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 519
declaration in relation to the atbash codes, however, follows the
analog in the Esarhaddon text, with considerable intervening
material, i.e., Jer 30â€“31. These chapters had originated in an earlier
form during the Josianic period (see below), but were subsequently
addressed to the deportees of 597 following their acceptance of
Jeremiah over against the competing prophetic voices of the time (57).
It is this intervening material that provides the key for understanding
the theological function of the Esarhaddon references as an organic
feature of Jeremiahâ€™s discourse. We must therefore consider the
macrostructure of the 597 collection as it evolved during the few
years following the initial deportation, and its implications for
understanding the development of the Jeremianic corpus and its
broader literary context.
6. The 597 Collection and the Development of the Jeremianic Corpus
Though Jer 51 currently concludes the OAN (Jer 46â€”51) and the
principle Jeremianic corpus (Jer 1â€“51), the colophon of Seraiah b.
Neriah at the end of the chapter (vv. 59-64) identifies it as once part of
the 597 collection (58). This collection, composed of Jer 27â€“29, 30â€“31
and 50â€“51, follows a logical progression of declaration of judgment,
delineation of the future theological norms and, finally, the declaration
of restoration with the fall of Babylon. The material separating the 70-
document but adapts them to suit the needs of his discourse. The Esarhaddon
references are not a matter of citation or mimicry but rhetorical assimilation and
transformation. See LEVINSON, Deuteronomy, 144-157.
(57) See LEUCHTER, Jeremiah, 246-256. Jer 24 identifies 27â€“31 as a composite
text at one point by possessing references to both (24,7 invokes 31,33; 24,8
(58) Following Holladayâ€™s identification of Jer 27â€”29 with political events in
594 (Jeremiah 2, 114-119), the 597 collection would have been amalgamated with
the older material in Jer 1â€“25,13+OAN by Seraiah, the scribe charged with the
preservation and ordering of this material (LUNDBOM, â€œBaruch, Seraiahâ€, 103-104).
This would produce a new literary corpus preserved among the Babylonian
community, creating a final, outer inclusio between Jer 1,1 and 51,64 (via the
common whymry yrbd terminology) marking the beginning and end of the text and an
inner inclusio with Jer 1,10-12 and 31,27 (via the common â‰ˆwtnlw Ã§wtn dybahlw srhlw
terminology) marking the end of the direct prophetic discourse to the community
(Jer 50â€”51 deals with Babylon and broader international concerns, not the
deportees). This outer-inner inclusio methodology is consistent with earlier
episodes in the formation of Jeremianic texts from the Josianic period; see
LEUCHTER, Jeremiah, 137-139.