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The Apocryphal Old Testament Collection of the most important non-canonical Old Testament books designed for general use.

The Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch - Introduction

References and quotations in patristic writers make it clear that several other books, either attributed to, or connected with, Baruch were known in antiquity in addition to the Baruch of our Apocrypha and the books translated in the present collection. Thus, we hear of: (1) a book of ‘Baruch’, to which three MSS of Cyprian's Testimonia ascribe an otherwise unknown quotation of some twelve lines, which appears (in these MSS only) at Test. iii. 29: (2) a book, from ‘near the end of which’ an alleged prophecy of Christ's birth, mode of dress, death, and resurrection, is quoted in the Altercatio legis inter Simonem Iudaeum et Theophilum Christianum of the monk Evagrius; 1 See CSEL xlv (Vienna, 1904), p. 19. The possibility that this book is to be identified with The Paraleipomena of Jeremiah (which has a prophecy of the coming of Christ in the middle of the final chapter: see Par. Jer. ix. 13–18 ) would seem to be ruled out by the fact that the words quoted by ‘Theophilus’ are not found there. However, the whole section Par. Jer. ix. 10–32 is easily detachable (see above pp. 816–7), and it may be that ‘Theophilus’ was quoting from a different recension. and (3) a Gnostic book which is quoted and discussed at length by Hippolytus. 2 Hippolyt. Philosoph. v. 24–27. But about these books we have no further information. As books they have disappeared completely.

The Syriac Apocalypse only narrowly escaped a similar fate. For reasons at which we can but guess, it seems to have been especially popular in the Syriac-speaking churches of the East and on occasion to have been included in the Syriac Bible. Normally, however, only chaps. lxxviii–lxxxvi were included in the Bible; and these chapters appeared as an independent work, with the title ‘The Epistle of Baruch’, or something similar, and with no hint that they were an extract. It thus came about that, although the ‘Epistle’ was well known to the modern world because it was found in a number of Syriac Biblical MSS, the book as a whole was lost until A. M. Ceriani discovered it in the mid-nineteenth-century in the now famous sixth-century MS of the Bible in the Ambrosian Library at Milan (Cod. B. 21 Inf.). Ceriani published first a Latin translation in 1866, 3 In Monumenta sacra et profana, I. ii, pp. i–iv and 73–98. and then the Syriac text itself in 1871 . A photo-lithographic facsimile of the complete Ambrosian MS followed in 1876–1883. Another edition of the text of the Apocalypse only was published by M. Kmosko in 1907 (with a Latin Introduction and translation), and yet another, by S. Dedering, in 1973 .

The title of the book in the MS states that the Syriac was translated from the Greek. Whether this statement goes back to the translator, or was inserted by a later copyist or editor, it is impossible to say. But there is no reason to doubt its truth. All the internal evidence is in favour of it; and the discovery at Oxyrhynchus in 1897 of a fragmentary leaf from a fourth or fifth-century Greek codex, containing xii. 1–xiii. 2 and xiii. 11–xiv. 3, proves the existence at one time of at least a Greek version. 4 So far as the possible existence of versions in other languages is concerned, P. S. van Koningsveld (‘An Arabic Manuscript of the Apocalypse of Baruch’ in The Journal for the Study of Judaism, vi (1975), pp. 205–207) has drawn attention to the existence of an Arabic version in a Mt. Sinai MS (no. 589 in A. S. Atiya's hand list), which is especially interesting because it is clearly not a direct translation of the Syriac text as given in the Ambrosian MS.

The earlier critics all assumed that Greek was the language in which the book was written. R. H. Charles questioned this assumption and argued in favour of a Hebrew original; and his arguments were for many years very widely accepted. Subsequently, however, P. Bogaert questioned Charles's arguments: none of the suggested instances of mistranslation, Bogaert maintained, on which Charles had mainly relied to support his case, are at all compelling; and for Bogaert the hypothesis of an original in Greek, addressed in all probability to the Jewish Dispersion is equally plausible.

And similarly with regard to the unity of the book. Charles claimed to have identified no less than six separate sources, some taking an optimistic view of Israel's future in the world and some the reverse, while some presupposed that Jerusalem was still standing (and were therefore to be dated before AD 70) and some presupposed that it had already been destroyed (and were therefore to be dated after AD 70). These six sources, Charles suggested, were assembled, and in many respects radically altered, by an editor who worked round about AD 100. Bogaert, on the other hand, was impressed by the evidence of an underlying plan in the book, and in consequence was concerned to stress its literary unity. Inconsistencies there certainly are: it is also possible that some of them may be accounted for by the use of different sources, some belonging to the years before AD 70 and some after; but that these sources can be identified with that degree of precision which Charles claimed, and the history of the composition of the book reconstructed in such detail, is unlikely.

