Form, Occasion and Redaction in Jeremiah 20
(with David M. Gunn)


Published in
On the Way to the Postmodern: Old Testament Essays 1967-1998, Volume 1
(JSOTSup, 292; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998), pp. 263-84


open footnotes

Jeremiah 20.7-18, commonly referred to as one of the 'confessions' of Jeremiah, is misunderstood if it is read in its present context in the book of Jeremiah simply as a transcript of the prophet's emotions./1/ The alternative to such a naive understanding is not, however, a one-sidedly form-critical interpretation that sees here no Jeremiah at all except by way of redactional application./2/ A satisfactory interpretation will (a) give full weight both to the stereotyped form and language, behind which indeed the author's feelings and thought inevitably lie hidden to some extent, and to indications that Jeremiah has impressed upon the conventional form and language something of his own prophetic experience; and (b) recognize different levels of meaning the material has had at different stages in the course of its redaction.
Our Žrst endeavour (section I) is to identify the original units from which 20.7-18 has been composed. We Žnd here, mainly by form-critical study, two units, which account for all the material: a psalmlike poem of the 'individual lament' form (vv. 7-13), and a self-curse (vv. 14-18). Then we examine in turn the psalm (section II) and the curse (section III), and in reference to each ask: (i) What was the original intention and occasion (Sitz im Leben Jeremias)?, and (ii) What is its meaning and function in its present context (Sitz im Buch)?

 

1. The Units of Jeremiah 20.7-18

Of major importance in any discussion of the composition of Jer. 20.7-18 has been the question whether vv. 14-18 was originally an independent unit. In addition there have been attempts to discriminate between vv. 7-9 and vv. 10-13, while some scholars have been inclined to regard v. 12 and/or v. 13 as secondary accretions.

1. Were vv. 14-18 Originally an Independent Unit?
The question of the unity of vv. 7-18 has usually been posed in terms of the transition in mood from lament (vv. 7-10) to conŽdence (vv. 11-18) and back to despair (vv. 14-18). Do these different moods Žt well with one another? W. Rudolph notes that most scholars deny that vv. 14-18 can be the direct continuation of the preceding verses, on the ground that, psychologically speaking, such an outburst of despair could not follow the expression of conŽdence in vv. 11-13./3/ Against this view he suggests that the passage is intelligible as a whole if it is seen as depicting Jeremiah's spiritual oscillation between trust and doubt./4/ Yet he concedes that the question touches the innermost personality of the prophet so deeply that what might or might not have been psychologically possible for Jeremiah cannot now be asserted with any authority. This concession is signiŽcant, for it illustrates well the inadequacy of psychological criteria for settling questions of literary unity./5/
A more objective approach is that of form criticism. W. Baumgartner many years ago recognized in this confession both formal and linguistic parallels with the psalms of individual lament;/6/ recently there has been a renewed interest in the signiŽcance of these observations for determining the original units of composition./7/
The constituent parts of the individual lament are generally recognized to be: (i) address (call to Yahweh), (ii) lament, (iii) confession of trust, or certainty of being heard, (iv) petition, and often (v) praise./8/ Jer. 20.7-13 lends itself admirably to analysis in these terms:

v. 7aa address
7-10 lament
11aa confession of trust/9/
11ab-11bb certainty of being heard
12a confession of trust
12ba petition/10/
12bb confession of trust
13 praise

The element of praise, which usually in the individual lament takes the form of a vow (e.g. Ps. 13.6), is here an imperative, characteristic rather of the psalm of praise (cf. 4.35; 5.45; etc.) than of the lament. Nevertheless, (a) the imperative does occur in an individual lament at Ps. 22.24 where it stands parallel to the vow, (b) the sequence praise-explanation (Jer. 20.13) can readily be paralleled in the individual laments (cf. Ps. 22.25; 13.6),/11/ and (c) the language of the explanatory clause is highly characteristic of the individual lament and not at all of the hymn of praise./12/

