Jeremiah: Prophet And Book -- By: J. Gordon McConville

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 42:1 (NA 1991)
Article: Jeremiah: Prophet And Book
Author: J. Gordon McConville

Jeremiah: Prophet And Book

J. Gordon McConville

Though it is one of the less celebrated cruces in the critical interpretation of the Old Testament, the Book of Jeremiah (Jer) is an excellent case study in the problems in understanding the meaning of a prophetic book, as well as the relationship between the prophetic figure who lies behind it and the formation of the book itself. Jer is particularly interesting because of its resistance to the establishment of a consensus view of it. The history of its criticism is characterized, on the contrary, by a great divide.

On one side of the divide stand those who, taking their cue ultimately from B. Duhm,1 attribute only a relatively small proportion of the book directly to the prophet. The classic formulation of this position was achieved by S. Mowinckel. Building on Duhm’s premiss that only the poetic oracles could be authentic to the prophet Jeremiah Mowinckel distinguished two further types of material, namely biographical accounts of the prophet’s activities (‘B’), and prosaic sermons (‘C’): the poetic oracles themselves he called (‘A’). The sermons were attributed, again in line with Duhm, to a ‘Deuteronomic’ source.2

The grounds for such a distinction between parts of the material were in part stylistic, as is clear already from Duhm’s over-riding criterion of the authenticity of the poetic oracles. The stylistic grounds were not confined to Duhm’s axiom, however, but consisted also in the similarity of some of the prose, especially the sermons, to parts of the Deuteronomistic History. Detailed parallels between the two corpora were pointed out by both E. Janssen and E.W. Nicholson.3 The belief that the non–poetic

material was in some sense ‘Deuteronomic’, however, was already present in Duhm.

Nor were the grounds for the distinction exclusively stylistic. It was held, in addition, that the prose sections exhibited certain theological differences from the poetic. They were marked in particular by a strongly conditional covenantal theology, lacking the freshness and immediacy of the authentic prophetic warnings of imminent danger, and betraying rather their home in the chastened reflection of the exile and after.4 Specific theological contrasts were also pointed out within the book. How, for example, could the prophet of the temple sermon (Jer. 7:1–15), with its strong plea not to put ...

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