However, Charles's final date for the book as it stands (c. AD 100) is probably not far wide of the mark. B. Violet put it a little later – c. AD 115, and thought it not impossible that F. Rosenthal was right in seeing the author as a member of the circle gathered round Rabbi Akiba at Jamnia. Bogaert particularized even further and suggested as a possibility the name of Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah (c. AD 40–125).

At all events, the author was not a Christian; for the book shows no trace of Christian influence of any kind. He was unmistakeably a Jew, who was living in the difficult times following the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, whose general outlook was essentially traditional, and whose main concern was to give his dispirited co-religionists, whether in Palestine, or scattered among the Gentiles, a message of hope. Observance of the Law is his constant refrain – ‘Look at what has befallen Zion, and what has happened to Jerusalem … If you endure and persevere in the fear of him, and do not forget his law, the times will change for your good, and you will see the consolation of Zion’: 5 xliv. 5, 7. the whole world will be transformed, the dead raised, and ‘those who have now been justified by obedience to my law’ will be glorified and attain ‘the world which does not die’. 6 li. 3. Moreover, the End is at hand, ‘for the youth of the world is past … the times have run their course and the end is very near: the pitcher is near the cistern, the ship to port, the traveller to the city, and life to its consummation’. 7 lxxxv. 10.

Attention should be drawn to a number of parallels with the Ezra Apocalypse (4 Ezra in the Vulgate and 2 Esdras in our Apocrypha) and also with The Biblical Antiquities of pseudo-Philo. 8 The parallels with the Ezra Apocalypse will be found conveniently set out in G. H. Box, The Ezra-Apocalypse (London, 1912), pp. lxix–lxx, and those with pseudo-Philo in M. R. James, The Biblical Antiquities of Philo (S.P.C.K., Translations of Early Documents; London, 1917 ), pp. 46–54. Parallels with The Paraleipomena of Jeremiah are discussed above on pp. 817–8, those with The Greek Apocalypse of Baruch are discussed below on pp. 900–1. These parallels have usually been explained by theories of literary dependence on the part of the authors, either on one or both of the other works as we know them, or on their sources. This may be so. But all three works seem to reflect the same background and they are probably roughly contemporary. There is, therefore, no need to suppose that any one of them was directly dependent on the others. All three were presumably written under the influence of the same traditions, ideas, and aspirations, and several authors may quite independently have given expression to them in very much the same words. 9 On the figure of Baruch generally in Jewish tradition and the legends attached to his name see L. Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, iv (Philadelphia, 1913 ), pp. 322–325 and vi (Philadelphia, 1928 ), pp. 411–413.

Furthermore, it has been suggested that the words quoted from ‘another prophet’ at Ep. Barn. xi. 9 are in fact a quotation from Syr. Apoc. lxi. 7. If this is so the quotation will be the earliest piece of evidence there is for the existence of the Syriac Apocalypse. Unfortunately the date of The Epistle of Barnabas is, if anything, even less certain than are the dates of the Ezra Apocalypse, of The Biblical Antiquities, and of the Syriac Apocalypse itself!

The translation which follows is Charles's translation revised.

Notes:

1 See CSEL xlv (Vienna, 1904), p. 19. The possibility that this book is to be identified with The Paraleipomena of Jeremiah (which has a prophecy of the coming of Christ in the middle of the final chapter: see Par. Jer. ix. 13–18 ) would seem to be ruled out by the fact that the words quoted by ‘Theophilus’ are not found there. However, the whole section Par. Jer. ix. 10–32 is easily detachable (see above pp. 816–7), and it may be that ‘Theophilus’ was quoting from a different recension.

2 Hippolyt. Philosoph. v. 24–27.

3 In Monumenta sacra et profana, I. ii, pp. i–iv and 73–98.

4 So far as the possible existence of versions in other languages is concerned, P. S. van Koningsveld (‘An Arabic Manuscript of the Apocalypse of Baruch’ in The Journal for the Study of Judaism, vi (1975), pp. 205–207) has drawn attention to the existence of an Arabic version in a Mt. Sinai MS (no. 589 in A. S. Atiya's hand list), which is especially interesting because it is clearly not a direct translation of the Syriac text as given in the Ambrosian MS.

5 xliv. 5, 7.

6 li. 3.

7 lxxxv. 10.

8 The parallels with the Ezra Apocalypse will be found conveniently set out in G. H. Box, The Ezra-Apocalypse (London, 1912), pp. lxix–lxx, and those with pseudo-Philo in M. R. James, The Biblical Antiquities of Philo (S.P.C.K., Translations of Early Documents; London, 1917 ), pp. 46–54. Parallels with The Paraleipomena of Jeremiah are discussed above on pp. 817–8, those with The Greek Apocalypse of Baruch are discussed below on pp. 900–1.

9 On the figure of Baruch generally in Jewish tradition and the legends attached to his name see L. Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, iv (Philadelphia, 1913 ), pp. 322–325 and vi (Philadelphia, 1928 ), pp. 411–413.

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