The material of vv. 14-18, on the other hand, cannot be formally paralleled in the individual laments. Although v. 18 exhibits links with such psalms-it has some characteristic vocabulary/13/ and the formal element of the 'why' question, commonly found in the laments (for example, Ps. 10.1; 22.2; 42.10)/14/-the piece as a whole is a self-curse, and this forms no part of the lament Gattung as we know it./15/ On form-critical grounds, therefore, we would argue that vv. 14-18 was originally independent of vv. 7-13./16/
2. Were vv. 7-9 and vv. 10-13 Originally Independent Units?
In arguing for the original independence of vv. 14-18 we have taken the view that vv. 7-13 was itself a unit in the form of an individual lament. It is possible, however, to reach the same conclusion about vv. 14-18 while maintaining that only in vv. 10-13 is the 'lament' to be found, vv. 7-9 forming yet another poem./17/ The secondary question therefore arises: were vv. 7-9 and vv. 10-13 originally independent units?
There are two possible approaches to this question, the Žrst (a) form-critical, the second (b) thematic. Both lead us to afŽrm the original unity of vv. 7-13.
(a) W. Baumgartner argued on form-critical grounds that vv. 7-9 is to be distinguished from vv. 10-13. The individual lament proper, he argued, is contained only in vv. 10-13, while vv. 7-9 is an independent poem (Lied) which, though it is to be associated in some ways with the individual lament, is not itself truly representative of that Gattung. His reasons were twofold: Žrst, vv. 7-9 forms a 'connected narrative', and this element, while typical of the individual thanksgiving, is not to be found in the lament; secondly, the afŽnities of vocabulary and content with the lament are less pronounced in vv. 7-9 than in vv. 10-13. Neither argument, however, is compelling.
(i) The Žrst, in fact, may be simply contradicted, inasmuch as if vv. 7-9 is to be classed as 'connected narrative', there is no lack of comparable material in the psalms of lament where the account of present distress often takes shape through an account of past or present experience. Both formally and functionally there is no difference between vv. 7-9 and, for example, Ps. 31.11-14 or 35.11-16./18/
(ii) The second argument depends largely upon the observation that central to the thought of vv. 7-9 is a primarily prophetic activity, namely, speaking the word of Yahweh (v. 8; and cf. 'speak in his name', v. 9), while vv. 10-13, by comparison, lacks such a distinctively prophetic element and is more obviously composed in the style of the lament. In pressing this distinction, however, W. Baumgartner understated the degree to which elements of the lament style pervade the whole composition. His characterization of vv. 10-13 as 'lament' is not in question./19/ But in the case of vv. 7-9, while he correctly noted many, though not all,/20/ of the verbal similarities with the lament style, he failed to observe how closely parallel is the thought world of these verses to the individual laments.

In vv. 7-8 Yahweh is cast in the role of the traditional 'enemy' of the psalmist. Jeremiah's complaint, 'Thou art stronger (qzj) than I / and thou hast prevailed (lky)', exempliŽes the classical theme of the powerful persecutor that one meets, for example, in Ps. 35.10 ('Thou [Yahweh] dost deliver the weak / from him who is too strong [qzj] for him') or Ps. 13.4-5 ('Answer me, O Yahweh my God . . . lest my enemy say, I have prevailed [lky] over him'). But Yahweh, to whom the psalmist in his weakness conventionally appeals against the powerful persecutor, has ironically become in Jeremiah's experience the very one who has ruthlessly used his strength against frailty./21/ Similarly, 'Violence, outrage!' (dvw smj) is not only a cry of distress addressed to Yahweh, but also, ironically, a cry of protest against Yahweh/22/ who has behaved towards Jeremiah in the manner of the 'enemies' of, for example, Ps. 27.12 ('Give me not up to the will of my adversaries; / for false witnesses have risen against me, / and they breathe out violence [smj]')./23/
This picture of the psalmist in conžict is Žlled out with other traditional elements from the laments. Jeremiah becomes a laughingstock (qjv: cf. Ps. 37.13; 59.9); everyone mocks him (g[l: cf. Ps. 22.8; 35.16; 59.9); he is subject to reproach (rj: cf. Ps. 22.7; 31.12; 39.9; 42.11; etc.) and derision (slq: cf. Ps. 44.14; 79.4)./24/ Even the idea that the reproach and derision may in some way be due to Yahweh can be paralleled in the laments: for example, in Ps. 22 the psalmist's public commitment to Yahweh brings him into derision (cf. vv. 7-9), while in 69.8 the sufferer cries, 'It is for thy sake that I have borne reproach' (cf. vv. 11-13). Further, the image of the inner Žre in the bones (v. 9) is closely paralleled in Ps. 102.4 and 39.4,/25/ both individual laments, while in general the description of a state of mind in terms of one's bones is typical of the Psalms (15 times; 13 times in Job).

