Archaeology and the Book of Jeremiah
The Old Testament book of Jeremiah is a powerful document in many respects.It records the ministry of a great prophet whose heart was broken by the rebellion of his people, the Hebrews (Jer. 9:1).The book reveals his valiant attempt to bring these wicked Israelites to repentance, and finally, it contains the prophet’s warning of the judgment that was to be visited upon them (the Babylonian captivity).
The science of archaeology has contributed significantly to establishing the historical credibility of this ancient book.Some examples might be of interest to our readers.
- Between 1935-38, twenty-one pottery fragments (called ostraca), were discovered at the site of ancient Lachish (30 miles SW of Jerusalem).Lachish was one of the last three cities to be conquered by Nebuchanezzar (cf. Jer. 34:7).These potsherds were in a small guard room located just outside the city gate.Inscribed in a Hebrew script reflecting the writing style of Jeremiah’s time, they are dated from the autumn of 589 B.C.These so-called “Lachish Letters” were found in an ash-layer that was the residue of Nebuchadnezzar’s torching of the city.These fragments are contemporary with Jeremiah and represent messages written by an outpost soldier to his commander at Lachish.
Letter VI complains about certain princes who “weaken our hand” by their defeatist actions.This phraseology is almost identical to the accusation that some Jews were lodging against Jeremiah.They charged: “…he weakens the hands of the men of war that remain in this city, and the hands of all the people, in speaking such words unto them, for this man seeks not the welfare of this people, but the hurt” (Jer. 38:4).
Letter IV states that “we are watching for the signals of Lachish….”Compare this with Jeremiah 6:1, where the same uncommon word for “signal” is employed.
Letter III contains a reference to a certain “prophet” who had a message of “Beware.”It is believed by some scholars that the reference is to Jeremiah, though the identification is not positive.
- After the fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.), Gedaliah, grandson of Shaphan (Josiah’s scribe), was appointed governor over Judea by Nebuchadnezzar.His administration was centered at Mizpah, but his government was short-lived because he was assassinated (2 Kgs. 25:22-26; Jer. 40:5-41:8).In the ruins of Lachish a seal was discovered which read: “Gedaliah who is over the house.”This expression indicates that the owner was a prominent government official.It is generally believed that this Gedaliah is the same as that mentioned in the book of Jeremiah.
- In the British Museum there is a clay seal impression, dating from the 6th century B.C., that contains the inscription: “Belonging to Hannaniah, son of Gedaliah.”It is possible also that this is a reference to an otherwise unknown son of the Judean governor who had been appointed by the king of Babylon.
- A seal impression at Mizpah bore the inscription, “Jaasaniah, servant of the king.”Scholars believe that this was the same Jaazaniah who met with Gedaliah at Mizpah (cf. Jer. 40:8).
- Jeremiah mentions that Jehoiachin, king of Judah, was a captive in Babylon, and that he was treated “kindly” (Jer. 52:31-34).Clay tablets found in the ruins of ancient Babylon confirm that Jehoiachin was treated well by Chaldean officials.He is referred to as “Yaukin, king of Judah,” and a listing of the provisions (e.g., oil and barley) for the ruler and his family is provided.
These discoveries eloquently testify to the veracity of the ancient book of Jeremiah, and, in concert with thousands of other documents, help confirm the Christian’s faith in the absolute accuracy of the biblical writings that profess to be ultimately of divine origin.
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Scripture references: Jeremiah 9:1; Jeremiah 34:7; Jeremiah 38:4; Jeremiah 6:1; 2 Kings 25:22-26; Jeremiah 40:5-41:8; 1 Thessalonians 5; Jeremiah 40:8; Jeremiah 52:31-34