WHILE HE HAS WRITTEN MANY BOOKS ON MANY BIBLICAL TOPICS, WALTER Brueggemann is as well known for his more ad hoc essays of both scholarly and popular character. A number of these from the earlier years of his writing were gathered together in three volumes published in the first half of this decade.1 Now a second series is under way comprising a number—but only a part—of the academic and ecclesial essays he has written in more recent years. Many of these originated in oral form, reflecting Brueggemann’s widespread popularity as a lecturer: both in the guild of biblical scholarship and among pastors and lay people in the church. He is an orator in the classical sense, and the emphasis on rhetoric that comes to play in his Theology of the Old Testament—and will be the focus of attention in the final volume of this series—is everywhere evident in his speaking and writing. It seems impossible for him to write in a pedestrian or purely academic manner without beginning to exhort or to drop a rhetorical shoe with a loud thud behind the unsuspecting listener/reader who may have expected that this time Brueggemann is just going to do some exegesis without disturbing anybody or suggesting that the text has something radically to do with the life and faith of the reader. That rhetorical punch is about as characteristic of his essays in the Journàl of Biblical Literature as it is of those that appear in The Christian Century or the Journal for Preachers. The fact that he is an editor of this last journal speaks volumes about where he thinks the real action is.
In the first volume of this new series of collected essays, Brueggemann dealt with covenant and its implications for human and, more particularly, Christian existence.2 The second volume returns to a part of Scripture that has occupied his attention from the beginning of his academic career and has continued to be for him a rich mine of inquiry and productive interpretation: the prophets. His first scholarly essay was a study of Amos 4, and his first scholarly book was a study of Hosea.3 His little book The Prophetic Imagination has sold tens of thousands of copies and remains one of the most perceptive uncoverings of the prophetic voice in contemporary Old Testament study.
The prophet Jeremiah has particularly occupied his attention, and one suspects the concentration on this prophet’s message may be because Brueggemann sees so clearly in the Book of Jeremiah a resonance with contemporary society and the church, both under the threat of judgment in the face of a large indifference to the demands of justice and love and assuming that surface commitments are sufficient to allow us to pursue mammon—in