Jeremiah

Jeremiah (active late 7th-early 6th century B.C.) was one of the four major Jewish prophets. A priest from Anathoth, Israel, he is the reputed author of the Book of Jeremiah.

The dates of Jeremiah's birth and death are not known. It is known that he began his preaching either in the thirteenth year of King Josiah of Judah (626 B.C.) or at the accession of King Jehoiakim of Judah (608). He preached and taught for over 40 years, so his death must have taken place sometime in the first half of the 6th century B.C., probably between 580 and 560 B.C.

The entire background of Jeremiah's life and the words ascribed to him are permeated with the sense of disaster and disintegration which Judaism and Jews underwent in the 6th century B.C. The northern portion of Palestine, the kingdom of Israel, fell to the Assyrians in 622 B.C. A similar fate threatened the south, the kingdom of Judah, with its capital city of Jerusalem. The Assyrians were conquered by the Babylonians. The latter invaded Judea and captured Jerusalem in 587 B.C. A year later the Babylonians destroyed the First Temple, ended the kingdom of Judah, and deported the Jews (the Babylonian Captivity). Many Jews, among them Jeremiah, fled to Egypt for safety. As far as is known, however, Jeremiah died violently, perhaps by crucifixion, perhaps by the sword.

Not all of the writings ascribed to Jeremiah are considered by modern scholars to be really his. In fact, it is not certain that he ever actually wrote a line. It seems more likely that he dictated much of his material to an assistant or secretary called Baruch. Baruch made two collections of Jeremiah's words, one toward the end of the 7th century B.C. (605-600) and one toward the end of the prophet's life. Baruch added some materials of his own, and there were some later additions. Jewish tradition also ascribes the Book of Lamentations and the Book of Kings to Jeremiah.

Jeremiah's words and pronouncements are directly concerned with the febrile political maneuvering between 605 and 586 B.C. and with the Babylonian Captivity. His early message was simple: unless both king and people reformed their morals and returned to the true worship of God as taught by Moses, Jerusalem would be destroyed and its people killed or exiled. Jeremiah's general message was that temple and priesthood and kingship were of no avail if the heart of man was not clean from idolatry, from lies, and from deception of all kinds. His novel contribution as a prophet was his claim that God would replace the Old Covenant with the Israelites by a new covenant. Peculiarly, this new covenant was not to be restricted to Jews but was to include all the world. Jeremiah taught a universalist creed which would embrace all people.

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Further Reading on Jeremiah

Useful works on Jeremiah include Terrot R. Glover, The Pilgrim: Essays on Religion (1921); John Skinner, Prophecy and Religion: Studies in the Life of Jeremiah (1922); Adam C. Welch, Jeremiah, His Time and His Work (1928); James P. Hyatt and S. R. Hopper, eds., "The Book of Jeremiah," in George A. Battrick, gen. ed., The Interpreter's Bible (1956); and James P. Hyatt, Jeremiah: Prophet of Courage and Hope (1958).