Violence, Suffering, and solidarity: A Fanonian Reading of Jeremiah 11:18–12:6

Introduction

Jeremiah 11:18–12:6 is regarded as the first of Jeremiah’s confessions, which are spread throughout Jeremiah 11–20.[1] In this text, Jeremiah laments his suffering, which is caused by the people of Anathoth in response to his prophecy. This text describes Jeremiah’s attackers as a powerful group that intend to destroy him and depicts Jeremiah as marginalized and oppressed by their violent threats. Nevertheless, this passage does not directly indicate Jeremiah’s violent response to the Anathothites; instead, Jeremiah reveals his innocence to God and urges God to take revenge on his enemies.

Drawing upon Frantz Fanon’s understanding of violence, suffering, and a new humanism, this study argues that Jeremiah 11:18–12:6 describes how Jeremiah endures his suffering due to the violence of the Anathothites through his solidarity with God. This text shows that the suffering of Jeremiah has the connection to his struggle with the Anathothites. Their plot and future actions include the oppression of Jeremiah through violence. Frantz Fanon, a postcolonial theorist, addresses the issue of violence conducted by the power group, the colonizers, and the counter-violence of the powerless people, the colonized, against the power group.[2] In addition, his follower Pramod K. Nayar, an Indian postcolonial theorist, develops Fanon’s new humanism as the way to heal suffering.[3] These studies are useful in understanding Jeremiah’s suffering due to violence and his solidarity with God as reflecting a healing from suffering.

The Violence of the Anathothites and the Suffering of Jeremiah

In the chapter “On Violence” in his book The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon discusses the violence engaged in by colonizers in order to control the colonized and the counter-violence that the colonized perform in order to decolonize themselves.[4] Fanon claims that violence occurs in a physical form, and then it influences the cultural and social aspects of the colonized.[5] The colonized who face violence also comes to experience suffering. The colonized experience the “alienation of the Self” and thus grow away from their communities and their communal cultures.[6] Fanon also emphasizes the counter-violence of the suffering colonized against the colonizers by saying that “violence is a cleansing force. It rids the colonized of their inferiority complex, of their passive and despairing attitude.”[7] At this moment, it is important to recognize that Fanon’s argument can be applied broadly to contexts beyond colonialism. This is because the situation of violence is not limited to the colonial world but rather is everywhere there is a conflict over power, everywhere powerful people control the marginalized with any form of violence.

From the perspective of Fanon’s binary structure of the powerful group and the marginalized, how does Jeremiah 11:18–12:6 describe the relationship between the Anathothites and Jeremiah? This passage depicts the Anathothites as a group of people that is violently oppressing Jeremiah as an individual. Jeremiah is marginalized and alienated from his Anathoth community (Jer 1:1). If so, why are the Anathothites eager to kill Jeremiah? Why do they prohibit Jeremiah from prophesying? Unfortunately, this text does not explain why the Anathothites want to kill Jeremiah. Therefore, it is only possible to speculate concerning the reason for the conflict between Jeremiah and the Anathothites.

It is possible to say that the conflict between Jeremiah and the Anathothites is attributable to the Judean religion in that both Jeremiah and the Anathothites are engaged in the priesthood.[8] Specifically, in Jeremiah 7:1–8:13 Jeremiah challenges the Judeans by pointing out that they are not living the religious life by following God’s covenant. In addition, Jeremiah 11:1–17 describes Jeremiah accusing the Jerusalem people of abandoning God’s covenant and of having lost their sincerity in worship. The relationship between God and Israel is broken, and Jeremiah prophesies God’s judgment upon Judah. Jeremiah prophesies that the Jerusalem temple will be destroyed by the Babylonian Empire.

The Anathothites clearly disagree with Jeremiah’s prophecy and prefer to believe that Jerusalem will never be destroyed. Several characters believe this in Jeremiah 26–29. When Jeremiah prophesies the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, “the priests and the prophets and all the people” (הכהנים והנבאים וכל־העם) in the Jerusalem temple make an attempt on Jeremiah’s life (Jer 26:8). In Jeremiah 28, Hananiah prophesies that God will save the exiled from the king of Babylon (vv. 3–4), but Jeremiah disagrees with him. Herbert B. Huffmon argues that it is possible to say that the Anathothites might have adhered to a kind of Zion theology[9] in that Abiathar was a supporter of David but was deported to Anathoth by Solomon. Anathoth might be deeply connected with the Southern Kingdom, and thus the Anathothites cannot support Jeremiah’s prophecy that Jerusalem will be destroyed.[10] Similarly, people in Jerusalem reject Jeremiah’s prophecy because Jeremiah’s prophecy does not fit with their Zion theology (26:1–24). For Jeremiah, however, the politics of the Davidic reign and the religious observances do not prevent Jerusalem from the dominant foreign power (8:4–13; 11:17).[11] Therefore, conflict may be generated from the ideological gap between Jeremiah’s prophecy that the Southern Kingdom will be destroyed and the Anathothites’ conviction that the Davidic Kingdom will last forever.[12]

