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

The Greek Apocalypse of Baruch - Introduction

There can be little doubt that this apocalypse is ‘the book of Baruch the prophet’ known in Origen's day and said by him to contain ‘very clear information about the seven worlds or heavens’. 1 Orig. De princ. II. iii. 6.

The credit for its discovery in modern times belongs to Dom Cuthbert Butler, who found a Greek text of it in 1896 among a collection of apocryphal and ecclesiastical items in a late fifteenth century paper manuscript in the British Library (B.L. Addit. 10073). This Greek text was published by M. R. James in the following year. It mentions, however, only five heavens.

Ten years before Butler's discovery S. Novaković had published the text of a Slavonic version, preserved in a fifteenth century Serbian manuscript; and James printed an English translation of it, by W. R. Morfill, immediately after his own edition of the Greek. This Slavonic text would seem to be even less complete than the Greek, inasmuch as it mentions only two heavens.

Meanwhile, unknown to James, there had been published (in 1894 ) N. S. Tikhonravov's text of a second Slavonic version contained in a Moscow manuscript, also of the fifteenth century. Subsequently other MSS of both Slavonic version have come to light, as well as another Greek manuscript. The complications arising from these discoveries, particularly so far as the Slavonic versions are concerned, both in their mutual relationship to one another and in their joint relationship to the Greek, have not been resolved; and it was for this reason that J.-C. Picard, in his edition of 1967 , ignored the Slavonic versions altogether, except for several pages devoted to the statement and discussion of some of the problems in his Introduction. However, Picard did make full use of the other Greek MS (Andros, Monastery of the Hagia, 46; 15th cent.), which he had discovered himself; but unfortunately it is so closely allied to the British Library MS that it is of little help in establishing a critical text.

It is possible that there was at one time a Latin version as well as a Slavonic, which was in circulation at least in the north-western area of Spain in the seventh century. But the evidence here is only indirect. There are no surviving Latin texts or fragments of text. 2 See M. R. James in JTS xvi ( 1915 ), p. 413.

About the date and origin of the Greek Apocalypse opinions differ. James took the view that it is ‘a Christian Apocalypse of the second century’. There are some passages that could have been written only by a Christian. The author betrays knowledge, not only of the Pauline epistles, but also of certain of the apocryphal writings – notably of the Paraleipomena of Jeremiah, which (on Harris's dating) is assignable to AD 136. Yet the Greek Apocalypse was known to Origen. It must accordingly be dated c. AD 140–200.

In opposition to James, L. Ginzberg was of the opinion that the book was almost wholly Jewish. ‘Only one passage’, he maintained, ‘can with certainty be considered a Christian interpolation; and that is the one concerning the vine…in ch. iv’. The author, moreover, betrays signs of both Indian and Gnostic influence. He was, therefore, a Jewish Gnostic, who wrote ‘about the beginning of the second century, when gnosis was at its height among both Jews and Christians’. 3 L. Ginzberg in JE ii ( 1902 ), p. 551.

H. M. Hughes, in the Introduction to his translation in R. H. Charles's Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, trod a middle road between these two extremes. For Hughes the framework of the apocalypse was characteristically Jewish, and a number of features mark it out as a work of Jewish origin. But ‘the hand of a Christian redactor can be traced in certain interpolations’. These interpolations are not confined to the passage about the vine in chap. iv: they are, in fact, ‘most evident in the concluding chapters’. The original (Jewish) apocalypse, according to Hughes, is to be dated somewhere near the beginning of the second century, and the Christian redactor ‘soon after AD 136’. The book in its present form is thus roughly contemporary with Jeremiah's Paraleipomena (on Harris's dating), a product of the same circumstances, and inspired by the same motives – i.e. ‘the conversion of Jews and Ebionites’.

Any ultimately acceptable solution to this question will thus obviously depend on what answers are given to the two subsidiary, but related, questions: (1) How compelling in themselves are the alleged Christian elements, and how integral are they to the work as a whole?; and (2) How significant are the parallels with the other Baruch literature, and how are these parallels best explained?

