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

Crouch, C. L., An Introduction to the Study of Jeremiah (London/New York: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2017). Pp. 208. Paperback. US$29.95. ISBN 978-0-567-66572-0.

This new addition to the T & T Clark Approaches to Biblical Studies series admirably engages the complexity of the book of Jeremiah and the varied approaches to its study, providing a valuable overview accessible to students and useful to scholars.

Crouch acknowledges the limitations presented by a brief introductory volume (p. ix), but is, within those limitations, able to provide a good sense of Jeremiah's content, an overview of modern interpretive approaches, and a demonstration of interpretive approaches applied to a few select texts. Although she mentions “only a handful of recent works in the text and footnotes” (p. ix), she provides a strong bibliography for further reading. Further appendices include a chapter-and-verse comparison of Hebrew and Greek texts of Jeremiah, and a chart of ancient Near Eastern kings contemporaneous to the events in Jeremiah. Indices for verse, author, and subject enable ready engagement with the book's material.

Chapter one introduces the challenges associated with the study of Jeremiah and its current place in the “forefront of recent biblical scholarship” (p. 2). Its study “represents in microcosm many of the challenges and opportunities of recent work in biblical studies,” so that its mastery brings “an appreciation of and facility with the trajectories of contemporary biblical scholarship more widely” (p. 2). For this reason, Crouch's volume could be used to acquaint students with the broader concerns and methodological developments in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible studies since the twentieth century began.

The chapter also provides a summary of the historical picture in the seventh and sixth centuries BCE. This does not arise from a strict historicist approach to the book but surfaces one of the “‘central question[s]’ of the last century of scholarship” (p. 2). The centrality of historical questions vis à vis the events of the book, the prophet, and the book's composition are apparent as, throughout the volume, Crouch returns to it repeatedly.

Chapter two surveys Jeremiah's contents, exploring the many “books” within the biblical corpus, and highlighting several interpretive challenges (for instance, the violent metaphors for Yahweh in chs. 2–6; the origin of deuteronomistic language in ch. 7; the relationship of the laments to the prophetic persona in chs. 11–20). Crouch works through the biblical text in sections (chs. 1, 2–6, 7, 8–10, 11–20, 21–23, 24, 25, 26–29, 30–31, 32–39, 40–44, 45, 46–51, 52) that reveal her consideration of the book's structure. For instance, while Crouch treats chs. 24–25 separately, she argues ch. 24 and the first half of ch. 25 mirror elements of ch. 1 and thus together frame the first half of the book (pp. 21–2); chs. 32–33 are acknowledged to have “sometimes been combined with chs. 30–31 on account of their similarly positive content” (p. 25), but are treated with chs. 32–39 as likewise set in Zedekiah's reign (with the exception of ch. 36) and containing a repeated motif of Jeremiah's imprisonment (pp. 25–6). The discussion of these structural decisions alerts those new to Jeremian studies to the book's structural complexity.

The second chapter also addresses Masoretic and Septuagintal variants (pp. 31–7), a consideration that reappears helpfully in the discussion of specific texts (ch. 5). The major differences are sketched, and explanations for the variants are briefly considered. The discussion is clearly presented, enabling those unfamiliar with the Septuagint and Jeremian variants therein to enter the discussion. The section concludes with brief consideration of the relationship of the variant traditions and how different interpretive approaches tend towards using one or both versions in their work.

Chapter three traces the development of Jeremian research in the twentieth century, beginning with Bernhard Duhm's 1901 commentary and concluding with the commentaries of William Holladay (1986, 1989), Robert P. Carroll (1986), and William McKane (1986, 1996). The discussion is not simply a disparate listing of key scholars' contributions. Instead, Crouch orders the discussion around three issues that shaped the decades' research: (1) the origins of the biographical prose; (2) the extent of the deuteronomistic prose; and (3) the quest for the historical Jeremiah (p. 41). The chapter concludes by discussing the ambivalence that came to attend certainty on each question, setting the stage for the multiplicity of contemporary approaches discussed in the next chapter.

Chapter four's discussion of more contemporary approaches is divided into four sections. The first traces historical-critical approaches applied to Jeremiah (source, form, redaction) and covers the same era discussed in chapter 3. While chapter 3's discussion focused on three key questions rather than historical-critical approaches, this one section in chapter 4 could have been engaged in the preceding chapter. Crouch in a second section follows up the guild's “weakening of the hitherto unquestioned dominance of historical approaches” (p. 67) with approaches that move “Beyond History” (p. 67). Here are discussed literary approaches that explore structure, rhetoric, canon/final form, and theology, as well as ideological reader-centered interpretive approaches. A third section considers how these many recent approaches can be categorized by their attention to issues behind the text (author, composition, historical setting) or in front of the text (reader-response, reception history)—a category in which Crouch also places poetics. Crouch closes this chapter with a brief section positively evaluating the current state of scholarship. Its methodological multiplicity and tendency towards balancing historical, theological, and reader-centered questions, Crouch concludes, opens a way to a “much richer understanding” (p. 75).

Having sketched the parameters of Jeremian studies over the last century or so, Crouch turns in chapter 5 to show “Recent Approaches in Action.” Selected texts are utilized (chs. 1, 11–20, 25 [MT], 25/32 [LXX], 32, 36) that “happen to…have borne the scrutiny of a particularly diverse array of methods in recent scholarship” (p. 77). This chapter is the culminating chapter of the volume, for it demonstrates the “interpretive consequences” (p. 77) of applying the various (and multiple) methods explored in the preceding chapters. Crouch's presentation is skillful, incorporating for each biblical section an initial discussion of the passage and some of its interpretive challenges, and a presentation and critique of several scholars' approaches. Crouch demonstrates how such approaches blend interpretive methods, thereby both explicating the text and opening further questions. Throughout, Crouch shows facility with the extensive scholarship, and recognition of the benefit of balancing questions historical, literary and theological.

A concluding chapter revisits Crouch's contention that the multiplicity of interpretive approaches to Jeremiah, and the history of their development, mirror realities in the wider field of biblical research. This multiplicity within Jeremian studies is upheld as invited by the book itself: preserved in two distinct traditions, each of which draws the reader into “sophisticated reflection on complex theological problems” (p. 142). Crouch does an admirable job of clearly introducing the complexity of the Jeremian tradition and its scholarship. The volume well prepares its readers to enter or further engage the biblical, hermeneutical, and scholarly conversation surrounding the book of Jeremiah.

Lissa M. Wray Beal, Providence Theological Seminary