APOCRYPHON OF JEREMIAH
A part of the body of the pseudepigraphal literature about the Old Testament characters Jeremiah and Baruch. It exists in a Coptic (Sahidic) version as well as in Arabic and Garshuni versions. In the Coptic, it bears the title “Paralipomena Ieremiae,” but it is not identical with the other work known by this name. In the latter versions, it sometimes appears under the title “History of the Captivity in Babylon.” For its subject matter, the work drew largely on the Bible, but the author felt free to elaborate on the biblical framework and to enrich it from other sources.
He was careless, however, and often disregarded details of history and geography. The author seems also to have known and used the “Paralipomena Ieremiae” and possibly other sources such as 2 Maccabees. But it is not always clear whether he relied on his imagination when embroidering the biblical narrative or drew from extrabiblical sources. The resulting apocryphon, with its heightened drama and strong miraculous element, shares characteristics with other apocryphal books.
In its present form, the piece is Christian. But A. Marmorstein (1928) suggests in his study of the Garshuni Jeremiah Apocryphon that the original form of the work was Jewish, and was only secondarily Christianized. It may also be tentatively suggested that the Coptic version of the work is a translation of a Greek original that no longer survives. The dating of the work also presents difficulties, although Marmorstein suggested that it may have originated in the third or fourth century.
The work may be summarized briefly. God sends Jeremiah to King Zedekiah of Judah with a message of rebuke to his people for their sinfulness and unfaithfulness. After a confrontation with the false prophet Hananiah, Jeremiah is cast into prison by Zedekiah. The Ethiopian Ebedmelech intervenes and obtains his release.
A second divine message of rebuke is written down by Jeremiah and read by Baruch to the king. The king orders the book to be burned, Baruch to be scourged, and Jeremiah to be imprisoned once more. Jeremiah predicts Israel’s captivity in Babylon. Again Ebedmelech intervenes, and the prophet is moved from the pit of mire within the prison to the prison yard. The prophet promises that Ebedmelech, because of his kindness, will not see the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of the people of Israel.
The archangel MICHAEL commands Nebuchadnezzar to make war on Israel to punish the disobedient people. Nebuchadnezzar, after having tested God’s will, invades Judah. Meanwhile it is arranged for Ebedmelech to sleep in the garden of Agrippa during the destruction of Jerusalem and during the period of the captivity of the Hebrews.
Nebuchadnezzar meets Jeremiah, who intercedes with him for his people. Before himself going into captivity, Jeremiah deposits securely the high priest’s garment, the temple vessels, and the keys of the temple. Then the Hebrews are marched off to Babylon, while Jeremiah rides in a chariot with Nebuchadnezzar and his generals.
The Hebrews suffer many hardships and indignities both on the journey and in Babylon. Zedekiah dies after forty years in captivity. Ezra, the future deliverer of his people, while still a schoolboy, is mocked by his Chaldean fellow pupils and performs astounding miracles, one being identical with a miracle attributed to Jesus in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. At the end of seventy years, Jeremiah’s prayer is answered, and King Cyrus of Persia is persuaded, through God’s miraculous intervention, to let the people of Israel return.
Ebedmelech awakes from his long sleep and witnesses Jeremiah’s entry into Jerusalem. After the recovery of the temple vessels, a service of thanksgiving is held in which the whole people of Israel join.
- Charlesworth, J. H. The Pseudepigrapha and Modern Research, pp. 88ff. Missoula, Mont., 1976.
- Kuhn, K. H., ed. “A Coptic Jeremiah Apocryphon.” Le Muséon 83 (1970):95-135, 291-350.
- Marmorstein, A. “Die Quellen des neuen Jeremia-Apocryphons.” Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenshaft 27 (1928):327- 37.
K. H. KUHN