First Challenge

OK, here is your first challenge: two questions that are pretty simple, at least at first glance.  But be sure to think through all possible implications before writing your answers.  Read Jeremiah chapter 36 and answer the questions.

1.  Who wrote the book of Jeremiah?

2.  How many editions of the book of Jeremiah were there?

Write your answers as a comment here, including any explanations that you think are necessary–and any further implications that occur to you.


23 Responses

  1. Dr. Alterman, your warning of implications makes me leery to post, but I will give it a shot.

    It seems the first question can cause confusion because of Baruch’s involvement with the writing of the scrolls. To answer your question literally who wrote the book of Jeremiah I would say Baruch. However, keeping with a literal understanding, Baruch only wrote the scroll he originally created. What I mean is literally, Zondervan wrote my Jeremiah. I say that to illustrate that a completely literal approach to interpreting “wrote” can lead to obviously wrong answers. (not that it always does  )

    When asked who wrote Jeremiah I can answer it without strictly noting who physically wrote the words and still answer the question. Therefore, I would say Jeremiah wrote Jeremiah; though he did not write the actual words. I would say it was his thoughts, and therefore he wrote it…except then we have another problem.

    The thoughts Jeremiah spoke actually came from God (v2). So using my own logic, I would have to say that God wrote Jeremiah. Which is not all that bad of an answer; however, that seems to be too loose of a definition of “wrote” for my liking.

    What is clear is that God commissioned Jeremiah, Jeremiah commissioned Baruch. So in my mind the questions is where we want to stop on the line of literal to figurative in our definition of “wrote”. I can comfortable land on saying Jeremiah wrote the passage, albeit he did not pen the scroll.

    In my mind, Jeremiah used Baruch as an ancient word processor for the purpose of conveying the message God ultimately was bringing to Israel and Judea.

    I am curious to know if Jeremiah properly followed God’s desire when he had Baruch do much of the leg work on this project. God did instruct Jeremiah to write the letter. Though in general I can accept Jeremiah wrote the letter, the truth is Jeremiah did not actually write and deliver as God asked. I wonder if the outcome would have been different in terms of the reception the letter received had Jeremiah boldly written, delivered, and read the letter.

    In terms of editions:
    Had Jeremiah only rewrote the message I would say there was one edition. However verse 32 describes the rewriting process and notes that Jeremiah had additional words added to “them”. “Them” being the personification of the original message and thus he changed and updated the message. Such a change seams to signify a reason to call this message a second edition.

    I am curious to see if I am totally off the mark once other comment

  2. Brian,

    Good answers. You are not “totally off the mark.”

    I did not mean this as a “trick” question, I just want you to pay attention to what is there in the text.

    I wonder if anyone else has anything to add?

  3. The authors of Jeremiah? God, the Holy Spirit, Jeremiah, Baruch (maybe the last chapter by Baruch, by himself). An old commentary I have talks about how the book had many “editors” over the years. I checked “Wikipedia” and they bailed on the answer! Their response was something to the tune of, “The author of the book of Jeremiah is revealed(!) in the first few verses of the book”.

    While this question seems like one of those like “Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb” kind of questions, it’s not really. Perhaps the Holy Spirit “spilled” over onto Baruch… We know that Paul dictated some of his NT letters and we still acknowledge Paul as the author.

    I think the bottom line is that God provided the information and used a human conduit to get it into our hands and hearts.

    As far as the number of editions, scripture talks about Baruch writing two scrolls and I share Brian’s interest in the last phrase of Jeremiah 36:32 about the “similar words”. But if the book of Jeremiah has had many editors over the years, can we really be sure of the number of editions? The concept is definitely something to consider…


  4. I believe that we could always argue multiple authors looking back on the text as a whole, but from a foundational perspective it would appear that the message is based on the words of Jeremiah to whom the word of the Lord came (1:1-2). As Randy pointed out, it could be similar in nature to issues with Paul’s authorship in the New Testament.

    One could view the different segments as snap shots of Jeremiah’s ministry that could viably find their way together from different pens inspired by the Holy Spirit. The example of Baruch appears to be clearly defined, but could the “similar words” have originated from other authors connected with Jeremiah’s core foundational ministry? As far as the # of editions, I would concur that we would have at least two, but I would be fearful of limiting it there pending the outcome of further study. Quite possibly a later addition might have contained “keep away from open flames”.


