Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"He will kill Jeremiah too!": Joseph Smith Translation Jeremiah 26:17-23

Among the Bible's dramatic episodes is that of Jeremiah prophesying in the court of the Temple, whereupon an angry assemblage of priests, prophets, princes, and people try him for his life right on the spot, that is, at the New Gate of the Temple, where "trials involving sacral law were regularly heard."

William McKane, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Jeremiah, Edinburgh, 1996, 678; on the supposed legal model for the narrative see McKane, ps. 676-681 and see also John W. Welch, "The Trial of Jeremiah: A Legal Legacy from Lehi's Jerusalem," in David R. Seely, JoAnn Seely, and J. Welch (eds), Glimpses of Lehi's Jerusalem (Provo, 2004), which shows parallels with legal procedure in the Book of Mormon narrative but does not mention JST Jeremiah 26:17-23; cf. also David R. Seely, "The Ministry of Jeremiah," in Kent Jackson (ed), Studies in Scripture 4.

In his New Translation of Jeremiah 26 the Prophet Joseph Smith makes several changes, though none carries more dramatic power than the line added to verse 20, at the very moment the wavering people stand ready to spare: "But there was a man among the priests, rose up and said." While the "man among the priests," who seeks to turn any wavering, merciful souls against Jeremiah, does not appear in any other textual tradition, what does follow in all is the speech about Urijah, a prophet cut down by sword's edge and cast into a common grave for prophesying the very same things Jeremiah now sets forth. David Kimchi, paragon of commentators, sums up the point about comparing Jeremiah to Urijah with the following verdict: gm yrmyhw yhrg: You wish to acquit him but, as you now see, "[Jehoiakim] will kill Jeremiah too" (see W. McKane, Jeremiah, 670). The Prophet must die.

In order to grasp the power, and balance, these new words add to the narrative--raising its dramatic tension to fever pitch--we must first consider Jeremiah's most dangerous mission as set forth in the Authorized Version of the Bible:

1 In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah came this word from the Lord, saying,
2 Thus saith the Lord; Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the Lord’s house, all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word:
3 If so be they will hearken, and turn every man from his evil way, that I may repent me of the evil, which I purpose to do unto them because of the evil of their doings.
4 And thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord; If ye will not hearken to me, to walk in my law, which I have set before you,
5 To hearken to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I sent unto you both rising up early, and sending them, but ye have not hearkened;
6 Then will I make this house like Shiloh, and will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth.

The reaction of the audience was to detain Jeremiah as one worthy of death:

8 ¶Now it came to pass, when Jeremiah had made an end of speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak unto all the people, that the priests and the prophets and all the people took him, saying, Thou shalt surely die.

Verse 9 further records: And all the people were gathered against Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.

Representatives of the king, the sarim or princes, now join the Assembly of the People as its presiding secular officers, and Jeremiah contests his life at Newgate. The religious leaders or officers, the priests and the prophets, prosecute the case before the Assembly:

10 ¶When the princes of Judah heard these things, then they came up from the king’s house unto the house of the Lord, and sat down in the entry of the new gate of the Lord’s house.
11Then spake the priests and the prophets unto the princes and to all the people, saying, This man is worthy to die; for he hath prophesied against this city, as ye have heard with your ears.

Jeremiah is next permitted to defend himself before the Assembly and its presiding officers:

12 ¶Then spake Jeremiah unto all the princes and to all the people, saying, The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and against this city all the words that ye have heard.
13 Therefore now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God; and the Lord will repent him of the evil that he hath pronounced against you.
14 As for me, behold, I am in your hand: do with me as seemeth good and meet unto you.
15 But know ye for certain, that if ye put me to death, ye shall surely bring innocent blood upon yourselves, and upon this city, and upon the inhabitants thereof: for of a truth the Lord hath sent me unto you to speak all these words in your ears.

