Jeremiah 26 and the Book of the Twelve

By Billy Doolittle

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Ancient history teaches us that the book of the twelve was seen as one whole book. In this present work, I will argue that Jeremiah 26 interprets a quotation from Micah in the context of other books in the twelve. The question sought to be answered is: “Was the book of the twelve written in order to be interpreted as one composition?” In the context of Jeremiah 26, we will answer just that. Typically in modern churches, if a series is taught on the Old Testament, its from one of the books out of the book of the twelve. This should not be the case.

There are several ancient extra-biblical sources of the twelve being one corpus due to the canonical ordering and number of canonical books. The original Hebrew Canon, as held by early Jewish record, states that there were 22 books in existence. In Josephus’ word Against Apion, he counts 22 books which comprise the OT canon. Josephus likely based his belief of Jews having 22 books in their canon on the Book of Jubilees, although in Jubilees’ existence today, it lacks “22 Hebrew Books.” Jubilees is thought to be dated around 200 BC. There are several lacunae present within the book itself. Beckwith examines the lacunae, observing the writings of John of Constantinople and Georgius Syncellus.  Each reference made from them contain the affirmation of “22 Hebrew books.” The ancient listings of the OT canon we have available today list a 22 book canon or a 24 book canon. Both of these orderings contain the book of the twelve to be one book.  In 4 Esdras 14:45 we see a example of the 24 book canon, “And it came to pass, when the forty days were completed, that the Most High YAHWEH spoke to me, saying, The first twenty-four books that you have written publish openly, that the worthy and unworthy may read them.”

Each ancient document relaying the number of canonical book unanimously shows the book of the twelve as being counted as one book. However, does this determine whether they should be interpreted together as one book? Few ancient texts provide evidence for interpreting the book as a whole, however ancient silence on this issue does not warrant disagreement. Two strong extra-biblical evidences of the book of twelve being read as one whole exists. Sirach 49:10 evidently sees a unity in the twelve prophets saying, “Then, too, the twelve prophets may their bones flourish with new life where they lie! They gave new strength to Jacob and saved him with steadfast hope.” Here, the purpose of the twelve was to give strength to Jacob. Evidently it was not one particular book from the twelve, but the twelve read together as one. Later, Father Epiphanius of Salamis in the 4th Century AD later identifies each of the 22 Hebrew books and says the book of the “Twelve prophets [form] one book.” In the context of the early church father’s writing, he says Genesis through Deuteronomy are “Pentateuch” as well as the book of the twelve being one “Pentateuch”. According to Father Epiphanius, just as Gen-Deut should be read as one book, so should the book of the twelve. This gives a glimpse into how the book of twelve were read, as one composition.

Biblically, an argument may be made from Jeremiah 26 and its apparent reading of the twelve as one book. In Jer 26, Jeremiah delivers a prophecy to the people of Judah concerning the Lord’s coming judgment on Judah if they do not repent. Briefly, the king of Judah at the time was Jehoiakim and he was an evil king on the throne of David (2 Kings 23:37, 2 Chronicles 36:5). Jehoiakim is the son of Josiah, the king which led the kingdom to repentance by the reading of the Torah (2 Kings 22:18). All the peoples of Judah were gathered together and Jeremiah is called to prophesy against the people for their repentance (Jer 26:2). This is a similar call to his first call to prophesy in 1:7. The prophecy which the people hear is likely similar to Jeremiah 17, which is the programmatic passage for all of Jeremiah. The people responded crassly and wished to put Jeremiah to death. The elders stand up and say that they can not put Jeremiah to death, because Hezekiah responded in gratitude and repented at the words of the prophet Micah when he prophesied against Judah (Jeremiah 26:17-19). Jeremiah’s words were the words of the Lord just as Micah’s words. However, there is no textual account for Hezekiah’s response to Micah in the book of the twelve nor in any of the Tanak. Could the author of Jeremiah be supposing Hezekiah’s response from the context of the twelve? There are several redactions from the twelve in Jeremiah 26 and these redactions shine great light on the interpretive method given to us from the author.

Language foreign or scarcely used may be considered a textual anomaly. Anomalies aid in discovering the verbal meaning of the passage and thus give the reader the hermeneutical key to understanding the text. Jeremiah 26:19 records a phrase which only occurs in Jonah 4:1 and Jeremiah 44:17: “great evil”. In Jeremiah 26:19, the phrase is translated to “great disaster” in the ESV, and in Jonah it is translated as “exceedingly angry”. The evidence of Jeremiah’s inclusion from a Jonah source may explain the elder’s report of Hezekiah’s reaction, of having repentance towards Micah’s prophecy of coming judgment. In Jonah’s response to the Lord saving Nineveh (“great evil”; Jonah 4:1) the author is communicating two things, that Hezekiah is acting the opposite of his predecessor Jehoiakim and that the Lord is sovereign over the life and death, success and failure, and providence of the people of Judah. The similar vocabulary occurring in Jeremiah and Jonah marks the reaction which Jonah had, and Hezekiah did not. The repentance that Hezekiah had, and even Josiah had, is absent in Jehoiakim, markedly similar to that of Jonah.

Also, the term “great” in Jonah is correlated with the Lord’s sovereignty, (Jonah 1:17). Jonah was called to the “great city” (Jonah 1:2), and fled in an opposite direction but the Lord caused a “great storm” (Jonah 1:4) and was saved by a “great fish” which the “LORD had appointed (Jonah 1:17).  Jonah thought the LORD saving Nineveh was a “great evil” (Jonah 4:1).  In Jer 26:19, the people will bring “great evil” upon themselves if they do not repent. This is a clear link to Jonah by the use of Jonah’s “great evil” and in the a similar context of warning judgement and repentance of people. Also of note about the Lord’s sovereignty, Jehoiakim’s name originally was “Eliakim”. Eliakim literally means, “God develops”.  Pharaoh Neco changes Eliakim’s name to Jehoiakim which literally means, “the Lord has established.” There is then a correlation with Jehoiakim’s name and the sovereignty of the Lord which is also a communicated theme from Jonah.

Another presence of Jonahic language appears when the people were warned that if they killed Jeremiah, they would have “innocent blood” on themselves (26:15). The sailors in Jonah said they did not want Jonah’s “innocent blood” on themselves (Jonah 1:14). The phrase “Innocent blood” is used only one other time in Joel 3:19.  In Joel, God will bring Egypt to desolation because of the innocent bloodshed they had inflicted on Judah.  Uriah, the prophet who is not mentioned in any other scripture, fled to Egypt to escape Jehoiakim and his men after he prophesied against Judah. Jehoiakim found him and killed him in a similar manner which they wanted to kill Jeremiah. Uriah was the textual example of what Jehoiakim was capable of: killing in innocent blood. The author communicates God’s sovereignty over Jeremiah and his prophecy over Judah by the use of the book of twelve.

Thus, the redactor of Jeremiah had in mind at least three of the book of the twelve due to the inclusion of multiple redactions from Joel, Jonah, and Micah. Although not all the twelve is accounted within chapter 26 of Jeremiah, it is evident that more than just one book was being interpreted from the twelve in one small passage. The author communicates that Jeremiah was to prophesy to Judah in a like manner of Micah and Jonah for Judah’s repentance. This would be accomplished by the sovereign hand of the Lord while in the face of great danger, by a king who has killed before.


Billy Doolittle is a graduate and former Garrett Fellow at Boyce College. He is married to Brittany Doolittle and is a member of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, KY.  You can follow Billy Doolittle on twitter @BillyDoolittle

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