The book is named for Baruch, the son of Neriah and scribe of the prophet Jeremiah (see Jer 32:12; 36:4). The work is sometimes called “1 Baruch” to distinguish it from other ancient Jewish texts attributed to this person, such as 2 Baruch and 3 Baruch in the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. In the Catholic canon, Baruch is placed between Lamentations and Ezekiel, with the originally separate Letter of Jeremiah included as the final chapter. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Baruch's book is between Lamentations and the Letter of Jeremiah. In the Protestant tradition, it is one of the Apocrypha. It is not part of the Hebrew Bible.

Authorship and Literary History.

The book claims to be written by Baruch, who lived during the sixth century B.C.E. However, it was likely composed much later and secondarily attributed to this scribe, as is demonstrated by the work's historical inaccuracies when compared to other biblical books. For example, ch. 1:1 asserts that the text was written in Babylon, but according to Jeremiah 43:1–7 Baruch accompanied Jeremiah not to Babylon but to Egypt. Later rabbinic tradition also places Baruch in Babylon after the Exile (e.g., b. Meg. 16b; Seder Olam R. 26). The book also states that Baruch returned to Judah the Temple vessels that had been looted by the Babylonians (Bar 1:8), but this does not agree with Ezra 1, which states that Sheshbazzar returned them. Baruch 1:14 assumes that the Temple is still standing, although the composition was purportedly written five years after the destruction of Jerusalem, or 582 B.C.E. (1:2). Moreover, ch. 1:7 describes priests active in Jerusalem, which also implies that there was a functioning temple in the city at the time (cf. v. 10). The book of Baruch is also heavily dependant on biblical material, as described below. All this evidence indicates that the book was produced long after many texts of the Bible had been written and considered authoritative, and that the scribe Baruch was not its author. It was probably composed in either the second or first century B.C.E., although its date cannot be determined exactly. Major themes in the work, such as God's gift of the Torah to Israel and the glorification of Jerusalem, suggest that Baruch may have been written during the revival of Jewish nationalism associated with the Maccabean Revolt against Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175–164 B.C.E.).

Baruch is extant in Greek. However, because of the work's frequent Hebraisms many scholars conclude that it was originally written in Hebrew. No ancient manuscript of Baruch in Hebrew has been found; neither is there any trace of the book among the Dead Sea Scrolls, so the theory of a Hebrew original remains hypothetical.

Content and Interpretation.

The book of Baruch has four major sections:

These four sections differ significantly from each other in terms of both form and content; hence, the unity of the composition is debated. It is possible that the sections were written separately and only later combined. They all share themes such as restoration of the covenant, the confession of sins, and the return of the exiles.

The historical introduction (1:1–14) claims that Baruch wrote a book in Babylon five years after the destruction of Jerusalem. It was read before the assembled exiles who subsequently sent it to Jerusalem, along with money for burnt offerings and the Temple vessels. The scroll was to be read in Jerusalem, at which point the people would confess their sins before God. Baruch 1:15—3:8 indicates what the people were to say. The first part of this section (1:15—2:5) is intended for the community in Jerusalem, while the second (2:6—3:8) seems designed for the Jews in Babylon (cf. 1:15–16 and 2:13–14). The confession of sins in chs. 1:15—3:8 is plaintive in tone. “Open shame” is upon the people (1:15; 2:6) in the form of calamities like the Exile, which came about due to their disobedience against God, who in turn punished them. The people are encouraged, while chastened and humbled by their historical circumstances, to turn away from their wicked paths and return to God, who will reestablish his covenant with Israel (2:30–35). This confession of sin draws on biblical texts such as Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 and is also similar to Daniel 9.

