Jeremiah 9 and 10: Brothers, Fathers and Mothers, and Aramaic

Dear Reader,

In my study through the book of Jeremiah (find all the posts here), I am up to chapters 9 and 10. I only have  a few observations on these chapters.

In chapter 9, what I noticed were references to family members. The chapter begins with an indictment of the people yet again. In verse 4 (Hebrew v. 3), we read:

“Let a man guard himself against his neighbor;

And on every brother do not let him trust.

For every brother will indeed supplant,

And every neighbor will go about slanderously.” (Jer. 9:4; my translation)

This verse is a nice example of Hebrew parallelism.  Notice how the first and fourth lines use the word “neighbor” and the second and third use “brother.” I don’t think we need to particularly distinguish between the relationships here. The point is that those who are close to one are treacherous. Israel is really one family and every neighbor is a brother. Biblical Hebrew has no word I know of for cousin or the like and so brother can be used more generally than we would usually use it.

The word I have translated “supplant” is one that immediately drew my attention. It actually occurs twice here. There is an intensive form of the verb in Hebrew called the infinitive absolute which we usually translate, as I have here, something along the lines of “indeed” or “truly.” As its name suggest, this form is used with a finite form of the same verb to intensify its meaning. So we have the same word, in slightly different forms, here twice in a row. And the word root is the same as that in the name Jacob. The Hebrew here would sound like ‘aqob yaqob (the ‘ is what is called a glottal stop and the q is  a hard k sound).  Compare this to the name of the patriarch: Ya’aqob. The difference is only the matter of one short a sound. It is hard then when one reads this passage indicting brothers for their crimes against each other, not to think of Israel’s ancestor, the patriarch Jacob, who also gained his inheritance and birthright by supplanting his brother. The root used, ‘qb, in both the name and the verbs we have here comes from the word for heel and means something along the lines of to grab the heel of (as Jacob did to Esau in the womb).  More figuratively the idea is that one is right on the heels of another with the aim of overtaking or supplanting. What I get from all this is that God, through Jeremiah, is saying to His people, you have not changed; your forefather was a supplanter and you still betray your brothers at every opportunity.

Later on in the chapter, I noticed a contrast being made between two other family members — fathers and mothers. In verses 14 and 16 (Hebrew vv. 13 and 15), we find:

“They have walked after the stubbornness of their heart,

And after the baals as their father taught them . . .

Therefore I will scatter them among nations whom neither they nor their fathers knew . . . ” (Jer. 9:14, 16; my translation)

Notice that the fathers of the current generation taught them to worship false idols. The chapter goes on to call the women to come and mourn for Israel’s destruction. This is how things would have been done in ancient times; women would wail and carry on in times of grief. Professional mourners might even be hired at funerals and the like to carry on a good and proper lament. The Lord then says:

“Hear, women, the word of the LORD,

And let your ear take the word of His mouth.

Teach your daughters a lament,

And each woman [will teach] her neighbor a dirge.” (Jer. 9:20 [Hebr. 9:19])

Because they have followed their fathers’ instruction and engaged in false worship, now as a part of their punishment, they will learn not from their fathers but their mothers, and the lesson to be learned is one of mourning. Now I don’t think this is meant to say anything particularly horrible about a mother’s instruction (as a homeschooler, I could hardly think that, could I?), but it does give one the impression that the men who are supposed to be in charge in this society are gone. Because of their false teaching, they have been wiped out and the females are left, mothers and daughters lamenting together. Perhaps I go beyond the intent of the passage but I think it often happens this way among God’s people. It is easy to blame women who seem to rule in churches as violating God’s established order, but I think the women would not often take charge if the men did not cede to them their rightful position. A lack of leadership on their part, or as in the case of this passage even bad, wrong teaching, has opened the door for the women to step in. Okay, that probably does go beyond what Jeremiah intended here, but it is what it made me think of.

My only observation in chapter 10 of Jeremiah is to point out that in the middle of the chapter we get a bit of Aramaic. The vast majority of the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew. Over time the people themselves came to speak a closely related language, Aramaic. I like to compare the two to Spanish and Portuguese; they are very near cousins. A good chunk of the book of Daniel as well as portions of Ezra were originally written in Aramaic. These are later books describing events during and after the exile of the southern kingdom. Here in Jeremiah we are not yet to the exile though it is looming. In the reign of Hezekiah, as recounted in II Kings, it seems that the people still speak Hebrew though their Assyrian oppressors speak Aramaic (see II Kgs. 18:26). This would have occurred in the 700s BC. Aramaic seems to have taken over during the Babylonian exile which began circa 586 BC. Yet here in Jeremiah 10, somewhere between these two events, we have this one verse in Aramaic:

“Thus you will say to them, ‘The gods who heaven and earth did not make,

will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.'” (Jer. 10:11)

The next verse tells us, once again in Hebrew, that it is God who make the earth and established the heavens. What is the significance of this one verse being in Aramaic? The people have adopted the gods of their neighbors and the language of their neighbors and oppressors is here used. Perhaps it adds to the sense of condemnation. It separates them from their God, the God of the Hebrews, to use the langauge of the foe.

There is one more point to note in v. 11. The way the Aramaic reads, there are two words that are almost homophones in a row. You can see in my translation above that the first line ends with “did not make” and the second line begins with “they will perish.” Each of these is only one word in Aramaic.The two words are ‘abadu and ye’badu respectively. They look and sound very similar. Again a nice parallelism is created. The first line has “heaven and earth”” and then the verb; the second has the verb, soundly much like the one in the previous line and then “earth and heaven.” It is an ABBA pattern in which the order of the elements is reversed in the second line. My own opinion is that this serves to highlight th contrast in meaning between the verbs — they, the false gods, “did not make” and therefore they “will perish.” Interestingly, this would not have worked in Hebrew since the first verb, the one for make, has a different meaning in Hebrew.

And that’s all I have on Jeremiah 9 and 10. What observations did you make in these chapters?

Nebby

 

 

 

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  1. […] Jeremiah 9 and 10: Brothers, Fathers and Mothers, and Aramaic […]

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