Epistle of Jeremiah

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The Epistle of Jeremiah is found in the books of the Septuagint, the Old Testament accepted as inspired and canonical by the Orthodox Church in the Greek Orthodox Bible, and is found in the books of the Old Testament of the Vulgate as the sixth chapter of Baruch as included in the canon of inspired scripture by the Third Council of Carthage (397). It is included in the canon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Bible. Since the Council of Trent it is dogmatically accepted as inspired and canonical by the Catholic Church in the Catholic Bible—books of the Bible accepted as divinely inspired by the majority of Christian believers in the United States and throughout the world.[1][2]

Baruch, with the Epistle of Jeremiah as Baruch 6:1-73, was first removed from the Old Testament and placed in the Apocrypha by Martin Luther in the 16th century. It does not appear under a separate title in the King James Apocrypha. It is generally known today as chapter 6 of Baruch in the Septuagint, Vulgate, and King James Version Apocrypha.

See Apocrypha.

Canonical status

The Letter of Jeremiah is included as an inspired text among the Books of the Bible of the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Russian Orthodox Churches. It is considered apocryphal in the Jewish and Protestant canons. It is not included in the Hebrew Scriptures of the Tanakh, but is included among the Old Testament Apocrypha of Protestants. It is included in Orthodox Bibles (Septuagint) as a separate book. In the Ethiopian Orthodox canon, it forms part of the "Rest of Jeremiah", along with 4 Baruch (also known as the Paraleipomena of Jeremiah). In the Roman canon in Catholic Bibles, it is a deuterocanonical work originally appended as a sixth chapter to the Book of Baruch in the Vulgate as the final chapter of Baruch. (The Book of Baruch itself is regarded as an apocryphal book of the Old Testament by less than one-third of Christian believers.[2])

Alternate titles

The Epistle of Jeremiah is also known as The Letter of Jeremiah, The Epistle of Jeremias, and Epistle of Jeremy.


This letter states that it is written by Jeremiah and sent by him to the exiles who are to be taken captive into Babylon, to Jews exiled to Babylon by King Nebuchadrezzar in 597 B.C..

The letter attacks the folly of idolatry as did Jeremias' letter “to those who were to be taken to Babylon as captives.” See Jeremiah, chapter 10:2-15 and chapter 29.

The author warns the Hebrew exiles that they will remain in captivity for seven generations, and that during that time they will see the worship paid to idols. Readers are exhorted not to participate, because the idols are created by men, without the powers of speech, hearing, or self-preservation. The Letter contains ten warnings that end in a kind of refrain that the idols are not gods and are not to be feared (vv. 14, 22, 28, 39, 44, 51, 56, 64, 68). In verse 70 the author compares an idol to a scarecrow in a cucumber patch—impotent to protect, but its appearance deludes the imagination.


The Book of Baruch, Chapter 6: Epistle of Jeremias.

  • 6:1 - "A copy of the letter which Jeremiah sent to those who were to be taken to Babylon as captives"
  • 6:2-7 - The People Face a Long Captivity
  • 6:8-39 - The Helplessness of Idols
  • 6:40-73 - The Foolishness of Worshiping Idols

Historical-critical textual analysis

Babylonians are believed to have carried their idols around on their shoulders. Some scholars point to this description as evidence that Jeremiah/Jeremias may have actually written this work. Adding to this, the Jewish historian Josephus mentions a legend where Jeremias sends a letter to the exiles in Babylon and commands that it be thrown into the sea after it has been delivered. See Jeremiah 51:59-64.

Although the letter is extant only in Greek, certain linguistic and stylistic elements point to an original composition in Hebrew or Aramaic, late 4th to early 1st century B.C.. Sources appear to be Jeremiah, chapter 10:2-15 and chapter 29. Regarding the original language of the manuscript(s) from which it has been translated, certain features of the Greek versions indicate a semitic Vorlage (Hebrew or Aramaic). A vorlage (German, "prototype" or "template") refers to a prior version or manifestation of a text under consideration, reconstructed by working backwards from the words of the translation, but unknown, or not extant in reality. Other early versions (Latin, Syriac, Arabic) are translations of the Greek. Possibly composed about 300 B.C. by a Jew living in Babylonia, the text suggests by its intensity that idolatry threatened fidelity to the God of Israel.

Most scholars argue that the author was not Jeremias, but a Hellenistic Jew who lived in Alexandria, that it is not a letter, nor was it written by Jeremiah, but was composed by an anonymous Jewish author, probably of the diaspora in Babylon (or Egypt) or of Hellenistic Palestine, and is a literary fiction pseudonymously credited to Jeremiah, as a homily attacking the folly of idolatry. Whoever the author, the work was written with a serious practical purpose: to instruct the Jews not to worship the gods of the Babylonians, but to worship only the Lord. It is a polemic against the worship of idols, developed around a verse in the Book of Jeremiah (10:11), stating that false gods shall perish. The author’s primary target was probably the Babylonian deity Tammuz, an agricultural god whose cult was associated with orgiastic fertility rites.

