[b-hebrew] Syntax of Jeremiah 15:12
Christopher.Heard at pepperdine.edu
Tue Jan 4 11:15:51 EST 2005
Thank you for your input. "As iron sharpens iron," let me press on a couple
of points just to see how decisive they might be for translating this verse.
I have no agenda here except getting a solid translation of the verse, and
at this point I am just confused.
>> Three contemporary commercial translations give three quite different
>> NRSV Can iron and bronze break iron from the north?
>> NIV Can a man break iron--iron from the north--or bronze?
>> JPS Can iron break iron and bronze?
> HH: The first and third don't make much sense to me, so I favor the
> second. Israel wasn't particularly iron at this point. Presumably, if
> all Israel was against Jeremiah (Jer 15:10), then Josiah had already
> died. So Israel had become a pawn of Egypt and Assyria. A lot of
> iron from ancient days was made in the north, up in Hittite country.
> But whichever of the three one chooses, the implied answer to the
> question is "No."
Harold, it sounds like you're mostly answering from "context," but perhaps
casting the context a bit too broadly. The _immediate literary_ context is a
divine response to one of Jeremiah's complaints. Also the way "iron" and
"bronze" are used metaphorically in Jeremiah keeps me confused. You seem to
be assuming that "iron" refers to Judah (not Israel, which no longer
existed) in NRSV and JPS, and that "iron" refers to strength in all 3
translations. I can buy that "iron" and "bronze" are symbolic of strength,
but in the context God is talking to Jeremiah individually--maybe, depending
on where the paragraph breaks are and quotations end and so on--and in Jer
1:18 God "makes" Jeremiah "into" an "iron/bronze wall." Also the collocation
of "bronze and iron" in Jer 6:28 seems to refer not to strength, but
imperfection, or maybe stubbornness. "Woe is me, O prophet, that you should
use such confusing metaphors!"
See, I am not even sure what this question is asking in a non-metaphorical
sense. Is the "iron from the north" the Babylonian threat? (Not Assyria; by
Jeremiah's lifetime, Assyria was considerably weakened, and if this oracle
does date from after Josiah's death in 609, then Assyria was pretty much a
non-issue for Judean politics, it was all Egypt and Babylon.) Or is the
"iron from the north" something else? Is the iron-and-bronze Jeremiah, like
in 1:18? Or the Judeans collectively, as in 6:28? Or something else? Why
does JPS eliminate "from the north"? And in the JPS translation, is the
implied answer really "no"?
Plus, I am really looking for _syntactical_ help here. Note that NRSV and
JPS generate _opposite_ questions from this sentence: "Can iron and bronze
break iron?" NRSV vs. "Can iron break iron and bronze?" JPS. I need a
"sentence diagram," but I can't quite figure what to put where.
R. Christopher Heard
Assistant Professor of Religion
Armstrong Fellow in Religion
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