  5. I would have to be of the camp that attributes the authorship of this book of scripture to be Jeremiah as the Lord inspired him to write. I tend to let scripture be the overriding determination in situations such as this. My confidence level is much higher in the words of chapter one that says God gave the messages to Jeremiah to write as opposed to scholars opinions some two thousand plus years later that question Jeremiah’s authorship. It appears that Baruch was a scribe that took dictation from Jeremiah and as Randy said this is similar to Paul and his letters of which we attribute authorship to Paul. It is said of Jeremiah that he was the weeping prophet and that emotional character of Jeremiah could explain the many turns that occur in the book which was written by a man that felt very deeply about each word he wrote. As much as I believe in the inspiration of scripture I fully realize that human personality is also involved in each word. Jeremiah’s emotional personality and the destruction he saw could have influenced his writing, while accurate, in the style we see. Of course we see various influences on his writing. One of the main objections to the author being Jeremiah is the influence of Deuteronomic editors among others but there has been no general consensus on identifying the sources and wouldn’t a son of a priest have been influenced by a book of the Pentateuch such as Deuteronomy?
    As far as the number of editions we see at least two in the internal evidence of the book itself and the last chapter, 52, appears to have been added to confirm the prophecies of Jeremiah. Also there are descrepecies between the Greek text of the book and the Hebrew text but these have been explained by recent discoveries in the Dead Sea Scrolls of longer and shorter versions in the Hebrew text which could explain the shorter Greek text as opposed to the Hebrew long form. Possibly the shorter Greek text was taken from the shorter Hebrew text which would also indicate editions of the book.

  6. So far we have had some pretty good answers.

    The answer to the question about the author: God-Jeremiah-Baruch. That’s a pretty good answer. God spoke his words to Jeremiah, Jeremiah dictated to Baruch and Baruch wrote it down. Then Baruch delivered it to king Jehoiakim, who slashed and burned it. Baruch wrote another scroll, with all those words “and many more besides.” So far, then, we have three “authors” and two editions.

    Now think about this: All this information is told in the past tense and the third person. Is there a fourth person (writer or editor) telling the story in chapter 36?

    Further, we learn about the first two editions in chapter 36, that is, in the middle of the edition we are reading.

    A couple of further details:
    1) Notice the last verse of Chapter 51.
    2) Notice that most of Chapter 52 is a repeat of Chapter 39 (see also 2 Kings 24:18 and Chapter 25).
    3) See the message from Jeremiah to Baruch in Chapter 45.

    How many authors and editions (at a minimum) do we have now?

    I want you to note one more fact. So far we have not been talking about theories of scholars 26 centuries after the fact at all. We are simply paying attention to what is there in the text.

  7. I find it both interesting and reassuring to read your last paragraph. I took intertestamental history last semester and we read Shaye Cohen, From Maccabees to Mishnah, and I have to admit, I found his assumtions about the dating and authorship of the prophets, Daniel especially, to be very unsettling. Not impossible, but not something that I had ever dealt with before. Even after talking about the possiliities of their being “multiple Daniels” writing up until the time of the Maccabees with Dr. Finsey, I could not resolve the issue.

    I am glad that we will be addressing these issues and I am heartened that you seem to be open to questions, without questioning our faith for asking them. I am also reassured by your high regard for scripture.

    Sorry I have no great insight here. I am looking forward to seeing this process and how we resolve it.


  8. One final admission, I find looking into the messiness of cannonization somewhat terrifying. What will we find? I am sure just from our posts so far that it is different from my Sunday School picture of God moving the hand of the biblical writers as one pristine copy of the King James Version of the Bible was handed down from generation to generation. (You may laugh, but my view growing up was not far from this.)

    And, beyond what we find, what does that mean about the scriptures?


