Help me please

For work I am doing on the “confessions of Jeremiah” I need two sorts of help. I need help because here in the hills between Rotorua and Tauranga I library resources are limited to a journal database and Google books (plus

  • People with friends: if you have a friend who has worked on the “confessions of Jeremiah” please help me contact them.
  • People with access to Baumgartner’s Jeremiah’s Poems of Lament or Diamond’s The Confessions of Jeremiah in Context. (Both books I owned and gave to a seminary in Myanmar when I retired, and both have limited access on Google.)For Diamond I need to know if his first few footnotes (probably just #1) to the “Introduction” give any indication of the origin of the usage “Confessions of Jeremiah”. (The PhD his book was based on is listed by the British Library but is not accessible.)For Baumgartner the issue is a little more complex does he in Chapter 1 (in the first few or last couple of pages of the chapter) talk about this at all? Or indeed use an expression like “the confessions of Jeremiah”?

I would be really thankful is someone could help me in either or both of these two ways.

Otherwise I am stuck, between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when expressions like confessions of Jeremiah were used to refer to the content of (much of) the book (Cheyne 1888), or to a particular mode within the book, but already Buttenweiser (1914) talks of “the so-called confessions” and may have the collection of texts we name thus today in mind, certainly the habitual use of the expression to refer to particular texts seems established at the latest by John Skinner, Prophecy & Religion: Studies in the Life of Jeremiah (Cambridge: University Press, 1922), 114 and ch.xi.

Skinner regards the usage as “common”:

These two passages are interesting in another respect. They are the first of a unique series of devotional poems commonly known as the ‘Confessions of Jeremiah,’ which unfold the secret of his best life, the converse of his soul with God through which the true nature of religion was disclosed to him. (114)

On p.201 Skinner calls the usage “recent”, yet I have so far found no use of the expression with this meaning before Buttenwieser!

I am stuck and stumped, and lack access to a suitable library to get much further alone. Please help!

Launching two books

Twin colloquia in 2011, held only days apart, gave birth to twin books, only weeks apart in 2013. My task at the launch last night was to bridge between the two. The model of a small, sociable gathering of scholars at various stages of their careers around a focused topic which leads (after a period of editing and polishing) to the publication of a book has been very productive for Laidlaw and Carey with several such works appearing over the last few years.

Spiritual Complaint

We live in a society that has chosen only to see what is desirable. The sick and disabled are hidden away from public sight in hospitals. Poverty, famine and epidemic are kept at bay and viewed through glass on screens of our choosing or through the windows of the vehicles in which we travel. Lament is privatised, locked away behind closed doors, or in hearts that are carefully cloistered from the view of others. Except on rare occasions when lament briefly invades the public sphere and the pain or loss are experienced (perhaps vicariously) by many in the public tragedies that Elizabeth Boase, Steve Taylor and Stephen Garner explored in the book Spiritual Complaint. Several contributors to this volume considered what has been called the “loss of lament”. For this privatising of lament happens even in church, and it is a loss.

In a similar way our society, that worships success and consumption, cannot deal well with lament’s sibling, complaint. To complain is seen as enmity. In church, ideologies which reduce the maker of heaven and earth to a convenient charm pulled out and stroked when help is needed, like a superior sort of rabbit’s foot, and theologies which urge us to “name it and claim it”, while “marching into the land”, reduce the Mysterium Tremendum to a glorified 24/7 Santa Claus. Yet other, more “liberal”, theologies reduce God to an impotent watcher. Each of these, in their own way, reject complaint – the godlings that we invent must be praised, and their pride might be hurt by complaint.

So, in our world, and in our churches, lament and complaint are hidden away or stifled. What this means is that we have no room also for confession in either of its guises. For if we cannot lament the wrong, and complain – appealing for redress – then neither can we acknowledge (confess) our part in ruining the world. If we cannot bring, before its creator, the pain and suffering endured by creatures, nor complain at the sovereign’s inactivity, how can we truly acknowledge (confess) God’s nature and power?

So the first colloquium was titled Spiritual Complaint. For the movement from recognising wrongness (lament), to demanding that something be done (complaint), till – at the end – we can also acknowledge our part in the wrong, and celebrate the God who is beyond the wrongness (confession), is deeply and fundamentally spiritual.


Isaiah and Imperial Context

The second book Isaiah and Imperial Context has a tighter academic focus. Unlike the first it did not blend biblical scholars, pastors, liturgists and practical theologians but gathered only scholars working on the prophetic books of the Old Testament.

This book also however seeks to open a window on the sad and suffering world we inhabit. As we learn to recognise and perhaps heal the wounds of past empires, we are also learning to recognise, and must seek to heal, the wounds caused by present-day imperialism. If those glass panels keep lament safely at bay, they also give us a view of the otherwise distant bombs, drones and rioting crowds that are the signs of empire.


The book of Isaiah with its so distinct and different imperial contexts, as the book Isaiah and Imperial Context seeks to reveal, offers resources for life and spirituality in a post-colonial and yet at the same time newly imperial world.

Another in my series on the “Confessions of Jeremiah”

Confessions of the Lovelorn (image by dickuhne)

As some of you know (despite this week working on my “Assertions of YHWH’s sovereignty and imperial context in the book of Isaiah” paper – provisional but current title, watch this space ;) I am continuing my series of short biblical studies podcasts on The Confessions of Jeremiah adding two more to the series, which now comprises:

On this latest one, I wonder how YOU think Yahweh might have wished to respond to this complaint from our Jerry?

PS: Plus another in the series: Jeremiah’s fourth confession: Jer 18:18-23 the continuing drama of Jeremiah and his Yahweh

Lament and complaint

Lament, I don't know maybe (photo by I Don't Know)

For my paper for the lament colloquium I want to distinguish three functional types of complaint/lament text:

  • lament which bemoans
  • complaint which charges or accuses
  • confession which despite the circumstances (which might warrant lament or complaint) expresses trust in the one spoken about or addressed

Notice that this classification is not formal, it is concerned with the attitude of the speaker of the text, and is thus functional rather than formal. Rather like Brueggemann’s functional classification of the psalms.

Complaint Department photo by mrmanc

Interestingly, recently Tremper Longman III has distinguished lament and complaint on formal grounds not merely seeing “complaint” as a clarification of the naming of “lament”. He speaks of lament when the text addresses God, and complaint when it is about God, but addressed to other humans. The “lament” psalms are examples of one, and Num 20:1-13 of the other.1

Longman’s classification is really interesting, but what really interests me is not the form of the text but the implied attitude of the “speaker”. After all attitude is why naming matters.  Juliette’s protest: “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” served her needs, distinguishing the object of her love from his family name. Yet by the end of the play we know that her claim, though perhaps true of roses, is less true of families! What we call things matters, not least because our naming consciously and unconsciously reflects and shapes what we perceive. While Juliette might claim that “Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d, retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title” others will merely see a Montague, one against whom they are sworn in feud.

Photo by Digital Library @ Villanova University

NB: In this post I return (the marking season being over :) to my paper for the first February colloquium and therefore topics I addressed before:

  1. Tremper Longman, “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? A Biblical-Theological Approach,” in Eyes to See, Ears to Hear: Essays in Memory of J. Alan Groves, ed. Peter Enns (P & R Publishing, 2010), 48 []

Lament, complaint or confession: Prophets and “their” books

Brooke commented on my post Did Jeremiah confess? Or: Laments, complaints & confessions?

There’s a somewhat analogous issue in Dan 9:4b-19, with the pious deuteronomistic prayer that contrasts theologically and ideologically with the apocalyptic narrative framework. The scholarship has move over time from:

a) those who deny the issue (“Daniel wrote it, there’s no contrast, take your fancy pants form criticism and go away”); to
b) those who see a “ham-handed pious redactor” who “inserts” the prayer (these are the ones who are getting the goat of the traditionalists); to
c) those who say, “Hey, if the author of Daniel 9 knew the genre of the post-exilic deuteronomistic prayer of community penitence, then maybe he incorporated or wrote such a prayer himself.”

What is the relationship between a book and the "people" it contains? (Photo by kelly taylor)

Indeed the trajectories of scholarship on the two books seems to have been similar. In Jeremiah too most of the ink has been spilled over issues of the historicity (of the words seen as ascribed to the prophet Jeremiah in the late sixth-early seventh century) and more recently the history of the text (seen as growing over time rather like a snowball or a hymn1 ) However, my interest in whether the texts traditionally called the “Confessions of Jeremiah” is not in these areas. I wonder how these texts are intended to function as components of the larger text known as the book of Jeremiah (mainly I am interested in the MT edition, though it would also be interesting to look at whether these sub-texts function differently in the other well-known edition – found commonly in the LXX).

This is partly a question of genre. If the composer(s) of the book thought of these texts as “complaints” then they would function differently than they would if they were thought of as “laments”. But perhaps they were used as “confessions”. In this case the genre attribution would only in part depend on the form, which is close to the lament/complaints in Psalms, but also on how the passages function in the book. Is Jeremiah (the eponymous character in the book, not the putative sixth-fifth century person) lamenting something, complaining to God or confessing?

I hope to use the book of Amos, which contains texts that do all these things, as a point of comparison. The speaker of the book and/or their God laments (5:1-3), “Amos” complains (7:1-6) and the speaker of the book confesses (1:2; 4:13; 5:8-9; 9:5-6).2

  1. Many hymns that were commonly sung in churches in the 20th century had had verses added over time, many too had had wording adjusted and adapted over the years, as well as in some cases being translated from other language originals []
  2. I had not noticed before writing that, but it is all the major characters of the book who are involved here, among the actors in the book only those satirised and the land are left out. []

Did Jeremiah confess? Or: Laments, complaints & confessions?

Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

Jim West, in typically forthright style (and with no evidence or argument provided – come on Jim ante up, present some reasons for your opinion!) links to and pooh-poohs a short post “Jeremiah: Memoirs or Laments? (Jer 11:18-20; 12:1-6; 15:10-21, 17:14-18; 18:18-23; 20:7-13)” by Don C. Benjamin at Bible and Interpretation. Benjamin rehearses briefly the sort of form-critical argument usually presented to claim these passages as “laments”, mainly and even more briefly that they follow the typical form of that genre. A common corollary of that claim is to deny these texts to Jeremiah seeing them as “traditional texts” rather than the outpouring of a “great spirit”. West seems to wish to return to the maximalist position, viewing the texts (perhaps) as belonging to a person (Jeremiah the prophet), at least his title suggests this: “Jeremiah: Were His Confessions His?

Ever since Gerhard von Rad described various passages in Jeremiah as ‘Confessions’ scholars have discussed and debated the idea.  Personally, I’ve never been persuaded that von Rad was wrong.

[Now, of course, though the idea that, through the confessions Jeremiah initiates a new sort of prophecy, where the life of the prophet is as significant as their message, did “belong” to the great von Rad,1 he was by no means the first to use the name “confessions” for these passages.2]

I think this gives me a topic for my contribution to the colloquium spiritual│complaint : theology and practice of lament. I now plan to work on “Did Jeremiah confess? Or: Laments, complaints & confessions?” Personally unlike that renowned maximalist Dr Jim, I have never been convinced that we even have any evidence for the existence of a “prophet Jeremiah” in sixth century Judah, but I can see no reason for the character Jeremiah the prophet from the eponymous book not to have used the complaint form…

I do hope I have baited Jim enough to get a response with some meat in it (he can put it here in the comments if he really wants to keep his blog pure and free from argument and evidence ;) and perhaps others of you enough to start a discussion, which will help me firm up my ideas for the colloquium!

  1. As well as his Theology see also the essay reprinted as Gerhard von Rad. “The confessions of Jeremiah.” In A Prophet to the nations: essays in Jeremiah studies, edited by Leo G. Perdue and Brian W. Kovacs, Eisenbrauns, 1984, 339-48. []
  2. As evidence see: Thomas Kelly Cheyne, Jeremiah: his life and times. A.D.F. Randolph, 1889, 2. []

The prophecies of Neferti

I’ve finally got to read James Linville‘s Amos and the Cosmic Imagination

[amtap book:isbn=0754654818]

I know it was published back in ’08, but books (especially expensive European books take a while to get to our library down here ;)

The book itself is stimulating, not least because he seems to be starting in the right place i.e. assuming that Amos is something like a work of historical fiction written sometime in the Persian or Hellenistic period, and without making too much fuss about the textual archaeology that seems so often to render studies of the prophetic corpus dull and insipid, he takes the reader (at least in the first chapter or two) on a journey of imagination into reading this work.

The pyramid of Snefru (photo by Charlie Phillips)

However, that’s not what I want to write about here, in an almost passing comment he refers to the Prophecies of Neferti an Egyptian work that I’ve not paid much attention to. It really is fascinating stuff, well at least to me, set back in the days of Snefru some four or five hundred years in the (presumed) writer’s past it tells of a prophetic speech, delivered to the ancient king by a sage. The contents are much like a biblical prophetic book, though with the narrative frame in place of a superscription. So, already a sort of paradigmatic prophetic fiction from the 20th century (BCE), but beyond or as well as that there are loads of phrases and images that resonate with Amos…

Now, how can I work all this together to make a paper on either Complaint or Isaiah and Empire, since I need material for abstracts on those topics fast!?