, then destroyed, and rewritten with additions (36:1–32). Moreover, the arrangement of the text also gives evidence of editorial manipulations.2 Nevertheless, these facts, even taken at face value, do not answer questions as to where the work of Jeremiah ends and the work of editorial hands begins.

Most of the major studies of Jeremiah in this century begin with the assumption that the poetic oracles of judgment constitute the proper beginning point for discerning the actual words of the prophet.3 Such an assumption can hardly be justified, however, since even gifted poets might choose to preach sermons or use some other literary vehicles to convey their messages. As James Crenshaw has expressed it, “It may be that the radical distinction between poetry and prose is both arbitrary and misleading when applied to the matter of authenticity.”4

Nevertheless, the “‘scroll story” in chapter 36 and the observable marks of an editorial handling of the text (see n. 2) leave the door open for speculation as to the extent to which accounts of Jeremiah’s ministry have been transformed by those who gave the book its present form. This is, of course, an historical question which cannot be decided on literary grounds alone. Recent interpreters, all of whom recognize an editorial process at work in Jeremiah, arrive at opposite extremes in the historical spectrum. Some, as varied as Bright,5 Weippert,6 and Wilson7 tend to accept the broad outline of the biblical “picture” of Jere...

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