Realism in Jeremiah 24

Realism in Jeremiah 24

Yoel Halevi No Comments

The subject of imagery in prophecy has long been a central theme in prophetic literature. One key question in this field of study pertains to the origin of the prophets’ imagery. While the traditional view regards this imagery as an integral aspect of the vision, it is essential to consider whether God employed imagery tailored to resonate with the specific individuals of their time. To delve into this subject, I will explore a specific image used in the book of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 24:1-3 presents the following text:

אַנִי יְהוָה וְהִנֵּה שְׁנֵי דּוּדָאֵי תְאֵנִים מוּעָדִים לִפְנֵי הֵיכַל יְהוָה אַחֲרֵי הַגְלוֹת נְבוּכַדְרֶאצַּר מֶלֶךְ בָּבֶל אֶת יְכָנְיָהוּ בֶן יְהוֹיָקִים מֶלֶךְ יְהוּדָה וְאֶת שָׂרֵי יְהוּדָה וְאֶת הֶחָרָשׁ וְאֶת הַמַּסְגֵּר מִירוּשָׁלַ‍ִם וַיְבִאֵם בָּבֶל.  הַדּוּד אֶחָד תְּאֵנִים טֹבוֹת מְאֹד כִּתְאֵנֵי הַבַּכֻּרוֹת וְהַדּוּד אֶחָד תְּאֵנִים רָעוֹת מְאֹד אֲשֶׁר לֹא תֵאָכַלְנָה מֵרֹע.ַ וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֵלַי מָה אַתָּה רֹאֶה יִרְמְיָהוּ וָאֹמַר תְּאֵנִים הַתְּאֵנִים הַטֹּבוֹת טֹבוֹת מְאֹד וְהָרָעוֹת רָעוֹת מְאֹד אֲשֶׁר לֹא תֵאָכַלְנָה מֵרֹעַ. 

“It was after Nǝvukhadretzar king of Bavel had carried Yǝkhanyahu the son of Yǝhoyakim, king of Yǝhudah, along with the leaders of Yǝhudah, the artisans and the skilled workers into exile from Yerushalayim and brought them to Bavel, that YHWH gave me a vision. There, in front of the temple of YHWH, two baskets of appointed figs were placed. One of the baskets had in it very good figs, like those that ripen first; while the other basket had very bad figs, so bad that they were inedible. Then YHWH asked me, “Yirmeyahu, what do you see?” I answered, “Figs — the good figs are very good, but the bad ones are very bad, so bad they are inedible.”

The Greek translation encounters difficulty in conveying this description and resorts to an exegetical translation. Tov (Parallel, Lexham 2003), in his analysis of the parallel word, notes that the Hebrew word מועדים is translated as κειμένους, meaning “to stand/be placed standing,” derived from the root עמד.

English versions of the Greek text lack an equivalent term for the Greek word and deviate from its fundamental meaning.

Ἔδειξέν μοι κύριος δύο καλάθους σύκων κειμένους κατὰ πρόσωπον ναοῦ κυρίου μετὰ τὸ ἀποικίσαι Ναβουχοδονοσορ βασιλέα Βαβυλῶνος τὸν Ιεχονιαν υἱὸν Ιωακιμ βασιλέα Ιουδα καὶ τοὺς ἄρχοντας καὶ τοὺς τεχνίτας καὶ τοὺς δεσμώτας καὶ τοὺς πλουσίους ἐξ Ιερουσαλημ καὶ ἤγαγεν αὐτοὺς εἰς Βαβυλῶνα·  The Lord showed me two baskets of figs, lying in front of the temple of YHWH after Nabuchodonosor king of Babylon had carried captive Jechonias son of Joakim king of Juda, and the princes, and the artificers, and the prisoners, and the rich men out of Jerusalem, and had brought them to Babylon. 


The term מוּעָדִים reveals its derivation from the root ו.ע.ד/י.ע.ד, existing in the passive qal participle/nominal stem of qûtāl/qûtlā. In this form, the word implies that the noun is in a state influenced by an external force. While some interpretations suggest meanings like “prepared,” “ready,” or “ripened,” it raises questions about their relevance in the broader prophetic context. The passive/causative nature of the verb suggests that the figs are affected by an external agent, indicating preparation for a specific purpose, possibly linked to the temple setting.

A potential explanation involves dittography, where a copying error duplicates a consonant. In this case, an earlier variant of the text might have read תאני מועדים (tǝênê mô’adîm), with the second word meaning “of feasts” in the nominative qotel instead of the passive qûtal. This would inadvertently create the plural form of תאנים.

The argument presented posits that Jeremiah describes offerings of first fruits, but the presence of inedible figs raises questions. Some scholars reject the notion of these being first fruits, considering the word מוּעָדִים as redundant, while certain translations omit it. The difficulty in translating this term is evident in the Septuagint’s interpretative translation.

Considering Jeremiah’s role as a Kohen (priest), the imagery aligns with his reality. The temple held significance in his life, and the use of temple-related imagery is consistent with his prophecies. Fruits being “appointed” fits within his description as a Kohen, demonstrating a deliberate choice of words reflective of his world and terminology. Additionally, Jeremiah’s position on the cusp of classic BH and late BH allows for unconventional word choices, as seen in the use of מוּעָד in Mishnaic Hebrew with the sense of being appointed or ready for something.

The dichotomy of good and bad figs serves a symbolic purpose. While the concept of offering good fruit aligns with religious practices, the inclusion of bad figs signifies a deeper message. The prophecy emphasizes that both the remnant in Jerusalem and the exiled consider themselves chosen, akin to first fruits. However, Jeremiah reveals the misconception, asserting that only one group is genuinely chosen and accepted by God.

This concept echoes the biblical story of Cain and Abel, where both offered sacrifices, but only one found favor. The underlying theme is the subjective perception of reality, wherein individuals may believe one thing, but the truth may differ. Seeking divine guidance becomes crucial to discerning facts from fiction. This theme recurs in Jeremiah’s encounters with the priests of Jerusalem and the prophets who resist his prophecies, illustrating the challenge of acknowledging faults and discerning truth from misguided beliefs. The fig metaphor underscores the discrepancy between perceived righteousness and the observable truth.

Final Thoughts  

The term מוּעָדִים in Jeremiah 24 reveals a complex interplay of linguistic, historical, and symbolic elements. The word’s root and nominal stem suggest a state influenced by an external force, possibly tied to a specific purpose, as seen in the context of the temple. The interpretation of מוּעָדִים as “appointed” aligns with Jeremiah’s role as a Kohen, reflecting a deliberate choice of words grounded in his lived reality and the religious practices of the time.

The exploration of dittography and the potential variant תאני מועדים adds an intriguing layer to the discussion, shedding light on the challenges of textual transmission and interpretation. The dichotomy of good and bad figs, symbolizing the remnant in Jerusalem and the exiled, underscores the broader theme of subjective perception versus divine truth. Jeremiah’s prophecies, situated on the border of classic and late Biblical Hebrew, exhibit unconventional word choices, such as the Mishnaic Hebrew form מוּעָד. The prophet’s use of language reflects the unique linguistic landscape of his time and contributes to the richness of the text.

In summary, Jeremiah employs vivid imagery rooted in his priestly background to convey profound messages about chosenness, divine acceptance, and the need for seeking ultimate truth. The fig metaphor serves as a powerful tool, exposing the dissonance between perceived righteousness and the objective reality. The complexity of the passage, linguistic nuances, and thematic depth highlight the depth of Jeremiah’s prophetic vision and contribute to the enduring significance of this biblical text.

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