The Epistle of Jeremy

jer’-e-mi, (Epistole Ieremiou):

1. Name

2. Canonicity and Position

3. Contents

4. Original Language

5. Authorship, Date and Aim

6. Text and Versions


1. Name:

In manuscripts Vaticanus and Alexandrinus the title is simply "An Epistle of Jeremiah." But in Codex Vaticanus, etc., there is a superscription introducing the letter: "Copy of a letter which Jeremiah sent to the captives about to be led to Babylon by (Peshitta adds Nebuchadnezzar) the king of the Babylonians, to make known to them what had been commanded him by God." What follows is a satirical exposure of the folly of idolatry, and not a letter. The idea of introducing this as a letter from Jeremiah was probably suggested by Jer 29:1 ff.

2. Canonicity and Position:

The early Greek Fathers were on the whole favorably disposed toward this tract, reckoning it to be a part of the Canon. It is therefore included in the lists of Canonical writings of Origen, Epiphanius, Cyril of Jerusalem and Athanasius, and it was so authoritatively recognized by the Council of Laodicea (360 AD).

In most Greek manuscripts of the Septuagint (Codices Alexandrinus and Vaticanus. March, Chisl, in the Syriac Hexateuch), it follows Lamentations as an independent piece, closing the supposed writings of Jeremiah. In the bestknown printed of the Septuagint (Tischendorf, Swete, etc.), the order is Jeremiah, Baruch, Lain, Epistle of Jeremy. In Fritzsche, Lib. Apocrypha VT Graece, Epistle Jeremiah stands between Baruch and Tobit. But in Latin manuscripts, including those of the Vulgate, it is appended to Baruch, of which it forms chapter 6, though it really has nothing to do with that book. This last is the case with Protestant editions (English versions of the Bible, etc.) of the Apocrypha, a more intelligible arrangement, since Jeremiah and Lamentations do not occur in the Apocrypha, and the Biblical Baruch was Jeremiah’s amanuensis.

3. Contents:

In the so-called letter (see 1, above) the author shows the absurdity and wickedness of heathen worship. The Jews, for their sins, will be removed to Babylon, where they will remain 7 generations. In that land they will be tempted to worship the gods o f the people. The writer’s aim is ostensibly to warn them beforehand by showing how helpless and useless the idols worshipped are, and how immoral as well as silly the rites of the Bah religion are. For similar polemics against idolatry, see Isa 44:9-19 (which in its earnestness resembles the Epistle Jeremiah closely); Jer 10:3-9; Ps 115:4-8; 135:15-18; The Wisdom of Solomon 13:10-19; 15:13-17.

4. Original Language:

That the Epistle Jeremiah was composed in Greek is the opinion of practically all scholars. There are no marks of translation; the Greek is on the whole good, and abounds in such rhetorical terms as characterized the Greek of Northern Egypt about the be ginning of our era. There is no trace of a Hebrew original, though Origen has been mistakenly understood to say there was one in his day (see Schurer, GJV4, III, 467 f). Romanist writers defend a Hebrew original, and point to some Hebraisms (verse 44 and the use of the fut. for the past), but these can be matched in admittedly Hellenistic Greek writings.

5. Authorship, Date and Aim:

The writer was almost certainly a resident in Alexandria toward the close of the last century BC. The Greek of the book, the references to Egyptian religion (verse 19, where the Feast of Lights at Sais--Herod. ii.62--is referred to), and the allusion to the Epistle Jeremiah in 2 Macc 2:2, denied by Schurer, etc., make the above conclusion very probable. The author had in mind the dangers to the religion of his fellow-countrymen presented by the fascinating forms of idolatry existing at Alexandria. Certainly Jeremiah is not the author, for the book was written in Greek and never formed part of the Hebrew Canon. Besides, the treatment is far below the level of the genuine writings of that prophet.

6. Text and Versions:

(1) The Greek.

This epistle occurs in the principal manuscripts of the Septuagint uncials (Codices Vaticanus, Alexandrinus, Q, Gamma, contain 7b-24a, etc.) and cursives (except 70, 96, 229).

(2) The Syriac.

P follows the Greek, but very freely. The Syriac H follows the text of Codex Vaticanus closely, often at the expense of Syriac idioms.

(3) The Latin.

The Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) is made direct from the Greek. There is a different Latin version published by Sabatier in his Biblical Sacr. Latin Versiones Antiquas, II, 734 ff. It is freer than the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.)

(4) The Arabic.

There are also Arabic (following A), Coptic (ed Quatremere, 1810), and Ethiopic (ed Dillmann, 1894)versions.


See under APOCRYPHA for commentary and various editions. But note in addition to the literature mentioned the article the following: Reusch, Erklar. des B. Baruch, 1853; Daubanton, "Het Apok boek Epistole Ieremiou," Theol. Studien, 1888, 126-38.

T. Witton Davies