Michael B. Shepherd, A Commentary on Jeremiah (KEL)

Shepherd, Michael B. A Commentary on The Book of Jeremiah. Kregel Exegetical Library; Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2023. 928 pp. Hb; $57.99.   Link to Kregel Academic

Michael Shepherd serves as Professor of Biblical Studies at Cedarville University. He has previously published several articles and monographs, including Daniel in the Context of the Hebrew Bible (Peter Lang, 2009), The Twelve Prophets in the New Testament (Peter Lang, 2011), and A Commentary on The Book of the Twelve (Kregel Academic, 2018; reviewed here).

In his introduction to this new volume of the Kregel Exegetical Library, Shepherd explains the justification for yet another major commentary on the book of Jeremiah. First, the base text for this commentary is the Hebrew source behind the old Greek of Jeremiah, not the Masoretic text. Shepherd states there is a growing consensus that the Hebrew behind the old Greek Jeremiah is the earlier edition. This is not a radically new idea, but basing a commentary on a reconstructed Hebrew text behind the Septuagint is unique. Shepherd argues that a single translator produced Old Greek Jeremiah (possibly Ezekiel and the Book of the Twelve). Following Joseph Ziegler’s Göttingen critical edition of the Septuagint and Louis Stuhlman’s 1986 monograph on the prose sections of Jeremiah, Shepherd reconstructs the “Hebrew source behind the Greek” (reproduced on pages 873-909). Throughout the commentary, he refers to the “Hebrew source behind the Greek Jeremiah” (perhaps an abbreviation could have been coined for this hypothetical source).

Jeremiah Commentary Second, Shepherd’s commentary is on the literature bearing the name of Jeremiah, not an account of his life in times or a study of the oral preaching of Jeremiah. Therefore, there are no reconstructions of the literary prehistory of the book. The commentary does not address the political history of the final years of Judah and Jerusalem. Shepherd says this commentary is “an analysis and exposition of the book’s composition in its final form.” However, by “final form,” he means his reconstructed text which stands behind the Old Greek of Jeremiah.

Third, Shepherd focuses on the eschatological shaping of Jeremiah in its first edition. He believes this gives the prophecy relevance for future generations of readers. Greek Jeremiah is less focused on the Babylonian invasion and destruction of Jerusalem, so the eschatology of the book is more open-ended. The book was designed to self-interpret and self-apply.

With these three contributions in mind, the introduction deals with the text of Jeremiah (12-18) and the making of the book of Jeremiah (18-25). As is well known, Greek Jeremiah is one-sixth to one-seventh shorter than the Masoretic text. Jeremiah 33: 14-26 and 39: 4-13 are missing from the old Greek. The old Greek is arranged differently than the Masoretic text. Jeremiah exists in two distinctly different editions. The Septuagint and some Dead Sea scroll fragments support the shorter Old Greek. Some Dead Sea Scroll fragments and the Peshitta, Targum Jonathan, and the Latin Vulgate also support a longer proto-Masoretic text. (By proto-Masoretic, Shepherd refers to the consonantal text before adding vowels, accents, and marginal notes.)

Shepherd argues that the Old Greek is the first edition of Jeremiah, while the Masoretic text represents a second edition. The second edition was thoroughly edited and had some theological differences. For example, in the first edition, the “enemy from the north” is not identified. Compare Jeremiah 25: 1-13 in the Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible. In the Masoretic text, the second edition of Jeremiah, the enemy is Babylon. Since the first edition does not identify Babylon as the “enemy from the north,” the seventy-year captivity does not refer to the Babylonian captivity. This allows for the seventy-year period to be symbolic of an open-ended period. Shepherd suggests this is how the number was interpreted in Daniel 9:24-27 (not seventy years, but seventy times seven years). The second edition of Jeremiah (the proto-Masoretic text) historicized the seventy-year period as the Babylonian Captivity. The first edition is an open-ended, potentially eschatological edition read by Daniel and Ezekiel. The second edition is a longer, rearranged, and historicized edition (18).

