Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 17 (2017) - Review

Eggleston, Chad L., “See and Read All These Words”: The Concept of the Written in the Book of Jeremiah (Siphrut: Literature and Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures, 18; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2016). Pp. xiii + 194. Hardcover. US$44.50. ISBN 9781575064024.

The book began life as a doctoral dissertation researched at Duke University and supervised by Ellen F. Davis. The main title comes from Jer 51:61. Instead of the usual rendering, “See that you hear,” the translation feasibly takes looking at a text as the first stage of reading it, with appeal to 2 Kgs 19:14–19 (p. 112). This study invites comparison with Andrew G. Shead's 2012 book, A Mouth Full of Fire: The Word of God in the Words of Jeremiah,[1] which has a narrower focus in some respects and a wider one in others. The introduction presents the theme as a literary and theological study of writing in Jeremiah. The topic looms large in the biblical book, which suggests that writing was an integral part of Israel's religious life, rather than being simply a secular tool, and that the written book was meant to have a continuing role for later generations. The form of the book in the MT is accepted as the basis of study; it is regarded as an exilic, expanded version of the earlier Hebrew edition underlying the LXX. The first chapter also has an introductory role. It discusses four theories of writing found in modern critical biblical scholarship: degenerative, hindering cultural progress by being static; fostering cultural progress by representing growth in literacy; in terms of dictation that recreates the divinely spoken word; and of deconstruction by depending on later interpretation for the meaning. Eggleston's own view, while drawing on other views, rejects the notion of an epochal transition from orality to literacy, in favor of a gradual integration of the spoken and written word, and advocates a religious purpose for writing.

Writers in the book of Jeremiah are the focus of chapter 2, a study undertaken to discover its textual emphasis. There is a linked chain of transmission, from God to the prophet, then to the scribes, with Baruch having a key role as both character and tradent (see especially 36:32), although Eggleston acknowledges that Baruch's involvement in either role may be historically unlikely—argumentation in line with R. P. Carroll's general approach. First, scribes feature as writers in the book. Initially scribes are viewed negatively (8:8). However, they are viewed mainly positively in chs. 36; 43:1–7; and 45. Scribes function as writers behind the narrative, producing colophons, superscripts, deictic elements, such as “this scroll,” and Wiederaufnahme. They also function within the narrative, especially in chs. 26–45, with the scribal families of Shaphan and Neriah supporting the prophet. In ch. 36 dictation portrays the chain of transmission from God, through the prophet to Baruch so that the resulting text is authentically divine. The addition of many words mentioned in 36:32b may be an early example of the later tradition associated with Baruch's larger role beyond being merely Jeremiah's amanuensis. Second, the tradents imagine Jeremiah as a writer in 29:1; 30:2; 32:10; 51:59–64. Third, as in ancient Near Eastern texts and elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, God is represented as a writer or at least involved in documentation in 17:13; 22:30 and metaphorically in 17:1; 31:33. The latter two groups of passages reinforce the importance of writing as a source and means of divine authority and so serve to authorize the overall work of scribes in producing the prophetic book.

Texts are the concern of the third chapter. Scrolls become independent agents, crossing distances of time and space. In the book of Jeremiah they include a metaphorical, powerful divorce certificate from God (3:8) and land transfer deeds stored for “many days” as a sign-act of hope (32:6–44). In ch. 36 the first scroll's autonomy increases as its distance from its producers decreases, while the second scroll takes on a life of its own. Scrolls reappear in 29:1 as a letter sent abroad to the exiles and in 30:2 as a text with a future audience in view. “Self-references,” which are prominent in the book, taking the forms of “this scroll” and “these words,” “function to establish the basic legitimacy of sacred texts” (p. 104). These self-references and the mention of scrolls occur at critical junctures in the book and so provide “an argument for the legitimacy of reading prophetic texts in order to transmit a divine word” (p. 115 n. 64), although this theological process is not to be confused with a historical account. They represent a movement from the book's narrative world into the world of the reader, whom they confront.

Chapter 4 turns to the various audiences posed or implied in Jeremiah. Here I missed a reference to lamenting Baruch in ch. 45 as first audience of the dictated word, reacting like the officials in 36:16 (contrast v. 24). Mostly the prophet speaks and others listen, with different reactions, for example prayer in chs. 37–39. Both YHWH's and the prophet's mouths are featured; they are correlated in 15:19. Instead, false prophets “speak the vision of their heart” (23:16). In the chain of transmission, reading refers to reading aloud, while hearing with the ears is the means of reception—mainly negative on Israel's part. As in Deuteronomy, sometimes there is a worshiping audience, for example, in Jer 7:2; 26:2; 30:20. “Jeremiah's tradents constructed their idealized audience with an eye toward the audiences that would receive their text” (p. 148). Jeremiah 30:2–3 refers obliquely to the text's future audiences. Sometimes there is audience ambiguity that allows for the temporal loosening of the text for many subsequent generations (p. 151). The inclusion of psalm-related laments that invoke a divine audience encourages future audiences to understand the book in a worshiping context, in line with the public reading of Torah in postexilic times that constituted a call to action. These audiences can understand the book as “an incipient form of prophetic scripture” and “receive [it] as a truly divine word” (p. 161). The conclusion not only summarizes the work, but cites as an avenue for further research, the evidently scriptural role of the book of Jeremiah, which raises the issue for other parts of the HB. “Composition and canonization are not discrete moments in the production of biblical literature” (p. 169). The book closes with a bibliography, an index of authors (in which earlier pages in a listing often strangely reappear at or near its end), and an index of scripture.

This is a closely argued, but clearly and carefully written book. It draws helpfully on the work of Michael Fishbane and of James W. Watts, among other scholars, and on ancient Near Eastern and Qur'anic studies.[2] It stays within the perceptive boundaries of ancient Israel, only hinting at permanent value. Publication of the dissertation could have provided a valuable opportunity to go further. Shead found it necessary to claim the authenticity of the second edition underlying the MT, by attributing its extra material in 33:14–26 to the prophet Jeremiah, although the content suggests otherwise, and by explaining the biographical narratives of chs. 26–45 in terms of a modern theological argument.[3] In Eggleston's case, with seeming assurance the second edition is claimed to be exilic, hardly allowing time for the first one to become established in its own right and to gain the authority reflected in the LXX and at Qumran. However, historicity, even of ch. 36, which has such an important role in his book, is played down in favor of a purely theological treatment (p. 115). It would have been helpful to engage in some discussion concerning the tension between attribution of material to Jeremiah as God's prophet and ostensibly historical narrative on the one hand and the theological authority of scribal redaction on the other.

Leslie C. Allen, Fuller Theological Seminary

[1] Andrew G. Shead, A Mouth Full of Fire: The Word of God in the Words of Jeremiah (NSBT, 29; Nottingham, UK: Apollos, 2012). reference

[2] Michael A. Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel (Oxford: Clarendon, 1985); James W. Watts, “Text and Redaction in Jeremiah's Oracles against the Nations,” CBQ 54 (1992), 432–47. reference

[3] Shead, A Mouth Full of Fire. reference