Jeremiah 7:22 — ancient textual criticism?

There has been some discussion recently, about what Yeremiah actually means in his chapter 7, verse 22.

For I did not speak with your fathers, Nor did I command them in the day of My bringing them out of the land of Egypt, Concerning the matters of burnt-offering (עולה) and sacrifice (YLT)

The traditional explanation says, oh yes, Yehovah did command the Israelites concerning whole-burnt offerings and sacrifices. Yeremiah uses here, according to the traditional view, a rhetorical device where an obviously true fact is denied in order to give additional weight, emphasis or credibility to the subsequent statement:

But this thing I commanded them, saying: Hearken to My voice, And I have been to you for God, And ye — ye are to Me for a people … — Jeremiah 7:23a, YLT.

Against this, some will ask: suppose you are the holy spirit, knowing the words you plant in Broca’s area of this nice guy Yeremiah will end up being used as holy scripture, then would you use a rhetorical device which involves literally denying the veracity of much of what presently constitutes the biblical canon?

Biblical text is often written so that a sentence gets repeated with different words, and irony is avoided. The same thing is said again but in an alternative way, so that nobody may stumble by misunderstanding a single expression.

When most of the bible is written so carefully, how could we expect a statement, made by a prophet, to suddenly mean the reverse of its logical content?

An alternative explanation suggest a conflict between the prophets and the priests, who may have influenced the scribes to add the whole priestly institution to the law. This explanation will probably remain rather alternative, since in Jeremiah 31:13,14, we read:

At that time the virgin will rejoice in the dance, also the young men and the old men, all together. And I will change their mourning into exultation, and I will comfort them and make them rejoice away from their grief. And I will saturate the soul of the priests with fatness, and with my goodness my own people will become satisfied,” is the utterance of Jehovah. (NW)

This is, b t w, an example of how the first part of the sentence says the same as the second part but with other words: exultation involves rejoicing away from grief and fatness involves goodness, in case we readers did not know.

A less drastic interpretation of Jeremiah 7:22, is to take “in the day of My bringing them out of the land of Egypt” as a literal day and ask, do we have a record of Yehovah commanding someone about sacrifice on that particular day? This question sends us to Exodus chapter 13.

And Moses saith unto the people, ‘Remember this day in which ye have gone out from Egypt, from the house of servants, for by strength of hand hath Jehovah brought you out from this, and any thing fermented is not eaten;
To-day ye are going out, in the month of Abib. — verses 3,4, YLT.

To our great surprise we find, in verses 11-16 in this same chapter, instructions for sacrifice of firstborn animals (except donkeys).

Animal sacrifice

To get some background, the kind of burnt offering(עלה) that Yeremiah speaks of here was performed by, among others, Noah (Genesis 8:20), long before Israel’s exodus. Even earlier, Abel sacrificed from his firstborn sheep (Genesis 4:4). Therefore, since these kinds of sacrifices were common with the patriarchs and probably among the surrounding peoples, it would have required no creativity at all, neither for Yehovah nor for a priest, to come up with an instruction to sacrifice firstborn cattle.

It may have required more creativity to come up with a pedagogical and diplomatic way to tell people that they should stop sacrificing them. How about putting it this way?

Hear, O My people, and I speak, O Israel,
and I testify against thee, God, thy God am I.

Not for thy sacrifices do I reprove thee,
Yea, thy burnt-offerings Are before Me continually.

I take not from thy house a bullock,
From thy folds he goats.

For Mine is every beast of the forest,
The cattle on the hills of oxen.

I have known every fowl of the mountains,
And the wild beast of the field is with Me.

If I am hungry I tell not to thee,
For Mine is the world and its fulness.

Do I eat the flesh of bulls,
And drink the blood of he-goats?

Sacrifice to God confession,
And complete to the Most High thy vows.

And call Me in a day of adversity,
I deliver thee, and thou honourest Me.

— Psalm 50:7-15, YLT.

Against this background, it seems unlikely that God would require the Israelites to perform animal sacrifices that they were not inclined to make anyway.

Suspicious passages

If we assume the command to offer firstborns was a forgery, what passages would have to go from our bibles?