Shepherd states that modern critical analysis has not led to a better understanding of Jeremiah’s book (19). Form criticism and the search for an original Sitz im Leben (Duhm, Mowinckel). “The way the book of Jeremiah presents itself is the way it is intended to be read” (20). He observes the frequent use of phrases like “the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah,” and 25:13 refers to “all that is written in the book.” Jeremiah 45 is the prophet’s message to Baruch and functions as a scribal colophon. In the first edition, this was at the end of the book, followed by an appendix describing the fall of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 52). In the second edition, these two chapters were separated. Concerning authorship and date, Jeremiah’s preaching ministry, as described in the book, dates to 627-587 B. C., although Jeremiah 40-44 indicates he accompanied refugees to Egypt after 587. The scribe Baruch gave the book its final form (the first edition, the Hebrew source behind Greek Jeremiah). Shepherd suggests a post-exilic date for the second edition (re-arranging and historicizing the first edition). Perhaps Ezra added Jeremiah 52 to the book as an appendix (30).

Shepherd begins each exegetical unit by translating the Hebrew source behind Greek Jeremiah. He includes the Masoretic Text in brackets where there are differences. There are also brackets for variations in the LXX, Syriac, Dead Sea Scrolls, Vulgate, Targumim, and other ancient witnesses to the text. He includes the ketiv/qere reading (marginal comments on variant readings in the Masoretic text) when necessary. More extensive comments appear in the footnotes on the translation. Occasionally he compares his translation to modern English translations in brackets and sometimes includes referents to HALOT or GKC. Since this is not a translation of the Masoretic text, there are sometimes major differences between the commentary’s text and a modern English translation. This makes the translation difficult to read. I would like a complete translation of his reconstructed text for undistracted reading, even if it was in an appendix.

Following the translation of the Hebrew source behind Greek Jeremiah, Shepherd provides a detailed commentary on the Hebrew source. Since a primary goal of the commentary is interpreting the first edition of Jeremiah (the reconstructed Hebrew text), Shepherd’s commentary focuses on vocabulary and variant readings rather than Hebrew syntax and grammatical nuances. All Hebrew appears without transliteration or vowel pointing (since the vowels are part of the later Masoretic text; when he refers to the Masoretic text, he includes the vowels).

He interacts with significant commentaries, both ancient and modern. Rashi, Redak (David Kimhi), and other rabbinic interpreters frequently appear, as do Calvin and (surprisingly) Bullinger (Figures of Speech). Recent commentaries by Holliday and McKane and a wide range of monographs and journal articles frequently appear. The commentary includes a select bibliography but not an authors index.

Exegetical units end with a short section on the application of the text, usually no more than a page. Sometimes Shepherd includes canonical connections and eschatological comments. For example, at the end of the section Jeremiah 21-25, he observes “the convergence of messianic hope with the hope of redemption from the enemy from the north,” but this is not the whole picture of the Messiah, “which awaits Jesus” (Luke 24:25-27; 459).

Conclusion. Some readers will find this commentary frustrating since it is a commentary on a reconstructed text rather than the canonical Jeremiah (the Hebrew Bible). There are occasional differences between Greek Jeremiah and the Hebrew used for English translations. Readers unfamiliar with the differences between Greek and Hebrew Jeremiah may need help navigating the commentary. There are other ways to explain the existence of two versions of Jeremiah. Duane Garrett’s recent Kerux Commentary (reviewed here) and John Goldingay’s NICOT commentary (reviewed here) explain the two versions quite differently.

Nevertheless, Shepherd has contributed a unique commentary on the Book of Jeremiah, which will be of interest to scholars interested in the development of the canonical form of Jeremiah.

