Lessons from the potter's workshop: A New Look at Jeremiah 18.1-11

Daniel A. Frese

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Jeremiah 18.1-11 is a familiar passage, describing Yahweh in terms of a potter and Judah as his clay. Yet despite its familiarity, interpretations of the passage vary wildly. It is understood by various interpreters as a message of doom, a message of hope, a neutral message of neither doom nor hope, and a message of doom reworked into a message of hope by a later editor. Some commentators believe that Yahweh's sovereignty is the point of the text; others think that Yahweh has only partial control. Still others think the point is that the clay (Judah) has the capacity to thwart the potter's (Yahweh's) purposes. Scholars are united, on the other hand, in regarding Yahweh's contingent plans for 'nations' in vv. 7-10 as an interpretation of the potter's symbolic pot-making in vv. 1-4. In this article, this approach, which has led to the divergent and mutually exclusive views of the passage, is critiqued. Following a brief analysis of symbolic actions in Jeremiah and in the larger prophetic corpus, an alternative understanding is presented wherein vv. 7-10 are not directly related to the actions of the potter. Verses 1-6 and 7-10, rather, serve distinct but complementary roles in service of the larger purpose of vv. 1-11, which is to call the people of Judah to repentance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371-388
Number of pages18
JournalJournal for the Study of the Old Testament
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2013


  • Jeremiah 18
  • Potter
  • clay
  • repentance
  • symbolic actions
  • symbolism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies


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