On-line version ISSN 1609-9982
Verbum Eccles. (Online) vol.32 n.1 Pretoria 2011
Wilhelm J. Wessels
Department of Old Testament and Ancient Near Eastern Studies, University of South Africa, South Africa
Jeremiah 23:9-40 is a section of the Bible that is dedicated to the issue of true and false prophets. This section follows the cycle of the kings in Jeremiah 21:1-23:8. Both these cycles form part of an editorial unit 21:1-24:10. The kings and the prophets, along with the priests constituted the leadership in Israelite society. The view presented in 21:1-23:40 is that of a failed leadership and the result was the Babylonian exile. In this article the focus is on the prophets who are regarded as false. Jeremiah 23:9-40 is a collection of oracles ascribed to Jeremiah by tradition. In most instances the oracles are of a general nature and lack contextual concreteness. The literary context created by the compilers of 21:1-23:40 is essential to the argument presented in this article. According to Jeremiah 23:32 the false prophets '… do not profit the people at all' (New Revised Standard Version of the Bible [NRSV]). The line of reasoning in this article will be that, as religious leaders, prophets should benefit the people. In the context of 21:1-23:40 they had failed to do this. If the prophets had been in proper communication with Yahweh, they would not have misled the people. From the point of view of the collectors, most probably in an exilic context, the message is clear: the prophets have failed the people, the exile is a reality, and there is no longer any room for false prophets. Jeremiah 23:25-32 makes it clear that, if prophetic words do not profit Yahweh's people, they should be regarded as false and misleading.
The passage for discussion in this article is Jeremiah 23:25-32. The very last sentence in this passage (v. 32) seems to be the culminating point of the complaint against the opposing prophets: 'so they do not profit this people at all'. The purpose of this article is to address this issue of prophets benefiting the ordinary people. From this final sentence one can conclude that one of the marks of a true prophet is that ordinary people should benefit from his performance as a prophet. The question will be, 'What can a prophet contribute to society that will benefit the people?' If we ask this question in the current context, the highlighting of the negative aspect of the prophets will guide us to what the expectation of the writer (prophet) was. Prophets, according to the classical definition of their function, are supposed to communicate to people the messages they receive from Yahweh (Redditt 2008:6; cf. also Blenkinsopp 1996:28-30).1 In verse 28 of the passage under discussion Yahweh says: '… let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully' (NRSV). The role of the prophets is to act as channels of communication between Yahweh and the people. Yahweh sends his messages to his covenant people through the prophets he has commissioned for this purpose.
Full text available only in PDF format.
Berquist, J.L., 1989, 'Prophetic legitimation in Jeremiah', Vetus Testamentum 39(2), 129-139. [ Links ]
Blenkinsopp, J., 1995, Sage, priest, prophet. Religious and intellectual leadership in Ancient Israel,Westminster John Knox, Louisville, KY. [ Links ]
Blenkinsopp, J., 1996, A history of prophecy in Israel. Revised and enlarged, Westminster John Knox, Louisville, KY. [ Links ]
Brueggemann, W., 1998, A commentary on Jeremiah. Exile & homecoming, Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI. [ Links ]
Budd, P.J., 1975, 'Dream', in C. Brown (ed.), The new international dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 1,pp. 511-512, The Paternoster Press, Exeter. [ Links ]
Carroll, R.P., 1986, Jeremiah. A commentary, SCM (Old Testament Library), London. [ Links ]
Craigie, P.C., Kelly, P.H. & Drinkard Jr, J.F., 1991, Jeremiah 1-25, Word Books (Word Biblical Commentary), Dallas, TX. [ Links ]
Diamond, A.R.P., 2003, 'Jeremiah', in J.D.G. Dunn & J.W. Rogerson (eds.), Eerdmans commentary on the Bible, pp. 543-559, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI. [ Links ]
Domeris, W.R., 1999, 'When metaphor becomes myth: A socio-linguistic reading of Jeremiah', in A.R.P. Diamond, K.M. O'Connor & L. Stulman (eds.), Troubling Jeremiah, pp. 244-262, Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield. [ Links ]
Duhm, B., 1901, Das Buch Jeremiah [The Book of Jeremiah], [ Links ] JCB Mohr, Tübingen.