The sarim and the Assembly then make their decision, a first, or secular decision (Jack W. Welch, "The Trial of Jeremiah," cites 2 Chronicles 19:8, 11 as evidence for a clear division of secular and sacral judges under King Jehoshaphat; he notes "jurisdictional lines were not always sharply divided" in antiquity):

16¶Then said the princes and all the people unto the priests and to the prophets; This man is not worthy to die: for he hath spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.
17 Then rose up certain of the elders of the land, and spake to all the assembly of the people, saying,
18 Micah the Morasthite prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, and spake to all the people of Judah, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Zion shall be plowed like a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of a forest.
19 Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him at all to death? did he not fear the Lord, and besought the Lord, and the Lord repented him of the evil which he had pronounced against them? Thus might we procure great evil against our souls [Joseph Smith Translation: Thus by putting Jeremiah to death we might procure great evil against our souls].

20 And there was also a man that prophesied in the name of the Lord, Urijah the son of Shemaiah of Kirjath-jearim, who prophesied against this city and against this land according to all the words of Jeremiah.
21 And when Jehoiakim the king, with all his mighty men, and all the princes, heard his words, the king sought to put him to death: but when Urijah heard it, he was afraid, and fled, and went into Egypt;
22 And Jehoiakim the king sent men into Egypt, namely, Elnathan the son of Achbor, and certain men with him into Egypt.
23 And they fetched forth Urijah out of Egypt, and brought him unto Jehoiakim the king; who slew him with the sword, and cast his dead body into the graves of the common people [Vulgate: in sepulchris vulgi ignobilis; Targum: lqbry gly', "graves of the heaps," "common graves" = W. McKane, 664].


24 Nevertheless the hand of Ahikam the son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah, that they should not give him into the hand of the people to put him to death.

So runs the narrative, but at the juncture between verses 19 and 20 the Joseph Smith Translation breaks with the Masoretic Text by adding the previously unknown character of "a man among the priests" who rises to speak of Urijah and his doom. And whether we are thinking of the Prophet Joseph or of David Kimchi: "The sense of v.24 is then that this [same] outcome is blocked only by Ahikam's shielding of Jeremiah. In connection with Kimchi's hypothesis we may ask about the identity of those who are alleged [by Kimchi] to say gm yrmyhw yhrg. . . So we need a new constituency which the narrative does not supply" (McKane, 671).

Both Rashi and Kimchi, our greatest medieval commentators, draw on the midrashic tradition and, in particular, the Sifrei to Numbers (88):

R. "Up to this point the statement is what the righteous people said. As to the wicked, what did they say? "there was another man who prophesied in the name of the Lord, Uriah," etc.
S. So the wicked said, 'Just as Uriah was put to death, so Jeremiah is liable to be put to death.'"
Sifre to Numbers: An American Translation and Explanation, ed. Jacob Neusner (Atlanta, 1986), vol. 2, 88-9.

The contrast between the righteous elders of the people, who argue for Jeremiah, and the wicked, who convict him as worthy of death, also appears in the Tosefta-Tractate, Sotah 9:5 (note the prepositional phrase among them): (A) "So said the proper ones among them." (B) "The evil ones among them said, 'There was another man,'" etc. (C) "They said, 'Just as Uriah prophesied and was killed, so Jeremiah is subject to the death penalty.'" (D) "This entire pericope is a mixture of the words of different parties, so that one who said one thing did not say the other," Jacob Neusner (ed), Jeremiah in Talmud and Midrash (University Press of America, 2006), 9.

Or as Professor Neusner summarizes: "Several distinct voices make up Jeremiah's statement. The righteous defended the prophet, the wicked introduced a negative precedent. The context involves a number of such constructions," Jeremiah in Talmud and Midrash, 18.

"Several voices" rise but no specifically identified speakers, an ambiguity reflected in Rashi: "The one who said one thing did not say the other. Until now we have the words of the elders, but the wicked people who were there rose up and said: 'There was also a man who prophesied,' etc." The commentary Mitzudat David (Fortress of David) later attempts to close the gap on specificity: "These are the words of the priests and the prophets" (see the Rabbinic Bible, Miqra'ot Gedalot: Jeremiah.)

