Mark Leuchter, «Jeremiah’s 70-Year Prophecy and the ymq bl/K##Atbash Codes», Vol. 85 (2004) 503-522
Jeremiah’s famous 70-year prophecy (Jer 25,11-12; 29,10) and
the atbash codes (Jer 25,26; 51,1.41) have been the subject of much
scholarly discussion, with no consensus as to their provenance or meaning. An
important inscription from the reign of Esarhaddon suggests that they be viewed
as inter-related rhetorical devices. The Esarhaddon inscription, written in
relation to that king’s extensive building program in Babylon, contains both a
70-year decree and the Akkadian Cuneiform parallel to the Hebrew Alphabetic
atbash codes, claiming that the god Marduk had inverted the 70-year decree,
thus allowing Esarhaddon to rebuild the city. This inscription was likely well
known to the members of the Josianic court and the elite of Judean society who
were carried off to Babylon in 597 B.C.E. This suggests that Jeremiah’s 70-Year
prophecy and the atbash codes were employed to direct the prophet’s
audience to the Esarhaddon inscription and its implications with respect to
Babylonian hegemony as a matter of divine will.
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Jeremiahâ€™s 70-Year Prophecy 513
mirrors Esarhaddonâ€™s own embracing of sacral Babylonian royal
traditions during his effort to secure his rule over Babylon (32).
A number of Jeremianic passages reflect the prophetâ€™s own
familiarity with Assyrian literature and culture. Jer 10,1-16 accurately
reflects the ritualized process of the creation of graven images in both
Assyria and Babylon (33), and Jer 2,22.214.171.124 refer to Assyriaâ€™s
military alliance with Egypt during the last few tense years of Josiahâ€™s
reign (34). Jer 4,23-26 involves a subtle play on the Akkadian cognate to
the Hebrew word tbÃ§ (35), and the prophetâ€™s familiarity with Aramaic,
the language of diplomacy employed by Assyria, is evident in Jer 10,11
and Jer 25,10 (the latter of which points to the prophetâ€™s reliance upon
the norms of Assyrian political epigraphy) (36). The similarities in form
between Jeremiahâ€™s juridical prose and the parenetic features of the
Deuteronomic corpus suggests that the prophet was himself familiar
with the Assyrian literature which served as the latterâ€™s literary
inspiration (37). This is further supported by the consistent associations
(32) For parallels between the Deuteronomic material and the VTE, see
WEINFELD, Deuteronomy, 115-138. For Esarhaddonâ€™s diplomatic strategy with
respect to Babylonian royalistic theology, see PORTER, Images, Power Politics,
(33) See especially T. JACOBSEN, â€œThe Graven Imageâ€, Ancient Israelite
Religion. Essays in Honor of Frank Moore Cross (eds. S.D. MCBRIDE et al.)
(Philadelphia 1987) 15-32. For Jer 10,1-16 as original to the prophet, see W.L.
HOLLADAY, â€œIndications of Jeremiahâ€™s Psalterâ€, JBL 121 (2002) 247; B.D.
SOMMER, A Prophet Reads Scripture. Allusion in Isaiah 40â€“66 (Stanford 1998)
166, 237 n. 112, 258 n. 94; M. MARGALIOT, â€œJeremiah x 1-16: A Re-
Examinationâ€, VT 30 (1980) 295-208.
(34) For the references in Jer 2 to the Assyrian-Egyptian alliance ca. 616
B.C.E., see SWEENEY, King Josiah, 215-225, 233.
(35) M. FISHBANE, â€œJer iv 23-26 and Job iii 3-13: A Recovered use of the
Creation Patternâ€, VT 21 (1971) 151-153.
(36) See A. LEMAIRE, â€œJÃ©rÃ©mie xxv 10b et la StÃ¨le AramÃ©enne de Bukanâ€ VT
47 (1997) 543-545. Lemaire suggests that the form of the verse is dependent upon
the political language represented by an inscription from the reign of Esarhaddon.
If the verse may be attributed to Jeremiah (see the discussion below concerning
Jer 51) then the prophet appears to be conversant with Esarhaddonâ€™s political
dispatches, supporting the hypothesis I have proposed herein.
(37) See LEUCHTER, Jeremiah, 140ff., wherein I have argued that significant
portions of the juridical or sermonic prose in the book of Jeremiah may be
attributed to the prophet directly, though there is no reason to deny the presence
of subsequent scribal accretions; such is implied by the function of Baruchâ€™s
colophon in Jer 45, which empowers the scribe to continue in the footsteps of the