By MICHAEL GAFFNEY
Jeremiah (also known as Jeremias) lived at the close of the seventh and in the first part of the sixth century B.C.
Like other Old Testament prophets, Jeremiah's image is found in many ancient Christian churches, including the Church of St. Nicola in Carcere in Rome, where an unknown artist painted a fresco of the prophet in the 12th century.
That fresco, which once adorned the wall of the catacombs beneath the church, will be one among 31 frescoes on display at the Museum of Texas Tech when the Vatican Museums exhibition "Traditions and Renewal" arrives in Lubbock in 2002.
The Rev. Malcolm Neyland, director of the Vatican Exhibit 2002 Foundation, a non-profit group organized to arrange the unique art exhibit, said that Jeremiah was a man of strength.
"Be stout-hearted, and be faithful to the laws - the 10 commandments - that was Jeremiah's message," Neyland said.
In B.C. 627, during the reign of Josias, Jeremiah was called as a youth to be a prophet, and from 627 to 585 he accepted the burden, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII.
Jeremiah and his family lived in Anathoth, a small country town northeast of Jerusalem.
For the greater part of his life, Jeremiah "witnessed" in Jerusalem and, for a time, the town of Masphath and the Jewish colonies in Egypt.
Sources for the history of his life include the book of prophecies bearing his name, and the Books of Kings, as well as the Bible's Book of Paralipomenon (Chronicles).
Given the history of his time and the course of his life, the individuality of Jeremiah's nature and the ruling theme of his teachings can be understood.
The first decades of the sixth century were marked by a series of political catastrophes that changed conditions in Western Asia.
The overthrow of the Assyrian Empire, completed in 606 by the conquest of Ninive, induced Nechao II of Egypt to attempt to strike a powerful blow against the Jewish nation, ancient enemy that lived on the banks of the Euphrates River.
Josias, the last descendent of King David, tried to stop the Egyptian advance, but was killed at the battle of Mageddo (Megiddo).
Four years later, the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar killed Nechao II, then turned toward Jerusalem.
The last kings on the throne of David, Josias' sons Joachaz, Joakim (Joachim), and Sedecias, hurried the destruction of Jerusalem, ignoring warnings from Jeremiah, by refusing to pay tribute to Nebuchadnezzar.
The enraged king destroyed the city in B.C. 586, after an 18-month siege. Despite the catastrophe, Jeremiah persevered.
Carried away by politics, the people of Jerusalem forgot their religion, the national trust in God.
In the midst of the confusion of a godless policy of despair at the approach of destruction, the Jeremiah stood like "a pillar of iron," Neyland said.
His mission was to tell the people of God's decree that, in the near future, the city and temple would be overthrown.
From the time of his calling to the prophetic office, Jeremiah saw that God would honor His decree that Jerusalem would be destroyed, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia.
The prophet appeared before the people with chains about his neck in order to illustrate the captivity that he foretold. False prophets preached only of freedom and victory but according to the Bible, the Lord said: "A liberty for you to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine." It was clear to Jeremiah that the next generation would contribute to the collapse of the kingdom. So he renounced marriage for himself because he did not want children who would be the victims of the sword or become the slaves of the Babylonians.
His celibacy was a declaration of his faith in the revelation God granted him, states the Catholic encyclopedia.
Along with his task to prove the certainty of the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah had a second mission; to declare that the catastrophe was a moral necessity, to tell the people that it was the inevitable result of moral guilt since the days of Manasses, according to the Bible (IV Kings, xxi, 10-15).
It was because the stubborn nation had thrown off the yoke of the Lord that it must "bow its neck under the yoke of the Babylonians," he said.
In order to arouse the nation from its moral lethargy, Jeremiah's sermons repeatedly emphasized the connection between punishment and guilt.
Although he failed to convert the people or to alter the calamity, nevertheless, his teachings, for some, were like "a hammer that broke their stony hearts to repentance," according to the Bible.
Thus, Jeremiah had not only "to root up, and to pull down," he also "to build, and to plant."
A more exact picture of the life of Jeremiah was preserved than that of the life of any other seer of Zion.
Because of his prophecies, his life was threatened.
His dilemma led to the coining of a word that means an unbroken chain of growing outward and inward difficulties -- a "Jeremiad". Because of his prophecies, he was doomed to learn by physical suffering that "veritas parit odium" (truth draws hatred upon itself), according to the Bible.
King Joachim could never forgive the prophet for threatening him with punishment on account of his unscrupulous mania for building and for his judicial murders.
The Bible states that the king ranted, "He shall be buried with the burial of an ass."
When the prophecies of Jeremiah were read before the king, he fell into a rage and commanded the arrest of the prophet But the Lord came to Jerermiah's aide and he was freed.
More than once he seemed doomed to death, but the word of God protected him, the Bible states.
He maintained that, only by moral change could a catastrophe in conditions prepare the way for improvement, and his views brought him into conflict with the political parties of the nation.
But he continued warning of a catastrophe because the Jewish people had turned against God, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia.
The Zionists incited open revolt against Jeremiah because he prophesied the destruction of the temple.
A faction of the party friendly to Egypt cursed him because he condemned the coalition, and presented to the King of Egypt also "the cup of the wine of wrath," the Bible states.
The exhortation of the prophet to accept the inevitable, and to choose voluntary submission as a lesser evil than a hopeless struggle was interpreted by the Zionist war party as treasonous.
Loathed by his own people, Jeremiah became their scapegoat.
During the siege of Jerusalem he was condemned to death and thrown into a dungeon.
But with the fall of Jerusalem Jeremiah was not carried away by the Babylonians into exile, but remained in Canaan to continue his prophetic office.
Later, emigrating Jews dragged him to Egypt.
According to tradition, Jeremiah was stoned to death in Egypt by his own countrymen because of his pronouncements threatening God's punishment. Roman tradition assigns the date of his death to May 1.
Jeremiah is the prophet of mourning and a symbol of suffering.
A somber, depressed spirit overshadowed his life.
In Michelangelo's frescoes on the ceilings of the Sistine Chapel there is a delineation of Jeremiah as the prophet of myrrh, thought to be the most expressive and eloquent figure among the prophets depicted by the artist.
He is represented bent over, head supported by his right hand, with a disordered beard and a forehead scored with wrinkles.
Jeremiah stands alone among the prophets because of the way he developed the messianic idea.
The troubles of the times demanded that he remain unmarried and joyless. But Jeremiah persevered because he believed the Creator could treat those he creates with the same authority that "the potter has over clay vessels," the encyclopedia states.
And though ill-treated, Jeremiah lamented the suffering of his people and the ruin of Jerusalem by pagans. He held faith with God, Neyland said.