THE BOOK OF BARUCH
INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND REFLECTIONS
ANTHONY J. SALDARINI
The book of Baruch is a five-chapter pseudepigraphic work attributed to Baruch, the highly placed Jerusalem scribe who appears in the book of Jeremiah (chaps. 32; 36; 43; 45). It is often called 1 Baruch to distinguish it from 2 and 3 Baruch, apocalyptic narratives from the late first and second centuries ce and from 4 Baruch, or Paraleipomena of Jeremiah, a narrative about the destruction of the Temple in 586 bce. Baruch is part of a cluster of writings associated with the prophet Jeremiah and the destruction of the Temple in 586 bce. It is extant in Greek, though parts or all of it were translated from a Hebrew original. In the Septuagint it immediately follows the book of Jeremiah and precedes Lamentations; in the Vulgate it follows Lamentations and includes the Letter of Jeremiah as a sixth chapter. Baruch is recognized as canonical by Roman Catholics and the Orthodox communities. It is not recognized as canonical by the Jewish and Protestant communities, but is classified with the apocrypha.
Many commentators have described Baruch as a very derivative, composite work, lacking in originality and unity, and "substandard" in comparison with the Hebrew Bible. Carey Moore, for example, explains that the Christian church bypassed Baruch because "the book’s literary style, which at best is uneven in quality, was not sufficiently strong or memorable to compensate for the book’s theological and religious weaknesses, especially in the book’s lack of originality and consistency." Such comments imply that Baruch and other Second Temple Jewish literature reflect a time of decline. They fail to appreciate the vitality and creativity of Second Temple Jewish literature, of which Baruch is an example. Like all prayers and poems of that era, Baruch uses biblical words, phrases, themes, and ideas. But Baruch and Second Temple literature are notable for their innovative uses of biblical traditions to meet new circumstances and to express intense community distress and aspirations.
STRUCTURE, UNITY, AND GENRES
Baruch may be divided into four uneven parts, the first two of which are prose and the second two, poetry: (1) narrative introduction (1:1–14); (2) prayer of confession and repentance (1:15–3:8); (3) wisdom poem of admonition and exhortation (3:9–4:4); (4) poem of consolation and encouragement (4:5–5:9). Their distinctive styles, themes, and language have led commentators to postulate multiple authors or to deny to the book any coherence or substantial unity. Although the parts of Baruch are based on biblical and Second Temple models and may have been written independently before being incorporated into the final work, the final author has linked the parts with words, themes, and traditions so that they work together to form a rhetorical and literary unity. Such composite works, which underwent extensive editing, are common in Second Temple literature (see, e.g., 1 Enoch; Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs) as well as in the Bible (see, e.g., Daniel and especially the versions of the book of Jeremiah to which Baruch is related). In Baruch the final author has melded the parts into a dramatic whole. After he sets the scene in the introduction, he moves from suffering and repentance for sin (1:15–3:8) to devotion, to wisdom and obedience, and to God’s commands (3:9–4:4); he concludes with encouragement to persevere in suffering and with the promise of divine intervention (4:5–5:9).
Baruch is extant in a Greek version that was probably translated from a Hebrew original. Translations of Baruch into Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, and Arabic have also survived. The Syriac version is especially helpful in interpreting the Greek. The majority of scholars agree that the Greek of the prayer of confession and repentance, along with the introduction (1:1–3:8), was translated from Hebrew. The Greek contains Hebraisms (e.g., 2:26, literally in Greek, "where your name has been called over it") and translation errors (e.g., 1:9, where the Greek translator chose the wrong meaning for the Hebrewמסגר [masgēr], which can refer either to "prisoners" or to "smiths"; see the Commentary on 1:8–9). In general, a comparison of the Greek version of Jeremiah with Baruch 1:15–3:8 indicates that the same person translated both Jeremiah and Baruch from Hebrew. Whether the wisdom poem and the poem of consolation and encouragement derive from Hebrew originals is still debated, though a successful retroversion of these poems into Hebrew with extensive commentary by David Burke has tipped the balance toward a Hebrew original.
DATES AND PROVENANCE
Since Baruch contains four distinct sections, many scholars assign separate dates to them and another to the final form of the book. Modern commentators generally place the final form somewhere in the Greco-Roman period, from 300 bce to 135 ce, not in the Babylonian period assigned it by the narrative frame. Beyond that there is little consensus. All acknowledge that the book contains only the vaguest allusions to events contemporary with the author(s) and that since the book is couched in traditional language, it has a "timeless" quality. Arguments for the dates of the book and its parts depend upon the Greek translation of the book, literary relationships with other works, and the tone and atmosphere of the whole book.
1. The Greek Translation of Bar 1:1–3:8. As noted in the section on language, the prayer of confession and repentance was translated from Hebrew into Greek by the same person who translated Jeremiah. Since the grandson of Ben Sira, who translated the Wisdom of Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus) into Greek in Egypt by 116 bce, refers to the Law and the Prophets as a well-known and accepted collection in the Greek-speaking community of Alexandria, the Greek version of Bar 1:1–3:8 must have been completed before 116 bce.
2. Literary Relationships. The prayer of confession and repentance (Bar 1:15–2:18) has a detailed literary relationship with the Hebrew prayer of repentance in Dan 9:4–19 (see Commentary on 1:15–3:8 for specifics). Many have interpreted Bar 1:15–2:8 as dependent on Daniel 9 and thus later than 165 bce. However the type of dependency and the dates of both works are uncertain. Even though the prayer in Baruch is much more expansive that that in Daniel, both may have independently adapted an earlier prayer that is now lost. Even if Baruch depends on Daniel 9, the prayer in Daniel 9 is probably an earlier work incorporated into the apocalyptic visions of Daniel 7–12.
The poem of consolation and encouragement (Bar 4:5–5:9) contains a passage (Bar 5:5–9) that has a close literary relationship with Psalms of Solomon 11 (see fig. 1, 972). Commentators have frequently used this relationship to date either the poem of consolation and encouragement or the whole of the book of Baruch, but uncertainties about the literary relationship and the date of Psalms of Solomon 11 undermine the arguments for the date of Baruch. Many commentators have argued that the author of Baruch used Psalms of Solomon 11 because they see Baruch as more tightly organized and literarily unified. But other commentators have argued that Psalms of Solomon is dependent on Baruch. On the other hand, the poem is so traditional in language and thought that both Psalms of Solomon 11 and Baruch 5 could be independent variations on a common source.
Thus arguments that the whole of Baruch or at least the last section is based on the date of the Psalms of Solomon (after the Roman conquest in 63 bce, since these psalms allude to Pompey, the Roman general) rest on shaky ground. In addition, some commentators think that Psalms of Solomon 11 may have been an earlier poem incorporated into the collection. If so, then the author of Baruch would have had access to this psalm before 63 bce.
In summary, a hypothesis of a common source for the Psalms of Solomon 11 and Bar 5:5–9 is more consonant with the shared themes, forms, and expressions found in Second Temple Jewish prayers. The author of Baruch draws upon widespread and deeply felt hopes for the vindication and reconstitution of Israel as a nation under God’s protection. Baruch’s literary relationships with Daniel 9 and Psalms of Solomon 11 locate Baruch solidly within the Second Temple period but do not support a more precise date. Similarly, the thought and wording throughout Baruch depend on the biblical Law and Prophets, especially Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, and Isaiah 40–66. Thus Baruch is probably from the Hellenistic period (late 4th cent. bce on), when the OT canon began to take shape and became communally recognized.
3. Internal Evidence. The internal atmosphere of the book and allusions to its time of composition are vague and sometimes contradictory. The introduction (1:1–14), which assumes goodwill toward the reigning monarchs for whom it requests prayers, contrasts to the final prayer of consolation and encouragement, which manifests intense anger against the oppressive nations (see 4:31–35). The chronology of the introduction understands the deportation as a recent event (1:11–12), but the wisdom poem alludes to an exile of long duration (2:4–5; 3:10–11; 4:2–3). In the introduction either the Temple is standing (1:10) or sacrifices are being offered at the Temple site in Jerusalem, but in the prayer of repentance the Temple has been destroyed (2:26). As noted previously the content of the prayers resembles that of Second Temple literature in general and does not help with dating.
4. Conclusion. The Greek period (332–63 bce) is the most probable setting for most of the materials in Baruch, and within that period the second century has found most favor with commentators. The lack of a detailed polemic and crisis atmosphere leads Moore to place Baruch early in the second century bce, before the Maccabean war with Antiochus IV (167–164 bce) and the conflicts with his successors. Others, such as Goldstein (followed by Steck), put it after the Maccabean war.11 Other scholars differ and put Baruch in the Roman-Herodian period (63 bce–70 ce) with its simultaneous accommodation to Roman rule and fierce resentment of oppression. Others associate the hope of restoration in Baruch with the aftermath of the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 ce. In the end, no firm and widely persuasive conclusion has been reached because the urgent prayers of Israel, the lamentation over the sufferings of exile, and the hopes for the restoration of Israel and Jerusalem are common themes in Jewish literature from the sixth century bce to the second century ce and have a protean quality that allows them to be applied to various situations.
PLACE, AUTHORSHIP, AUDIENCE, AND PURPOSE
Baruch as a whole is oriented toward Jerusalem. The author addresses a personified Jerusalem and her inhabitants; and Jerusalem addresses the exiles, her former inhabitants. The prayers and exhortations seek the restoration of Jerusalem and her inhabitants. Exile is a temporary state, to be ended by God’s intervention. Thus Baruch probably originated in Jerusalem. The author knew thoroughly the biblical and Second Temple traditions and supported worship at the Temple, the holiness of Jerusalem, the restoration of Israel, and obedience to the Torah. Baruch, the pseudonymous author chosen for the book, was a highly placed Jerusalem scribe in the time of Jeremiah. The author may also have been a teacher or an official in Jerusalem, part of a learned circle devoted to the study and promotion of the traditions of Israel. In the swirl of Hellenistic conflicts and threats to safety, the author sought to influence the outlooks, commitments, and policies of the Jerusalem leadership and people. Political, social, cultural, and religious groups were numerous and varied during this period. The book of Baruch encouraged all to adhere to the traditional deuteronomic theology, the wisdom of Israel articulated in the Torah, the commandments as a guide for life, and the post-exilic prophetic hopes for restoration of Jerusalem and Israel. It sought to clarify and establish the political, social, and religious traditions of Israel in Jewish society and to guide Jews in their responses to oppressive imperial rule and attractive foreign culture.
THOUGHT AND THEOLOGY
Baruch draws upon the traditions of Israel as they developed from the Babylonian exile (586 bce) through the Second Temple period. Each of the parts of Baruch has been influenced by different biblical books and traditions—for example, but not exclusively, 1:15–3:8 by Daniel 9, Jeremiah, and Deuteronomy; 3:9–4:4 by Job 28 and the wisdom tradition, and 4:5–5:9 by Isaiah 40–66. The theological emphases of each section correspond to their literary genres and purposes. The confession and prayer of repentance addresses God with the liturgically proper title "Lord" and petitions for forgiveness. The wisdom poem addresses God with the most general and universal Greek word for "God",Θεός (theos), in the manner of international wisdom. Despite that, the author identifies true wisdom with the biblical law (Torah) and wise behavior with obedience to God’s commandments, as do other second-century writings, such as Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 24. The poem of consolation and encouragement promises the eventual restoration of Israel and Jerusalem and the overcoming of the nations who dominate and oppress them. Here God is frequently designated as eternal or everlasting, as befits God’s comprehensive, long-term restorative role.
The particularities of Baruch can best be seen against the background of the outlooks, political stances, and religious programs of other Jewish literature and groups in the Second Temple period. Contrary to many sectarian polemical texts, such as those found at Qumran, Baruch does not distinguish between those Jews who are faithful to a certain way of keeping the law and those who are unfaithful. The author of Baruch invites all Jews to acknowledge the nation’s sinfulness, to repent, to obey the commandments, and to hope for divine assistance. He desires the reunification of all exiles with the Judeans in the land, and his norms for correct attitudes and behavior are drawn from the mainstream biblical traditions without emphasis on special practices or beliefs. The arguments over laws and calendar found in the book of Jubilees, the Damascus Document, and other works are entirely absent.
Baruch does not promote any of the new beliefs and world views that appeared in apocalyptic literature. Like the Hebrew Bible (except for Daniel 12), Baruch does not look forward to life after death but expects divine intervention and restoration of Israel in this world. The nations, which have persecuted Israel, will be punished and subjugated; but no messiah will come to defeat them or lead Israel, nor is any universal judgment or wholesale destruction envisioned. Rather, the desired result of the restoration is for Israel to dwell in its land in peace. Special revelations and cosmic battles between good and evil, such as those found in Daniel, do not appear here.
The author of Baruch has produced a middle-of-the-road, traditional theology to which Israel can adhere under all circumstances. Baruch’s very generality and lack of originality, for which it has often been criticized, made it attractive and available to Jews of every inclination. The book seems to have been especially useful to Jews in the Greek-speaking diaspora, since it survived in Greek.
Baruch has not been greatly or directly influential on Christian literature. It shares with Christianity a stress on confession and repentance for sin, but both derived it from the Hebrew Bible. The sin of sacrificing to demons rather than to God appears in 1 Cor 10:20 and Bar 4:7, but both may be dependent on Deut 32:17. Both Baruch and Paul attack Greco-Roman wisdom as false (Bar 3:16–28; 1 Cor 1:18–25), but no direct literary relationship can be established.
The wisdom poem in Baruch may have had a literary influence on Paul’s Letter to the Romans and the Gospel of John. Paul’s argument that one does not need to ascend to heaven or descend into the abyss to find righteousness (Rom 10:6–8) is based on Deut 30:12–14, a text that has also influenced Bar 3:29–30. Baruch stresses both the impossibility of humans’ finding wisdom on their own and the presence of wisdom among humans as a divine gift (Bar 3:36–4:1). This interpretation and elaboration of Deuteronomy accords closely with Paul’s analysis of the divine gift of righteousness brought by Jesus.
Baruch 3:29–4:4 also speaks of wisdom in a way parallel to the Gospel of John’s discourse about Jesus the son of God in John 3:13–21 and 31–36. In both Baruch and John humans cannot ascend to heaven to get wisdom, but rather wisdom in Baruch and the son of the Father in John descend from heaven to humans as a divine gift. In Baruch, wisdom is associated with life, light, and salvation, as is Jesus in John. Wisdom understood as the law dwells with Israel in Baruch just as Jesus dwells with humans as the truth, the word, and the way in John. In Deuteronomy 30, Baruch, and John, God’s presence on earth (commandments, wisdom, Jesus) is available to all who will accept it.
Fitzgerald, Aloysius. "Baruch." New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Edited by Raymond Brown et al. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1990. A short introductory commentary providing the non-specialist reader with commentary on historical background; meanings of various words, phrases, and sentences; and basic theological interpretation.
