People - Ancient Near East: Jeremiah
Ancient Near East
Jeremiah in wikipedia
Jeremiah (Hebrew：יִרְמְיָה, Yirmĭyahu, meaning “Yahweh exalts”, in English pronounced /dʒɛrɨˈmaɪ.ə/) was one of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). His writings are put together in the Book of Jeremiah and traditionally, authorship of the Book of Lamentations is ascribed to him. God appointed Jeremiah to confront Judah and Jerusalem for the worship of idols and other violations of the covenant described in Deuteronomy. According to Jeremiah, the LORD declared that the covenant was broken and that God would bring upon Israel and Judah the curses of the covenant. Jeremiah’s job was to explain the reason for the impending disaster (destruction by the Babylonian army and captivity), “And when your people say, 'Why has the LORD our God done all these things to us?' you shall say to them, 'As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve foreigners in a land that is not yours.'" The LORD said to Jeremiah:
Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you, declares the LORD.
– Jeremiah 1:17-19 (NIV)
God’s personal prediction to Jeremiah, “Attack you they will, overcome you they can’t,” was fulfilled many times in the Biblical narrative as Jeremiah warned of destruction of those who continued to refuse repentance and its more moderate consequences. In return for his adherence to God’s disciplines and speaking God’s words, Jeremiah was attacked by his own brothers, beaten and put into the stocks by a priest and false prophet, imprisoned by the king, threatened with death, thrown into a cistern by Judah’s officials, and opposed by a false prophet. Yet God was faithful to rescue Jeremiah from his enemies. For example, when his prophecies regarding the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem were fulfilled by Nebuchadnezzar’s army in 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar ordered that Jeremiah be freed from prison and treated well.
Judaism considers the Book of Jeremiah a part of its canon, and regards Jeremiah as the second of the major prophets. Christianity regards Jeremiah as a saint and as a prophet. The New Testament quotes Jeremiah, and it has been interpreted that Jeremiah “spiritualized and individualized religion and insisted upon the primacy of the individual’s relationship with God.” Islam considers Jeremiah, along with the other Major Prophets of the Old Testament, to be a prophet, though he is not mentioned explicitly in the Qur'an.
The figure of Jeremiah on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, by Michelangelo.
Etymology and pronunciation
The Hebrew for Jeremiah is יִרְמְיָהוּ which is frequently misspelled יִרְמִיָהוּ. In modern Hebrew, the name is Yirməyāhū. The International Phonetic Alphabet renders the Hebrew as jirməˈjaːhu. The Tiberian vocalization is Yirmĭyahu. In the Greek of the Septuagint, Jeremiah is rendered as Ἰερεμίας. The English is pronounced /dʒɛrɨˈmaɪ.ə/. The name Jeremiah means "Yahweh exalts."
Timeline of the life and times of Jeremiah. There is slight disagreement (1-2 years) among scholars regarding the dating of many events.
Jeremiah’s ministry spanned the time period from the thirteenth year of Josiah king of Judah (626 BC) until sometime after the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of Solomon’s Temple (587 BC). Consequently, Jeremiah’s prophetic work spanned the reigns of five kings of Judah: Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoichin, and Zedekiah.
Jeremiah was born into a priestly family, the son of Hilkiah, a priest at Anathoth, a village 2–3 miles north of Jerusalem. Jeremiah came from a landowning family, and refers to a joyful early life, although the words and difficulties recorded in the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations result in him being known as “the weeping prophet.” Jeremiah was born in the second half of the 7th Century BC. At that time Josiah,was King of Judah, which was the southern kingdom.
Call, Training, and Early Ministry
The LORD called Jeremiah to prophetic ministry in about 626 BC, about one year after Josiah king of Judah had turned the nation toward repentance from the widespread idolatrous practices of his father and grandfather. Ultimately, Josiah’s reforms would not be enough to preserve Judah and Jerusalem from destruction, because the sins of Manasseh, Josiah’s grandfather, had gone too far. 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 appointed to reveal the sins of the people and the coming consequences.
Before I created you in the womb, I selected you; Before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet concerning the nations…See, I appoint you this day Over nations and kingdoms: to uproot and pull down, To destroy and overthrow, To build and to plant.
– Jeremiah 1:1-10 (JPS)
In contrast to Isaiah, who eagerly accepted his prophetic call, and similar to Moses who was less than eager, 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 as commanded, and he touched Jeremiah’s mouth and put the word of the LORD into Jeremiah’s mouth. God told Jeremiah to “Get yourself ready!” The disciplines that are specified in Jeremiah 1 are not being afraid, standing up to speak, speaking as told, and going where sent. Other disciplines that contributed to the training of the young prophet and confirmation of his message are described as not turning to the people, not marrying or fathering children, not going to weddings or funerals, not sitting in a house with feasting, and not sitting in the company of merrymakers. Since Jeremiah emerges 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, going where the LORD sent him and preaching oracles in Jerusalem and Judah that supported the reform program of Josiah, predicting consequences for past sins, urging whole-hearted repentance from lusting after idols, and condemning the greed of priests and prophets in supporting false religion for monetary gain. Many years later, God instructed Jeremiah to write down these early oracles and other messages.
