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The imagery used by prophets in the Bible is tightly linked to the goals of the prophet. The prophet makes use of images and metaphors that resonate with his listening audience, and thus an image can be indicative of the mindset of the audience. To fully understand the imagery, historical context as well as the prophets' purpose must be considered.

In the Bible, and in Apocryphal works as well, imagery can be studied across groups of books to reveal the progression of the mindset of a group throughout an era. In this article, we will examine the development of the Judean mindset throughout the period of the Babylonian Exile through an exploration of the imagery used in the Book of Jeremiah and the Apocryphal Book of Baruch. This will show a progression from the insecurity on the eve of the exile to the optimism in the final days of the exile.

The Book of Jeremiah spans the years leading up to the final days of Judean autonomy, from the early sixth century BCE to 582 BCE. In 582 BCE, Jeremiah fled to Egypt (Jer. 43:6), and his work cannot therefore shed light on the exiles in Babylon. The Apocryphal Book of Baruch picks up where the Book of Jeremiah leaves off and concerns itself entirely with the exiles throughout the Babylonian Exile. Thus, in studying the imagery used by Jeremiah and Baruch, the development of the Judean mindset can be traced from before 600 BCE to 537 BCE, the entire period leading up to and through the Babylonian Exile, until Cyrus's proclamation allowing the Judeans to reclaim their land.


The period between 621 BCE and 586 BCE was fraught with social and political turmoil. On the domestic political level, this period saw the last four kings of Judah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah, (1) rise and fall from power in quick progression (II Kgs. 23:31-34, 24:8, 17; II Chron. 36:2, 5ff.).

A great factor in the political turbulence of Jeremiah's period was the vassalage of Judah to foreign nations. After Assyrian monarch Tiglath-Pileser III campaigned in and ultimately captured and exiled Israel, the Northern Kingdom (621 BCE), Judah, the Southern Kingdom, became a vassal state of the Assyrian Empire. (2) Vassalage to Assyria severely influenced Judah's burgeoning sense of insecurity. Sometime between 627 and 625 BCE, God revealed to Jeremiah his role as a prophet, which would span the ensuing years through the beginning of the Babylonian Exile in 586 BCE.

The battle of Carchemish in 605 sealed the demise of the Assyrian Empire. Egypt, under Pharaoh Necho, took control of Judah and the Judean leadership (II Kgs. 23:33-35). (3) In the wake of the battle of Carchemish, Johoahaz succeeded his late father, Josiah, who had died in the battle of Megiddo earlier in 609 (II Kgs. 23:29-30). Jehoahaz lasted only three months as monarch before he was deposed by the Egyptians (Jer. 22:10-12; II Kgs. 23:31-35). Eliakim replaced Jehoahaz and, to emphasize his power over Judah, the king of Egypt changed Eliakim's name to Jehoiakim (II Kgs. 23:34-35). The transfer of Judah from the control of one foreign power to another, and the enthronement and removal of puppet monarchs, heightened Judah; s feeling of insecurity.

Jehoiakim, a thriftless ruler, spent money building a lavish palace instead of bettering public welfare (Jer. 22:13-19). This fecklessness must have given rise to unease and social decline when people realized that the king had little interest in his subjects. J. A. Thompson wrote of the decline of Judah: "There may not have been the excesses of Manasseh's reign, but popular pagan practices were introduced again (7:16-18; 11:9-13; Ezek. 8). Public morality deteriorated (5:26-29; 7:1-15). Prophets who resisted these tendencies were harassed and even put to death (26:20-23). Despite this, priests and prophets continued to assure the people that all was well (5:12; 7:4; 14:13; etc.)." (4)

Uncertainty dominated life in Judah in the years leading up to the destruction of the First Temple (586 BCE). As a result, the Judeans resorted to age-old pagan sources of comfort and security. (5) Tangible gods, rites and rituals were disinterred in this period of unrest. According to Bernhard Anderson, "Baalism catered to [Judah's] desire for security in the precarious environment of the Fertile Crescent", (6) especially in the shadow of Babylonian invasion. The prophet focused on Baal worship as a cause of Judean insecurity, on top of which political insecurity was also mounting. Judeans did not turn to the Canaanite gods alone, but also to their own rituals, particularly those of the Temple. On the eve of exile, Judeans sought shelter in their own worship and in that of the Canaanite gods (Jer. 7:8-11).

