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Jack Lundbom has written extensively on Jeremiah (A Prophet Like Moses, A Study in Ancient Hebrew Rhetoric, Jeremiah Closer Up). On top of those, he has written three massive commentaries in the Anchor Yale Bible Commentary series (1–20; 21–36; 37–52). All of this piqued my interest in Lundbom’s writings. I thought it would be good to start with one of the smaller books, hoping they would be more user-friendly for the wider audience. In his preface, Lundbom says that his book “seeks to place before the beginning student and general reader a representative discussion of material contained in the biblical book of Jeremiah. It is written for those who may never look into a Jeremiah commentary” (ix). He hopes that this “modest introduction” will pique the interests of others so that they will eventually and intentionally “break open” a commentary on Jeremiah. A worthy goal.
Lundbom’s volume contains 20 chapters. He does not intend to cover every section and chapter of Jeremiah, but only to make the bird’s eye view ever so pleasing. Each chapter is pretty short too—usually extending only to 6-7 pages (chapter 13, at 13 pages long, is the abnormality).
The Chocolate Milk
Lundbom easily shows that he has dwelt in the land of Jeremiah for a long time. Rather than getting into complicated discussions of who wrote what part of Jeremiah, Lundbom examines the logic of Jeremiah’s message, who he’s talking to, and why they needed to hear it. He guides the reader through historical contexts, international threats, and Jeremiah’s anguish as God’s prophet. Chapters contain extensive use of Lundbom’s own translation. This is both a pro and a con; the translations can take up a lot of space within already short chapters. However, Lundbom’s translations emphasize speaker changes and rhetorical features (e.g., repetition, metaphors, etc). There are a few New Testament references, such as one to the exchange of God’s glory for lesser idols in Romans 1.23 (12), the promise of the new covenant in the church (113), John the Baptist (126), the good Samaritan (129), and a few others.
The Spoiled Milk
The downside to Lundbom’s work is that too many details from his 3-volume AYB commentary have leaked into this shorter work. In dealing with Jer 4.5–10, Lundbom says, “The core oracle may have been delivered just prior to the Babylonian attack of 598, and the add-on dialogue at perhaps the same time” (22). He makes no other comment about this in the remaining paragraph, not does he explain anything else about it. These kinds of statements make the book feel more shaky. No only does Lundbom choose to comment on some verses over others in many of the chapters, but why doesn’t it seem like this section was written just before Babylon’s entry into Judah? How can we tell? Unfortunately this isn’t the only time this happens.
Sometimes Lundbom states that a verse has been added on later. He says of Jeremiah 15, “Verse 21, which more or less repeats v. 20, is a later add-on” (51). Yet, for the purpose of the book (“the beginning student and general reader”), this seems neither helpful nor appropriate. If footnotes were kept to a minimum, why think that the audience would care to know about this one sentence? No information is given to clarify the matter. How can we (especially the layperson) know that this verse was added later? Why should he care? How does it affect the message of Jeremiah’s book?
Lundbom emphasizes structures, outlines, chiasmus, enthymemes (a rhetorical syllogism lacking one premise), and apostrophes (speaking to an imaginary audience). I like details, but even for me these often seemed too out of place. Many general readers aren’t going to get excited about chiasmus or the fact that “the last two addresses [in Jer 22.29–30] employ the rhetorical device apostrophe,” especially when they aren’t told why these features occur (69). They just do.
If you are studying Jeremiah, you should have one of Lundbom’s books (at least). If you only have an interest in Jeremiah, I don’t think this would be the first place to start. Jeremiah Among the Prophets seems to be Lundbom’s style of work found in his AYB set in a nutshell. Although there is no technical jargon, the reading is not smooth. I found it difficult to grasp Jeremiah’s overall message without having first a broad sweep of his book. Lundbom divided his AYB set into three sections: Jer 1–20; 21–36; 37–52. I would have found it helpful if he would have taken those three broad sections and explained their overall message before going into the snapshots of Jeremiah’s life and message.
It can be easy to criticize an introductory work, wishing for this but receiving that. Introductory works are meant to introduce, yet this one would not be for the general reader. Unfortunately, I still don’t know any book length treatments to direct you to—only articles and chapters in larger books (Biblical theologies, dictionaries, OT surveys). For helpful, longer commentaries, see Lalleman, Wright, and Kidner. I still haven’t found a good, short, overview of Jeremiah. Perhaps Lundbom’s other short volumes (referenced above) would be closer to that mark.
- Author: Jack Lundbom
- Paperback: 166 pages
- Publisher: James Clarke & Co (March 28, 2013)
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