Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 5 (2004-2005) - Review

Carolyn J. Sharp, Prophecy and Ideology in Jeremiah: Struggles for Authority in the Deutero-Jeremianic Prose (Old Testament Studies; London/New York: T & T Clark, 2003).  Pp.  288.  Cloth, $60.00.  ISBN: 056708910X

This is a detailed study of selected prose sections of the Book of Jeremiah. The first chapter (pp. 1-40) reviews the redaction theories of the books of Kings and Jeremiah, commonly considered Deuteronomistic editorial works. In the next three chapters the author examines some prose passages (mainly chapters 7; 26; 35; 44, 25; 29; in this order) in the Book of Jeremiah under the following titles: “‘My Servants the Prophets’: Exegetical Observations” (pp. 41-80); “‘A Prophet to the Nations’” (pp. 81-102); “False Prophecy in the Book of Jeremiah” (pp. 103-124); the fifth chapter, “Prophets in Jeremiah, Kings and Deuteronomy 18” (pp. 125-156) discusses Deut. 18:15-22 and 2 Kings 17:7-23. Then comes the concluding chapter (pp. 157-169), appended by a very useful bibliography and indexes of biblical and post-biblical citations and authors.

The subtitle of this interesting and meticulous study clarifies (just as most subtitles do) its particular essence more than the main title does. It also serves another important goal: at the present situation of biblical research, when studies are based on contradictory paradigms, it is methodologically valuable to elucidate right at the beginning within which paradigm the specific survey is conducted; this elucidation is also supplied in the subtitle by the term “Deutero-Jeremianic”. When indicating the existence of a Deutero-Jeremianic layer, Sharp lets us learn about her implied paradigm of the Book of Jeremiah as a core of the prophet’s authentic prophecies that absorbed late, non-Jeremianic prose accretions. This paradigm implies the concept of Jeremiah as a real historical, (see mainly pp. 126-127) figure, who acted as a prophet in 6th century Jerusalem. This paradigm diametrically opposes the one depicted, e.g., in Carroll’s 1986 Jeremiah’s commentary. According to Carroll there was no historical prophet Jeremiah, and the one depicted in the book should be considered no more than a literary figure, like Macbeth, King Lear and so on. The point of departure, therefore, for any fair evaluation of Sharp’s study should be her paradigm, whether one accepts it (as I do) or not.

Within this paradigm Sharp generally follows the idea expressed already by B. Duhm in his 1901 commentary on Jeremiah, developed more systematically by S. Mowinckel (1914), and since then has become a widely common hypothesis, namely, that the prose sections in the Book of Jeremiah are late accretions. Yet, while Mowinckel has made a clear distinction between source B (the ‘biographical’ prose) and source C (the prose sermons), claiming only the latter to be of deuteronomistic origin, Sharp does not make such a distinction (correctly, in my opinion) and so the term “Deutero-Jeremianic” refers to the whole prose in the book. By this she rejects (once again: properly, to my judgment) H. Weippert’s notion (see p. 26) that the prose might be as authentically Jeremianic as the poetic prophecies in the book. This, however, by no means leads Sharp to the notion of one harmonious prose redaction layer; on the contrary. An examination of some specific sections has led Sharp to conclude that two different prose layers, “were either composed or decisively shaped in editorial processes” by two contradictory groups: “a group of Jeremiah traditionalists who remained in Judah after 597” (p. 157) and “pro-gola” “traditionists resident in Babylon after 597 BCE “, whose “platform is strikingly different from the Judah-based traditionist perspective in a number of ways” (p. 158). The following texts are said to have been written by the first group: 7:4, 13b, 15,16, 20, 21-8 (29?); 11:14; 14:11; 25:1-5 (6-7?), 8-11a*, 13-17, 19-33*; 26:5,6b-8*, 9b, 17-19, 24; 28:8-9; 29:8-9, 15, 21-2; 35:1-19; 44: 1-4, 11, 27 (pp. 157-158). The texts classified as the product of the “pro-gola” group are: 7:1-3, 5-7, 8, 9-13a, 14, 17-19, 30-4; 8:1-3; 24:1-10; 25:9b, 11b-12a, 18; 26:1-4, 6a, 9a, 10-16(20-3?...) 27:1-22; 28:1-7; 10-17; 29:1-7, 10-14, 16-19, 23, 24-32; 44: 7, 9-10*,12-23, 26, 28-30. (p. 158). These two redactions are called by Sharp ‘Deutero-Jeremianic’ rather than merely ‘Deuteronomistic’ (pp. 21, 23, and more).