Beyond the political turmoil, a number of severe droughts afflicted Judea in the days of Jeremiah (Jer. 14:1-6). He speaks of droughts in the plural (Jer. 14:1), indicating that they had been prevalent for at least two years. (7) Other droughts are mentioned in Jeremiah 3:3 and 5:25, each from a different period in Jeremiah's time. (8)

Political and agricultural instability combined to produce heightened insecurity. The Judeans were not only concerned about the success of their crops, but also about the very ownership of their land. When told by God that he would be asked to redeem his cousin Hanamel's field in Anathoth, and after a confrontation with Hanamel himself, Jeremiah was skeptical as to the practicality of such a transaction when the entire land of Judah was soon to be conquered by the Babylonians (Jer. 32: 6-8, 24-25). However, God assured Jeremiah that the day would come when buying and selling land in Judah would resume, and so the transaction foreshadowed a time when Judah would no longer be under Babylonian control (Jer. 32: 42-44).


In order to exhort the Judeans to seek God intimately, not just ritually, and give up rampant idolatrous practices, throughout his prophecy Jeremiah developed a specific series of images for oratorical effect and later dictated them to Baruch ben Neriah, his scribe and assistant. These images were chosen by Jeremiah as they would have an impact on the Judean population based on their mindset at the time.

The major symbols in the Book of Jeremiah are those of water, the harlot vs. the virginal bride, the father, the potter, and fruit.


Upon entering Canaan and conquering the land, the Israelites took up agricultural lives. The Israelites turned to a tangible god, one who would focus all his attention on fertility--Baal (Jer. 7:9). (9) Water was an essential commodity for the Judeans in their agricultural lives, and Jeremiah used the fixation with water and concern about contemporary droughts to his advantage. Speaking of God as the Fount of living waters, Jeremiah exhorted the Judeans to realize that the source of agriculture was not Baal, but the true, living God (Jer. 2:13, 17:13). He insisted that God should be to the people as water --life and sustenance--whereas the Canaanite gods should be recognized as broken cisterns which cannot even hold water (Jer. 2:13). Jeremiah proclaimed that the waters coming from man-made gods, rather than from the true fountain of living water, were poisonous (Jer. 6:7, 8:14, 9:15, 23:15, 47:2).

Water was vital for the Judeans. The use of water symbolism in prophetic oratory would touch the people of Judah unlike other metaphors or simple forthright sermonizing. Thus, describing God as a fount of sustaining water and local deities as poisoned springs would make the people understand God's fundamental role in their lives and the enormity of their sinfulness in turning away from Him.

Agricultural concerns are also reflected in the image of fruit--particularly figs and grapes (Jer. 8:13, 24:1-2). Like water imagery, this appealed to the Judeans agricultural sensitivities. Jeremiah describes God as having planted Judah, only to find that the nation had become a batch of uneatable very bad figs (Jer. 24:2ff.).


Before adopting an agricultural way of life in Canaan, the Israelites had less compulsion to turn to idolatry. In the wilderness, the people were far removed from the worries of the farmer. The presence of God in their midst during their years in the wilderness demonstrated that they were His loyal "bride" (Jer. 2:2). Journeying through the wilderness, in a land not sown, with no agricultural concerns, the people were solely focused on worshiping God. After entering Canaan, however, the nation engaged in agriculture and turned to other gods, notably Baal, for security. One scholar observes: "A prominent feature of the Canaanite cult was sacred prostitution (see Deut. 23:18). In the act of temple prostitution the man identified himself with Baal, the woman with Ashtart. It was believed that human pairs, by imitating the action of Baal and his partner, could bring the divine pair together in fertilizing union." (10) In Canaan, the sexual engagement of Baal and his mate Ashtoreth (also known as Ishtar and Astarte) defined the very essence of existence --fertility of the earth and success of the crops. (11) Given Baal's nature, the worship of Baal was a form of harlotry.