Harrington, Daniel J. "Baruch." In Harper’s Bible Commentary. Edited by James L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988. An introductory commentary with particular focus on the meaning of the text.
Moore, Carey A. Daniel, Esther, and Jeremiah: The Additions. AB 44. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1977. Provides a general introduction and moderately detailed textual notes. Sparing in interpretation. Advances the thesis that Baruch consists of five separate compositions loosely edited into one work.
Steck, Odil Hannes.
Whitehouse, O. C. "1 Baruch." In The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament. Volume 1. Edited by R. H. Charles. Oxford: Clarendon, 1913. Though in many ways now substantially outdated, this volume offers a highly detailed and still relevant discussion of Baruch’s textual history, language, authorship, and similar issues. Detailed textual notes accompany the author’s translation, which is similar to the KJV in style.
Nickelsburg, George W. E. "The Bible Rewritten and Expanded." In Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period. Edited by Michael E. Stone. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984. A general discussion of Baruch in light of the state of scholarly knowledge and discussion in the early nineteen eighties. Analyzes Baruch’s compositional history and relationship to other texts including the books of Jeremiah and Daniel.
———. Jewish Literature Between the Bible and the Mishnah. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981. A short discussion and summary of Baruch, which is treated as a unified composition.
Schürer, Emil, Geza Vermes, Fergus Millar, and Martin Goodman. The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 b.c.–a.d. 135). Volume 3.2. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1987. An update of a (seriously flawed) classic early twentieth century German work. Provides a general introduction and summary of Baruch, a concise but strong discussion of composition history, Baruch’s place in the canon, and its use by the early church and patristic writers. Good bibliography up through the early nineteen eighties.
Outline of Baruch
I. Baruch 1:1–14, Narrative Introduction
A. 1:1–9, Narrative Introduction
B. 1:10–14, The Cover Letter
II. Baruch 1:15–3:8, Prayer of Confession and Repentance
A. 1:15–2:10, Confession of the Judean Community
B. 2:11–3:8, Prayer of Repentance for Mercy and Deliverance
III. Baruch 3:9–4:4, Wisdom Admonition and Exhortation
A. 3:9–14, Rebuke and Call to Israel
B. 3:15–31, Wisdom Hidden from Humans
C. 3:32–4:1, God Gives Wisdom to Israel
D. 4:2–4, Final Exhortation to Accept Wisdom
IV. Baruch 4:5–5:9, A Poem of Consolation and Encouragement
A. 4:5–9a, Introductory Poem of Consolation
B. 4:9b–16, Jerusalem’s Lament to Neighboring Peoples
C. 4:17–29, Jerusalem’s Exhortation to Her Children
D. 4:30–5:9, Poem of Consolation to Jerusalem
The narrative introduction to Baruch sets the scene for the prayers and exhortations that follow in the rest of the book (1:15–5:9). However, the introduction is notorious for its conflicts with the body of the book and for historical errors. These conflicts undercut the narrative coherence of the book as a whole and raise questions concerning the purposes of the author of Baruch. (Theories about the actual historical setting, author, and date of Baruch are treated in the Introduction.) For example, in the introduction (1:6–7, 10), the Babylonian exiles send money for the priests in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices; but the prayer of confession and repentance (1:15–3:8) alludes to the destruction of the Temple (2:26), and the lament in the final section implies that Zion has been devastated (4:9–35). The introduction requests that prayers be offered for the Babylonian king and his son so that the exiles may live under their protection (1:11–12). By contrast, the prayer of confession and repentance stresses the shame and suffering of exile (2:4, 13; 3:8), and the poem of consolation and encouragement (4:5–5:9) attacks the savagery of the nations and promises punishment for them (4:14–16, 25, 31–35). The introduction treats the exile as an event that began five years previously (1:2), while the wisdom poem treats it as having been lengthy (3:10–11; 4:2–3). In identifying Belshazzar as the son of Nebuchadnezzar (1:11–12), the introduction repeats an error found in Dan 5:2. Actually, Nabonidus was the father of Behshazzar, and they were coregents when defeated by Cyrus the Persian in 539 bce. Finally, the narrative framework of Baruch fits uneasily into some biblical narratives. Baruch is placed in Babylon, contrary to Jer 43:1–6, which recounts his forced flight with Jeremiah into Egypt.
The introduction’s mention of money sent for sacrifices in the Temple assumes the period between the first and second deportations of Jerusalemites to Babylon (597–586 bce) while the Temple was still standing (1:11–12). The allusion to the Temple’s destruction in 2:26 supports a narrative setting between the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and the return of some exiles under Cyrus the Persian (586–538). The dates of events cited or alluded to in the introduction are muddled. The month in 1:2 is unnamed in the text, though it is usually taken to be the fifth month, Ab, which is the month in which Jerusalem was destroyed. The next date is Siwan, the third month (1:8), which puts the arrival of the collection ten months later than it was gathered in Babylon. The final "date" is the "the day of the festival and the days of the [sacred] season" (1:14), which is usually taken as a reference to the feast of Tabernacles in the seventh month, Tishri.
Each of these problems will be taken up in the commentary. Here two general comments and two conflicting hypotheses concerning the narrative chronology will provide orientation to the world of the text and to the purposes of the author(s) in creating this narrative world. The author of Baruch works with a variety of traditions found in other literature from the Second Temple period, sometimes interpreting scriptural verses in a surprising way and sometimes drawing upon alternative narratives and scenarios that were common stock in his time. He does not seek historical accuracy in the modern sense, nor does he have earlier, reliable historical sources. Furthermore, granted the complex literary and social context of Second Temple Judaism, no theory can fully explain all the narrative elements, much less discover what happened historically at the time in which the narrative is set. The goal must be to understand the book through understanding the narrative world envisioned by the author.
The chronological setting of Baruch can be understood as 597–586 bce, between the first and second deportations, or as 586–538 bce, between the destruction of the Temple and the return of some of the exiles. The case for 597–586 is based mainly on the request that sacrifices be offered in Jerusalem (1:10–11). The "fifth year" in 1:1 is the fifth year of King Jeconiah (593/592 bce), who replaced his father during the first siege of Jerusalem in 598/597. The initial visions of the book of Ezekiel are dated to that same year (Ezek 1:2). According to this chronology, the exiles send offerings to the Temple, which is still standing. This situation corresponds to that of the actual audience of Baruch during the Second Temple period, when the Temple was once again standing. Many Jews lived in the diaspora and sent offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem. This hypothesis solves some problems but leaves others outstanding. The setting between the deportations does not correspond to the allusions to a long exile in later sections (a new generation in 3:4; endurance in 4:5, 21, 27, 30). The return of the Temple vessels (1:8–9) is unnecessary, since worship has presumably been carried on from 597 to 592 bce.
The more common chronological setting for the narrative is 586–538 bce, between the destruction of Jerusalem and the return of some exiles under Cyrus. The sense of overwhelming tragedy and loss, the mourning of Zion (4:5–5:9), the promise of return, the deuteronomic theology of punishment for sin all point to the Babylonian exile following the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 586. The major obstacle to this interpretation is the lack of a Temple in Jerusalem to receive the collection for sacrificial offerings and to provide a setting for Joakim and the priests. In this scenario, Baruch envisions the continuation of sacrifice in Jerusalem after the exile of 586. The exiles provide the necessities for the cult, money to buy sacrificial animals, and the holy implements and vessels with which to carry out the rituals (1:6–10). The possibility of sacrifices without the Temple derives from Ezra 3:1–6, where the returned exiles set up an altar and reinstituted sacrifice at the site of the Temple. The author of Baruch merely moves this act forward to provide for greater continuity of worship and for a closer connection of the exiles to Jerusalem all during the exile. In this understanding of events, the expression "house of the Lord" (1:14) would refer to the temple area, not to the building itself, which had been destroyed.
Both hypotheses are far from certain, and neither solves all the problems of the introduction. The latter is more simple and closer to the text. Yet, on a quick reading it appears that the author still seems to presume the existence of the Temple, not just an altar. Perhaps the author left the chronology and setting vague so as to have the richest social and religious context for this teaching. The details of these problems and hypotheses will be addressed in the commentary.
BARUCH 1:1–9, NARRATIVE INTRODUCTION
1:1. "The words of the book that Baruch … wrote" refers to the contents of Bar 1:15–5:9. The terms for "book" in Greek areβιβλίον (biblion) in 1:1, 3, 14 and βίβλος (biblos) in 1:3, translated by the NRSV as "book" in 1:1, 3 and as "scroll" in 1:14. These words come from βύβλος (byblos), meaning "papyrus," and may refer to a strip of papyrus, a papyrus roll, or a document written on papyrus or other material—for example, a letter, a legal document, or a book. In the Greek translation of Jeremiah 29:1 [Greek 36:1], the "words of the biblos" that Jeremiah sent to the exiles in Babylon after the first exile of 597 bce are identified as a "letter" (ἐπιστολή epistolē). In Jeremiah 32:10–16 [Greek 39:10–16] the biblion that Baruch writes is a deed to land, and in Jeremiah 36 [Greek 43] the biblion is a scroll of Jeremiah’s prophecies. The biblion of Baruch is a scroll of prayer, instruction, and exhortation.
Baruch, son of Neriah, son of Mahseiah the scribe, is well known from the book of Jeremiah (Jer 32:12), where he records Jeremiah’s teachings (chap. 36) and with his brother Seriah, "chief quartermaster", (שׂר מנוחה śar mĕnûḥâ) is part of the governing class in Jerusalem for King Zedekiah (Jer 51:59). The three earlier links in his genealogy, Zedekiah, Hasadiah and Hilkiah, are unique to Baruch. The names "Baruch" and "Seriah" have turned up in Judean seal impressions from the seventh–sixth centuries, reading as follows: "Belonging to Berekhyahu son of Neriyahu the scribe" and "Belonging to Seiyahu son of Neriyahu." Baruch was probably an official, as was his brother. Baruch is known for his association with Jeremiah—e.g., transferring land (Jeremiah 32), writing Jeremiah’s prophecies (Jeremiah 36), being consoled by Jeremiah (Jer 45:1–2), being accused of conspiracy and going with Jeremiah to Egypt (Jer 43:3, 6).
Although v. 1 says that Baruch wrote this book in Babylon, according to Jer 43:6, he and Jeremiah were taken forcibly to Egypt by the group that assassinated Gedaliah ben Ahikam, the Babylonian appointed governor of Judah. Biographical narratives about Jeremiah were common in post-exilic Jewish literature. Since the book of Jeremiah does not say when or where Baruch and Jeremiah died, they became literarily available for a variety of narrative tasks. For example, in the Dead Sea Scroll 4Q385 (earlier referred to as 4Q385 16 or ApocJerc) Jeremiah accompanies the exiles as far as the Euphrates River, instructing them how to be faithful to God in Babylon. Another fragment of this work places Jeremiah in Egypt, in agreement with the biblical account, instructing the exiles there. The later rabbinic commentary Pesikta Rabbati 26:6 has Jeremiah accompany the exiles as far as the Euphrates to comfort them, a scenario that is consistent with the Qumran Apocryphon of Jeremiah. Presumably such narratives suggested roles for Baruch as well. In 2 Bar 10:1–5, God tells Baruch to instruct Jeremiah to go to Babylon to support the captives while Baruch stays in Jerusalem and receives visions of the future, which he then communicates to the people. In 4 Baruch (Paraleipomena of Jeremiah) 4:6–7 Jeremiah is taken as an exile to Babylon while Baruch mourns in Jerusalem. Sixty-six years later, Jeremiah leads the people back to Jerusalem from Babylon (chap. 8 of 4 Baruch).
Josephus provides a historical context for the movement of Jeremiah and Baruch from Egypt to Babylon, although he does not name them. After retelling the story of Jeremiah and Baruch being taken forcibly to Egypt (Jeremiah 43), Josephus recounts how Nebuchadnezzar conquered Egypt in his twenty-third year, which was the fifth year after the destruction of Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar took the Jewish refugees (presumably including Jeremiah and Baruch) from Egypt to Babylon as captives. Analogously, Jer 52:30, a passage found in the Hebrew but not in the Greek (the present Hebrew of Jeremiah is a later version than the Greek), speaks of a third exile in the twenty-third year of Nebuchadnezzar, five years after the destruction of Jerusalem. Later rabbinic interpretations also place Baruch in Babylon. Seder Olam Rabbah 26 tells the story of Nebuchadnezzar conquering Egypt in his twenty-seventh year and explicitly says that he exiled Jeremiah and Baruch to Babylon. Some rabbinic writings radically compress post-exilic chronology so that Baruch was the teacher of Ezra in exile, but then the midrashic author must explain why Baruch and Ezra did not return with the exiles in 538 bce (Baruch was too old, and Ezra stayed behind to care for him).
1:2. The dates given in Baruch do not make obvious and consistent narrative sense. The date at the beginning of this verse lacks the number of the month. The month probably was the fifth month, with the number of the month omitted through the scribal error of haplography, in which the repeated word "fifth" for both the year and the month was dropped. The seventh day of the fifth month is the date of the destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar’s armies in 586 bce (see 2 Kgs 25:8). Zechariah, in the late sixth century bce, mentions a fast in the fifth month (Zech 7:5; 8:19). Thus the date here would refer to 581 bce, the fifth year after the destruction of the Temple.
Some commentators, however, calculate the fifth year as 592 bce, five years after the deportation of King Jehoiachin and other leaders from Jerusalem to Babylon in 597 (2 Kgs 24:12–16). Ezekiel’s call as a prophet is also placed in the fifth year, on the fifth day of the fifth month (Ezek 1:2). The latter part of v. 2, with its reference to the destruction of Jerusalem, is not decisive in deciding between these two dates. "At the time when" (ἐν τῶ καιρῶ en tō kairō) may refer to the general period when these events happened, or it may refer to a specific anniversary date (as in 1 Macc 4:54). The presence of a high priest and priests in Jerusalem (v. 7), the request that they offer sacrifice at the altar (v. 10), and the reference to the house of the Lord (v. 14) suggest that the Temple is still standing. On the other hand, the rest of Baruch presumes that the Temple has been destroyed (2:26; for further interpretation of these problems, see the Overview to this section and the Commentary on 1:10–14).
1:3–4. The audience for the reading of Baruch’s book is consistent with related biblical materials. Jeconiah, son of Jehoiakim, whose name is found in 1 Chr 3:16–17; Jer 24:1; 27:20; 29:2; and elsewhere, is identical with Jehoiachin in 2 Kgs 24:6–12. He became king in 598 bce during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, when his father, Jehoiachim, died. He surrendered the city in spring 597 and was taken to Babylon, where he died in exile. With him are "the people" (v. 3), or more inclusively "all the people, great and small" (v. 4). The leaders with Jeconiah are specified as the "sons of the kings"—that is, the members of the royal family ("princes" in the NRSV), the "powerful" (δυνατοί dynatoi, translated as "nobles" in the NRSV), and the elders. The description of the king and his entourage calls to mind the assembly of the leaders and people to hear the reading of the book found in the Temple during the reign of Josiah (2 Kgs 23:1–2), an assembly that included "all the people great and small." It also recalls the king’s and his court’s hearing (with displeasure) the reading of Jeremiah’s prophecies by Baruch (Jeremiah 36). Finally, the gathering of the king and the people by a river or canal in Babylon replicates the gathering of Ezekiel and the exiles at the River Chebar (Ezek 1:1) and of the group returning with Ezra at the River Ahava (Ezra 8:15).