Fretheim, T.E., 2002, Jeremiah, Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Macon, GA. [ Links ]
Grabbe, L.L., 1995, Priests, prophets, diviners, sages. A socio-historical study of religious specialists in Ancient Israel, Trinity Press International, Valley Forge, PA. [ Links ]
Holladay, W.L., 1986, Jeremiah 1. A commentary on the book of the prophet Jeremiah chapters 1-25, Fortress Press, Philadelphia. [ Links ]
Huey, F.B. Jr, 1993, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Broadman Press (The New American Commentary), Nashville, TN. [ Links ]
Jones, D.R., 1992, Jeremiah, Eerdmans (New Century Bible Commentary), Grand Rapids, MI. [ Links ]
Lemke, W.E., 1981, 'The near and the distant god. A study of Jeremia 23:23-24 in its Biblical theological context', JBL 100(4), 541-555. [ Links ]
Long, B.O., 1981, 'Social dimensions of prophetic conflict', Semeia, 21, 31-53. [ Links ]
Lundbom, J.R., 2004, Jeremiah 21-36. A new translation with introduction and commentary, Doubleday (The Anchor Bible), New York. [ Links ]
McKane, W., 1986, A critical and exegetical commentary on Jeremiah, T & T Clark (The International Critical Commentary [ICC]), [ Links ] Edinburgh.
Middlemas, J., 2007, The templeless age: An introduction to the history, literature and theology of the "Exile", Westminster John Knox, Louisville, KY. [ Links ]
Nicholson, E.W., 1970, Preaching to the exiles. A study of the prose tradition in the book of Jeremiah, Basil Blackwell, Oxford. [ Links ]
Overholt, T.W., 1970, The threat of falsehood. A study in the theology of the book of Jeremiah, SCM, London. [ Links ]
Overholt, T.W., 1989, Channels of prophecy: The social dynamics of prophetic activity, Fortress Press, Minneapolis. [ Links ]
Redditt, P.L., 2008, Introduction to the prophets, Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI. [ Links ]
Rudolph, W., 1968, Jeremia. 3, J C B Mohr, verbesserte Aufl. Tübingen. [ Links ]
Schreiner, J., 1981, Jeremia 1-25,14, Echter Verlag (Die Neue Echter Bibel), Würzburg. [ Links ]
Sharp, C.J., 2003, Prophecy and ideology in Jeremiah. Struggles for authority in the Deutero-Jeremianic prose, T & T Clark, London. [ Links ]
Smith-Christopher, D.L., 2000, 'Dreams', in D.N. Freedman (ed.), Dictionary of the Bible, pp. 356-357, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI. [ Links ]
Stulman, L., 2005, Jeremiah, Abingdon Press (Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries), Nashville, TN. [ Links ]
Thompson, J.A., 1980, The book of Jeremiah, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI. [ Links ]
Vetter, D 1976. [Please refer to PDF] ne'um Ausspruch' [saying], in E. Jenni& C. Westermann, Theologisches Handwörterbuch zum Alten Testament [Theological Dictionary for the Old Testament], pp. 1-3, Kaiser Verlag, München.
Wilson, R.R., 1995, 'Interpreting Israel's religion: An anthropological perspective on the problem of false prophecy', in R.P. Gordon (ed) "The place is too small for us": Israelite prophets in recent scholarship, pp. 343-344, Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, IN. [ Links ]
Weiser, A., 1969, Das Buch Jeremiah [The book of Jeremiah], [ Links ] Vanderhoeck & Ruprecht (Alt Testament Deutch), Göttingen.
Werner, W., 1997, Das Buch Jeremia. Kapitel 1-25 [The book of Jeremiah. [ Links ] Chapters 1-25], Verlag Katholisches Bibelwerk (Neuer Stuttgarter Kommentar), Stuttgart.
PO Box 392
Received: 24 Sept. 2010
Accepted: 05 Apr. 2011
Published: 26 Aug. 2011