Baruch 3:9—4:4 is a poem that approaches the theme of national restoration from a different perspective: Israel should seek God because God possesses wisdom and gives it to Israel through the Torah. This unit draws extensively from the wisdom or sapiential tradition. The text assumes that the people are growing old in exile (3:10; contrast 1:2) and asserts that they “have forsaken the fountain of wisdom” (3:12). Inspired by Job 28, which depicts humans' inability to find wisdom, Baruch likewise imagines generations of people who have died searching mistakenly for gold and silver rather than wisdom (3:15–21). Gentile peoples such as the Canaanites have never found the way to wisdom (3:22–23). Baruch asserts that the giants, the enigmatic “Nephilim” (Gen 6:4), perished because they did not have wisdom but rather folly (3:26–28). Such appeals to national identity and biblical history are not found in core wisdom texts of the Bible such as Proverbs and Job. These themes, however, resonate with the later sapiential book of Ben Sira (Sirach), a work written in the second century B.C.E. Ben Sira understands wisdom in ethnic, national terms—it is available to Israel and discernible in its history. Ben Sira's nationalistic view of wisdom is most evident in chapter 24, where he reconfigures Proverbs 8, which personifies wisdom as a woman or goddess, by connecting her to the Torah. Though not as vividly or extensively, Baruch does much the same thing. The author mentions Wisdom (Bar 3:37) and then states: “She is the book of the commandments of God, the law that endures forever” (4:1). Life is associated with acceptance of the Torah and death with a lack of understanding wisdom (cf. 3:20). Only God has found the way to wisdom; then, out of God's love for Israel, made it available to the people through the Torah (3:36). In this way the book advocates that Israel should renew its obedience to God's covenant in the form of the Torah of Moses. This concern runs throughout Baruch, but the association between law and wisdom is prominent only in Baruch 3:9—4:4.

The final section of Baruch, 4:5—5:9, focuses on the restoration and consolation of Zion. God, who brought disasters upon Israel as punishment for its sin, will deliver the people from their enemies (4:18). This is the only section of Baruch that associates Zion with Jerusalem. The city, personified as a woman, speaks and recounts how her children were taken away in exile (4:9–16). Jerusalem is urged to look to the east and await the arrival of the returning exiles and the restoration of God's covenant: “Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height.… For they went out from you on foot, led away by their enemies; but God will bring them back to you, carried in glory, as on a royal throne” (5:5–6). This poem of consolation is inspired by Isaiah 40–66 (Second and Third Isaiah), which likewise jubilantly describes the return of the exiles (compare, for example, Bar 5:7 with Isa 40:4–5). Baruch 4:5—5:9 also draws on the prophetic tradition of marking a change in the status of Jerusalem by endowing it with new names—“Righteous Peace” and “Godly Glory” (5:4; cf. Isa 60:14; 62:4). The drama of salvation unfolds before the eyes of personified Jerusalem, who eagerly anticipates the end of the Exile.

The Babylonian Exile was not a living reality for the author or editor of Baruch. Rather, it was a theological context for reflection on the covenant between God and Israel. The association of this theme with the scribe Baruch rather than with the prophet Jeremiah, who never appears in the book even though Baruch is subservient to him in the book of Jeremiah, indicates the priority that Baruch places on obedience to God through fidelity to the written Torah—the purview of the scribes. The situation of exile in Baruch is therefore symbolic of the people's infidelity to the covenant. God's punishment of sin may in turn allude indirectly to the historical context in which the book was written—perhaps the political oppression that led to the Maccabean Revolt. The book's ultimate goal, then, is to ensure that the relationship between God and Israel is invigorated by means of a renewed devotion to God.

[See also APOCRYPHA, subentry OLD TESTAMENT; JEREMIAH; and JEREMIAH, LETTER OF.]

Bibliography

  • Burke, David G. The Poetry of Baruch: A Reconstruction and Analysis of the Original Hebrew Text of Baruch 3:9—5:9. Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) Septuagint and Cognate Studies 10. Chico, Calif.: Scholars, 1982.
  • Harrington, Daniel J. Invitation to the Apocrypha. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1999.
  • Moore, Carey A. Daniel, Esther, and Jeremiah: The Additions. Anchor Bible 44. New York: Doubleday, 1977. See pp. 255–316.
  • Mukenge, André Kabaselle. L'unité littéraire du livre de Baruch. Paris: Gabalda, 1998.
  • Tov, Emanuel. The Book of Baruch: Also Called 1 Baruch. SBL Texts and Translations 8. Missoula, Mont.: Scholars, 1975.

Matthew Goff