“Woe is me, my mother, that you ever bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land!…Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?” (Jeremiah 15:10, 18).

The pain and sorrow of the prophet are recorded in the deep lines that crease Jeremiah’s brow in contemporary American artist Doug Johnson’s painting “Lamentation for the Ages” (above). Johnson based the figure of the prophet on Rembrandt’s 1630 oil painting “Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem” (top) but added a contemporary twist. According to Johnson, the background of his painting, with its translucent multidimensional grid superimposed by a cross, reflects the order of the heavenly or spiritual realm; the shattered gridlines that gyrate about Jeremiah’s head represent the earthly chaos that followed the destruction of Jerusalem.

Just as each artist has reinterpreted the biblical text, so did the earliest editors of the Book of Jeremiah rework the text in order to make it understandable and relevant to their contemporaries. Their efforts have left us with two editions of the Book of Jeremiah: the first, which highlights the role of Jeremiah’s scribe Baruch, and the second, which minimizes Baruch in order to present Jeremiah as the sole authority in this prophetic tradition.