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The World of Jeremiah

The Flight of the Prisoners (1896) by James Tissot

by Trent Dee Stephens, PhD, for the Come Follow Me lesson October 17-23: Jeremiah 30–33; 36; Lamentations 1; 3

We read in Jeremiah 32:1-4: “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. For then the king of Babylon’s army besieged Jerusalem: and Jeremiah the prophet was shut up in the court of the prison, which was in the king of Judah’s house. For Zedekiah king of Judah had shut him up, saying, Wherefore dost thou prophesy, and say, Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it; And Zedekiah king of Judah shall not escape out of the hand of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him mouth to mouth, and his eyes shall behold his eyes;”

The Prophet Jeremiah lived around 650 to 570 BC. According to Jewish tradition, he was the author of not only the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations, but also the books of Kings. He was assisted by his scribe, Baruch ben Neriah (c.f. Jeremiah 36:4). He was active as a prophet from the thirteenth year of King Josiah, of Judah (Jeremiah 1:2; 626 BC), until after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in 587 BC. His time as a prophet spanned the reigns of five kings of Judah: Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoikim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. The prophet Zephaniah, who prophesied during the reign of King Josiah (Zephaniah 1:1), was apparently his mentor, and Nahum was apparently a contemporary. The prophetess, Huldah, prophesied during the reign of King Josiah as well (2 Kings 22:14). The High Priest at that time was Hilkiah, who was apparently not a prophet, but, according to rabbinic literature, was sent by the king to Huldah rather than Jeremiah because thought that women were more compassionate and that Huldah would be more likely than Jeremiah to intercede with God on the king’s behalf.

The prophet Nephi tells us that at the time his father, Lehi was prophesying in Jerusalem, “… in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah…there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed.” (1 Nephi 1:4) Apparently, other “prophets” at the time were prophesying peace, and were denounced by Jeremiah (c.f. Jeremiah 6:13-15; 28:10-17).

Jeremiah was apparently from the village of Anathoth (Jeremiah 1:1). Edward Robinson (1794-1863), in his book, Biblical Researches in Palestine and Adjacent Regions (1856), the first major work on Biblical Geography and Biblical Archaeology, identified the ancient village of Anathoth with the modern Palestinian town of Anata, on the West Bank, about three miles from Jerusalem’s Old City. The men of his village tried to kill Jeremiah (Jeremiah 11:21). Then Pashur, the priest, the chief governor of the temple, struck Jeremiah and put him in stocks beside the temple (Jeremiah 20:1-2). Jeremiah was shut up in the King Zedekiah’s prison (Jeremiah (32:2-3). He was lowered into another dungeon where he sunk into the mire, from which he was rescued and returned to the regular prison (Jeremiah 38:6-13) where he stayed until after the fall of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 38:7-13).

When Zedekiah saw that Jerusalem was being sacked by the Babylonians, according to Jeremiah’s prophecy, he fled the city but was captured and taken before Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, where his sons were killed before his eyes; then his eyes were put out and he was carried away captive to Babylon (Jeremiah 39:4-7). Apparently, one of Zedekiah’s sons, Mulek, escaped the fate of his brothers and came with some followers to the New World (Helaman 8:21).

The book of Jeremiah is not entirely in chronological order. For example, Jeremiah 52:8-11 is largely a repeat of Jeremiah 39:4-7. Jeremiah chapter 39 describes the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC and the captives taken to Babylon. In chapter 43, Jeremiah warns the remnants of Judah not to go to Egypt, and then in 46:1-2 he describes the Battle of Carchemish, where Nebuchadnezzar inflicted a crushing defeat upon an Egyptian army under the command of Pharaoh Necho II. However, that battle took place in 605 BC, nineteen years before the fall of Jerusalem. (British Museum, Cuneiform tablet with part of the Babylonian Chronicle (605-594 BC); explore/ highlights/highlight_objects/me/c/ cuneiform_nebuchadnezzar_ii.aspx; retrieved 17 October 2022). The cuneiform tablet in the British Museum states, “In 605 Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian crown prince, replaced his father Nabopolassar as commander-in-chief and led the army up the Euphrates to the city of Charchemish.”

Apparently after 586 BC, Jeremiah warned the Judeans not to go to Egypt, but Johanan didn’t believe him and took those who had been allowed to return to Judah, as well as the daughters of Zedekiah, and Jeremiah and his scribe Baruch to Egypt (Jeremiah 43:4-7). We are told in Jeremiah 44:1, “The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the Jews which dwell in the land of Egypt, which dwell at Migdol, and at Tahpanhes, and at Noph…” According to history, apparently Nebuchadnezzar campaigned against Egypt several other times, most notably in 568 BC (Ephʿal, Israel, Nebuchadnezzar the Warrior: Remarks on his Military Achievements, Israel Exploration Journal, 53: 178–191, 2003), however, he never managed to conquer Egypt. None-the-less, the towns of Migdol, Tahpanhes, and Noph, where the Judeans apparently settled, were in the extreme northeast corner of Egypt where they would have taken the brunt of any attack from a Babylonian army, even if that army was ultimately unsuccessful in its campaign against Egypt as a whole.

Although tradition holds that Jeremiah was the author of the entire Book of Lamentations, it is likely a collection of laments composed at various times by other authors throughout the Babylonian captivity. Each chapter of Lamentations may have been was written by a different, anonymous poet (Berlin, Adele et al., eds., The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version, Oxford University Press, 2018, p. 1163. Jeremiah may at least have been the author of the earliest chapter/s.

Trent Dee Stephens, PhD

Where science meets religion and the scriptures.

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