We would maintain, therefore, that vv. 7-13 as a whole exempliŽes the style of the individual lament. To be sure, the piece is by no means wholly conventional or stereotyped,/26/ and we would agree with W. Baumgartner that in vv. 7-9 the distinctive life situation of the prophet (that is, his struggle with the word of Yahweh) emerges more conspicuously than in the remainder of vv. 7-13. But this is no reason for separating vv. 7-9 from vv. 10-13; rather it is only to be expected that in an individual lament any details of the psalmist's particular situation of distress should occur within the lament element proper.
(b) A quite different argument that may be urged against a division of vv. 7-13 is based on the internal thematic and logical connections between the constituent parts. To account for the association of the two poems that he discerned here and that he believed were originally separate, W. Baumgartner was obliged to regard lky and htp, which occur in both vv. 7-9 and vv. 10-13, as linking 'catchwords'./27/ It is better, however, to see the repetition of these terms as having deliberate structural signiŽcance.
lky, in fact, is a key term in vv. 7-13, for the notion of 'prevailing' of 'having power' lies at the heart of the poem. It epitomizes the prophet's complaint: Yahweh who has prevailed over him (lky, v. 7) has compelling power, the prophet has not (lkwa al, v. 9); on the other hand, this very 'enemy'-like quality of Yahweh becomes in turn the source of the prophet's conŽdence: while his enemies imagine that they will prevail over him (lky, v. 10), Jeremiah knows that with Yahweh on his side they cannot succeed (wlky al, v. 11)./28/
It is precisely because in the prophet's own experience Yahweh is an oppressive and irresistible God, who is stronger than his victim, prevails over him and commits violence and outrage against him (vv. 7-8), that he may be called on in turn to become the irresistible divine oppressor of the prophet's human oppressors (v. 11). The irony is strikingly captured in the phrase, 'But Yahweh is with me as a dread warrior (yr[ rwbg)': he is both 'mightily heroic' (rwbg, a term of approbation,/29/ found often in Psalms, but rarely in a psalm of lament) and 'terribly ruthless' (yr[, normally applied to the wicked 'enemies' or 'men of violence'; all occurrences in Psalms are in individual laments [cf. 37.35; 54.5; 86.14]).
The repetition of htp, moreover, underlines this fundamental parallelism between Yahweh and the persecutors:/30/ in v. 7 the prophet cries that he has been 'persuaded' (htp) and that Yahweh has overcome him (lky); in v. 10 the enemies hope that Jeremiah will be 'persuaded' (htp)/31/ and that they will overcome him (lky).
In sum, we would maintain that these internal connections, linking vv. 7-11 at least, are fundamental to the structure of the original poem.

3. Are v. 12 and v. 13 Secondary Accretions to vv. 7-13?
(a) Verse 12. The omission of v. 12 by some critics appears to be grounded on the similarity of the verse to 11.20, coupled usually with some suggestion that ch. 11 provides a more suitable context for such an appeal. Thus W. Baumgartner asserts that 'it Žts badly after v. 11', while more recently J.P. Hyatt has argued that it probably does not belong to ch. 20 since it is 'more of a prayer than an afŽrmation'./32/
Three points need to be made. (i) The verse is not precisely the same as 11.20, as is often claimed, so that attempts to excise it as a gloss from 11.20 lack conviction unless accompanied by a reason for its inclusion in the present context and an explanation for the variation in the wording. (ii) Verse 11 and v. 12 are both linked thematically to v. 10. We have seen above how the speech of the 'enemies' mirrors the situation of v. 7a; but now we can observe that it is also related to the verses that follow. If the prophet's enemies think to overcome him (lky) and take their revenge upon him (µqn), what is more appropriate than that the prophet in his turn should look forward to the day of their stumbling when they will fail to overcome him (wlky al, v. 11) and should invoke Yahweh's vengeance (µqn, v. 12) on them? Such a developed pattern of thought can hardly have resulted from a scribal insertion. (iii) If, as we have argued, vv. 7-13 is an individual lament, then the verse is clearly an integral part of such a psalm.
(b) Verse 13. Objections to the authenticity of v. 13 have usually been based on 'the psalm-like character of the verse',/33/ and, in the case of those who have taken vv. 7-18 as the original unit, on the interruption it causes to the žow of the piece./34/ But if vv. 14-18 is a separate unit, as we have argued, the latter objection disappears, while the former has force only if one ignores the highly psalm-like character of the rest of vv. 7-13 and denies the form-critical designation of the passage as an individual lament, in which Gattung praise, especially at the conclusion, is a frequent element./35/
We conclude that there are two independent units in vv. 7-18, namely vv. 7-13 and vv. 14-18. Against those who have treated vv. 7-13 as a composite piece, we would point not only to its unity of form and style (individual lament), but also to important thematic connections, which are explicable only if vv. 7-13 was originally a single poem.

