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

Commentary on The Letter of Jeremiah

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( 6:1 ) Introduction

‘A copy of a letter that Jeremiah sent’, cf. Jer 29 . The Greek word used here, however, is epistolē (see BAR 1:1 ).

( 6:3–4 )

‘for a long time, up to seven generations’, in conflict with Jer 25:12; 29:10 , in which the Exile is prophesied as lasting seventy years. The implication is that the writer is addressing a Diaspora of long standing. Some commentators have taken the expression literally, and dated the work 7 × 40 years after the exiles of 597 and 586, to 317–306 BCE. But it is most likely that ‘seven generations’ is to be understood figuratively, as a long period of time. v. 4 , ‘which people carry on their shoulders’, a possible reference to the Babylonian akitu festival at the New Year, which involved solemn processions, though it is more likely to have been influenced by Isa 46:1–2 . See also LET JER 6:26 .

( 6:7 )

‘My angel is with you’, for the concept and expression, see Gen 24:7; 48:16; Ex 23:20, 23; 32:34 .

( 6:11–12 )

‘the prostitutes on the terrace’, literally, ‘on the roof’, Greek stegos or tegos. This is explained in a number of ways. It may refer, as NRSV suggests, to part of the pagan temple where the cult prostitutes operated (Hdt. 1.181). Alternatively, the Greek word is being used in the sense of ‘brothel’. Another suggestion is that the Greek translator misread the unvowelled Aramaic ῾al᾽agrā (for payment, hire), as ῾al᾽iggār ā (on the roof). v. 12 , ‘from rust and corrosion’, the NRSV has attempted to make sense of the Greek apo iou kai brōmatōn (lit. from rust and food), in the light of Mt 6:19 , sēs kai brōsis (‘moth and eating’), rendered as ‘moth and rust’ in NRSV. Otherwise, there may be a mistranslation behind the Greek: the Hebrew word for ‘food’ is ᾽ōkel or ma᾽ăkāl, whereas the Hebrew for ‘from a moth’ is mē᾽ōkēl (lit. from a devourer).

( 6:22 )

‘bats…alight…and so do cats’, Strabo (Geog. 16.7) says that bats were a particular nuisance in temples. The verb rendered ‘alight’ by NRSV has the literal meaning in Greek, ‘to fly over, flit’, which is hardly appropriate to cats. This has led to many emendations in order to provide another type of bird at the end of the list, but none so far has proved convincing. See Lee (1971 ).

( 6:29 )

‘touched by women in their periods or at childbirth’, in Judaism women were regarded as ceremonially unclean at these times (Lev 12:4, 15:19–20 ).

( 6:31–2 )

In contrast to the cults of the Babylonian gods, women played very little part in the cult of YHWH. Torn clothes, shaved and uncovered heads were regarded as signs of mourning and unfitting for a supposedly holy place. Israelite priests were forbidden to mourn in the customary way, in order to remain ceremonially clean for the service of God (Lev 21:1–5, 10 ). The pagan priests described here may be participating in the cult of dying and rising gods such as Tammuz.

( 6:36–8 )

The impotence of the idols is implicitly compared with the compassion of Israel's God (cf. Ps 68:5–6, 146:8; Isa 35:5 ).

( 6:40 )

The ‘Chaldeans’ here are not Babylonians; the word is used in the sense of ‘astrologers, magicians’. ‘Bel’ means ‘lord’, an epithet for the patron deity of a city, in this case Marduk (Merodach), god of the Babylonians. Cf. the apocryphal book Bel and the Dragon.

( 6:42–3 )

Herodotos (1.199) gives a similar account of this practice. He says that once in her life, every Babylonian woman has to sit in the precinct of Aphrodite (Ishtar), and have intercourse with the first stranger who throws a silver coin into her lap. The cords here may refer either to the string that Herodotos says the women wear on their heads, or to the roped-off areas in which they sit. The accounts here and in Herodotos appear to be independent. Burning bran for incense is a strange custom, but perhaps some sort of grain offering or aphrodisiac is meant.

( 6:55 )

‘like crows’, this is a strange simile, and it has been plausibly suggested that the Greek translator read the unvocalized Hebrew ῾ābîm (clouds) as ῾ōrĕbîm (crows).

( 6:60 )

For the theme of the obedience of the heavenly bodies, see BAR 3:33–4 .

( 6:67–70 )

These verses mirror the thought of Jer 10:2–5 , with some reordering. ‘[A] scarecrow in a cucumber bed’ is a vivid image, probably influenced by the similar expressions in Isa 1:8 and especially Jer 10:5 , which occurs in a passage on the futility of idols. Since the clause does not appear in LXX Jer 10:5 , the writer must have had direct knowledge of the Hebrew. The Greek probaskanion, rendered ‘scarecrow’ here, generally means something that averts witchcraft.

( 6:71–3 )

Gardens were cultivated for food, not for leisure or decorative purposes, so a thornbush in a garden, attracting birds that would feed on the produce, would be a metaphor for uselessness (cf. Judg 9:14, 15 ). ‘[a]corpse thrown out in the darkness’: corpses were ceremonially unclean, and for a body to be thrown out unburied was a sign of enormous disrespect. For similar expressions, see Am 8:3, Jer 14:16, 22:19, Isa 34:3, Bar 2:25 . v. 72 , for ‘linen’ the Greek reads ‘marble’, apparently having mistaken the Hebrew šēš (fine linen) for its homonym. For the combination with purple, describing luxurious attire, see Ex 26:1, Prov 31:22, Lk 16:19 . The letter concludes at v. 73 with a recommendation to keep away from idolatry.

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