CHAPTER 3 Saying Yes to Exile--and No! Reactions to the Exile in the Book of Jeremiah (1)

Ralph W. Klein from Israel in Exile

This chapter will distinguish between Jeremiah himself and the anonymous editor or editors who gave his message a new direction after the prophet had departed from the scene. My approach is that of redaction criticism rather than that of source criticism. I have been influenced very much, as the following pages show, by E. W. Nicholson (2) and especially by Winfried Thiel. (3)

Thiel believes that the Book of Jeremiah was given a Deuteronomistic redaction (hereafter often D) in Palestine around 550 B.C., which gave shape to virtually the entire book. (4) The redac-

1. For details see the commentaries of John Bright, Jeremiah, AB 21 (Garden City, NY- Doubleday, 1965), and Wilhelm Rudolph, Jeremia, HAT 1, 123 (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1968). See also Siegfried Herrmann, Die prophetischen Heilserwartungen im Alten Testament BWANT 85 (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1965), 159-241.

2. E. W. Nicholson, Preaching to the Exiles: A Study of the Prose Tradition in the Book of Jeremiah (New York: Schocken Books, 1971). See the review by Winfried Thiel in TLZ 97 (1972): 25-27.

3. Winfried Thiel, Die deuteronomistische Redaktion von Jeremia 1-25, WMANT 41 (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1973). Unfortunately, the second half of Thiel's dissertation, which was available to me in typed form, has not been published. See idem, Die deuteronomistische Redaktion des Buches Jeremia (Die Humboldt-Universität, Berlin, 1970).

4. Major omissions from this redaction are the oracles against the foreign nations (chaps. 46-51), chap. 52, drawn from 2 Kings 25, and a few other later redactional additions (= PD) .

tor(s) edited previously transmitted words and "self-reports" of Jeremiah (the so-called A materials), as well as reports about the prophet (the so-called B materials).(5) The D contribution to these A and B materials consists in the addition of phrases, or even of an occasional sermon (e.g. 7:1-8:3), and in the arrangement of the whole. The prose sermons themselves are not from a source C, (6) but they are interpretive speeches composed in the process of redaction. By eliminating the redactional elements from the materials labeled A, B, and C by the source critics, we can often discover a tradition that differs from the Deuteronomistic redaction in language, form, and content. These materials are the closest we can come to the "real" Jeremiah, and they will form the basis for our discussion of the prophet's own reaction to exile.(7)


Jeremiah was a vicarious fellow sufferer with Israel in its final days. His whole body shook at the thought of the enemy's attack

5. Gunther Wanke, Untersuchungen zur sogenannten Baruchschrifft, BZAW 122 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1971), argues that the B materials consist of three separate cycles: (a) 37-44; (b) 19:1-20:6; 26; 27; 28; 29; 36; and (c) 45 and 51:59-64.

6. Helga Weippert, Die Prosareden des Jeremiabuches, BZAW 132 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1973), denies that type C materials come from a Deuteronomistic redactor. She does not however adequately distinguish between Deuteronomic language (that of the book of Deuteronomy itself) and Deuteronomistic language (that is, the language of the theologians who were indebted to Deuteronomy but who also had experienced the transforming effects of the death of Josiah, the failure of his reform, the fall of Judah, the burning of the temple, etc.). For an English summary of Wanke and Weippert see William L. Holladay, "A Fresh Look at 'Source B' and 'Source C' in Jeremiah," VT 25 (1975): 394-412. Holladay basically accepts Weippert's conclusions.

7. There are two major difficulties with Thiel's work: (1) He consistently argues that the LXX omitted passages from its Hebrew Vorlage, whereas J. Gerald Janzen, Studies in the Text of Jeremiah (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973), has demonstrated that the shorter text of LXX is often superior, that is, more original, from a text-critical standpoint. (2) Thiel believes that the D redaction is unified, or at least that it took place at one time and in one locale. For a more differentiated view, see provision- ally Karl-Ferdinand Pohlmann, Studien zum Jeremiabuch, FRLANT 118 (Goettingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1978).

(4:19-21), and he cried out when he saw the people's suffering (14:17-18). Thrown in the stocks (chap. 20), endangered after his temple address (chap. 26), harassed by rival prophets (chap. 28), imprisoned during the final siege (chaps. 37-38), and taken to Egypt after 587 against his will (chaps. 42-44), Jeremiah bore suffering for the word he proclaimed even as that word suffered at the hands of King Jehoiakim (chap. 36).

Nowhere is Jeremiah's suffering more clear than in his "confessions."8 He suffered from persecutors whose attacks were really aimed at Yahweh (15:15). God's word was his joy and delight, but it also brought loneliness and a disquietude that reflected God's wrath against Israel (15:16-17). Worst of all, God seemed to him untrustworthy and deceitful (15:18).

God's answer to Jeremiah's complaints was a hard gospel. It offered no escape (cf. 12:5) but called on the prophet to repent (15:19) and promised him more of the same kind of ministry. He was to be unyielding and hard, strong enough to survive future attacks. Certainty would come only from simple words of assurance: "I am with you, to save you and deliver you ... out of the hand of the wicked" (15:20b-21). This same "gospel" appears also in the account of Jeremiah's call (1:8). Through these assur- ances of his own salvation Jeremiah attained insights into the nature of God. Despite suffering severely under the demands of his office, Jeremiah knew that he himself would be saved and not abandoned.(9)


Jeremiah's first response to the experience of exile dealt with the exile of the northern kingdom, which had been captured by Assyria nearly a century before his ministry began. Many scholars link his hope oracles directed to the north with Josiah's attempt to reoccupy the northern territory. However that may be, we find in these passages the same call for repentance and the same lim- ited deliverance that were directed to the prophet himself:

8. Jer. 11:18-12:6; 15:10-11, 15-21; 17:14-18; 18:18-23; 20:7-13 and 14-18. Note also Yahweh's anguish over the necessity of punishing his people (12:7).