The images of the harlot and bride used by Jeremiah described the syncretistic ways of the people of Judah, who worshiped Baal alongside God. This metaphor also recalls Hosea's heavy reliance on such imagery and Isaiah's occasional references to the image of the harlot (Hos. 1-3; Isa. 1: 21, 23:15-16).

However, Jeremiah's use of harlot and bride imagery, though similar from a literary perspective to Hosea's and Isaiah's, is unique in its impact. Hosea had warned the Northern Kingdom of Israel of impending disaster if the northerners continued to play the harlot with foreign gods, and Isaiah used the imagery to bemoan religious decline (cf. Hos. 2: 15; Isaiah 1: 21). When Hosea and Isaiah used harlot and bride imagery before the fall of the Northern Kingdom, there was no precedent for national exile; both kingdoms, though separated, had persisted as viable nations. Mere decades after Hosea's warnings, however, the Kingdom of Israel's population was exiled by the Assyrian Empire (II Kgs. 17: 6).

In using the same adultery metaphors as Hosea and Isaiah, Jeremiah implicitly recalled the precedent of idolatrous backsliding that had resulted in exile. For Hosea and Isaiah, there was no historical precedent to recall. Although the war against Baal had persisted for generations, Jeremiah, after prophesying that destruction and exile were imminent, admonished the Judeans using imagery that not only metaphorically addressed the issue of Baalism, but included a historical warning of impending exile as well. His use of harlot and bride imagery thus alludes to the addition of political insecurity to Judah's long-established agricultural insecurity.


Judean tradition taught that the relationship between God and Israel could be viewed as a father-son relationship. At various points in his book, Jeremiah recalls the father-son relationship between God and the children of Israel (Jer. 6:26; 31:9, 20). This familial relationship evokes the security and stability that the Judeans yearned for, and the fact that the Judeans had abandoned God but said to wood: 'You are my father,' to stone: 'You gave birth to me' (Jer. 2:27). Again, Jeremiah's symbol system is based on the insecurity felt by the people.


Ritual in the Book of Jeremiah is not a system that guarantees a feeling of security. Mere outward expressions of atonement will not bring forgiveness. To make his point, Jeremiah turns the ritual of circumcision into a homiletical metaphor: Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskin of your heart (Jer. 4:4). The ultimate statement concerning ritual is that the people of Judah should not just circumcise their flesh, but their hearts as well. Ritual must not be a meaningless, external physical act.

Prophetic criticism of thoughtless ritual is also expressed elsewhere in the Bible (cf. Isa. 1: 11-14). Jeremiah's criticisms, however, are specific to the circumstances of his age. In the years leading up to the destruction of the Temple, Jeremiah warned against mindless ritual attachment to the House of the Lord (Jer. 7: 4-7). In Jeremiah's time, the Temple was the ultimate ritual object for the people of Judah. In his famed prophecy at the entrance to the Temple, Jeremiah flatly rejected the notion that Temple in itself, as an object, provided any more sanctuary than a complex of brick walls (Jer. 7:1-15). It was not a vehicle for soothing the conscience or creating a (false) sense of security, but for signifying one's trust in God to restore His benevolent protection.


Historical and literary analysis of the Book of Jeremiah reveals the concerns and mindset of the people of Judah in the years leading up to the destruction of the First Temple. The mindset of Judeans in the Babylonian Exile can be seen in the apocryphal Book of Baruch.