 

 

Other Commentaries in the Kregel Exegetical Commentary series:

 

Thanks to Kregel Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Goldingay, The Book of Jeremiah (NICOT)

Goldingay, John. The Book of Jeremiah. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2021. xxix+1033 pp. Hb; $75.00   Link to Eerdmans

John Goldingay’s 2021 Jeremiah commentary in the NICOT series replaces J. A. Thompson’s 1995 commentary (now an Eerdmans Classic Commentary). Besides his major commentary, Goldingay also recently published a short, The Theology of Jeremiah (IVP Academic, 2021, reviewed here), and the NICOT volume on Lamentations (Eerdmans, 2022, reviewed here).

The sixty-six-page introduction argues the Jeremiah Scroll (as Goldingay calls the book) is a compilation of messages from Yahweh, stories about Jeremiah, and exchanges between Yahweh and Jeremiah. Goldingay outlines a plausible “three horizons” for the composition of the book. First, the particular context when Jeremiah delivered a message (for example, Jer 3:6, 21:1, 25:1). The second horizon is Jeremiah’s dictation to Baruch in 604 BC and writing in 594 BC (Jer 51:59-64). The third horizon is the production of an expanded scroll after 587 BC, with the final form of the book sometime before 562 BC (based on 52:31-34). This final horizon is the work of “curators and storytellers” (9). Curators conserve things. They look after traditions, selecting and arranging them. Storytellers use narrative and drama. People can appreciate and respond to stories (both factual and fictional). Both types of stories can be just as authentic, although whether any story came from Jeremiah directly is unclear. So, Goldingay does not pay much attention to determining the dates for Jeremiah’s messages.

Goldingay, JeremiahGoldingay uses the analogy of the formation of the gospels to help explain the formation of the book of Jeremiah. In fact, both Jeremiah and the gospels have a similar time span between the words of Jesus/Jeremiah and the writing of the Gospels/the book of Jeremiah period. There are even multiple versions of Jeremiah (the Masoretic text and the Septuagint are quite different). Similar to Mark versus Matthew/Luke in the New Testament, getting behind Jeremiah to trace composition is at least as complicated as the gospels. Goldingay suggests that focusing on “getting behind Jeremiah” to work on composition is like the pursuit of Q for the study of the Gospels: it risks ceasing to pay attention to the actual scroll (14).

Nevertheless, the introduction discusses the composition of the book. Goldingay’s reconstruction uses the word possible on nearly every line. In 6626-604, Yahweh gave a series of messages to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 2-6) critiquing Judah. At this point, Jeremiah is trying to reform Judah. By 604, he writes up the messages to present to King Jehoiakim, who destroys the scroll. More messages are added through 587, including the aftermath of the fall of Jerusalem. In either Mizpah or Egypt, Jeremiah has Baruch right down these messages. Storytellers in Mizpah or Egypt wrote the stories about Jeremiah (chapters 26-45). In his Lamentations commentary, Goldingay suggests Lamentations was formed in Judahite communities mourning and fasting at places like Bethel or Mizpah (based on Zechariah 8:18-19). Finally, the curators compiled these complex messages by the 550s, creating the form of the book in the Masoretic tradition we have today.

Goldingay admits this is the minority opinion: most scholars agree the book reached its final form during the Persian period. He offers a series of critiques of this “fourth horizon.” If the scroll of Jeremiah was finished in the Persian period, there are there is a lack of redactional connections with Ezra-Nehemiah. In addition, Jeremiah makes no references to the Persian period, as we know it from Ezra-Nehemiah. He also points out that Jeremiah has more threats and warnings than a hope for restoration, as one would expect if the book reached its final form in the Persian period.

But there is a possible fifth horizon. For some scholars, the disunity of the book shows the book of Jeremiah did not reach its final form until well into the Second Temple Period. Goldingay suggests that if the curators of Jeremiah scroll lived in the Second Temple Period, “they avoided drawing attention to themselves” and “invited the readers to read the scroll in the context of the period from Josiah to the aftermath of 587… I have accepted that invitation” (22).