New England divines, as readers of Calvin's Commentaries on Jeremiah, would have been familiar with the difficulties found in Jeremiah Chapter 26: 17-23 (Revd. John Owen, ed., Commentaries on the Book of Jeremiah and the Lamentations, vol. 3, 1852, 2nd ed 1959, Grand Rapids, Michigan).

Calvin, who presents both sides well, is also simply wild in double mindedness (nearly so much as the people before whom Jeremiah stands): "Some explain the whole in the same manner, as though the elders designed to shew that the wicked can gain nothing by resisting God's prophets, except that by contending they make themselves more and more guilty. But others think that this part was brought forward by the opposite party. . . and this opinion seems to be confirmed by what follows in the last verse the chapter, Nevertheless the hand of Ahikam," 339.

"I dare not yet reject wholly the idea," cries Calvin, 341.

This is what the Prophet, if he knew his Calvin, would have had to deal with:

"It hence appears that this view can without absurdity be defended, that is, that the enemies of Jeremiah endeavoured to aggravate his case by referring to the punishment the king inflicted on Uriah, whose case was not dissimilar; and I do not reject this view. If any approve of the other, that this part was spoken by the advocates of Jeremiah, I readily allow it; but I dare not yet reject wholly the idea, that Jeremiah was loaded with prejudice by having the case of Uriah brought forward" (341).

"I dare not yet reject wholly the idea," cries Calvin--and I'd love to see the Latin for that mouthful. By way of contrast the New England Prophet decides and never wavers; as we all know, Brother Joseph was a James 1:5-6 sort of man.

The Prophet Joseph is not the only 19th century reader to add words to the text. Calvin's editor, the Rev. John Owen, taking the hint from 18th century commentator Hermann Venema, both transposes verses and also adds text. Venema "considers that the 17th verse has been removed from its place between the 19th and the 20th, and that the 'princes' mentioned the case of Micah in favour of Jeremiah, and that 'the elders of the land' adduced the case of Uriah against him" (341 n.1).

Dr. Owen suggests for verses 16, 18, and 19:

"Then said the princes and all the people to the priests and to the prophets, 'Against this man there is no judgment of death, for in the name of Jehovah hath he spoken to (or against) us. Micah the Morasthite was a prophet in the days of Hezekiah,' etc. 'But we are doing a great evil against our own souls.' "

Transposed Verse 17: "Then rose up men from the elders of the land and spoke to the whole assembly of the people, saying, (verse 20) 'But there was also a man, who prophesied in the name of Jehovah, Uriah,'" etc.

For the learned Vicar of Thrussington: "This arrangement makes the whole narrative plain, regular, and consistent. The conclusion comes in naturally, that notwithstanding the adverse speech of the 'elders' Jeremiah was saved by the influence of Ahikam, one of the princes" (341 n.1).

The arrangement astonishes as an attempt to correct the Bible--in 1852 England the Bible is not necessarily inerrant--yet there is nothing consistent or logical in what Rev. Owen corrects. Elders do remember long-forgotten prophets known to their fathers; they chant the ancient oracles--they do not see the latest news from court in vivid color. The events of chapter 26 are placed "in the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim," and yet the doom of Urijah has already been played out within the framework of that new reign. Why then would the Elders cite the story? And how would they know the details behind the execution of the prophet? Such facts would be the province of the king, his princes, or his priesthood.

Modern students neither follow the rabbinic reading nor do they attempt to transpose verses but consider verses 20-23 to have been added by the narrator (Jack R. Lundbom, Jeremiah, vol. 2, 300 in the Anchor Bible vol.21B): "It is not to be taken as a part of the argument in Jeremiah's defense (vss 16-19), which it would tend to contradict, nor is it presented as an argument of the accused." The verses on Urijah were "inserted at this place merely as an illustration of what might well have happened to Jeremiah, had not the princes had the courage to intervene"[!], John Bright, Jeremiah (Anchor Bible 21), 172.

