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).
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:
- Duane Garrett, A Commentary on Exodus
- Robert B. Chisholm, A Commentary on Judges and Ruth
- Eugene H. Merrill, A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles
- Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms. Volume 2 (Psalms 42-89)
- Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 3 (Psalms 90-150)
- Michael B. Shepherd, A Commentary on The Book of the Twelve
- John D. Harvey, A Commentary on Romans
- Aida Besançon Spencer, A Commentary on James
Thanks to Kregel Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.