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?


Justin Dombrowski said...

oh there you go Keith, go tell God he had no idea what he was doing when he wrote Jeremiah. Obviously us humans have the right and ability to critique inspiration. You've been talking to a liberal way too much. Next thing I know you'll be saying that the OG version(s) of Jeremiah is probably represents the "more original" version, and that most of the 1/8 extra stuff in the MT Jeremiah is just textual accretions from some "redactor." Whatever happened to Van Til?

--The Liberal.

Justin Dombrowski said...

All joking aside: I appreciate your post. I am completely puzzled by the textual history of Jeremiah. I actually do believe the OG version represents a "more original" Hebrew type, but it's hard for me grasp what textual history would sensibly account for both text types. There are all kinds of creative theories to explain the dis-organization of Jeremiah, but haphazard textual transmission, in my opinion, really seems to be the most satisfying answer from a historical perspective. Theologically of course it's not so palatable.

Here's a question for you: When you ask "why not rearrange our Jeremiahs in our english bibles?" you're assuming a particular version of Jeremiah--namely the MT. Which should be our version of Jeremiah, and why? Or doesn't it matter? taking a step back, and recognizing the complex textual situation, how does one pick a Bible for the church?

It seems to me that if one holds that only the autographs are inspired, and that the OG version is closest to the autograph, shouldn't we edit our MT to make it mirror the OG, and therefore "closest" to the autograph? Why not do that?

If you were to ask my opinion, I'm up in the air. Personally, my version of Jeremiah that I prefer is the Hebrew University Bible's edition, which is a critical edition that essentially tries to capture the entire textual history. That is, I try to cover all my bases :)

Keith said...

The text critical issues are well beyond my ability to speak to with anything other than a superfical understanding. It is encouraging to hear that, according to Bright, Jeremiah would not be substantially different if a more critical text we adopted for the English translations.

My idea is much simpler than a critial apporach to the text. I am suggesting, and simply playing with the idea, of (without any textual basis) arranging the text in a chronological order where possible. The only section (that I am aware of) where this can be done with any certainty on a large scale is the biographical section.

The theological issue of course is that there is no textual basis at all- which creates a problem for the fundamentalist/evangelical respect for Scripture and its integrity. However, Scripture itself seems to hint that it itself was adapted to meet the needs of the community to which it was addressed (cf. the updating of place names in particular- especially relevant if one hold to the antiquity and Mosaic origins of the Pentateuch).

The major issues I see with my idea are two. First, Bright was clear to point to some links which united the oracles in 1-25- links which one would not be able to see unless one were reading the Hebrew. I do not recall his pointing out a similar system in the Biographical section, but if it should exist, I think the text should be maintained and greater effort should be made to educate the reader for the reasons for the current arrangement. Second, I can see this as a bit of a slippery slope. If the door is opened to make changes because it is hard for the reader to understand, where will the line be drawn? We Americans are a Biblically ignorant people, and that is an indigtment not only of culture but of the church. What would be more ideal is if the reader had a better understanding of the Biblical history which underlies Jeremiah and the rest of the Old Testament. Further, greater familarity- given the historical knowlegde- of the books content as a whole is a much better remedy to the difficulties posed by the text. I know now having read the book through twice in its entirety and various sections piecemeal, the book is less puzzling and more easy to understand. I do not want to make one's ignorance the sole reason for altering the English text.