CHAPTER 3: HEARING THE PROPHECIES IN JEREMIAH 1–10
The conclusion of the previous chapter outlined a series of three important interpretive steps to be taken in this exploration of the Confessions: 1) listen closely to the Confessions’ affective language; 2) analyze the rhetoric’s impact on the literary characterization of the prophet,1 then discern the affective profile of the prophetic figure who serves as the text’s ideal/first hearer. In brief, we first hear the Confessions through the book of Jeremiah (especially their context of Jer 1–20) in order that we may be enabled to hear the book through the Confessions.
Immediately, we encounter a challenge: If we are to follow the kind of sequential affective reading process that Fish has described2 to understand the Confession texts, we must first say something about Jer 1–10 as an affective groundwork for our hearing of Jer 11–20. The affective aspects of texts are, ultimately, elements of response. In a sense, if these Confession texts were the very first words heard in the book of Jeremiah, they could not be so understood and an affective hearing would be extremely difficult if not impossible. To be understood as the figural prophet’s « response » to the word of YHWH, the Confessions must necessarily be « Rhetorical critics have generally been content to look at how Jeremiah might have affected his audience without asking also how the prophet and his message were affected. » Ellen Davis Lewin, « Arguing for Authority: A Rhetorical Study of Jeremiah 1:4–19 and 20:7–18. » JSOT 32 (1985): 106.
Chapter 3: Jeremiah 1–10
preceded by actual word/s of YHWH. Otherwise, these texts become context-less and virtually un-hearable.
Therefore, though in an appropriately abbreviated fashion, the present chapter will concern itself first with a review of the rhetorical structure of Jer 1–10, highlighting the presence of affective tensions that empathetically « tune the ear » to receive the prophetic words of complaint, distress, and even anger. The next chapter will then turn attention to a careful and extended hearing of the Confession texts in Jer 11–12, demonstrating the affective cohesion of message and messenger in the book of Jeremiah and preparing the way for a careful « re-hearing » of the Confessions.3
It is important to note from the outset that an affective hearing of the Confessions decenters many of the ongoing debates. Vast amounts of interpretive energy have been expended on determining who (and who is not) speaking while relatively little attention has been paid to the tone of what is said.4 Furthermore, interpretive interests in particular sections of the book of Jeremiah, especially the Confessions, have almost inadvertently biased approaches to other sections of the book. Biddle, whose analysis can be at points unnecessarily stringent, is The first section of ch. 5.
One of the best examples of this debate is found in Mark Biddle’s strenuous critique of Timothy Polk’s work on the « prophetic persona. » At several key points in his second chapter, Biddle critically engages Polk’s thesis which « seems to be that, since the tradition identifies the prophet Jeremiah as the human agent of all speech contained in the book, every first person specimen involves, to some degree or on some level, the prophetic persona. Can the integrity of distinct voices survive such an interpretive program? » Mark E. Biddle, Polyphony and Symphony in Prophetic Literature: Reading Jeremiah 7–20, SOTI 2 (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1996), 21 n. 11.
Later in his analysis of Jer 13:5–7, Biddle openly admits that Polk’s reading of the text as both prophetic and divine speech is faithful to the text, though he remains insistent that Polk misconstrues it because the text is not explicitly attributed to Jeremiah. Biddle, Polyphony and Symphony, 37.
assuredly right that this interweaving of prose narrative, prophetic prayer, and divine response is already present before Jeremiah 11, creating a complicated dialogical pattern. 5 What we are searching for in the following analysis is a « ‘red thread’ running through the book with its central theological thoughts. » 6
Below is offered a multi-layered summary of the rhetorical structure and unity of chs. 1-10 with a focus on how this section establishes a rhetorical-theological foundation for the Confession texts in chs. 11-20. The use of an affective model of hearing texts enables the consideration of the harmonious possibilities of what, on the surface, appear to be radically-diverse interpretive strategies.
Mark Biddle’s explorations of the presence of polyphony in Jeremiah 7-20 provide some very helpful initial insights into our understanding of this section’s literary and rhetorical structure. Biddle begins his work with an important preliminary caution. Hearers of a prophetic text must be aware that the implied author of any text may actually use different voices. Careful hearers must avoid, on the synchronic side of their analysis, the pitfall of confusing persona and implied author,7 and, on the diachronic side, the automatic equation of multiple voices with multiple historical authors and/or redactors.8
In its final form, Biddle argues that the final form of the book of Jeremiah is best described as an open forum. In it « one hears various Jeremiahs … the indignant prophet, the plaintive sufferer, the hopeful visionary. » One also hears « various YHWHs, various incarnations of the people, various personifications of Jerusalem, and various incarnations of the postexilic worshiping community. »9 Thus, Biddle perceives the book as an extended dialogue, which he seeks to construe in a way that enlightens structural, compositional, and theological questions related to this text.10 In this understanding of the book, a dialogical « voice » is more than a grammatical category11 or a metaphor or simile. A voice is a speaking subject who participates in dialogue with other voices.12
The major difficulty with Biddle’s proposal is his refusal to allow for the possibility of multiple personas being used simultaneously, especially since there is nothing inherent to Biddle’s polyphonic analysis that warrants this prohibition.13 While the very nature of Jeremiah’s response to the prophetic call (Jer 1:6) puts the reader on notice regarding the basic dialogical pattern of the prophetic word in Jeremiah, it seems very arbitrary and a little bit illogical to assume, for example, that a prophetic voice that speaks on behalf of the people cannot also simultaneously speak as one of the people14 or that prophetic words of divine anger and hurt could not resonate with similar feelings that appear quite natural to the literary presentation of the prophetic figure.
