Posts Tagged ‘Babylonia’

I have rendered Jeremiah Chapter 1 into a flowing English narrative incorporating selections of classic commentaries, primarily Rashi, also drawing from Targum and Radak. I would love for this to be a springboard for discussion.

Jeremiah, Chapter 1

Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, a Kohen (priest) from Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, was descended from Rahab the harlot. Despite his humble lineage, he was more righteous than those in his generation who were of prestigious lineage, and therefore was chosen by God to rebuke his generation. Jeremiah began prophesying in the 13th year of King Josiah son of Amon, when the Divine Presence (Shechinah) began to dwell upon him. He prophesied throughout the rest of Josiah’s reign, and throughout the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah, and the reign of Zedekiah son of Josiah, until the 11th year of Zedekiah, in the 5th month, when Jerusalem was exiled.

God said to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. I had already revealed to Adam, from the beginning of time, who the prophets of each generation would be for all time, including you. Before you emerged from the womb, I prepared you for this purpose. I already told Moses, ‘I will raise up a prophet for them… like you’ (Deuteronomy 18:18). This prophecy refers to you, Jeremiah. You are a prophet like Moses, for just as Moses rebuked Israel, so shall you rebuke Israel. Just as Moses prophesied for forty years, so shall you prophesy for forty years. I have made you a prophet who will prophesy to Israel, a nation that behaves as though it is the same as the other nations of the world, not fulfilling the unique mission that I have commanded them. You will also prophesy regarding the calamities that will befall the nations of the world because of their wickedness.”

Jeremiah said to God: “But Lord, behold, I am unable to rebuke the people, for I am yet a lad. Moses rebuked the people close to his death. By that time, Israel already regarded Moses highly because of all the miracles he had performed for their benefit throughout many years. He took them out of Egypt and split the sea for them. He brought down the manna and swarms of quail for them to eat. He gave them the Torah and drew water from the rock. Therefore he could also rebuke them and they would listen. But you ask me to rebuke them at the very beginning of my career!”

God said to Jeremiah: “Do not say, ‘I am a lad,’ for you shall go to the nations of the world if I send you to them, and you shall speak to the people of Israel the words I tell you. Do not fear them, for I am with you, to save you.”

God sent His prophetic words and arranged them in Jeremiah’s mouth. God said to Jeremiah: “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms to uproot and to smash and to annihilate and to destroy, for as you prophesy regarding them, so shall befall them. But as for Israel, you are appointed to build and to plant, if they listen and repent.”

God spoke to Jeremiah, saying, “What do you see, Jeremiah?”

Jeremiah said, “I see an almond branch, representing a king who is quick to do evil, as the almond tree is quicker to blossom than other trees.” 

God said to Jeremiah, “You have seen well. Just as this almond blossoms more quickly than other trees, so am I quick to carry out my word. It takes twenty-one days for the almond to ripen, just as there shall be twenty-one days from the 17th of Tamuz, when the walls of Jerusalem will be breached, until the 9th of Av, when the Temple will be destroyed.”

God spoke to Jeremiah again, saying, “What do you see?”

Jeremiah said, “I see a boiling pot, bubbling up on the north side.”

God said to Jeremiah, “From Babylonia, which is in the north, shall the evil come forth upon all the inhabitants of the land. For behold, I am calling to all the families of the kingdoms of the north, and each man shall set his seat at the opening of the gates of Jerusalem, and upon all its walls around, and upon all the cities of Judah. And I shall pronounce judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem for all their evil, for abandoning me and burning incense to other gods, and bowing to the works of their hands. And you, Jeremiah, brace yourself, and rise up, and speak to them all that I shall command you. Do not fear them, lest I break you before them. Behold, today I have made you strong as a fortified city and as a pillar of iron and as copper walls to pronounce retribution against all the inhabitants of the land: the kings of Judah, its officers, its priests and the common people. They will judge you and strive against you to suppress your prophetic words, but they will not succeed against you, for I am with you, to save you.”