9. Cf. 1:18-19 and Herrmann, Heilserwartungen, 231-32.

Return, faithless Israel, says Yahweh.

I will not look on you in anger,

for I am merciful, says Yahweh;

I will not be angry for ever.

Only acknowledge your guilt. (3:12-13)10

Two passages from the book of consolation (30-31) are commonly interpreted as messages of hope to the north, dating from early in Jeremiah's ministry. The first (31:2-6) grounds north Israel's hope in the everlasting love and faithfulness of Yahweh (v. 3; cf. 3:12 and Exod. 33:12-17). In a distant country the erst-while northerners will receive the promise of a return to the land (= rest in v. 2). joy and celebration (v. 4b) will replace present suffering (cf. 13b); successful harvests (v. 5) will come instead of the constant agricultural frustration that had been Israel's lot (Amos 5: 1 1). Once more a call for a pilgrimage to Zion will sound on the hills of Ephraim (v. 6), that is, right in the midst of the northern kingdom. This stress on the cultic unity of all Israel may reflect the influence of Josiah's reform. In any case, it would seem to antedate Jeremiah's harsh critique of the temple in 605 (cf. chaps. 7 and 26).

The second passage (31:15-22) reports north Israel's repentance (vv. 18-19) and Yahweh's subsequent love (v. 20). Ephraim is promised a return from the enemy's land to his own homeland (vv. 16-17). His contrition and sorrow come in response to Yahweh's punishment (v. 19); they are God's answer to his prayer for restoration (v. 18). Even when Yahweh speaks words of judgment over his son Ephraim, he can't help remembering him. Fond feelings for his son overflow at the mention of his name.

In these passages we find references to God's mercy, his time-limited anger, and his love and faithfulness. Israel's repentance is stressed in 3:12-13 and 31:15-20. Jeremiah's message to the

10. Thiel, Jeremia 1-25, pp. 83-91, holds that the present form of 3:6-18 is the product of D but considers the above words to be authentic Ieremianic material. Literary critical judgments in this chapter will follow Thiel unless otherwise indicated.

exiles of north Israel, therefore, was only an extension of that deliverance he experienced in his own embattled life.


Sometime after the first deportation in 597, Jeremiah per- formed a symbolic act which indicated his understanding of Judah's immediate future. In 594/593 envoys from Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon had come to Jerusalem to plan a concerted revolt against Babylon. Jeremiah put on yoke-bars at Yahweh's direction and promised all who submitted to the yoke of the king of Babylon that they would be able to continue living in their land (27:2-4, 11).

The prophet's action led to an intense conflict with Hananiah, a fellow Benjaminite. Hananiah had good credentials-his name itself testified to his Yahwistic faith, he introduced his message with a "Thus says Yahweh," and he even performed a symbolic act by breaking the yoke-bars from Jeremiah's neck (vv. 10-14)- but his message directly contradicted Jeremiah's. According to Hananiah, Yahweh would break the yoke (dominion) of Nebuchadnezzar and within two years bring back not only the temple vessels but also king Jehoiachin and the others deported in 597.

Jeremiah conceded that Hananiah's words sounded good (28:6), but he noted that previous prophets had consistently prophesied war, famine, and pestilence. A prophet who promised a bright future would only be credible when his words became facts in history (cf. Deut. 18:21-22). When Hananiah broke the yoke-bars, Jeremiah silently went his way; he had no word of Yahweh for this occasion (cf. 42:7). When that word of Yahweh came, Jeremiah put on bars of iron to symbolize the inescapable servitude of all nations to the king of Babylon. He rebuked Hananiah, charging that this false prophet had not been sent by Yahweh and that he had made the people trust a lie. Hananiah's death at Yahweh's hand would come within the year. A mere two months later, according to the narrator, that sentence became reality.

This story of prophetic conflict illustrates the difficulty for prophet and people in the early years of exile in knowing what the will of Yahweh was, but this incident also indicates that there were right and wrong options, after all, and the wrong ones could come with all the good credentials of a Hananiah. However despicable the prophets were who prophesied by Baal (23:13; 2:8) or who participated in adultery (23:14; 29:23) or other ungodliness (23:11, 15), it is hard to believe that they were a central challenge to a prophet like Jeremiah or the faith of the people. A false prophet like Hananiah, on the other hand, formed the real challenge. Such false prophets were dangerous because they strengthened the hands of the evildoers, thus keeping them from repentance (23:14). A person who had really stood in God's council (cf. 23:18, 22) would turn people from their evil way (23:22). The dreams of the false prophets made people forget God's name (23:27). Worse yet, they offered vain hopes (23:16) or "Peace, peace" where there was no peace (6:14 = 8: 11). Hananiah and his colleagues among the false prophets refused to face the realities of history, and they reassured unrepentant Israel with vapid promises. No wonder the people loved it (5:31)1 For the Judeans between 597 and 587, cheap forgiveness and an easy escape from Nebuchadnezzar's army were no word from God- so said Jeremiah. Those who had already begun their exile were the good figs; the remnant left in Judah were like bad, unedible figs (24:la, 2-4, 5*, 8*).11

A call to submit to Babylon, to say yes to the reality and appropriateness of God's judgment-that was Jeremiah's and God's word as the shades of exile fell. It was the word offered to the surrounding nations in the symbolic action of chaps. 27 and 28. Though the prophet promised continued dwelling on its land to any nation which would submit to the Babylonian king (27:1 1), Jeremiah elsewhere urged simple surrender or desertion to the enemy (21:9; cf. 38:2), a strategy apparently followed by not a few (38:19; 39:9). He prophesied that the city of Jerusalem would be given to the Babylonian army (38:3), a message which his opponents saw as traitorous since it weakened the hands of the

11. These verses contain the pre-D tradition about the two baskets of figs and its meaning. Per contra Thiel, Jeremia 1-25, p. 259.

soldiers (38:4). Better to weaken the soldiers' hands, the prophet might say, than to strengthen the hands of the evildoers in the fashion of the false prophets (23:14). Jeremiah saw no hope in the temporary lifting of the siege caused by an Egyptian relief force. No, he knew the Egyptians would retreat and the Chaldeans would burn the city. Even if-by some superhuman efforts -the Judeans would defeat the whole Chaldean army and reduce the attackers to casualties lying in their tents, these wounded would still get up and burn the city with fire (37:3-10).

