Jeremiah was of the priestly class. His father, Hilkiah the priest, lived in the village of Anathoth, a few miles north of Jerusalem, just into the territory of Benjamin (Jeremiah 1:1). According to the introduction to his eponymous biblical book, Jeremiah became a prophet in the 13th year of King Josiah, that is, around 626 BC. In that same year, the Chaldeans took control of the city of Babylon, and so began the rise of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, which in 40 years would swallow up Judah.

When Yahweh calls on him to become a prophet, Jeremiah protests that he is just a na‘ar (a child, youth, or boy). Since that life stage spanned from 12 to 20 years of age or only slightly more, Jeremiah must have been in his early to mid-teens. Had he been closer to 20, he likely would have been married already, which he wasn’t, because later in the book, God tells the young prophet not to marry (Jeremiah 16:1-2). If Jeremiah was about 15 in 626 BC, then he was born around 642, during the reign of the ephemeral King Amon, who was assassinated (2 Kings 21:19-26), or at the latest in the opening year of Josiah’s kingship. When Jerusalem fell in 586 BC, Jeremiah was in his mid-50s. By ancient Near Eastern standards, he was of old age when he embarked on his journey to Egypt.

In this oil painting by Rembrandt (1606–1669), Jeremiah reclines against a column, with a Bible and a bowl filled with jewelry (possibly the “gift” from the Babylonian commander Nebuzaradan mentioned in Jeremiah 40:5) as he laments the destruction of Jerusalem that eventually drove him to exile.