Baruch - Introduction
The book of Baruch was probably written sometime between 200 and 60 BCE; it is set, however, during the Babylonian exile of the early sixth century BCE and attributed to Jeremiah's friend and secretary, Baruch son of Neriah (Jer 32.12; 36.4; 43.3; 45.1 ). Although Jeremiah and Baruch both are reported (Jer 43–7 ) to have been taken to Egypt in 582, a tradition developed later, which is reflected in the book of Baruch and other Jewish sources (Seder Olam Rabbah 26; Midrash Rabbah Song 5.5; Babylonian Talmud Megillah 16b), that Baruch went to Babylon. The number of historical errors in the introduction ( 1.1–14 ) makes it unlikely that the book was written by Baruch or near the time of the exile. Although few clues to the date of the composition exist, allusions to Sir 24 (ca. 180) and Dan 9 (ca. 165) imply a date not earlier than the middle of the second century BCE.
The text on which the NRSV translation is based is the Greek Septuagint; ancient Syriac, Latin, Coptic, Ethiopic, Arabic, and Armenian versions based on the Greek also exist. Scholars have long held that the prose section ( 1.1–3.8 ) was translated from a Hebrew original that no longer exists; recent research indicates that the poetic sections also derive from Hebrew originals.
The book of Baruch may have been written during the persecution by the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 168–164 BCE, since it deals with theological themes of particular interest to Jews at that time: the confession of corporate sin in the context of biblical history, the Torah as the gift of divine wisdom, and the restoration of Zion. It would also have been appropriate in later eras of suffering and repression. There is no evidence, however, that any Jewish community considered the book of Baruch to be canonical scripture. In Christianity it is included among the deuterocanonical books of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, but is listed in the Apocrypha by Protestant churches.
Most of Baruch consists of pastiches of biblical passages copied or paraphrased (e.g., Dan 9; Job 28; Isa 40–66 ). This technique was popular in the late Second Temple period: Authors recombined texts in new ways both as a means of interpreting canonical literature and as a means of creating new literary entities.
Baruch falls into two main sections, each of which consists of two parts. The first section, in prose, includes an introduction ( 1.1–14 ) and a corporate confession of sin ( 1.15–3.8 ) for Jews in Jerusalem to recite at the altar there, along with appropriate sacrifices, on various festival days and seasons. The idea of a letter or scroll written in Babylon to be read aloud in Jerusalem is derived from the exchange of letters recorded in Jer 29 and the scroll of Jeremiah's oracles penned by Baruch and read before King Jehoiakim in 605 BCE (Jer 36 ). The corporate confession is modeled on Dan 9.4–19 , and also resembles Ezra 9.6–15 and Neh 9.6–37
The second section consists of two poems. The first ( 3.9–4.4 ) is a hymn in praise of Wisdom. Drawing on Job 28 and Sir 24 , it describes Wisdom as elusive but also as the Torah, God's precious gift to Israel. The second contains an address by Jerusalem to the people of Israel ( 4.5–29 ) and a rhetorical address to Jerusalem ( 4.30–5.9 ), inspired no doubt by Isa 51.17–52.10; 54; and 60–62 .
Each of the main sections of the book has distinctive stylistic aspects that may indicate different authors. For instance, different names for God are used in the confession (“Lord”), in the wisdom poem (“God”), and in the Zion poem (“the Everlasting”). Judgment as to whether Baruch is the product of a single author or of an editor who compiled already existing materials is complicated by the heavy dependence of the confession and the poems on various scriptural models, since this dependence may account for much of the variation in style and theological perspective.