The very idea of two different approaches in the Jeremianic prose towards the gola and other issues is not a new one, and it can hardly be suspected. Indeed, Sharp elucidates some interesting contradictory viewpoints, which do prove her major thesis. Yet, I have some reservations regarding Sharp’s methodology and consequently her conclusions.

I have listed above Sharp’s fine analysis of the discussed sections in order to raise serious doubts as to our ability to really make such a surgical distinctions. E.g., I wonder if there is any philological or ideological justification to detach 7:4 from its context; to separate 7: 13a from 7: 13b, and 26:6a from 26:6b. The methodological problem in such cases is that the enforcement of one's thesis on the text by unnecessary surgeries (and injuries!) without any corroboration except one's own thesis creates a vicious circle, which should definitely be avoided. Another methodological question is, should some slightly different emphasizes within the text should be considered ‘contradictions’, which support a two redactions theory. Such questions are raised, e.g., in Sharp's discussions on Jer. Chapters 7 (pp. 41 ff), 44 (p. 75; see also the summary in p. 123).

I am not sure that a critical conclusion derived from a presupposition that an author should always stick to the same emphasis (i.e., repeat himself to death) is acceptable. Why not allow the ancient author what we expect of any good writerto be complementary rather than repetitive, emphasizing in one part of his address one aspect, e.g., prophecy, and another aspectsay, lawfurther on? Such different accentuations, which are not contradictory, do not create a sufficient condition for classifying them as representing different systematic redactions. This approach if applied to Josephus or Herodotus, e.g., would have led to a total dismembering of their historical works, including the speeches ascribed there to the historical figures. Why couldn’t a historiographer, a biographer of a sermon writer, whose main agenda is the responsibility of the kings for the dire situation and eventually the deportation of their nation, refer both to the law and the prophets? As to inconsistencies: here too one should not turn each tension into a contradiction that apparently proves a redaction layer (see Sharp’s slight dispute with me on this issue on pp. 128, 153, 155). Tensions and minor inconsistencies could be found even in modern historiographies, but we are lucky to have the tools to handle them elegantly: we express one view in the upper part of the page, and then, in a note, we can suggest a slightly different interpretation. This technique was developed within the academic world exactly in order to avoid strict, totally unequivocal answers to complicated questions. The fact that it was yet unknown to the poor biblical authors have made tensions and polyphony a generic exigency of biblical historiography and deutero-prophetic prose, which should not automatically mistranslated as an evident for a systematic redaction.

These methodological hesitations have to do with my disagreement with Sharp’s claim that the two editorials should not be referred to as ‘deuteronomistic’, but as ‘deutero-Jeremianic’. On p. 23, following an examination of the phrase ,השכם ו...  Sharp decides to consider it ‘deutero-Jeremianic’, and not merely deuteronomistic, since it appears only in the prose sections of Jeremiah, and not in Deuteronomy or DtrH. Yet, the fact that it occurs both in Jeremianic sermons (Mowinckel’s C) and (‘biographical’) stories (Mowinckel’s B), combined with the clear Dtr. character of C. justifies the terminology of JDtr (Jeremianic Dtr) as suggested by the author of this review and referred to by Sharp (p. xii n. 2). Now, Sharp agrees that it is “possible, of course, that the same editorial hand(s) may be responsible for differing conceptual uses and semantic styles in Jeremiah and Deuteronomy/ DtrH, that the same redactor or editorial group has responded flexibly to the requirements of varied literary and thematic contexts” (p. 26). If so-why coin another term (deutero-Jeremianic), rather than referring to the various Dtr. voices in Jeremiah (as well as in Deuteronomy and Kings!), especially if one considers Dtr. a school, and not a single person, like Noth? The problem is not with the very coining of another (redundant) term, but with the conclusion (reached in spite of the cited sentence above) that actually denies Dtr.’s polyphony, which distorts, to my mind, its very essence.

However, neither such reservations, nor some small slips (e.g., the MT, which is the version referred to in the study, of 1 Kings 21:28 does not use the phrase “my servants the prophetsעבדי הנביאיםas indicated in p. 19; it rather reads אליהו התשבי . The Greek version is “in the hand of his servant Elijah”εν χειρι δουλου αυτου Ηλιου, Βασιλειων ΙΙΙ, 20: 28) cannot, and should not, diminish the importance of this intriguing book. It is really an enjoyable, well-balanced investigation of the Book of Jeremiah, which helps us to understand better the ways the original message of the prophet have been used in order to advance contradictory ideologies by ascribing them to the prestigious historical Jeremiah.  

Yair Hoffman
Department of Bible, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel