Who’s that talking? Jer 4:19-26

Rembrandt’s Jeremiah Lamenting (from Wikimedia)

Teaching the prophets I often stress how helpful it can be to try to identify the “voices“.1 So I was interested to read Brenda’s post at Joining the Conversation (Part 1: Who is speaking in Jeremiah 4:19-21?) Her main interest is in Jer 4:19-21, arguing that there “Jeremiah” is the speaker, while YHWH begins to speak in v.22.  Her main engagement in the post is with Korpel2 who argued that in Jer 4:19-21 the speaker was Zion.

In the context of this argument Korpel claims that Jer 4:23-26 are spoken by YHWH. There are two planks to the claim.

  1. That the third person reference to YHWH in v.26 is not determinative, citing as well as Biblical evidence an example from the Ugaritic texts. Where the goddess ‘Anatu is quoted:
    She raised her voice and cried:
    ‘Now listen, o hero Aqhatu!
    Ask for silver and I will give it to you,
    gold and I will send it to you,
    but give your bow to the Virgin ʿAnatu,
    your arrows to the Wanton Widow of the Nations!’
    (KTU 1.17:VI.16-19 cited from Korpel, 89)I’d agree that such third person references are not determinative, but am convinced that they are at least suggestive.
  2. She also claims:  “All these verses [23-36] start with rʾyty, ‘I have seen’. If we disregard for a moment Jer 23:13-14, where the problem of identification is the same as in Jer 4, it is significant that in all other cases where rʾyty occurs in the book of Jeremiah God is the subject ( Jer 7:11; 13:27; 30:6; 46:5).” (Korpel, 92)I think this dismisses Jer 23:13, 14 too quickly, it seems to me far from clear that these verses should be attributed to YHWH, indeed the formula ne’um YHWH at the close of v.12 might suggest they are not.

In the light of this, if we look again at Jer 4:23-26 Korpel’s critique of Roberts (“that he does not pay any attention to the literary context of Jer 4:19-22” p.92) seems appropriate, for the opening formula in 4:27 ki koh ‘amar YHWH strongly suggests the possibility of a different speaker (“Jeremiah”?) in 4:23-26.

I am therefore, with Roberts3 and against Kopel, inclined to see Zion as the speaker of 4:19-21 with YHWH responding in 4:22. Note the adversative “For foolish [are] my people…” that opens this verse. With a commentary by “Jeremiah” in 4:23-26.

(Duane Smith in a comment on Brenda’s post asked: “Is it possible that YHWH is speaking and Zion is his mouthpiece?” I think my argument above suggests my answer is “possible but not likely”.)

  1. Or, more generally, these podcasts.  []
  2. Marjo Korpel. “Who Is Speaking in Jeremiah 4:19-22? The Contribution of Unit Delimitation to an Old Problem.” Vetus Testamentum 59, 1 (2009): 88–98. []
  3.  J. J. M. Roberts, “The Motif of the Weeping God in Jeremiah and its Background in the Lament Tradition of the Ancient Near East.” OTEs 5 (1992),  361-374  []

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