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Letter of Jeremiah

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Daniel J. Harrington writes: "The statement of v. 3 that the Babylonian exile would last 'up to seven generations' (cf. Jer. 29:10, where it is supposed to last only seventy years) is sometimes taken as indicating composition late in the fourth century B.C. Since one generation lasts about forty years (see Judg. 3:11, 30), subtracting 280 years from 597 B.C. would give a date of 317 B.C. The allusion to the work in 2 Macc. 2:1-3 and the discovery of a fragment of the Greek version in a Qumran Cave 7 manuscript dated about 100 B.C. suggest the second century B.C. as the latest possible date of composition. If it was composed in Hebrew, a setting in the land of Israel and a time in which attitudes toward foreign cults were hostile (perhaps during the crisis under Antiochus IV Epiphanes) seem likely. The writer, however, is quite familiar with Babylonian customs and may have written in Babylon at an earlier time." (Harper's Bible Commentary, p. 861)

David A. deSilva writes: "Jeremiah is the 'author' of this text only insofar as Jeremiah provided the primary resource (Jer. 10:2-15) that the actual, anonymous author developed into a lengthier variation on the theme. With regard to the date of composition, Moore's caveat concerning the Additions to Daniel that one must distinguish this carefully from the time of translation into Greek is valid for the Additions to Jeremiah as well (Moore 1977: 128). The translation was accomplished before the end of the second century B.C.E., given the discovery of a Greek fragment of the Letter of Jeremiah at Qumran (7QLXXEpJer). The time of composition is less certain. Several scholars lay great stress on the peculiar internal indication of date: the prediction that the Jews would be in Babylon 'for a long time, up to seven generations' (v. 3) before God will bring them back to their ancestral land, which represents an alteration of Jeremiah's seventy years (Jer. 25:11; 29:10; an alteration also occurs in Daniel's 'seventy weeks of years' [Dan. 9:24; cf. 9:2]). (Ball 1913: 596; Moore 1977: 328; Mendels 1992: 722; Metzger 1957: 96). These scholars argue that the author must be writing before this period of time had elapsed, for it is difficult to imagine an author deliberately altering Jeremiah's prophecy in such a way that would already have proven false. A date between 317 and 306 B.C.E., or 280 years after either the first or second deportation to Babylon (597 and 586 B.C.E.), is taken as the latest date for the composition of the original Hebrew version. There is in fact no internal evidence to necessitate a later date, although the ambiguity of the length of time covered by a 'generation' should make us cautious about being overly precise about the range of dates." (Introducing the Apocrypha, p. 216)

James King West writes: "Probably the inspiration for this short tract was the letter preserved in Jeremiah 29:1-23 which Jeremiah had sent to the exiles in Babylon. Because of its association with Jeremiah it is included int he Vulgate as chapter 6 in the book of Baruch. It is, nevertheless, a separate work having no real connection with the latter and is so placed in the LXX. Although it opens with an announcement that God will end the Exile in the 'seventh generation' (6:3; cf. Jer. 29:10-14), the writing is concerned with the apostasy of idol worship. It may be that, as R. H. Pfeiffer suggests, the author is attempting to correct what he regards as the dangerous implications in Jeremiah's advice that the exiles make themselves at home in Babylon (cf. Jer. 29:5-7). Following the lead in Deutero-Isaiah's satire on idols (Isa. 44:9-20), he cautions in the name of Jeremiah against the danger that while making their home in Babylon the exiles may take up the worship of the lifeless, powerless, useless creations of human hands. Later readers of Jeremiah are thus protected from the erroneous conclusion that his letter may have given tacit approval to the Babylonian religions, and, at the same time, the author has had his say about the vanity of all other worship than that addressed to Israel's God." (Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 455)

J. Alberto Soggin writes: "The book is not a letter, nor can it be derived from Jeremiah. In the preface to his commentary on Jeremiah (Migne, PL 24, 706), Jerome already called the work 'pseudepigraphical'. It is impossible to establish the date and the circumstances of composition exactly, but the calculation of generations brings us down to the fourth century, while other elements in the text suggest an even later date. The problem to which the question about the generations seeks to give an answer is the same as in Daniel. How is it that the divine curse continues for so long after the exile? Here, too, no reply is given." (Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 460)

Marjorie L. Kimbrough writes: "The Letter of Jeremiah was written during the first-century Hellenistic period, when idol worship and Greek philosophies were competing with the Jewish Law. There is, however, no comparison in the letter between the God of Israel and the idol gods. Although the focus of the letter is an attack on idols and false prophets, praise of God is not presented. The reader is urged to logically consider the fact that the idols are lifeless, helpless, and created by human beings. Therefore people, being more powerful than the idols, certainly do not need them." (Stories Between the Testaments, pp. 61-62)

Daniel J. Harrington writes: "The Letter of Jeremiah is not an objective report written by a professor of comparative religion. Rather, it is partisan polemic against other peoples' religious beliefs and practices. It is written from the perspective of a Jew whose religion forbade physical representation of God (see Exod. 20:4-5; Deut. 5:8-9). Whether the author had direct experience of 'idol worship' or derived his descriptions of idols and their temples from biblical texts and popular rumors, he shows no sympathy for religions that represented their gods with statues. For him, the God of Israel is the only true God, and what other people worship as gods are human creations. There is no indication from the author that the devotees of these idols may have regarded them simply as signs or representations of their deities." (Invitation to the Apocrypha, p. 104)

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