Alternative prophecy offerings:
Jeremiah made numerous predictions of Temple destruction. Some can clearly be seen as referring to the contemporarily imminent Babylonian Beatdown. Certainly this was the context of prophecy/argument against rival-prophet Hananiah in chapter 28. The Nebuchadneezer Beatdown is even mentioned by name in 25:9. But the gloom-for-Jerusalem prophecy in chapters 3-4 mention a time when the ark of the covenant was lost and forgotten (3:16) and the Northern/Southern kingdoms were united (3:18) — neither of which would happen during the Babylon smack. It is generally accepted that the ark was lost because of the Babylonians — some successfully argue this — but if true, then either the people forgot about the ark instantly (yeah, right) or this is a future event. Additionally, the two Kingdoms did not reunite until under Koresh’s reinstatement (as prophesied by Jeremiah obliquely in 29:10 and by name in 2nd Chronicles 36:22-23.) So either we have at least one oracle of Jerusalem doom that is false (because it failed to meet all its criteria,) or it is one that is yet to be fulfilled. If there is another in the farther future, which context does the 8:8 comment apply to?
Alternately, since history repeats itself, who says it has to apply just once?
After all, the Temple was rebuilt and again destroyed; could Jeremiah be referring to the next destruction? Or perhaps if the Temple is ever rebuilt, to it’s third destruction?
I mention these possibilities mostly for those readers of Phundamentalist Faith who are disturbed by the very suggestion that ‘the lying pen of scribes have made (the law) into a falsehood.’ I mostly mention it because if this is actually the case, the alternatives are a lot more frightening.
There is a myth that during the Babylonian Captivity, all copies of the Torah were destroyed in both Israel and Judeo (leaving exiles like Daniel to carry the faith during the diaspora.) According to the admittedly dubious Deuterocanonical) 2nd Esdras 4:23, the ‘written covenants no longer existed,’ and ‘the law had been burned’ (14:21) by the Babylonians. It was up to Ezra to rewrite them (with the aid of the Holly Spirit — 14:22.) Curiously, in the Greek (as well as Syrian and Aramaic, though suspiciously omitted in Jerome’s Latin) of 14:45, Ezra writes twenty-four books. Depending how you count and combine the TaNaK, this does — or does not — add up. He also writes 70 others, which he is to “keep for them aside wise among his people” (14:47-48.)
Intriguing idea, but I’m calling shenanigans on the underlying concept that the Babylonians could successfully destroy every copy of the torah. I suspect that the myth is merely a metaphor for Israel loosing touch with the Book spiritually, not physically. Whatever the case, the Jewish religion was a it’s lowest point, and Ezra was the reformer who brought them back the Book. Thing is, did he reintroduced them to a Torah they had forgotten, or did he introduce a whole new Torah they had never ever heard before? That is what I call The Ezra Question.
Ezra is descried as “a scribe skilled in the law that the Lord had given him” (Ezra 7:6,) the implication being that the copy he carried was either an — or the — authoritative version for the time. Certainly when he read from the Book, the people listened attentively, though their response can be seen as either as if they were rediscovering something they had forgotten, or were hearing things they had never heard before. Amazingly, one of the things he reads them is the commandment for the Feast of Booths (8:14). “...make booths,” says verse 15, “as it is written.” Unfortunately, that is written nowhere in the Pentateuch, at least as we currently have it. Neither is Ezra 9:11-12 9 (though Leviticus 18:24-30 and Deuteronomy 7:3 sort of come close.)
But clearly there are differences in the law (at least!) between what Ezra (re)introduced and what we have now — and possibly what came before Babylon. Was Ezra the ‘lying pen scribe’ Jeremiah spoke of, or did Ezra restore what had previously been poison-penned? This question becomes more of a conundrum when we realize that we find that least two times Ezra had a copy of something we currently do not. It is certainly implied that the copy of Ezra’s Torah became the standard for Judaism after its introduction, and my bet’s that it was still in use by the time of the next Temple Trample. Jeremiah 8:8 could be referring to this.
The second candidate for 8:8 would be the books added to the Torah to make the full TaNaK, specifically the prophets, of which the writings of Jeremiah’s oracles are ironically a part. Daniel is another prophetic work that was added after Ezra, and even in the time of Jesus its validity was hotly debated, and it was not fully accepted until well after the Roman revolt. Also, many of the Deuterocanonics were had made their appearance by then, and these raised many doctrinal debates and dilemmas that could also be the focus of Jeremiah’s 8:8.