1:5–7. The response of the people (weeping, fasting, and praying) is common in biblical and Second Temple literature (e.g., Neh 1:4; 9:1; Ezra 8:21–23; Dan 6:18; 9:3; Tob 12:8; Jdt 4:13). The collecting of money (lit., silver) for temple offerings according to each one’s means corresponds to the instructions in Deut 16:16–17 on bringing offerings during the pilgrimage festivals. The money is to be sent to the priest Joakim, son of Hilkiah, in Jerusalem (the NRSV has Jehoiakim, the Hebrew equivalent of this Greek name). The Greek has the simple title "priest," but here "priest" refers to the high priest, as it does in the case of Jehoiada, "the priest" in Jerusalem who opposes Athaliah and enthrones Joash (2 Kings 11–12). Joakim’s name is a problem, however. He does not appear in the narrative of 2 Kings as a high priest before the destruction, nor is he on the list of high priests in 1 Chr 6:13–15. According to the biblical narratives, Seriah was the last high priest in the Temple; he was executed after the conquest of Jerusalem (2 Kgs 25:18; Jer 52:24). His son Jehozadak went with the exiles to Babylon (1 Chr 6:15). Thus none of the historical narratives or lists attests to a Joakim serving in Jerusalem immediately after the destruction of the Temple. The name "Joakim," however, is associated with the priesthood. Joakim, son of Jeshua, is high priest in the time of Ezra (Neh 12:10–11), and the fictional book of Judith contains a high priest named Joakim who exercises great power (Jdt 4:6, 8, 14; 15:8). The name is a credible priestly name used for a fictional narrative character. The author of Baruch understands Joakim to be the high priest in Jerusalem from 586 until the return of Jeshua, son of Jozadak (another name for Jehozadak, the high priest who went into exile), under Cyrus the Persian in 538 (Ezra 2:2; 3:2). The author of Baruch probably pictured worship continuing at an altar without a temple before the return from Babylon. The biblical basis for such a scenario is provided by two incidents. After the destruction of the Temple and the murder of the governor Gedaliah, men from Shiloh, Shechem, and Samaria came to Mizpah with grain and incense offerings for the Temple, which was no longer standing (Jer 41:4–7). This brief notice implies that some kind of cultic activity was going on. Similarly and more clearly, the returned exiles set up an altar on the site of the destroyed Temple and offered sacrifices (Ezra 3:1–6).
1:8–9. These two verses do not fit smoothly into the narrative either grammatically or historically, and so some commentators label one or both as glosses. Neither Kings nor Chronicles has a story of King Zedekiah (597–586 bce) making new implements for the Temple after the first deportation. The logic of the story derives partly from 2 Kings, which reports that Nebuchadnezzar cut in pieces and took all the golden temple vessels to Babylon in 597 bce (2 Kgs 24:13). This would leave the Temple without equipment for sacrifice, so the author of Baruch envisions the king making new, less costly silver vessels. However, the biblical account is not consistent within itself or with Baruch. In the final conquest and destruction of Jerusalem in 586, the Babylonians took away both gold and silver implements and vessels (2 Kgs 25:14–15), not just Zedekiah’s silver vessels. In addition, the story of an early return of the temple vessels (v. 8) does not fit smoothly into the narrative. The Greek grammar does not clarify who brought the vessels back to Jerusalem, whether Hilkiah the priest (mentioned in v. 7) or Baruch (mentioned in v. 3). The NRSV and most commentators choose Baruch.26 The letter sent to Jerusalem mentions the money for sacrifices, but not the temple vessels (v. 10). Nevertheless, the logic of the author of Baruch is still clear: Since Zedekiah’s vessels would have been taken to Babylon in 586, the narrative must place their return between 586 and 538, when a group of exiles returned (Ezra 1–3). If Baruch understands that sacrifices were offered during this period, he must ensure that some sacred vessels and implements are returned to Jerusalem along with money to buy sacrificial animals.
The list of groups carried off to Babylon in v. 9 is similar to the lists of those taken to Babylon in Jer 24:1 (officials of Judah, artisans, and smiths) and Jer 29:2 (the queen mother, the court officials, the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, artisans, and smiths). The NRSV must be corrected in one place and the Greek in another, however. The first group is not "princes," as in the NRSV, but "leaders" or "officials" (ἄρχοντες archontes, which often translates the Hebrew שׂרים śārîm). The Greek of the second group is "prisoners" (δεσμώται desmōtai), so translated by the NRSV, but this is a translation error from Hebrew. The Hebrew word מסגר (masgēr) has two meanings: "prison" (Isa 24:22) and "smith" (2 Kgs 24:14; Jer 24:1). "Smiths" is clearly the correct choice for a list of exiled productive leaders. Baruch adds to this list of exiles the "people of the land." In Kgs 25:12, by contrast, the poor of the land ("poor of the people") are left to farm the land, and in Jer 24:1 the rich are also listed among the deportees. Baruch, however, consistently stresses the unity and cohesiveness of the people of Israel in exile and in the land. (See Reflections at 1:10–14.)
BARUCH 1:10–14, THE COVER LETTER
The exiles in Babylon request that a full range of sacrifices, "whole offerings" (עולה ʿôlâ), "sin offerings" (חטאת ḥaṭṭāʾt), "incense offerings" (לבנה lĕbōnâ), "grain offerings" (מנחה minḥâ), and prayers be offered for the long lives of the Babylonian kings so that they may protect the exiled Judeans. Clearly, the exiles anticipate serving these foreign conquerors and winning their favor. This promoting of a positive relationship with the ruling powers is one common response to conquest in Second Temple Jewish literature that is also found in the prayer of confession and repentance (1:15–3:8), in the stories in Daniel 1–4; 6, and in Esther. It corresponds to Jeremiah’s pro-Babylonian prophecies (Jer 27:6–11) and instructions to the exiles to pray for Babylon (Jer 29:7). Ezekiel promotes the same attitude (Ezek 29:17–20). This school of thought recognized the Babylonian dominance of the Near East and the social and political dissolution of Judea. In its view, a well-intentioned king could be an aid to Judeans in the land and in exile. However, many other works, including the last part of Baruch (4:31–35), express intense resentment toward imperial oppression.
The introduction’s link with the traditions in Daniel 1–6 can be seen in the erroneous identification of Nebuchadnezzar as the father of Belshazzar (v. 12), which is also found in Dan 5:2, 11, 18, and 22. In fact, Nabonidus was the father of Belshazzar, and they were the last two Babylonian kings, ruling as co-regents in 539 bce, when Cyrus the Persian conquered Babylon and took over the empire. Nebuchadnezzar was earlier in the sixth century, but he is prominent in Jewish thought because he conquered Jerusalem.
The exiles in Babylon also ask that the Jerusalemites pray on their behalf to God, who is still angry with them (v. 13). They implicitly accept the deuteronomic theology that Jerusalem was destroyed as a punishment for its sins. The rest of the book of Baruch (1:5–5:9) consists of the exiles’ prayers, exhortations, and hopes, which the Jerusalemites are to recite for them in the Temple during the festivals (v. 14). Thus vv. 13–14 are the immediate introduction for the prayer of confession and repentance (1:15–3:8) and for the instruction and exhortation that follow.
The reading of the book or scroll is to take place in the "house of the Lord," which is ordinarily understood as the Temple. Once again, the chronological setting of the narrative in relation to the Temple is unclear (see the Introduction and Overview). If the setting is post-586, as is most probable, then the "house of the Lord" had already been destroyed. "House of the Lord" would then refer to the temple area, where an altar was set up (see the Commentary on 1:7). The NRSV translation of the time of the prayer of confession, "on the days of the festivals and at appointed seasons," is not fully accurate. The Greek is more literally "in the day of the feast [ἑορτῆς heortēs] and on the days of the festival season [καιροῦ kairou]." This clause may refer to Jewish festivals in general, as in the NRSV, but more likely designates the new year festival in the fall, at the beginning of the seventh month, Tishri, and the eight-day Feast of Tabernacles, beginning on the fifteenth of Tishri.
The Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem has destroyed the religious world of the exiled Judean community at the beginning of Baruch. Analogously the modern world has destroyed or severely stressed the traditional religious world of many Christians. A normal human reaction in both cases is to walk away sadly. The Babylonian conquerers probably expected the exiled Judeans to assimilate to Mesopotamian culture and cause them no more trouble, just as modern science and secular culture naively expected religion to disappear. However, contrary to expectations, the Judean exiles struggled to maintain their traditional ties and rectify their relationship with God, thus providing a model of fidelity for contemporary believers. Their classic response to disaster—confession of sin, prayer, repentance, instruction, exhortation, and trust in divine mercy and intervention—has been adopted by later Jewish and Christian groups. A return to the core convictions and practices of the religious tradition answers cultural breakdown and fragmentation of communal consciousness. Like the exiled Judean community, contemporary Christians must frankly and robustly admit their feelings and lack of attention to God in order to clarify their vision of God and meet the threats and challenges of a new world.
In Western culture, people view themselves as individuals in a large and often chaotic world. Only the family, or perhaps a small group of friends, stands between the person and an amazing, but often hazardous, universe. The ancient Judeans preserved a resolute sense of community that has been lost in much of the modern world. Although they were separated by hundreds of miles, the Judeans in Babylon and in Judea act as one unified community to confront their national disaster. Although they had suffered and lost their independence, their fellowship in loss overcame any potential rivalries or differences. The book of Baruch, contrary to much of Second Temple literature, lacks any disputes over practice, outlook, or interpretation of history. The political, social, and religious conflicts that motivate the plot of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah receive no notice in Baruch so that the Judeans may be one before God in repentance, salvation, and restoration. Baruch’s all-embracing turn torward God provides a cogent example to the multiplicity of Christian churches all struggling with communal problems in the face of modern Western culture and the rich diversity of cultures and religions throughout the world.
The book of Baruch shares the inclination of both the biblical tradition and the modern world to see history as a coherent, intelligible whole. Baruch fills in the narrative of Israel’s exile, where details are scarce, and does so in a way that brings coherence, unity, and expectation to Israel’s history. To preserve Israel’s integrity in the face of Babylonian exile, the author of Baruch provides for the continuity of settlement, worship, and priestly institutions and thus mitigates the tragedy of the destruction. In a similar way, contemporary Christian modes of worship, behavior, fellowship, and social engagement must undergo reinterpretation and revitalization so that God’s work in the community may be felt in the world.
Prayer of Confession and Repentance
The Babylonian exiles’ prayer, which they send to Jerusalem and Judea (1:13–14), consists of two long sections: a communal confession (1:15–2:10) and a prayer of repentance (2:11–3:8). The first is a public admission of sin and an acknowledgment of just punishment. Unlike similar confessions, it is not addressed directly to God in the second person, but gives a more "objective," third-person description of sin that instructs Israel. The confession of sin is personalized by a hortatory use of "we," which invites Israel to acknowledge its failings. The second part is a prayer of repentance and a petition for mercy addressed directly to God in the second person. This combination of confession and petition is typical of Second Temple prayers and can be found in Ezra 9:6–15; Neh 1:5–11; 9:5–37; Daniel 9; the Prayer of Azariah (Dan 3:3–22 LXX); and the Words of the Luminaries (4Q504–506). Second Temple prayers and hymns frequently contain petitions for mercy, forgiveness of sins and deliverance from divine punishment and oppression; prayers of repentance and confessions of sin (see 4Q393), acceptance of divine punishment and acknowledgment of God’s justice; and reviews of Israel’s disobedience and of God’s fidelity to Israel.
Second Temple prayers developed from a variety of biblical literary forms, especially the communal lament, which is found in about forty psalms (e.g., Psalms 44; 74; 79; 80; 83), the book of Lamentations, and the prophets (e.g., Isa 63:7–19). The confession of sin can be found in a number of places (e.g., Psalms 51; 106; Jer 32:17–23). The classical lament contains at least three elements: (1) a description of Israel’s enemy, (2) Israel’s desperate situation because of the enemy, and (3) a petition to God for help or mercy. Some psalms complain so bitterly about Israel’s suffering that they essentially indict God for abandoning Israel. After the destruction of Jerusalem, a heightened consciousness of sin transformed reproaches against God into an acknowledgment and acceptance of just divine judgment and punishment. The prayer of petition (often introduced by the imperative "Hear" as in Bar 2:14, 16, 31; 3:2, 4) was bolstered by a prayer of repentance or confession of sin. Israel’s confession of its disobedience and acceptance of prophetic threats of punishment for sin are often balanced by a recollection of God’s past mercy and saving acts toward Israel and praise for God’s justice and aid. These Second Temple prayers still reflect the biblical covenant form: "1) confession of breach of covenant, 2) admission of God’s righteousness, 3) recollection of God’s mercies, and 4) appeal for mercy for God’s own sake."
Second Temple prayers share many literary characteristics and traditional attitudes, but do not have one strictly stereotypical form. They reflect the diverse circumstances of post-exilic Jewish communities and the vitality and creativity of the literary and liturgical tradition as it adapted to new circumstances by shifting away from classical biblical forms toward a great variety of expressions using traditional vocabulary and theology in new settings and combinations. The rich fund of hymns and prayers found in Second Temple literature, most recently in the Dead Sea Scrolls, shows that they were popular during the Second Temple period.
Was the prayer in Bar 1:15–3:8 possibly used in a public context? According to the narrative in Baruch, this prayer was supposed to be recited when the Judean community made its "confession in the house of the Lord on the days of the festivals and at appointed seasons" (1:14). The survival of a large number of these prayers in narrative contexts (e.g., Ezra 9; Daniel 9) and independently among the Dead Sea Scrolls (4Q393; 4Q507–509, parallel to 1Q34 and 34 bis) suggests that this popular prayer form may have been used in penitential settings. For example, the Qumran Community Rule (1QS 1–2; see also the Damascus Document 20:28–30) seems to reflect a communal confession of sins and plea for mercy as part of a covenant renewal ceremony. The confession and prayer of repentance in Bar 1:15–3:8 derives from this Second Temple tradition of public confession and repentance. However, since Bar 1:15–3:8 serves the overall theology and purposes of Baruch so thoroughly, it probably was a literary creation for this work rather than a pre-existing public prayer.