Questions of canonicity

The earliest evidence of the question of its canonicity in Christian tradition is in the work of Origen of Alexandria, according to Eusebius in his Church History. Origen listed Lamentations and the Letter of Jeremias as one unit with the Book of Jeremias proper, among "the canonical books as the Hebrews have handed them down".[3]

Jerome provided the majority of the translation work for the vulgar (popular) Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgate. Because no Hebrew text was available to him, Jerome refused to consider the Epistle of Jeremias canonical, and categorized it among the other books he called apocryphal. His view seems to have been a minority of one, and he was overruled by other Christian scholars. Despite Jerome's reservations, the epistle is included as chapter 6 of the book of Baruch in the Old Testament of the Vulgate. The Authorized King James Version follows the same practice of including The Epistle of Jeremy as part of Baruch, while placing Baruch in its Apocrypha section. In the Ethiopian Orthodox canon, it forms part of the "Rest of Jeremiah" along with 4 Baruch (also known as the Paraleipomena of Jeremiah).

Particular views of several scholars

Daniel J. Harrington

Daniel J. Harrington writes: (Harper's Bible Commentary, p. 861 [4])
"The statement of v. 3 that the Babylonian exile would last 'up to seven generations' (as seen in Jeremiah 29:10, where it is supposed to last only seventy years) is sometimes taken as indicating composition late in the fourth century B.C. Since one generation lasts about forty years (see Judges 3:11, 30), subtracting 280 years from 597 B.C. would give a date of 317 B.C. The allusion to the work in 2 Maccabees 2:1-3 and the discovery of a fragment of the Greek version in a Qumran Cave 7 manuscript dated about 100 B.C. suggest the second century B.C. as the latest possible date of composition. If it was composed in Hebrew, a setting in the land of Israel and a time in which attitudes toward foreign cults were hostile (perhaps during the crisis under Antiochus IV Epiphanes) seem likely. The writer, however, is quite familiar with Babylonian customs and may have written in Babylon at an earlier time."
Daniel J. Harrington also writes (Invitation to the Apocrypha, p. 104 [5]):
"The Letter of Jeremiah is not an objective report written by a professor of comparative religion. Rather, it is partisan polemic against other peoples' religious beliefs and practices. It is written from the perspective of a Jew whose religion forbade physical representation of God (see Exodus 20:4-5; Deuteronomy 5:8-9). Whether the author had direct experience of 'idol worship' or derived his descriptions of idols and their temples from biblical texts and popular rumors, he shows no sympathy for religions that represented their gods with statues. For him, the God of Israel is the only true God, and what other people worship as gods are human creations. There is no indication from the author that the devotees of these idols may have regarded them simply as signs or representations of their deities."

David A. deSilva

David A. deSilva writes (Introducing the Apocrypha, p. 216 [6]):
"Jeremiah is the 'author' of this text only insofar as Jeremiah provided the primary resource (Jeremiah 10:2-15) that the actual, anonymous author developed into a lengthier variation on the theme. With regard to the date of composition, Moore's caveat concerning the Additions to Daniel that one must distinguish this carefully from the time of translation into Greek is valid for the Additions to Jeremiah as well (Moore 1977: 128). The translation was accomplished before the end of the second century B.C., given the discovery of a Greek fragment of the Letter of Jeremiah at Qumran (7QLXXEpJer). The time of composition is less certain. Several scholars lay great stress on the peculiar internal indication of date: the prediction that the Jews would be in Babylon 'for a long time, up to seven generations' (v. 3) before God will bring them back to their ancestral land, which represents an alteration of Jeremiah's seventy years (Jeremiah 25:11; 29:10; an alteration also occurs in Daniel's 'seventy weeks of years' [Dan. 9:24; cf. 9:2]). (Ball 1913: 596; Moore 1977: 328; Mendels 1992: 722; Metzger 1957: 96). These scholars argue that the author must be writing before this period of time had elapsed, for it is difficult to imagine an author deliberately altering Jeremiah's prophecy in such a way that would already have proven false. A date between 317 and 306 B.C.E., or 280 years after either the first or second deportation to Babylon (597 and 586 B.C.E.), is taken as the latest date for the composition of the original Hebrew version. There is in fact no internal evidence to necessitate a later date, although the ambiguity of the length of time covered by a 'generation' should make us cautious about being overly precise about the range of dates."

