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

Jeremiah.

1.

Traditional interpretation has long held that the book contains a biographical account of Jeremiah's life and work. Many contemporary scholars still operate from this assumption and even understand the book to contain a narrative of its own historical beginnings (Jer 36 ). Holladay (1989), Skinner (1922), Bright (1965 ), and recently, Seybold (1993) and McConville (1993 ) view the book this way. A rising choir, however, opposes the notion that the book provides access to the historical Jeremiah at all. McKane (1980 ) believes it begins with a core of Jeremiah's words, but they cannot be located with reasonable certainty. Carroll (1986 ) doubts the prophet's historicity altogether. In his view, Jeremiah is an ‘editorial link’ between different parts of the tradition, that is, largely an imaginary character. Brueggemann ( 1988; 1991 ) is agnostic on the historical Jeremiah and, in agreement with Polk ( 1984 ), speaks of the literary persona rather than the historical figure. Whether the text records historical events, reflects theological and ideological imagination, or both, is simply not clear, nor have we the evidence to make it clear (Perdue 1994: 7–11).

2. A Symbolic Figure.

Rather than search for the historical life of Jeremiah or for precise historical origins of the book's many elements, helpful as those approaches have been in the past, this commentary attempts to understand the book's final form. Such an interpretative procedure recognizes that the figure of Jeremiah plays a major role in the book, unlike any prophet in any other prophetic book. Although Jeremiah may not be a character in the modern literary sense, the portrait of Jeremiah presented in the book cannot be dismissed. Jeremiah appears in the call narrative of ch. 1 , is the presumed or identified speaker of many oracles, sermons, and first-person prayers called ‘confessions’, and he is the subject of numerous narrative accounts. Impressions of his life, whether historical or imagined, are an important feature of the book and provide one key to its interpretation. Jeremiah plays a critical symbolic role in meeting the needs of the exilic audience. As symbolic and imaginative construction, Jeremiah's life is iconic of the fate of the exiles, even as he represents YHWH as the prophet who announces their fate (Polk (1984 ), contra Biddle 1996: 6). But YHWH, too, suffers with the people as the book progresses.

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