February 15, 2017
We are completing the Book of Jeremiah this Wednesday and next Wednesday. In today’s readings, we begin with the Mosaic law about releasing Hebrew slaves from their debt after seven years. The Judean slaveowners disobeyed this law, which was just another debt their nation would have to pay off with their own 70 years of captivity. (Did you notice that some of the poor farmers were permitted to remain in Judea while most of the ruling class was carried away to captivity in Babylon? Seven years for an individual slave becomes 70 years for a whole nation — I love that symbolism!)
Jeremiah never deserted his countrymen, but did his influence ever bear fruit, even in Egypt where he was carried away captive? Here is an interesting connection, but first some history about Bible translations:
The Septuagint (from the Latin “seventy”) is the primary Greek translation of the Old Testament. This title refers to the legendary 70 Jewish scholars who translated the five books of Moses into Koine Greek as early as the 3rd century BCE. (Koine Greek was the trading language of the Egyptian city of Alexandria and the Eastern Mediterranean at that time.) The traditional story is that 72 Jewish scholars (or 6 elders from each of the 12 tribes) were asked by the Greek king of Egypt Ptolemy II to translate the Torah from Hebrew to Greek for the Library in Alexandria. This is the story repeated by Josephus and St. Augustine:
King Ptolemy once gathered 72 Elders. He placed them in 72 chambers, each of them in a separate one, without revealing to them why they were summoned. He entered each one’s room and said: “Write for me the Torah of Moshe your teacher”. God put it in the heart of each one to translate identically as all the others did. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Septuagint
Did Jeremiah inspire the ancestors of these Egyptian Jews to treasure and remember their law so precisely? Jeremiah’s ministry was from 626 BCE under King Josiah to 595 BCE. Then we no longer have any record of Jeremiah and no account of his death, but I like to think that his cherishing of the Word in Egypt impacted the later Greek translation.
Here are the Bible Notes about today’s readings from The New Oxford Annotated Bible:
Deuteronomy 15 Manumission. . .A court might require a thief, unable to repay a theft, to indenture his labor as compensation or, overcome by debt, a serf might assign his labor to repay a loan. The gift provided the manumitted slave recalls and reenacts the nation’s own manumission by God from slavery in Egypt.
Jeremiah 34.8-22: The aborted manumission of slaves. The context for this event is the period when the siege was briefly lifted because Egyptian forces under Pharaoh Hophra arrived in Judah to attempt to break the siege of the Babylonian army. Babylonian forces temporarily withdrew from Jerusalem in order to face Hophra’s army. . . .The manumission likely also served practical purposes, given scarcity of food resources and the need for male support troops. As soon as the site was lifted, however, the people presumed that normality would return and therefore the manumission was retracted.
Jeremiah 40: Jeremiah was allowed to choose exile or residence in Judah. Choosing the latter, he was placed in the custody of Gedaliah, the newly appointed governor of Judah whose family Jeremiah had long been friendly. Gedaliah’s family figures prominently, not only in the life of Jeremiah but also at the Judean court and in relation to the Deuteronomic reform. Gedaliah’s grandfather Shaphan delivered the newly discovered law scroll to King Josiah. Gedaliah’s father, Ahikam, a member of the delegation sent to the prophetess Huldah, was Jeremiah’s champion as well.