But when Jerusalem fell and Jeremiah was hailed before the Babylonian authorities, he decided to stay in the land (40:4-6). Hence Jeremiah was no political opportunist, trimming his sails to the prevailing Babylonian winds. Instead, he saw Babylon's victory over Jerusalem as God's own act of judgment, richly de- served and to be welcomed by all, the sooner the better. Surrendering to Babylon was the only logical and theological consequence to be drawn from an analysis of Judah's idolatrous infidelity (chaps. 2-3) and her superstitious trust in the temple (chaps. 7 and 26). The "enemy from the north," whose advent Jeremiah had announced with fear and trembling in his earliest oracles, showed up at Yahweh's direction in 597 B.C. Hailing Jerusalem's fall, anticipating it, and even helping folks to desert was not a popular or easy prophetic task. But it was an essential, even crucial reaction to and interpretation of the onrushing exile.


In a remarkable letter to those who had been deported to Babylon in 597, Jeremiah rejected any hope for a return from exile (29:4-7). Instead, he urged the people to settle down for the long haul. They should build houses and live in them, plant gardens and eat their produce, take wives and have children, and marry off these sons and daughters. Jeremiah even advised the people to pray for Babylon-in its prosperity would be the prosperity of the exiles.

This advice to pray indicated that worship-without temple and cult-was possible for the Israelites in the unclean land of Babylon. Secondly, it gave strong endorsement to the Babylonian hegemony. Israel's material prosperity would be directly proportional to that of Babylon. Praying for Babylon was in Israel's self-interest. Thirdly, however, it urged prayer for Israel's enemy. Jeremiah's personal experiences may have helped shape this counsel. Faced with people who had dug a pit for his life he had interceded for them with God so that God's anger might turn away (18:20). Now he urged the exiles to pray also for public enemy number one.

Jeremiah's advice about houses, gardens, and marriage suggests that he considered it possible to survive in a land which other people would have called unclean (Amos 7:17; Hos. 9: 1 ff.). This survival, moreover, was a long-range propositions house or a family is not built in a few days! In a sense, Jeremiah said that exile should be home, that there would be no reversing the collapse begun in 597. The very best "figs" were those who had already begun the exile (24:4-5). This realistic but radical message had vigorous opponents among the exiles in Babylon, just as Hananiah opposed Jeremiah in Palestine. Two "prophets," Ahab and Zedekiah, were accused by Jeremiah of prophesying a lie that would lead to their execution by Nebuchadnezzar (29:21). While we are not told the content of their prophecy, the context in Jeremiah and Nebuchadnezzar's vicious reaction in roasting them with fire (v. 22) suggest that they proclaimed Babylon's imminent demise. Jeremiah's word was not the only "word of God" to which the exiles were treated!

Did Jeremiah himself say there would be no return from exile, or only that the exile would be quite prolonged? Two passages are crucial in this discussion. The first (29:10-14) promises a return to the land after seventy years are completed for Babylon, but the vocabulary here is strongly Deuteronomistic. Thiel has suggested that the number seventy might have occurred to the D redactor about 550 when the rise of Cyrus began to reveal Babylon's clay feet. The other uses of the number seventy in chap. 25 (vv. 11-12) are in verses probably added when the oracles against the foreign nations were incorporated into the Book of Jeremiah sometime after the main D redactional The limitation of Babylon's power to three generations (27:7) is congruent with a

12. Cf. Thiel, Jeremia 1-25, p. 273.

seventy-year rule for Babylon, but the verse containing this in- formation is absent from the LXX and, therefore, probably not authentic. In short, 29:10-14, because of its Deuteronomistic language, as well as 25:11-12 and 27:7, because of their probable late date, cannot be used to show that Jeremiah himself prophesied a return from the Exile and an end to the Babylonian power.

The symbolic act recorded in the second key passage (51:59- 64), however, does announce the eventual fall of Babylon and thus imply the deliverance of the exiles. The passage describes a delegation sent by (so LXX) or accompanied by (so MT) Zedekiah to Babylon in 594-593. Jeremiah sent along a book announcing evil against Babylon and asked Seraiah, the brother of Baruch (32:12), to read it aloud, then tie a stone to it, and throw it into the Euphrates. As this book would sink, so would Babylon also one day sink.13

To sum up: Jeremiah's letter urged the exiles to settle down for a long stay in Babylon. There would be no quick return home, no escaping the judgment brought by Nebuchadnezzar. House building, agriculture, family life, and prayer, on the other hand, should go on in Babylon with blessing. At the same time, if 51:59-64 is authentic, Jeremiah believed in the eventual down- fall of Babylon, an idea expanded into a new gift of the land by the D redaction in 29:10-14 and other passages. Finally, and in any case, his letter indicates that exile was not prison. Normal life could go on, apparently with some freedom.


During the final siege of Jerusalem Jeremiah performed an incredible act of faith, as we learn from one of his self-reports (32:6b-15). His cousin, Hanamel, came to him with a request to buy his field in Anathoth according to the law of redemption (Lev. 25:25). Hanamel must have been in danger of losing his property because of a bad debt. Jeremiah willingly played the

13. To retain this symbolic act for the pre-D Jeremiah one can propose that it was a private rather than a public message like his letter, dealing with the distant future rather than the present. There are redactional ties to its present context in vv. 60b, 62, and 64 (cf. 50:3 and 51:26b) .

role of kinsman-redeemer, paid the appropriate price, and carried through elaborate procedures to certify the transaction. Then he entrusted the two copies of the deed to Baruch and commanded him to store them in a clay jar so that they could be preserved for a long time.