 

2. The Psalm of Jeremiah 20.7-13

1. Vv. 7-13 in its Original Setting
Now that we have shown reason for regarding vv. 7-13 as originally a single unit, independent from the self-curse of vv. 14-18,/36/ we must ask: What was its intention and occasion when it stood alone?
The foregoing study (section I) has attempted to establish that from the point of view of form vv. 7-13 is a regular individual lament. That conclusion is the most crucial factor in assessing the original intention of vv. 7-13, for it suggests prima facie that the thrust of vv. 7-13 will be identical to that of a typical individual lament./37/ Now the intention of a lament (Klage), we would wish to afŽrm, is not a bewailing of distress, nor a protest against unjust suffering, nor an accusation against God, though all those elements may be included within a lament. Its intention and basic meaning lie in the fact that it is an appeal, which almost invariably includes a note of conŽdence./38/ 'Lament' is a quite inappropriate term for the form, in fact, and we would probably do better to speak of psalms of 'petition' (Bitte)./39/
These observations may now be applied to Jer. 20.7-18. It follows from the form of the poem that, unless there are indications that in this case form and function do not coincide,/40/ the point of the poem is not that the psalmist is in rebellion against God (vv. 7-9), nor that he is oscillating between rebellion (vv. 7-9) and trust (vv. 10-18), but that he is moving, or has moved, from a situation of distress and rebellion to one of conŽdence. It is the conventionally phrased v. 12, corresponding as it does to the petition element in the individual lament, that forms the centre of gravity of the poem, not the outrageously unconventional, and therefore attractively 'modern', protest against Yahweh of v. 7a. Verse 13 is the climax of the poem, and not just its conclusion; for what is truly remarkable about such a poem (which is to say, what is its peculiarity, its essence), is that while it begins with the poet's sense of oppression both by God and his human enemies, it ends with his assurance that God has delivered him.
Given that such was the thrust of the poem, what was its occasion?/41/ Until a decade ago, almost all scholars believed that the so-called 'confessions' were originally private literature,/42/ even to the extent of claiming that they formed 'part of a personal diary which he may have kept during the years of seclusion (608­598 bc), when he was hiding from Jehoiakim's police'./43/ But the more the signiŽcance of the similarities between the 'confessions' and the psalmic individual laments has been appreciated, the less obvious that simple view has appeared. In recent years form-critical study has produced several different views of the occasion of vv. 7-13, which have in common only a conviction that a personalistic and psychological understanding of the 'confessions' is inadequate.