The opening lines of the Book of Baruch date the composition of the work to 582 BCE and attribute it to Baruch the son of Neriah, Jeremiah's amanuensis (Baruch 1:1-2). However, the consensus of scholars views the work as a composite of authors during differing periods. Two main parties emerge in the debate over the period of the authorship of Baruch: one recognizes the work as having emerged in the fourth to second centuries BCE, the other views it as the product of the years following the Roman destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE). (12) However, the presence of related apocryphal works in the material discovered at Qumran, the site of the Dead Sea Scrolls, significantly weakens the claim that Baruch dates from the Second Temple Period. (13) Certain divisions can be drawn within Baruch itself. Scholars generally agree that the work is a composite of three major texts. The first comprises the text of 1:1 to 3:8 and in content reflects the period immediately after the destruction of the First Temple. On the basis of literary implications, the second division (3:9 to 4:4) recalls a later period of the exile. The third (4:5 to 5:9), divided into two subsections, is a series of prayers and hymns. The period intended to be represented in this final section of Baruch is unclear, although the tone may point to a date around the close of the Babylonian Exile.

Reading the work as a literary representation of the Babylonian Exile, and possibly written by authors not far removed from the events, can shed light on the mindset of the Judeans in Babylonia.


With the sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, Judah ceased to be an independent state. The Judeans, in face of the loss of their capital and chief religious outlet, were overwhelmed by a feeling of hope lessness that their nation was a thing of the past that would not revive. (14) The exile of Judeans to Babylonia further increased their despair.

Four years after the destruction of the First Temple (586 BCE), another tragic event occurred with the assassination in Mizpah of Gedaliah son of Ahikam by Ishmael son of Nethaniah (Jer. 41:2; II Kgs. 25:25). The murder of Gedaliah brought about a further expulsion of Judeans from their native land in 582 BCE, (15) Nebuchadnezzar's punishment for the slaying of the man he had placed in charge of the weakened Judah. (16) Gedaliah's death marked the bitter end of any form of Judean autonomy there. The eradication of Judean control in Judah, added to the pre-existing hopelessness of 586 BCE, deepened the sense of total loss.

As the land was rapidly bereft of its Jewish inhabitants, foreigners and enemies began pouring into Judah from all sides--"the Ammonites from the east, the Edomites from the South, and the Samaritans from the north" traumatizing the remaining Judean population. (17) The desperation of the Jude ans stimulated a period of religious reevaluation, indeed, "of repentance." (18) The closing year of these events, and the year opening a period of distress and hopelessness within the Judean community, was 582 BCE. The Book of Baruch purports to have been written in that year, and the first division of the work strongly reflects the despondent, spiritually searching mindset of the newly exiled Judeans. (19)


The opening lines of the work show that the Judeans were still attached to their former ritualistic practices, raising funds to be sent to the religious leaders of the remnant in Judah (Baruch 1:8). However, this division quickly progresses to display a stark shift in Judean philosophy from that of the preexilic era.


The face is the biblical image for divine favor. (20) In 582 BCE Babylonia, the Judeans regarded themselves as having lost sight of God and being subject to a confusion of faces (Baruch 1:15). The Judeans were "confused," having placed their trust in Baal; now, having found his imagined support useless, they were intent on searching for God.

The author of this portion of Baruch, developing the image of the face, calls upon God to open His eyes and restore His divine favor to the exiled Judeans, who have begun to acknowledge their failure to discern His presence (Baruch 2:17-18). Employing the image of the face conveys the religious reassessment being undertaken by the Judeans. Not only were they reconsidering the point of trusting in Baal, they were also considering the value of returning to God.


In the second chapter of Baruch, the image of the bone appears. Ezekiel, who prophesied in Babylon during the exile, used this image to characterize the Judean mindset of that era, as well as to implant in the exiles a hopeful recognition of God which would come in time (Ezek. 37). This image was later used by the author of the first division of Baruch in his representation of the period. (21)

The Judeans are described as bones cast out to the heat by day and to the frost by night (Baruch 2:17), symbolically representing all of the dejected, spiritually adrift exile (Baruch 2:17). Grayzel interprets the image as an indication that "the Judean nation considered itself a heap of dry bones, without life, without hope; but should God so determine, it could easily come to life again" as Ezekiel maintained in chapter 37 of his prophetic book.