Thus, despite the impending judgment of 587 with its attendant reversal of the promise of the land, Jeremiah affirmed-on Yahweh 9 authority-that normal business transactions would one day resume (32:15). To make his actions as loud as his word he bought a field in that land "in advance." The prophet's am- bivalent attitude toward the land would seem to echo his ambivalence toward Babylon noted in 29:5-7 and 51:59-64. His affirmation of an eventual future for the promised land may also help explain why he refused to go to Babylon (despite his counseling others to desert to the Chaldeans, 40:4-6), his bitter opposition to the proposed flight to Egypt after the assassination of Gedaliah (42:17), and his oracle, once he got there, announcing Nebu- chadnezzar's forthcoming victory over Egypt, in which he would hand over to captivity those doomed to it (43:8-13).


Outside of Josiah, whom the prophet praised for his justice (22:15-16), Jeremiah has little good to say about the kings who ruled in his day. He urged only mourning for Jehoahaz, who was deported to Egypt in 609, and he asserted that this king would never return alive (22:10-12). Jehoiakim is virtually his whipping boy, criticized for his mindless palace renovations during days of national crisis and his social injustice (22:13-19; cf. 21:11-14), not to mention his burning of the scroll of Jeremiah's words (chap. 36). Jeremiah announced that Jehoiakim's body would be cast forth unburied and he would have no successors (26:19; 36:30). Jehoiachin, too, comes under judgment: he and his sons will never reign again in Judah (22:28-30). The best that can be said for weak Zedekiah is that his certain defeat and exile will be followed by a peaceful death (34:3-5).

In view of this exceedingly negative experience with kingship, why would Jeremiah give the monarchy any role in the future? The surprising number of passages dealing with this theme in the present Book of Jeremiah can be quite deceptive. At best only one or two of them can be attributed to Jeremiah himself.

We read on two occasions, for example, of future kings who will sit on the throne of David, riding chariots and horses (17:25; 22:4), but both passages are in Deuteronomistic contexts and make the existence of these future kings dependent on the people's obedience. Neither passage can be attributed to Jeremiah. A prose insert in 30:8-9 speaks of people serving Yahweh their God and David their king, but this passage too is assigned to Deuteronomistic (Nicholson) or post-Deuteronomistic (Thiel) hands. No strong objections can be brought against the authenticity of 30: 18-2 1. Since these poetic verses speak quite generally about the future, however, it is difficult to assign them to a specific period in Jeremiah's ministry. The promised future prince or ruler (v. 21), to be sure, will be a native Israelite (cf. Deut. 17:15), but the relationship, if any, of the coming monarch to the Davidic line or to kingship in the strict sense of the word is completely unmentioned. His duties seem to be primarily liturgical.

The central passage-and central problem-in any discussion of a future king in Jeremiah is 23:5-6. These verses are part of a larger redactional unit (21:1-23:8) dealing with kingship. After a collection of negative words about specific kings, the first four verses of chap. 23 utter woe to the bad shepherds or rulers and promise that Yahweh will set up new shepherds who will really care for the flock (cf. 3:15). Vv. 7-8 round off the unit by referring to a future exodus from the north country. Both vv. 1-4 and 7-8 are filled with Deuteronomistic language and can be assigned to tl)e hand of D. 14 Though vv. 5-6 do not show such Deuteronomistic language, their specific messianic promises form a sequel to the general promise of new shepherds in vv. 1-4; there is also a key word (Stichwort) connection between wahaqimoti in v. 4 and the identical word in v. 5. In short, the pres-

14. Thiel, Jeremia 1-25, pp. 246-49. He believes that vv, 5-6 were added after the D redaction.

ent redactional position presupposes the materials of D. The question is, Were vv. 5-6 composed by the D redactor (or even later), or are they part of the pre-D tradition?15

The principal positive argument for authenticity is the possible play on words in v. 6: The king's new name, yhwh sidqenu, can be seen as a pun on the name Zedekiah, sidqiyahu. The messiah's name would be "Zedekiah-written-backwards"-. he would be the direct opposite of this puppet king, practicing righteousness where he did not. The remaining parts of vv. 5-6 seem most appropriate in the time of Jeremiah:

a. "He shall reign as king and deal wisely." This clause contrasts the messiah's true kingship with the puppet kingship of Zedekiah. An alternate translation of "righteous branch" (v. 5) is "legitimate branch," an implicit criticism of Zedekiah's credentials. b. "He shall execute justice and righteousness in the land." This promise would have the injustice of Jehoiakim as its foil (22:13-17).

c. "Judah and Israel will be safe in his days." This contrasts with the siege and defeat of Jerusalem in the time of Zedekiah.

d. Yahweh's assignment of the messiah's name can be under- stood as a none-too-subtle critique of Zedekiah, who had been known as Mattaniah until the king of Babylon renamed him (2 Kings 24:17). The new king would get his name from God himself. An important argument for a date prior to the D redaction is the silence of this passage about the relationship of the messiah to the Deuteronomic law. The Book of Deuteronomy itself ordered the king to copy the law and read it daily (17:18-20). Finally, this passage must be dated early enough so that the term "branch" (semah) could be used by Zechariah as a messianic title around 520 B.C. (3:8 and 6:12).

15. Arguments against authenticity center on the negative attitude of Jeremiah toward the contemporary kings of Judah (e.g. Jehoiakim, 36:30; Jehoiachin, 22:30; and Zedekiah, 34:3-5). But in view of his announcement that the land would be lost to Babylon and that it would be possessed again (32:15), a paradoxical or ambivalent attitude toward kingship in Jeremiah should not occasion great surprise.

