IN THE BEGINNING of his second lecture on Jeremiah, Brueggemann gave a quick summary of his first lecture which is so good because it points to things that you might have missed in the first one, it did for me. In the course of that short summary he said:
One way to understand Jeremiah's vocation to pluck up and tear down and plant and to build and then I showed you four other texts where that same set of verbs is used in a variety of ways to help give shape to the book of Deuteronomy. And then I suggested that the pluck up and tear down is to walk Jerusalem into the loss of 587 and to plant and to build is to walk Jerusalem out of 587. And the hard thing about plucking up and tearing down is that Jeremiah had to do that in a society of denial that didn't want to know they were walking into that abyss and planting and building is very hard because this was a society in despair and they did not believe anything could happen.
He certainly could be talking about the United States in the first few months of the Biden administration, following on the abyss of Trump, if you want an example of the denial, you can find that on the would be hard-left among the likes of Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi,* both in denials of what happened in walking into the abyss and who reject the Democrats trying to plant and build our way out of it. The drama over the Senate, the filibuster, the fate of voting and democracy are, I think, a good example of the kind of thing he says Jeremiah faced in his time. Dissatisfaction with the possible as set against the imagined perfection of the left I am a part of is a major problem for making progress.
Now this really is the structure of most of the Prophetic Books so you will find particularly in the three big books of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, they're all organized this way even though they don't use this kind of language . . . and then I think I said at the end that pattern and see the four verbs that way this is really retold in the life of Jesus so this (walking into the abyss) becomes crucifixion and this (walking out of it) becomes resurrection. And, obviously, the shapers of the Jesus narrative knew all this very well.
Listening to this part of it, I was, of course, nervous because it is the kind of analysis that plays into the hands of the mockers and deniers, the debunkers and the historical revisionists (really all history is revision, so the term is redundant) who want to deny that Jesus was a real person and everything from the 18th century atheists down to the ones who used to take out personal ads in The Nation to hawk their "proof" that Jesus was fictional. But that is dishonest because every piece of history, biography, journalism, even careful reportage has a structure placed on it to make it both comprehensible to the person telling the story and to render it comprehensible in a more general context than a theatrical narrative at its most superficial settles for.
The people who witnessed the vocation of Jesus, the three years or so he was a public figure, his ministry, his prophecy, his death and, as they also report, the experience of him, resurrected, would certainly have reached into the most significant literature of their culture, all of them being Jews, it would be the books of the Scriptures they knew, as I found out in doing background reading for this series, likely, for a lot of them, the versions of those books in the Greek translation of the Septuagint. The same can be said in other cultures where other events and lives were given a structure in the telling in terms familiar to those people, whether through the Hindu tradition, various Chinese and Buddhist traditions, through the Homeric literature in Greece and Rome and in other, less known to us but entirely familiar to the class that wrote things down in Egypt and those cultures which used cuneiform writing.
If you're going to reject that practice, you'd better give up ever looking into any ancient literature because that kind of practice is all over the place. And it's certainly true that if you want to avoid it, you're going to have to give up more recent stuff, too.
As I indicated yesterday, 20th century atheists used their previous literature, recycling themes and tropes and legends and lies in their literary production, too. The hagiogrpaphic nonsense on TV, in movies and as seen dancing and rapping on Broadway does the same only I don't think that historical accuracy is the goal, selling tickets and perpetuating self-serving myths are.
In the end, the reason that someone is speaking is important to understanding what they are saying. Jeremiah, in interpreting what he saw going on in front of him advocated the egalitarian justice of the Law of Moses and attributed the disaster he saw coming and experienced as a consequence of inequality and injustice. It is clear that Jesus intended in his ministry to fulfill that Law and to bring its egalitarian justice into being. That same intention, as an often counter-productive and ultimately impotent secular aspiration, vestiges of post-Christian culture, may inform some of the perpetuated myths of our own time, certainly in the current example I've singled out for repeated condemnation, Hamilton, though in the case of Hamilton, the reality of who he really was and what he really did is of ongoing and anti-egalitarian in its unjust consequences in a way that is consequential and so must be set straight, so many college-credentialed idiots in denial and then promoting discouragement buy it. We're not going to walk out of the abyss we're in until we face that. And I don't mean just that the musical is dishonest crap. It's a really dangerous set of myths.
* I am hesitant to put Matt Taibbi who has done some important and respectable work in the same category as Glenn Greenwald, whose accomplishments given in the piece linked to, are exaggerated, in my opinion. I won't go into that here, though.