Author: Leslie C. Allen.
Publisher: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008. pp. xxix, 546.
ISBN: 0664222234, 9780664222239
I would like to offer a word of thanks to the people at Presbyterian Publishing Corporation for this review copy.
Westminster John Knox Press has newly released Jeremiah: A Commentary in late 2008. It is an addition to the Old Testament Library (OTL). The author, Professor Dr. Leslie C. Allen, is Sr. Professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary. He has written commentaries on Ezekiel, Psalms, the minor prophets, Chronicles, and now Jeremiah. This replaces OTL’s 1986 edition by Robert R. Carroll.
In taking the form-critical approach to study the book, Allen typifies its genre as mainly oracles. He also points out various psalms of lament in Jeremiah. When we see the book of Jeremiah through the lens of redaction criticism, one can begin to notice components or units of texts sewn together. Allen says:
“In chs. 2-6 units evidently reflecting Jeremiah’s early prophetic activity have been grouped together with the addition of some post-Jeremianic prose. A similar impression of quilting is given by the originally independent collection of chs. 30-31, where some of Jeremiah’s own oracles have been deliberately combined with later poetry and prose of a prophetic nature, and by the foreign oracles in chs. 46-51.” (p. 10).
With this quilting, the writings in Jeremiah are called into question of which can be attributable as the prophet’s own oracles. Many are his, but how many? His explanation of this redaction shows the skills of the redactors who have taken various compositions that are “centered on a single incident, which have been skilfully assembled into blocks with a coherent message,” says Allen. This explains why Jeremiah can be such a complex book to study.
Prior to reading this, I did not see this in Jeremiah but Allen has alerted me notice the various units that have been carefully woven together by the redactors. I am no scholar of Jeremiah but now that I’ve been made aware of this, I can see the literary system of compositions and blocks where they have been placed (e.g. Jer. 30-31). How does this look like?
“This new literary block is ‘an anthology of poems and prose pieces that form a tapestry of hope’…; it consists of three compositions, 30:1-31:1; 31:2-26; 31:27-40. The oracle reception heading in 30:1 indicates that a fresh block consists of 30:1-31:40 since the heading next appears at 32:1….The short units in 30:1-31:40 represent an editorial collection of originally independent material. The block cites a series of oracles Jeremiah had delivered concerning the return of the exiles of the northern kingdom and crowns them with a number of post-Jeremianic oracles of hope.” (p. 333)
For example,it is interesting that Jeremiah 25 consists of various foreign oracles in the Septuagint have been slotted into this chapter. This makes Jeremiah kind of fascinating and more fun to analyze, well, at least for a person like me. I don’t think I could have seen this on my own. I love how Allen expressed his analogy of Jeremiah with a house:
“The book of Jeremiah is like an old English country house, originally built and then added to in the Regency period, augmented with Victorian wings, and generally refurbished throughout the Edwardian years. It grew over a long period of time.” (p. 11)
Allen says the dating of Jeremiah takes into consideration 33:14-26 as being postexilic Judah. In addition, even though the oracles’ perspectives seem to take a Babylonian setting, the oracles looks forward to the downfall of the neo-Babylonian Empire and its later oracles align with Second Isaiah. Therefore, a reshaping of Jeremiah had to have taken place.
The purpose of Jeremiah is addressed by the author. Allen presents the possibility that one may read the prophecies in Jeremiah with the mindset of looking back into history to the fulfillment of the prophet’s oracles of disaster (rather than prophecy as looking into the future). By presenting a question and attempting to answer it, one may be able to get at the purpose of Jeremiah. One may ask why the disaster happened. Then provide an explanation which may be the pre-exilic pagan worship. Jeremiah is a prophet who warned of worship of other gods (9:12, 13; 16:11; 22:9). I think that is the nature of prophetic writing.
Allen has done a very good job at exegeting the Jeremianic text. This is an excellent commentary on the book and I would recommend getting this for your library to help you exegete and interpret the text for a sermon on Jeremiah. Very well done.