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There is one verse in the Book of Jeremiah written in Aramaic; in fact, this verse stands alone as a "one-verse paragraph" in the Masoretic text.

:יא. כִּדְנָה תֵּאמְרוּן לְהוֹם אֱלָהַיָּא דִּי שְׁמַיָּא וְאַרְקָא לָא עֲבַדוּ יֵאבַדוּ מֵאַרְעָא וּמִן תְּחוֹת שְׁמַיָּא אֵלֶּה

For reference, the English translation is as follows--

Jeremiah 10:11 (NASB)
11 Thus you shall say to them, “The gods that did not make the heavens and the earth will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.”

What was the literary or historical significance of the use of Aramaic here in the Book of Jeremiah? In other words, why did Jeremiah single out this single verse in Aramaic, and thus what was he trying to convey to the reader?

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Can you, please, explain to me (or give a link to some source explaining it) how we know that it was written in Aramaic in the first place? –  brilliant Jun 17 '13 at 7:38
    
@brilliant - John D. Barry, Michael R. Grigoni, Michael S. Heiser et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012), Jer. 10:11. –  Joseph Jun 18 '13 at 0:30
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2 Answers 2

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According to the NET translators' notes,

Scholars debate the appropriateness of this verse to this context. Many see it as a gloss added by a postexilic scribe which was later incorporated into the text. Both R. E. Clendenen (“Discourse Strategies in Jeremiah 10, ” JBL 106 [1987]: 401-8) and W. L. Holladay (Jeremiah [Hermeneia], 1:324–25, 334–35) have given detailed arguments that the passage is not only original but the climax and center of the contrast between the LORD and idols in vv. 2–16. Holladay shows that the passage is a very carefully constructed chiasm (see accompanying study note) which argues that “these” at the end is the subject of the verb “will disappear” not the attributive adjective modifying heaven. He also makes a very good case that the verse is poetry and not prose as it is rendered in the majority of modern English versions.

This passage is carefully structured and placed to contrast the LORD who is living and eternal (v. 10) and made the heavens and earth (v. 12) with the idols who did not and will disappear. It also has a very careful concentric structure in the original text where “the gods” is balanced by “these,” “heavens” is balance by “from under the heavens,” “the earth” is balanced by “from the earth,” and “did not make” is balanced and contrasted in the very center by “will disappear.” The structure is further reinforced by the sound play/wordplay between “did not make” (Aram לָא עֲבַדוּ [la’ ’avadu]) and “will disappear” (Aram יֵאבַדוּ [ye’vadu]). This is the rhetorical climax of Jeremiah’s sarcastic attack on the folly of idolatry.1

The Faithlife Study Bible commentators point out,

While the switch to Aramaic here is unexpected and unusual, the chiasm structuring the sentence suggests it may be a popular saying that uses wordplay that would not have been possible in Hebrew. Aramaic was in use at the time as an international diplomatic language (see Isa 36:11) and was known by the educated elite of Judah.2

From the various sources cited, it may have been a Aramaism that best made sense in Aramaic, similar to the use of Latin statements (e.g. quid pro quo) in modern English. Then again, it could have been a scribal gloss.

The other possible explanation is that Aramaic was the language of diplomacy and Jeremiah made a statement that the Israelites should say to their Babylonian captors when they ended up in future exile. This doesn't seem likely, however, and has little scholarly support.

Sources

1 Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Jer. 10:11.

2 John D. Barry, Michael R. Grigoni, Michael S. Heiser et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012), Jer. 10:11.

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“Rabbi Shim’on opened, saying, With beginning created God (translated in the exact word order of the Hebrew) [Genesis 1:1]. This verse calls for contemplation, for anyone claiming that there is another god is extirpated from worlds, as is said: Thus shall you say to them: The gods who did not make heaven and earth shall perish from earth and from under these heavens [Jeremiah 10:11], for there is no god other than the blessed Holy One alone… this verse is written in Aramaic: so that the celestial angels will not think it is being said about them and denounce us [the celestial angels do not understand Aramaic, only Hebrew]” (Zohar 1:9a-10a).

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