JEREMIAH, EPISTLE OF (known in the English version as the Epistle of Jeremy), an apocryphal work, written in the form of a copy of a letter by the prophet Jeremiah "unto them which were to be led captive into Babylon by the king of the Babylonians." It was apparently composed on the basis of Jeremiah 29:1ff. (for a similar but seemingly independent tradition, cf. II Macc. 2:2, and Targ. Jon., Jer. 10:11). The work consists of a vehement polemic against idolatry, the futility of which is scorned and derided (verses 8–72). The author follows no coherent line of thought. His discourse is characterized by abrupt transitions from one idea to another, repetitions, and especially by warnings to the exiles against idolatry. Each section describing heathen gods and their worship concludes with variations on the refrain: "they are no gods: therefore fear them not," or "how should a man then think or say that they are gods?" In depicting the heathen deities the author often uses expressions which echo those in the Bible (cf. Jer. 10:9; Isa. 44:9–19; 46:1–2; Ps. 115:4–8; 135: 15–18). The author was apparently an eyewitness to certain aspects of Babylonian idolatry (see verse 31, which tells of the priests having their clothes rent, their heads and beards shaven and nothing on their heads: the ancient Sumerian priests officiated naked and shaven; see also verse 43, which apparently describes temple harlots in Babylonia). Undoubtedly he was a Babylonian Jew who wrote under the name of Jeremiah. His period may be fixed by verse 3, which probably hints at his own time, and which prophesies the return of the exiles after seven generations, that is, approximately 200 years. Reckoning from the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E. this would refer to the beginning of the fourth century B.C.E., i.e., the days of Artaxerxes II Mnemon (405–359). Scholars formerly maintained that the Epistle was written in Greek, the language in which it has been preserved, but a number of factors indicate that the original language was Hebrew, as has been conclusively shown by Ball (e.g., in verse 17, "a vessel that a man uses" (kelei adam) is a mistranslation of "an earthen vessel" (kelei adamah). In the Vulgate the Epistle is appended to Baruch as chapter 6. A passage from the Epistle of Jeremiah (verse 5) was used by the Marranos as a theological justification of Marranism. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: J.J. Kneucker, Das Buch Baruch… (1879); C.T. Torrey, The Apocryphal Literature, 64–67; Ball, in: Charles, Apocrypha, 1 (1913), 596–611; R.R. Harewell, Principal Versions of Baruch (1915); Artom, in: A. Kahana, Ha-Sefarim ha-Ḥiẓonim, 1 (1936), 336–49; Wambacq, in: Biblica, 40 (1959), 463–75; 47 (1966), 574–6 (Fr.); Roth, Marranos, 170. (Abraham Schalit)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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