James King West

James King West writes (Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 455 [7]):
"Probably the inspiration for this short tract was the letter preserved in Jeremiah 29:1-23 which Jeremiah had sent to the exiles in Babylon. Because of its association with Jeremiah it is included int he Vulgate as chapter 6 in the book of Baruch. It is, nevertheless, a separate work having no real connection with the latter and is so placed in the LXX. Although it opens with an announcement that God will end the Exile in the 'seventh generation' (6:3; see Jeremiah 29:10-14), the writing is concerned with the apostasy of idol worship. It may be that, as R. H. Pfeiffer suggests, the author is attempting to correct what he regards as the dangerous implications in Jeremiah's advice that the exiles make themselves at home in Babylon (see Jeremiah 29:5-7). Following the lead in Deutero-Isaiah's satire on idols (Isaiah 44:9-20), he cautions in the name of Jeremiah against the danger that while making their home in Babylon the exiles may take up the worship of the lifeless, powerless, useless creations of human hands. Later readers of Jeremiah are thus protected from the erroneous conclusion that his letter may have given tacit approval to the Babylonian religions, and, at the same time, the author has had his say about the vanity of all other worship than that addressed to Israel's God."

J. Alberto Soggin

J. Alberto Soggin writes (Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 460 [8]):
"The book is not a letter, nor can it be derived from Jeremiah. In the preface to his commentary on Jeremiah (Migne, PL 24, 706), Jerome already called the work 'pseudepigraphical'. It is impossible to establish the date and the circumstances of composition exactly, but the calculation of generations brings us down to the fourth century, while other elements in the text suggest an even later date. The problem to which the question about the generations seeks to give an answer is the same as in Daniel. How is it that the divine curse continues for so long after the exile? Here, too, no reply is given."

Marjorie L. Kimbrough

Marjorie L. Kimbrough writes (Stories Between the Testaments, pp. 61–62 [9]):
"The Letter of Jeremiah was written during the first-century Hellenistic period, when idol worship and Greek philosophies were competing with the Jewish Law. There is, however, no comparison in the letter between the God of Israel and the idol gods. Although the focus of the letter is an attack on idols and false prophets, praise of God is not presented. The reader is urged to logically consider the fact that the idols are lifeless, helpless, and created by human beings. Therefore people, being more powerful than the idols, certainly do not need them."

The Qumran fragment

The Epistle of Jeremias, like the book of Baruch, was conserved—together with the Greek translation of the Book of Jeremias—in the Septuagint. The oldest witness of the letter is a fragment of a Greek papyrus, written about 160 BC and found among the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran (7QLXXEpJer). According to some experts, although the idolatry described in the book fits Babylonian cults, the only clear indication of its date is that of the Qumran fragment. Whether the letter was originally written in Greek or is a translation from Hebrew or Aramaic is difficult to decide.


  1. The Catholic Church is the world's largest Christian body comprised of several distinct "Rites". The Catholic Church (Latin Rite) is the largest religious body in the United States, with over 60 million adherents (4 times as large as the second largest church, the Orthodox).
    “The Global Catholic Population,” © 2011, Pew Research Center.
    The Largest Catholic Communities
    The Eastern Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church, and also referred to as the Orthodox Church and Orthodoxy, is the second largest Christian church in the world, with an estimated 225–300 million adherents, most of whom live in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Russia.
    The Greek (Eastern) Orthodox Church. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Of America (1983). Retrieved on 7 May 2014.
    Christianity:Basics:Eastern Orthodox Church Denomination. about.com. Retrieved on 22 May 2014.
    Christianity. Major Branches of Religions Ranked by Number of Adherents. adherents.com. Retrieved on 22 May 2014.
  2. 2.0 2.1 See Percentage of Christians in Protestant Denominations (29.5%).
  3. C. F. Cruse. The Ecclesiastical History Of Eusebius Pamphilus: Bishop Of Caesarea, In Palestine translated from the Greek by The Rev. C. F. Crusé, A.M., Assistant Professor in the University of Pennsylvania. London: George Bell and Sons, York Street, Covent Garden, 1874. Chapters XXIII XXV, pp. 228 231.
  4. Harper's Bible Commentary, Harper & Row Publishers (1988) ISBN 0060655410. ISBN 978-0060655419. 1344 pages.
  5. Daniel J. Harrington. Invitation to the Apocrypha, September 1, 1999 by S.J. Daniel J. Harrington. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; First Edition edition (September 1, 1999). ISBN 0802846335. ISBN 978-0802846334. 230 pages.
  6. David A. deSilva. Introducing the Apocrypha: Message, Context, and Significance, by David A. deSilva (Author), James Charlesworth (Foreword). Baker Academic (November 1, 2004) ISBN 0801031036. ISBN 978-0801031038. 432 pages
  7. James King West. Introduction to the Old Testament, Edition 2, illustrated. Macmillan, 1981. Original from the University of Michigan. ISBN 0024259209, 9780024259202. 609 pages
  8. J. Alberto Soggin. Introduction to the Old Testament, Old Testament Library, Westminster John Knox Press, Jan 1, 1989. ISBN 0664221564, 9780664221560. 644 pages
  9. Marjorie L. Kimbrough. Stories Between the Testaments, Abingdon Press (March 2000). ISBN 0687089557. ISBN 978-0687089550. 176 pages.

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