In an earlier post, we demonstrated that the biblical phrase, “a light into the nations,” does not mean what is popularly thought, that Israel is to set an example for the nations of the world through excellence of behavior, rather it is a call to the prophet Isaiah himself to be a light to the tribes of Israel, who are called “nations.”

However, this phrase appears again in Isaiah 49:6, carrying another meaning.

“I have set you as a light into the nations, that My salvation shall be until the ends of the earth.”

Rashi comments:

“I have set you as a light unto the nations” — to prophesy regarding the downfall of Babylonia, which is a happiness for the entire world.

Here, according to Rashi, the meaning is that Isaiah’s prophecy is the “light,” bringing joy to the world with his tidings. If so, in this context, “nations” does mean nations of the world, bringing us a step closer to the popularized usage. Nevertheless, the verse still refers to Isaiah himself, not the nation of Israel as a whole, and the “light” refers to a source of joy, not a moral beacon.

Juss’ sayin’.

I know this could easily have been determined with a concordance, but since I didn’t use one, this surprised me. As I make my way slowly but (sometimes) steadily through Isaiah, I discovered a fascinating verse. The prophet, in describing the utter desolation that will be the fate of Babylonia as a consequence of their persecution of Israel, depicts Babylonia as a desert overrun by wild creatures that do not inhabit areas where men dwell.

Isaiah 34:14:

“The tziyim shall encounter the iyim, and the sair shall call to its fellow, even there Lilith abides, and finds her resting place.”

I left the more cryptic Hebrew terms untranslated here, pending my explanatory remarks. “Tziyim” and “iyim” are definitely small desert animals, though of what species exactly I am uncertain. The word sair usually means “goat” although it sometimes means “demon,” as Targum and Rashi both translate here. Demons, according to Jewish tradition, only dwell in secluded or desolate places, not in areas with an abundance of men. The prophet, by invoking the demon, so to speak, conveys that Babylonia will be a ruin uninhabited by men. If, however, sair is to be rendered “goat,” it must refer to some wild, desert variety. Then comes “Lilith.” Remember that there are no capital letters in Hebrew, so the choice to make Lilith a proper noun is the translator’s. Without the capital “L,” a “lilith” in Hebrew may simply refer to a desert creature that makes a ululating sound, or a nocturnal creature taking its name from the Hebrew “laylah,” meaning “night” (Radak). However, Rashi tells us that “Lilith” is indeed the name of a demoness, though Rashi tells us nothing more. Metzudath David goes so far as to say that Lilith is “the mother of the demons.”

Legends abound in the mouths of the masses as to who Lilith actually was or is, though I prefer to save my discussion for what is found in mainstream sources. So far, my research has not yielded much more than I have already shared here.

Isaiah 15:5:

My heart cries out over [the downfall of] Moab…

Rashi comments:

The prophets of Israel are not like the prophets of the nations of the world. Balaam (a gentile prophet, see Numbers 22:2-24:25) sought to uproot Israel over nothing, but the prophets of Israel mourn over the retribution that befalls the nations.

I make no comment here as to whether this is good or bad (Rashi makes no comment to this effect either, though the implication is that Rashi is not criticizing the prophet Isaiah), but it seems to be the undying trait of the Jew to love and feel compassion and act mercifully toward those who would kill us given the chance. Let no one think that ours is the first generation to behave this way.

Another example:

“Therefore my loins are filled with trembling, pains have taken hold of me like the pangs of one giving birth, I have become ill from hearing, I am terrified from seeing.”
(Isaiah 21:3)

This verse comes during a prophecy regarding the downfall of Babylonia, the cruel empire that destroyed Judah and exiled the Jews, not someone the Jews should necessarily feel compassion for. Yet:

“The prophet is compassionate and grieves over the calamities that befall the nations.”
-Rashi, citing Midrash