The Letter of



This 73 verse letter has been attributed to the prophet Jeremiah and written in the time of the Babylonian Exile. Jeremiah had been taken, against his will, to Egypt and the letter is written as Jeremiah’s message to those people of Israel who had been led captive to the land of Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar’s army. The writing was no doubt inspired by Jeremiah 20:1 – 29. The time spoken of in this letter would be perhaps 592 B.C.E. or about ten years prior to the fall and destruction of Jerusalem.

It speaks of the evil of accepting idol worship, one of the subjects spoken of in the Prophecy of Jeremiah, chapter 10, to a degree, also deals with the problem of how to carry on worship in a distant land, not near the temple in Jerusalem.

Some scholars feel it was originally written in Greek, though most scholars feel it was written in Hebrew. Hebrew manuscripts have been found. Upon reading it, it gives the thought that this is a portion of a sermon. The dating of the writing is thought to be in about 317 B.C.E. or possibly later. There seems to be a reference to a writing which scholars know was written in the second century B.C.E.

The letter has been found with the apocryphal writing of Baruch, as the sixth chapter of that book, though there is no connection between the two writings. It has gradually come to be considered as a separate ‘book’ within the Apocryphal writings by scholars.


I The helplessness of idols 1 – 39

II The foolishness in the worship of idols 40 – 73

The Letter of


1 A copy of a letter that Jeremiah sent to those who were to be taken to Babylon as captives by the king of Babylon, which had been entrusted to him by God .

The People Face a Long Captivity

2 Because of the sins that you have committed before God, you will be led away to Babylon as exiles by Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Babylonians 3 Therefore when you have come to Babylon you will remain there for many years, for a long time, to the seventh generation, after .that I will bring you away from there in peace.

4 Now in Babylon you will see gods made of silver, gold, stone [1] and wood, which people carry on their shoulders, and which cause the heathen to fear. 5 So beware of becoming like the foreigners or of being in awe of their gods [2] that they possess you, 6 when you see the multitude before and behind them, worshiping them. But say in your heart, “It is to you, O Lord to whom worship is due.” 7 For my angel is with you, and he is watching over your lives.

The Helplessness of Idols

8 Their tongues are smoothed by the carpenter, and they, themselves are overlaid with gold and silver, but they are false and cannot speak. 9 People take gold and make crowns for the heads of their gods, as they might for a girl [3] who loves flashy jewelry.. 10 Sometimes the priests secretly steal gold and silver from their gods and spend it on themselves, 11 or even give some of it to the prostitutes on the terrace. They decorate their figures, these gods of silver, gold and wood, 12 though they are unable to even save themselves from rust and corrosion. When they have been dressed in purple robes, 13 their faces are wiped because of the temple dust, which is thick upon them. 14 One of them holds a scepter, like a district judge, but is unable to destroy anyone who offends it. 15 Another has a dagger in his right hand, and an ax in his right hand, but it cannot defend itself from war and robbers. 16 From this it is evident that they are not dogs, so do not fear them.

17 Just as someone’s dish is useless when it is broken, 18 so are their gods when they have been set up in the temple. Their eyes are full of the dust caused by the feet of those who enter. And just as the gates are shut on every side against anyone who has offended a king, as thought under sentence of death, [4] so the priests make their temples secure with doors and locks and bars, in order that they may not be plundered by robbers. 19 They light more lamps for them than they light for themselves, though their gods [5] can see none of them. 20 They are just like a beam of the temple, but their hearts, it is said, are eaten away when crawling creatures from the earth devour them and their robes. They do not notice 21 when their faces have been blackened by the smoke of the temple. 22 Bats, swallows, and birds alight on their bodies and heads, which also was done by cats. 23 From this you will know that they are not gods, so do not fear them.

24 As for the gold that they wear for beauty – it [6] will not shine unless someone wipes off the tarnish; for even when they were being cast, they did not feel it. 25 They are bought without regard to cost, but there is no breath in them. 26 Having no feet, they are carried on the shoulders of others, revealing to humankind their worthlessness. And those who serve them are put to shame 27 because, if any of these gods topples [7] to the ground, the priests, themselves, must pick it up. If anyone sets it upright, it cannot move itself, and if it is tipped over, it cannot straighten itself. Gifts are placed before them just as before the dead.28 The priests sell the sacrifices that they are offered to these gods and use the money for themselves. Likewise their wives preserve some of the meat [8] with salt, but give none to the poor or helpless. 29 Sacrifices to them may even be handled by women during their menstrual periods or at childbirth. Thus you know by these things that they are not gods, do not fear them.

