The Nazarene Apocryphon of Jeremiah

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Introduction

The Nazarenes were the original followers of Yeshua and His movement, and their sect survived for several centuries after Yeshua’s death and resurrection. It is noted by the “church father” Jerome that there existed, in ancient times, an apocryphal work, attributed to Jeremiah the Prophet, which was used by the Nazarenes. Jerome attributed the prophecy in Matthew 27:9-10 to this apocryphal work of Jeremiah, writing in the 4th century, “I have recently read in a Hebrew book, which a Hebrew of the Nazarene sect showed me, an apocryphon of Jeremiah in which I found this, word for word.” (Commentary on Matthew 27:9)

It was also noted in the centuries preceding Jerome by Justin Martyr that the canonical book of Jeremiah had several passages removed from it, by the Jews in the synagogues, and he goes on to provide two such passages. Martyr states, “Since this passage from the sayings of Jeremiah is still written in some copies of the Scriptures in the synagogues of the Jews, for it is only a short time since they were cut out, and since from these words it is demonstrated that the Jews deliberated about the Christ Himself, to crucify and put Him to death, He Himself is both declared to be led as a sheep to the slaughter, as was predicted by Isaiah, and is here represented as a harmless lamb; but being in a difficulty about them, they give themselves over to blasphemy.” (Dialog with Trypho 72) Irenaeus also shows familiarity with one of Martyr’s quotations. (Against All Heresies Book IV 22.1)

Now because these passages are not found in any ancient manuscript of the book of Jeremiah, Martyr’s claims cannot be considered valid with any real degree of textual criticism; even if the Jews had succeeded in removing the passages from the canonical Jeremiah from their syangogues, this does not account for the fact that these same passages are also missing in the Septuagint and Ethiopic texts. However, it is entirely possible- and substantially more likely: that Martyr had confused the canonical book of Jeremiah with a non-canonical version, attributed to Jeremiah, which undoubtedly did exist in ancient times, and is the same apocryphal text that was later referenced by Jerome.

Outside of Jerome’s attribution of Matthew 27:9-10, and Martyr’s two citations, there exist a handful of other quotations from throughout history, which  might very well be attributed to this Jeremiah Apocryphon. I am very glad to be able to provide these quotations as follows. As this text was useful for the Nazarene sect in ancient days, then may these fragments be beneficial for our study and edification today.

Much of the reconstructive effort for this text comes from the work of M. R. James in his 1920 work, The Lost Apocrypha of the Old Testament, their Titles and Fragments.

 

Fragment One  (Prophecy to Pashur from the Ethiopic; Jerome, Commentary on Matthew 27:9)

1 A Prophecy of Jeremiah.

2 Jeremiah spoke to Pashur, saying, “But you, for all your days, fight against the truth; as did your fathers, and so will your sons who will come after you. 3 They will commit a sin more damnable than you, for they will sell Him who is priceless, and will hurt Him who will heal pain, and will condemn Him who will forgive sin; 3 they will take thirty pieces of silver, the price of Him that was valued, whom the children of Israel will sell, and will give that money for the potter’s field. 4 As YHWH commanded me, so I speak. 5 There will therefore come upon them judgment and destruction for ever, and upon their sons after them, because in their judgment they have shed innocent blood.”

Notes: This short prophecy is appended to the canonical text of Jeremiah in the Ethiopic. It is interesting to note that Matthew 27:9-10 bears only a slight resemblance to the prophecy given in Zechariah 11:12-13, but is found nearly word-for-word in this Prophecy to Pashur. It is supported by Jerome in the 4th century, who writes, “I have recently read in a Hebrew book, which a Hebrew of the Nazarene sect showed me, an apocryphon of Jeremiah in which I found this, word for word.” (Commentary on Matthew 27:9)

 

Fragment Two  (2 Maccabees 2:1-8)

1 It happened during the days of the deportation, that Jeremiah the prophet commanded those who were deported to take with them some of the fire; 2 and, having given them the Torah, he instructed them not to forget the commandments of YHWH, so that they would not err in their minds when they saw images of silver and gold ornaments. 3 He exhorted them with other speeches also, impressing upon them that the Torah should not depart from their hearts.

4 Jeremiah the prophet, being warned by God, commanded for the tabernacle and the ark to go with him as he went forth into the mountain, which is the same mountain which Moses climbed up and saw the heritage of God. 5 When he arrived there, he found a hollow cave, wherein he laid the tabernacle, the ark, and the altar of incense, and so sealed the door.

6 Some of those who followed him came to mark the way, but they could not find it. 7 When Jeremiah heard this, he rebuked them, saying, “This place shall remain unknown until the time that God gathers His people together again, and receive them in mercy. 8 Then YHWH will show them these things, and the glory of YHWH will appear, and the cloud also, as it was shown to Moses, and as it was shown when Solomon desired that the place might be honorably sanctified.”

 

Fragment Three  (Justin Martyr, Dialog with Trypho 72)

I was like a lamb that is brought to the slaughter. They devised a plan against me, saying, Come, let us lay on wood on His bread, and let us blot Him out from the land of the living; His name shall no more be remembered.

Notes: This is one of the two fragments which Martyr accused the Jews of having removed, even though he claimed it still existed in certain synagogues.

 

Fragment Four  (Justin Martyr, Dialog with Trypho 72)

YHWH God remembered His dead people of Israel who lay in the graves, and He descended to preach to them His own salvation.

Notes: This is one of the two fragments which Martyr accused the Jews of having removed, even though he claimed it still existed in certain synagogues. This fragment closely mirrors one preserved by Irenaeus, which follows next.

 

Fragment Five  (Irenaeus, Against All Heresies Book IV 22.1)

YHWH remembered His dead saints who formerly slept in the land of tombs, and He descended to them, to rescue and save them.

 

Fragment Six  (Ephesians 5:14, George of Syncellus, Chronography)

Awake, you who sleep, and arise from among the dead, and the Messiah will enlighten you.

Note: This fragment comes from Ephesians 5:14, in which Paul quotes from an unknown text. George the Syncellus, a seventh century chronicler of church history, believed Paul had quoted from what he called “the Apocrypha of Jeremiah.” This same attribution is also found in a marginal note in some manuscripts of Paul’s epistles.

 

Fragment Seven  (Abdias, Apostolic History Book IV)

Behold, O Jerusalem, Your redeemer comes, and this will be His sign: He will open the eyes of the blind, and restore hearing to the deaf, and by His voice He will raise the dead.

Notes: From the Latin Acts of St. James the Great, which form Book IV of the so-called Apostolic History of Abdias, in a speech of St. James to the Jews.

 

Fragment Eight  (Oration of St. Silvester)

By His burying, the dead will be made alive.

Notes: From an oration of St. Silvester in his Acts. This passage comes from the text provided by George Cedrenus.

 

Fragment Nine  (Dead Sea Scrolls, 4QApocJer)

They will keep the Covenant of the Elohim of their fathers in the land of their captivity.

Notes: There are other lines in this very fragmented text from the Dead Sea Scrolls, but they are too scattered to make any interesting cohesive sentences.

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