He, therefore, points out that the book fits well into the historical events in Judah of the late Assyrian and Babylonian. Is Jeremiah a creative fiction that accurately portrays this period in Judah’s history? He draws the analogy to Ecclesiastes, which uses the known history of Solomon to present (later) theology. However, he concludes however that there was a historical Jeremiah. This is true even if the actual authors were the “curators and storytellers” working in the 550s and 540s. “Their aim was to transmit the message of the real author, the prophet Jeremiah—poet, preacher, crusader, persuader” (27).

Why are there two versions of Jeremiah? It is possible to study the Hebrew and Greek versions separately or to compare the two, highlighting the special features of each. A key component of Goldingay’s theory of composition is the community at Mizpah (Jer 41:1-43:13). Jeremiah and Baruch stayed in for a time before moving to Egypt with a refugee community. Did these two locations generate two different forms the book? Possibly. Goldingay observes the larger Jewish population was in Babylon, so it is possible that the community compiled the final form of the book. But Babylonian theories are complicated (see Duane Garrett’s recent Jeremiah commentary, for example). Mizpah and Egypt are the simplest. He concludes, “Such possibilities are simply possibilities” (38). The commentary uses the Masoretic text as it appears in BHS, although Goldingay’s translation notes regularly refer to differences between the MT, LXX, and occasionally the Vulgate.

With respect to the theology of Jeremiah, Goldingay says, “The theology of [Jeremiah] as we have it fits into that of the First Testament as a whole and particularly in the Latter Prophets” (55). He develops three themes in the introduction: The God of Israel, the Israel of God, and the nations. In Jeremiah, God is powerful and faithful, but he is also a God of wrath and rage. God calls Israel “my people,” but they are not acting like his people. Jeremiah probably did not prophesy to the nations, but he has much to say about them. All the nations serve Yahweh. Even Nebuchadnezzar is God’s servant!

Since prophets “do much of their thinking in imagery” (57), Goldingay lists several metaphors Jeremiah uses for God. God is a king, a guide, a master, a builder, a shepherd, a father, etc. Citing Walter Bruggeman, Yahweh is “an abandoned bridegroom, a water fountain, a betrayed father, a lion, a wolf, a leopard, a potter” (57).  This robust and diverse portrait of God leads to a series of both/and theological statements in Jeremiah. For example, Is God chiefly characterized by anger or love? Both are true in Jeremiah. Is the catastrophe of 586 inevitable, or can Judah repent and return to Yahweh? Again, in Jeremiah, both are true.

Although the book only uses the phrase in 46:10, the prophet’s vision of the future focuses on the Day of the Lord. The Day of the Lord is the time with God will restore Israel. But this is not a far-off eschatological event at the end of history. The day of judgment is the (soon) destruction of Jerusalem and the restoration is the end of the exile (three generations in the future for Jeremiah).

Each section in the body of the commentary begins with a new translation of the pericope with a series of footnotes on lexical and textual issues. Here is where Goldingay compares the Masoretic text with the Septuagint and occasionally the Vulgate and other ancient versions. Readers who are not interested in this can easily pass over these notes. After a brief introductory paragraph setting the context and literary structure, Goldingay moves through the section verse-by-verse in a clear, readable style. All Hebrew is transliterated, and syntactical comments are minimal. Goldingay is interested in explaining the text and does not become distracted by “what other commentaries say.” Nevertheless, he often refers to both contemporary and classic commentaries on Jeremiah in the footnotes.

Conclusion. John Goldingay’s Jeremiah commentary will serve the next generation of biblical scholars, pastors, and teachers as they study this important book of the First Testament (to use Goldingay’s preferred title for the Old Testament). Goldingay’s commentaries are always a pleasure to read and often challenging. His style is uncomplicated and understandable for both experts and laypersons alike. He is committed to explaining the meaning of the text in the clearest terms possible.

 

Other Commentaries in the NICOT Series:

 

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Duane Garrett and Calvin Pearson, Jeremiah and Lamentations (Kerux)

Garrett, Duane and Calvin F. Pearson. Jeremiah and Lamentations. Kerux Commentaries. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Ministry, 2022. 281 pp. Hb. $29.99   Link to Kregel Ministry  

The Kerux commentary series pairs a biblical exegete and a veteran preacher in order to provide quality commentary with the sort of helps a pastor needs to teach or preach the text.

