Saturday, March 19, 2005

Rearranging Jeremiah

I just finished reading John Bright's commentary on Jeremiah in the Anchor Bible series. The introduction was amazing, but the commentary itself was rather lackluster. However, one extremely helpful thing he did was rearrange the Biographical sections of the book into chronological order. After having read though the book once in normal order, and read it thought in Bright's order- the superiority of the latter is apparent. Which causes me to ask the question, why cannot a similar thing be done to the Biblical text?

Leaving aside the textual issues in relating the MT to the LXX (well outside my knowledge), the LXX itself rearranges the text. After the prophecies of Jeremiah in 1-25, the LXX places the oracles against the nations (albeit in a different order than the MT). Contextually, this seems to be the better place to put the oracles than the MT's placement. While there does appear to be some thematic and linguistic ties that link the organize the sayings of the book of prophecies, there does not appear to be a similar reason for the seeming haphazard arrangement in the MT.
What would be the detriments to rearranging the text? Obviously, the transition would be difficult while it was being made. Chapters and verses would have to be redone, and older works which referenced the old system would have to be updated. Along the way, some will reject any change made to the Bible (especially if the KJV would have to be changed). Theologically, I am not aware of any who would argue that the arrangement is inspired and therefore unalterable. So this should pose no problems.

The benefits would be a more coherent text, which should outweigh all objections. If the goal of a translation is to make the Biblical text comprehensible by the average layperson, we should be as open to any change that, respectful of the text, meets that end. I think Jeremiah's Biographical section as arranged now is a hindrance rather than a help to understanding. Why not seek a simple fix to that problem?