Though some have claimed that the prayer is loosely constructed, repetitive, and verbose, it is in fact carefully constructed with balanced parts and interlocking themes. The confession (1:15–2:10) begins and ends with similar laments (1:15–18; 2:6–10) and encloses a recital of Israel’s disobedience and punishment. The prayer of repentance (2:11–3:8) begins and ends with petitions (2:11–18; 3:1–8) and encloses a contrast of God’s threat of punishment for disobedience (2:19–26) with God’s promise of mercy (2:27–35). The confessions, descriptions of punishment, petitions to God, etc., are connected to one another by a rich web of language and themes that are repeated and developed in different contexts. The unifying language and themes make it unlikely that several earlier prayers have been combined, as some claim. Attempts to divide the prayer into a confession written by Baruch for those remaining in Jerusalem (1:15–2:5) and a prayer for the exiles (2:6–3:8) contradicts the author’s consistent treatment of all Israel as one.
The language, literary forms, and theology of the confession and prayer are based on the Hebrew Bible, especially the prayer in Daniel 9, the Baruch material in Jeremiah 32 and 36, and the deuteronomic theology found in Jeremiah, Deuteronomy, and the deuteronomic history. Most strikingly, Bar 1:15–2:18 follows closely the prayer of confession and request for forgiveness in Dan 9:4–19; from Bar 2:19 on, the Danielic material has been exhausted. In contrast to Bar 1:15–2:18, the prayer in Dan 9:4–19 addresses God directly and more concisely, with only a brief third-person description of what God has done in the middle (Dan 9:12–14). Baruch has expanded the Danielic prayer with language and thought drawn from Jeremiah and deuteronomic theology. Baruch has also changed the focus of the prayer from the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple to the sufferings of exile. In the end, though, the prayers in Daniel and Baruch are so similar that either one is dependent on the other or both draw on a lost source. Few argue that Daniel is dependent on Baruch, but no consensus has emerged on whether Baruch depends on Daniel or both on a common source. The question is further complicated because most agree that the prayer in Daniel 9 is an earlier literary unit that has been incorporated, perhaps with revisions, into Daniel. Thus Moore claims that both prayers could derive from the late fourth century bce, while Steck argues that Baruch depends both on the Danielic prayer and on its literary context in Daniel 9. In the end, both prayers were probably written in the midsecond century bce during the Maccabean period.
As has been noted, the author of Bar 1:15–3:8 has drawn heavily from the language and interpretations of Israel’s history as it is found in Jeremiah. For example, Jeremiah 32 has especially influenced Baruch. During the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, God instructs Jeremiah to purchase a family field (Jer 32:6–15) as a sign that Judah’s defeat will not be permanent. Jeremiah then prays to understand God’s purpose, reviewing the exodus, Israel’s disobedience, and the ongoing Babylonian attack on Jerusalem. God replies with a description of Jerusalem’s imminent defeat and destruction (Jer 32:26–35) and with a promise of restoration and a new covenant (Jer 32:27–44). Not just the words and phrases, but also the assumptions, theology, and attitudes in Jeremiah 32 have influenced the author of Baruch. Baruch also draws upon and fills in the Jeremianic narrative. For example, the transition from the description of Israel’s punishment to the promise of restoration (Jer 32:35–36) implies, but does not state, that Israel has repented. Baruch 1:15–3:8 expresses Israel’s repentance.
Behind both Jeremiah and Baruch lies the theology, language, and outlook of Deuteronomy. The theme of Baruch may be summarized by Deut 4:30–31:
In your distress, when all these things have happened to you in time to come, you will return to the Lord your God and heed him. Because the Lord your God is a merciful God, he will neither abandon you nor destroy you; he will not forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them.
The language of the blessing and curses in Deuteronomy 28 and of the covenant in Deuteronomy 30 are especially rich as a source for Baruch. Though dozens of linguistic and theological parallels could be given, this commentary will be limited to major cross-references and concentrate on the internal coherence and integrity of Baruch.
BARUCH 1:15–2:10, CONFESSION OF THE JUDEAN COMMUNITY
The prayer, sent by exiles in Babylon to be read aloud during the festivals, begins with a terse, blunt, and balanced description of the present relationship of Israel to God that acknowledges Israel’s fault and vindicates God:
To our Lord God righteousness,
but to us shame of faces
until this day.
(Bar 1:15a, author’s trans.)
Israel’s shame is neither a feeling of embarrassment nor a sense of personal guilt; it is, rather, a loss of honor of "face"—that is, proper and expected public standing. A shamed or dishonored person no longer could participate normally in social relationships or function as an integral part of the village or nation. In this case, Israel frankly admits its disordered and untenable relationship with the most important member of its social world, God. This admission, elaborated in 1:15–2:10, lays a foundation for the lengthy appeal to God in 2:11–3:8.
The shame includes all Israel throughout history: the people of Judea and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, their traditional leaders from the top down (kings, rulers, priests, and prophets), and finally their ancestors who were in the same unacceptable relationship with God as Israel is in the present (1:15–16). Baruch adopts the outlook of Jeremiah, who condemns everyone, including (false) prophets (Jer 32:32). This view is contrary to Dan 9:6, which omits the prophets. Israel’s shame derives from sin, disobedience, and failure to listen to God’s voice and live according to divinely given statutes (vv. 17–18; cf. Deut 9:23; Jer 9:13; Dan 9:8–10). The prayer follows the deuteronomic tradition in which Israel’s failings provide the stimulus for exhortation and prophecy.
The Greek verb for "negligent" (ἐσχεδιάζομεν eschediazomen, 1:19), which occurs here only in the LXX, may also mean to be "hasty" or "careless," so that Israel is ironically "quick not to listen." As a result (Bar 1:20), the curses promised in Deut 28:15–68 for disobedience have "clung" to Israel (3:4; Deut 28:21, 60). (The expression "calamities and the curse" is more literally and grammatically rendered, "the evil things, namely the curse.") Although God spoke to Israel through the prophets (1:21; see also 2:20, 24), as God had through Moses (cf. the unfaithful, corrupt prophets of 1:16), Israel did not listen but instead rejected God through idolatry and evil behavior. God in turn confirmed and carried out (ἔστησεν estēse; ויקם wayyāqem) God’s word (2:1). That is, God is faithful in punishing unfaithful Israel, from the judges and kings of the Bible to the time of the author of Baruch.
This lamentable history provokes a reflection from the author on the severity and uniqueness of the punishments associated with the destruction of Jerusalem (2:2–5). The reference to cannibalism (2:3) is threatened in the Bible (Lev 26:29; Deut 28:53; Jer 19:9) and is a stock horror story of sieges. The author shields himself somewhat from the horrors of the destruction and exile by referring to the exiles as "them" (2:4–5). But at the end of v. 5, the author again identifies himself and his audience (the NRSV inserts "our nation" in place of "we") as the sinners who failed to listen to God’s voice. This failure to listen appears frequently as the radical rupture in the relationship of people with God (1:19, 21; 2:10, 22, 24, 29; 3:4).
The confessional prayer ends just as it began, with an acknowledgment of God’s justice and Israel’s shame (2:6; cf. 1:15) and a summary of Israel’s punishments and refusal to repent (2:7–10; cf. 1:18–22). All the disasters suffered by Israel were threatened by God in Scripture (2:7), were kept ready or watched over by God (2:9; cf. Dan 9:14), and were actuated by God (2:9). In all this, God is just (2:6) as are all the demands God makes (2:9). The phrase "all the works which he has commanded us [to do]" (2:9) may also mean "all his actions which he has ordered against us." (See similar phrases in the prayers in Neh 9:33; Dan 9:14.) The final verse (2:10) repeats and summarizes the confession with which the prayer began: Israel has neither listened to God’s voice nor done what God commanded (cf. 1:18). They have shamed God and God’s honor—that is, God’s status as Creator and Ruler requires defense. Thus God has punished Israel, and in response Israel must honor God by acknowledging God’s justice and turning to God for help. This Israel does in its prayer for mercy and deliverance.
Some commentators understand 2:6–10 as the beginning of the following prayer, but this paragraph is still in first- and third-person speech, in contrast to 2:11–3:8, which is in the second person; and 2:6–10 summarizes and concludes (with an inclusio) the confession begun in 1:15. Israel’s full confession of its failure to listen and obey and of its sin and just punishment lead to an extended request for divine mercy and deliverance motivated by desperate need. (See Reflections at 2:11–3:8.)
BARUCH 2:11–3:8, PRAYER OF REPENTANCE FOR MERCY AND DELIVERANCE
2:11–18. The prayer of repentance includes further confession and a plea for mercy addressed directly to God in the second person. The beginning (vv. 15–19) draws phrases and themes from the end of the prayer in Dan 9:15–19. However, Baruch’s prayer for restoration focuses on the people, in contrast to Dan 9:15–19, where the restoration of the city of Jerusalem is central to the author’s concerns. The introduction to the prayer of repentance (vv. 11–13) invokes the founding event of Israel’s relationship with God: liberation from slavery in Egypt, followed by memories of God’s benevolent power and Israel’s sins and just punishments. The language and theology of this appeal stand squarely in the deuteronomic tradition (e.g., Deut 6:21–23; Jer 32:20–21; Dan 9:15). The NRSV follows the Greek in stating that Israel has done wrong "against all your [God’s] ordinances" (v. 11), but the Hebrew of Dan 9:16 suggests that the original text may have connected that final phrase with the following sentence. If so, then Israel would be asking God to turn away from anger on the basis of God’s sense of justice: "Lord our God, by all your just actions let your anger turn away from us." At the end of the introduction (v. 13) the author cites other reasons for the exiles’ prayer: They are few in number, scattered, and under the control of other nations (see also 2:14, 23, 29–30, 32, 34–35; 3:7–8). This prayer will seek to overcome the distance between God and the people that has been opened up by sin, exile, and loss of autonomy.
The next two petitions (vv. 14–15 and vv. 16–18) appeal to God’s self-interest as a motive for listening to Israel’s requests. Since Israel and its people are called by God’s name (see 2 Sam 12:28 for the custom of imposing a ruler’s or an owner’s name upon something), and since all the world knows of God through Israel, then the nations that have captured Israel will think ill of God if the people die and cannot testify to God’s glory and justice. The people’s requests are modestly appropriate to their powerless position in exile. First, they desire to find favor in the sight of their captors (v. 14), a practical good sought in several other biblical texts (1:12; 1 Kgs 8:50; Ps 106:46; Ezek 8:9), and then they ask to remain alive so that they can praise God (v. 18): "The person who is deeply grieved, who walks bowed and feeble, with failing eyes and famished soul, will declare your glory and righteousness, O Lord" (Bar 2:18).
This latter request turns the tables on God by transforming a deuteronomic punishment into a petition in lieu of death. In Deut 28:62–67, Moses threatens that if Israel disobeys God, it will be left few in number and scattered among all peoples; here in v. 13 these things have happened. Deuteronomy further warns that God will give Israel "a trembling heart, failing eyes and a languishing spirit" and constant fear because their lives are threatened (Deut 28:65–67). Baruch, after pointing out that the dead cannot praise God (v. 17), cleverly accepts the promised grief, debilitation, and fear in order to avoid the threat of death (v. 18). The very limited goals of these petitions bespeak a long experience of exile and political powerlessness and contrast strikingly with many prophetic promises and apocalyptic visions of national restoration.
2:19–35. The author begins his plea for God’s mercy in v. 19 by confessing again that his ancestors and their kings did not act justly and by implicitly acknowledging that he has no right to God’s help. He substantiates this admission with a narrative of Judah’s disobedience, which led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the disinterring of their kings and ancestors by the victorious Babylonians. Baruch’s narrative draws upon the accounts and prophetic threats in Jeremiah.
The Hebrew expression used to ask for God’s mercy (lit., "throw down a plea for mercy [ἔλεος eleos] before your face," 2:19) is found with similar Greek wording only in Dan 9:18 and in Jer 36:7; 37:20; 38:26; 42:2. Israel has been punished for disobeying prophetic commands (1:21; 2:24) to submit to Babylonian rule (cf. Jeremiah 27) by a miserable death from famine, war, and disease (Bar 2:25 and often in Jeremiah and elsewhere) and also by dishonor that continues up to the present, through the disinterment of royal bones (v. 24) and the ruin and decay of the Temple (v. 26). Jeremiah had predicted that King Jehoiakim’s corpse would be exposed to the elements (Jer 36:30) as punishment for his rejection and burning of the scroll of Jeremiah’s prophecies. The vague expression "you have made [the Temple] as it is today" (v. 26) refers to the Temple that was destroyed in the sixth century bce and perhaps also to the sad state of the Temple or its administration when Baruch was written.
Baruch’s prayer and the poems in 3:8–4:4 and 4:5–5:9 do not end with punishment, but with God’s kindness and compassion toward Israel (v. 27). The Greek word translated as "kindness" (ἐπιείκεια epieikeia) refers to fairness and clemency in applying the law in a court, and the word for "compassion" (οἰκτιρμός oiktirmos) refers to those people or situations deserving of pity because of the suffering or loss involved. God’s mercy was already promised and predicted in Scripture at the time when God told Moses to write down the law (Exod 24:2; Deut 31:9; cf. Josh 8:32). The "quotation" that follows (vv. 29–35) is not word for word from the Bible, but contains phrases and clauses from Moses’ teaching in Deut 4:30–31; 30:1–10; and numerous places in Jeremiah, especially chap. 32. The use of Moses and Jeremiah here is consistent with references to Moses and the prophets earlier (Bar 1:20–21; 2:2, 20). The repetition of God’s promises to Israel in a traditional form implies that God has already set the process in motion and that the end result of the promises is assured. Rejection of God’s commands has led to the scattering of the people among the nations and a diminution of their numbers (vv. 29–30), but in exile the people will recognize their God (vv. 30–32) and obey because they acknowledge the sins of their ancestors. In Baruch, the people have precisely recognized God and acknowledged their sin through confession and prayer. Just as rejection of God in the promised land led to its loss, so also now recognition of God in exile leads to a return to the land (vv. 34–35). The promises made to the patriarchs will be fulfilled again in the restoration of the people as inhabitants and rulers of the land. The cycle of history will be complete when God binds the people through a permanent covenant, never to exile them again (v. 35). Sin, which soured Israel’s relationship with God, has been overcome through this confession of sin, repentance, and remembering of God. Now all that is required is the return to the land of Israel.
3:1–8. The final petition of the prayer returns the focus to the exigencies of present exile and recaptitulates many of the themes of the preceding prayer. Commentators have often understood this final section as an independent prayer because (1) it has a different tone; (2) it addresses God as the "Almighty" (vv. 1, 4 and nowhere else in Baruch; (3) it is spoken by the children of the original exiles (v. 7), not the Judean leaders and people listed in 1:13–16 or the original exiles themselves (2:13–14); and (4) it articulates Israel’s urgent need for deliverance from exile and oppression, in contrast to 2:14, which seeks only a lightening of oppression. These tensions may indicate that an earlier source was used, but vv. 1–8 now bring Israel’s confession and prayer of repentance to an acute and intense conclusion, preparing for the final two poems.