30 For how can they be called gods? Women serve meals for gods of silver and gold and wood; 31 and in their temples the priests sit wearing their robes, their heads and beards shaved, and their heads uncovered. 32 They howl and shout before their gods as some do at a funeral banquet. 33 The priests take possession of the clothing of their gods [9] to clothe their wives and children. 34 Whether one does evil to the gods, or good, they will not be able to repay it. They cannot crown a king or depose one. 35 Likewise they are not able to give either wealth or money; if one makes a vow to them and does not keep it, they will not require it. 36 They cannot save anyone from death or rescue the weak from the strong. 37 They cannot restore sight to the blind; they cannot rescue one who is in distress. 38 They cannot take pity on a widow or do good to an orphan. 39 These things that are made of wood and overlaid with gold and silver are like stones from the mountain and those who serve them will be put to shame. 40 Why then must anyone think that they are god, or call them gods?

The Foolishness of Worshiping Idols

Besides, even the Chaldeans themselves bring their ideas into dispute, for when they see someone who cannot speak, they bring Bel and pray that the mute may speak, as though Bel were able to understand. 41 Yet they themselves cannot perceive this and abandon them, for they have no sense. 42 The women, with cords around them, sit along the passageways, burning bran [10] for incense. 43 When one of them is dragged off by one of the passes-by and is taken to bed by him, she derides the woman next to her, because she is not as attractive as herself and her cord was not broken. [11] 44 Whatever is done for these idols is false. Why then must anyone think that they are gods, or call them gods?

45 They are made by carpenters and goldsmiths; they can be nothing but what the artisans wish them to be. 46 Those who make them will certainly not live very long themselves, [12] 47 how then can the things that are made by them be gods? [13] They have left only lies and reproach for those who come after. 48 When war or calamity comes upon them, the priests consult together as to where they can hide themselves and their gods. 49 How then can one fail to see that these are not gods, for they cannot save themselves from war or calamity:50 Since they are made of wood and overlaid with gold and silver, it will afterward be known that they are false. 51 It will be manifest to all the nations and kings that they are not gods but the work of human hands, and that there is no work of God in them. 52 Who then can fail to know that they are not gods? [14]

53 They cannot set up a king over a country or give rain to people.54They cannot judge their own cause, or deliver one who is wronged, for they have no power; 55 they are like crows that fly between heaven and earth. When fire breaks out in a temple of wooden gods overlaid with gold or silver, their priests will flee and escape, but the gods will be burned up like timbers, 56 Besides, They can offer no resistance to king or enemy. Why then must anyone admit, or think, that they are gods?

57 Gods made of wood and overlaid with silver and gold are unable to save themselves from thieves or robbers. 58 Anyone who has the opportunity will strip them of their gold and silver and of the robes they wear, and go off with this booty and they will not be able to help themselves. 59 So it is better to be a king who shows his courage, or a household utensil that serves its owner’s need, than to be these false gods; better even the door of a house that protects its contents, than these false gods, better also a wooden pillar in a palace, than these false gods.

60 Sun and moon and stars are bright, and when sent to do a service, they are obedient. 61 So also the lightning, when it flashes, is widely seen; and the wind likewise blows in every land, 6i When God commands the clouds to go over the entire world, they carry out his command. 63 The fire sent from above to consume mountains and wood does what it is ordered. But these idols are not to be compared with them in appearance or power. 64 Therefore one must not think that they are gods, nor call them gods, for they are not able either to decide a case or to do good to anyone. 65 Since you know that they are not gods, do not revere them.

66 They can neither curse nor bless kings; 67 They cannot show signs in the heavens for the nations, or shine like the sun and give light like the moon. 68 The wild animals are better than they are; for they can flee to shelter and help themselves. 69 So we have no evidence whatsoever that they are gods; therefore do not revere them.

70 Like a scarecrow [15] in a cucumber bed, which guards nothing. That is how their gods of wood, overlaid with gold and silver are. 71 In the same way, their gods of wood, overlaid with gold, and silver, are like a thorn-bush in a garden on which every bird perches; or like a corpse thrown out in the darkness. 72 From the purple and linen [16] that rot upon them you will know that they are not gods, and they will finally be devoured themselves, and be a reproach in the land. 73 Better, therefore, is someone upright who has no idols, such a person will be far above reproach.

[1] So: Vulgate.

[2] Literally: “for them.”

[3] Greek: “virgin.”

[4] Literally: “Led off to his execution.”

[5] Literally: “they.”

[6] So: Latin and Syriac. Greek: “they.”

[7] Greek: “if they fall.”

[8] Greek: “of them.”

[9] Greek: “some of their clothing.”

[10] Perhaps crushed and pounded grain that is burned as incense.

[11] The reference to a cord is rather unclear. The cord was no doubt used as a belt around the waist , but it had an additional significance since it would tell the other priestesses that she had been chosen for a sexual encounter with a man and thus she would imply that she was more beautiful than the other priestesses that were available for such “fertility rites.”

[12] Their idol which they made would be left behind and would be a reproach to those who those who would become their descendants.

[13] Since the gods hey made did not have life they and their work would be considered by future generations to be a disgrace.

[14] The meaning is uncertain .

[15] Literally: “Amulet.” Bright amulets were placed in garden plots to frighten birds.

[16] Greek: “marble.” Syriac: “silk.”