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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

History of Interpretation.

1.

Modern readers often find Jeremiah difficult. Its wide variety of literary materials, contradictory themes, and abundant imagery create the impression of chaos and dissymmetry. Poetic oracles, prose narratives, and prose sermons overlap, contradict, and interrupt one another. Chronological confusion compounds literary and thematic disarray. Although the book contains occasional headings that date events to reigns of particular kings, these dates do not follow chronological order. Modern interpretation of Jeremiah tries to make sense of these difficulties.

2.

Nearly all interpretations of Jeremiah in the twentieth century begin from the work of Bernhard Duhm (1901) and Sigmund Mowinckel (1914 ). Good summaries of their theories appear in Stulman (1986: 7–14); Carroll (1986: 39–42); and Holladay (1989: 11–12). Duhm and Mowinckel made sense of the book by understanding it as the result of a long compositional process during which distinct written sources or traditions from different times were joined together by editors. The sources were thought to be: (1) poetic sayings from Jeremiah himself; (2) biographical prose narratives attributed to Jeremiah's scribe, Baruch; (3) prose sermons, attributed to Deuteronomistic writers; (4) salvific oracles in chs. 30–1 and other miscellaneous blocks of material including the Oracles Against the Nations (Jer 46–51 ). According to this theory, literary evidence enables interpreters to separate the book's strata from one another and arrive at the earliest, most authentic layer (Rudolph 1947; Weiser 1960 ).

3.

After nearly a century of interpretative labour, little of the Duhm-Mowinckel consensus remains though it still greatly influences the conversation (see Herrmann's 1986 discussion). Challenges have come from several directions with no new agreement yet emerging. Hyatt (1958), Nicholson (1970), Thiel (1973), and Carroll (1986 ), for instance, have accepted a late Deuteronomistic layer in the book, but rather than discrediting it as secondary, they have considered it to be creative theological and redactional activity with its own integrity (Goldman 1992 ).

4.

By contrast, building on studies by Weippert and Bright, Holladay (1986 ) disputes Deuteronomistic influence. This line of interpretation holds that much of the prose and nearly all the poetry contains Jeremiah's own words or the gist of his message. Sharp changes in style and theme reflect changing situations in the prophet's life, not redactional activity. McConville (1993 ) makes a similar case for Jeremianic authorship on theological rather than linguistic and stylistic grounds. He finds crucial differences between Jeremiah and the Deuteronomistic books regarding visions of the future.

5.

From yet another direction, Wanke (1971 ) denies the existence of a single Baruch document, finding at least three tradition complexes within the so-called Baruch material, while McKane (1986 ) dispenses with written sources altogether (cf. Reitzschel 1966 ). He proposes, instead, that an original core of Jeremiah's words generated expansions and developments over the years in an unsystematic fashion. The result was a rolling corpus that grew gradually into a complex, diffuse, and untidy book without overarching redactional intention. McKane finds little possibility of distinguishing compositional layers within the text. He argues correctly that dating of various pieces and additions cannot be easily accomplished. Carroll (1986: 50) joins him in emphasizing the complexity of the final text, although Carroll (1986 ) and Thiel (1973; 1982 ) hold to strong Deuteronomistic redactional activity.

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