The Law of the Prophets

“Prophecy is dead,” [1] was a statement I heard frequently in Christian circles before 2000 CE. Prophecy and prophets spoke in mutable voices; the whistleblowers and the desperation wane and wax down the ages of eschatology. The moment I opened a Bible [2] for a neighbour to discussion of Jeremiah’s person with my partner, prophecy was a great work that I could not define. Prophecy evidently invoked much power and authority to my mid-childhood. Throughout adolescence, prophecy was a word forbidden; I was to speak to divination. These years encountered my question: If prophecy was considered of great importance to ancient times before mine, why would Jeremiah be such a disturbance to the people of Judah? The Book of Jeremiah [3] demands that I explore my question.

1 Who stated this first, I am unsure. It was a sentiment I received by oral transmission, too distant to point to a source.

2 King James Version.

3 New Jewish Publication Society of America Tanakh.

The person of Jeremiah is given more attention as a prophet than his peers in the Hebrew Bible. [4] This alerted me to three possibilities: The prophet himself was noteworthy in some determined lens(es) in regard, his book was quite ascendant upon compilation, or his attested scribe Baruch [5] was able to provide biographical sketches.

4 Jewish Publication Society, The Jewish Study Bible. 2nd Edition, eds. Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler. (New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 902.

5 Marc Zvi Brettler, How to Read the Jewish Bible. (New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 182.

Hayyim Angel gave a summary [6] of three viewpoints of Jeremiah’s trial. [7] As Brettler pointed out, “Interpretation, even radical interpretation, has always played a role in making sense of the Bible.” [8] Angel’s article presents three potential explanations that arose by reading and reconstructing the events of Jeremiah 26. I thought these fascinating, as the approach to my visualizing of my selection [9] can be framed and reframed when taking reconstructive views into account.


7 Jeremiah 26.

8 See Brettler, 282. By demonstration of the Book of Daniel’s author, Brettler reminds the reader of how interpretation and reinterpretation are significant for reading the Bible.

9 Jeremiah 26:12-15.

The first contributor [10] as chosen by Angel describes the colleagues [11] of Jeremiah as “wicked” (Angel, 19), the people [12] as “unsure,” and the elders as “cowardly.” A similar though significantly distinct view is of the second contributor’s assertions. Jeremiah’s colleagues may have been righteous [13] and had difficulty reconciling to Jeremiah’s pronouncements. This was proposed to be a consequence due to the group’s understanding [14] in addition to Isaiah’s oracles [15] not a century before. [16] Interesting to me was to ponder over how the people were read by the second contributor as believing in Jeremiah as a legitimate prophet (Angel, 19). Yet, the people were demanding his death else they be subjected to more of his disturbances. The elders were not cowardly for this commentator; instead they are viewed as raising the whistleblower [17] in Jeremiah. The third viewpoint as detailed by Angel asserts that all accusers and witnesses before Jeremiah’s case are wrongful, [18] though is in agreement with the second commentator in defense of these elders.

10 See Angel, 13. The three persons who are compared and contrasted by Angel as follows: Abarbanel, Malbim, and Menahem Boleh.

11 “Colleagues” was used in place of “priests and prophets” (see Angel, 19). This term was chosen due to Jeremiah’s double anointing as priest and prophet.

12 See Jeremiah 26:12. I use the term “people” as quoted by this verse instead of Angel’s “masses” (see Angel).

13 See Angel, 19. The colleagues of Jeremiah are said by Malbim to be “sincere and law-abiding.”

14 See Angel, 14. It is possible that the people whom Jeremiah addressed were still riding upon the decisions by King Josiah, and would not view themselves as wrong enough for the Temple to be under threat by God.

15 See Brettler, 175. Jeremiah is a thematic antonym to Isaiah, declaring punishment and destruction in contrast to Isaiah’s calls to protection and resolution.