In arguing for the Jeremianic origin of this passage we have already touched on parts of its meaning. We should note in addition the theocentricity of the promise: it is Yahweh who will raise up the branch. Israel's security will come only "in the days of" this branch, not by virtue of his actions. The messianic name confirms this interpretation. It might be rendered, "It is Yahweh who will be the source of our vindication." The description of his rule mentions his wisdom and his justice, but not his military power.

In the future, Jeremiah seems to say, both north and south will be restored to safety and security. 'I'hen a king will rule, through God's grace, who will be a real king, practicing the kind of justice in society that legitimate kings should. His name points to the real ground of hope for that future. This interpretation of 23:5-6 harmonizes well with other words we have discussed from Jeremiah. The prophet's hope for personal deliverance and for deliverance of the north, his words about the end of Babylon and hope for the land-all of this presupposes a God whose anger does not last forever, who promises even as he announces judgment. When Yahweh is the judge, only Yahweh can be the source of vindication.16


The Deuteronomistic redaction of Jeremiah (D) adapts the message of the prophet Jeremiah to the situation of exile on the basis of a theology informed by Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History. D incorporated many authentic words of Jeremiah, including those we have discussed above. We would not want to deny the possibility that even in those sections which are almost entirely in Deuteronomistic language (type C), a word or idea of the prophet himself may have served a catalytic function, even if in most cases that Jeremianic kernel cannot be demonstrated with any certainty. We are primarily interested in how the D redaction gave a new reaction to the Exile through the mouth of Jeremiah.

  1. See Ulrich Kellermann, Messias und Gesetz, BibSt 61 (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1971), and M. Weinfeld, "Jeremiah and the Spiritual Metamorphoses of Israel," ZAW 88 (1976): 17-56. Jer. 23:5-6 is interpreted at length in 33:14-26, but this passage is absent from the LXX and secondary.


One function of the D redaction is to defend Yahweh against the charge of neglect, powerlessness, or unfairness. D begins this theodicy by leaving no doubt about who was the real destroyer of Jerusalem. Consider Yahweh's threat to Zedekiah during the final siege. "I myself will fight against you with outstretched hand and strong arm, in anger, and in -fury, and in great wrath" (21:5). D lets the captain of the guard be his spokesman in 40:3: "Yahweh has brought it about [the destruction of Jerusalem] and has done as he said."

Yahweh is the agent, but Israel's sin is the cause for the disaster of 587. Given the circumstances, according to D, Yahweh had little choice: "Yahweh could no longer bear your evil doings and the abominations which you committed" (44:22; cf. 11:8b). Exilic Israel could not claim lack of warning, for D repeatedly records the warnings given Israel by the prophets throughout her history, warnings which always went unheeded.17 Even the most recent prophet, Jeremiah, whom D compared to Moses, offered the Judeans a chance to repent and thus experience God's forgiveness (36:3; cf. 7:27; 18:11-12; 26:3-4, 13; 36:7, 31), but the people refused also to listen to him.

D continued his indictment of the people by surrounding the reports of the sufferings of Jeremiah and of the word of God during and following Jerusalem's fall (chaps. 37-44) with accounts of Jehoiakim's perfidy in burning the scroll of the prophet (chap. 36) and of Baruch's fidelity (chap. 45), both of which occurred in 605. Jehoiakim and the people brought on Jerusalem's catastrophe by their attitude toward the message of the prophets (36:3, 31); faithful Baruch, on the other hand, gained his life as a prize of war. Similarly, Ebed-Melech, Jeremiah's Ethiopian accomplice, was granted life because of his trust in Yahweh (39:18), evidenced by his actions toward Jeremiah (38:7-13), but the king and people fell to the Babylonian armies. D's message is clear: listening to the prophet could have led to life for all just as it did in fact save the lives of Baruch and Ebed-Melech.

Meanwhile, the people were anything but deaf to the words of the false prophets. Though neither sent nor commanded by Yahweh, these preachers of lies told the people there would be no sword or famine. "Peace is sure," they cried, and the people believed them. These false prophets and the people who listened to them deserved and got a brutal death in Jerusalem, with none to bury them.18 Since they spoke words which did not happen, since they utilized divination and dreams, they really deserved the fate they received. We know that such "salvation" or false prophets continued their activity in the early part of the Exile (cf. 28:21-23). D views them as insidious opponents of Jeremiah whose success with priests and people was a primary cause of exile.

At the center of D's theological critique, however, is the people's stubborn and persistent breaking of the covenant made at the time of the Exodus Jer. 11:6-8). That covenant, according to the Deuteronomistic History, consisted of the Decalogue and its authoritative interpretation in the Book of Deuteronomy. The D redaction of Jeremiah has a similar view of the covenant as can be seen by its additions to chap. 34. The pre-D tradition had reported an incident during the final siege of Jerusalem in which the king and the people had made a "covenant" to emancipate all their slaves, perhaps in an attempt to enlist their support in the final struggle. Later the people reneged on this covenant and were put under a curse (34:8b, 9a*, 10-13a, 18*).19 D reinterpreted this "ad hoc covenant" by making additions in vv. 8a, 9b, and 13b-17. The covenant now became an agreement to carry out the specific injunctions of Deuteronomy (especially 15:1, 12). The people's perfidy was a violation of the covenant, meriting nothing short of sword, pestilence, and famine. Such perfidy only continued that done by the fathers right from the start (34:14;

18. Cf. 27:9-10, 14-18. "False prophets" became a kind of code word for opponents of Jeremiah, leading D to include Pashhur and Shemaiah also among their number. Cf. Thiel, Jeremia, 1-25, pp. 227-29, and idem, Die Redaktion des Buches, pp. 472-74.

19. Thiel, Die Redaktion des Buches, pp. 527-38.


cf. 11:8). D's description of idolatry as "following after other gods" (11:10; cf. 13:10, 35:15, and often) shows his clear focus on the Decalogue and Deuteronomy as the relevant measuring sticks. The year 587 was the just and expectable result of violating the covenant made with the fathers.