God is addressed for the first time as "Lord Almighty,"Κύριος Παντοκράτωρ (Kyrios Pantokratōr) in Greek and יהוה צבאות (Yahweh Ṣĕbāʾôt) in Hebrew, by "a soul in anguish and a wearied spirit" appropriate to a lengthy exile. The prayer progresses expeditiously from a plea for mercy and a confession of sin (v. 2) to a striking contrast between God, who is permanently enthroned in heaven, and Israel, which is continually perishing (v. 3). The actors, their relationships, and the problem are patent and lead to a repeated, more urgent petition for help. The second half of the prayer begins with a repetition of the call in v. 2 for God to hear Israel (v. 4). In the Greek, Israel is characterized as "dying" or "dead" (מיתי ישׂראל mêtê Yiśrāʾēl) Israel. The Greek translator probably misread the Hebrew מתי (mĕtê), meaning "men" (Isa 41:14; NRSV, "people") as mêtê Iśrāʾēl, "the dead of Israel." Yet the Greek makes symbolic sense in this context (מיתי ישׂראל mêtê Iśrāʾēl), for "dying Israel" recalls 2:17, which reminded God that the dead cannot praise God. The exiles point out that they are the generation subsequent to those whose sins caused the destruction of Jerusalem and exile (v. 2). Although they concede that their parents did not listen to God, they call on God to hear them because the evils (the literal meaning of κακά [kaka], translated by the NRSV here and in 1:20 as "calamities"; cf. Deut 28:21, 60) that "clung" to their sinful parents have also clung to them.
Baruch’s prediction at the end of chap. 2 that Israel would remember God and then repent is now fulfilled. Israel remembers and praises God (vv. 6–7) and calls on God, with ironic appropriateness, not to remember its ancestors’ sins (v. 5). The petitioners protest that they have fear of God in their hearts (v. 7) and have rejected their ancestors’ iniquity (v. 8; cf. v. 4), and they urgently remind God again of their social dislocation and disorder ("scattered, cursed, reproached and punished," v. 8). The Greek word for "punished" (ὄφλησις ophlēsis) connotes a judicial penalty or fine in a lawsuit.
In summary, Israel’s prayer of confession and repentance ends with a call to God to hear (vv. 2, 4) and to see (v. 8), but without a response and closure. God’s redemption of Israel will be dramatically recounted at the end of Baruch (chap. 5). In the meantime, since the people claim to fear God (v. 7), the author of Baruch continues with a wisdom poem (3:9–4:4), which, like all wisdom literature, presumes a sense of awe, reverence, and fear of God. The wisdom poem also explains more fully why Israel is suffering in exile and how it should act while waiting for God.
Modern spirituality stresses positive attitudes and goals such as growth, fulfillment, relationships, and love. Confessing and repenting of sin, error, and failure unsettle us and clash with our positive religious sensibility. Believers in the lonely contemporary world spontaneously seek God’s love and promises of salvation. Unfortunately, many of us also seek to evade pervasive evil and the onerous labor of asking for forgiveness. Americans especially turn away too quickly from the pain and shame of sin and fail to envision a bright new future and a fresh start on the road to success. Our lack of self-esteem frequently prompts evasion and denial, rather than admission of responsibility or guilt. Few people know how to begin an apology or admit gracefully that they are wrong.
The confession and prayer of repentance in Baruch guides us through the necessary stages of healing and growth from acknowledging sin to admitting helplessness, calling on God, and repenting. The author of the confession cuts the knot of repentance in the fourteen English words that were cited at the beginning:
To our Lord God righteousness,
but to us shame of faces
until this day. (Bar 1:15, author’s trans.)
Frankly and openly, he contrasts human shame and failure with God’s integrity and honor. From this admission all else follows in Baruch, including forgiveness, the revelation of God’s law, renewed fidelity, the consolation of Jerusalem, and the return of the exiles.
In contrast to Baruch, many modern corporate and political leaders speak of moral, professional, and personal failure and evil in impersonal terms. They say, "Mistakes were made." But no name, least of all that of the speaker, appears. Sins that destroy body and spirit become lapses in judgment. The exposure of misdeeds arouses not a robust admission of wrongdoing, but attacks on the media or "whistleblowers," who are labeled enemies or liars.
The author of the confession in Baruch does not hide behind evasive rhetoric. Israel has refused to listen to and obey God from the exodus to the time of Baruch. God warned Israel, but the people did what they wanted. God responded with punishment. This concise history of Israel functions like the stories told at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or like the feelings of participants in therapy sessions. No excuses, rationalizations, or extenuating circumstances can erase or hide the cold, painful facts of lives gone wrong, nor can they mitigate the destructive consequences to self, family, friends, and society.
Rigorous honesty, no matter how great the anguish, opens the way out. Paradoxically, the painful review of sin and guilt at the beginning of the prayer in Baruch brings coherence and consolation to the lives of those who ask for forgiveness. Authentic comprehension of the cause of the exile and Babylonian oppression opens the way for a different outcome. The rehearsal of disobedience and sin contrasts ironically and painfully with an urgent appeal for mercy from the very God who has been rejected. The refusal to hear God in the past (1:17, 21; 2:5) silently reproaches the petitioners even as it motivates their call for God to hear them now in their need (2:14, 16, 31; 3:2, 4). A stark awareness of God’s anger and an immediate experience of punishment permeate the prayer. Yet the petitioners’ very disarray and sense of loss turn them inevitably toward a restored community. A frank admission of fault sensitizes them to the most important things they have lost and seek to regain.
From talk shows to poetry readings, everyone complains about the disarray of society, the futility of work, the corruption of politics, and the collapse of the family. We blame impersonal bureaucracies, venal governments, "other" social groups and irrational, unknown forces for our misfortunes. Disconnected from our immediate world, we inevitably misunderstand the real causes of our confusion, alienation, and anxiety. Looking for a scapegoat, we lack responsibility and so, like children, cry out in frustrated impotence.
In Baruch, confession of sin and repentance make sense of Israel’s disasters. When we admit our failings, misunderstandings, weaknesses, and harmful, sinful behaviors, we begin to understand the chaos and suffering of life as a consequence of disobedience to the laws that were meant to give shape to a just society. By that very act we diminish the scope and power of disorder and confusion within ourselves and in the world around us. In Baruch, Israel mourns the lost Temple (2:26), the ignored Torah (2:28), the conquered land (2:34), and the exiled people (2:23, 35). As a result, these four—Temple, Torah, land, and people—became the pillars of Second Temple Judaism, appearing constantly in Jewish prayers, poems, and narratives, most especially in the final two poems of Baruch. Reconstruction of modern life awaits a similar, frank inventory of our sins and losses so that we may know what God has given us as a foundation for our lives.
Wisdom Admonition and Exhortation
This section of poetic wisdom admonition and exhortation differs significantly in style, terminology, genre, and background from the preceding prayer of confession and repentance; yet, it fits coherently into the argument of the book of Baruch as a whole. The admonition and exhortation teach Israel what to do after its confession and repentance by exploring the origins of sin and suggesting a better way to live through wisdom. The poem attributes the problem of sin and exile to the people’s abandonment of wisdom and their inability to find it on their own. It argues that the law, especially Deuteronomy, is wisdom itself. Wisdom has been given to Israel by God as a basis for a renewed life of fidelity, and it demands understanding and obedience.
The logical structure of the poem is relatively simple, though attempts to recover its poetic structure vary greatly because we do not have its Hebrew original. The sections of the wisdom poem in this commentary follow the flow of its argument rather than a hypothetical reconstruction of the poetic form. The poem begins with a rebuke of Israel for abandoning wisdom and a call to learn wisdom (3:9–14). The question of where wisdom is to be found (3:15) leads to a long section that argues that different groups of people and even the ancient giants have been unable to find wisdom (3:16–31). God, the Creator who knows wisdom and gives it to Israel in the law, solves the problem (3:32–4:1). The poem ends with an exhortation for Israel to accept wisdom (4:2–4) as the solution to Israel’s sinfulness and as the key to reestablishing a proper relationship with God.
This wisdom poem was probably written originally in Hebrew, though many scholars still hold that it was composed in Greek. It may have circulated independently before being modified and incorporated into Baruch. It uses language and thought found in biblical and Second Temple wisdom literature, rather than the prophetic language dominant in the other parts of Baruch. It also contains the deuteronomic terms and ideas that appear in all sections of Baruch. The wisdom poem refers to God by the generic Greek term for God,Θεός (theos), a usage that accords with the international nature of ancient wisdom literature. In contrast, the first section of Baruch (1:1–3:8) calls God "Lord," in agreement with the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint; however, the final section (4:5–5:9), which uses God (theos) frequently, also addresses God as "Everlasting" or "Eternal." The wisdom poem does not attribute anthropomorphic actions, feelings, or thoughts to God, in contrast to other parts of Baruch (e.g., 1:13; 2:11, 13, 16–17, 20; 4:9, 25, 27). Consistent with the instructional and exhortatory purposes of the wisdom poem, the author frequently addresses Israel/Jacob by name ("Israel," 3:9–10, 24, 36; 4:4; "Jacob," 3:36; 4:2).
If the wisdom poem had an independent existence before being incorporated into Baruch, it provides little evidence for its date. The introduction suggests that the exile has been long (3:10–11), but this section may be a redactional link with the preceding prayer of repentance. Most have dated the poem from the second century bce to the first century ce. Some have suggested a pre-Maccabean date, and others hold that no date can be determined.45 The affinities of this poem with Sirach 24 slightly favor the second century bce, but wisdom themes persisted over the centuries. The wisdom poem has some thematic similarities with the prayer for wisdom in the book of Wisdom (Wis 9:1–18), but the correspondences are rather vague and too imprecise to support an argument for dependency. (See Bar 3:29 and Wis 9:4 on bringing Wisdom down from heaven; Bar 4:4 and Wis 9:10 on learning what is pleasing to God from wisdom; Bar 3:36 and Wis 9:17 on God’s sending wisdom to humans.) Even if a relationship could be established, the date of the book of Wisdom is very uncertain (1st cent. bce–1st cent. ce). Finally, those who date the final section of Baruch using Psalms of Solomon 11 sometimes try to date the wisdom poem along with it, but the relationship of Baruch with Psalms of Solomon is disputed (see the next section).
Of more interest and utility for understanding Baruch is the place of the wisdom poem in Israelite and Second Temple wisdom literature. Poems about wisdom, especially personified Wisdom, have their major biblical source in Proverbs 1–9, and prayers for wisdom often stem from Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kgs 3:6–9. Sirach begins with poems on wisdom (Sir 1:1–10) and fear of God (Sir 1:11–2:17) and continues with several more wisdom poems (Sir 4:11–19; 14:20–15:10; 24:1–29; 39:1–11). The book of Wisdom contains both poems to wisdom (Wis 6:12–25; 7:22–8:21; chap. 10) and prayers for wisdom (Wis 7:15–22; 9:1–18). The Letter of Aristeas affirms the necessity of praying as part of living the philosophical life (#256). The Dead Sea Scrolls contain an exhortation to seek wisdom (4Q185), a warning concerning the seductive evil woman as a symbol of foolishness (4Q184), and a series of blessings of the wise (4Q525). Interestingly, wisdom and apocalyptic perspectives are joined in the Dead Sea Scrolls (e.g., 4Q415–418, Sapiential Work A). Although Baruch lacks any apocalyptic influences, its wisdom poem leads to the final section of Baruch, where God intervenes in history and returns Israel from exile (Bar 4:5–5:9).
The wisdom influences in Bar 3:9–4:4 are patent. Four Greek words concerned with wisdom appear frequently with overlapping meanings that are not consistently translated in the NRSV. The most common biblical Greek word for "wisdom,"σοφία (sophia), occurs twice (3:12, 23). Three other Greek words are more prominent: φρόνησις (phronēsis), which has the connotation of "prudence," is translated by the NRSV as "wisdom" (3:9, 14, 28), the same word used for sophia. The other two words are ἐπιστήμη (epistēmē), translated as "knowledge" (3:20, 27, 36), and σύνεσις (synesis), translated as "understanding" (3:14, 23 [twice], 32). All four words are in the Greek feminine gender and are referred to as "she" or "her" in other verses. "Understanding"/synesis (3:14) seems to be the referent in the thematic 3:15. "Knowledge"/epistēmē (3:20) is the referent to the series of pronouns in 3:20–22. In the next verse (3:23), "understanding"/synesis occurs twice in parallel, followed by sophia and a pronoun in parallel. After "knowledge"/epistēmē in 3:27, phronēsis/"wisdom" (3:28) becomes the referent to the pronouns in 3:29–32, a critical turning point in the poem. At the end of the poem God finds "knowledge"/epistēmē (3:36), which remains the referent through 3:37–4:2 and is identified with the law and the book of commandments of God. A mapping of these usages and of the poetic parallelisms in the poem suggests that the author is not distinguishing these four words from one another in any meaningful way and that he is using them all to refer to what is usually called "wisdom" in English. The close relationship of the words for "knowledge," "understanding," and "wisdom" can be seen in the cluster of terms in Prov 1:1–7.
"Way" (ὁδός hodos) is a dominant metaphor both in this poem and in wisdom literature. The way of wisdom, which humans cannot find and which God knows, appears in Bar 3:13, 20–21, 23, 27, 31, 36. The common poetic pair "way" and "path(s)" appears in 3:31, as it does in Pss 27:11; 77:19 and in Prov 2:8, 20; 4:11, 14; 8:20. "Way" can also be used in a negative sense of the way to death (Prov 2:18). Baruch draws upon specific biblical usages of this metaphor. For example, in Bar 3:13 the prophet says to Israel, "If you had walked in the way of God, you would be living in peace forever." Similarly, Prov 3:17 says of wisdom, "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace." In Job 28, on which part of this poem is modeled, mortals do not know the way to wisdom (Job 28:13; Bar 3:16–31) but God does (Job 28:23; Bar 3:36). Baruch combines the deuteronomic and wisdom traditions. Deuteronomy speaks of following the path God has commanded in order to live (5:33) and frequently admonishes Israel not to turn away from the way God has commanded (9:12, 16; 11:28; 13:5; 31:29).
The author of Baruch further enriches this deuteronomic linking of the way with God’s commandments by identifying wisdom with the commandments and by having God, who knows "the whole way to knowledge" (Bar 3:36) reveal knowledge to Israel in the commandments and in the law (4:1). Deuteronomy has profoundly affected the wisdom poem, as it has the other parts of Baruch. The threat that God will exile the people from the land if they disobey the commandments, the promise that God will be merciful if the people will repent, and the praise of God’s power and accomplishments (Deut 4:25–40) are especially influential, as is the warning about exile and choosing life through the commandments rather than death through disobedience (Deuteronomy 30).
