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The Letter of Jeremiah, also known as the Epistle of Jeremy, is a deuterocanonical (or apocryphal) book of the Old Testament; this letter purports to have been written by Jeremiah to the Jews who were about to be carried away as captives to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. It is included in Catholic Bibles as the final chapter of the Book of Baruch. It is also included in Orthodox Bibles as a standalone book. The title of this work is misleading, for it is neither a letter nor was it written by the prophet Jeremiah.[1]



According to the text of letter, the author is the prophet Jeremiah. The biblical book of Jeremiah already contains the words of a letter (Jer 29:1-23) sent by Jeremiah "from Jerusalem" to the "captives" in Babylon. The Letter of Jeremiah portrays itself as a similar piece of correspondance.

Letter of Jeremiah 1 (KJV) Jeremiah 29:1 (KJV)
A copy of an epistle, which Jeremy sent unto them which were to be led captives into Babylon by the king of the Babylonians, to certify them, as it was commanded by God. Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem unto the residue of the elders which were carried away captives ... and to all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon.

As E. H. Gifford puts it, "The fact that Jeremiah had written one such letter to the captives seems to have suggested the idea of dignifying by his name another letter not written in reality till many ages after his death."[2] Most scholars agree that the author was not Jeremiah.[3] The chief arguments put forward are literary quality, as well as the religious depth and sensitivity.[4] J. T. Marshall adds that the use of "seven generations" (v. 3) rather that "seventy years" (Jer 29:10) for the duration of the exile "points away from Jeremiah towards one who deplored the long exile."[5] The author may have been a Hellenistic Jew who lived in Alexandria,[6] but it is difficult to say with certainty. The earliest manuscripts containing the Epistle of Jeremiah are all in Greek. The earliest Greek fragment (1st cent. BCE) was discovered in Qumran.[7] Gifford reports that in his time "the great majority of competent and impartial critics" considered Greek to be the original language.[8] As one of these critics O. F. Fritzsche put it, "If any one of the Apocryphal books was composed in Greek, this certainly was."[9] The strongest dissenter from this majority view was C. J. Ball, who marshalled the most compelling argument for a Hebrew original.[10] However, Yale Semitic scholar C. C. Torrey was not persuaded: "If the examination by a scholar of Ball's thoroughness and wide learning can produce nothing better than this, it can be said with little hesitation that the language was probably not Hebrew."[11] Torrey's own conclusion was that the work was originally composed in Aramaic.[12] In recent years the tide of opinion has shifted and now the consensus is that the "letter" was originally composed in Hebrew (or Aramaic).[13]


The date of this work is uncertain. Most scholars agree that it is dependant on certain biblical passages, notably Isa 44:9-20, 46:5-7, and thus can be no earlier than 540 BCE[14] and since a fragment (7Q2) was identified among the scrolls in Qumran Cave 7, it can be no later than 100 BCE. Further support for this terminus ad quem may be found in a possible reference to the letter in 2 Maccabees 2:1-3.[15]

Letter of Jeremiah vv. 4-6 (NEB) 2 Maccabees 2:1-3 (NEB)
Now in Babylon you will see carried on men's shoulder's gods made of silver, gold, and wood, which fill the heathen with awe. Be careful, then, never to imitate these Gentiles; do not be overawed by their gods when you see them in the midst of a procession of worshippers. But say in your hearts, "To thee alone, Lord, is worship due." The records show that it was the prophet Jeremiah who ordered the exiles ... not to neglect the ordinances of the Lord, or be led astray by the sight of images of gold and silver with all their finery.

As mentioned above, the use of "seven generations" rather than "seventy years" points to a later period. Ball calculates the date to be ca. 307-317 BCE.[16] And Tededche notes: "It is well known that many Jews were attracted to alien cults throughout the Greek period, 300 BCE onward, so that the warning in the letter might have been uttered any time during this period."[17]


Although the "letter" is included as a discrete unit in the Septuagint, there is no evidence of it ever having been canonical in the Jewish tradition.[18]

The earliest evidence we have of the question of its canonicity arising in Christian tradition is in the work of Origen of Alexandria, as reported by Eusebius in his Church History. Origen listed Lamentations and the Letter of Jeremiah as one unit with the Book of Jeremiah proper, among "the canonical books as the Hebrews have handed them down,"[19] though scholars agree that this was surely a slip.[20]

Jerome provided the majority of the translation work for the vulgar (popular) Latin translation of the Bible, called the Vulgate Bible. In view of the fact that no Hebrew text was available, Jerome refused to consider the Epistle of Jeremiah, as the other books he called apocryphal, canonical.[21]

Despite Jerome's reservations, the epistle is included as chapter 6 of the book of Baruch in the Old Testament of the Vulgate. The Authorized King James Version follows the same practice, while placing Baruch in the Apocrypha section as does Luther's Bible. In the Ethiopian Orthodox canon, it forms part of the "Rest of Jeremiah", along with 4 Baruch (also known as the Paraleipomena of Jeremiah).

