The Letter of Jeremiah - Introduction
These seventy‐three verses purport to be a letter composed by the prophet Jeremiah for those about to be taken into exile from Judah to Babylonia in 597 BCE by Nebuchadnezzar's forces. It was undoubtedly inspired by Jeremiah's letter (Jer 29.1–23 ) to those taken hostage in 597, a decade before the final defeat of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem. The Letter of Jeremiah is an impassioned sermon against idol worship and polytheism based on Jer 10 , and particularly Jer10.11 : “The gods who did not make the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under the heavens.” The Letter is also influenced by other biblical polemics against idol worship (Ps 115.4–8; 135.15–18 ; Isa 40.18–20; 41.6–7; 44.9–20; 46.1–7; etc.). The body of the letter is composed of a series of ten warnings to Jews, who might be attracted to idol worship, to recognize and be wary of idolatry. Each part ends on a common refrain, with variations, insisting that idols are not gods nor to be confused with the one, true God (vv. 16,23,29,40,44,52,56,65,69,72 ).
Although all surviving manuscripts of the letter are in Greek, including one fragment among the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Letter was probably composed originally in Hebrew or Aramaic. Most scholars date the Letter to the Hellenistic period. The reference in v. 3 to an exile lasting seven generations (280 years) has been taken as a clue to the date of composition of the letter (317 BCE), but the reference to seven generations is probably symbolic. An allusion to the Letter in 2 Macc 2.1–3 would indicate a date no later than the second century BCE.
The Letter has different placements in various manuscripts and versions of the Bible. It stands as a discrete work between Lamentations and Ezekiel in two major Greek Septuagint manuscripts (fourth‐century CE Vaticanus and fifth‐century Alexandrinus), in the Milan Syro‐Hexapla, and in Arabic. In other Greek and Syriac manuscripts, and in the Latin version, it appears as the sixth chapter of Baruch. Since it is, however, clearly independent of Baruch, the New Revised Standard Version treats it as a separate book. This pseudepigraphical work was written for a Jewish audience, perhaps in Palestine. It is not included in either the Jewish or the Protestant canons, but is one of the deuterocanonical books of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.