Despite Israel's violation of the covenant, D indicates that the events of 587 could still have been avoided. In editing the temple address and its aftermath, he made two crucial additions to the words of Yahweh (26:3) and Jeremiah (26:13), which indicated that Yahweh would change his mind about destroying Jerusalem if the people would turn from their evil ways. But the necessary repentance never came. Even after 587, according to D, God offered a way to escape: "If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up . . . for I repent of the evil which I did to you" (42:10). The promise of a new beginning for those who would remain in the land was rejected by that group that took Jeremiah to Egypt against his will. Hence the destruction of their refuge in Egypt too seemed fully justified in D's theology (24:8; 42:10-17; 44:11-14).20 The remnant in Jerusalem had been like the "nation" in 18:9-10, concerning which God had declared that he would build and plant it but which had not listened to his voice, leading God to repent of the good which he had in- tended to do. Israel's failure to take advantage of God's offer of mercy before and after 587 made fully clear the theological reason why God gave Nebuchadnezzar victory in Jerusalem in 587 and why God gave him victory over Egypt, the refuge for some Jewish deportees, in 569-568.

D also justified the judgment in a series of passages displaying a catechetical or a question-answer style. The question in each case is, Why has the judgment happened? The answer: Because they have abandoned Yahweh (5:19; 16:11), his Torah (9:12; 16:11), or his covenant (22:9); because they have not listened to him (9:12; 16:12); or because they have fallen away to other gods

20. The polemic against the flight to Egypt goes back to Jeremiah himself (42:17; 43:8-12), but D used this material differently from the inherited tradition; that is, he used it to justify God's past acts of destruction. Jeremiah himself warned of coining destruction for the refugees in Egypt.

(5:19; 9:13; 16:11)-all stated in the vocabulary of the Deuteronomists. In 9:13 and 16:12 the sin of the present generation is compared to that of the fathers .21 These pericopes served D's purpose of theodicy well. Yahweh had not lost his power or for- gotten his righteousness. Rather, Israel's guilt was the cause of their present miseries, and their guilt extended from the period of the fathers at the time of the Exodus until the present day.

The evil of the present generation, more abundant even than that of the fathers (16:12; cf. 7:26), is one of D's replies to an apparently common exilic complaint against collective retribution:

The fathers have eaten sour grapes,

and the children's teeth are set on edge. (31:29; cf. Ezek. 18:2)

D's allegation that the last generation is worse than the first made short shrift of this complaint about exile. At the same time D promised that this proverb would not be used in the future because everyone would then be punished only for his own sins (31:29-30) .22 In 32:18-19 D sets side by side an assertion of the old doctrine of retribution and its correction: "[You, Yahweh, are the one who] dost requite the guilt of the fathers to their children after them" (v. 18), and "rewarding everyone according to his own ways" (v. 19). In several ways, then, D took cognizance of the problems of collective retribution but maintained that such theological niceties are irrelevant to the complaints of his present audience: their sins, worse than their fathers', fully justified the events of 587, of which Yahweh was the unabashed author.


The prophet Jeremiah himself had hoped for some kind of future existence in the land. We learn this from his purchase of the field of Hanamel (32:15), from his polemic against the flight

21. See Thiel, Jeremia 1-25, pp. 295-300, where he deals with 5:19; 9:11-15; 16:10-13. Cf. 22:8-9, Deut. 29:23-27, and I Kings 9:8-9.

22. See Weinfeld, "Jeremiah," ZAW 88 (1976): 35-39.

to Egypt (42:17, 43:8-12), and from his refusal to accept the offer of amnesty in Babylon (40:4-6). D developed this notion in a literary form which seems to reflect another specific preaching style practiced in the Exile.23

1. 22:1-5. The choice set before the exiles in this passage deals with what we would call social justice: deliverance from oppressors, kindness to resident aliens, orphans, and widows; and abstaining from bloodshed. Those who would obey this word were assured of a salvation appropriate for exiles: Davidic kings, with their chariots and horses, their servants, and their people, would enter the gates of the royal palace once more. In short, the normal life of preexilic Israel would be restored. Failure to practice justice would lead to punishment.24 D's redaction of Jeremiah's temple address (7:1-15) had a very similar concern with social justice (7:5-6), and it promised, too, continued nor- mal existence in the land (7:7).

2. 17:19-27.25 D again puts the emphasis on obedient listening, this time obedience to the Sabbath regulations. If the Sabbath were kept, kings, their officials, and the general population would regularly use the city gates (17:25), and Jerusalem would be inhabited forever. In fact, people would come from all over Judah and Benjamin to bring a full array of sacrificial offerings to the temple. Disobedience would end again in destruction (cf. v. 27).

In offering a future based on obedience, D put forth a message he ascribed to all eras of Israel's history. God had always said, "Turn now, every one of you, from his evil way and wrong doings, and dwell upon the land which Yahweh has given to you and your fathers from of old and for ever" (25:5; cf. 35:15).

23. Three clear examples of this "alternative sermon" appear in the present text of D: 7:1-15; 17:19-27; 22:1-5. For discussion of this form and its structure see Thiel, Jeremia 1-25, pp. 290-95.

24. Instead of including the actual judgments appropriate to an exilic sermon, D used threats that looked forward to 587. He thereby turned the reader's attention to the situation of the historical Jeremiah.

25. The historical Jeremiah would hardly have promised a happy future on the basis of obedience to cultic demands like Sabbath keeping. Thiel, Jeremia 1-25, pp. 202-9, and Nicholson, Preaching to the Exiles, 124-25, support an exilic, rather than the frequently proposed postexilic, date.