The Dead Sea Scrolls also come to mind as the being potential candidates for the lying scribe corpus. There are many nuances that are different from the received text, such as a commandment to “have no molten images” (molten metal as opposed to the graven rock) of Exodus 20:4, to the expectation of not one but two messiahs (a Davidic King and an Aaronic Priest.) The people who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls were destroyed just after the Temple by the same Roman juggernaut. Does that imply they were also the victims of lying pens of scribes?
The Septuagint can also be nominated as the culprit. Jeremiah speaks of “scribes” (plural), and the Septuagint (by legend) was the product of 72 of them. There are a number of differences between the received Hebrew verses Greek versions (not to mention the Aramaic DSSs.) The most celebrated discrepancy between the two is the infamous Isaiah 7:14 ‘young girl’ vs. ‘virgin’ dilemma. Could Jeremiah 8:8 be a prophetic poke at the virgin birth of Christ stories? These stories, found first in Matthew and Luke, demonstrably trace their origin to the Greek version of Isaiah.
Matthew and Luke themselves are next on the list for potentially being the lying scribes who falsify the law. Both books were written (as best we can tell) after the second Temple destruction. The sermon on the Mount may have Jesus saying that doing the law was awesome (5:19,) but it also has Jesus turning many of the laws on their heads: “You have heard ‘an eye for an eye’ [Ex 21;24] but I say ‘turn the other cheek’.” (5:38-39) Did Jesus really say that? Or did some lying scribe put those words in his mouth after the fact?
Obviously we could add Mark and John to the list of nominees, but it is Paul (and those writing under his name) stands out head and shoulders above the rest as most likely the lying scribe. After all, even in his indisputably authentic letters he goes to great lengths to show Jesus has done away with the laws (1st Corinthians 10:25-27 etc. do away with kosherness, for instance.) Since Christianity today is very much a product of Paul’s interpretations on Jesus, no doubt that last thought makes most “Christians” cringe.
Such Cringing Christians will no doubt cry foul and quickly thrust forward their own candidate for the product of the lying pens of scribes: the wealth of noncanonical New testament material that spewed forth in the next few centuries after both Jesus and the Temple left this world. In many cases this is a valid claim, especially (for phundamentalists) of the Gnostic gospels and commentaries. Many of these are radical interpretations of Paul, who as we just saw is a questionable source anyway. Paul may have, but probably would not agree with most of the gnostic thought, and much of it is clearly at odds with both the Old and new testaments. Clearly somebody had lapsed (or been led) into falsehood.
Moving ahead, the King James Version, written a little less than 1500 years after the Temple, may be a milestone in English poetic literature, but as an actual translation of Hebrew and Greek works, it is not always on the mark. This is made worse because in the 500 years since it was written, the English language has changed but the KJV text has not. many of David Koresh’s more “unusual” doctrines can e seen in the KJV but are not supported from the Original Greek/Hebrew.
Likewise, many of Koresh’s doctrines are traceable to the writings of Mary Ellen White. Seventh day Adventists consider her writings of fundamental importance, and while “officially” they still take a back seat to The Bible, in practice this is not always the case, where her writings are usually viewed with equal status. Likewise the works of Mary baker Edie for Christian Scientists. This is also true of The Book of Mormon.
I have a feeling that most Mormons would agree with Jeremiah 8;8’s pessimistic view of the accuracy of the received Bible. Their use of a new law book, Doctrine and Covenants, can be seen as either fulfillment of Jeremiah. Conversely, it can be looked at (by Mormons, at least) as vindication that D&C needed to be written, because previously there was only the falsified laws of lying scribes available.
One final view, probably the safest for those scared for their faith, is that Jeremiah is speaking of a time still to come even from this present day. The temple is still in ruins from Rome, and it is seems unlikely to be rebuilt in the future. Revelation 21:22 “saw no temple in the city” of Jerusalem when events unfold in the end. But theoretically it could be rebuilt and again destroyed, to which Jeremiah is alluding. If so, the Law as we have it is safe, and the lying pens of scribes have not falsified it yet.
But again, I don’t buy into any of that, because I think the context of 8:8 can be confidently placed to Jeremiah’s own time and people.
Let’s get back to the update to see why, and what it might mean.