Jeremiah (probably after 650 - c. 570 BC), also called the "weeping prophet", was one of the major prophets of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament of Christian Bible). According to Jewish tradition, Jeremiah authored the Book of Jeremiah, the Books of Kings and the Book of Lamentations, with the assistance and under the editorship of Baruch ben Neriah, his scribe and disciple.
|Born||c. 650 BC|
|Died||c. 570 BC|
In addition to detailing many statements attributed by Jeremiah to God, the book of Jeremiah goes into detail regarding physical actions taken by Jeremiah (e.g. the purchase of a field belonging to his uncle as a part of the right of redemption, Jer. 32:6-25) as well as actions which happen to him (e.g. imprisonment, Jer. 37:15-18, 38:6). Greater detail is known about Jeremiah's life than for that of any other prophet. In spite of such great detail, an opinion expressed is that no biography of him can be written, as there are few facts available.
Judaism considers the Book of Jeremiah part of its canon, and regards Jeremiah as the second of the major prophets. Christianity and Islam also regard Jeremiah as a prophet, and he is respectively quoted in the New Testament and his narrative is given in Islamic tradition.
Jeremiah's ministry was active from the thirteenth year of Josiah, king of Judah (626 BC), until after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of Solomon's Temple in 587 BC. This period spanned the reigns of five kings of Judah: Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah.
Lineage and early life
Jeremiah was the son of Hilkiah, a kohen (Jewish priest) from the Benjamite village of Anathoth. The difficulties he encountered, as described in the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations, have prompted scholars to refer to him as "the weeping prophet".
Jeremiah was called to prophetic ministry c. 626 BC by YHWH to give prophecy of Jerusalem's destruction that would occur by invaders from the north. This was because Israel had been unfaithful to the laws of the covenant and had forsaken God by worshiping Baal. Jeremiah condemned people burning their children as offerings to Moloch. This nation had deviated so far from God that they had broken the covenant, causing God to withdraw his blessings. Jeremiah was guided by God to proclaim that the nation of Judah would be faced with famine, plundered and taken captive by foreigners who would exile them to a foreign land.
According to Jeremiah 1:2–3, Yahweh called Jeremiah to prophetic ministry in about 626 BC, about five years before Josiah king of Judah turned the nation toward repentance from idolatrous practices (2 Kings 22:3-13). According to the Books of Kings, and Jeremiah, Josiah's reforms were insufficient to save Judah and Jerusalem from destruction, because of the sins of Manasseh, Josiah's grandfather, and Judah's return to idolatry (Jeremiah 11:10ff.). Such was the lust of the nation for false gods that after Josiah's death, the nation would quickly return to the gods of the surrounding nations. Jeremiah was said to have been appointed to reveal the sins of the people and the coming consequences.
Jeremiah resisted the call by complaining that he was only a child and did not know how to speak. However, the Lord insisted that Jeremiah go and speak, and he touched Jeremiah's mouth to place the word of the Lord there. God told Jeremiah to "Get yourself ready!" The character traits and practices Jeremiah was to acquire are specified in Jeremiah 1 and include not being afraid, standing up to speak, speaking as told, and going where sent. Since Jeremiah is described as emerging well trained and fully literate from his earliest preaching, the relationship between him and the Shaphan family has been used to suggest that he may have trained at the scribal school in Jerusalem over which Shaphan presided.
In his early ministry, Jeremiah was primarily a preaching prophet, preaching throughout Israel. He condemned idolatry, the greed of priests, and false prophets. Many years later, God instructed Jeremiah to write down these early oracles and his other messages.
Jeremiah's ministry prompted plots against him (Jeremiah 11:21–23). Unhappy with Jeremiah's message, possibly for concern that it would shut down the Anathoth sanctuary, his priestly kin and the men of Anathoth conspired to kill him. However, the Lord revealed the conspiracy to Jeremiah, protected his life, and declared disaster for the men of Anathoth. When Jeremiah complains to the Lord about this persecution, he is told that the attacks on him will become worse.
A priest Pashur the son of ben Immer, a temple official in Jerusalem, had Jeremiah beaten and put in the stocks at the Upper Gate of Benjamin for a day. After this, Jeremiah expresses lament over the difficulty that speaking God's word has caused him and regrets becoming a laughingstock and the target of mockery. He recounts how if he tries to shut the word of the Lord inside and not mention God's name, the word becomes like fire in his heart and he is unable to hold it in.
Conflicts with false prophets
According to the book of Jeremiah, during the reign of King Zedekiah, The Lord instructed Jeremiah to make a yoke of the message that the nation would be subject to the king of Babylon. The prophet Hananiah opposed Jeremiah's message. He took the yoke off Jeremiah's neck, broke it, and prophesied to the priests and all the people that within two years the Lord would break the yoke of the king of Babylon, but the Lord spoke to Jeremiah saying "Go and speak to Hananiah saying, you have broken the yoke of wood, but you have made instead a yoke of iron." (see: Jeremiah 28:13)
Relationship with the Northern Kingdom (Samaria)
Jeremiah was sympathetic to, as well as descended from, the Northern Kingdom. Many of his first reported oracles are about, and addressed to, the Israelites at Samaria. He resembles the northern prophet Hosea, in his use of language, and examples of God's relationship to Israel. Hosea seems to have been the first prophet to describe the desired relationship as an example of ancient Israelite marriage, where a man might be polygynous, while a woman was only permitted one husband. Jeremiah often repeats Hosea's marital imagery (Jeremiah 2:2b–2:3; 3:1–5, 3:19–25; 4:1–2).