Louis Stulman seems to have come closest to articulating concisely a coherent literary-theological structure for the present MT book of Jeremiah; he makes his case based on four key points that are vital to our present exploration. First, Stulman assumes the intentional presence of an identifiable literary structure and an overarching theological message; he picturesquely describes this macrostructure as « a symbolic tapestry of meanings with narrative seams. » Second, this literary and theological intentionality makes it natural to assume the presence of large macro-units that give the book its architecture. Third, Stulman insightfully identifies the so-called « prose sermons » as an important set of these structural pillars. They serve the important function of introducing « equilibrium and symmetry into a wild world of poetry that is laden with incongruence and dissymmetry. »15 With these interpretive principles in place, Stulman then identifies the book of Jeremiah as a « two-part drama that maps out the death and dismantling of a national-cultic symbol system and piety in preparation for stunning new theological and social structures arising from the ruins of exile. »16
Within this structure, Stulman notes four principal configurations that give the book its unity: (1) reimagination of a community who finds its entire « symbolic world » reduced to ruin; (2) renewed confession of God’s sovereignty, demonstrated in the defeat of evil and the inauguration of a just reign; (3) rejuvenated adherence to a book around with the community is gathered/formed; and (4) two alternative theodicies.17
Finally, Stulman points out that the prophetic persona is irreducibly connected to the key motif of dismantling and rebuilding. The text of the book works hard to delineate this interconnection between Jeremiah’s life and the fortunes of the nation of Judah;18 within the symbolic world of the book, Jeremiah is « an archetypal figure who stands between two worlds. »19
Stulman, then, would suggest the following macrostructure for Jer 1–10: Jer 1 (prose): Introduction and call of the prophet Jeremiah20 Jer 2–6 (poetry): Indictment of Judah/Defense of YHWH21 Jer 7 (prose sermon): Symbolic destruction of the Jerusalem Temple as a symbol ofdivine favor and national security22 Jer 8–10 (poetry): Enactment of judgment on Judah for her sins2 Within this framework, especially Jer 7:1–15 serves as both a response to Jer 2–624 and as an anticipation of Jeremiah 8–10. The Temple Sermon then pulls together and, in a way, epitomizes the surrounding poetry’s depiction of Judah as a wayward, rebellious people engaged in wrong worship and destined only for death.25
Another important and refreshing perspective on these chapters is offered by Joe Henderson, who questions the predominance of what he calls the « archaeological approach » to interpreting the Jeremianic poetry.26 For Henderson, the archaeological approach is based on faulty discernment of the true nature of prophetic texts, treating them as collections of historical documents and therefore not giving them their due as true literary creations. 27 This approach is undergirded by three virtually-unquestioned assumptions: 1) the authenticity of the poetic form to the historical prophet, 2) the messenger format as the format of all the poetic speeches,28 and 3) that chs. 2-10 are simply the collection of those speeches in no particular and/or meaningful order.29 The supposed « unity » of the prophetic collections is « about the same degree and kind of unity as marbles collected in a bag because most of them are the same color. » 30
For Henderson, each of these assumptions is highly problematic. The assumption that poetic speech is the only authentic prophetic speech means that the poetic sections of the book of Jeremiah are valued for « what it happens to betray about its origins » rather than for what it « was created to portray for its readers. »31 The second assumption causes exegetes to ignore the fact that many of the poetic speeches in Jeremiah are highly dramatic dialogues between the prophet and YHWH, where both partners have independent voices.32 Henderson therefore disagrees with the assumption that the collection of poetry in chs. 2–10 shows no order, cogently arguing instead for an understanding of these chapters as a « cohesive literary composition unified by a temporal progression. »33
This renewed focus on the dramatic nature of the poetry means for Henderson that the reader should consider these speeches as a representative of what would have been said in those circumstances; the book clearly trusts the competent reader to infer situation and speaker from the text.34 Such a perspective should not be taken to mean that Henderson finds it impossible that the historical Jeremiah actually performed these speeches for real people, but it does most certainly mean that the operative setting of the poetry is not the life of the historical Jeremiah but « a dramatic situation in the life of Yahweh and his bride. »35
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION
1.2 RESEARCH QUESTION
1.3 A BRIEF HISTORY OF INTERPRETATION
1.4. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY & THESIS STRUCTURE
CHAPTER 2: HEARING CONFESSIONS—A PENTECOSTAL STRATEGY
2.2 THE DEVELOPMENT OF A PENTECOSTAL HERMENEUTIC OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
2.3 IMPORTANT FEATURES
2.4 A NEW INTERPRETIVE STRATEGY FOR HEARING THE CONFESSIONS
2.5 PRIMARY HERMENEUTICAL TOOLS
CHAPTER 3: HEARING THE PROPHECIES IN JEREMIAH 1–10
3.2 JEREMIAH 1–10
CHAPTER 4: JEREMIAH’S FIRST CONFESSIONS–A PENTECOSTAL HEARING
4.2 THE CONFESSIONS OF JEREMIAH–AN OVERVIEW
4.3 HEARING THE CONFESSIONS
CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSIONS
5.2 THE CONFESSIONS AS A LISTENING GUIDE
5.3 SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
5.4 IMPLICATIONS AND SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH
5.5 CONFESSIONS OF A PENTECOSTAL HEARER–A CONCLUDING POSTSCRIPT
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT
A PENTECOSTAL « HEARING » OF THE CONFESSIONS OF JEREMIAH: THE LITERARY FIGURE OF THE PROPHET JEREMIAH AS IDEAL HEARER OF THE WORD