Duane A. Garret is Professor of Old Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Garrett is well-known for his commentaries on Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (NAC, 1993), Hosea, Joel (NAC, 1997), Song of Songs (WBC, 2004), Exodus (KEL, 2014, reviewed here) and was the general editor for The Archaeology Study Bible (Zondervan, 2010). With Jason DeRouchie, he wrote A Modern Grammar for Biblical Hebrew (B&H Academic, 2009). He recently wrote the popular The Problem of the Old Testament (IVP Academic, 2020). Calvin F. Pearson (PhD, University of Texas at Arlington) is a retired pastor who taught homiletics at Dallas Theological Seminary, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Clamp Divinity School at Anderson University, and Grace School of Theology.

Garrett, JeremiahIn the introduction (47-61), Garrett presents his view of the formation of Jeremiah. There are significant differences between the Hebrew text of the book and the much shorter Greek translation in the Septuagint. The consensus view (following Janzen, 1973) is that the translators of the Septuagint used an earlier version of Jeremiah, the Hebrew text is a later, expanded version of Jeremiah. Garrett describes the consensus view as a “rolling corpus.” Jeremiah and Baruch wrote a short book which was expanded over hundreds of years, resulting in the canonical Jeremiah. Garrett opines, “This interpretation of the composition history of Jeremiah reduces the book’s credibility as a faithful representation of the life and preaching of the prophet” (49).

In contrast to the consensus view, Garrett describes Jeremiah as an anthology of the prophet’s messages, interspersed with key episodes from his life (but not in chronological order). Jeremiah comprises several documents which were not originally part of a book (transcripts of sermons, letters, and documents). Think of Jeremiah as a collection of papers curated by the scribe Baruch.

Instead of a “rolling corpus” formed over several centuries, Garrett suggests the following scenario. When king Jehoiakim prohibited Jeremiah from entering the temple, the prophet dictated a scroll to be read aloud to the king (Jer 36:1-8). The king destroyed this scroll as it was being read in a fire (36:9-26). Garrett calls this “edition zero.” After they fled to Egypt, Jeremiah and Baruch expanded on the destroyed scroll. Garrett calls this “edition one,” or the Egyptian version. Baruch then made his way to Babylon, perhaps after Jeremiah had died. He brought edition one with him. While living in Babylon, he edited and expanded edition one, giving it a chiastic structure. This is “edition two,” the canonical Hebrew form of Jeremiah. Edition one remained in Egypt, where it was preserved and eventually translated into Greek (with minimal modification) and included in the Septuagint. Garrett’s suggested scenario means Jeremiah was formed within a decade after Jeremiah’s death. In contrast to the consensus, scribes without knowledge of Jeremiah’s life and message did not create the book over many centuries.

A key element of Garrett’s thesis is the chiastic structure of Jeremiah. This explains why the Hebrew version of Jeremiah includes the Oracles against the Nations later in the book (Jer 46-51). They mirror the oracles against Judah (Jer 2-20). The chiasm also explains why the message of salvation (Jer 30-33) appears in the center of the book rather than near the end (as in the Septuagint).

The introduction sketches the historical setting of Jeremiah (from kings Josiah to Zedekiah) and the outline of the book used in the commentary’s body. There is a brief review of theological themes, but this is barely a paragraph. Basically, the book says Jerusalem is condemned by Yahweh, and destroyed by Babylon, but the structural center of the book is a promise of restoration and eschatological salvation.