This ideological gap causes the Anathothites to oppress and threaten Jeremiah with violence. Jeremiah 11:18–12:6 describes the Anathothites as those who will soon inflict violence upon Jeremiah and Jeremiah as facing their imminent violence. The violent language of the Anathothites is directed to Jeremiah in Jeremiah 11:19 and 21. It is associated with three reasons the Anathothites are plotting to kill Jeremiah: (1) the elimination of Jeremiah (v. 19), (2) the removal of Jeremiah’s future influence (v. 19), and (3) the disruption of God’s words (v. 21). As Louis Stulman points out, the reason why these people kill Jeremiah is because of their wish to protect their existing religious and community life.[13]

First, Jeremiah 11:19 conveys that the Anathothites have devised a scheme to kill Jeremiah through the use of metaphors of a lamb and a tree. In this verse, three verbs that have violent connotations indicate that the Anathothites are playing the role of violent oppressors: טבח (“slaughter”), שׁחת (“ruin”) and כרת (“cut off”). The phrase ככבשׂ אלוף יובל לטבוח (“like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter”) presents Jeremiah’s characterization of himself and the Anathothites. The image of a gentle lamb as himself contrasts with the image of the slaughter conducted by the Anathothites. In addition, the Hebrew verb שׁחת that is applied to the tree metaphor implies physical violence by the Anathothites against Jeremiah.[14] These two Hebrew words imply that it is impossible that Jeremiah will survive. The tree will be destroyed by violence and then will be totally separated from the land that is the living foundation for all living organisms. Terence E. Fretheim claims that in this metaphor, the tree and its fruit refer to Jeremiah himself and to the food that nourishes him, but this metaphor actually refers to Jeremiah’s deportation from the Anathoth community.[15] Great violence is implied, indicating that the Anathothites will kill Jeremiah as a victimized character. Violence always generates victims.

Second, Jeremiah 11:19 also depicts the Anathothites as wanting to remove not only his physical existence but also all vestiges of his prophecies by violence. Several English translations of the Bible regard the Hebrew sentence ושׁמו לא־יזכר עוד (“his name will no longer be remembered”) in this verse as expressing the result of eliminating Jeremiah.[16] However, in the Hebrew text there is no corresponding preposition or phrase that makes this sentence a final clause. This means that it is not that the Anathothites intend to kill Jeremiah in order to remove all reminders of him. In order words, killing Jeremiah is not a sufficient condition for removing any memory of him. Rather, the Anathothites have two intentions: (1) to kill Jeremiah as well as (2) to remove all the memories that anyone may have of Jeremiah. He is encouraged by God to proclaim God’s words to many unspecified Israelites, including the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land (1:18). For the Anathothites, the removal of all memory of Jeremiah is connected to the disruption of God’s words, as described in v. 21, because they intend to stop Jeremiah’s proclamation of God’s words:

יהוה ולא תמות בידנו לא תנבא בשׁם (“You [Jeremiah] shall not prophesy in the name of Yahweh or you will die by our hand”).

These linguistic expressions reflect the wrath of the Anathothites and the suffering of Jeremiah, and this text describes the Anathothites as the oppressors and Jeremiah as the oppressed.[17] Comparing this with Fanon’s argument, however, Jeremiah 11:18–12:6 does not describe conflict in a colonial situation, but there is an analogy with Fanon’s claim about violence in that a large group of oppressors intends to kill an oppressed individual and to control the influence of Jeremiah’s prophecy by violence. Jeremiah is definitely marginalized and harassed by the large group.[18] It is clear that the Anathothites as a group are more powerful than Jeremiah and want to achieve their desire: to kill Jeremiah and stop his prophecies. However, contrary to Fanon’s theory, Jeremiah himself does not pursue a way of violence against the Anathothites. Instead, God engages in violence as requested by Jeremiah, and Jeremiah is in solidarity with God.