The epistle is one of four deuterocanonical books found among the Dead Sea scrolls (see Tanakh at Qumran). (The other three are Psalm 151, Ben Sira, and Tobit.) The portion of the epistle discovered at Qumran was written in Greek. This does not preclude the possibility of the text being based on a prior Hebrew or Aramaic text. However, the only text available to us has dozens of linguistic features available in Greek, but not in Hebrew, hence introductions of a Greek editor, not required for minimalist translation.[22]


The "letter" is actually a satire, or harangue, against idols and idolatry.[23]Bruce M. Metzger suggests "one might perhaps characterize it as an impassioned sermon which is based on a verse from the canonical Book of Jeremiah."[24] That verse is Jer 10:11, the only verse in the entire book written in Aramaic.[25]

Tell them this: "These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens."

Jeremiah 10:11 (NIV)

The work was written with a serious practical purpose: to instruct the Jews not to worship the gods of the Babylonians, but to worship only the Lord. As Gifford puts it, "the writer is evidently making an earnest appeal to persons actually living in the midst of heathenism, and needing to be warned and encouraged against temptations to apostasy."[26] The author warned the Hebrew exiles that they were to remain in captivity for seven generations, and that during that time they would see the worship paid to idols. Readers were extolled not to participate, because the idols were created by men, without the powers of speech, hearing, or self-preservation. Then follows a satirical denunciation of the idols. As Gifford explains, in this folly of idolatry "there is no clear logical arrangement of the thought, but the divisions are marked by the recurrence of a refrain, which is apparently intended to give a sort of rhythmical air to the whole composition."[27] The conclusion reiterates the the warning to avoid idolatry.


  1. ^ Moore 1992, 3:703; Pfeiffer 1949, 427.
  2. ^ Gifford 1888, 287.
  3. ^ One exception is the Roman Catholic commentator F. H. Reusch, Erklärung des Buchs Baruch (Freiburg im Briesgau: Herder, 1853). For a critique of his position as well as an English translation of portions of his work, see Gifford 1888, 288.
  4. ^ Moore 1992, 704; cf. Marshall 1909, 578.
  5. ^ Marshall 1909, 579; cf. Gifford 1888, 302; Ball 1913, 596.
  6. ^ Charles 1911, 325; Westcott 1893, 361; Gifford 1888, 290.
  7. ^ Baillet 1962, 143.
  8. ^ Gifford 1888, 288; cf. Torrey 1945, 65.
  9. ^ Fritzsche 1851, 206 as translated by Gifford 1888, 288.
  10. ^ Ball 1913, 597-98, and throughout the commentary; cf. Gifford 1888, 289.
  11. ^ Torrey 1945, 65; cf. Oesterley 1914, 508.
  12. ^ Torrey 1945, 66-67. Pfeiffer 1949, 430, supports Torrey's Aramaic proposal, though noting that "its Hellenistic Greek style is fairly good."
  13. ^ Metzger 1957, 96; Moore 1977, 327-27; Nickelsburg 1984, 148; Schürer 1987, 744 (opinion of revisers, Schürer himself thought it was "certainly of Greek origin" [Schürer 1896, 195]); Moore 1992, 704; Kaiser 2004, 62.
  14. ^ Moore 1992, 705; Schürer 1987, 744; Pfeiffer 1949, 429.
  15. ^ Moore 1992, 705; Nickelsburg, 1984, 148; Schürer 1987, 744. Pfeiffer 1949, 429, rejects the reference and cites other rejectors.
  16. ^ Ball 1913, 596; cf. Moore 1977, 334-35.
  17. ^ Tededche 1962, 823.
  18. ^ No work in the Apocrypha was ever considered canonical, see for example "Order of the Books in Jewish Lists" in Henry Barclay Swete, An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1900), 200.
  19. ^ Eusebius,Church History, vi.25.2"
  20. ^ Marshall 1909, 579; Schürer 1987, 744. H. J. Lawlor and J. E. L. Oulton, Eusebius: The Ecclesiastical History, 2 vols. (London: SPCK, 1927), 2:216, write: "the text of the list which lay before Eusebius was corrupt or was carelessly copied."
  21. ^ Jerome, Comm. on Jeremiah, praef. Migne PL 24:706.
  22. ^ Benjamin G Wright, 'To the Reader of the Epistle of Ieremeias', in New English Translation of the Septuagint.
  23. ^ Moore 1992, 703; cf. Dancy 1972, 199.
  24. ^ Metzger 1957, 96. Also endorsing its sermonic character are Ball 1913, 596; Tededche 1962, 822; Vriezen 2005, 543.
  25. ^ Torrey 1945, 64; Metzger 1957, 96; Moore 1992, 704,
  26. ^ Gifford 1888, 290. Oesterley 1914, 507, says much the same thing: "That the writer is seeking to check a real danger ... seems certain from the obvious earnestness with which he writes."
  27. ^ Gifford 1888, 287. The refrain occurs first at v. 16 and then is repeated at vv. 23, 29, 65, and 69.