The most obvious, immediate influence on Bar 3:15–37 is the wisdom poem in Job 28. Baruch 3:9–4:4 does not follow Job 28 as closely as Bar 1:15–2:18 followed Dan 9:4–19, but it draws numerous thematic units and words from Job. For example, in both texts the wisdom of the nations is viewed negatively (Job 28:1–22; Bar 3:16–31), and God’s wisdom is viewed positively (Job 28:23–27; Bar 3:32–37). Both refer extensively to the parts of the cosmos, including the earth (Job 28:1–13; Bar 3:16–23) and the sea (Job 28:21; Bar 3:26–29). Sequences of thought are also reproduced (Bar 3:30, 31, 33 from Job 28:15–19, 23–24, 26).
Baruch is not simply a revision of Job 28, since it is also influenced by the phraseology and thought of some psalms (e.g., Psalms 49; 119; 147). Psalm 147 has a cluster of themes found in Baruch, such as God’s control over the stars (Ps 147:4; Bar 3:34), the giving of the commandments to Israel/Jacob (Ps 147:19; Bar 3:36), and Israel’s special advantage in relationship with God (Ps 147:20; Bar 4:3). Similarly, the wisdom poem in Sirach 24 shares themes with the end of this poem (3:36–4:1). In Sirach, Wisdom leaves the heavenly assembly on God’s command to live in Jerusalem among God’s people. Sirach narrates the story of Wisdom’s descent in detail, along with her subsequent flourishing in Israel. In contrast, Baruch briefly states that God gave knowledge to Israel, and so she lived with humans on earth (3:36–37). Each poem then states in a verse that wisdom is the biblical law: "All this is the book of the covenant of the Most High God, the law that Moses commanded us" (Sir 24:23); "She is the book of the commandments of God, the law that endures forever" (Bar 4:1). Sirach and Baruch here share a tradition, but it is not clear whether one has influenced the other or whether they have drawn on a similar source.
In summary, the language, themes, and thought of Baruch share much with the wisdom tradition, but, except for Job 28 and Sirach 24, no substantial literary connection between Baruch’s wisdom poem and the wisdom poems in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, or the book of Wisdom emerges.
BARUCH 3:9–14, REBUKE AND CALL TO ISRAEL
The initial exhortation for Israel to hear the commandments and wisdom combines the deuteronomic call to hear God’s voice and commandments (Deut 5:1; 6:3–4; 30:12–13; 31:12–13), wisdom literature’s instruction that children/students listen to their parent/teacher (Prov 1:8; 4:1; 8:32–33), and Lady Wisdom’s invitation to the people to learn from her (Prov 1:20–21; 8:1–5). The identification of wisdom with the commandments is also found in Sir 24:23. The phrase "commandments of life" (3:9) comes from Ezek 33:15, but it echoes the sapiential and deuteronomic commonplace that obedience to the commandments leads to life and prosperity, and disobedience to death and disaster (Deut 4:1; Prov 4:4, 13). The parallel second half of 3:9 says, literally, "give ear in order to know prudence." The choice of the Greek wordφρόνησις (phronēsis, "prudence"; translated by the more inclusive term "wisdom" in the NRSV) emphasizes practical wisdom, oriented to action, and thus corresponds to the commandments in the first half of the verse. Ben Sira has a similar expression when he turns from describing God’s revelation to all humans to God’s revelation to Israel: "He bestowed knowledge upon them, and allotted to them the law of life" (Sir 17:11).
The poet next rebukes Israel with a four-part question that taunts them to explain the reality of their lengthy exile, which is like death and burial (vv. 10–11). Then he answers the questions in terms of the exhortation in v. 9: If Israel had heard the commandments of life, then they would have walked in the way of God and would be living in peace instead of exile (vv. 9a, 13). But Israel has abandoned the fountain of prudence (wisdom), rather than listening and learning (vv. 9b, 12). The final admonition (v. 14) holds out the promise of wisdom, strength, life, light, and peace in contrast to exile and death in the earlier rebuke (vv. 10–11). Wisdom as defined here powerfully and directly affects the course and quality of life. The metaphor of "light" at the end of v. 14 consistently connotes life, wisdom, and God in Baruch (vv. 14, 20, 33; 4:2 in this poem and 1:12; 5:9 in the rest of Baruch). The hopeful message of this introductory section is worked out in the argument of the poem and will be repeated in the conclusion (4:2–4). (See Reflections at 4:2–4).
BARUCH 3:15–31, WISDOM HIDDEN FROM HUMANS
After exhorting Israel to seek wisdom, the author must help them acquire it. Unfortunately, humans have a dismal record in the search for wisdom. To the opening question: "Who has found her place?/ And who has entered her storehouses?" (v. 15), the author must answer: "No one knows the way to her,/ or is concerned about the path to her" (v. 31). In quick succession he summarizes the failures of the powerful and wealthy (vv. 16–19) along with generations of humankind, including the neighbors of Israel (vv. 20–23) and even the giants (vv. 24–28).
The author of Baruch was guided by an earlier poem about hidden wisdom in Job 28:
"But where shall wisdom be found?
And where is the place of understanding?
Mortals do not know the way to it,
and it is not found in the land of the living.
The deep says, ‘It is not with me,’
and the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’
It cannot be gotten for gold,
and silver cannot be weighed out as its price.
It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir,
in precious onyx or sapphire.
Gold and glass cannot equal it,
nor can it be exchanged for jewels of fine gold."
(Job 28:12–15 NRSV)
Both Job and Baruch comment on the difficulty of finding wisdom and the ineffectiveness of ordinary human efforts to acquire it. Baruch dramatizes the search by reviewing the efforts of various classes of people who might be expected to be wise. Preeminently in a hierarchical society, the "rulers of the nations" might be expected to be as wise as they are powerful and rich, but they have died (vv. 16–19). Baruch’s critique of the rulers subtly comments on several types of human failure. That they are leaders of the "nations" implicitly differentiates Israel from the nations and leaves room for God’s gift of wisdom to Israel at the end of the poem, in contrast to the nations’ lack of wisdom (vv. 21–23). The leaders are described as "those who lord it over the animals on earth" (v. 16), a tradition found also in Jer 27:6; Dan 2:27–28; and Jdt 11:7, where the king rules humans and animals. These leaders are subtly identified with all humanity, which was given dominion over the earth and its creatures in the creation story (Gen 1:28). The strongest criticism is reserved for the triviality and irresponsibility of the wealthy (vv. 17–18). They make sport with or tease the birds of the air (see also Job 41:5), instead of learning wisdom about God and creation from them (Job 12:7–12); they rely on their wealth for everything, rather than seeking wisdom.
The author articulates his harsh comments on the excessive, foolish reliance on wealth in a string of clauses and participles in vv. 17–18. The meaning of the second half of v. 18 is difficult. It continues the train of thought of the first half of the verse, if the Greek is translated (contrary to the NRSV) to refer to the clandestine activities used to acquire wealth: "those who schemed to get silver, and were anxious, and [καί kai] there is no discovering their works?" Or the Greek may communicate the common wisdom theme that there is no understanding of some things (see Job 5:9 of God; Prov 25:3 of kings), applied in this case to the activity of making or acquiring silver. In the end, the result of all this effort is not wisdom, but death for humanity throughout its history (v. 19).
The chronic inability of human beings to find wisdom is expanded to include later generations and is concretized with the name of countries, peoples, and occupations (vv. 20–23). Ironically, these later generations have seen the "light" of day, but they have not gained knowledge (v. 20), which would give the light of wisdom (v. 33; 4:2). The author speaks insistently of the way to knowledge (ἐπιστήμη epistēmē), a metaphor that reaches a climax in v. 36, where God is the one who "found the whole way to knowledge" and gave it to Israel. Neither later generations nor the descendants of Hagar have learned the "way" (ὁδός hodos) to knowledge (vv. 20, 31) and wisdom (v. 23), nor have they understood (v. 20), given thought (v. 23), or been concerned about (v. 31) her "paths" (τρίβοι triboi). Rather, humans have "strayed far from [knowledge’s] way" (v. 21).
Israel’s immediate neighbors are specified as the nations that have not found wisdom. Traditional eastern Mediterranean wisdom literature, including Proverbs and Job, acknowledges the universality of human wisdom. The tradition that the nations do not have wisdom comes from the prophets (e.g., Isa 19:11–15). But in Baruch, Canaan, meaning cities like Tyre (Ezek 28:12; Zech 9:2) and Teman—an Edomite city noted for its wisdom in Job 2:11 (Eliphaz the Temanite); Jer 49:7; and Obad 8–9—are charged with not having heard of wisdom (v. 22). The Arabs, who were identified as descendants of Ishmael, son of Hagar, and specifically the merchants of two Arabian cities, Merran (Midian, south of Edom) and Tema, likewise do not have wisdom, even though they are engaged in international trade and should have gained great wisdom from many peoples. (The NRSV translates "Teman" because the Greek uses the same name,θαιμαν (Thaiman) for Tema in Arabia and Teman in Edom.) The traditional non-Israelite storytellers who might have passed on traditional wisdom of many peoples and the generic "seekers of understanding" (σύνεσις synesis) have all failed to learn the way of "wisdom" (σοφία sophia) (v. 23). This verdict echoes the author’s diagnosis of the cause of Israel’s exile as failure to walk in the way of God (v. 13).
Since wisdom has not been found on earth among humans in history, the search for wisdom moves on to the universe as a whole in primeval times (vv. 24–31). The whole universe is the house of God here (v. 24), in contrast to the Hebrew Bible, where the house of God is a temple or a building. This interpretation stems from God’s knowledge of, presence in, and sovereignty over the whole of the universe, ideas that are found in the Hebrew Bible (Job 28:24; 11:7–9), in the Greek Bible (Wis 7:24; 8:1) and in Philo (De aeternitate mundi 112). The author of Baruch is coy about whether wisdom is actually to be found in the house of God. Consistent with the previous section, he affirms that another group, the primeval giants, lacked prudence (v. 27,φρόνησις phronēsis, translated by the NRSV as "wisdom") and perished (vv. 26–28). The "giants" were the progeny of angels who disobeyed God and had intercourse with human women. In 1 Enoch 7, it is noted that the angels taught their human wives certain kinds of medicine and magic, but the author of Baruch judges that this kind of "knowledge" (epistēmē), which heals the body, is not what is required for "life" (vv. 9, 13–14; 4:1), because the giants engaged in violent, cannibalistic behavior, which is the opposite of prudent, wise behavior. Thus, even more than human figures in primeval times, they had no grasp of wisdom.
The futile search for hidden wisdom ends just as it began, with rhetorical questions that require a negative answer (vv. 29–30, parallel to v. 15). Together they eliminate wisdom’s storehouses, heaven, and foreign lands as viable places to find wisdom. However, biblical readers will not lose hope because they know that one need not seek God’s commandments in the heavens or across the sea, since they are, in fact, present among Israel (Deut 30:12–13). And after a summary statement of the problem, "No one knows the way to her [the antecedent is phronēsis in v. 28], or is concerned about the path to her" (v. 31), the author turns to the solution and source of wisdom: God. (See Reflections at 4:2–4.)
BARUCH 3:32–4:1, GOD GIVES WISDOM TO ISRAEL
To find wisdom the author turns to "the one who knows all things" (3:32). This figure is identified with active participles and is called "our God" only in 3:35, although God has already been foreshadowed in 3:24–25, where the search moved to God’s house, the universe in its entirety. Similarly, here God "found her [φρόνησις phronēsis, last named in 3:28] by his understanding [σύνεσις synesis]" (3:32) and then created, controlled, prepared, and filled the universe (3:32b–34). The language used here to describe God the Creator comes from the wisdom tradition. God orders light and the stars; they obey, as they do in Job 37:11. The stars stand guard duty (3:34), as they do in Sir 43:10. God’s wisdom, creative power, and control over nature are intimately related and mutually supportive here and in wisdom literature in general.
God resolves the problem of the poem, the human search for wisdom, by giving knowledge to Israel in the form of "the book of the commandments of God and the law that endures forever" (4:1)—that is, the Torah, or Pentateuch. Baruch introduces his solution to the problem of knowledge by directly addressing his audience with an expression of praise for Israel’s God, who has wisdom: "This is our God; no other can be compared.…/ He found the whole way to knowledge" (3:36) The Hebrew Bible often affirms that God is incomparable or the only God. It also says that God’s wisdom is greater than that of the nations (Jer 10:6–7). The claim that God found the "whole way of knowledge" rests upon acceptance of God as the Creator who knows all. Although the "way" to wisdom has been a central metaphor in this poem (see the Commentary on 3:20), the finding of the way of knowledge is less a search and more a recognition that God and knowledge/wisdom are one and the same. In view of the identity of the law with wisdom in 4:1, the idea of the whole or entire way of knowledge may be associated with the whole or entire commandment or way God placed before Israel in Deuteronomy (תורה [tôrâ] in Deut 4:8; מצוה [miṣwâ] in Deut 5:31; 6:25; 8:1; 11:8, 22; 15:5; 19:9; 27:1).
Drawing upon the whole biblical tradition of God’s choice of Jacob/Israel as the forebear of God’s own people, the author affirms that God gave this essential, but hard to find, knowledge to Israel and that knowledge appeared on earth and lived among humans (vv. 36–37; vv. 37 NAB).50 God’s gift of knowledge to Israel and wisdom’s presence on earth within Israel is common in the Second Temple wisdom tradition (Sir 24:8, 10–12; Wis 9:10). The wisdom poem in Sirach 24 narrates in detail God’s order to Wisdom that she leave the divine assembly in heaven and live in Jerusalem among Israel and Wisdom’s flourishing and attractiveness to the people of Israel. Baruch merely alludes to this tradition in dependence on Sirach or a common source. Baruch, however, enshrines wisdom among the people in exile and in the land, in contrast to Sirach, who stresses the land and Jerusalem as the dwelling place of wisdom (Sir 24:8–14). The most concrete and satisfactory answer to the question asked in 3:15 concerning where wisdom is to be found appears finally in 4:1: Wisdom/prudence/knowledge is (in a more literal translation than the NRSV) "the book of the commandments of God and the law enduring forever." The identification of wisdom with Torah, the law and holy book of Israel, completes the incorporation of the international wisdom of the ancient Near East into Israel’s developing biblical traditions. This trend began in Deuteronomy, where Moses, exhorting Israel to obey the commandments God gave them, refers to Near Eastern wisdom: "You must observe them [the commandments] diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!’ " (Deut 4:6 NRSV). The claim to an exclusive possession of wisdom and the identification of wisdom with the law (i.e., the Bible, especially the Pentateuch) appears at the climax of the wisdom poem in Sirach 24: "All this [the wisdom he has been teaching] is the book of the covenant of the Most High God,/the law that Moses commanded us/ as an inheritance for the congregations of Jacob" (Sir 24:23 NRSV).
