Prophet Jeremiah & Archaeology

Prophet Jeremiah & Archaeology January 20, 2022

I’ve done a great deal of writing — especially over the last year — on biblical archaeology, but one area I haven’t yet pursued is the archaeological evidence for the various Old Testament prophets. I shall now offer quite a bit of that regarding the prophet Jeremiah (c. 650 – c. 570 BC).

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Jeremiah 39:9-14 (RSV) Then Nebu’zarad’an, the captain of the guard, carried into exile to Babylon the rest of the people who were left in the city, those who had deserted to him, and the people who remained. [10] Nebu’zarad’an, the captain of the guard, left in the land of Judah some of the poor people who owned nothing, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time. [11] Nebuchadrez’zar king of Babylon gave command concerning Jeremiah through Nebu’zarad’an, the captain of the guard, saying, [12] “Take him, look after him well and do him no harm, but deal with him as he tells you.” [13] So Nebu’zarad’an the captain of the guard, Nebushaz’ban the Rab’saris, Ner’gal-share’zer the Rabmag, and all the chief officers of the king of Babylon [14] sent and took Jeremiah from the court of the guard. They entrusted him to Gedali’ah the son of Ahi’kam, son of Shaphan, that he should take him home. So he dwelt among the people. (cf. 52:12, 15-16)

An article for the Archaeological Institute of America, entitled, “Book of Jeremiah Confirmed?” (Laura Sexton, 7-23-07) stated:

Austrian Assyriologist Michael Jursa recently discovered the financial record of a donation made a Babylonian chief official, Nebo-Sarsekim [Babylonian: “Nabu-sharussu-ukin”). The find may lend new credibility to the Book of Jeremiah, which cites Nebo-Sarsekim as a participant in the siege of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.

The tablet is dated to 595 B.C., which was during the reign of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar II. Coming to the throne in 604 B.C., he marched to Egypt shortly thereafter, and initiated an epoch of fighting between the two nations. During the ongoing struggle, Jerusalem was captured in 597, and again in 587-6 B.C. It was at this second siege that Nebo-Sarsekim made his appearance. . . .

The tablet may not reveal information about Nebo-Sarsekim’s lifestyle or personal beliefs, but it does lend credibility to the Book of Jeremiah. It is important because it shows that a biblical character did actually exist. Jursa states, “Finding something like this tablet, where we see a person mentioned in the Bible making an everyday payment to the temple in Babylon and quoting the exact date is quite extraordinary.” Boulton proposes an even deeper significance, suggesting that the finding may confer credibility to the rest of the Bible. “I think that it’s important in the sense that if [his name] is right, then…presumably a great deal of other info in [the Book of Jeremiah], but also generally in the Bible, is also correct.”

Jeremiah 36:10 Then, in the hearing of all the people, Baruch read the words of Jeremiah from the scroll, in the house of the LORD, in the chamber of Gemari’ah the son of Shaphan the secretary, which was in the upper court, at the entry of the New Gate of the LORD’s house. (cf. 36:11-12, 25)

Jeremiah 36:4 Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neri’ah, and Baruch wrote upon a scroll at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the LORD which he had spoken to him. (cf. 36:5, 8, 13-19, 26-27, 32)

The Express article, “Archaeology news: Ancient seals unearthed in Israel prove Biblical prophet existed – claim” (Sebastian Kettley, 3-1-21) provided more evidence:

Were the Hebrew prophets Isaiah, Joshua and Ezekiel real figures?

Tom Meyer, a professor in Bible studies at Shasta Bible College and Graduate School in California, US, believes this is the case. . . .

Professor Meyer told Express.co.uk: . . . “In 1982, Israeli archaeologists were excavating the layer of ruins from the time of Jerusalem’s destruction by Babylon in 586 BC.

“In a place that has now been labelled ‘The Bullae House’, archaeologists discovered over 50 bullae or seals dating to the time of the famous Jeremiah the prophet.” . . .

“Bullae were used for the purpose of sealing or authenticating documents of importance.

“One of these seals mentions a person named ‘Gemariah the son of Shaphan’.”

Gemariah is mentioned in passing in Jeremiah 36, as an official scribe under King Jehoiakim. . . .

But the discoveries do not end there. Two more seals linked to the Biblical prophet were discovered in a private collection housed in London.

The seals were stamped with the name of “Baruch son of Neriah” who is described in the Bible as a friend and scribe of Jeremiah.

One of these seals even contained a fingerprint, which may have even belonged to Baruch himself.

The article by John Oakes, “Is there any historical or archaeological evidence outside the Bible for the prophets of Israel such as Daniel and Jeremiah?” (Evidence for Christianity, 7-13-20) concurs:

In 1975 a collection of 250 clay seals (scarabs) were found about 44 miles southwest of Jerusalem. These seals were used to authenticate letters from their senders.  One of them was from “Berekhyahu, son of Neriyahu the scribe.”  This is almost certainly the Baruch of Jeremiah.  Yahu was a common ending of names of Jewish people at the time.  Baruch means blessed.  Berekhyahu means blessed of God.  The secretary of Jeremiah was Baruch, son of Neriah (Jeremiah 36:8).  I am sure there was more than one Baruch, but given that the seal mentions a secretary Baruch, son of Neriah, and since it comes from about the right time, we can conclude that almost certainly this is the actual seal of the actual secretary of Jeremiah.  If we can establish beyond reasonable doubt that the Baruch of Jeremiah is a real person in the position we know he had in the book of Jeremiah, then we can conclude that, almost certainly, the biblical prophet Jeremiah was a real person as well.