A. Weiser/44/ regards the psalm as uttered by Jeremiah in the presence of the cult community/45/ once it had proved that his enemies' attacks had been thwarted by Yahweh. However, it can be objected that the call to praise (v. 13a) need not presuppose a cultic setting for the delivery of the poem, as Weiser thinks, so rendering the description of distress in vv. 7-10 merely 'emotion recollected in tranquillity' (W. Wordsworth); rather, it is better understood as simply režecting the public orientation of an utterance whose function is not primarily to summon a congregation to praise but rather to assert before a doubtless sceptical audience the authenticity and authority of the oracles that Jeremiah delivers as Yahweh's prophet.
H. Graf Reventlow/46/ also sees the 'confessions' as composed by Jeremiah for a cultic occasion, but he denies that they furnish any insight into the personal experiences of the prophet, since the 'I' who speaks in them is simply an ofŽcial representative of the people. Reventlow's approach is open to a number of criticisms,/47/ not least the objection that the 'confessions' belong to the individual lament form, and not to the communal lament form./48/ In any case, it is not clear that Reventlow himself would interpret vv. 7-13 along these lines, since he does not deal speciŽcally with this passage.
E. Gerstenberger, in a study of Jer. 15.10-21,/49/ has removed himself one stage further from the common opinion by denying that 'confession' to Jeremiah altogether, and by viewing it as a highly composite piece structured on cultic patterns by Deuteronomistic redactors. The 'occasions' of this piece would thus range from a cultic setting in which a priestly oracle of assurance (15.10-11) was delivered, to an apparently literary activity of reinterpretation of the history of the suffering Jeremiah in terms of the suffering of the exilic community. Though Gerstenberger poses the question whether 'the other individual complaints in Jer [can] also be explained as compositive elements in some larger textual unit',/50/ it is doubtful whether anything is to be gained by attempting to peel off redactional layers from a piece like 20.7-13 which so clearly forms a literary unit. And it is not certain that Gerstenberger would want to deny a genuine Jeremianic nucleus (with an 'occasion' in Jeremiah's life) in 20.7-18.
A.H.J. Gunneweg/51/ has more recently developed a rather similar thesis that all the 'confessions', far from offering any biographical information about Jeremiah or insight into the prophet's psychology, are interpretations of Jeremiah's preaching and person. They portray Jeremiah as the righteous sufferer who is an exemplar for the community of the period in which they were incorporated into the Jeremiah material. They do not seriously distort our picture of the historical Jeremiah, who is represented as broadly such a Žgure in the authentic Jeremiah traditions,/52/ but their occasion is to be sought outside the life and ministry of Jeremiah himself.
The occasion of 20.7-18 is, according to Gunneweg, a cultic lament of a worshipper who believes himself deceived (htp, v. 7) by a promise of Yahweh that has not been fulŽlled. The 'word of Yahweh' that has brought him mockery and persecution is not a proclaimed prophetic word, but the word that he has received by way of promise from Yahweh. In the original form of the poem, before it was applied to Jeremiah, the psalmist resolves (v. 9a) that he will no more 'call upon' (arqa, replaced by rbda in the redacted text) Yahweh in the cult, but Žnds himself unable to restrain the compulsion within him to appeal to Yahweh (v. 9b). The redactor's application of the poem to Jeremiah necessitated only one verbal change (v. 9a), but it brought about also the reinterpretation of vv. 8-9 to Žt the context of the prophetic experience.
The objections to Gunneweg's understanding of the original occasion of the poem are these: (i) Among all the laments of the individual that we have in the Psalter, there is none in which the psalmist's complaint is that he has been misled by a 'nicht betreffendes Orakel'./53/ (ii) The 'word of Yahweh' occurs only rarely in the individual laments,/54/ and then never as the cause of the psalmist's misfortunes. (iii) The thematic structure of vv. 7-9 is ignored if v. 7a is seen as the complaint to Yahweh about deception, v. 8a as appeal to Yahweh against enemies, and v. 9 as resolve not to call upon Yahweh; it is better to see v. 7a, 8a and 9 as all expressing the theme of Yahweh's compulsion of a prophet./55/ (iv) The parallelism of v. 8a and 8b suggests that what the psalmist 'speaks' is the 'word of Yahweh'. (v) There are no grounds for supposing that v. 9 originally had arqa instead of rbda; only if lky is deŽned as 'im Kult anrufen'/56/ can it be claimed that arqa forms a better parallel with lky than does rbda, but Gunneweg offers no evidence that lky means 'to call upon (in the cult)'.
The implication of these points is that there is in fact prophetic material in this poem, most clearly in the characteristically prophetic phrases 'word of Yahweh' and 'speak in (his) name'./57/ If this is so, there remains no reason to deny that vv. 7-13 is from Jeremiah.