The book of Wisdom (1st cent. bce or ce) does not explicitly articulate the identification of wisdom with the Bible, but its unique combination of biblical or Greek wisdom serves to support the authenticity and superiority of Jewish wisdom in a Greek world. The consequences of adhering to wisdom, commandments, and law in Baruch is articulated in the deuteronomic contrast of life versus death (Bar 4:1; Deut 30:15, 19), a connection suggested also by Sirach (Sir 17:11; 24:22). The conjunction of obedience with law and life takes us back to the beginning of this poem, where the author associates walking in God’s way with living in peace (Bar 3:13; cf. Deut 5:33 on the whole way that God commands, which leads to life). (See Reflections at 4:2–4.)
BARUCH 4:2–4, FINAL EXHORTATION TO ACCEPT WISDOM
The wisdom poem ends the way it began with direct address to Israel. The author advises repentance, suggested by the verb "turn" (ἐπιστρέφω ʾepistrephō) and acquisition of wisdom in contrast to the vanity of acquiring silver and gold (cf. 3:17–18). "Walking" toward the "light" of wisdom recalls the frequent metaphor of the "way" of wisdom. "Light" connotes "life" (3:14), creation (3:33), and the light of God’s "glory" (5:9). This exhortation is followed by an admonition to Israel not to give up its "glory" and advantage—that is, its law and wisdom—to another nation (4:3). The metaphor "glory" prepares for Israel’s and Jerusalem’s participation in God’s glory in the final section of Baruch (4:24, 37; 5:1–2, 4, 6–8). The idea that the law gives Israel an advantage over the nations appears both in the Hebrew Bible (Ps 147:19–20) and in the New Testament (Rom 3:1–2; 9:4–5). The poem ends with a final blessing (4:4), as does Moses’ final testament to the twelve tribes (Deut 33:29). It summarizes the immediate function of wisdom in the argument of Baruch: Through wisdom, Israel knows what God wants and can please God through obedience. Thus Israel has repented (1:15–3:8), knows God’s will (3:9–4:4), and is ready to return from exile in the final section (4:5–5:9).
Knowledge as depicted in this wisdom poem both attracts and repels people influenced by contemporary Western culture. Most seek what the wisdom poem promises: an accessible knowledge that solves life’s problems. However, they resist acknowledging the problem of the poem: wisdom’s inaccessibility due to human limitations. Our modern confidence in human intellect presumes that all problems and dangers await solution by rational, scientific inquiry and technological innovation. Science fills the role of divine and human wisdom as the way to a good life. With the help of science, rational humans should control the physical and social world by using their wits in disciplined labor. Far from seeking a hidden wisdom, we often feel overwhelmed by the unending stream of information in print and broadcast media and on the Internet.
Despite the surfeit of information available to us and our confidence in reason and science, more and more people search for a deeper wisdom and spirituality that transcends the preoccupations of the modern world. The practical accomplishments and benefits of reason and science have drawn our attention and energy away from our inner spiritual lives and have left us afloat in a complex, partially understood universe. This alienation from self and the universe has depersonalized and fragmented what used to be called wisdom.
The wisdom poem in Baruch speaks powerfully and confidently to these paradoxes and tensions of modern life. Wisdom in Baruch is personal and universally coherent at the same time. The God who created and controls the universe knows the world and its inhabitants intimately. God gives human beings the kind of wisdom that will overcome human ignorance and limitations and allow us to understand the world in its depth and live well. Divine wisdom comes to those who accept it as a concrete, comprehensible, well-articulated, and integral revelation. In the end, wisdom is the commandments and the law—that is, the Scriptures. For Baruch’s audience, the formerly futile search for wisdom reaches a simple, peaceful end in the most obvious and accessible place, Israel’s publicly acknowledged and accepted biblical tradition.
Baruch’s solution to the problem of wisdom brings relief and closure at a price that is too high for a world dedicated to tolerance and multicultural learning. Baruch’s exclusive claim for the validity of biblical wisdom to the exclusion of all else and his harsh criticism of other nations that have not found wisdom conflict with the pluralistic openness required by our diverse, international world. The wisdom of many cultures must contribute to the search for God and an understanding of God’s works.
Although Baruch’s exclusive and peremptory claim for Israel’s wisdom does not accord with modern attitudes, his criticism of those in Israel and the nations who might be expected to find wisdom, but have not, accords well with the modern disposition to criticize political leaders, the wealthy, and experts who have failed to give guidance to society and use their resources wisely. Within the whole of Baruch the author has argued a case for how to understand life and how to live. In this poem he points the way to true, effective wisdom, drawing upon the biblical wisdom tradition. Although his solution to the problem of wisdom requires modification to take into account the diversity of the whole world as we know it, his acknowledgment of God as the source of wisdom and his insistent search for a comprehensive, integrative knowledge of the world speaks to our deepest desires.
This wisdom poem offers a kind of knowledge that demands commitment and total involvement. Similarly, the contemporary critique of rationalism and science rejects the myth of disinterested, objective knowledge and insists that all knowing includes commitment to some goal. The choice of a scientific research project implies a purpose that seeks to solve a problem or change our way of thinking about the world or acting within the world. Involvement in humanistic, historical, literary, or artistic activities supports a sensitive, sophisticated apprehension of the world and a reflective, purposeful way of life. To put this point and the thrust of the wisdom poem into deuteronomic theological categories, knowledge demands life-and-death choices. We either acknowledge and obey God in harmony with the world or reject God with a disobedience that leads to chaos.
A Poem of Consolation and Encouragement
Various commentators have described the poetic final section of Baruch as a psalm, a song, a poem, a hymn, a prayer, a lament, or a promise. These literary forms have been further specified by descriptors like "consolation," "encouragement," "hope," "redemption," "prophetic," and "eschatological." The poem has been divided into as few as four and as many as eleven sections or stanzas. Most agree that the poem in 4:5–9a introduces two discourses, one by a personified Jerusalem to her neighbors (4:9b–16) and her exiled inhabitants (4:17–29), and a second to Jerusalem by the author (4:37–5:9). The second discourse contains three sections introduced by imperatives (4:30–35; 4:36–5:4; 5:5–9) or perhaps four, with 5:1–4 as a separate section. Rather than try to reconstruct the poetic stanzas of what may have been a Hebrew original, I shall divide this poetic passage into four rhetorical parts, according to their speakers and audiences. After the author briefly encourages the people of Jerusalem who are a memorial of Israel (4:5–9a), a personified Jerusalem laments her children’s exile in the presence of her neighbors (4:9b–16). Jerusalem then addresses her exiled children with an exhortation encouraging them to persevere and with a consoling promise that God will save them from exile (4:17–29). Finally, the author addresses Jerusalem with a four-part poem of encouragement and consolation based on the prophetic promises that God will punish Jerusalem’s enemies, reestablish the city, and bring back the inhabitants (4:30–5:9).
This poem of consolation and encouragement is not a prayer and was not part of a public liturgy, because it does not directly address God as "Lord," as the prayer in 1:15–3:8 does, but refers to God as the "eternal" or "everlasting" one (αἰώνιος aiōnios) as befits God’s comprehensive, long-term restorative role (4:8, 10, 14, 20, 22, 24, 35; 5:2). It contains laments, prophetic promises, predictions, and exhortations. The classic biblical lament begins with an expression of sorrow directed at God, followed by a petition for deliverance. Here in Baruch, Jerusalem’s lament is followed by prophetic promises of divine intervention to end the exile.54 This response to the lament has been influenced by post-exilic salvation oracles and prayers.
Although the poem of consolation and encouragement differs in genre and literary tradition from the admonitory wisdom instruction that precedes, it provides a coherent conclusion to Baruch. Baruch began with a prayer of confession and repentance for past sins (1:15–3:8), which led to a wisdom instruction acknowledging God’s wisdom and encouraging obedience to God’s law (3:9–4:4). The repentance and instruction of these first two sections of Baruch have prepared the audience to experience proleptically the consolation and deliverance that are promised for the future. Expressions of hope in the first section (e.g., 2:30–35) have prepared for this final poem, and expressions of sorrow in this final section (e.g., 4:9b–16) acknowledge the pain expressed at the beginning of the book.
This final poem is influenced in its language, imagery, rhetoric, and thought by the salvation oracles in Isaiah 40–66, by the song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32), by the prayer of the afflicted in Psalm 102, and by the book of Lamentations (next to which Baruch stood in the Septuagint). For example, the personification of Zion as a grieving mother is based on Isa 51:17–20 and Lamentations 1–2; Zion’s being consoled by God appears in Isa 52:1–2. Within Second Temple literature the extra-biblical psalm from Qumran, 11QPsa 22:1–5 (called the Apostrophe to Zion), is in the same literary stream. The type of encouragement found in Baruch 4–5 resembles that in the eschatological psalm in Sir 36:1–17 and the eschatological prayer of encouragement in Tobit 13.
The end of the poem of consolation (4:30–5:9) has a close literary relationship to Psalms of Solomon 11, which may be seen most easily in a chart (see fig. X, 000).
Commentators have thoroughly disagreed on whether one of these poems depends on the other or both on a common source with the result that the date, social setting, and author of this poem of consolation and encouragement cannot be directly determined from its relationship to the Psalms of Solomon (see the Introduction). Baruch 4:15–16 speaks of a distant, ruthless nation that may indirectly refer to the occupying power in Israel at the time of the poem’s composition. But the language of these verses is highly stereotyped (see Deut 28:49–50; Jer 5:15) and could refer equally well to Antiochus IV or others of the Seleucids in the second century bce; it may even refer to the Romans after 63 bce. True to its purposes, the book of Baruch leaves us free to identify Israel’s suffering and consolation with any historical crisis and interpret it according to the model of divine/ human interaction expounded in its poems and prayers.
BARUCH 4:5–9a, INTRODUCTORY POEM OF CONSOLATION
The introduction reassures Israel that they will not be completely destroyed in their punishment for angering God. The author begins with the exhortation to "take courage," advice that is repeated three more times in the two discourses that follow (vv. 21, 27, 30). The Greek word for "take courage" (θαρσεῖτε tharseite) probably translates the common Hebrew expression אל תירא (ʿal tîrāʾ), "Do not be afraid," which is found in narratives and prophetic oracles (e.g., Gen 15:1; Isa 10:24). The addressees function as a "memorial of Israel" (a more literal rendering of the NRSV’s "who perpetuate Israel’s name"). The Greek for memorial" (μνημόσυνον mnēmosynon) sometimes translates the Hebrew word שׁם (šēm, "name"; Deut 32:26). Although the survivors look like the vanishing remnant of a defeated people, they are actually a significant and potent token of Israel’s future. The subgroup being addressed is not yet identified, but will turn out to be the exiled inhabitants of Jerusalem. The author assuages the people’s fears of total destruction in a compact chiastic sentence:
A You were sold to the nations
B not for destruction
B′ but because you angered God
A′ you were handed over to your enemies. (v. 6; see Jer 30:11)
The people have been sold (Isa 50:1) like prisoners of war and led into exile. But this is not the end. The two discourses will lead finally to the destruction of Jerusalem’s enemies (v. 25) and the return of the exiles (4:36–5:9).
The people’s sin is compactly summarized in the next sentence (v. 7) with a charge drawn from Deut 32:17 that they provoked God by sacrificing to demons. As a result, they forgot God, and this failure to remember the exodus and all God did for Israel (e.g., Deut 5:15; 8:2, 18; 9:7; 15:15) constitutes infidelity to the covenant. Forgetting is an ironic fault, since the author understands the survivors as a "memorial" (v. 5). In v. 8 God is characterized as "eternal" or "everlasting" for the first time in Baruch. This title, that stresses God’s permanence and constancy in contrast to the people’s infidelity, is used seven more times in this section of Baruch (4:10, 14, 20, 22, 24, 35; 5:2).
Jerusalem enters the narrative here, personified as a mother, and remains an actor until the end of the book. Jerusalem’s children (inhabitants) have saddened her personally, and her grief is expressed in a lament that immediately follows. The author uses female imagery associated with nurture to characterize the relationships of both Jerusalem and God to the people: God "brought up" (ἐπήγαγεν epēgagen) the people, and Jerusalem "reared" (ἀπήγαγον apegagon) them. The two Greek terms are ordinarily used of a nursemaid feeding a child and seeing to its upbringing. Baruch’s rhetoric makes a personal appeal to the people based on the intimate, nurturing relationship between God and Jerusalem, God’s chosen city.
The intimacy of the relationship of Jerusalem to her inhabitants leads smoothly into Jerusalem’s lament that follows. When Jerusalem saw the death of her children in siege and battle and the exile of others to Babylon, she lamented her loss to her neighbors. (See Reflections at 4:30–5:9.)
BARUCH 4:9b–16, JERUSALEM’S LAMENT TO NEIGHBORING PEOPLES
Words concerning bereavement, desolation, and helplessness in the face of aggression characterize Jerusalem’s lament. The personification of Jerusalem as the speaker fits a Second Temple tendency for autobiographical expression (e.g., Nehemiah, 4 Ezra). Although Jerusalem addresses her neighboring cities and peoples, the indirect addressee is God. Four times, at the beginning and at the end, Jerusalem refers to the sorrow (v. 9), the captivity (vv. 10, 14; the NRSV translates the Greek as "exile" and "capture"), and the distant nation (v. 15) that the Everlasting "brought upon" them. Through God’s agency, that ruthless nation "led away" Jerusalem’s sons and daughters. The nation that led Jerusalem’s children into captivity in the narrative is, of course, Babylon. The author is probably applying this historical paradigm to the Seleucid ruler of his own time.
Jerusalem contrasts the joy of nurturing her children (v. 11) and her love for them (v. 16) with her present situation. She is now a widow (vv. 12, 16; cf. Lamentations 1), a metaphor for her defeat and destruction in the war. She has been left behind (NRSV, "bereaved") by her captive children (v. 12) and is sad (vv. 9, 11), weeping (v. 9), desolate (vv. 12, 16; NRSV, "bereaved" in v. 16), and lonely for her daughters (v. 16). Tucked into the middle of this lament are the conventional reasons for the Jerusalemites’ captivity: turning away from God’s law and disobedience (vv. 12–13); but the impassioned condemnation of Israel’s sins found in 1:15–3:8 is completely missing. The author focuses on the injustice being done to Jerusalem and her captive inhabitants by Babylon, probably as an implicit reference to imperial powers in a later period. The poem focuses sharply on the ruthlessness of a foreign nation "with no respect for the aged and no pity for a child" (v. 15; cf. Deut 28:49–50), on Jerusalem’s maternal sorrow, and on God’s responsibility for this painful situation. The author’s estrangement from God is symbolized by Jerusalem’s ironic address to her "neighbors" (vv. 9, 14). The Greek term for "neighbors" (πάροικοι paroikoi) usually refers to strangers living in a city or territory and has a pejorative nuance. Given the generally hostile relations between Israel and neighboring nations (Jer 12:14–17), they are the last people Jerusalem should be turning to and asking to "hear" (v. 9 NAB), to "come," and to "remember" (v. 14). Jerusalem has already admonished her neighbors not to take malicious delight in her widowhood and abandonment (v. 12; cf. Dan 9:16). Thus in addressing the lament to her neighbors Jerusalem is implicitly criticizing God. In Jer 12:7–13, God laments over Jerusalem. In the book of Lamentations, the poet sorrows over Jerusalem, which has been destroyed, and encourages the people to return to God. Here, however, the poet talks indirectly to God through the voice of widow Jerusalem, who seeks ordinary human sympathy from her neighbors. All attention and emotion turns toward the estrangement of the people from their mother Jerusalem. The people’s sins and relationship with God lie in the background. (See Reflections at 4:30–5:9.)
