Jeremiah’s Summons to Repentance: A Form-Critical and Socio-Psychological Re-evaluation

A cursory reading of the Old Testament prophetic books suggests the important role the theme of repentance plays in their overall message. Unfortunately, form-critical studies of the last half-century have often disregarded or denied the possibility of an independent speech form as underlying the prophetic calls to repent in the final form of the biblical prophetic works. Such skepticism likely originates with Wolff’s “Das Thema ‘Umkehr’ in der alttestamentlichen Prophetie,” published in the early 1950s. Here, Wolff proposes that prophetic calls to repent do not constitute an independent speech form but should be considered subordinate to the more commonly discussed genres known as Oracles of Salvation and Oracles of Doom. Two decades later, Raitt published a convincing response to Wolff’s proposal. He argued for an independent form called the prophetic Summons to Repentance, differentiating itself from Wolff’s broader genres by including an appeal and a motivation, the latter of which was comprised of both positive and negative persuasive elements. Raitt further suggested a convincing Sitz im Leben as being the covenant making and renewal ceremonies found in Exod 19:5–6; Deut 28; Josh 24; and elsewhere. Since Raitt’s publication, however, little scholarly discussion has been afforded this important topic.
The present study attempts to revive this debate and build upon Raitt’s proposal, bringing more contemporary voices into the discussion, accounting for recent shifts in form-critical studies from Sitz im Leben to Sitz im Buch, and proposing a new interdisciplinary methodology which draws upon recent advancements in the socio-psychology of human motivation in order to bolster Raitt’s thesis by further highlighting the role of motivation to this speech form. As Jeremiah boasts the most occurrences of this particular form, our study is focused here. Following an overview of the debate and the speech form, an introduction to motivation theory, and analysis of several passages from Jeremiah through lens of motivation studies, we suggest that both form-critical analysis and socio-psychological research indicate the legitimacy of an independent speech form known as the prophetic Summons to Repentance. Moreover, we also propose that the framework presented here for analyzing motivational passages in Jeremiah may prove more broadly applicable for analyzing motivation and paraenetic clauses elsewhere in the Old Testament.

3 thoughts on “Jeremiah’s Summons to Repentance: A Form-Critical and Socio-Psychological Re-evaluation”

  1. I grow weary of the
    I grow weary of the application of new theories (motivation theory in this instance) to biblical texts. Is it really that important to prove that a summons to repentance is an independent speech form?

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