The Biblical narrative portrays Jeremiah as being subject to additional persecutions. After Jeremiah prophesied that Jerusalem would be handed over to the Babylonian army, the king's officials, including Pashur the priest, tried to convince King Zedekiah that Jeremiah should be put to death because he was discouraging the soldiers as well as the people. Zedekiah answered that he would not oppose them. Consequently, the king's officials took Jeremiah and put him down into a cistern, where he sank down into the mud. The intent seemed to be to kill Jeremiah by allowing him to starve to death in a manner designed to allow the officials to claim to be innocent of his blood. A Cushite rescued Jeremiah by pulling him out of the cistern, but Jeremiah remained imprisoned until Jerusalem fell to the Babylonian army in 587 BC.
The Babylonians released Jeremiah, and showed him great kindness, allowing Jeremiah to choose the place of his residence, according to a Babylonian edict. Jeremiah accordingly went to Mizpah in Benjamin with Gedaliah, who had been made governor of Judea.
Johanan succeeded Gedaliah, who had been assassinated by an Israelite prince in the pay of Ammon "for working with the Babylonians." Refusing to listen to Jeremiah's counsel, Johanan fled to Egypt, taking with him Jeremiah and Baruch, Jeremiah's faithful scribe and servant, and the king's daughters. There, the prophet probably spent the remainder of his life, still seeking in vain to turn the people to God from whom they had so long revolted. There is no authentic record of his death.
In Jewish rabbinic literature, especially the aggadah, Jeremiah and Moses are often mentioned together; their life and works being presented in parallel lines. The following ancient midrash is especially interesting, in connection with Deuteronomy 18:18, in which "a prophet like Moses" is promised: "As Moses was a prophet for forty years, so was Jeremiah; as Moses prophesied concerning Judah and Benjamin, so did Jeremiah; as Moses' own tribe [the Levites under Korah] rose up against him, so did Jeremiah's tribe revolt against him; Moses was cast into the water, Jeremiah into a pit; as Moses was saved by a slave (the slave of Pharaoh's daughter); so, Jeremiah was rescued by a slave (Ebed-melech); Moses reprimanded the people in discourses; so did Jeremiah." The prophet Ezekiel was a son of Jeremiah according to rabbinic literature.
The Book of Jeremiah plays a foundational role in Christian thought as it presages the inauguration of a new covenant (cf. Jeremiah 31:31ff.), to which the New Testament testifies. There are about forty direct quotations of the book in the New Testament, most in Revelation in connection with the destruction of Babylon (e.g., 50:8 in Revelation 18:4; 50:32 in Revelation 18:8; 51:49-50 in Revelation 18:24). Of the Gospel writers, Matthew is especially mindful of how the events in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth fulfill Jeremianic prophecies (cf. Matthew 2:17, 27:9). The writer to the Hebrews also picks up the fulfilment of the prophetic expectation of the new covenant (Hebrews 8:8-12; 10:16-17).
As with many other prophets of the Hebrew Bible, Jeremiah is also regarded as a prophet in Islam. Although Jeremiah is not mentioned in the Quran, Muslim exegesis and literature narrates many instances from the life of Jeremiah and fleshes out his narrative, which closely corresponds with the account given in the Hebrew Bible. In Arabic, Jeremiah's name is usually vocalised Irmiyā, Armiyā or Ūrmiyā,. Classical historians such as Wahb ibn Munabbih gave accounts of Jeremiah which turned "upon the main points of the Old Testament story of Jeremiah: his call to be a prophet, his mission to the king of Judah, his mission to the people and his reluctance, the announcement of a foreign tyrant who is to rule over Judah." Moreover, some hadiths and tafsirs narrate that the Parable of the Hamlet in Ruins is about Jeremiah. Also, in Sura 17(Al-Isra), Ayah 4–7, that is about the two corruptions of children of Israel on the earth, some hadith and tafsir cite that one of these corruptions is the imprisonment and persecution of Jeremiah. According to Ahmadis the memorization of the Quran fulfills Jeremiah's prophecy, "I will put my Law within them and I will write it upon their hearts".
Scholars differ widely in their views on the likelihood of there being an actual prophet named Jeremiah. There is no extra-biblical occurrence of his name. Views differ from the belief that the narratives and poetic sections in Jeremiah are contemporary with his life (W.L. Holladay), to the view that Jeremiah is no more than a fictional character (R. P. Carroll).
Scholars cannot prove the authorship of Jeremiah with any certainty, although consensus has gathered around a thesis of multiple sources, mainly because of the contrast between the poetic discourses and the prose narrative. Some modern scholars think the Deuteronomist edited Jeremiah because of the similarity of phrasing between the books of Jeremiah and Deuteronomy. For example, Egypt is referred to as an "iron furnace" in both Jeremiah 11:4 and Deuteronomy 4:20. They also share a similar view of divine justice.
In July 2007, Assyrologist Michael Jursa translated a cuneiform tablet dated to 595 BC, as describing a Nabusharrussu-ukin as "the chief eunuch" of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. Jursa hypothesized that this reference might be to the same individual as the Nebo-Sarsekim mentioned in Jeremiah 39:3.
A 7th-century BCE seal of Jehucal, son of Shelemiah and another of Gedaliah, son of Pashhur (mentioned together in Jeremiah 38:1; Jehucal also mentioned in Jeremiah 37:3) were found during excavation by Eilat Mazar in the city of David, Jerusalem, in 2005 and 2008, respectively.
Jeremiah has periodically been a popular first name in the United States, beginning with the early Puritan settlers, who often took the names of biblical prophets and apostles. The names Jeremy and Dermot also derive from Jeremiah (the latter by way of Irish Diarmaid).
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