For the Judeans, the period immediately after the exile was characterized by a hunger for spirituality (Baruch 2:18). Religious reassessment showed the Judeans that God was not absent, but that they had betrayed Him, failing to walk in His path (Baruch 1:18, 2:10). The language in this portion of Baruch reflects their physical yearning for God and admitted spiritual faults. It reveals a shift toward awareness of God and the exiled Judean community's need of repentance. To reach out to God, the Judeans began to heed Jeremiah's earlier advice to seek Him through prayer (Jer. 29:12-14). In the introduction to Baruch, the exiles turn to prayer in their distress and, at various other points in the first division, prayer is seen as essential to building a relationship with God (Baruch 1:5, 11, 13; 2:8, 14; 3:4). The focus of the Judean mindset thus shifted from despair to repentance and then to religious reconstruction in the early exilic years.


The second division of Baruch (3:9 to 4:4) was composed much later than the first one, since the author writes that his generation had grown old in exile (Baruch 3:10-11). With time separating the Judeans from the events that brought about their captivity, new generations were emerging and the community was gradually adapting to a stable life in Babylonia.

Adaptation had gradually convinced the Judeans that God could also be found in the exile. (22) Already appealing to God through prayer, the Judeans started to adapt older rituals to contemporary limitations; and the modern Shabbat, Pesah, Shavuot, and Sukkot emerged in the absence of sacrifices. (23) Commemorative fast days were instituted, and the exiles began reconnecting to God in a spiritual revival that would lead to contemporary Judaism. (24)


The second division of Baruch is marked by the extension of images used in the first division, characterized primarily by the motif of a search for wisdom. The author of this second division focused on the Judean search for God, His wisdom, and His law during the minor religious revival of the age.


In the Bible, as well as non-canonical literature in the biblical mode, wisdom, understanding, and knowledge are indicative of Torah and Judaic tradition. Consistent reference is made, in the second division of the Book of Baruch, to the search for wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, indicating the Judean focus on the development of and adherence to tradition at the time (Baruch 3:9, 11, 22, 23, 27-29, 31, 32).

The Judean mindset in the interim period is reflected in the image of light, which at once denotes wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, as well as the Divine Presence (Baruch 3:14, 20, 33-34; 4:2). The ultimate light is God, He that sends forth the light (Baruch 3:33). The author manifests the new Judean craving for this Divine Presence (the Shekhinah) when he calls for his people to walk in the presence of its light and be illuminated (Baruch 4:2). God's face and favor are no longer turned away from the exiles but "shine" upon them, and it is this illumination (Num. 6:25) that the exiles have begun to rediscover. Shocked by the destruction of the Temple, they now resolve to accept the pre-exilic advice of Jeremiah to seek God and connect with Him (Jer. 29:13). No longer do the exiles seek attention in Baal's adulterous eyes but in the radiant countenance of God. At this point in the imagery development of Jeremiah and Baruch, harlotry imagery has been replaced by light imagery alluding to the exiles' abandonment of their search for Baal in favor of their quest for God.


The third division of the Book of Baruch comprises a series of short hymns and prayers. Some scholars further divide this section into two subsections, noting separate literary characteristics in 4:9-29 and 4:30-5:9. (25) Nevertheless, the tone of the third division is largely uniform and it can be treated as a single work. Although it continues to represent Judean existence in Babylonia, the period to which it corresponds is unclear. In view of its highly positive tone and its placement at the end of Baruch, the third division may well represent the final years of the exile. This period was characterized by a heady optimism and positive outlook on the part of those Judeans who had not given way to assimilation, as many had in the course of the exile.