In view of the objections that may be raised to the foregoing approaches, we would offer the suggestion that the occasion of Jer. 20.7-13 should be sought in the public ministry of Jeremiah./58/ If, as we have argued, the thrust of the poem is Jeremiah's conŽdent appeal to Yahweh as his deliverer from mockery and persecution, and if the particular content of the poem is his sense of compulsion to convey Yahweh's word, then it is not difŽcult to see what function the poem could have had in a public setting. We would suggest that Jeremiah is publicly afŽrming in this poem that the word that he speaks is not his but Yahweh's, that he has no choice about whether he should deliver it because Yahweh has compelled him to be his prophet, and that he is conŽdent that Yahweh's word cannot ultimately be received with mockery./59/
Such a setting does not remove the element of 'spiritual struggle' (Seelenkämpfe)/60/ from the poem, for it is undeniable that Jeremiah is engaged in controversy with Yahweh in vv. 7-9. But it does alter the focus of the poem from a psychologically appealing interior crisis of faith to a public confrontation of the prophet with his people. Our suggestion is analogous to the view that prophetic call narratives are not to be understood simply as biography but as elements in controversy concerning the authenticity of the prophet's message (cf. Amos 7.14)./61/

2. Vv. 7-13 in its Present Setting
A preliminary question must be whether the time at which vv. 7-13 was composed was the occasion narrated in vv. 1-6. At Žrst sight, there appears to be a number of links between the two units: (i) The phrase 'Terror on every side' (v. 10), put by Jeremiah in the mouth of his opponents, is the very name by which he has surnamed Pashhur (v. 3) in the episode of the stocks./62/ (ii) The prophet's complaint that whenever he speaks he cries out 'Violence! Outrage!' (v. 8) could naturally be understood as referring to his message of doom contained in vv. 3-6. (iii) The persecutors (v. 11) and evildoers (v. 13) who are troubling Jeremiah could well be Pashhur and his friends (v. 4). (iv) The mockery Jeremiah is suffering (vv. 7b, 8b) could well be what he experiences in the stocks, though admittedly nothing is said in vv. 1-6 of popular reaction to Jeremiah's fate. (v) The fact that vv. 7-13 directly follows vv. 1-6 is prima facie evidence that the psalm belongs to the same occasion as that depicted in vv. 1-6.
These arguments are not in fact very strong, and most scholars are rightly hesitant, we believe, to see any identity between the situations of vv. 1-6 and vv. 7-13,/63/ though the question rarely receives detailed treatment. (i) 'Terror on every side' (bybsm rwgm) is a phrase found elsewhere in Jeremiah (6.25; 46.5; 49.29), so its occurrence twice in this chapter need not be signiŽcant; moreover, the difŽculty of interpreting the phrase in the context of v. 10/64/ suggests that it may actually be a redactional insertion there./65/ (ii) It is very unlikely, as we have pointed out elsewhere,/66/ that 'Violence! Outrage!' refers to the content of Jeremiah's message, for it is introduced by the verb q[z, a technical term for the cry of justice from the oppressed. 'Violence! Outrage!' is Jeremiah's protest against Yahweh because he has compelled him to be his prophet. There is consequently no link between this cry and the oracle of vv. 3b-6. (iii) and (iv) The terminology belongs to the stereotyped language of the individual lament, and no inferences about actual oppressors or mockers can safely be drawn. (v) It is generally agreed that the prose and poetry in Jeremiah were transmitted in separate collections prior to the composition of the book (or at least, of its larger units/67/). If this is so, vv. 1-6 and vv. 7-13 will have reached the redactor without any clue that they were related; it would be remarkable if in juxtaposing them he accidentally reconstructed a single historical situation correctly.