If the introduction seems brief for a lengthy book like Jeremiah, Garret teases a companion volume, Jeremiah: Composition, Setting and Message (Kregel, forthcoming). In addition, Garrett presents aspects of the theology of Jeremiah in sidebars scattered throughout the commentary. For example, there is a lengthy sidebar on the “Fulfillment of the New Covenant” (285-89). Garrett summarizes Jeremiah’s claim that the New Covenant will be for Israel and brings about a universal transformation of the heart, enabling God’s people to keep his commands. But Hebrews quotes Jeremiah and claims the church is under the New Covenant. Jesus says his death initiated the New Covenant (Luke 22:20) and Paul claims to be a minister of the New Covenant (2 Cor 3:6). If the New Covenant was “for Israel,” how do Gentiles enjoy the benefits of the New Covenant now? If the New Covenant meant all people would know God, why is evangelism a duty of the church? To answer these questions, Garrett compares contrasting answers offered by Covenant and Dispensational Theology. He wants to avoid a complete spiritualization of the New Covenant (so that the church is the new Israel) and an absolutely literal interpretation. Although Garrett clearly rejects aspects of older Dispensationalism, he does not embrace the view of Covenant theology either. Essentially, he concludes the New Covenant is inaugurated but not yet ultimately fulfilled. “Jeremiah predicts an eschatological future in which Israel would enjoy God forever under the new covenant. In its fullness, all people will know God and sin will be no more” (289).

Garrett and Pearson divide Jeremiah into thirty-two preaching units, and Lamentations into five (one for each lament). Each preaching section begins with a brief paragraph summarizing the literary structure and themes of the unit. This is followed by exposition of the text. Hebrew appears without transliteration, although it is always translated. Some knowledge of Hebrew terminology will be helpful. There are sidebars throughout the commentary dealing with detailed Hebrew exegesis. Entitled “translator’s notes,” these brief sidebars deal with details of Hebrew exegesis, lexical issues, in occasionally textual criticism (for example, “A Scribal Error in 42:10?”). In a commentary on a book of this size, Garrett cannot comment on every exegetical detail, but these sidebars touch on the most important details.

Following the exegetical notes is a short theological focus as a segue into preaching strategy. This unit begins with an exegetical and theological synthesis followed by a single sentence preaching idea (ala Haddon Robinson’s Big Idea). Pearson then attempts to draw contemporary connections by asking “what does it mean?” “Is it true?” and “Now what?” The last section of the preaching is “creativity in presentation.” Here Pearson suggests potential structure for sermons and contemporary applications from Jeremiah. Each chapter ends with a few brief discussion questions. Like other volumes in the Kerux series, Pearson devotes about one third of each chapter to preaching strategy.

Including the introduction, the commentary on Lamentations is about 64 pages. Garrett recognizes that the Hebrew book of lamentations is anonymous, although traditionally assigned to Jeremiah. He suggests “Little is gained by claiming that Jeremiah is the author, since the interpretation of Lamentations does not depend upon it being tied to the prophet” (431). Clearly written to Jews living in the aftermath of the fall of Jerusalem, he suggests a sixth or fifth century B.C. date. The bulk of the introduction to Lamentations concerns genre, ancient Near eastern parallels, and the style of poetry found in the book.

The difficulty of interpreting a book like Lamentations is that it does not appear to have a message beyond voicing grief over Jerusalem’s destruction. He surveys several recent interpreters who argue the book contains a challenge to traditional orthodoxy. This includes feminist interpreters who find the metaphor of Jerusalem as a promiscuous woman offensive. Clearly, the book points out Jerusalem’s guilt as the reason for her suffering. The people have broken the Sinai covenant, even though God is a loyal covenant partner. This creates difficulty for a pastor trying to find a reasonable application in a contemporary context. Pearson warns against over-analyzing the text of Lamentations: “In trying to honor the intent of the text, the deep emotions that are present in the text need to be displayed as well as explained” (452).

Conclusion. Like other volumes of the Kerux series, Garrett and Pearson provide excellent exegesis and useful strategies for and preaching this important Old Testament prophetic book. Since Jeremiah is such a lengthy book, there are sections which seem too brief, but I do not think this distracts from the overall goals of the commentary.

