Jeremiah, Hebrew Yirmeyahu (650-570 B.C., Egypt), Hebrew prophet, reformer, and author of a biblical book that bears his name.
He was closely involved in the political and religious events of a crucial era in the history of the ancient Near East; his spiritual leadership helped his fellow countrymen survive disasters that included the capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 b.c. and the exile of many Judaeans to Babylonia.
Life and times
Jeremiah was born and grew up in the village of Anathoth, a few miles northeast of Jerusalem, in a priestly family. In his childhood he must have learned some of the traditions of his people, particularly the prophecies of Hosea, whose influence can be seen in his early messages.
The era in which Jeremiah lived was one of transition for the ancient Near East. The Assyrian empire, which had been dominant for two centuries, declined and fell. Its capital, Nineveh, was captured in 612 by the Babylonians and Medes.
Egypt had a brief period of resurgence under the 26th dynasty (664–525) but did not prove strong enough to establish an empire. The new world power was the Neo-Babylonian empire, ruled by a Chaldean dynasty whose best known king was Nebuchadrezzar.
The small and comparatively insignificant state of Judah had been a vassal of Assyria and, when Assyria declined, asserted its independence for a short time. Subsequently Judah vacillated in its allegiance between Babylonia and Egypt and ultimately became a province of the Neo-Babylonian empire.
According to the biblical Book of Jeremiah, he began his prophetic career in 627/626—the 13th year of King Josiah’s reign. It is told there that he responded to Yahweh’s (God’s) call to prophesy by protesting
“I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth,” but he received Yahweh’s assurance that he would put his own words into Jeremiah’s mouth and make him a “prophet to the nations.”