BARUCH 4:17–29, JERUSALEM’S EXHORTATION TO HER CHILDREN
Mother Jerusalem begins with a sad, rhetorical question, testifying to her helplessness: "But I, how can I help you?" (v. 17). The question is immediately resolved by a confident affirmation that the one (God) who brought the evil things (NRSV, "calamities") upon Jerusalem’s children will deliver them from their enemies (v. 18). The end echoes the beginning with a similar thematic claim that the God who brought the evil things upon Jerusalem’s children will bring them everlasting joy with salvation (v. 29). Within this inclusio Jerusalem encourages her children to be courageous, to endure captivity, and to pray with the hope that God will return them to Jerusalem.
Jerusalem’s instructions and encouragement to her children are punctuated by four imperatives to "go" (v. 19), to "take courage" (vv. 21, 27), and to "endure" (v. 25). She begins on a somber note by telling her children to go into captivity (v. 19; the Greek verb βαδίζετε [badizete] has the connotation of "march"). This captivity is God’s will and the reality from which any change will spring. Similarly, Jerusalem accepts her present desolation (v. 19; see also vv. 12, 16), clothing herself in sackcloth rather than a robe of peace (v. 20; cf. 5:1). The first response to this tragedy is energetic prayer. Jerusalem promises to "cry" out to God (v. 20) and recommends that her captive children "take courage" and cry out to God as well (v. 21). The instruction to "take courage" (also found in vv. 5, 27, 30) introduces a series of hopeful contrasts between the people’s present oppression and Jerusalem’s confidence that God "will deliver you from the power and hand of the enemy" (v. 21; cf. vv. 18, 29). God’s mercy will return Jerusalem’s children and give her joy instead of sorrow (v. 23; cf. v. 11); the inhabitants of Jerusalem will experience salvation and glory in place of captivity (v. 24). This salvation will be witnessed by the same neighbors of Jerusalem who witnessed the people’s captivity (see v. 14).
Jerusalem’s confidence that God will return her children leads to joy amid sorrow, mourning, and prayer (v. 22, in contrast to vv. 19–20). This paradoxical contrast of sorrow and joy derives from Jer 31:15–17, which begins with Rachel weeping for her children. There God instructs Rachel to stop crying, because her children will return from the land of the enemy to their own country. Baruch applies this consoling prophecy to Jerusalem (vv. 19–22) and portrays Jerusalem as responding with trust to God’s oracle and communicating it to her children. In the Gospel of Matthew, Rachel’s weeping for her children (Matt 2:18; see also Jer 31:15) applies immediately to the children of Bethlehem who were killed by Herod the Great. But the contexts in Jeremiah, Baruch, and Matthew concern exile, hope of return, and a new relationship with God.
The second response to the tragedy of captivity is to "endure" God’s punishment patiently with hope. This instruction is supported by ironic contrasts: The tables will be turned on the people’s captors (v. 25); Jerusalem’s pampered children have traveled rough roads (v. 26); they went astray from God (v. 28), in contrast to being taken away like a stolen flock by their enemy (v. 26). The third response to these painful disjunctures is to take courage, cry out to God, and seek God with tenfold zeal (vv. 27–28). (See Reflections at 4:30–5:9.)
BARUCH 4:30–5:9, POEM OF CONSOLATION TO JERUSALEM
After complaining to her neighbors and encouraging her captive people, Jerusalem herself needs encouragement and consolation. The author speaks prophetically to Jerusalem in the name of God. Thus he can speak about God (4:30) and use the first-person pronoun in God’s name (4:34). Jerusalem is told in four imperatives to "take courage" (4:30), to "look" (4:36), to "take off" her garment of sorrow (5:1), and to "arise" (5:5). These imperatives mark off four sections of the poem. (The NRSV’s imperative "Look" in 4:37 is actually an exclamation, "Behold" [ἰδού idou]. According to another view, the middle two imperatives together make a single stanza.) The laments, indictments, repentance, and sorrow of the previous sections of Baruch are left behind in favor of a climactic expression of confidence in divine salvation. As a final solution to the destruction of Jerusalem, her enemies will be destroyed, she will arise in glory, and her people will return.
The first command for Jerusalem to take courage introduces a double contrast of Jerusalem and the cities that oppress her. Jerusalem has been mourning, destroyed, and desolate while her oppressors enjoyed the prosperity and slaves gained from Jerusalem. Eventually, those who mistreated Jerusalem, rejoiced at her fall, were proud, or accepted exiled slaves from her population will ironically and appropriately suffer the same fate themselves; they will grieve as Jerusalem has done and will finally be punished by fire (4:31–35) while Jerusalem arises, ends her mourning, and greets her returning sons and daughters (4:36–5:9).
The author alludes to God’s relationship to Jerusalem as a parent (God has named Jerusalem), which will lead to a reversal in which God comforts Jerusalem (4:30b). The intensity of the prophetic poet’s feelings about Jerusalem’s enemies is communicated by a lapse into the divine first person in 4:34:
I [God] will take away her [Babylon’s] pride in her
and her insolence will be turned to grief.
This author’s anger and resentment against Jerusalem’s enemies contrast with the introductory narrative, in which the Israelites exiled in Babylon ask those remaining in Jerusalem to pray for Nebuchadnezzar and his son so that the exiles can live peacefully under them (1:11–12). The promise of divine intervention grips the end of this book, in contrast to patience under divine punishment at the beginning. The author of Baruch is probably alluding to later enemies or authorities that are hostile to Jews or Jerusalem. Identification of the enemy depends on the date of the book, with candidates ranging from the Ptolemies, the Seleucids during the Maccabean period, or the Romans after the destruction of the Second Temple.
The next brief section of the prayer (4:36–37) begins the climax of the book and the resolution of the confessions, laments, and petitions that have occupied the author thus far. A series of contrasts brings home the transformation that takes place. Earlier Jerusalem lamented: "With joy I nurtured them,/ but I sent them away with weeping and sorrow" (4:11). Now God, through the prophet, consoles Jerusalem by resolving the problem central to Jerusalem’s lament: "Look toward the east, O Jerusalem,/ and see the joy that is coming to you from God" (4:36).
Jerusalem’s children went east into exile, but now she is to look east for their return. Jerusalem had told her children to go obediently into exile: "Go, my children, go; for I have been left desolate" (4:19). Now the prophet consoles Jerusalem with a rectification of the situation:
Look, your children are coming,
whom you sent away;
they are coming, gathered from east and west,
at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing in the glory of God. (4:37)
The expression "from east and west" seems to include Jewish exiles from everywhere, not just from Babylon (see 5:5). The return "at the word of God" fulfills a promise made in the first prayer of repentance and contrition: "I will bring them [Israel] again into the land that I swore to give to their ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and they will rule over it" (2:34). And finally, the author introduces the "glory of God" (4:37), an expression that will be repeated six more times in the nine verses of chap. 5 (vv. 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 9).
Jerusalem is instructed to change her clothing (5:1) and arise to see and greet her children (5:5). Her actions now are in stark contrast to her response to the exile of her children. Then Jerusalem laments:
I have taken off the robe of peace
and put on sackcloth for my supplication;
I will cry to the Everlasting all my days. (4:20)
Now God has heard her, and so she is told to:
Take off the garment of your sorrow and
affliction, O Jerusalem,
and put on forever the beauty of the glory from
Jerusalem’s situation has completely changed through divine intervention, a transition symbolized by the metaphor of God’s "glory." Glory is God’s honor, reputation, power, authority, importance, and divine status, especially when it is manifested to humans either as a divine radiance or through God’s intervention in human events. Here God’s glory appears for the decisive and final correcting of the wrongs done to Jerusalem and Israel. Jerusalem’s newly acquired beauty (5:1), her crown (5:2), and her name (5:4) all come from God’s glory. She and her situation are transformed by the divine power that has manifested itself. This eschatological transformation finds precedent in apocalyptic literature and in Third Isaiah (Isa 60:1–3; 62:1–4). The solution to the situation is a radical change for Jerusalem through participation in God’s glory, righteousness (5:2, 4), splendor (5:3), and peace (5:4). Jerusalem’s change of clothes is more than the end of mourning. Jerusalem receives from God the symbols of sovereign power, including God’s glory, a robe connoting God’s justice, which is the basis for God’s rule, and a crown (5:1–2). Clothed this way, Jerusalem’s God-given power is seen as splendor by all (5:3). Jerusalem is given the throne names "Righteous Peace" and "Godly Glory" (5:4), which contain the elements of a legitimate rule and authenticate Jerusalem’s status and authority.
Once transformed by God’s glory, Jerusalem arises (5:5) to see her children return in the glory of God (5:6–7, 9). The description of their return depends on prophetic descriptions of the restoration of Israel and Jerusalem. Psalms of Solomon 11 is very similar to Bar 5:5–9 and is related to it in some way. (See the Overview above and the Introduction to Baruch for further discussion of this relationship.) The author of Baruch draws upon widespread and deeply felt hopes for the vindication and reconstitution of Israel as a nation under God’s protection. Jerusalem is again told to look toward the east and see her children returning home rejoicing (5:5b–d, repeating 4:36–37; cf. the similar scene in Isa 40:9–11). The children rejoice because God remembered them (5:5), just as Jerusalem told them would happen (4:27). The returnees, who come from the "west and east" as well (5:5b; see 4:37), seem to include all of exiled Israel. The people were previously designated "a memorial of Israel" (4:5), and now they rejoice "in God’s remembrance" of them (5:5) and become Israel once again (5:7, 9).
The people’s final and definitive return verifies the assurance given them at the beginning of this poem:
Take courage, my people,
who perpetuate Israel’s name!
It was not for destruction
that you were sold to the nations. (4:5–6)
Jerusalem’s people return in a divine royal procession marked by God’s glory (see 4:24 for the promise of a return in glory) and made easy and safe by God (5:6–9; see also the level road in the desert in Isa 40:3–4). Sovereign Jerusalem joyfully meets her returning people so that the laments and desolation of the earlier parts of the book are at an end. The goal of the prayers, the climax of the narrative action, and the hope of the author are summarized in 5:9:
For God will lead Israel with joy,
in the light of his glory,
with the mercy and righteousness that come
An authentic movement from discouragement and despair to hope and confidence eludes many people caught up in their own problems or trapped in destructive social and political situations. Even the divinely warranted promise carried by the thematic 4:6, "It was not for destruction that you were sold to the nations," rings hollow today for those who contemplate the enormous, dehumanizing loss of life and destruction of communities in the Holocaust during World War II and in ethnic conflicts since then. How can the restoration of Israel correct the injustices and barbarities of history? Can the biblical tradition, with its ongoing dialogue with God and its trust in God’s justice, overcome the maliciousness of human behavior?
Like the author of Baruch, we frequently mobilize biblical traditions to encourage and reshape ourselves and our society in the face of injustice, poverty, human suffering, and failure. And like Baruch’s audience, we seldom experience immediate amelioration or rectification of the painful and destructive forces that threaten our physical, personal, and spiritual lives. But when we speciously deny the reality and pernicious effects of oppression, suffering, and misery, we endanger a frank and authentic response to individual and social crises. Lady Jerusalem provides a model for dealing with disaster. She responds vigorously to the dissolution of Judean society and the uprooting of her people by mourning and lamenting all that has been lost. Her full engagement with human life in all its complexity and ambiguity lays the foundations for a vision of future restoration and provides the strength to hope and endure.
Strikingly God is not a partner in the dialogue between Jerusalem and her children. They presume God’s power and activity at every turn but do not address God directly in petition or praise. Like many contemporary believers, they treat God as a background force in life and history and as a guarantor of the future, rather than as a direct actor in contemporary politics and society. Those who are troubled "take courage" because God will remember, comfort, and deliver them. God, in turn, influences Israel’s future through human agency rather than by direct divine action. The oppressive empire falls, the exiles return, and Jerusalem regains sovereignty. The "glory" of God manifests itself in Jerusalem and in her people, Israel; the injustices of history are rectified by the political and social restoration of God’s city and people and their vindication in the eyes of their enemies. Unlike apocalypticism, here God does not appear in glory, take the faithful away to a better place, and destroy the evil world. Rather, Jerusalem wears "the robe of righteousness that comes from God" and "the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting" (5:2) in this world. As in Rom 1:17, those who are faithful to God receive God’s righteousness.
The contemporary West emphasizes the problems and destinies of individuals, both in this world and the next. The book of Baruch, true to the biblical tradition, expresses its hope in social images. Jerusalem personifies the reactions of a collective reality, God’s people in disarray and need. Their disorder and suffering call forth an ingathering of all Israel and the restoration of the city and nation in harmony with God and at peace with the world. In a similar way, Revelation 21 concludes with the restoration of Jerusalem as a home for those who have been faithful to God, where they will live with God.
Two uncomfortable teachings of the final poem in Baruch remain. First, under the influence of deuteronomic theology, Baruch confidently and simply asserts that Israel has suffered defeat and is suffering exile because God is punishing them for rejecting, disobeying, and sinning against God. This theology of human adversity has the merit of protecting the sovereignty and integrity of God and giving full weight to human freedom, failure, and irresponsibility. Contemporary readers can resonate with Baruch’s sharp appreciation of human fragility and corruption, but with Job we will want to question God more rigorously than deuteronomic theology allows. The horrors of human history and the ambiguities of life have relativized the overarching divine order that inspires the usual theology of sin and punishment. Baruch undercuts the theology of punishment by holding the nations that have oppressed Israel culpable for their hostility and injustice. Human evil, not divine justice, operates most directly in deadly political conflicts.
Second, Baruch’s aggressive condemnation of the nations that have attacked Israel and its confident anticipation of their destruction work against the modern struggle for international understanding and peace. Israel’s sinful transgressions of God’s commandments lead not only to God’s anger and punishment, but also to repentance, mercy, and restoration. But Baruch envisions no such complete and ongoing relationship with God for the nations. Israel alone will be restored as God’s people.
Today the churches struggle with the particularity of their own traditions in relationship with the modern belief that God’s people include all human beings. True to the ancient world, Baruch’s vision extends only to Israel as the people of God. Thus the boundaries of Baruch’s narrative and symbolic world must be extended to include all. We must complement the punishment for sin that Baruch promises to the nations with the story of God’s mercy and ongoing relationship with all nations in history.
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