 

 

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Other volumes reviewed in this series:

 

 

 

 

John Goldingay, The Book of Lamentations (NICOT)

Goldingay, John. The Book of Lamentations. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2022. 228 pp. Hb; $40.00   Link to Eerdmans

John Goldingay’s 2021 Jeremiah commentary in the NICOT series replaced J. A. Thompson’s 1995 commentary (now an Eerdmans Classic Commentary). Besides his major commentary, Goldingay also recently published a short The Theology of Jeremiah (IVP Academic, 2021, reviewed here). There never was a NICOT volume on Lamentations. This new volume by Goldingay fills this gap.

The thirty-three-page introduction to the book introduces the five poems which make up Lamentations. Goldingay begins by comparing Lamentations with other ancient Near Eastern city laments, although some are a millennium older than Lamentations and from an entirely different culture. It is impossible to know if the author of Lamentations knew this literary genre, but some scholars suggest the canonical book is a parody of these ancient city laments.Goldingay, LamenationsThe five poems manifest a tight unity that is unparalleled in the rest of Scripture. Even though the book describes a radical disorientation in grief, the acrostic poems make it one of the most orderly books in the Hebrew Bible (5). The Hebrew varies between qatal and yiqatol forms, but Goldingay consistently translates using the English aorist. For the poet, the destruction of Jerusalem is in the past.

Goldingay suggests Lamentations 1:1-4 is a “Textbook embodiment of many of the features of first testament poetry” (7). He assumes worshipers originally chanted this poetic material. The lines have a rhythm (he compares the Hebrew poetry of Lamentations to modern rap music). This poetry has a regular rhythm, which means exceptionally short or long lines draw attention to themselves. Following Allsop-Dobbs, the poetry of Lamentations has a “limping beat” (9). Other features of the book’s poetry include repetition combined with variation, terseness, imagery, and various points of view.  All Hebrew poetry omits the small words that aid communication, so his translation often assumes prepositions or an article. Terseness also implies using ellipsis, which can produce a certain “jerkiness in the translation.”

With respect to authorship and date, Goldingay is clear. The book is anonymous even if the Septuagint ascribed the book to Jeremiah. He suggests this results from “later guesswork or creative reflection” based on 2 Chronicles 35:25 (13). But there are many “Jeremiah-like similarities.” Like Jeremiah, the poets of Lamentations are acquainted with the devastation of the city of Jerusalem. Even though Lamentations follows Jeremiah 52 in English Bibles, the books are quite separate from the Hebrew Bible. Lamentations does not have any direct historical data to suggest a date other than after the fall of Jerusalem. Goldingay suggests it is “plausible to follow the direction that the poems point in, inviting us to think of the situation after 587 rather than starting from an alternative subtlety. The poets lived between the years 587 and the 540s B.C., “the same period that the Jeremiah scroll came into existence” (15). He suggests the poems Judahite communities used the poems in worship based on references to mourning and fasting at places like Bethel or Mizpah (Zechariah 8:18-19).

Regarding the occasion, place of origin, and destination, he observes that the book was not written from Jerusalem. Even though the city was completely destroyed, a Judahite community remained in the land. However, there is no direct information in the book regarding why the poems were written. Goldingay suggests the books guide worshippers on how to think about the 587 catastrophe and to encourage them to express their feelings about the disaster. The goals of the writer are, therefore, “theological, educational, pastoral, cathartic, and religious” (17). Sometimes the poems address Yahweh. Other times, the poets address one another, although not in a dialogue. Following Leslie Allen’s suggestion, Lamentations is a “liturgy of grief.” The poems facilitate people expressing to the Lord their continuing grief over the state of their city and the community after the catastrophe of 587 (17).

