1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Jeremy, Epistle of

JEREMY, EPISTLE OF, an apocryphal book of the Old Testament. This letter purports to have been written by Jeremiah to the exiles who were already in Babylon or on the way thither. The author was a Hellenistic Jew, and not improbably a Jew of Alexandria. His work, which shows little literary skill, was written with a serious practical purpose. He veiled his fierce attack on the idol gods of Egypt by holding up to derision the idolatry of Babylon. The fact that Jeremiah (xxix. 1 sqq.) was known to have written a letter of this nature naturally suggested to a Hellenist, possibly of the 1st century B.C. or earlier, the idea of a second epistolary undertaking, and other passages of Jeremiah’s prophecy (x. 1–12; xxix. 4–23) may have determined also its general character and contents.

The writer warned the exiles that they were to remain in captivity for seven generations; that they would there see the worship paid to idols, from all participation in which they were to hold aloof; for that idols were nothing save the work of men’s hands, without the powers of speech, hearing or self-preservation. They could not bless their worshippers even in the smallest concerns of life; they were indifferent to moral qualities, and were of less value than the commonest household objects, and finally, “with rare irony, the author compared an idol to a scarecrow (v. 70), impotent to protect, but deluding to the imagination” (Marshall).

The date of the epistle is uncertain. It is believed by some scholars to be referred to in 2 Macc. ii. 2, which says that Jeremiah charged the exiles “not to forget the statutes of the Lord, neither to be led astray in their minds when they saw images of gold and silver and the adornment thereof.” But the reference is disputed by Fritzsche, Gifford, Shürer and others. The epistle was included in the Greek canon. There was no question of its canonicity till the time of Jerome, who termed it a pseudepigraph.

See Fritzsche, Handb. zu den Apok., 1851; Gifford, in Speaker’s Apoc. ii. 286–303; Marshall, in Hastings’ Dict. Bible, ii. 578–579. (R. H. C.)