The common language at the time of Jesus

After the Babylonian captivity, Aramaic replaced Biblical Hebrew as the everyday language in Israel.  However, Biblical Hebrew was still used for religious purposes.  After Alexander the Great, the Ptolemies and the Seleucids ruled Israel for almost two hundred years.  Thus, the Jewish culture was heavily influenced by this Hellenistic culture.  Koine Greek was used not only for international communication, but also as the first language of some Jews.  This development was furthered complicated by the fact that the largest Jewish community in the world lived in Ptolemaic Alexandria, Egypt.  Many of these diaspora Jews would have Greek as their first language.  Thus, first the Torah, and then other Hebrew scriptures, were translated into standard Koine Greek, the Septuagint.

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The defeat of the Egyptian Pharaoh Neco (Jer 46:2-46:2)

“Concerning Egypt.

The army of Pharaoh Neco,

King of Egypt,

Was by the Euphrates River,

At Carchemish.

King Nebuchadnezzar,

Of Babylon

Defeated him

In the fourth year

Of King Jehoiakim,

The son of Josiah,

King of Judah.”

King Neco II ruled Egypt from 610-595 BCE. He had a huge impact on Judah because he had killed King Josiah (640-609 BCE) in 609 BCE at Megiddo. King Josiah of Judah was on the Babylonian side of this war against the Egyptians. King Neco then replaced the son of King Josiah, King Jehoahaz or King Shallum of Judah, with his brother King Jehoiakim or King Eliakim (609-598 BCE). King Jehoahaz (609 BCE) was brought back to Egypt, while his brother ruled in Judah. The incident mentioned here took place 4 years later in 605 BCE, in the 4th year of the reign of King Jehoiakim at Carchemish, on the Euphrates River. This is where King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeated King Neco of Egypt.

The response of Shemaiah to Jeremiah’s letter (Jer 29:24-29:28)

“Shemaiah of Nehelam

Sent a letter to

All the people

Who are in Jerusalem,

The priest Zephaniah,

The son of Maaseiah,

As well as to all the priests.

Saying.

‘Thus says Yahweh of hosts!

The God of Israel!

Yahweh has made you priest

Instead of the priest Jehoiada.

Thus there may be officers

In the house of Yahweh

To control any madman

Who plays the prophet.

Thus you can put him

In the stocks

With a collar.

Now why have you not rebuked

Jeremiah of Anathoth

Who plays the prophet for you?

He has actually sent to us

In Babylon,

Saying.

‘It will be a long time.

Build houses!

Live in them!

Plant gardens!

Eat what they produce!’”

Apparently this prophet Shemaiah of Nehelam in Babylon was upset at the letter that Jeremiah sent. So he responded with another letter to the priests at Jerusalem, especially Zephaniah, who had the same father as the slain prophet Zedekiah, so that he would have been his brother. He indicated that Zephaniah had replaced Jehoiada as the chief priest. Thus he had the power to control mad men who pretended to be prophets. In particular, he named Jeremiah as this kind of mad man who told them in Babylon to stay there, build houses, live in them, plant gardens, and eat from them. Shemaiah thought that this was a crazy idea.

Jeremiah is to wear an iron yoke (Jer 28:13-28:14)

“‘Go!

Tell Hananiah!

Thus says Yahweh!

You have broken wooden bars,

Only to forge iron bars

In place of them!

Thus says Yahweh of hosts!

The God of Israel!

I have put an iron yoke

On the neck of all these nations.

Thus they may serve

King Nebuchadnezzar

Of Babylon.

They shall indeed serve him.

I have even given to him

The wild animals.’”

Yahweh spoke to Jeremiah to tell him to go to the prophet Hananiah. Jeremiah was to tell Hananiah that even though he had broken the wooden yoke that Jeremiah had around his neck, it was going to be replaced with an iron yoke. In fact, Yahweh, the God of Israel, was going to put an iron yoke on all the nations, so that they would all serve King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. There was no doubt that Yahweh favored the Babylonian king, so that even the wild animals were under his control.

The return from the Exile (Jer 3:15-3:18)

“‘I will give you shepherds

After my own heart.

They will feed you

With knowledge.

They will feed you

With understanding.

When you have multiplied,

You will have increased in the land.’

Says Yahweh.

‘In those days,

They shall no more say.

‘The ark of the covenant of Yahweh.’

It shall not come to mind.

It will not be remembered.

It will not be missed.

There will not be another one made.

At that time

Jerusalem shall be called

The throne of Yahweh.

All nations shall gather to it.

In the presence of Yahweh,

In Jerusalem,

They shall no more stubbornly follow

Their own evil will.

In those days

The house of Judah shall

Join the house of Israel.

Together they shall come

From the land of the north

To the land that I gave your ancestors

For a heritage.’”

Yahweh speaks via Jeremiah about what was going to happen in the future after they returned from the Exile. They would have good shepherd rulers with knowledge and understanding leading them. They would increase and multiply in the promised land of their ancestors.   In a strange sort of comment, the Ark of the Covenant would be replaced by the city of Jerusalem as the throne of Yahweh. Somehow they were going to forget and not miss the Ark of the Covenant. Many nations would come to Jerusalem. This sounds like it was written at the time of the Exile about a future hope for Jerusalem. The returned Israelites would no longer follow their own evil ways, as the house of Judah would come together with the northern tribes of Israel. They would enjoy the land that was given to them as the heritage of their ancestors.

The old foolish king (Eccl 4:13-4:16)

“‘Better is a poor

But wise youth

Than an old

But foolish king,

Who will no longer take advice.’

One can indeed

Come out of prison

To reign,

Even though born poor

In the kingdom.

I saw all the living

That move about

Under the sun.

Follow that youth

Who replaced the king.

There was no end

To all those people

Whom he led.

Yet those who come later

Will not rejoice in him.

Surely this also is vanity.

This is chasing after wind.”

It is better to get rid of an old foolish king who will not take advice. A poor wise young person can be a king, even if he comes out of prison. Qoheleth has seen everything under the sun. He wants you to follow the new young king, who replaced the old king. People will follow him even though they might not rejoice later. After all, this is all vanity and futile. Finding the perfect king is like chasing after wind, never to be achieved.