Book Review: John Goldingay, The Theology of Jeremiah

Goldingay, John. The Theology of Jeremiah. Downers Grove Ill..: IVP Academic, 2021. 151 pp. Pb; $22.00.   Link to IVP Academic

This short primer to the theology of Jeremiah joins Goldingay’s The Theology of Isaiah (IVP Academic, 2014). Goldingay wrote the forthcoming NICOT volume on Jeremiah (Eerdmans, late 2021), informing his reflections on this important prophetic voice. Like the previous book in Isaiah, The Theology of Jeremiah is more like a series of challenging reflections on the book of Jeremiah.

Goldingay Theology of JeremiahPart one contains four chapters covering the contents of Jeremiah. As with any prophetic book, historical context is critically important for understanding the content and theology of the book. The first chapter (“The Man, The Scroll”) briefly introduces what we can know of the “historical Jeremiah” and the world to which God called him to announce his word. The exile was a catastrophe, a great calamity which destroyed Jerusalem. As for the date and composition of the book, Goldingay takes the “more old-fashioned view that the scroll was produced during the decades after the fall of Jerusalem, during or just after Jeremiah’s lifetime” (p. 9).

In the second chapter, “Reading Jeremiah Backwards,” Goldingay begins with the end of the book, the tragic conclusion to the book: Babylon devastated Jerusalem, and Jeremiah himself takes refuge in Egypt. He then backtracks through the narrative to explain what has happened. “It’s amazing how God keeps giving the people of God a new start and how we are capable of throwing it away. I picture God sitting with his cabinet in the heavens and they are all rolling their eyes at our stupidity and then starting another discussion about how they can fix things to give us another chance” (p. 19).

Goldingay then surveys the contents of Jeremiah in two chapters entitled “Themes in Jeremiah.” The book of Jeremiah asks Israel to get its thinking and commitments straight. Goldingay therefore divides the book into sections calling on Israel to “think about”: the Exodus (2-6), the temple (7-10), the covenant (11-13), prayer (14-17), God’s sovereignty (18-20), the government (21-25), the “reassuring prophets” (26-29), restoration and returning (30-33) “what is written” (34-26), tragedy and trauma (37-45), Egypt (46-49), and empire (50-51).

Part two covers five theological themes which arise from a reading of Jeremiah. Each of these five chapters are illustrated with scripture drawn from Goldingay’s own translation, The First Testament (IVP Academic, 2018). After creating a biblical theological reading of Jeremiah’s view of the topic, Goldingay connects Jeremiah to Christian theology. Here is sometimes uses categories of systematic theology (as in the chapter on God), the New Testament (as in the chapter on the People of God), or connects the theological theme to a contemporary work like Anglican Common Book of Prayer.

Goldingay is adamant that modern readers hear Jeremiah’s voice. He sometimes wonders what Jeremiah would think of later readings of his words. For example, in his chapter on the People of God, Goldingay says, “Jeremiah speaks with more than one voice about Israel’s security or vulnerability. He speaks of God annihilating Israel, of his decimating Israel but preserving a small community, and of his restoring Israel and vastly increasing its numbers. Jeremiah does not seek to reconcile these different positions in the way Paul does in Romans 9-11. Maybe he was glad when he could eventually read Romans—or will be when he gets the chance” (p. 100).

Since God called Jeremiah to confront the people of Judah about their wrongdoing, Goldingay devotes a chapter to the topic. He avoids using the word sin until the last section connecting Jeremiah to Christian theology. Jeremiah in fact uses a wide range of terms for sin: wrongdoing, taint, corruption, profanation, shamefulness, stubbornness, and even stupidity! Once again Goldingay concludes the chapter with the question of “what would Jeremiah think” about the Christian generalized confession of sin, For Jeremiah, says Goldingay, there are times when a person needs to seriously face their wrongdoings.

More than most of the prophets, Jeremiah has a great deal to say about “being a prophet” (chapter eight). God commissioned Jeremiah to speak his word to Judah. But because of his message, he was unpopular and vulnerable to attack. Jeremiah prays for (and against) those who attack him, even asking God to do what he has intended to do and judge Judah.

For many Christians, prophetic books are about the future. Goldingay devotes his final chapter to the future, but he is also clear the vast majority of the book of Jeremiah concerns the prophet’s own day and the next several generations. “The consideration about messianic prophecy leads into a reflection on the alternative inclination of Christian theology to see prophecy such as Jeremiah as forth-telling more than foretelling (p. 140).” Even in the seventy-year exile concerns his immediate audience: their grandchildren will experience the restoration.