God’s Violence and Solidarity with Jeremiah

In contrast to the Anathothites’ violent language against Jeremiah, Jeremiah appeals his innocence to God in 11:20 and 12:1–4. These verses describe Jeremiah as not deserving to suffer at the hands of the Anathothites and his inability to resist them. Instead of inflicting violence upon them, Jeremiah begs for God’s judgment upon them. In fact, for Jeremiah there is no one who can help Jeremiah except God, who will be able to act violently against his enemies. God’s response to Jeremiah about God’s judgment is as violent as the threats of the Anathothites against Jeremiah, and God’s violence is physically crueler than that of the Anathothites.[19] God will visit (פקד) the Anathothites to kill (מות) not only their young men by sword but also their children by famine because of the older generation’s sin (11:22–23).

Jeremiah characterizes God as one who imparts justice (11:20a; 12:1) and who will judge the wicked (11:20b and 12:4). In addition, God’s appellation expressed by Jeremiah and the narrator, יהוה צבאות (“Yahweh of hosts”), implies that God has the power to judge the Anathothites, and that God will judge them with violence within the violence-based relationship between Yahweh and the Anathothites. It is certain, however that they do not want to make trouble with God (12:4) but do want to get rid of Jeremiah. However, Jeremiah’s plea causes God to become involved in this conflict.

What is the meaning for Jeremiah of God’s violence upon Jeremiah’s enemy? How can Jeremiah release his suffering due to the violence of the Anathothites? Fanon supplies the answers. Fanon’s understanding of a new humanism begins with the reality of oppressed and marginalized people. He critiques European humanism for pertaining only to white people, saying that humanists regard black people as worthless.[20] Fanon’s new humanism, in contrast, encompasses not only the black people who have suffered due to colonialism but also everyone who has suffered violence in the world.[21] Nayar claims that, for Fanon, “suffering and oppression are unifying factors for his thoughts about humanism.”[22] Suffering is always the result of violence, oppression, power struggles and so on. Therefore, a Fanonian reading considers the matter of suffering by examining the power struggle and seeking a way that suffering can be released when it investigates the vestiges of not only colonialism but also of other forms of power-centered conflict. Fanon describes how people can deal with the matter of suffering caused by the wielding of power as follows: It is essential that the oppressed peoples join up with the peoples who are already sovereign if a humanism that can be considered valid is to be built to the dimensions of the universe.[23]

Fanon emphasizes that suffering people should be in solidarity with others in order to relieve their suffering. Nayar claims that the individual “is able to engage in the reciprocal recognition which leads to the new humanism. Such a reciprocal recognition is achieved through the recognition of shared suffering.”[24] Following Fanon’s new humanism, this recognition of suffering by violence should not be linked with the issues of race and ethnicity; rather, this suffering should be investigated within the power structure that is embedded in human society.

In this light, Jeremiah releases his suffering through his solidarity with God through sharing his suffering with God. Jeremiah 11:18–12:6 describes Jeremiah as in solidarity with God through God’s involvement in his conflict with the Anathothites. As Stulman points out, his solidarity with God in his suffering causes Jeremiah to become a symbol of hope.[25] It is clear that because of God’s solidarity with him, Jeremiah is able to carry out his vocation. Three aspects indicate God’s sharing Jeremiah’s suffering and God’s involvement in Jeremiah’s situation. First, in 11:18 God already knows of the Anathothites’ plot against Jeremiah, and God causes Jeremiah to know this. Before Jeremiah pleads for God’s help, God has already taken care of him (Jer 12:3: ואתה יהוה ידעתני תראני ובחנת לבי אתך, “But you, Yahweh, know me; you see me and test me, my heart is with you”). Second, God will judge the Anathothites because they not only are preventing Jeremiah from prophesying but also intend to kill him, as I have argued above.[26] Finally, God urges Jeremiah to believe only Godself, not even his kin, in 12:6. Brueggemann claims that this verse implies that Jeremiah trusts only Yahweh, which means that Jeremiah will be isolated but he will be with God.[27]

Conclusion

This study examines Jeremiah’s suffering and God’s solidarity with Jeremiah as a way of healing his suffering in Jeremiah 11:18–12:6 through a Fanonian reading of violence and suffering and Fanon’s new humanism. The passage describes Jeremiah as violently oppressed by people in his hometown because they want to stop his prophecies. Fanon claims that violence by oppressors causes people to experience suffering and become victimized and marginalized but that their agony can be released through solidarity with others. The Anathothites intended not only to kill Jeremiah but also to deny God’s words for them. In this suffering-riddled situation, Jeremiah pleads with God to take revenge against the Anathothites through God’s judgment on them. In addition, Jeremiah stresses his solidarity with God instead of inflicting violence himself on the Anathothites. Instead, God will judge them as directed by Jeremiah.

