Unlike Isaiah, Jeremiah spans three generations at most but its core concerns the period from approximately the death of King Josiah in 609 to the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. As Jeremiah does not comment on Josiah's great reform, the reference (Jeremiah 3:6 ff) "In the days of King Josiah" appears to be a matter of literary rounding; on this basis, too, the references to 627 BC (Jeremiah 1:2) and, at the other end of his life, to 560 BC (Jeremiah 52:31) also appear to be literary.

The book largely consists of a prose narrative, like Samuel and Kings, in Deuteronomic style. It contains:

Gloomy sermons and prophesies make up most of the book, almost inevitable in the shadow of defeat and exile but there are passages of intense hope (Jeremiah 31:38; 33:15). Nonetheless, the tradition that he wrote Lamentations has sealed his reputation (Lamentations 5 is known as the "Prayer of Jeremiah"); the Letter of Jeremiah (Baruch 6) is apocryphal.

Jeremiah has a closer relationship with God than any other prophet than Moses (Jeremiah 17:14-18; 23:18-19).

The crux of Jeremiah is the Temple Sermon in Chapter 7, recurring with variations in Chapter 26 and reflected in all four gospels (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-47; John 2:13-22). As Chapter 26 describes the event and Chapter 7 contains the text, re-written in the light of the destruction of the temple, they complement each other and are best read in reverse order. Jeremiah could have been killed as another prophet was (Jeremiah 26:20-23) but he was allowed to defend himself (Jeremiah 26:12-15; 26:17-19).

The most dramatic passage is the last of the Confessions (Jeremiah 20:7-18). The first part resembles Psalm 22 and shows the prophet beset by doubt but feeling enormous pressure from God; the second, echoing Job 3, bemoans human life and contrasts the joy of birth with the sorrow of earthly life.

Jeremiah has been overshadowed by Isaiah because of Third Isaiah's invocation in the New Testament but his courage and radicalism, in the face of earthly power, materialism and violence, should surely strike a chord in today's Church.

Partly taken from:

Sawyer, John F.A.: Prophecy6 and The Biblical Prophets, OUP, 1987.

KC viii/06

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