Can Judah avoid the threat of exile? After all, God promised total devastation. If Israel does not repent, will God limit the time of the devastation? If the people turn and repent, will God restore them from their exile among the nations? For Jeremiah, the answer seems to be yes. Goldingay offers a list of the things expected when Israel is restored (p. 100). However, when he connects Jeremiah to Christian theology, these things are ultimately fulfilled in Christ. (There is no pre-millennialism here).

Conclusion: The book is a collection of Goldingay’s insights after the intense study required to write a major academic commentary. But Goldingay writes for a popular audience, so his style is clear, non-academic, and occasionally witty. The book is not cluttered with jargon or technical details. He challenges his readers to think more deeply about Jeremiah, perhaps in ways which confront their own assumptions about the book.

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

Book Review: Caleb T. Friedeman, ed. A Scripture Index to Rabbinic Literature

Friedeman. Caleb T., ed. A Scripture Index to Rabbinic Literature. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Academic, 2021. xvi+549 pp.; Hb.  $59.95  Link to Hendrickson Academic

A Scripture Index to Rabbinic Literature (ASIRL, pronounced AY-sirl) is the first comprehensive Scripture index to classical rabbinic literature in English. The goals of this volume are quite different than the venerable (and oft-reprinted) work by John Lightfoot or Strack and Billerbeck, Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Midrash (German, 1926). Those volumes indexed the passages in the Mishnah and Talmud to New Testament passages. ASIRL indexes quotations and allusions to the Hebrew Bible in a wide range of classical rabbinic literature, providing a convenient list to study the developing interpretation of Scripture in classical rabbinic literature.

A Scripture Index to Rabbinic LiteratureBy classic rabbinic literature, the editors mean works produced in the second through seventh centuries CE (3). The volume is also limited to works available in English, untranslated Hebrew or German texts are not indexed. The literature indexed includes the Mishnah, Tosefta, Jerusalem Talmud, Babylonian Talmud and the minor Talmudic Tractates, and seventeen midrashic works. The introduction surveys these twenty-two categories, indicating the translation used for the volume and a brief introduction to the contents and abbreviation schemes. This is a valuable introduction to many of the lesser-known works included in the index. The introduction also includes a brief bibliography for each work included.

According to the introduction to the book, ASIRL contains “approximately 90,000 rabbinic entries and represents over 2,500 hours of work by a seven-person team over the course of two and a half years.” ASRIL has five goals. First, the volume brings all Scripture references in classical rabbinic literature together in a single volume so that users can look at one or two pages and know every place in this literature where a given biblical passage is referenced. Second, the book creates Scripture indexes for rabbinic works that do not yet have them. Third, the book provides for each reference a hard citation that is transferable to other editions, and also to provide the corresponding page number in a standard English translation. Fourth, the editors decide whether each reference is a direct citation, allusion, or editorial reference. Fifth, the volume corrects any errors in the existing indexes for this literature.

As test case I selected Exodus 12:9. Referring to the Passover Lamb, the text says “Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs.” The index points the way to how this verse was interpreted by classic rabbinic literature. The ASIRL for Exodus 12:9 has thirty entries arranged in chronological order beginning with the Mishnah. Each entry includes pages numbers in the work cited in the edition listed in the introduction. For the Mishnah, they give page numbers both D for Danbey (D) and Neusner (N). This made it quite easy to locate references in my copy of Neusner’s translation of the Mishnah.. The index also pointed me to Lauterbach’s Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael: “R. Akiba says: From this I know only that it is forbidden to boil it in water. How about boiling it in other liquids? The scriptural expression: “nor sodden at all,” includes all other liquids in the prohibition.” In b. Hul. 115A the rabbis connected Exodus 12:9 to the prohibition of eating meat boiled in milk as well as prohibitions against eating meat with blood. Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon Bar Yoha adds “if one eats it insufficiently cooked, he gets the 40 lashes!”

This raises on potential problem for using the full potential of ASIRL. Users need access to a formidable research library in order to make use of the index. I happen to have both the Neusner’s Mishnah and Babylonian Talmud in Logos as well as a few of the other works listed, but few users will have immediate access to anything other than the Mishnah and Talmud. The majority of entries are from those two sources, but some may be frustrated trying to find a copy of Sifre Zuta Numbers, for example. Although it would be a great deal of work, I would really like to see this book converted to a Logos tagged resource so users could click a link and go immediately to the cited section.

Since this is an index of Scripture in the rabbinic literature, it is not surprising the bulk of the 549 pages of the book cover the Hebrew Bible (and about 250 pages are on the five books of the Torah). The Apocrypha appears on slightly more than one page, the New Testament in barely four pages. The editors are clear: they do not want to imply any listed classic rabbinic text actually directly interacts with the New Testament. All the New Testament examples are editorial references rather than citations or allusions. Once again, this is not a new version of Strack and Billerbeck. In fact, these two sections could have been omitted without effecting the goals of ASRIL.

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