Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 11 (2011) - Review

Allen, Leslie C., Jeremiah: A Commentary (OTL; Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2008). Pp. xxix+546. Hardcover. US$59.95. ISBN 9780664222239.

With this publication of Jeremiah: A Commentary, the 1986 commentary by Robert Carroll in the Old Testament Library series has now been succeeded by this volume written by Leslie C. Allen, a senior professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. The focus of this commentary is “on the final form of the book as the canonical version, theologically and literarily” (p. 2). However, Allen adds that he also pays attention to other ancient texts and versions, as well as to different stages in the literary developments before the text was finalized. This means that this commentary does not fall into the category of synchronic readings of Jeremiah, although it advocates a reading which pays ample attention to literary features of the text, such as chiasm and the repetition of key words. There are also quite a few suggestions, however, about possible developments in the text of a redactional nature.

Allen gives the LXX version full attention, and he puts the MT's variations in italics. Allen distinguishes between textual and redactional variations and for each variation he tries to decide which is which, and which version should be preferred. I noticed a distinct tendency to follow the LXX, even though the entire MT is commented upon. Where there are large portions of extra material in the MT, such as in 33:14–26, Allen tries to explain why the writers would have added this material. There is, of course, a variety of opinions about whether in the case of Jeremiah the LXX or the MT has priority. As for the passage just mentioned, Lundbom (2004: 537–538) maintains Jeremianic authorship and unlike Allen rejects the idea of a later postexilic addition.[1]

Allen leaves the issue of the relationship between the Deuteronomistic tradition and the prose sermons open. In his opinion, the prose sermons were written for a later generation than the prophet's original audience yet they form an integral part of the book in its final form. He argues that the prose sermons often appear at the beginning of a new block of material, and he bases his subdivision of the entire book upon their appearance. On the whole Allen dates the material found in the Book of Jeremiah during the life of the prophet, in the exile or soon after the exile. He draws the following interesting comparison: “The book of Jeremiah is like an old English country house, originally built and then added to in the Regency period, augmented with Victorian wings, and generally refurbished throughout the Edwardian years. It grew over a long period of time” (p. 11).

There are, nonetheless, certain clues to the purpose of the book as a whole, such as “question and answer” passages (5:19; 9:12–16; 16:10–13; 22:8–9). These passages emphasize how the disaster of the exile can be explained by the perennial idolatry of the covenant people. Hence the Book of Jeremiah can be understood as a theodicy which aims to encourage the exiles to live according to God's covenant as the people of God.

Allen's introduction is rather short compared to other commentaries (only 18 pages). Neither the introduction nor the verse-by-verse commentary offer much historical information, and theological themes are also hardly touched upon. The more than 500 pages which follow are comprised of his own, and in my opinion, accurate translation, which is nevertheless quite modern in style and slightly interpretative (God's message in Jer 1:4–13 is translated as “communication”), followed by extended comments on the text which also discuss the ancient versions. Allen then comments on (groups of) verses, literary features, structures and repetition of words and phrases. He also connects the text to other passages in Jeremiah and in the rest of the Bible, including the New Testament.

The space taken up by the actual explanation of verses is relatively small compared to the size of the commentary. The material is presented here in a very compact way. Careful study of Allen's words shows up much condensed material which is well worth reading as it sheds new light on the meaning and significance of the text. However, for the convenience of some readers a more extensive explanation would have been welcome. Students who do not know Hebrew may find Allen too complex to consult.

As the author sets out in his introduction, the application of the passages is left to other commentaries. At the outset there is an extensive bibliography but at the end of the book there is no index of texts, just an index of modern authors.

On the whole, in my opinion Allen has provided us with good insights into the Book of Jeremiah that will enrich our thoughts and repay careful study.

Hetty Lalleman, Spurgeon's College, London

[1] J. R. Lundbom, Jeremiah 21–36: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB, 21B; New York: Yale University Press, 2004).