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on 11 April 2008
Walter Brueggemann's `A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile & Homecoming' is an excellent work; large, scholarly, (reasonably) modern and conservative while still being a comfortable enough read.

Amazon's `Search Inside' feature will reveal how Brueggemann divides his work (and the `other' front cover), but since Jeremiah is such a complicated book of the Bible, the divisions are not universally followed: For instance, J. A. Thompson's huge commentary (part of the New International Commentary series) sees Jer. 2.1-25:38 as one massive section, but Bruggemann divides the same text into eight (much more manageable) sections.

Brueggemann strikes a useful balance between the Hebrew and historical technicalities and a more superficial offering. And since it's fairly up-to-date compared to other great Jeremiah commentaries (e.g. Thompson/Holladay), it benefits from them all whilst using more modern theological viewpoints. Thus, the commentary notes that many editorial processes helped develop the book of Jeremiah into its final form, but it also recognises that this final form is `as it is supposed to be' (so to speak).

On the whole, then, I like Brueggemann's commentary. Criticisms would be a) the repetition and b) the occasionally `flowery' articulation:

a) The repetition is part-and-parcel of the job of commentating on this biblical work. Jeremiah says the same thing (sometimes verbatim) repeatedly. Indeed, his prophetic ministry is said to have lasted forty years and the basic message never changed so some repetition is inevitable. Brueggemann emphasises that `there will be a temptation in interpretation to summarise and reduce, and one must have patience to stay with the poetic nuance and detail' (p32). How right he is! Even so, I began to feel that he over-stretched the point on several occasions: `See previous' might have been warranted after all...

b) His frequently describing the text as `subversive', `daring' or `destabilising', and even more frequent use of exclamation marks, makes the commentary seem a little `flowery' sometimes. Perhaps Brueggemann is struggling to emphasise the impact of the text because much of Jeremiah `comes close to the edge of language, beyond which nothing dare be uttered' (p450).

In the end, however, Brueggemann's apparent aim of offering a scholarly interpretation while avoiding `dense academic' complexity is successful. That said, the biblical book of Jeremiah, and so this commentary also, require a huge effort of will to read in their entirety. I persevered with both because, as an unintentional pessimist, I felt I needed to understand `God at his worst' (so to speak). The biblical book of Jeremiah is hard - it's supposed to be - but Brueggemann's commentary is helping me understand the love, and extraordinary pain, of God which the prophet describes.
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