Indeed: "There are a number of strange features in vv. 17-19. The direct citation of another speaker's work [Micah] and its use as an argument are unique in prophetic tradition," with verses 20-23 having "nothing to do with the structured confrontation of vv. 7-16," being merely a "response to v. 19," Robert P. Carroll, Jeremiah: A Commentary (London, 1986), 518-9.

"The passage," protests Professor Feinberg, "can scarcely be the words of Jeremiah's opponents because there is no introductory formula" (Charles L. Feinberg, Jeremiah: A Commentary, Grand Rapids, Michigin, 1982), 186.

Dr. Owens tried his best to produce just such a formula and failed. How does Joseph Smith fare?

Joseph Smith Translation OT Manuscript 2 (page 835): "But there was a man among the priests, rose up and said, that, Urijah the son of Shemaiah of Kirjath-jearim, prophesied in the name of the Lord, who also prophesied against this city and against this land according to all the words of Jeremiah."

The very fact of such a clarifying addition to the much-disputed text stands worthy of remark (and Brother Joseph may well have had some awareness of the textual difficulties and controversy), but a surprise or two remains to be unfolded. While the Septuagint (Greek Translation of the Hebrew) drops the phrase "and against this city," the Prophet emphasizes the same phrase by adding gam, or also: "who also prophesied against this city and against the land" (see W. McKane, 660, 673). By shifting the also from a general reference to prophecy made in the name of the Lord ("And there was also a man that prophesied in the name of the Lord") to instead specify prophecies uttered against the city, the Prophet tightens the rhetorical point being scored by the "man among the priests" as he attempts to overthrow the argument of the Elders. Also, while specifically turning the mind back to the precedent of Micah speaking against the temple and the city, ironically anticipates a verdict of condemnation: in light of the ignominious fate of Urijah, which the speaker is about to unfold, the precedent of Micah can certify no justification for Jeremiah's prophecies against the temple.

Here's another surprise. What happens if we translate the added words of the New Translation back into idiomatic Biblical Hebrew? The following attempt represents the only possible solution in light of Hebrew grammar and syntax:

vayyaqum ish mehakohanim (or bakohanim) vayyomar (ki) "hayah mitnabbeh uriyah".

The sentence deserves close analysis:

vayyaqum (va = a contrastive use of waw as also a conversive waw (that is, a grammatical marker that converts the tense or aspect of the verb from imperfective to perfective) = but; vayyaqum = he will rise up = with waw conversive = he rose up)

ish (man, a man)

me + hakohanim = from or from among the priests (e.g., Ezra 3:12); or bakohanim (ba or be + ha = in, among + the; kohanim = priests)

vayyomar (va = and; vayyomar = and he will speak = and he said")

And, perhaps, ki (that = introduces direct discourse, although not necessary for sentence grammar here).

No other solution for the phrase "But there was a man among the priests, rose up and said" matches the Hebrew syntax. (The formula vayhi ish, as in 1 Samuel 1:1, carries existential meaning and implies no contrast: "And there was a man.") Besides, consider the perfect economy of the Hebrew--four words: vayyaqum ish mikohanim vayyomar--not to mention the subtle ambiguity of the whole thing: just who is this "man among the priests"? is he a priest himself? or a spokesman for the priests? The wording in Hebrew, while often denoting a member of a larger group, just as often suggests an actor among, but not necessarily of, said group, or an actor possessing such characteristics as would make him stand out from the crowd.

Professor Robert Alter often notes how Hebrew packs it in. And these four words tell us more than we might think at first glance. We learn arrangement. Just as the princes sat down at the entry of the New Gate, so the priests sat apart from the rest of the Assembly during the trial. Each constituent element of the court had its place. And what of procedure? From the text we deduce the following order: the defendant speaks first, followed by the secular authorities, then, according to Joseph Smith, the sacral authorities speak last; the Assembly of the People weigh things as they go. Who gets the last word? The Elders of the Land, however respectable, do not carry the power to silence the priests beyond possibility of response. So the last word belongs to the solemn or sullen priesthood, separated from the other attendees at the Assembly, and the priestly spokesman's response is a rhetorical volcano of denunciation and fury meant to scorch the Assembly to fever pitch: "And they threw his body into a common grave." Jeremiah hardly escaped the razor-rhetoric of this "man among the priests."

