Plot, Prophecy And Jeremiah -- By: Paul R. House

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 36:3 (Sep 1993)
Article: Plot, Prophecy And Jeremiah
Author: Paul R. House


Plot, Prophecy And Jeremiah

Paul R. House*

Jeremiah’s canonical form has always generated lively discussion among critics. The prophecy’s many genres, seemingly chaotic chronology, and uncertain authorship provide ample opportunity for a variety of scholarly ideas, even scholarly “schools.” Despite the diversity of opinion, however, commentators generally agree on one topic. They almost all doubt that Jeremiah exhibits any unity of content or purpose. Indeed many writers rearrange the prophecy before attempting to analyze its message.

Besides the book’s unusual nature, the normal scholarly means of explicating Scripture may work against discovering unity in Jeremiah. Most commentators focus on the historical situations that led to the writing of Biblical books.1 Thus Jeremiah experts are compelled to note Jeremiah’s lack of consecutive historical sequencing and then must reconstruct the text according to their proposed historical setting. Over time this methodology has produced brilliant studies on Jeremiah’s text, historical background and authorship, but it has not led to consensus on the order of the canonical prophecy.

The present article uses literary-critical principles to analyze Jeremiah. Historical approaches are not thereby deemed unnecessary or inappropriate. Rather, they are simply not expected to yield results foreign to their own purpose. Historical criticism must seek to recover the order in which every part of Jeremiah was composed, but literary criticism can exegete the book in its received order. Plot analysis is stressed to discover potential unifying elements in Jeremiah. If the book has a coherent plot, then the prophecy’s canonical form may make more sense.

I. Plot: A Working Definition

Any work attempting to explain a literary piece’s plot must provide a definition of “plot.” A definition is not needed for special pleading or imposing foreign ideas on the Biblical text but because of the complexity of plots in various literary genres and because of disagreements among literary scholars concerning the nature of plot.

* Paul House is professor of Biblical studies at Taylor University, Upland, IN 46989.

Various definitions of plot have been forwarded. Some scholars think it is a structural device, some a way of introducing and developing characters, some simply what occurs in a story, and some how the author orders the reader’s emotions.2 I take an Aristotelian approach to plot. Aristotle believed that effective plots include specific elements. Plot reveals a definite progr...

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