Text editions

Translations with commentary

  • Ball, C. J. (1913). "Epistle of Jeremy," in The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, ed. R. H. Charles, 2 vols., 1:596-611. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Gifford, E. H. (1888). "Epistle of Jeremy," in Apocrypha, ed. Henry Wace, 2 vols., 2:287-303. The Speaker's Commentary. London: John Murray.
  • Dancy, J. C. (1972). The Shorter Books of the Apocrypha, 197-209. The Cambridge Bible Commentary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Moore, Carey A. (1977). Daniel, Esther, and Jeremiah: The Additions. The Anchor Bible 44. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.


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A copy of an epistle, which Jeremy sent unto them which were to be led captives into Babylon by the king of the Babylonians, to certify them, as it was commanded him of God.



1: Because of the sins which ye have committed before God, ye shall be led away captives into Babylon by Nabuchodonosor king of the Babylonians.

2: So when ye be come unto Babylon, ye shall remain there many years, and for a long season, namely, seven generations: and after that I will bring you away peaceably from thence.

3: Now shall ye see in Babylon gods of silver, and of gold, and of wood, borne upon shoulders, which cause the nations to fear.

4: Beware therefore that ye in no wise be like to strangers, neither be ye and of them, when ye see the multitude before them and behind them, worshipping them.

5: But say ye in your hearts, O Lord, we must worship thee.

6: For mine angel is with you, and I myself caring for your souls.

7: As for their tongue, it is polished by the workman, and they themselves are gilded and laid over with silver; yet are they but false, and cannot speak.

8: And taking gold, as it were for a virgin that loveth to go gay, they make crowns for the heads of their gods.

9: Sometimes also the priests convey from their gods gold and silver, and bestow it upon themselves.

10: Yea, they will give thereof to the common harlots, and deck them as men with garments, [being] gods of silver, and gods of gold, and wood.

11: Yet cannot these gods save themselves from rust and moth, though they be covered with purple raiment.

12: They wipe their faces because of the dust of the temple, when there is much upon them.

13: And he that cannot put to death one that offendeth him holdeth a sceptre, as though he were a judge of the country.

14: He hath also in his right hand a dagger and an ax: but cannot deliver himself from war and thieves.

15: Whereby they are known not to be gods: therefore fear them not.

16: For like as a vessel that a man useth is nothing worth when it is broken; even so it is with their gods: when they be set up in the temple, their eyes be full of dust through the feet of them that come in.

17: And as the doors are made sure on every side upon him that offendeth the king, as being committed to suffer death: even so the priests make fast their temples with doors, with locks, and bars, lest their gods be spoiled with robbers.

18: They light them candles, yea, more than for themselves, whereof they cannot see one.

19: They are as one of the beams of the temple, yet they say their hearts are gnawed upon by things creeping out of the earth; and when they eat them and their clothes, they feel it not.

20: Their faces are blacked through the smoke that cometh out of the temple.

21: Upon their bodies and heads sit bats, swallows, and birds, and the cats also.

22: By this ye may know that they are no gods: therefore fear them not.

23: Notwithstanding the gold that is about them to make them beautiful, except they wipe off the rust, they will not shine: for neither when they were molten did they feel it.

24: The things wherein there is no breath are bought for a most high price.

25: They are borne upon shoulders, having no feet whereby they declare unto men that they be nothing worth.

26: They also that serve them are ashamed: for if they fall to the ground at any time, they cannot rise up again of themselves: neither, if one set them upright, can they move of themselves: neither, if they be bowed down, can they make themselves straight: but they set gifts before them as unto dead men.