D begins his supplement to Jeremiah's letter to the exiles with these startling words: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place" (29: 10). Thus instead of following Jeremiah and rejecting any hope for a return from exile, D announced that exile would have a happy ending. Defeat for Babylon (cf. 27:7), a new exodus and gift of the land, and a fuller picture of the new monarchy that would replace the previous corrupt one-these form the motifs of D's advance over Jeremiah. Such an advance is, in D's view, God's keeping of his word. The principal passages involved are 23:1-8; 24:6-7; 29:10-14; and 32:37-41.

Perhaps the best place to begin is 23:1-8, D's summation of and reaction to the oracles against the kings of Judah (21:11--22:30). These kings, D says, had scattered (pūş, Hiphil) Yahweh's flock; they had driven his sheep away (nadah, Hiphil) and had not given them proper supervision (paqad, Qal). Remarkably, D goes on to confess that Yahweh is really the one that drove away his people (nadah, vv. 3 and 8); 26 he is the one who executed judgmental supervision (paqad, Qal) over the shepherds (v. 2); aye, he is the one who-according to a D passage in another context (9:16)-scattered the people (pūş, Hiphil). By using the identical verbs for the effects of Yahweh's judgmental actions and the kings' sinful ones, D suggested that Yahweh was indeed the agent of destruction, but the kings' sins were the ultimate cause. The intricate and balanced use of verbs continues in the promises of these verses. Yahweh, who had dealt out punishments appropriate to the kings' crimes, would gather those he himself .had scattered and would raise up new shepherds who would do what kings should do-shepherd their sheep (v. 4). Yahweh's visiting of the iniquity of the evil shepherds (23:2) would be balanced by his saving visiting of the exiles (29: 10). His driving

26. Cf. 8:3; 16:15; 24:9, 10; 27:10, 15; 29:14, 18; and 32:37, where the driving away of Israel is always attributed to Yahweh.

away of his people would be matched by his bringing them back from the place where he had driven them (23:3 and 8). To stress the fact that Yahweh's salvific will is as strong as his judgmental actions, D uses similar metaphors or identical verbs to express both aspects of God's behavior. The best expression of this theology is in 31:28, also to be assigned to D: "And it shall come to pass that as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, to destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant."27

The first Exodus was highly important for D (cf. e.g. 7:22; 11:4; 31:32; 32:21), but this redactor asserted that in the future, references to the Exodus in oath formulas would be radically transformed. No longer would people say, "As Yahweh lives who brought up the house of Israel from the land of Egypt," but instead they would swear, "As Yahweh lives who brought in the descendants of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them" (vv. 7-8; RWK, following LXX). The new exodus would be followed by a return to the land (cf. 24:6; 27:22; 29: 10; 30:3), where the people would dwell securely (23:8; 30:3; 32:37). In the words of 32:41, "I will plant them in the land faithfully," that is, without the danger of further exile (cf. Amos 9:15). This renewed possession of the land would fulfill the promise first made to the fathers (30:3; cf. 16:15). There (in the land) the people would be fruitful and multiply (cf. P).

D's promises to the exiles went well beyond those of the historical Jeremiah, yet they are considered to be the "keeping" of that earlier word of God. They also go beyond the Deuteronomistic History, where hopes for the future are spelled out with la- conic reticence. Dtr had caused Solomon to pray, "Hear thou in heaven, and forgive the sin of thy people Israel, and bring them again to the land" (I Kings 8:34). What Dtr expressed as hope clothed in prayer became explicit promise in the D redaction of Jeremiah. Yahweh promised both that people would pray and

27. Cf. 32:42. In Dent. 28:63 and josh. 23:15 the construction is used in a negative sense, that is, God's bad word is as certain as his good

that their prayers would be effective: "Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you" (29:12). Twice in the passages under discussion (that is, in 24:7 and 32:38) D mentions the so-called covenant formula ("They shall be my people and I will be their God"), and in 32:40 he refers to an everlasting covenant. Consequently, discussion of the famous new covenant passage in Jeremiah can be delayed no longer.


The covenant promised in D was to be made in connection with the new exodus and gift of the land (32:36-41), but as a covenant with the house of Israel (31:31) it also included those who never experienced a geographical exile. The first covenant had been breached throughout Israel's history (31:32; cf. 11:10). This breach came despite the fact that Yahweh had been Israel's husband (31:32) or, as a literal translation might suggest, her "Baal"-he had given her everything she might expect from a fertility god, yet she had rejected him. D's new covenant would be different in that Yahweh would put his law in the people's midst and write it on their heart. It would not be inscribed on stones as something external. Rather, it would be the gift of one heart and one "way" to fear Yahweh for all days (32:39; cf. Ezek. 11:19; 18:31; 36:26). The new covenant in D differed from the old, not in that it was a covenant of "grace alone," without any expectation of obedience, but in that obedience would always be part of the covenant and in that the covenant would never be broken. Yahweh promised to implant his fear in Israel's hearts so that they would never turn away (32:40).

Such fear (chap. 32) or knowledge (chap. 31) of Yahweh is not learnable; it is a gift shared by all, rich and poor, young and old. To know Yahweh in the context of the Jeremiah book means to acknowledge him as Lord and to obey him. We can detect the specific connotation from Jeremiah's own comparison of Jehoiakim with his pious father Josiah:

28. For a demonstration of this covenant's Deuteronomistic provenance, see Thiel, Die Redaktion des Buches, pp. 496-506, and especially Herrmann, Heilserwartungen, pp. 179-M and 195-204.

He [Josiah] judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well.

Is not this to know me? (22:16)

How is such a new covenant possible? D had gone out of the way to justify the judgmental actions of 587. They were the necessary consequences of Israel's sin, a sin raised to avalanche proportions by the present generation. How could a new, everlasting covenant be possible without contradicting the theodicy that had been one of D's major concerns?