  9. Cathy, I do agree with what you are saying and the uneasiness you are feeling. Maybe it is wrong but I have always been under the understanding the God inspired all of the authors, editors, scribes, speakers, whoever, in the writing of the Bible. So honestly I have kind of just accepted each book at its most basic level and when it says Jeremiah wrote it, okay Jeremiah wrote it and if it doesn’t say who wrote it, I just say well God used the hand of someone to create this book. It was a little hard to read the Old Testament Interpretation book for that reason because it discussed issues of authorship and dates of when the books were written, which honestly has been something I have not really thought too much about in the past. So this has already been an eye opener for me in terms of making me think a little more critically about the Word itself and figuring out the history of my religion.
    Regarding the authorship of Jeremiah, I would also have to say that the main authors were Jeremiah and Baruch who were both inspired by God. Now in response to the follow-up questions you posed Dr. Alterman, I do think that there was someone else who had a hand in the writing of Jeremiah. I do not know who that would be but the third person account of the message from Jeremiah to Baruch seem to suggest that there was someone else who wrote or edited this book.

    • I will probably post in a blog where I have come from and why I have arrived at the place in my life that I find myself so I will not delve into that here. I have always wondered why if a style or tense or person changes in the book that so many come to the conclusion that the author must have changed or it was a later date or it is an addition and on and on. Could not the author, in this instance Jeremiah, have done this for some reason, on purpose? I have changed the person of my sermons from time to time in the middle of the sermon for effect and that didn’t mean that the person writing the sermon or delivering it was different.

  10. First, to the “How many authors?” question: We have already discussed the roles played by God, Jeremiah, and Baruch in the writing of this book; Dr. Alterman brings up an interesting point about the third-person perspective of the narrative in chapter 36. The most obvious answer to the question, “How many authors?” is: At least one more. But I’m not sure that we can say that without knowing a little more about literary conventions in the time and place in which the ch. 36 narrative was being committed to paper. I don’t know enough about them (ancient literary conventions) to say that Baruch, or even Jeremiah, could not have written this narrative in the third person.
    That being, said, it does appear at first glance that another hand was involved. If, in fact, a third human author added this narrative, who was it? Could it have been one of “the officials” from v. 12? They were privy to most of the information present in this narrative. Could it possibly have been Elishama? The text calls him a “secretary,” which, without knowing anything about this word in Hebrew or what, precisely, it denoted, one common connotation our word “secretary” is literacy. I assume literacy was not widespread at the time this was written, so it is more likely to have been written by a secretary than by a farmer. In addition, the scroll was in his room for an unspecified (although probably brief) period of time, which could have allowed him access to enough information to have written this narrative. The possibility of Elishama’s authorship, however, doesn’t solve the third-person problem, as he is mentioned by name, and is just, at this point, uninformed speculation.
    This passage does, however, point to the probability of a third edition of the book (although it is entirely possible that the narrative of the writing of the second edition was, itself, included in the second edition.)

    • John, good point about “ancient literary conventions.” It is certainly possible that the writer/scribe referred to himself in the third person, we only know for sure of three persons involved in the writing: One Inspirerer (God), one Speaker (Jeremiah) and one scribe (Baruch).

      But I think we have to have at least three editions, since chapter 36, in the middle of our current book and in a past tense narrative mentions the first two editions.

      When we look at the textual history of the book, I think we have to add one more; but I’ll say more about that later.

  11. Question #1
    I believe, as has already been stated by others, that the book reveals its primary author, Jeremiah son of Hilkiah who lived in the late seventh and early sixth centuries before Christ. Jeremiah received the message of the Lord and it is recorded by the prophet and his amanuensis, Baruch. Chapter thirty-six explicitly states that the “word came to Jeremiah from the LORD” and “Jeremiah dictated [to Baruch] all the words the LORD had spoken to him.” Baruch’s initial role seems to be that of a scribe that recorded verbatim the sermons dictated to him. It also seems possible that Baruch had the same responsibility in the latter half of Jeremiah’s ministry. Toward the end of Jeremiah’s life, Baruch may have gathered and edited Jeremiah’s prophecies, under the direction of the prophet. As Dr. James E. Smith, of Florida Christian College, explains: “Thus Jeremiah is the author of the book which bears his name and Baruch’s contribution was purely technical and mechanical” (Smith, 87).
    Interestingly, the last seven verses of chapter 52 appear to be written by someone other than Jeremiah. This assumption is based on the fact that the last king of Judah is called by a different name in chapter 52 than the rest of the book, chapter 52 has different dating systems for the same king than the rest of the book, and Jeremiah’s age makes his authorship improbable. I think it is most likely chapter 52 is the editorial work of Baruch, and he is indicating he was doing so by his note at the end of chapter 51. Jeremiah may have even suggested for Baruch to add this material, making the prophet ultimately responsible for all the material of the book. When it comes to chapter 36, it is likely that Baruch is making editorial comments in the third person.

