Letter of Jeremias
Letter of Jeremias
by Timothy Kenney, PhD
The Letter of Jeremias, also known as the Epistle of Jeremias, is a deuterocanonical (or apocryphal) book of the Old Testament. This letter purports to have been written by Jeremiah to the exiles who were to be taken captive into Babylon. It is included in Catholic Bibles as the final chapter of the Book of Baruch. It is also included in Orthodox Bibles (Septuagint) as a standalone book. And it is considered apocryphal in the Jewish and Protestant canons.
Most scholars argue that the author was not Jeremias, but a Hellenistic Jew who lived in Alexandria. Whoever the author, the work was written with a serious practical purpose: to instruct the Jews not to worship the gods of the Babylonians, but to worship only the Lord.
The earliest evidence we have of the question of its canonicity arising in Christian tradition is in the work of Origen of Alexandria, as reported by Eusebius in his Church History. Origen listed Lamentations and the Letter of Jeremias as one unit with the Book of Jeremias proper, among "the canonical books as the Hebrews have handed them down".
Jerome provided the majority of the translation work for the vulgar (popular) Latin translation of the Bible, called the Vulgate Bible. In view of the fact that no Hebrew text was available, Jerome refused to consider the Epistle of Jeremias, as the other books he called apocryphal, canonical.
Despite Jerome's reservations, the epistle is included as chapter 6 of the book of Baruch in the Old Testament of the Vulgate. The Authorized King James Version follows the same practice, while placing Baruch in the Apocrypha section. In the Ethiopian Orthodox canon, it forms part of the "Rest of Jeremiah", along with 4 Baruch (also known as the Paraleipomena of Jeremiah).
The Letter of Jeremias, like the book of Baruch, was conserved—together with the Greek translation of the Book of Jeremias—in the Septuagint. The oldest witness of the letter is a fragment of a Greek papyrus, written about 160 BC and found among the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran. Whether the letter was originally written in Greek or is a translation from Hebrew or Aramaic is difficult to decide. The letter attacks the folly of idolatry as did Jeremias' letter “to those who were to be taken to Babylon as captives.” Though, according to some experts, the idolatry described in the book fits Babylonian cults, the only clear indication of its date is that of the Qumran fragment.
The author warned the Hebrew exiles that they were to remain in captivity for seven generations, and that during that time they would see the worship paid to idols. Readers were extolled not to participate, because the idols were created by men, without the powers of speech, hearing, or self-preservation.
In verse 70, with rare irony, the author compares an idol to a scarecrow—impotent to protect, but deluding to the imagination. Babylonians are believed to have carried their idols around on their shoulders. Some scholars point to this description as evidence that Jeremias may have actually written this work. Adding to this, the Jewish historian Josephus mentions a legend where Jeremias sends a letter to the exiles in Babylon and commands that it be thrown into the sea after it has been delivered.
Chapter 6 in the Book of Baruch: Letter of Jeremias.
6:1 - The Letter of Jeremiah
6:2-6:7 - The People Face a Long Captivity
6:8-6:39 - The Helplessness of Idols
6:40-6:73 - The Foolishness of Worshiping Idols
Our next article takes us to the Book of Ezekiel.
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