Yet another surprise comes packed into the Prophet's addition; to see it, we need, once again, to translate his English back into the Hebrew of Jeremiah. Let us compare the Hebrew sentence that opens the entire pericope about Micah and Urijah side-by-side with what the Prophet Joseph adds (to be a Joseph in Hebrew is literally to be one who adds):

vayyaqumu anashim mizaqqaney ha-eretz vayyomru
(lit. and there rose up men from/from among the elders of the land and they said)
(KJV: Then rose up certain of the elders of the land, and spake)
vayyaqum ish mekohanim vayyomar
(lit. but there rose up a man from among the priests and he said)
(JST: But there was a man among the priests, rose up and said).

We also note:
vayymdw rsh'im shayu shm vayyamru
(Rashi: but there stood up wicked people who were there and they said)

Such a perfect balance in the two introductory formulas--really the same formula--achieves what Jeremiah 26:17-23 has always deserved and what the commentators have been calling for from the commencement of rabbinical midrash and the derivative doctoral homily (cf. Jeremiah 19:1). The phrase in English, "But there was a man among the priests, rose up and said," matches the phrase in verse 17 when translated into Hebrew--and yet the translated English structures of these sentences are anything but alike! (That would be too easy.) All changes in the New Translation that reflect Hebrew syntax and narrative structure, or in this case a narrative frame, notably come years before the Prophet's acquisition of a Hebrew Bible and the start of his formal study of the language under Joshua Seixas.

And once again we see telling evidence for the Prophet Joseph as Restorer of original Biblical text. The New Translation of the Holy Bible, as it unfolds before the prophetic sight, may come to be many things: seeric expansion, which includes restoration of the historical and doctrinal context of the original writers (that is, moving beyond text), restoration of intent, a broad task that also embraces grammatical fixing and idiomatic smoothing of the Authorized Version (and even plays on words) for a latter-day readership--but above and beyond all the New Translation comes to us as a Restoration of sealed, lost or, corrupted Text.

Thus we have the case of the spokesman for the priesthood at New Gate. Now if the story of Urijah indeed represents the words of a spokesman for the prosecution in contrast to the powerful affirmative statement of the Elders (But there was a man among the priests, rose up, that is, a spokesman who rose up in anger, then his startling summation of the case of Urijah serves as purpose to foment renewed anger in the Assembly. "Don't believe that line," he cries, "about some prophet speaking in the name of the Lord. There was another who so claimed and then fled for his life in terrific fear. Pharaoh, the friend who put our own Jehoiakim on the throne, turned over this fugitive and this your own king had him summarily dispatched with a sword and threw his body into a common grave."

Here is rhetoric at fever pitch, rhetoric designed to sway with instantaneity an Assembly vulnerable to such emotional appeal--And threw his body into a common grave! So do also to this new deceiver!


In Hebrew the word akh is a powerful affirmative--a word of power--that rings out, without further ado, the stunning conclusion of a dramatic moment. Thus we read: akh yad Ahikam ben Shaphan (Yet it was so, that the Hand of Ahikam ben Shaphan, the Power of Ahikam, a powerful elder who lends his support to Jeremiah at the very moment of fever crisis, the Hand of Ahikam ben Shaphan was with Jeremiah, that they should not give him into the hands of the people (Hand versus hands) to put him to death). The priestly spokesman rises up to condemn the prophet, but now we meet Ah-i-kam, or "My Brother has Risen Up."

A stunning power of veto stands proud against the hand of "a man among the priests."

It is the Joseph Smith Translation of Jeremiah 26:20 that, without rival, effortlessly lends the story a coherent formulaic balance and which also, in high drama, attains that rhetorical pitch intended by Baruch, Jeremiah's scribe and our original Hebrew writer.

Copyright 2011 by Val H. Sederholm

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