A reasonable way to handle this would be for a bible translator to make a clean choice between translation and paraphrase. If it is a translation, it should keep all disputed passages but mark them as disputed. If it is a paraphrase, it may omit the following:

Exodus 13: 1, 2, 11-16; 22: 29, 30; 34: 19, 20.
Leviticus 27: 26, 27.
Numbers 3: 13; 8: 16-19.
Deuteronomy 12: 5, 6; 15: 19-23.

But hey, what are the odds that a forger could introduce a fake-law in so many places? If true, it would require a whole culture of disrespect towards scripture. If true we should expect to find numerous other additions all over the books of Exodus and Numbers!

Before we continue, just a note about contradictions in the bible. There are sites that claim to have found hundreds or even thousands of contradictions in the Protestant canon. They are ridiculous. It is very hard, or even impossible, to find 100 real contradictions and most of the ones that such sites list, are fake. They are crafted to exploit the lack of biblical knowledge most people have. Real contradictions, however, will help us discover unauthentic text since the original text would have been relatively free from factual errors.

It is too much for this article to discuss the authenticity of every part of Torah, but we can exemplify other potential additions with the “10” plagues. Plague number 5 is a pest/murrain, affecting cattle in the field. Exodus 9:6 states bluntly: וימת (and died) כל (all) מקנה (cattle [of]) מצרים.. (Egypt ..).

Yet for plague 7 (hail) we read: “He who is fearing the word of Jehovah among the servants of Pharaoh hath caused his servants and his cattle to flee unto the houses”. — Exodus 9:20, YLT.

While it is possible to explain this by saying the Egyptians were quick to buy new cattle or seize from Israel, it is also possible to point to Deuteronomy 6: 6, 7 and speculate that some old story-tellers of Israel would have found it hard to resist the temptation of remembering events that nobody else remembered, especially if they were somewhat true.

In Exodus 10:29, after plague 9, Pharao tells Moses he will die if they meet face-to-face again. Moses replies something like: “Like you said, I will not see your face again.” Yet, after recounting how Moses received a message from Yehovah and after accounting for the outcome of the people acting according to God’s commands, chapter 11, verse 8 has Moses leaving Pharao in anger, as if they had met again.

Apologists explain this by saying the story is not chronological, so Moses never leaves the court between 10:29 and 11:4. However since the account is mostly chronological, the few places where chronology is broken can be used to test hypotheses of additions. What if we jump from 10:29 to 11:8d?

So Phar’aoh said to him: “Get out from me! Watch yourself! Do not try to see my face again, because on the day of your seeing my face you will die.”
To this Moses said: “That is the way you have spoken. I shall not try to see your face anymore.”


With that he went out from Phar’aoh in the heat of anger.

As a bible translator, you would usually not want to omit anything, because the reader has paid for the whole bible and awkward situations can arise if someone else refer to these verses and your customer looks them up, finds nothing and is told that some mighty church did not want him to see this text. Certainly this article alone is not enough to start omitting verses, but let’s study this further with balance, not claiming all is fake and not claiming all is divine, but with an open mind.

By the way, I found this in some webpage and wonder how reliable it is:

“It was customary at that time [when the firstborns of Egypt were killed] to devote one’s firstborn to the service of the idol.” — Minchat Eliyahu.

A selection of articles on Jeremiah 7:22:
Tekton apologetics
Contradictions by diMattei
Commentary by Keil & Delitzsch

One comment

  1. When I wrote this article, I felt it was a bit controversial because it challenges Christian tradition. Today, however, I read on Vridar an excerpt from Strabo’s Geography (Book XVI, chapter 2) saying essentially the same thing. It was written in the first century after Christ, supporting the Christian position against Jewish tradition but soon forgotten. How could it be forgotten? That’s scary.

    “At the same time Moses, instead of using arms, put forward as defence his sacrifices and his Divine Being, being resolved to seek a seat of worship for Him and promising to deliver to the people a kind of worship and a kind of ritual which would not oppress those who adopted them either with expenses or with divine obsessions or with other absurd troubles. Now Moses enjoyed fair repute with these people, and organised no ordinary kind of government, since the peoples all round, one and all, came over to him, because of his dealings with them and of the prospects he held out to them. His successors for some time abided by the same course, acting righteously and being truly pious towards God; but afterwards, in the first place, superstitious men were appointed to the priesthood, and then tyrannical people; and from superstition arose abstinence from flesh, from which it is their custom to abstain even to‑day, and circumcisions and excisions and other observances of the kind.” — Strabo.

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