    Question #2
    According to my research, there were several editorial stages that the book of Jeremiah went through. The first edition of the Book of Jeremiah seems to have appeared in 604 BC when Jeremiah dictated the Lord’s message to his scribe Baruch. The first edition was then destroyed by king Jehoiakim but was reproduced and expanded. Baruch later published an edition in Egypt after the death of Jeremiah. The Egyptian edition was published shortly after the release of King Jehoiachin from his Babylonian imprisonment. Baruch later immigrated to Babylon and there issued the final and completed form of the book. He may have added some new “Jeremian” material at this point. Thus by the time of Baruch’s death two editions of the book of Jeremiah existed. The editions in circulation would have been the shorter and incomplete edition in Egypt and the more comprehensive and final edition in Babylonia.

    *Smith, James E. Jeremiah and Lamentations. Joplin: College Press, 1978.

  12. Personal Introduction/Background

    My name is Chad Broaddus. I am new to the “blogging” scene. I am not sure where I am supposed to post my personal information, but I thought I could start here. I am 25 years old and serve as the senior minister of Indian Creek Christian Church in Cynthiana, Kentucky. I have served in this position since October 2007. Before coming to Indian Creek, I served as the weekend minister of Bethel Christian Church in Richmond, Kentucky. In May of 2007, I graduated from Johnson Bible College with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Bible/Preaching. In August of that same year, I enrolled as seminary student at Cincinnati Christian University. In May of 2009, I received a Master of Arts in Religion degree with a concentration in Church History. My goal, after finishing my coursework at KCU, is to pursue the Doctor of Ministry degree at Ashland Theological Seminary.

    I am married to the beautiful Allison (Runyons) Broaddus and we currently do not have children. Both of us have a sincere love for Christ and his Church. I believe that the Old Testament is extremely important for many reasons, but primarily because it points to Christ. Though I am not as well-versed in the Old Testament as I am in the New Testament, I love preaching and teaching from it. I am currently in the middle of sermon series based on the book of Haggai. I know that this class will help expand my knowledge of Old Testament backgrounds and guide me in Old Testament research practices. I look forward to meeting all of you in the “in-class” sessions. I am starting this class a little late, so I hope to get caught up soon.

  13. Well… the book was conceived in the mind of God and communicated to Jeremiah through the Holy Spirit. Then Jeremiah had Baruch write it down. The use of a scribe could mean two things: one, either Jeremiah was illiterate and needed a scribe (not sure if I buy this or not), or else he thought ahead and got a professional so that it would certainly be written legibly. Changes in point of view seem to point to Baruch writing some without Jeremiah (but not without God).

    The book came in two editions, since Baruch had to rewrite the whole thing after the king destroyed the first copy. I almost called it a second printing rather then a second edition but for the phrase “and many similar words were added to them”. I’ll only count these two as translations into other languages don’t seem like new editions to me.

    This implies to me that God makes sure that His Word is preserved uncorrupted and loses none of its potency.

  14. To be honest it had been a while since I had read the book of Jeremiah, and in particular chapter 36, where it talks about the authorship of the book. Most people would say that Jeremiah wrote his own book, which would make sense, however chapter 36 clearly states that Baruch son of Neriah wrote the book of Jeremiah as it was dictated to him. This is an interesting occurrence because to my knowledge the only other writer of any of the books the Bible to do this was Paul in the New Testament. I think that ultimately God wrote the book of Jeremiah, because it was his thoughts, his words, his warnings, and his prophesying that he was having written down.