16 See Angel, 15. The basis for Jeremiah as a false prophet is further illustrated, depicting his enemies and dissuaders in a sympathetic view.

17 See Angel, 19. I reworded Angel’s “…standing up for Jeremiah” in these words, since they were more relevant to my presentation’s delivery (see note 10 above).

18 See Angel, 19. Boleh takes the most extreme position relative to Abarbanel and Malbim by stating that all were wicked.

It is evident to me, by way of Angel’s summary and my own reading, that the disturbance Jeremiah presents may bring forward a renewed question: What is a legitimate prophet? Hibbard’s analysis [19] of Jeremiah as a critique for the Deuteronomistic prophet [20] helped me in reaffirming that this is a pertinent question to consider when perusing my presentation’s text unit. [21]

19 J. Todd Hibbard, “True and False Prophecy: Jeremiah’s Revision of Deuteronomy,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 35, no. 3 (2011): 339-358.

20 See Hibbard, 339. The basis for understanding Jeremiah as critique was referenced as Deuteronomy 18:15-22.

21 See note 10 above.

According to Hibbard, clearest criteria for true prophecy and prophets rested on two points [22] before Jeremiah’s defense: (1) Affirmation that the prophet speaks for God, and (2) fulfillment/accuracy. To the former, death and punishment by either the people or God, [23] ultimately answers this query. To the latter, the examples of Micah [24] and Jonah were brought for comparison and contrast. Jeremiah is interpreted to confirm a change in the role of prophets – to underscore “change in political policy and religious attitude” [25] as a “social and religious critic.” [26] Micah would be a false prophet if fulfillment/accuracy was the fundamental requirement for true prophecy, and Jonah was commented upon as comparable to Jeremiah. [27]

22 Hibbard, 341-342.

23 See Hibbard, 346. The prophet Hananiah dies some time after Jeremiah speaks to him.

24 See Hibbard, 353. Micah’s prophecy did not come about due to King Hezekiah’s receptivity and response.

25 Hibbard, 356.

26 Hibbard, 344.

27 See Hibbard, 357. A brief comparative commentary is provided here of the similarities between Jeremiah and Jonah.

It was interesting for me to dialogue Angel and Hibbard, each complimenting the other in their separate articles. [28] Angel provides summative descriptions and precedents for how the fundamental unknowns to answer these questions influenced Jeremiah’s trial. Hibbard expanded my understanding of Brettler’s introduction via the historical-critical method. [29] Brettler, as author and editor,[30] assisted me in my newfound awareness that the Book of Jeremiah was associated with Devarim. [31]

28 Angel and Hibbard’s articles, for me, supported one another. Yet, I cannot say if they would agree.

29 Brettler, 1.

30 See note 4 above.

31 A Hebrew title for Deuteronomy.

I see this experience of delving into one of the themes of my presentation as key for my field of study. Angel was vital for me to envision multiple perspectives of what the tension of Jeremiah’s trial could be interpreted for my post-biblical lifetime. Hibbard built upon the work laid by Brettler for my enquiry into the law of the prophets. As a graduate student in MA Theology: Public Faith and Spirituality, my goal is to sail towards translation. It is essential for me to view the Hebrew Bible as poly-natured, in order to begin to fathom the task I choose to embark upon. Just as the seas are made up of more than what meets the briefest glimpse, such is the Bible. As I perceive and dream into being a fruit of my self-betterment and doing what I can to repair the world I have come into with my terrible hand, may I remember the echoes in the winds billowing my canvases. May I remember that to deny the fruits of history is to deny the trees of history. Lastly, may I recall the law of the prophets, and my profound shaking by the voices in Jeremiah.

November 13, 2017.

Brettler, Marc Zvi. How to Read the Jewish Bible. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Hibbard, J. Todd. “True and False Prophecy: Jeremiah’s Revision of Deuteronomy.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 35, no. 3 (2011): 339-358.

Jewish Publication Society. The Jewish Study Bible. 2nd Edition. Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

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