It can therefore be concluded that the relationship between vv. 1-6 and vv. 7-13 is purely due to redactional activity. Two questions then remain: (i) Why were these units placed in juxtaposition by the redactor? (ii) What is the effect of such juxtaposition on the meaning of each passage?
(i) We have already seen some reasons why the situation described in vv. 1-6 may have seemed to a redactor an appropriate setting for the psalm of vv. 7-13. If 'Terror on every side' was original in v. 10, plainly the catchword principle was in operation. The experience of persecution and mockery, if read as the personal experience of the prophet rather than as the convention of the individual lament form, obviously suits the episode of vv. 1-6 well. Possibly also the redactor himself took 'violence, outrage' to be Jeremiah's account of his message and so linked vv. 7-13 with a message of doom./68/
There may also be other, larger structural reasons why the redactor used vv. 7-13 in this place. W. Thiel/69/ has pointed out that the structure of chs. 19­20 is identical to that of ch. 18: symbolic act and speech; scenic comment; persecution of the prophet; lament. From three different sources ('I'-narrative; 'He'-narrative; laments) the Deuteronomistic editor has shaped a narrative of a single situation to depict a stylized scene in the preaching of Jeremiah, representing his typical preaching and the typical reaction of his audience. The lament may then have been deliberately inserted at this point to Žll out a pattern which the editor was creating in order to offer a stereoscopic picture of Jeremiah.
(ii) The effect of the juxtaposition of the passages is twofold. On the one hand, it increases the speciŽcity of the poem (vv. 7-13), and on the other it heightens the emotional intensity of the narrative.
As far as the poem (vv. 7-13) is concerned, there had been a certain loss of particularity once it had been sundered from the historical situation in which it was originally uttered and had been taken into a collection of undated and unspeciŽc Jeremianic oracles. In its present setting in ch. 20, however, it regains speciŽcity (even though the situation of vv. 1-6 is in all probability not its original occasion). The poem, which might otherwise have come to be seen only in terms of Jeremiah's perennial wrestling with 'daily doubt'/70/ (as indeed it has been seen by modern commentators who have denied any link with vv. 1-6), must now be read as an accusation against God springing from a particular humiliation and as appeal for deliverance from that crisis. However little we may be convinced that the Pashhur episode was the occasion of the psalm, the redactor obviously intends us to read it in that connection and to understand it as režecting a crucial moment in Jeremiah's life, rather than his perpetual experience.
The effect on the narrative (vv. 1-6) of the attachment of the psalm is quite different. This third-person narrative of a crucial juncture in Jeremiah's life is totally unemotional, and even Jeremiah's oracle, apart from the bybsm rwgm element, is prosaic. What vv. 7-13 adds to the narrative is, in effect, another level of report, which presents the subjective reaction of Jeremiah to the situation described objectively in vv. 1-6. To read the pericope of vv. 1-6 with vv. 7-13 in mind, as the redactor intends us to, obviously offers another dimension to the story and supplies an emotional element which the narrative as biography clearly calls for./71/