    Personally, I have no problem with Jeremiah not personally writing the words given to him by the Lord because honestly does it really make that big of a difference? I say no. The Lord told Jeremiah to write down everything that he had told him, but he never said that it had to be him personally. I also do not think that because it was not Jeremiah who wrote the words that they had any less power or effect on the people. The people Jeremiah had been prophesying to probably would not have listened if God himself had come down and talked to them. They did not want to listen and were bent on doing things their own way rather than God’s way, which ultimately led to their destruction. Rather I think Jeremiah had the foresight to see the importance of what was to be undertaken and he took the necessary steps to ensure that it was done with the utmost care. Therefore in actuality it was a good thing on Jeremiah’s part to have Baruch write the scroll instead because Baruch was probably a scribe. For Baruch this was probably his job and livelihood, and to me I think it testifies to the importance and the care that Jeremiah put into insuring that what was written down was clear and done right the first time so there could be no questioning what God was saying to his people.

    In answer to the second question I would say that there are at least two “editions” of Jeremiah that have been written. (I don’t like the word editions but really can’t come up with a better word right now, so we will go with it.) The first “edition” being the one that the King and his attendants decided to destroy as they read, which would make it no longer in existence as far as I am concerned, and the second one being the rewrite of the first that the Lord came and told Jeremiah to write. (with additional words added to it mind you) Some might have a problem with having words added to the rewrite, and might even go so far as to say that Baruch added things along the way and took some “creative licensing.” I would say that just as Jeremiah was inspired by God, so to was Baruch. Baruch was never not guided by God in my mind. God wanted this written down, and he was going to be with whoever did it.

    For myself, the additional words make sense. Ultimately, the rest of Jeremiah is an account of telling the King what the Lord told Jeremiah to tell him. The first scroll did not have it because it had not happened yet. (Not to say that God would not have an author tell something of the future) Honestly, I think that the Lord told him to write the second scroll and tell the King about his destruction, and Jeremiah did all of that and had Baruch record it for the sake of others reading it and learning from it.

  15. Authorship
    No doubt is left that the author is “God- Jeremiah –Baruch”, but I doubt there is another author because of the third person narrative. Moreover, my philological background makes me think that this mode of narration is the best to present a story, to give the reader the broader view of events and characters and not limit it on one person. Another point is that the third person narrator can be limited or omniscient. To my mind, the narrator of this passage (chapter 36) is omniscient, which in its turn makes me think of God as the author and narrator.
    It is difficult to come up with the number of editions from the text. I have a question here, though, can a book exist as an oral message and be counted as an edition. In the ancient times oral tradition was stronger than written books, or am I wrong here?

    • Thank you for bringing up the idea of oral tradition as being a potential edition when taking the tally for Jeremiah. I was thinking about this after the fact and thought that many of the books of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, were probably oral before they were ever written down.

  16. Olya,

    You made a couple of good points:
    1. The omniscient third-person narration does, in a sense, represent God’s point of view, but God still uses a human agent to put it on paper.
    2. Oral tradition was important in the ancient world. Jeremiah’s “words” were preserved as an oral tradition within his lifetime before Baruch wrote down the “first edition.” The family traditions of Abraham and Sarah and their descendants must have been preserved by oral tradition before they were written down–although there was evidently a very ancient written genealogy, a “toledoth” document quoted in Genesis.

    By the way, I am interested in your background in philology: I usually think of philology as the study of ancient languages and documents, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Slavic, whatever. Or does it also include the study of modern languages and linguistics? What did you study in your philology degree.

    • I have BA in Philology; major in English, minor in German. And then Specialist degree, which is like MA in the States, in English and Ukrainian languages.It is more about modern linguistics than about ancient languages, though we studied Latin and a little bit of Gothic. Among other my subjects were History of English Language, Lexicology, Stylistics, Text Interpretation, Foreign Literature, etc. But mainly we studied English by its aspects, i.e. Grammar, Phonetics, Reading, Writing, Speaking.

  17. Olya,

    That all sounds very interesting. Do you know about the purple codex of the Gothic Bible?

    I look forward to meeting you and talking more about philology.

    I’m still trying to learn German, but I have a blog for Theological German:

  18. Interestingly, I think that the oral tradition could also help explain why there are differences and discrepancies when they find scrolls. When a scribe is writing something down for the first time he is going to write down how he has always heard it, but if any of you have ever played the game telephone the beginning story and the ending story are never the same because things get lost in translation.

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