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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 66, 2018

MARK O‘BRIEN, Discerning the Dynamics of Jeremiah 1–25 (MT) (Adelaide: ATF Theology, 2017). Pp. xxxiii + 276. Paperback: $39.95. Hardback: $44.95.

Mark O’Brien works with the MT of Jeremiah 1–25 as a final product. The biblical evidence is presented in five parts, set between an Introduction (xiii–xxxiii) and a Conclusion (245–54). Discussion of the biblical text in the five designated parts varies in length—from two to four chapters. A Bibliography, an Author Index and a Subject Index are appended.

In the Introduction, O’Brien recognises the complex nature of the writings of Jeremiah. Other scholars address the shorter LXX versus the longer MT, possible added or subtracted layers of text, or the ordering and reordering of different sections. The textual “juggling” occurred at various stages in the development of the writings that eventually evolved to become Jeremiah 1–25 MT. O’Brien’s interest is the MT and its meaning as a whole, not the disparate units as often discerned by biblical scholarship in the last two hundred years.

O’Brien’s approach is inner-biblical, or inner-Jeremian; intricate cross-referral and cross-referencing within 1–25 Jeremiah is pursued as individual units of text are linked to immediate and wider contexts. The method is called “dynamics,” a term appropriated from Georg Fischer’s two-volume commentary (2005) on Jeremiah. The dynamics are the many links between the textual parts. The meaning of the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

O’Brien’s ascertains a structure where each of the five parts is preceded by a prologue. Part 1 (Jer 1:1–3:5) is titled, “Jeremiah’s Prophetic Commission and Indictment of Israel, the Once Faithful Bride” (1–24). Part II (Jer 3:6–10:25) is titled “False Judah Compared Unfavourably with Faithless Israel and Condemned” (25–77). Part III (Jer 11:1–20:18) is titled “YHWH Instructs the Troubled Prophet: a Successful Outcome” (79–190). Part IV (Jer 21:1–24:10) is titled “End of Evil ‘Disorder’ and Provision for New Order” (191–234). Part V (Jer 25:1–38) is a transitional chapter; verses 1–11a close the preceding chapters and verses 11b–38 introduce the following chapters, Jeremiah 26–52.

Jeremiah 1–25 is broken down into parts containing smaller and larger units. A wide range of techniques are used in O’Brien’s textual analysis, from discussion on the use of marriage and sibling metaphors for Jerusalem/Judah and Israel/Jacob to observation of changing focus in different sections from the king of Judah/house of David to prophets and priests, or the people of Judah. The plucking up and pulling down motif introduced in Jeremiah 1:10 and recurring in 20:14–18 is addressed. Gates may refer to royal place, city or temple gates. When necessary the varying use of Hebrew lexical forms is discussed, also pronouns and who the speaker might have been (61–63) and in what tone the words may have been spoken for what reason.

O’Brien’s work is not developed in isolation; he argues for his unit breakdowns and textual analyses in dialogue with other scholars. Several of these are scholars whose commentaries on Jeremiah 1–25 were published in 1986, a significant year for Jeremian studies—Robert Carroll (OTL series), William Holladay (Heremeneia) and William McKane (Bloomsbury). O’Brien also hones his ideas, sometimes pro and sometimes contra, Walter Brueggemann (1998, Eerdmans), Jack Lundbom (1999–2004, AB Yale series) or Georg Fischer (2005, Herder Theologischer Kommentar zum Alten Testament).

Detailed knowledge of the MT and of commentaries on Jeremiah is required in order to follow some of O’Brien’s arguments and thereby to give his ideas due. O’Brien spins his way through the web of Jeremiah 1–25 demonstrating that a meaningful whole can be forged out of the many parts. The Word of God, as pronounced by Jeremiah, has many manifestations. It now remains for O’Brien to write a second volume and address Jeremiah 26–52 (MT) Part Two.

Review by
Sarah L. Hart
Good Shepherd College,
Te Hepara Pai, New Zealand