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Jeremiah: Pain and Promise.

Jeremiah: Pain and Promise. By Kathleen M. O'Connor. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-8006-2040-0. xii and 179 pages. Cloth. $42.00.

This study of significant passages from Jeremiah is enriched by trauma and disaster studies, that is, research on what happens to individuals and communities that have experienced war or natural disaster. In addition, the author reminds readers again and again of the real suffering and hardships that accompanied the Babylonian conquest of Judah and that form the context of the book of Jeremiah.

Chapters are devoted to the metaphor of a broken family, the war poems, the weeping poems, biographical stories about Jeremiah, the confessions, the sermons, the Little Book of Consolation (Jeremiah 30-31), the various endings to the book, and the composition of the book itself. One of the many strengths of the book is its insistence that Judah's sin was not the only cause of its demise, but one also has to calculate in political mistakes made by Judean leadership and the greed and brutal policies of the Babylonian empire itself.

The author departs from standard source critical and redactional critical explanations for the book's chaotic shape. Rather, she holds that the book's turbulence depicts the interpretive disarray in Jeremiah's audience in the aftermath of Babylonian control (136). So the book is read in its final form. The point about the book's multiple endings is well taken. We do not know how Jeremiah died, presumably in Egypt, but the actual endings talk about the transference of Jeremiah's prophetic vocation to Baruch (chap. 45), the Babylonian empire's catastrophic destruction in an unspecified future (chaps. 50-51), and the flat telling of the Babylonian invasion in chap. 52, which is a neat verbatim citation of 2 Kings 25. The two main characters in the book--God and Jeremiah--are absent from the final chapter. O'Connor takes no notice of the alternate location of the oracles against the nations in the Septuagint. Her understanding of the relationship between the Septuagint and the Masoretic text (159, n. 2) is in my judgment deficient.

In dozens of cases, her use of trauma and disaster studies to illuminate the text of Jeremiah is very helpful, but there are also some questionable choices. The new covenant passage promises that "they will all know me," and she argues that to know actual Yahweh means to relate in intimacy, sexual knowledge, and reciprocity. It is much more likely, in my opinion, that to know Yahweh means to care for the cause of the poor and needy (Jer 22:16), in imitation of Josiah. She is rightly attentive to gender issues although her attempt to distinguish between wife Judah and male Israel in Jeremiah 2 does not work so well.

One of the most troubling aspects of Jeremiah is the violence attributed to Yahweh. Some of her comments are helpful, some not. One caption speaks about God's War against a Woman (6:1-30), but the woman in this case is Jerusalem. She argues that God rapes Zion/Jerusalem (Jer 13:25-26), although those verses describe God's exposing the nakedness of adulterous Judah and her shame. 1 am quite dissatisfied with that picture of the deity, but it is not rape. O'Connor tries to rescue the picture of God as rapist by saying that it shows Judah's God as powerful, active, and present, lord of the world and not a defeated lesser being, or to depict God as the active agent of Judah's humiliation is to insist that Babylonian deities have not triumphed (55). It might have been better to label these images as part of the limitations of Jeremiah. The point of Jer 2:33-3:5 is not that Yahweh has divorced Judah, but that an adulterous Judah should not expect to be able to return to Yahweh.

There is a great deal of valuable information in the endnotes, and so it is a pity that they are not footnotes. Gedaliah is spelled incorrectly on four occasions, and proof reading left in this line: "like the Hebrew slaves when they escaped into the dessert" (36).

Thanks to trauma and disaster studies as exemplified here, I will never read Jeremiah the same way again.
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Author:Klein, Ralph W.
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Article Type:Book review
Date:Aug 1, 2013
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