Conspiracy of men of Anathoth and brothers (11:18-12:6)
Jeremiah opposed the multitude of altars and false worship that appeared throughout the land. He opposed the widespread trend among priests and prophets to minimize the problem and declare peace when the false practices should be considered abominations. Jeremiah declared that these widespread altars were sufficiently serious abominations that they yielded a broken covenant, and that greed was the motive for the priests and prophets to proclaim peace and support worship of false gods in all the towns and on every street.
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 take his life. 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, the LORD explains that the attacks on him will become worse.
If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, Then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, How will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?
– Jeremiah 12:5 (NAS)
Conflicts with false prophets
"Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem" by Rembrandt van Rijn.
At the same time while Jeremiah was prophesying coming destruction because of the sins of the nation, a number of other prophets were prophesying peace. The LORD had Jeremiah speak against these false prophets.
”From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them," says the LORD.
– Jeremiah 6:13-15 (NIV)
For example, during the reign of king Zedekiah, The LORD instructed Jeremiah to make a yoke out of straps and wooden crossbars as a visual confirmation of the message that the nation would be subject to the king of Babylon and that listening to the false prophets would bring a much worse disaster. The prophet Hananiah opposed Jeremiah’s message. He took the yoke off of 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.
Shortly after the prophet Hananiah had broken the yoke off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: "Go and tell Hananiah, 'This is what the LORD says: You have broken a wooden yoke, but in its place you will get a yoke of iron. This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will put an iron yoke on the necks of all these nations to make them serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and they will serve him. I will even give him control over the wild animals.' " Then the prophet Jeremiah said to Hananiah the prophet, "Listen, Hananiah! The LORD has not sent you, yet you have persuaded this nation to trust in lies.”
– Jeremiah 28:12-15 (NIV)
The failure of the false prophets to expose the people’s sin and prevent their captivity is lamented by the author of Lamentations (traditionally attributed to Jeremiah).
The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The oracles they gave you were false and misleading.
– Lamentations 2:14 (NIV)
Into the stocks by priest Pashhur
After Jeremiah had prophesied disaster for Jerusalem and the towns of Judah, Pashhur the priest, chief officer in the temple, beat Jeremiah the prophet and put him in the stocks overnight. 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. The experiences are so troubling for Jeremiah, that he expresses regret at ever being born.
Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father,"A son is born to you," making him very glad. Let that man be like the cities that the LORD overthrew without pity; let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon, because he did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave, and her womb forever great. Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?
– Jeremiah 20:14-18(ESV)
Threat of death and imprisonment by Zedekiah’s officials
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 Pashhur the priest, tried to convince King Zedekiah that Jeremiah should be put to death because he is 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.
Taken to Egypt
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 counsels, 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 the LORD, from whom they had so long revolted. There is no authentic record of his death.
Acting out prophetic parables
The biblical narrative includes a number of cases of Jeremiah being given unusual instructions requiring him to act out parables or behave in ways contrary to expectations of prophetic office. For example, many prophets in scripture are found interceding with God on behalf of the people. Abraham intercedes with God regarding the destruction of Sodom; Moses intercedes for the people after their sin with the golden calf and after the people refuse God’s instruction to go take Canaan; Samuel promises to continue interceding for the people. In contrast, on several occasions, the LORD commands Jeremiah not to intercede for the people.
So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you. Do you not see what they are doing in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, the fathers light the fire, and the women knead the dough and make cakes of bread for the Queen of Heaven. They pour out drink offerings to other gods to provoke me to anger.
– Jeremiah 7:16-18(NIV)
God was so angry over their sins, that he says that even if Moses and Samuel were to intercede for the people, he would not relent.
Much like the prophet Isaiah who had to walk stripped and barefoot for three years and the prophet Ezekiel who had to lie on his side for 390 days and eat measured food, Jeremiah is instructed to perform a number of prophetic parables to illustrate the LORD’s message to his people. For example, the LORD commands Jeremiah to bury a linen belt so that it gets ruined to illustrate how the LORD intends to ruin Judah’s pride. Likewise, Jeremiah buys a clay jar and smashes it in the Valley of Ben Hinnom in front of elders and priests to illustrate that the LORD will smash the nation of Judah and the city of Judah beyond repair. The LORD instructs Jeremiah to make a yoke from wood and leather straps and to put it on his own neck to demonstrate how the LORD will put the nation under the yoke of the king of Babylon. In order to contrast the people’s disobedience with the obedience of the Rechabites, the LORD has Jeremiah invite the Rechabites to drink wine, in disobedience to their ancestor’s command. The Rechabites refused, and God commended them.