 

Tae Woong Lee, PhD

Hannam University, South Korea

 

[1] See, for example, Kathleen M. O’Connor, Jeremiah: Pain and Promise (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2011), 81; Louis Stulman, Jeremiah (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2005), 118. Generally, Jeremiah 11:18–12:6, 15:10–21, 17:14–18, and 18:18–23; 20:7–13, 14–18 are regarded as the full set of Jeremiah’s confessions.

[2] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 2004), 1–62.

[3] Pramod K. Nayar, Frantz Fanon (New York: Routledge, 2013), 117–31.

[4] Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 1–62.

[5] Ibid., 5–6.

[6] Nayar, Frantz Fanon, 71.

[7] Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 51.

[8] Anathoth is regarded as one of the Levitical cities. Herbert B. Huffmon, “Jeremiah of Anathoth: A Prophet for All Israel,” in R. Chazan, William W. Hallo, and L. H. Schiffman, eds., Ki Baruch Hu: Ancient Near Eastern, Biblical, and Judaic Studies in Honor of Baruch A. Levine (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1999), 264.

[9] Zion theology refers to “the idea that the covenant with God guarantees salvation.” Bill Arnold, Introduction to the Old Testament (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 330. Walter Brueggemann uses “royal-temple ideology” in the same sense. Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 115.

[10] Huffmon, “Jeremiah of Anathoth,” 265–66.

[11] Ibid., 267.

[12] Huffmon concludes that “the village [Anathoth] did not imprint an ideological consensus.” Ibid., 266.

[13] Stulman, Jeremiah, 125

[14] Peter C. Craigie, Page H. Kelley, and Joel F. Drinkard, Jr. point out that the use of the tree metaphor refers to Jeremiah 11:18–12:6 as a community lament. Peter C. Craigie, Page H. Kelley, and Joel F. Drinkard, Jr., Jeremiah 1–25, WBC (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1991), 178.

[15] Terence E. Fretheim, Jeremiah, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys), 190.

[16] The English translations of the Bible such as the KJV, NRSV, and NIV seem to understand the conjunction וְ as being used to make a final clause (so that . . .). Even though there is a semantic connection between the fact that they kill Jeremiah and that people will forget Jeremiah’s actions to some degree, these two facts are not necessarily connected.

[17] Katharine J. Dell presents the linguistic similarity between Jeremiah and the Suffering Servant in Isaiah in Isaiah 53:7–8 and Jeremiah 11:19. Katharine J. Dell, “The Suffering Servant of Deutero-Isaiah: Jeremiah Revisited,” in Genesis, Isaiah, and Psalms (Boston, MA: Brill, 2010), 124–27. The image of the Suffering Servant can be projected to the image of Jeremiah in 11:18–12:6; the suffering image is reinforced by this intertextual method.

[18] Brueggemann describes how the the Anathothites oppressed Jeremiah by saying that “Jeremiah had powerful enemies who wanted to silence such a treasonable voice.” Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah, 115.

[19] Fretheim argues that divine violence is the result of human violence. He says, “[I]f there were no human violence, there would be no divine wrath or judgment, which may take the form of violence. . .” Terence E. Fretheim, “God and Violence in the Old Testament,” Word & World 24, no. 1 (2004): 23.

[20] Nayar, Frantz Fanon, 118–19.

[21] Ibid., 125.

[22] Ibid., 126.

[23] Frantz Fanon, Toward the African Revolution: Political Essays (New York: Grove Press, 1988), 114, as quoted in Nayar, Frantz Fanon, 126.

[24] Nayar, Frantz Fanon, 128.

[25] Louis Stulman, “Jeremiah as a Polyphonic Response to Suffering,” in Inspired Speech (New York: T & T Clark, 2004), 311.

[26] Brueggemann claims that readers do not know the implications of God’s judgment of the Anathothites. Nevertheless, 11:22–23 represents God’s vindication of Jeremiah. Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah, 117.

[27] Ibid., 120.



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