donderdag 21 februari 2013

Review of: Leslie C. Allen, Jeremiah: A Commentary (OTL), Westminster John Knox, 2008; in: Interpretation

Leslie C. Allen, Jeremiah: A Commentary (OTL), Westminster John Knox, 2008.

Review in: Interpretation 2010 64: 86
Review door: Mark E. Biddle
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Jeremiah: A Commentary
by Leslie C. Allen
The Old Testament Library. Westminster John Knox, Louisville, 2008.
546 pp. $59.95 (cloth). ISBN 978-0-664-22223-9.

THIS VOLUME REPLACES THE COMMENTARY by the late Robert Carroll in the venerable Old Testament Library. It includes a select bibliography focused on works published since the middle of the twentieth century, an introduction to the critical issues in Jeremiah studies and to the approach taken in the commentary, the author's translation of the text of Jeremiah with additions made by the Masoretic textual tradition in italics, text-critical and grammatical notes, and an index of authors cited. The introduction discusses the complicated problem of the two traditions (MT and LXX) of the text of Jeremiah, the prominent genres in the book, the history of the literary development that produced the canonical text, and the macrostructure evident in the final form of the text.

In many respects, Leslie Allen's approach to Jeremiah can be described as methodologically conservative. This is suggested by the chief dialogue partners he identifies (Rudolph, McKane, and Holladay) and by the six primary assumptions he acknowledges from the outset, namely: 1) that Jeremiah is religious literature; 2) that the interpreter confronts the final, canonical form of the text; 3) that it is nonetheless incumbent upon the interpreter to recognize the complicated condition of the textual witnesses; 4) that the condition of the final form of the text requires attention to redaction and source critical issues; 5) that primary concern with exegeting the text necessitates leaving aside questions of hermeneutics or theological application; and 6) that the commentary will include observations regarding Jeremiah's context in the canon, both as it develops prior biblical traditions and as it serves as the source for the subsequent growth of tradition.

Allen's focus on the final form of the text does not reflect a commitment to purely synchronic reading. Instead, relying heavily on the work of Emanuel Τον with regard to the history of the text of Jeremiah and of Louis Stulman with regard to the character of the so-called "prose sermons" in Jeremiah, Allen concludes that MT represents the final redaction of Jeremiah over against LXX, which represents an earlier form of the book. This final form is characterized by "a serial structure of closing hope with sporadic anticipation that the MT redaction imposed on the older text, developing intimations it already found there" (p. 14). The MT did so principally through additions in Jer 10:12-16; 30:10-11; and 33:14-26, through rearrangements of material, through "amplifications" in Jer 46-51, and through the prologue (1:1-2:3) and epilogue (52) structure. Significantly, Allen differentiates between the "now" of the prophet Jeremiah, the "now" of the final form of the text (i.e., the context of the original readership), and the "now" of the commentator, a very fruitful hermeneutical distinction. In his view, however, the identification of the audience is not yet sufficient to identify the purpose of the book. Although the prose sermons may seem to address the audience with the options available to them (repentance), the reader must take care to distinguish between the purpose of Jeremiah's preaching to the pre-crisis Judeans and the purpose of the book. That is, in the context of the book, the prose sermons already presuppose the outcome. Similarly, rather than offering an option to exilic readers, the several "calls to repentance" situated throughout the book "are set firmly in prejudgment contexts and draw implicit attention to the fact that repentance did not take place" (p. 17). In contrast, Allen notes "the purposeful trajectory of overriding grace that stretches over the book like a rainbow" (e.g., Jer 1:10; 3:14-18; 12:14-17; 16:14-15; 24:6; 31:28). This trajectory was "already introduced in the edition represented by LXX and enhanced in MT" (p. 17).

Problematically, however, Allen's identification of the MT with the final form of the text and his characterization of the book's "now" as the exilic period and thus, the "now" of the audience, require greater attention to the redaction history of the book than Allen's assumptions allow. He must account for evidence suggesting that LXX and MT represent regional versions of the text and that both versions, but especially the text witnessed by MT, underwent rather lengthy periods of growth, probably continuing down into the Persian period. He does not, in fact, seem to maintain that the book of Jeremiah, at least not the Babylonian oracles in Jer 50-51, attained essentially its current form before the Persian period. Although Allen attributes much of the poetry in the oracles against the nation to Jeremiah, a judgment that seems uncritically to apply the poetry/prose distinction as a criterion for authenticity, he finds signs in Jer 50-51 that point to a date later than Jeremiah. These signs include, especially, the reuse and reapplication of pre-existent prophetic materials, particularly material from Deutero-Isaiah. If this is correct, the final form of the LXX version of Jeremiah, which includes Jer 50-51, already postdated the exile. Thus, if Allen's conclusion that the MT edition represents a rearrangement, amplification, and expansion of the prior LXX version is correct, it must have attained its final form well into the Persian period. How would Allen's reading of Jeremiah be influenced by postulating the later period as the context for the final form of Jeremiah?

Allen's commentary on the compositional unit often termed the "Temple Sermon" (7:1-8:3) illustrates the mainstream character of his analysis. He describes the unit as "a collection of prose passages with cultic overtones" (p. 93) consisting of five oracles of destruction (7:1-15, 16-20,21-29,30-34; 8:1-3) structured into two literary compositions (7:2-20; 7:21-8:3). The oracle reception heading in 7:1 lends the unit a significant macrostructural role mirrored on the microstructural level by the quotation formulas in 7:3 and 21. The initial oracle of destruction moves from a chiastic exhortation (w. 3b, 4, 5-7; A, B, A') to repentance and reform through an enumeration of reasons for the impending disaster (w. 8-1 la) to the ultimate announcement of destruction in w. 13-15. "Place"—God's (temple, Shiloh) and the people's (the land), integrally interrelated—functions thematically in the oracle's juxtaposition of a perversion of Zion theology and the demands of covenant fidelity. The second oracle also focuses on "place," but exchanges the false worship of God with the worship of false gods as the people's offense. The second set of these oracles, which exhibits a number of verbal connections with the first pair of oracles, also moves from a denunciation of faulty Yahwistic worship to a charge of pagan worship. The final oracle of destruction in the overall composition parallels the second in its treatment of astral worship in relation to the coming disaster.
Seen as a whole, Allen notes, the compositional unit notably reflects on and reiterates material from Jer 5-6 and depends heavily on Deuteronomy and Ps 78. It represents an exilic perspective on Jeremianic traditions. Along the way, Allen discusses the prophetic torah form evidenced in 7:5-7, the significance of prophetic intercession, the likely Mesopotamian backgrounds of the Queen of Heaven cult, and other standard historical-critical topoi.

Allen adopts similar middle-of-the-road stances regarding virtually every critical crux in Jeremiah studies: the book preserves authentic material, but has undergone a process of collection and redaction; it offers some reliable information concerning the life and career of the prophet, but cannot be pressed to yield a substantial biography; etc. Allen's contribution may be viewed, then, as a summation of mainline historical-critical scholarship on Jeremiah at the end of the twentieth century. In some regards, it is most remarkable for what it eschews: its own solution to critical issues, theological and hermeneutical readings, engagement with literary theory, and so forth. This observation is not meant as a criticism. The contemporary trend in commentary writing leans so far in the direction of literary novelty and theological, even homiletical, pertinence that the kind of historical, textual, linguistic, and form-critical interpretation and analysis Allen has produced has almost disappeared from the marketplace. Without access to a good library, this variety of scholarship—solid historical-critical exegesis—is virtually no longer available. Allen fills that gap admirably.

Mark E. Biddle

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