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Jeremiah (יִרְמְיָהוּ "the LORD will raise", Standard Hebrew Yirməyáhu, frequently misspelled as Yirmiyáhu, Tiberian Hebrew Yirməyāhū), one of the 'greater prophets' of the Old Testament. He was the son of Hilkiah, a priest of Anathoth.

His writings are collected in the Book of Jeremiah and, according to tradition, the Book of Lamentations. Jeremiah is also famous as "the broken-hearted prophet" (who wrote or dictated a "broken book", which has been difficult for scholars to put into chronological order), whose heart-rending life, and true prophecies of dire warning went largely unheeded by the people of Judah. God told Jeremiah, "You will go to them; but for their part, they will not listen to you".

Narrative in the Book of Jeremiah[]

According to the Book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament, Jeremiah was called to the prophetical office when still young; in the thirteenth year of Josiah (628 BC). He left his native place, Anathoth, (where Jeremiah was perhaps a member of the priesthood) and went to reside in Jerusalem; where he assisted Josiah in his work of reformation. (Josiah is one of the most famous "good kings" of the Israelites; during his Temple renovation program, the High Priest found a copy of the Old Testament Scriptures that had survived the purges of his father and grandfather. Upon hearing it read to him, Josiah "tore his robes" in grief at the revealed knowledge of the coming wrath of God, because the nation had not been following the Scriptures. Josiah subsequently embarked upon a furious assault upon idolatry in Judah, removing the idolatrous priest-hood, and restoring the worship of God to Judah.) Jeremiah wrote a lamentation upon the death of this pious king. Although it is not recorded in the Bible, Jewish oral tradition identifies it, and it is recited annually on Tisha B'av.

There is no reference to Jeremiah during the three year reign of Jehoahaz, but in the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim, the enmity of the people against the prophet was expressed with persecution, and Jeremiah was apparently imprisoned. In his most famous confrontation with Jehoiakim, Jeremiah warned the king that "God would roll him up into a little ball, and would throw him out of Judah"; a prophecy which includes a possible pun on the use of Jeremiah's name, which means "God throws".

In his various exhortations, Jeremiah made extensive use of performance art, using props or demonstrations to illustrate points and engage the public. He walked around wearing a wooden yoke about his neck; he served wine to a family with a vow of temperance; he bought his family estate in Anathoth while in prison and while the Babylonians were occupying it.

He remained in Jerusalem, uttering from time to time his words of warning, but without much effect. He was there when Nebuchadnezzar besieged the city (Jer. 37:4, 5), 588 BC, as Jeremiah had prophesied before-hand. The rumour of the approach of the Egyptians to aid the Jews in this crisis induced the Babylonians to withdraw, and to return to their own land. However, this siege was raised only for a short time. The prophet, in answer to his prayer, received a message from God, stating that "the Babylonians would come again, and take the city, and burn it with fire" (37:7, 8). The princes, in their anger at such a message by Jeremiah, cast him into prison (37:15-38:13). He was still in confinement when the city was taken (586 BC). The Babylonians released him, and showed him great kindness; allowing Jeremiah to choose the place of his residence, according to a Babylonian edict. Jeremiah accordingly went to Mizpah 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 counsels, Johanan fled to Egypt, taking Jeremiah and Baruch ben Neriah (Jeremiah's faithful scribe and servant) with him (Jer. 43:6). 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 (44). Some believe he was murdered in Egypt by those angered by his prophecies. It is known that he lived into the reign of Evil-merodach, son of Nebuchadnezzar, and may have been about ninety years of age at his death. We have no authentic record of his death; he may have died at Tahpanes, or, according to a tradition, may have gone to Babylon with the army of Nebuchadnezzar.


The book of Jeremiah depicts a remarkably introspective prophet, a prophet struggling with and often overwhelmed by the role into which he has been thrust. Jeremiah interspersed efforts to warn the people with pleas for mercy until he is ordered to "pray no more for this people" -- and then sneaks in a few extra pleas between the lines. He engages in extensive performance art, walking about in the streets with a yoke about his neck and engaging in other efforts to attract attention. He is taunted, put in jail, at one point thrown in a pit to die. He was often bitter about his experience, and expresses the anger and frustration he feels. He is not depicted as a man of iron, and yet he continues in preaching and praying for GOD's people.

Jeremiah in rabbinic literature[]

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 female slave (the slave of Pharaoh's daughter); so, Jeremiah was rescued by a male slave [Ebed-melech]; Moses reprimanded the people in discourses; so did Jeremiah."

Jeremiah in Christianity[]

The Christian legend (pseudo-Epiphanius, "De Vitis Prophetarum"; Basset, "Apocryphen Ethiopiens," i. 25-29), according to which Jeremiah was stoned by his compatriots in Egypt because he reproached them with their evil deeds, became known to the Jews through Ibn Yaḥyà ("Šalšelet ha-qabbālāh," ed. princeps, p. 99b.)

This account of Jeremiah's martyrdom, however, may have come originally from Jewish sources. Another Christian legend narrates that Jeremiah by prayer freed Egypt from a plague of crocodiles and mice; for which reason his name was for a long time honored by the Egyptians (pseudo-Epiphanius and Yaḥya, l.c.). He is commemorated as a prophet in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod on June 26. He is also commemorated as a saint in the Coptic Orthodox Church, where his feast falls on 5 Pashons.

Writings and authorship[]

Traditional perspectives[]

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.

Critical perspectives[]

Jeremiah is considered by some modern scholars to have written, or redacted much of the Old Testament, as we have it today. His language in "Jeremiah" and "Lamentations" is quite similar to that in Deuteronomy and the "Deuteronomistic History" of Joshua, Judges, the Books of Samuel, and the Books of Kings.

Contemporary Commentary[]


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 prophesized, 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 task ever assigned, and how difficult it was to be able to see, in advance, ones own failure.

Cultural influence[]

Jeremiah was a popular name in the United States in the 1970s, as well as among the early Puritans, who often took the Biblical names of the prophets and apostles.

Leonard Bernstein's Symphony No. 1 is also known as "Jeremiah." Its three movements are Prophecy, Profanation, and Lamentation.


  • Friedman, Richard E. Who Wrote The Bible?, Harper and Row, NY, USA, 1987.
  • Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets. HarperCollins Paperback, 1975. ISBN 0-06-131421-8

See also[]

PD-icon.svg This entry incorporates text from the public domain Easton's Bible Dictionary, originally published in 1897.

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