Jeremiah's Tragic Relevance

Daniel Gordis on reading Rabbi Benny Lau's Jeremiah: Fate of a Prophet:

Jeremiah's was a world of national Jewish folly. Successive kings of Judah all imagined themselves infinitely more powerful and much less vulnerable than they actually were. With massive powers surrounding them, Egypt to the south and Assyrian and Babylon to the north, they consistently made ill-advised foreign policy choices, all the while entirely ignoring the decadence and moral depravity unfolding inside their own borders. At considerable personal risk, Jeremiah warned the people that their salvation would not derive from alliances with foreign powers that could not be trusted and, instead, he urged, they would do better to focus on creating a society that was just and decent.

Jeremiah, of course, was not needed. We know the end of the story, so reading Lau's book is like reading about a train wreck that might have been prevented, but that you know is about to happen. That, of course, is precisely why Lau wrote the book. The train wreck need not happen, he intimates, but unless something dramatic changes, it very well may.

"So what's with putting the book down every 10 minutes?" my wife asks again. "I thought you said it was great."

"It is excellent," I assure her. "But it's unbearably sad. You can rewind the news two and a half millennia, and though the names of the characters are different, the places are the same and so are the dynamics. It's all basically the same story as today. Nothing changes, or so it seems."
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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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