The answer comes in the gracious intervention of God: "I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more" (31:34) .29 In God's forgiveness, his wrath is counteracted; in God's forgetfulness is Israel's hope. Yet one does not experience in D the internal struggle between God's love and his wrath as in Hosea (11:8-9). Rather, "I will rejoice to do good to them" (32:41). Interestingly enough, each verse of the covenant pericope in 31:31-34 has a reference to the divine origin of the promise. Four times we are told this is an "oracle of Yahweh."

It may be well to itemize the ways in which the new covenant passages in Jeremiah D mark an advance within the Deuteronomistic movement and over against the prophet Jeremiah. (a) Deuteronomy had urged repentance while there was still time. Once the judgment of 587 fell, neither God's promise never to break the covenant (Judg. 2: 1) nor a call for the people to return to the covenant was adequate. Only a new covenant, as in Jeremiah D, could resolve this dilemma. (b) Deuteronomy demanded that the law should be on the people's heart (6:6), but Jeremiah D presented obedience to the law as God's gift, either as the gift of a new heart or way (24-.7; 32:39) or as God's writing the law upon the heart (31:33). (c) The words of the covenant in Deuteronomy were written on stones (4:13; 5:22; 10:2, 4); in Jeremiah D they are to be written on the heart. (d) While Deuteronomy uses terms like Torah, statutes and judgments, or words to de- scribe the content of the covenant, the Deuteronomistic redactor

29. Elsewhere, D can connect forgiveness with prior repentance (36:3) or predicate the covenant relationship on Israel's turning around (24:7). Cf. also I Kings 8:37-39.

uses a Jeremiah word, knowledge, for this content. Yet Jeremiah D differs from Jeremiah, who discussed the knowledge of God only in laments about its absence or in accusations against Israel (2:8; 4:22; 5:23; 9:2; 22:16). The knowledge of God for the redactor is regularly referred to as God's future gift (24:7; cf. 31:34). (e) Deuteronomy stressed that the law must be taught and learned (5:10, 14, etc.); in Jeremiah D such instruction is unnecessary. The knowledge of Yahweh, in fact, will be present in all sectors of society. (f) God's planting of Israel in the land in connection with the new covenant takes place because he acts faithfully, with all his heart and soul (32:41). To do something faithfully, with all one's heart and soul, is attested in other Deuteronomistic passages (I Sam. 12:24; 1 Kings 2:4), but it is always used else- where of human activity. The Deuteronomistic redactor of Jeremiah moves beyond customary usage by ascribing such action to Yahweh himself.

To sum up: The meaning of D's new covenant can be ex- pressed in part by the "covenant formula": "They shall be my people and I will be their God" (cf. 31:33; 32:38). But the new covenant also inaugurates a new depth of fidelity to God's law: an obedient heart is God's gift (32:39). The new covenant is not breakable like the one made with the fathers; it is everlasting both in God's commitment to it and in the people's response. But it is a truly new covenant, subsequent to the broken first one and exempt from its curses. God's forgiveness is the necessary prerequisite for its initiation.


The D redaction of the Book of Jeremiah did not yet contain the oracles against the foreign nations in chaps. 46-51. However early or late these oracles may be in whole or in part, they probably have nothing to tell us about the theology of D. Yet D's failure to include such oracles should not hide the significance of two positive words on the nations he does include.

1. 12:14-17. According to this passage, Israel's neighbors who had encroached on her territory during her last days would be exiled for this evil deed just as Judah had been exiled. Later, Yahweh would have mercy and bring each nation-both Judah and the neighboring nations-back to its own land. If these nations would learn to swear "by Yahweh" (cf. 23:7-8), as they had taught preexilic Israel to swear "by Baal," they would be "built up" in the midst of "my people." The relationship of Israel to the nations is here resolved in such a way that the nations who confess Yahweh will share in the prosperous conditions enjoyed by the restored Israel.

2. 18:7-10. This passage, like the one above, deals with alternatives that are available for the nations. If God would announce his intention to pluck up, break down, and destroy a nation, and that nation would turn from its evil, Yahweh would change his mind about destruction (vv. 7-8). But Yahweh would also change his mind about the good which he had announced for a nation (his building and planting it) if it failed to listen to his voice (vv. 9-10). This second passage expands the horizon to include any nation (cf. 1:10), not just Israel's neighbors, and it makes clear that after the destruction of 587, Israel in principle holds no special advantage over the nations. Any nation can share in the good announced by Yahweh. Although neither of these pas- sages goes as far as Second Isaiah or shares in the (later) hope for the pilgrimage of the nations to Zion, they are nevertheless remarkable expressions of openness toward the nations, including the neighbors who shared in pillaging Israel.


In this chapter we have surveyed the reactions to the Exile by the prophet Jeremiah and by that person or persons who edited his words (D) some thirty years or more after the prophet's final trip to Egypt. Jeremiah's own hopes were rather limited, though it is difficult to imagine how they could have been more dramatic. When he urged submission to Babylon, told the exiles to settle in for the long haul, promised a real king in the future instead of the puppetlike Zedekiah, or bought a field as an earnest for the day when business would resume-when he did these things he was controversial, daring, and full of faith. The editors of D had a somewhat different assignment in their day: to justify God's governance of Israel, in part, but also to lay out new options both for those in the land and especially for those in exile. Others would carry farther D's hopes of a new exodus and a new possession of the land, and its new openness toward the nations. But it is difficult to imagine any passage within the Hebrew canon that did more to sketch the future with greater theological sophistication than D's announcement of a new covenant.

The transmitted words and reports of Jeremiah and the redactional work of D together form crucial voices from Israel's exile. Jeremiah urged acceptance of Babylon's rule and urged Israel to settle down in exile. D pointed out the justice of 587. Both then said yes to exile. But both also said no. Jeremiah's was a limited no, predicated on God's passing anger and clinging to the hope that there would yet be land to sell and a real king. D's was a fuller no to the Exile, with promises of a new exodus, a new taking of the land, a new covenant, and even new hope for the nations. Yes to exile--and no! So begins our survey of the prophetic response to the Exile.