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Jeremiah is the longest book in the Bible, and it is certainly one of the most complex. The book’s timetable jumps around (think Memento after being put into a blender). Rabbi Dr. Binyamin Lau, an Israeli community leader, educator, and social activist, has undertaken a study of Jeremiah, “disassembled… and reconstructed it according to the chronology of Jeremiah’s life and the development of his prophecy” (xxii).
Lau divides Jeremiah into three main units.
- The Reign of Josiah (640-609 BCE)
- The Reign of Jehoiakim (609-598 BCE)
- The Reign of Zedekiah (597-586 BCE)
He includes two indexes at the end of his book;
- The Chapters of Jeremiah — Original Order
- The Chapters of Jeremiah — Chronological Order
Lau claims not to have “inserted any ideas not found in the text” (xxii). Yet I disagree, even if he didn’t insert his own ideas on purpose. Lau takes Huldah’s prophecy from 2 Kings 22.16–17 and says Josiah “is trapped. The prophetess has condemned Jerusalem to destruction, leaving no possibility for the repairs and reforms he advocates” (45). Where’s the nuance? Lau leaves out vv. 18–20 where God tells Josiah that he will die in peace because of his humble heart. This doesn’t mean this kind of death can’t happen to (some) other Israelites who would repent, nor would continuing his reform mean he was “rebelling” against Huldah’s prophecy (45).
Lau says that Jeremiah 2 “reinforces the impression that the young prophet has not yet been impacted by Josiah’s revolution” (37), but there’s no explanation on how the chapter “reinforces” that idea.
I was surprised not to see certain topics explained at all, especially with the new covenant. Lau covers Jeremiah 31 pretty early in the book (I do not know why, nor do I know why he separated it from chapter 30). Lau quotes big blocks of verses from Jeremiah 31 (as he does in the rest of the book), but he stops at v. 27. He makes no mention of the new covenant, a pivotal prophesy in Jeremiah (considering it comes within the “Book of Consolation” in the canonical order). It is one of the few uplifting prophecies in the book.
There is more detail than necessary, even if it does make the “story” more interesting. After Hanamel sells his land to Jeremiah, upon Hanamel’s leaving Lau remarks,
Once his transaction with Jeremiah has been completed, Hanameel takes his leave. He is surely pleased to have earned some extra money during what was undoubtedly an unprecedentedly steep downturn in the local real estate market. He considers the stupidity of his crazy cousin, who has fallen prey to his swindle, and takes his leave (178).
Perhaps this is all true, but how would we know? The text does not tell us. The Babylonians were in Anathoth, but was Hanamel intentionally swindling Jeremiah? Was he considering the stupidity of this sale? In Jeremiah’s prayer to God in 32:16–25, was Jeremiah accusing “God of tormenting him” (179)? It doesn’t seem like it. These sound like “ideas not found in the text” (xxii).
When it comes to Lau’s reconstruction chronology, he doesn’t always explain how he arrived at that conclusion. It just is that way, and he’s able to make a story from it. However, I’m not convinced. Chapters 47, 48, 50, and 51 are also not included in Lau’s book.
It’s only once in a blue moon that I don’t recommend a book, and I’m happy about that. I’m going against the flow of everyone else on Amazon about this book, so I could very well be wrong. I found Lau to be of little help in my study with Jeremiah. I usually didn’t know why he ordered Jeremiah the way he did, and his speculations were hard to believe. This doesn’t mean that other commentators don’t speculate, they are just more ready to admit to their speculations when it comes to “ideas not found in the text” (xxii). For more helpful commentaries, see Lalleman, Wright, and Kidner.
- Author: Binyamin Lau
- Hardcover: 260 pages
- Publisher: Koren Publishers (July 15, 2013)
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Disclosure: I received this book free from Koren Publishers. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.