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When Jeremiah attempts to recuse himself from his calling to be a prophet he does so by saying that he is unqualified because he is a child:

BSB Jeremiah 1:

6“Ah, Lord GOD,” I said, “I surely do not know how to speak, for I am only a child!” 7But the LORD told me: “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ For to everyone I send you, you must go, and all that I command you, you must speak

Do Jewish scholars understand this to be humble self-deprecation on his part or was he actually prepubescent?

Rashi points out that the word "Alas" at the beginning of the sentence suggests that the prospect of serving as a prophet was distressing for him to contemplate. He also seems to suggest that by "I am a child" he was saying that he was "unproven":

for I am a youth: I am not worthy to reprove them. Moses reproved them shortly before his death, when he was already esteemed in their eyes through the many miracles that he had performed for them. He had taken them out of Egypt, split the Reed Sea for them, brought down the manna, caused the quails to fly, given them the Torah, brought up the well. I come to reprove them at the beginning of my mission.

https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/15998#showrashi=true

I always read this as self-deprecation but now it seems more reasonable to take it at face value, that he was still wet behind the ears.

Literally a child or figuratively?

I have more pondering of this in this related question on another site:

https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/34433/in-jeremiah-17-is-jeremiah-attempting-to-recuse-himself-because-he-is-prepubesc?noredirect=1&lq=1

Modern Judaism has the concept of a Bar Mitzwah that establishes an age of adulthood but there doesn't appear to be conclusive evidence as to when this official age of maturity was formalized. If it were that ancient then we would think that Jeremiah was not yet 14 years of age and/or physical adulthood.

So is there any reason to think that Jeremiah would have been pointing out that he had not yet reached puberty and therefore Jewish law or custom would exclude him from his calling?

2

Regarding the ability to carry out a mission, the term נַ֣עַר would usually not mean child (under bar mitzvah). For example, Avaraham took Eliezer and Yishmael with him to the Akodah and both of them are referred to as נַ֣עַר. However, Yitzchak was 37 years old at the Akeidah and Yishmael was 50 (13 years old when Yitzchak was born). Eliezer had already been put in charge of Avraham's household, as we see when Avraham first asks for a child. Thus he also would have been much older. We also see this with Yehoshua.

Thus the more likely translation is as Rashi says, at the start of his career and unproven.

Chabad translates this as youth rather than child

And I said, "Alas, O Lord God! Behold, I know not to speak for I am a youth.

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  • "Unexperienced" might be a good word to use to describe נַעַר in this case. – ezra Sep 3 '18 at 16:52
  • Thanks. Does the Hebrew word allow for the reading "child"? – Ruminator Sep 3 '18 at 21:27
  • Not really. The word for a child would be "yeled". A na'ar is a usually an older child (as in the teens at least). An example would be King David who was being trusted to take care of the sheep and fight off wild animals. One example of a usage for a very young child is Moshe in the basket. However, that is used to show that he was crying like a naar even though he was a yeled. @Ruminator-temp – sabbahillel Sep 4 '18 at 1:02

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