vrijdag 25 januari 2013

Review of: William McKane, Jeremiah : 2 vols. (ICC), T. & T. Clark, 1986 (1-25) & 1996 (26-52)

William McKane, Jeremiah : 2 vols. (ICC), T. & T. Clark, 1986 (1-25) & 1996 (26-52).

Review in: Hebrew Studies Journal

JEREMIAH, Volume 1: 1-25. By William McKane. International Critical Commentary. Pp. cxxii + 658. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1986. Cloth, $59.95.
JEREMIAH, Volume 2: 26-52. By William McKane. International Critical Commentary. Pp. cxxii-clxxiv + 659-1396. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1996. Cloth, $59.95.

McKane's recently published Jeremiah 11 (1996) brings to completion a two-volume commentary on the largest book in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Jeremiah 1 was published a decade earlier (1986). An important gap is thus filled in the ICC series, in which an original Jeremiah volume never appeared.

The translation is good, though occasionally periphrastic like the NEB and REB. McKane's stated exegetical aim is to recover the history of the text by comparing the ancient versions, the most important being the Septuagint, whose shorter text (by one-eighth) and different order after 25:13 consistently, though not always, gets preference over the Hebrew Masoretic Text. The Septuagint's location of foreign nation oracles after 25:13a is rightly taken to be more original, the relocation to chapters 46-51 in the Masoretic Text being a later development. I agree too that "this book" in 25:13a looks ahead to the foreign nation collection, not back to an Urrolle or enlarged scroll. As for the short and long text where McKane reflects the consensus that the Masoretic Text's plusses are largely later expansion, I have greater reservations, particularly in chapters 1-20 where the Septuagint appears to have suffered more from haplography than previously imagined (see my forthcoming article with David Noel Freedman in Eretz-Israel 26). Other data of a poetic and rhetorical nature (the latter holding no interest for McKane) show that the Masoretic Text is far and away the better--and probably more original--text in 1-20. The situation in 21-52, which has more prose than poetry, is somewhat different, although here, too, haplography in the Septuagint is more arguable than has generally been recognized. So while agreeing with McKane that each text must be examined on its own merits, my assessment of the Septuagint-Masoretic Text problem varies at certain points from his. So far as 10:1-10 is concerned, I think McKane is quite mistaken to give preference to the shorter and sequentially-different text of the Septuagint and 4QJerb. Again, the Masoretic Text is better and arguably more original.

The other distinguishing mark of this commentary is that much space--too much, actually--is given over to discussing the secondary literature, much of it dated and insufficiently represented. McKane's circumlocutory prose goes on sometimes for pages with little or no yield, and when a judicious decision is arrived at, as does happen, one wishes it had come much sooner and less laboriously. Alonso-Schokel has this aphorism on biblical scholarship: "Share the fruit, not the sweat." On page 5 of volume I, after discussing problems associated with dating the beginning of Jeremiah's career, McKane comes around finally to supporting (without argument) the widely-abandoned view of Horst (and originally Hyatt) for a low chronology. Hyatt himself gave up that view in 1956, and Holladay, the other main proponent of a low chronology, never embraced it (see my discussion in The Early Career of the Prophet Jeremiah [Lewiston, Queenston, and Lampeter: Mellen, 1993], 53-66). Dated and under-represented scholarly views can be seen on page clxix of volume II, where in an introduction to the Babylon oracles McKane says, "Most scholars do not claim the oracle [sic] against Babylon for Jeremiah, though Peake and Nicholson consider the possibility of a Jeremianic nucleus." Yet Holladay's Jeremiah 11, published seven years earlier in Hermeneia (1989), claimed 82 verses or portions of verses for Jeremiah. In volume II one also finds a curious silence on the work of McKane's neighbor, Douglas Jones (New Century Bible, 1992), who, in this reviewer's opinion, has written the best one-volume Jeremiah commentary currently available. What the reader needs here as a guide through the secondary literature is both less and more.

McKane follows Duhm and more recently Thiel in arguing that the extant book of Jeremiah represents a long and complicated process of growth, extending well into the post-exilic period (his "rolling corpus" theory). He cannot believe that existing poetry in 1-25 was conceived by Jeremiah and written down by Baruch, nor that much prose in the book existed in Jeremiah's lifetime. But McKane dissents from a "Deuteronomic redaction" too cohesive and coherent, preferring in place of Thiel's well-planned garden an untidy "English garden" McKane is not, however, free from ideological and theological assumptions of his own, separating out genuine "kernels" in passages of prose as nineteenth century source critics did, for example, in 7:1-15 the kernel is said to be verses 4, 9-12, and 14 (the discourse cannot speak about both "temple" and "land"); in 18:1-12 the kernel is verses 1-4 or 1-6 (the discourse must be unconditional doom); in chapter 28, verses 6-9 and 15-17 are secondary material (the original discourse could not have "theologized" about true and false prophecy); in chapter 29 the kernel is verses 1, 3-7, and 24-25 (the original letter again could not have dealt with true and false prophecy) etc. In chapter 24, McKane cannot believe that Jeremiah ever adopted so negative an attitude toward Zedekiah, and so he breaks up the passage; and in 46-51 Jeremiah is precluded from being a prophet to foreign nations. What is happening here is that real-life complexities have been flattened out, and in their place is substituted a complex literary creation. This sort of exegesis running throughout the commentary lacks conviction, rendering less arbitrary by comparison attempts by others to place passages in a historical context, which McKane debunks as so much guesswork. At times he appears strangely insulated from rhetorical discourse, human (mis)behavior, and sociological complexities in faith communities and the real world.

Finally, this commentary has a serious audience problem. Despite having much of value, the highly-technical discussion and unpointed Hebrew on every page will render the volumes unusable for the majority of clergy, scholars in other disciplines, and interested laity. As for advanced students and specialists in the field, another commentary for use alongside the present one is a definite must.

Jack R. Lundbom
Cambridge University
Cambridge CB3 9AL

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