Binocular Vision in Dated Sections: Pragmatics of Parataxis in Jeremiah 24–29 and 32–36

The lack of chronological ordering in the dated sections of Jeremiah (MT 24–29 and 32–36) continues to interest interpreters. Popular recent proposals include a Jehoiakim “frame” in Chapters 25 to 45, featuring the disastrous 4th year of Jehoiakim. Interestingly, the book’s dated sections refer only to selected time periods: the 1st to 5th years of Jehoiakim, the 1st to 4th years of Zedekiah, the siege of Zedekiah from the 10th year, and the deportation of Jehoiachin. Why are these years selected, and why are they placed together in two blocks (Jer 24–29 and 32–36), flanking the Book of Consolation?
Robert Alter has suggested “binocular vision” as a device in Old Testament narrative, citing Genesis 1 and 2 and the two accounts of David’s first meeting with Saul as examples of this mode of enriching reflection. Parataxis is a well-known feature of the Hebrew Bible, as seen in the vav consecutive in narrative and “parallelism” in poetry (reframed as the “appositive style” by Robert Holmstedt). In the New Testament, narrative parataxis includes Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, Luke’s male/female paired stories, and the Markan sandwich of Jairus and the woman with a flow of blood. In the Old Testament, examples include the “sandwich” of the Joseph and Tamar stories, Ruth and Orpah’s paired responses to Naomi, and Isaiah’s comparison of Ahaz and Hezekiah.
The reigns of Jehoiakim and Zedekiah are coupled in 2 Kings 24:19 and Jeremiah 1.3. Each lasted 11 years, and each terminated in a siege and deportation. I propose that Jeremiah juxtaposes these parallel reigns in two blocks, comparing the early reigns (24–29) and later turning points (32–36). The first block, in Jeremiah 24–29, compares the early reigns of Jehoiakim and Zedekiah, signalled with phrases such as “in the beginning of the reign” (26.1, 27.1, 28.1), references to the exile of Jehoiachin (24.1, 29.2), and inclusion of the “fourth year” (25.1, 28.1). The second block, in Jeremiah 32–36, represents later decisive turning points in the 5th year of Jehoiakim and in the final siege of Zedekiah, to which Yahweh responds using “therefore,” (לכן), הנני, and inceptive participles in 32.28 (לכן הנני נתן), 34.17 … 22 (לכן הנני מצוה), 35:17 (אני מביא לכן), and 36.30 (לכן).
In these chapters, flashbacks to Jehoiakim’s rebellion and the resulting siege and deportation are juxtaposed with narratives of Zedekiah’s early and later missteps to show a parallel trajectory of impending disaster. In the world of the text, the setting within an outer frame of Zedekiah’s siege (21.1–10; 37–38) suggests these juxtapositions are a last-ditch attempt to call Judah to trust Yahweh (see 37.2; 38.17). In the final form (MT), the binocular vision of these parallel and cumulative tragedies contributes to the theodicy of the book, highlights the pattern of failure for later generations, and invites those who survived to trust him.

5 thoughts on “Binocular Vision in Dated Sections: Pragmatics of Parataxis in Jeremiah 24–29 and 32–36”

  1. Two sessions
    Sounds like a promising paper. One things to be alert to is whether Jill is also presenting in our invited section. I’m hesitant for a committee member to present in both of our sponsored sections. Thoughts?

    Reply
    • Agree
      While I would be more than happy to see Dr. Firth present in every session, I agree that, procedurally, it would be good for a committee member to present in only one session.

      Reply
      • Open Sesssion
        If Jill is in fact presenting in the invited section (Paul can confirm), we might bypass this paper for the sponsored session, but this paper would still receive strong consideration and our commendation to the remaining open sessions that Ken will lead the way in constructing.

        Reply

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