Jeremiah and the foe from the North
McAllaster, Allan Ruthven
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I. The Problem. A casual reading of the book of Jeremiah reveals his concern for a "foe from the north" which was to bring destruction to his country, Judah. This dissertation seeks to determine who is meant by the "foe," the sighificance of the term "north," and their place in Jeremiah's Weltanschauung. The usual approach to this problem is a consideration of the history of the period resulting in a choice of the most probable nation. Because the nation is not named and the data is meager, indisputable decisions have not been reached. Since Venema in 1765 the Scythians have generally been regarded as the foe. As knowledge of this people increased, it became clear that there were elements in the Jeremiah passages which are not applicable to this people. In 1913 Fritz Wilke carefully examined the Scythian theory and repudiated it because of the historical improbabilities, inapplicable references, and the absence of distinctively Scythian allusions. Though his historical improbabilities may be answered, he opened the way for weighty historical improbability. His exegetical examination of the problem has not been adequately answered. Many of the more recent students have followed Wilke in the belief that the foe was the Chaldeans. However, this view must consider the oracles of destruction as written when the foe was merely a rebel prince with a local following, or it must date the oracles at least a decade later when Chaldea really began to appear as a world power. This means the exponents of the view must ignore (1) the elements in the relevant passages which allude to a horde rather than an army and (2) the impetuous immaturity of youth evidenced in the passages. They must (3) force an explanation of the relation of Jeremiah and the reform of Josiah and (4) resort to textual surgery to eliminate references to Jeremiah's call to the prophetic office in the previous decade. Into this impasse Adam C. Welch, also following the historical approach, interjected some valuable data from the nature of prophecy and the eschatological elements in the record. Some of his conclusions are unnecessary, and a great wealth of data has been made available since he wrote by the discovery of Ugaritic literature at Ras Shamra in 1928. II. The Investigation. This study utilizes the results of the historical studies, but it makes a semantic approach to the term "north" and gives exegetical-teleological consideration to the passages relating directly or indirectly to the "foe." Each occurrence of the Ugaritic cognate of the Hebrew word for "north" is examined. Though the Sumerian lacks Semitic cognates, cultural links make pertinent the Sumerian concepts of the relation of gods, mountains, and the north. Every occurrence of the word "north" in the Old and New Testaments is examined usage in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha receives notice. Biblical proper names of possible relevance are examined. The place of Jeremiah in history is given by a chronological treatment of world history with special emphasis on Judah instead of parallel accounts of the nations. Six possible identifications of the "foe" are examined. A study of Jeremiah's philosophy of history provides the background for drawing conclusions. III. The Conclusions. A. The North. The word "north" seems to have non-directional connotations in certain instances in the book of Jeremiah. This is shared by other Biblical occurrences. The older cognate in the Ugaritic literature was inextricably connected with mythology. It was primarily non-directional, being the mountain locus of the major god, and was used as his name both in compounds and alone. This makes relevant the earlier data from Sumer. In the Sumerian mythology of the third pre-Christian millennium, there was a strong belief that the gods dwelt on mountains which were located in the north. Also evil came from the north: cold in winter and sandstorms in summer. The coastal limitations to the south could be known, but the north stretched infinitely into the lands of hardship. This surrounded that direction with mystery. Though the word "north" is primarily directional in Biblical use, there are passages which show definite use of the mythical beliefs to convey higher meanings. Other elements of mythology are apparent in some of these passages. The popular mythology, the historic invasions, and the view of that direction from his childhood home made the "north" a meaningful symbol to Jeremiah. He used it with skill to convey a message to the popular mind. Proper names from the Semitic root of the Hebrew word for "north" show the inter-relation of the Ugaritic, Assyrian, and Hebrew cultures. B. The Foe. The exegetical study of the book of Jeremiah found far more of the prophet's preaching devoted to the reasons for the invasion than to the destruction it was to bring, while the foe received relatively little notice. This was found to be even stronger in the time of Josiah when the reasons received by far the greatest consideration. The destruction received greatest notice in the days of Jehoiakim. To Jeremiah, the why was more important than the what and the who was incidental. Most studies have given this teleological data the inverse evaluation. C. Jeremiah and the Foe from the North. Jeremiah was not a politician forming his opinions on calculations based on the laws of probability. His moral sensitivity did not need a possible political threat to be stimulated into activity. A people living in conflict with Eternal Morality must repent and conform, or Morality must destroy them to remain moral. Jeremiah's favorite description of the destruction was that of an invading army from the north, but this was not the only description. His philosophy of history made the Lord the real source of the destruction. Like Amos, he saw moral corruption as the harbinger of destruction when there was no political threat. Who the Lord's weapon would be, he neither knew nor cared--though he lived to see who it was. Describing the unknown agent of the Lord, he was at times eschatological, and he used an agglomeration of terms applicable to different military powers. This interpretation treats these oracles consistently with the stature of the prophet revealed in other parts of the book, it makes textual surgery less necessary, and it shows his disrepute came not from being wrong but from being absurd--immenent destruction was unthinkable. The hurt of his people had been healed slightly by being led to believe there would be peace when there was not the moral basis for it.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University