The phrase, “Ahi’kam, son of Shaphan” occurs six times in the book of Jeremiah (RSV), and also in 2 Kings 25:22. Bullae bearing the name “Ahikam son of Shaphan” have been found by archaeologists. See: Nachum Avigad and Binyamin Sass, Corpus of West Semitic Stamp Seals (Jerusalem: Israel Academy, Israel Exploration Society, Israel Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University, 1997) 181-182.

Jeremiah 40:14 refers to “Ba’alis the king of the Ammonites.” Reznick notes that this is “Attested to by two seals found in Jordan, the Milqom Seal and the Baalisha Seal which reads Baalisha (Baalis) king of the sons of Ammon. See: Biblical Archaeology Review, Mar/Apr 1999.

Jeremiah 49:27 reads: “And I will kindle a fire in the wall of Damascus, and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-ha’dad.”  Reznick summarizes the evidence: “Melqart Stele mentions king of Aram, Bir-hadad. Bir corresponds to the Hebrew Ben. Zakkur Stele attests to an Aramean royal name of Ben-hadad. . . . Zakkur Stele is a basalt victory stele discovered in 1903 in Tel Afis, Syria. The Aramaic inscription is called after King Zakkur of Hamath who dedicated it. It links several Syrian city-states and the threat of Assyria with the Biblical account. Albright translated part of the text to read Ben-hadad of Aram.”

Jeremiah 36:12, 20-21 mention “Eli’shama the secretary” (of King Jehoiakim); compare Jeremiah 41:1. A bulla from that time period reads, “Elishama, servant of the king.” See: Biblical Archaeology Review 13:05 (Sept/Oct 1987).

Jeremiah 38:1 refers to “Gedali’ah the son of Pashhur” as one of those who wish to put Jeremiah to death (38:4) and assisted in casting Jeremiah into a large cistern (38:6). He is attested in a bulla found in Jerusalem by Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar. This was reported in Reported in the Jerusalem Post (7-31-08) and in The Sacramento Union (10-17-08).

“Hezeki’ah king of Judah” appears in Jeremiah 15:4 and 26:18-19. He has been verified by many seals and bullae. See: Nadav Naaman, “Hezekiah’s Fortified Cities and the LMLK Stamps” (Cleveland, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, vol. 261, 1986) 5-2 and Biblical Archaeology Review 01:04 1975.

Hilkiah was a high priest mentioned in Jeremiah 29:3 (cf. 2 Kings 22 and 23; Ezra 7; Nehemiah 11 and 12; 2 Chronicles 34 and35). A signet ring with his name has been found and dated to Jeremiah’s era. See: Biblical Archaeology Review 13:05 (Sept/Oct 1987).

Jeremiah 44:30 references “Pharaoh Hophra king of Egypt”. This person is believed to be Pharaoh Apries, of the 26th Dynasty, who reigned from 589-570 BC: all within Jeremiah’s lifetime.

Jeremiah 52:31 twice mentions “Jehoi’achin king of Judah”: who is in turn cited in the Ration Tables of Babylon. See: James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1950) 308.

“Jehu’cal the son of Shelemi’ah” (Jer 37:3) was, so Reznick notes, an “official in the court of Zedekiah. A bulla bearing the name ‘Jehucal the son of Shelemiah’ was discovered in the archaeological city of David in Jerusalem [in 2005] together with other bullae dating to the period of Zedekiah.” See: “The once and future city” (Rena Rossner, The Jerusalem Post, 1-26-06).

“Jerah’meel the king’s son” (Jer 36:26) was the son of king Jehoiakim. A bulla has been found, reading: “Jerahme’el, the king’s son.” See: Biblical Archaeology Review 13:05 (Sept/Oct 1987).

The prophet mentions King “Manas’seh the son of Hezeki’ah, king of Judah” (Jer 15:4). He is thought to have reigned from 687-643 BC and is archaeologically verified in the annals of Assyrian kings Esarhaddon (reigned: 681-669 BC) and Assurbanipal (r. 669-631). See: James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1950), 291.

Sarsekim (Jer 39:3) was an official of Nebuchadnezzar II. His name was deciphered in 2007 from a cuneiform tablet by Michael Jursa of the University of Vienna. See: “Babylonian King’s Eunuch Really Existed!” (Hillel Fendel, Israel National News, 11-7-07)

Sam’gar-ne’bo (Jer 39:3) was an official in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. A cuneiform tablet discovered in 1920 near Baghdad confirmed this (as well as biblical accuracy). See the article immediately above by Fendel.

“Serai’ah the son of Neri’ah” (Jer 51:59) has been verified by a bulla with the name “Seraiah ben Neriah.” See: Biblical Archaeology Review 17:04 (Jul/Aug 1991).

“Zedeki’ah the son of Hanani’ah” (Jer 36:12) was in the court of king Jehoiakim of Judah. A bulla found in the City of David in Jerusalem bore the name “Zedekiah the son of Hananiah.” The dating was within the lifetime of King Jehoiakim (r. 609-598 BC).

That is 19 separate and independent archaeological verifications of the text of the book of Jeremiah. Certainly the cumulative impact and strength of this evidence (with regard to the extraordinary accuracy of this book) cannot be dismissed.

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Photo credit: Jeremiah on the ruins of Jerusalem (1844), by Horace Vernet (1789-1863) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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Summary: I provide 19 separate and independent archaeological verifications of the text of the book of Jeremiah. “Jeremiah & archaeology” is a very fruitful field of knowledge.

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