27: As for the things that are sacrificed unto them, their priests sell and abuse; in like manner their wives lay up part thereof in salt; but unto the poor and impotent they give nothing of it.

28: Menstruous women and women in childbed eat their sacrifices: by these things ye may know that they are no gods: fear them not.

29: For how can they be called gods? because women set meat before the gods of silver, gold, and wood.

30: And the priests sit in their temples, having their clothes rent, and their heads and beards shaven, and nothing upon their heads.

31: They roar and cry before their gods, as men do at the feast when one is dead.

32: The priests also take off their garments, and clothe their wives and children.

33: Whether it be evil that one doeth unto them, or good, they are not able to recompense it: they can neither set up a king, nor put him down.

34: In like manner, they can neither give riches nor money: though a man make a vow unto them, and keep it not, they will not require it.

35: They can save no man from death, neither deliver the weak from the mighty.

36: They cannot restore a blind man to his sight, nor help any man in his distress.

37: They can shew no mercy to the widow, nor do good to the fatherless.

38: Their gods of wood, and which are overlaid with gold and silver, are like the stones that be hewn out of the mountain: they that worship them shall be confounded.

39: How should a man then think and say that they are gods, when even the Chaldeans themselves dishonour them?

40: Who if they shall see one dumb that cannot speak, they bring him, and intreat Bel that he may speak, as though he were able to understand.

41: Yet they cannot understand this themselves, and leave them: for they have no knowledge.

42: The women also with cords about them, sitting in the ways, burn bran for perfume: but if any of them, drawn by some that passeth by, lie with him, she reproacheth her fellow, that she was not thought as worthy as herself, nor her cord broken.

43: Whatsoever is done among them is false: how may it then be thought or said that they are gods?

44: They are made of carpenters and goldsmiths: they can be nothing else than the workmen will have them to be.

45: And they themselves that made them can never continue long; how should then the things that are made of them be gods?

46: For they left lies and reproaches to them that come after.

47: For when there cometh any war or plague upon them, the priests consult with themselves, where they may be hidden with them.

48: How then cannot men perceive that they be no gods, which can neither save themselves from war, nor from plague?

49: For seeing they be but of wood, and overlaid with silver and gold, it shall be known hereafter that they are false:

50: And it shall manifestly appear to all nations and kings that they are no gods, but the works of men's hands, and that there is no work of God in them.

51: Who then may not know that they are no gods?

52: For neither can they set up a king in the land, nor give rain unto men.

53: Neither can they judge their own cause, nor redress a wrong, being unable: for they are as crows between heaven and earth.

54: Whereupon when fire falleth upon the house of gods of wood, or laid over with gold or silver, their priests will flee away, and escape; but they themselves shall be burned asunder like beams.

55: Moreover they cannot withstand any king or enemies: how can it then be thought or said that they be gods?

56: Neither are those gods of wood, and laid over with silver or gold, able to escape either from thieves or robbers.

57: Whose gold, and silver, and garments wherewith they are clothed, they that are strong take, and go away withal: neither are they able to help themselves.

58: Therefore it is better to be a king that sheweth his power, or else a profitable vessel in an house, which the owner shall have use of, than such false gods; or to be a door in an house, to keep such things therein, than such false gods. or a pillar of wood in a a palace, than such false gods.

59: For sun, moon, and stars, being bright and sent to do their offices, are obedient.

60: In like manner the lightning when it breaketh forth is easy to be seen; and after the same manner the wind bloweth in every country.

61: And when God commandeth the clouds to go over the whole world, they do as they are bidden.

62: And the fire sent from above to consume hills and woods doeth as it is commanded: but these are like unto them neither in shew nor power.

63: Wherefore it is neither to be supposed nor said that they are gods, seeing, they are able neither to judge causes, nor to do good unto men.

64: Knowing therefore that they are no gods, fear them not,

65: For they can neither curse nor bless kings:

66: Neither can they shew signs in the heavens among the heathen, nor shine as the sun, nor give light as the moon.

67: The beasts are better than they: for they can get under a cover and help themselves.

68: It is then by no means manifest unto us that they are gods: therefore fear them not.

69: For as a scarecrow in a garden of cucumbers keepeth nothing: so are their gods of wood, and laid over with silver and gold.

70: And likewise their gods of wood, and laid over with silver and gold, are like to a white thorn in an orchard, that every bird sitteth upon; as also to a dead body, that is east into the dark.

71: And ye shall know them to be no gods by the bright purple that rotteth upon them: and they themselves afterward shall be eaten, and shall be a reproach in the country.

72: Better therefore is the just man that hath none idols: for he shall be far from reproach.

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