The unexpected fall of Babylonia in 537 BCE and the proclamation of Cyrus allowing the Judeans to reclaim their land and rebuild their Temple led many of them to see in these events the hand of God Himself. (26) Those exiles who had persisted in their search for God and not assimilated believed that their faith was justified. A generally positive outlook and religious satisfaction after the spiritual reconstruction in Babylonia enveloped the exiles. The "great opportunity to return to their beloved homeland" filled many Judeans "with joy and hope." (27) This mounting optimism can be seen in the language of the third division, which may represent the Zeitgeist of the Judeans at the close of the exile.


In the very first line of this section, the author exhorts the Judeans to be of good cheer (Baruch 4:5). Similar calls for rejoicing occur at later points in the third division (Baruch 4:21, 27). Allusions to the evident presence of God - in the repeated images of light, brightness, and fire--stress the religious gratification emerging in Babylonia after decades of exile (Baruch 4:24, 35; 5:3). The exiles had overcome their "confusion of faces," come into the light of God, and were being redeemed and uplifted by God's radiance.

The final major image in Baruch is one of redemption--a personified Jerusalem welcoming her exiles from east and west (Baruch 4:36-37; 5:5). Heavy emphasis is placed on their ingathering from the east, the symbolic land of exile. The third division thus bears witness to the extreme optimism and religious fulfillment that marked the close of the Babylonian Exile.


(1.) A. Heschel, The Prophets (New York: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1962) p. 103.

(2.) J. A., Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980) pp. 11-12.

(3.) Ibid., p. 22.

(4.) Ibid., p. 23.

(5.) Ibid., pp. 105-6.

(6.) Ibid., p. 107.

(7.) Menahem Boleh, Da'at Mikra--Jeremiah (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1983) p. 182.

(8.) Ibid., p. 197.

(9.) O. Borowski, "Agriculture," The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 1 (1992) pp. 95-98. Daily life throughout biblical times was governed by the agricultural cycle: see p. 98. At times, natural conditions were "not very favorable" but farmers attempted to work around any impediments: see p. 96. As noted, during Jeremiah's time specifically, Judea was afflicted with a severe drought, aggravating conditions there (Jer. 14:1-6).

(10.) B. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1966) pp. 103-6.

(11.) Ibid., pp. 103-5.

(12.) On the dating of Baruch, see: C. A. Moore, "Toward the Dating of the Book of Baruch," The Catholic Bible Quarterly, 36 (1974) pp. 312-20; B. M. Metzger, The Apocrypha (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977) p. 198; H. G. May and B. M. Metzger, The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977); B. Anderson, op.cit., p. 329; I. Asimov, Asimov's Guide to the Bible (New York: Avenel, 1981) p. 567.

(13.) M. E. Stone, "Book of Baruch," Encyclopaedia Judaica (1972), 4:272-3.

(14.) S. Grayzel, A History of the Jews from the Babylonian Exile to the Present (New York: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1968) pp. 27-8.

(15.) B. Anderson, op. cit., pp. 374-5; B. Porten, "Babylonian Exile," Encyclopaedia Judaica (1972), 6:1037-1042.

(16.) S. Grayzel, op. cit., p. 29.

(17.) Ibid.

(18.) B. Porten, "Babylonian Exile" Encyclopedia Judaica, loc.cit.

(19.) E. J. Goodspeed, The Apocrypha (New York: Random House, Inc., 1959) p. 329. 22. See Psalm 13:1 and Daniel 9:17.

(20.) See Numbers 6:25-26, Psalm 13:1, and Daniel 9:17.

(21.) S. Grayzel, op. cit., p. 31.

(22.) B. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, p. 377.

(23.) S. Grayzel, op. cit., p. 32.

(24.) Ibid., pp. 32-3.

(25.) M. E. Stone, Encyclopaedia Judaica, loc. cit.

(26.) S. Grayzel, op. cit., pp. 33-4.

(27.) Ibid., pp. 28, 34.

Benjamin Glass is a student at the Frisch Yeshiva High School in Paramus, New Jersey. He has written literary and historical studies of the Bible in and out of school.
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Author:Glass, Benjamin
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Date:Jan 1, 2015

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