The Burden of Prophecy: Poetic Utterance in the Prophets of the Old Testament

By Albert Cook | Go to book overview

3
Exemplary Intensities in Jeremiah

J EREMIAH KNOTS HIS utterances about God's warnings through a presentation of his own person. His text at times tenses to bursts of recursive image; at other times, it slackens to episodes of autobiographical narrative. The signification of the episodes ranges from the schematically allegorical to the illustratively self-explanatory. In the given context and through the shift of rhythm and focus, the prophet's gestures plait the actual and the figural, the word and the thing (the Hebrew term davar means both) into a many-dimensioned communication, in which the prophet is both a passive sufferer at God's hands through the people and an active communicator of God's message to the people.

The register of Isaiah, to which the prophets who wrote or were collected under that name recur, involves a long-range vision, whether of the fall of the Northern Kingdom to the Assyrians in 721 B.C.E., imminent in the writings of First Isaiah from 739 on; or the exile in Babylon after the final sack of Jerusalem in 587, the end of which is envisaged as imminent by Second Isaiah, once the successes of the evenhanded Persians from 549 on promise a return; or the messianic hopes of the Third Isaiah at some time after the release in 539 and the reconstruction of the Temple in 515. The long-range vision subsumes the particular emphases residing in the First Isaiah's warnings of the necessity for a proper bearing toward God under the pressure of the Assyrians; the less political injunctions of Second Isaiah towards endurance and hope; and Third Isaiah's eschatalogical sweep.

The register of the single prophet Jeremiah involves a shorter range and still greater concentration, because through the forty years of his activity, from the call in 627 to the final fall of Jerusalem, he wrote under pressure of responding to and formulating a politics and theology of desperation under increasingly dire events. In the triangle of forces -- God, people, prophet -- all the vectors are compacted so as to adapt to

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