This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go and tell the men of Judah and the people of Jerusalem, “Will you not learn a lesson and obey my words?” declares the LORD. “Jonadab son of Recab ordered his sons not to drink wine and this command has been kept. To this day they do not drink wine, because they obey their forefather's command. But I have spoken to you again and again, yet you have not obeyed me. Again and again I sent all my servants the prophets to you. They said, ‘Each of you must turn from your wicked ways and reform your actions; do not follow other gods to serve them. Then you will live in the land I have given to you and your fathers.’ But you have not paid attention or listened to me. The descendants of Jonadab son of Recab have carried out the command their forefather gave them, but these people have not obeyed me.”
– Jeremiah 35:13-16(NIV)
During the siege of Jerusalem, when it was finally obvious that Jeremiah’s prophesies of disaster would be fulfilled and that destruction and exile were imminent, the LORD instructed Jeremiah to make a real-estate investment by purchasing a field at Anathoth from his cousin Hanamel. Jeremiah obeyed, weighed out the silver on scales, and had the deed witnessed and sealed. The LORD was making the point the nation would eventually be restored and that houses and fields would once again be bought in the land.
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 Deut. xviii. 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."
Jeremiah in Islam
Most Muslims consider Jeremiah (translated as Armaya in Arabic) to be a prophet of Islam, though he is not mentioned in the Qur'an. Ibn Kathir, in his book Stories Of The Prophets, places Jeremiah in the prophetic pantheon, alongside fellow Old Testament prophets Daniel, Ezekiel and Isaiah. Scholars believe that Jeremiah was a descendant of Levi, son of Jacob, and lived at a troubled time when there were many false prophets spreading false messages. It has been said that Jeremiah was one of the few prophets before Jesus to use Shalom as a name to reference his religion; Shalom being the same as Salaam in Islam.
Jeremiah in Hadith
Note: As not all Hadith are authentic, the authenticity of one will depend upon which compilation it's from and who its chain of narrators was.
Jeremiah comes to Daniel
Ibn Abi Al-Dunya narrated the following, based on a chain of citations. Nebuchadnezzar captured two lions and threw them into a pit. He then brought Daniel and threw him at them; yet they did not pounce at him; rather, he remained as Allah wished. When then he desired food and drink, Allah revealed to Jeremiah, who was in Sham (Palestine/Syria): "Prepare food and drink for Daniel." He said: "0 Lord I am in Jerusalem while Daniel is in Babylon (Iraq)." Allah revealed to him: "Do what I have commanded you to do, and I shall send you one who will carry you and what you have prepared." Jeremiah did so and Allah sent him something that would carry him until he arrived at the brink of the pit. Then Daniel asked: "Who is this?" He answered: "I am Jeremiah." He asked: "What brought you?" He answered: "Your Lord sent me to you." He said: "And so my Lord has remembered me?" He said: "Yes." Daniel said: "Praise be to Allah Who has never forgotten me! And Praise be to Allah Who never forgets those who appeal to Him! And Praise be to Him Who compensates good with good, rewards patience with safety, dispels harm after distress, assures us when we are overwhelmed, and is our hope when skill fails us."
Writings and authorship
Jeremiah is traditionally credited with authoring the Book of Jeremiah, 1 Kings, 2 Kings and the Book of Lamentations with the assistance and under the editorship of Baruch ben Neriah, his scribe and disciple.
Scholars cannot with any certainty prove the authorship of Jeremiah, although consensus has gathered around a thesis of multiple sources, mainly because of the contrast between the poetic discourses and the prose narrative. It is possible that the Deuteronomist and/or the scribe Baruch recorded and edited the original prophecies.
Commentator Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote that the book is written as if Jeremiah not only heard as words but personally felt in his body and emotions the experience of what he prophesied, that the verse
Are not all my words as fire, sayeth the LORD, and a hammer that shatters rock
was a clue as to how difficult the overwhelming, personality-shattering experience of being a vehicle for Divine revelation was, on one of the most difficult tasks ever assigned, and how difficult it was to be able to see, in advance, ones own failure.
The prophet Jeremiah (on the foreground) sculpted by Aleijadinho at the sanctuary of Bom Jesus of Matosinhos at Congonhas, Minas Gerais, Brazil.
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.
The prophet Jeremiah inspired the French noun jérémiade, and subsequently the English jeremiad, meaning "a lamentation; mournful complaint," or further, "a cautionary or angry harangue."
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.
Austrian author Stefan Zweig wrote a pacifist play called Jeremiah during World War I.
Leonard Bernstein's Symphony No. 1 is also known as "Jeremiah." Its three movements are Prophecy, Profanation, and Lamentation.
Bertold Hummel named his Symphony No. 3 "Jeremiah". Its four movements are I. Anathot II. Babylon III. Lamentationes Jeremiae and IV. Hymnus-Lakén Jeremiah
Sting made a reference to the prophet on his album The Soul Cages with his song "Jeremiah Blues (Part 1)".
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