Kaiser, Jr., Walter C. and Tiberius Rata. Walking the Ancient Paths: A Commentary on Jeremiah. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019. 633 pp.; Hb. $49.99; Logos Digital edition $34.99 Link to Lexham Press
Longtime Professor of Old Testament and former President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Walter Kaiser is well known in evangelical circles for his work in biblical theology and commentaries on several Old Testament books. Tiberius Rata is Associate Dean of the School of Ministry Studies and Professor of Old Testament Studies at Grace Theological Seminary. Rata contributed a monograph on Jeremiah, The Covenant Motif in Jeremiah’s Book of Comfort: Intertextual Studies in Jeremiah 30–33 (Peter Lang, 2007). This commentary focuses on a clear exposition of the text of Jeremiah and will be useful for pastors and teachers preparing to apply Jeremiah to Christian communities.
The twenty-nine-page introduction deals briefly with the composition of the book. Jeremiah is obviously not arranged in a chronological order (chapters 36 and 45 date to the fourth year of king Jehoiakim) so there was some editorial activity. Kaiser takes the two scrolls in Jeremiah 36 seriously. When the king destroyed the first scroll, Jeremiah dictated a second scroll with added material. Beyond that, Kaiser is not interested in theories of composition. For example, he rejects Bernhard Duhm’s suggestion that the prophet Jeremiah wrote the poetry (280 verses), Baruch wrote the prose sections (220 verses) and the bulk of the book are post-exilic additions (880 verses). As Kaiser observes, most reject this theory today. Prose is close to Hebrew from the period (citing the Lachish letters).
The introduction deals with Jeremiah’s use of Deuteronomy. For conservative scholars, Moses wrote Deuteronomy much earlier and Jeremiah knew Deuteronomy after Josiah re-discovered in 622 BCE. Critical scholarship focuses on a Deuteronomic history (Joshua-Judges-Samuel-Kings) compiled during and after the exile. Kaiser points out there is no reference to Jeremiah in the Deuteronomic history, even though the prophet Isaiah figures prominently. Others detect a difference between Jeremiah and the Deuteronomic history; Jeremiah is optimistic about her return from the exile while 2 Kings seems pessimistic (there is no hope for return). For Kaiser, the historical Jeremiah wrote the book at the end of the Kingdom of Judah.
Kaiser deals briefly with the Septuagint text of Jeremiah in the introduction. The Septuagint text is 2700 words shorter than the Hebrew Masoretic text and arranged differently. Kaiser points out three fragments of manuscripts from the Dead Sea Scrolls, two of which are similar to the Masoretic text, and the third is closer to the Septuagint. This implies there were two text forms for Jeremiah in the third century BC (12). Although the translation in the body of the commentary often refers to the Septuagint, but the exposition relies on the Hebrew Bible.
The introduction summarizes the theological contribution of the book of Jeremiah. First, focusing on God, Yahweh is the God of creation, love, and “pathos.” More than any other book in the Bible, Jeremiah presents God as having deep feelings, emotions, and passions. God shows his love and affection for his people Israel and the people of the whole earth. But also his deep anger and wrath for the moral degradation of those flaunting his law (13). Second, Jeremiah presents God as using historical events as the means to accomplish his will. Third, God’s words of salvation echo the promises given to the patriarchs and David. In Jeremiah, promises of salvation intermingle with words of judgment. Commenting on Jeremiah 31:40, Kaiser asks, “has Israel forfeited… her share in the promises made in the covenant to Abraham and David? Surprisingly enough, the answer to that very good question is: Never! Never once will God retract and go back on what he has promised Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David” (375). In fact, the new covenant “does not envision a change in the partners to that covenant” (370). Kaiser rejects a supersessionist reading of Jeremiah 32:31-33. He suggests the church has “no grounding and no vitality except through the promises made to Israel and that at some point the Jewish people will turn to their Messiah in such vast numbers that it will be said ‘all Israel’ will saved (Romans 11:25b-27)” (370). The future of Judah will not depend on Judah’s own works, but on God himself. Because God made an everlasting covenant with his people, he will accomplish his covenant via a new covenant, the internalized law written on people’s hearts (31:31-33).
The introduction concludes with a detailed nine-page outline of Jeremiah, which forms the sections of the commentary. In addition, there is a short bibliography of major works cited in parentheses in the body of the commentary.
In the body of the commentary, each unit starts with a fresh translation with translation notes comparing the Hebrew text to other early translations (Septuagint, Syriac, etc.). For example, if the Septuagint omits or adds words, these appear in the notes with relevant Hebrew and Greek, along with a translation of the phrase. Expositional comments are verse-by-verse, written in clear prose without too much reference to the Hebrew text. When Hebrew appears, it is untransliterated. Footnotes deal with details of Hebrew syntax or variations of translation based on the Septuagint. There are occasional references to secondary literature.
Although not marked with a heading, each unit concludes with a paragraph drawing devotional or pastoral conclusions. For example, in his comments on Jeremiah 11 and Jeremiah facing his enemies, Kaiser comments that a congregation will stand or fall on how faithfully the word of God has been preached, and how well that congregation has responded to the word of God.
Kaiser interprets some of the prophecy in the book from a premillennial perspective. For example, commenting on Jeremiah 3:16, the phrase “in those days” points to “the messianic times coming in the future” (71). Commenting on the unification of Israel and Judah in Jeremiah 50:4, he says this will occur over a long period of time, “into the days of the second coming” (561). Commenting on the prediction “Babylon must fall” (51:61-64), Kaiser rejects the suggestion Jeremiah’s words are hyperbole since that “would verge on saying Jeremiah gave a false prophecy” (571). Instead, he suggests this prophecy telescopes from the immediate fulfillment of Jews returning from the Babylonian exile to an ultimate future when these prophecies will be fulfilled in the messianic age. But Kaiser is no dispensationalist. He rejects an interpretation of Jeremiah 30:7 which associates “the time of Jacob’s trouble” with a great tribulation after the rapture (342).
Although the commentary is nearly 600 pages long, some sections are brief. For example, the section on Jeremiah 52:1-34 is only nine pages, the bulk of which is translation. In the printed version, pages 357 have the wrong chapters for the commentary; Lexham corrected this error in the Logos digital version.
Conclusion. Walking the Ancient Paths is an excellent example of evangelical scholarship aimed at service to the church. Pastors and teachers will find this a valuable addition to their library as they prepare to preach and teach this important prophetic book. Although some academically minded readers may find the lack of engagement with critical issues frustrating, that is not the goal of the commentary.
NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.