 

 

 

 

3. The Self-Curse of Jeremiah 20.14-18

1. Vv. 14-18 in its Original Setting
If vv. 14-18 may be detached from its present context and considered as a separate unit originally, the question of course must be considered: what did vv. 14-18 originally mean? If it was originally attached neither to the episode of Jeremiah's humiliation in the stocks (vv. 1-6) nor to the psalm of appeal (vv. 7-13), the way is open to consider whether it necessarily has anything to do with the prophet's inner reaction to the non-fulŽlment of his prophecies and to his psychological turmoil.
The major element in vv. 14-18 is apparently the virtual self-curse/72/ of vv. 14-17. Yet in understanding vv. 14-18 the greatest weight should be placed upon v. 18, since only there do we Žnd any motivation for the curse. That motivation, which is what gives the curse its meaning, is the fact that the prophet 'sees toil (lm[) and sorrow (wgy)' and that his days are 'consumed in shame (tvb)'. It need not be assumed automatically that he is referring to the miseries of his own personal existence; it would be better Žrst to see in what contexts these terms are used elsewhere in Jeremiah.
lm[ does not occur again in Jeremiah. wgy in 8.18 is the sorrow of the prophet over the approaching doom of Judah; in 31.13 it is the sorrow of exile turned into gladness by the restoration. tvb is (a) objectively, the shameful fate of the people (2.26; [?] 7.19); (b) objectively, the shameful behaviour of the people (3.25);/73/ (c) objectively, the shameful object of non-Yahwistic worship (3.24; 11.13). In no case does tvb denote the prophet's own subjective feeling of shame./74/ It is therefore worth considering whether Jeremiah's wgy here is not his sorrow over his people's fate, and whether the tvb in which his days are consumed is not the objective situation of his people, which may be either a situation of religious disloyalty or of humiliating exile./75/ It is not being argued that the terms wgy and tvb themselves necessarily bear such a connotation, but that when Jeremiah speaks in this fashion it is quite likely that he has in mind the distress of his people rather than a private anguish of his own.
Yet even if it is granted that v. 18 is susceptible of such an interpretation it may be objected that the curse of vv. 14-18 must surely express the prophet's personal experience of despair. But that also would be too rash a conclusion to reach, for the curse seems to some extent at least formalized and stereotyped./76/ The existence of a parallel curse in Job 3.2-10 suggests (unless we make the unlikely supposition that Job 3 is literarily dependent on Jer. 20.14-17/77/) that it would be naive to read Jer. 20.14-17 as a direct transcript of the prophet's feelings. The consciously artistic features of the reversal of the convention of 'reward for bringing good news'/78/ in v. 10 and of the veiled allusion to Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 16a) point in the same direction. The self-curse in fact may perhaps be best understood as having an afŽnity with the conventional description of dismay at the hearing of bad news which D.R. Hillers has identiŽed in Ugaritic and Hebrew literature./79/ Though the self-curse is not verbally analogous to those descriptions of dismay that we Žnd in Jer. 6.22-23; 49.23; Isa. 13.7-8; 50.43 and so on, it may well have a similar function, namely to portray vividly the fact of bad news in the one case/80/ or the fact of the shameful plight of the people in the other. Hillers's warning that such passages 'must be used much more cautiously in discussing prophetic psychology' seems very appropriate to 20.14-17 also. As he says, 'The poet's use of traditional literary formulae prevents us from drawing any conclusions as to his individual psychology'. Such passages do not describe the prophet's reaction to the message he is bringing per se, but the distressing content of his proclamation./81/ We suggest, therefore, that the form and function of the unit 20.14-18 should be distinguished and that these verses did not originally express the prophet's private emotions of despair at some personal calamity (such as disappointment in his prophetic ministry), but was a conventional utterance of distress accompanying a judgment-speech or woe-oracle./82/

2. Vv. 14-18 in its Present Setting
What, however, is the meaning of the unit now that it has been incorporated into its present context in Jeremiah 20 (that is, the question is now of the Sitz im Buch)? We must consider both (a) the setting of vv. 14-18 as the sequel to vv. 7-13, and (b) its setting as the prelude to chs. 21­23.
(a) By linking the curse (vv. 14-18) with the appeal (vv. 7-13), and so with the Pashhur story (vv. 1-6),/83/ the redactor has achieved a twofold effect. The overall meanings of both vv. 14-18 and vv. 7-13 are modiŽed by the juxtaposition. As we have seen in the case of the latter passage, once the redactor has located it at a precise moment in the life of the prophet, he has in fact speciŽed the hermeneutical framework within which the passage must be read. The effect upon the meaning of vv. 14-18 is that it is now to be read as an expression of the prophet's own personal emotion occasioned by his bitter experience in 20.1-6. 'Toil', 'sorrow', and 'shame' have now become primarily what he experienced at the hands of Pashhur, though that was perhaps not the whole horizon of the passage in the eyes of the redactor. But the effect upon the meaning of vv. 7-18 is even more profound: here the movement towards a climax in conŽdent appeal and praise is reversed and the dominant mood/84/ of the whole composition (vv. 7-18) becomes that of distress and lament./85/
(b) Yet the curse of vv. 14-18 is not only the sequel to vv. 7-13; it is also the preface to chs. 21­24, a collection of judgment-speeches against Judah. Read in this context, the self-curse and the 'why' question (v. 18) are naturally understood as representing the prophet's personal reaction to impending destruction that he will share with his people. In this way the passage now recovers something of what we have suggested was its original import, though on this level, read as it is in conjunction with vv. 7-13, it is doubtless to be understood as more the prophetic emotion than the rather conventional distress that we attempted to identify as its original intention.
In sum, then, the unit vv. 14-18 in its present context is ambivalent: in retrospect it establishes the note of bitter personal anguish as the key to ch. 20; in prospect it broadens the horizon from the individual prophet to his people and their fate, forming a transition from the personal experiences of the prophet (chs. 19­20) to the collective experience of the people (chs. 21­24),/86/ in which he too will be implicated.
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