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. []