donderdag 21 februari 2013

Review of: Terence Fretheim, Jeremiah (SHBC), Smyth & Helwys, 2002; in: Interpretation

Terence Fretheim, Jeremiah (SHBC), Smyth & Helwys, 2002.

Review in: Interpretation 2004 58: 188
Review door: Pamela J. Scalise
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by Terence Fretheim
Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary. Smyth & Helwys, Macon, 2002.
704 pp. $65.00 (cloth). ISBN 1-57312-072-3.

FRETHEIM'S VOLUME IS concerned with readers. One can scarcely turn a page in the first half of the commentary without finding a reference to the initial readers of the book of Jeremiah. That first audience looked back on the Babylonian conquest, lived during the Exile, but had not been liberated by Cyrus. Fretheim consistently engages what the book communicates to its reading audience as opposed to what Jeremiah the prophet said to his hearers on various occasions. Indeed, he judges speculative efforts to identify and date Jeremiah's authentic words to be unfaithful to the text. Although the introduction addresses setting, text, and the history of composition, the commentary itself is an extended theological exposition of the book of Jeremiah. Fretheim's treatment reveals the compelling message within the complex disorder of the biblical book.

The book of Jeremiah is a book about God. Its "intended effect is to bring to shamed and hurting exiles a clear word about the kind of God who is present and active on their behalf" (p. 5). Building on his earlier works, The Suffering God and Exodus, Fretheim bases the activity and character of God on an absolute will to love. The divine word, however, is resistible; the people's sin, rather than divine judgment, introduces disaster into their lives. The disaster is inherent in the sin, whether that of Israel, Babylon, or other nations. Fretheim frequently uses the colloquial expression, "What goes around comes around" (e.g., p. 57). God mediates or facilitates the consequences of human wickedness but does not punish. Wrath is a response, not a divine attribute. This non-forensic depiction of judgment allows God in Jeremiah to mourn sincerely over the suffering that the people have brought upon themselves. Although Fretheim does not address the charge directly, his understanding of God in Jeremiah does not fit the pattern of the abuser who alternately inflicts violence and repents of violence. Hope for the future derives from God's tears and from the promises to the ancestors whom God cannot abandon.

The series' format includes an application section for each unit of text. These "connections" are meant to suggest issues, themes, methods, and resources for teaching and preaching. Fretheim typically uses this section to summarize and supplement his theological exposition. Christian doctrinal terms seldom appear, and he discusses the New Testament use of Jeremiah in only two of the commentary's forty-nine text units. He also uses "connections" to warn against uncritical application. Hermeneutical and theological reflection are required before employing Jeremiah's language in contemporary settings.

Fretheim also addresses his readers' interest in application in the "sidebars," brief articles boxed off from the main text and indexed separately. Eleven of the book's sixteen references to Jesus occur in the sidebars. (One of them is a misprint, p. 401.) Several of these articles answer readers' questions that are likely to arise from the commentary. The sidebars address lexical issues, provide cultural information, and quote other scholars on matters pertaining to the theological exposition. They also include seven poems by Daniel Berrigan and a selection of western paintings and drawings inspired by Jeremiah. Of the twenty-one photos and two drawings of ancient artifacts, only a handful are from the time and place of the book's setting. For instance, a drawing of phallic statuary from the Greek island of Delos illustrates "sexual imagery" in Jeremiah, and a photo of a reconstructed Greek amphora from 400 CE. illustrates "the breaking of the pot" in Jeremiah 19. Contemporary images include an Amish horse cart, which accompanies the sidebar on the Rechabites.

This use of illustrations mirrors the collage-like structure and impressionistic portrayal that characterize the book of Jeremiah according to Fretheim's apt description. The sidebars make a generally pleasing impression but lack clarity. Their text is printed in brown ink and difficult to read; some of the black and white photographs and reproductions of artwork are too murky to understand. (On the computer screen the pictures are brighter, but the brown print becomes almost illegible.) Subsequent references to the sidebars in the commentary text do not give the page numbers where they first appear, necessitating a "side trip" to the index.

The accompanying compact disc duplicates the commentary page-by-page. Users have permission to download text and images to use for teaching and preaching. The cumbersome search feature is incomplete. Headings, titles in the bibliography, and initial pages of chapters are not included in the electronic search. Location names on the maps are also not part of the searchable text.

This commentary is not a reference for readers who want to look up information on textual, lexical, or historical issues in particular verses. In fact, it is quite possible to read through this commentary without looking at the biblical text. Nevertheless, Fretheim has written about the book of Jeremiah as it is found in the Bible in the readers' hands. An anonymous ancient crafted the traditions of the prophet's ministry into a book about God for the Judean exiles. Terence Fretheim interprets that book theologically for twenty-first century Christians.

Pamela J. Scalise

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