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

Bodner, Keith, After the Invasion: A Reading of Jeremiah 40–44 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015). Pp. viii + 179. Hardcover. US$90. ISBN 978-0-19-874300-2.

The book After the Invasion discloses the crises that the Judean community who were not exiled to Babylon faced after the devastation of the kingdom of Judah. The central theme that the book focuses on is the main threat on the community that came from the insiders rather than the outsiders.

The aim of the book is a narrative study of the text Jer 40–44. The emplotment, spatial settings, intertextuality, irony, and characterization are the tools of narrative analysis that the author employs to read the text. The plot is centered on decision making at several instances, like Jeremiah's choice of moving to Babylon or staying behind at Judah, Gedaliah's choice of acting against Ishmael when he heard from Johanan of his treachery, Johanan and his group's decision whether to flee to Egypt or not after Gedaliah was murdered, and the remnant's choice to heed or not to heed to the final prophecy of Jeremiah.

In Chapter 1 the author illustrates intertextually several instances in the Hebrew Bible where outsiders have preached theological speeches like Rahab (Josh 2:9–11) and Rabshakeh (2 Kgs 18:17–35) in order to prove the legitimacy of Nebuzaradan's speech, though his speech could be seen as an ironic inversion of Rabshakeh's speech. Similarly the author explains the double release of the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 39:11–14 and Jer 40:1–6) with his narrative approach and interprets these releases in their two different settings, one in the context of contrasting Jeremiah's release from the place of confinement to Zedekiah's captivity and the other as introduction to the episode of those left behind after the invasion. In this way he contrasts dominant scholarly opinion that these texts are two variant readings or two subsequent events.

In Chapter 2 the author accentuates Gedaliah's anti-Babylonian perspective by displaying Gedaliah's roots in Shaphan's family and their acquaintance with Jeremiah. This may be the reason why Ishmael dissented against the rule of Gedaliah ruthlessly. However, his hostility is revealed progressively by stages which are a significant component of emplotment. The study of the spatial settings of Mizpah where Gedaliah takes up his office reveals that in this judicial site the people of Israel asked Samuel for a king and in this same place the non-kingly leader was rejected and institutional monarchy ended. Moreover, the author notes intertextual connections between Johanan's offer to secretly assassinate Ishmael and earlier conspiracy of Joab, and between Gedaliah's lack of discernment in knowing Ishmael's evil plans and the earlier example of Zedekiah.

In Chapter 3, the author identifies the implied motivation behind Ishmael's murder of Gedeliah as an attempt to retaliate against the Babylonians and those who supported them on behalf of his ancestors, the Davidic house. Other options include that Ishmael had monarchic ambitions or that his association with the Ammonites instigated him. However, the real motive is revealed in his next act of luring and murdering the travelers who were on their way to offer sacrifices at Jerusalem but sparing the ones who bribed him. Satirically, Ishmael who was not able to cope with the Babylonians and Gedaliah becomes an image of a failed and corrupt king by his bribery.

The focus of chapter 4 is Johanan's rescue mission and the implementation of his agenda. On hearing about the upheaval at Mizpah, Johanan chased after Ishmael, and saved his hostages at Gibeon. Johanan's absence at Mizpah during the massacre may be because of Gedaliah's rejection of his offer to secretly assassinate Ishmael. The author beautifully brings out an envelope structure in the text by investigating the spatial setting of Gibeon where the last battle of a Davidic descendant took place and ironically finds that it was in this same place that the Davidic monarchy ascended over Saul's house.

In Chapter 5 a collective characterization is seen in Johanan and his people seeking God's guidance from Jeremiah before they depart to Egypt. Intertextually, this is similar to Zedekiah, sending people to seek the will of God from Jeremiah. The remnant, like Zedekiah, was given a chance to choose not to rely on Egypt. A temporal span of ten days was given in order that they may reflect on their decision making. Jeremiah promised that if the community remains in the land then God will build and plant them. However, their final action shows they sought prophetic validation for their predetermined plan to descend to Egypt and the reason they approached the prophet was their fear of subsequent Babylonian attacks.

Chapter 6 focuses on how Johanan pulls in Baruch to make the case against Jeremiah stronger, contending that he incited Jeremiah with subversive pro-Babylonian aims which are intertextually similar to the charges drawn against Jeremiah by Irijah. Johanan appears to be a rebel like Ishmael and Jehoiakim who rejected the prophet's word. Intertextually, the trio's rebellious attitude has resonance with Korah, the one who rebelled against Moses. Further, Johanan and the group, upon reaching Tahpanhes, are given a prophetic word again through a sign-act showing that even the vicinity of Pharoah's palace is inevitably under the jurisdiction of Babylonian attack.

In Chapter 7 Jeremiah once again is found to caution the people of Judah living in Egypt concerning the worship of other gods. The men and women collectively responded that they were burning sacrifices to the Queen of Heaven (Jer 44:15) because she made them prosperous. The deeply ingrained syncretism that existed in the Israelite society is depicted by Jeremiah's reference to the Queen of Heaven near the beginning and end of his ministry (Jer 7, 44). Jeremiah gives out his final word that Yahweh's name will no more be proclaimed in the whole land of Egypt. The absence of the divine name is the end of Israel's great history with God; it meant the end of the covenant too.

Keith Bodner's work is most commendable in elucidating several aspects in the narratives (Jer 40–44) that could not have been explained with traditional diachronic approaches. His major achievement is his treatment of this section of the text not diachronically as a product of any socio-political group like that of the anti- or pro-Babylonian groups, but synchronically as different episodes that revolve around the plot of decision making. In addition, his frequent use of the techniques of narrative analysis like intertextuality, irony, characterization, observation of temporal markers illuminate the texts meaningfully.

Despite this overall positive assessment, there are nonetheless several areas where the argument could have been perfected. To begin with, it would have been better if the author provided an overall discussion of the main principles of narrative criticism used in this book, and the logic behind their selection, rather than explaining these principles when they are applied to the text. E.g., characterization is presented on p. 50, intertextuality on p. 70, temporary markers of duration in p. 101, etc., all of which correspond to different chapters in the book. Not only does this frequently interrupt the flow of reading, but it is difficult for the reader to form a comprehensive view of the narratological approach developed by the author. A similar point can be made about the author's view regarding emplotment and the plot of the narratives in Jer 40–44 which, if presented in a more comprehensive way at the beginning of the book, would have made the overall argument easier to grasp. Finally, one further critique is that the author emphasizes that he seeks to concentrate on the study of the narrative poetics, but does little in terms of explaining how his approach differs from traditional narrative analysis.

In summary, Bodner's narrative approach to Jer 40–44 has explained repetitions in the text, differences in point of view and confusion over decision making without relying on ideological standpoints. His arguments are persuasive and his writing is engaging.

Sherley Kuriyachan, McMaster Divinity College