There can be no systemizing the theology of Lamentations, “the book is a whirlwind” (27). The writers are casting around for some meaning in the darkness. The poems are often an expression of suffering rather than the meaning behind it. He suggests two central theological themes in the book: Yahweh as the God of Israel and Israel as the people of Yahweh. Yahweh is actively sovereign (Lam 3:32-38) but his anger toward his people is blazing (2:1-2). Many commentators on Lamentations assume the theology of Deuteronomy, 2 Kings, and Jeremiah: wrongdoing results in trouble. This is true, but Goldingay sees more in the book than poetry based on Deuteronomic theology. The theology of Lamentations can be compared to the Psalms. God’s people need to trust in Yahweh and his faithfulness to his promises. But like the Psalms, Lamentations encourages protest in the light of trouble. Also, with the Psalms and the prophets, Yahweh continues to be committed to David and to Zion. Goldingay suggests that the “genius of Lamentations” is to hold all this together at the same time. It is not a “theology in shreds,” as some describe the book.

Lamentations is often considered a theodicy. The book is an attempt to explain the disaster of 587. For many Christian commentators, the explanation is that God was acting justly by punishing Judah for their sins. But as Goldingay observes, Lamentations “spreads the blame around.” Judah is to blame, but God himself is responsible for the disaster. Following Zachary Braiterman, Goldingay briefly discusses the term antitheodicy to describe Lamentation’s theology. Antitheodicy is a response to evil or disaster that is a protest rather than an explanation. But Goldingay thinks neither term is quite right. In Lamentations, it works both ways. There is traditional theodicy but also bitter protest and expressions of genuine grief. In fact, he concludes, “If there is a way of living with the unresolvable, it lies outside Lamentations.”

He begins his commentary on each poem by summarizing its content and offering something like an outline. Sometimes verses can be grouped together, but this is not always possible. He offers a series of observations on the structure of the poetry in each of the five poems. The commentary treats each verse of the poem as a unit.

Goldingay’s translation follows the Masoretic text. In the introduction, he draws attention to 4QLam and 5QLam, which are not too different from the Masoretic Text.  In his translation, Goldingay uses the Septuagint, Aramaic Targums, and the Peshitta in the footnotes of the commentary. These notes sometimes explain translation choices and occasionally emend the text. But in his view, amending the Masoretic Text does not always clear up ambiguities. His translation in the commentary is a beautiful rendering of the Hebrew Bible in English (see also Goldingay’s translation of the First Testament).

Following the commentary on each poem, he offers a brief “Readers Response.” What would someone worshiping in Bethel or Mizpah think about the poem? These are short imaginary responses that are creative and moving. They are not the sort of thing one usually finds in academic commentary. This is not a basic pastoral application, nor is it an attempt to create canonical connections with the New Testament, is is all the rage in some commentary series. Goldingay invites us into the post-exilic world and asks us to think and feel along with the original worshipers who used these poems to cope with the catastrophe in which they were currently living.

There are several other unique features of this commentary. First, Goldingay writes in a very personal, familiar style. He captures the reader’s imagination and makes for a stimulating commentary to read. The commentary is not bogged down with minor exegetical details; he remains focused on the meaning of the poems. Virtually every page challenges the reader to deal with the grief of the poet. Second, Goldingay often uses bullet point lists of literary features or other data to summarize the material. Third, there is a more direct citation of other commentaries than usually expected in an exegetical commentary. Goldingay appears to have read every significant commentary on Lamentations ever written and plucks the most salient, moving, perhaps even shocking lines. Anyone using this commentary to prepare for teaching Lamentations will appreciate the fruit of Goldingay’s labor. He does not cite many ancient commentaries, but there are a few references to Ibn Ezra and Rashi. Fourth, occasionally, he makes important comparisons to other ancient Near Eastern literature. It is very difficult to understand Lamentations without this parallel literature. But he uses this material judiciously to illustrate and not distract from the poems themselves.

Conclusion. As one expects when John Goldingay published a commentary, this new commentary on Lamentations is well worth reading. In fact, it is a rare commentary that should be read cover to cover as one might a monograph.

 

Other Commentaries in the NICOT Series:

 

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. and Tiberius Rata, Walking the Ancient Paths: A Commentary on Jeremiah

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.

Kaiser and Rata, JeremiahThe 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.