The passage concerning the vine in chap. iv is universally admitted to be Christian, though, if we are thinking of it as a Christian interpolation, opinions may differ about the actual extent of the interpolation (iv. 15 is in fact the only verse in the passage that is incontrovertably Christian). At xiii. 4 the mention of the renegades ‘in the church’ (ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ) and of ‘their spiritual fathers’ sounds Christian enough: on the other hand at xvi. 4 the reference to those who ‘despised my commandments and my assemblies (τω̂ν ἐκκλησίων μου), and insulted the priests who proclaimed my words to them’, though it may be Christian, is more naturally taken as Jewish; and our judgement in either case is likely to depend on whether we translate ἐκκλησία as ‘church’ or ‘assembly’. Similarly, the catalogues of vices at iv. 17, viii. 5 and xiii. 4, may be echoes of such New Testament passages as Matt. xv. 19 ǁ Mark vii. 21–22 and Gal. v. 19–21 ; or they may equally well be explained as no more than part of the stock-in-trade of any ancient writer who was concerned with morals, whether pagan, Jewish, or Christian. 4 Cp. e.g. Diog. Laert. vii. 110–114 (Zeno); Dead Sea Man. Disc. iv. 9–11; Wisd. xiv. 25–26 ; Philo, De post. Cain. xv; Ep. Barn. xx. 1–2. Evidence of this kind is unfortunately indecisive.

Of far more significance is the occurrence of the rather curious word translated ‘smite’ at xvi. 3 (διχοτομήσατε: lit. ‘cut in two’). This word also occurs in an almost identical context at Matt. xxiv. 51 ǁ Luke xii. 46 , where it is usually remarked on by the commentators and not infrequently explained as a misunderstanding of an Aramaic original on the part of the Greek translator of one of the Gospel sources. What makes the use of the word at Gk. Apoc. xvi. 3 even more significant is the fact that it is found only three verses after a very clear reminiscence of Matt. xxv. 21 (one of the three passages bracketed by Hughes as indubitably Christian interpolations). Add to this two phrases found elsewhere (‘no living creature would be preserved’, viii. 7; and ‘God…shortened its days’, ix. 7), compare them with ‘And except the Lord had shortened the days, no flesh would have been preserved; but for the sake of the elect…he shortened the days’ (Mark xiii. 20 ǁ Matt. xxiv. 22 ); and it is difficult to escape the conclusion that we are dealing in the Greek Apocalypse with an author who is writing with the Lord's Discourse concerning the End in mind, and, moreover, with someone who knew it in its Markan form as well as its Matthaean. 5 To appreciate the full force of this argument the relevant texts should be compared in Greek in each instance. And we might take the point even further by arguing that the whole idea of the three classes of angels, some of whom offer Michael baskets full of flowers, others baskets only partially full, and yet others nothing at all (the idea worked out in detail in chaps. xii–xvi) was inspired from the same Gospel source – i.e. by the scene at the end of the Parable of the Talents, where one servant offers his master five talents gained by trading, another two, but a third nothing (Matt. xxv. 14–30 ).

All this means that we cannot account satisfactorily for such a complicated situation either by suggesting that it is accidental or just by positing ‘Christian interpolation’ and leaving it at that. The final redactor, or editor, or author, whoever he may have been, was undoubtedly a Christian. Whatever Jewish material he may have used he certainly re-phrased and very thoroughly recast. He was not a mere interpolator.

The parallels with the other Baruch literature can be dealt with more briefly, since there are no verbal parallels other than those which arise naturally out of the narrative setting. In verse 2 of the Prologue Baruch is introduced, located beside a river, ‘weeping over the captivity of Jerusalem’: this corresponds generally to the contents of Syr. Apoc. v. 5–6 and vi. 2, and Par. Jer. iv. 6–10 . The statement in the next verse that ‘he was sitting at the beautiful gates, where the Holy of Holies lay’, can be compared with Syr. Apoc. x. 5 and xxxiv. 1–xxxv. 1. 6 At Par. Jer. iv. 11 (cp. vi. 1 and vii. 1) Baruch sits on a tomb. The particularly noteworthy feature in this verse is the reference to Abimelech and his being ‘preserved by the hand of God at Agrippa's farm’, which plainly refers to the contents of Par. Jer. iii. 9–10, 15, v. 1–vi. 1 , even if not to the text. 7 Agrippa's property is described as a χωϱιόν (‘farm’–lit. ‘place’, ‘estate’) at Gk. Apoc. prol. 2 and Par. Jer. iii. 15, v. 25 , but as an ἀμπελών (‘vineyard’) at Par. Jer. iii. 10 . And then immediately, at the beginning of chap. i, the statement that Baruch was weeping over Jerusalem's captivity is repeated (though this time in the first person), with the additional information that this was made the occasion for an angelic visitation: we may compare again Syr. Apoc. vi. 2 and Par. Jer. iv. 6–10 with the addition of Syr. Apoc. vi. 3–4 and Par. Jer. iv. 11 .

It is thus evident that the Greek apocalypse belongs squarely within what may be called ‘the Baruch tradition’, so far as its narrative setting is concerned. But there are few, if any, contacts outside this setting. If we are prepared to take the text of the opening verses as they stand, we can argue equally well either that the author knew both the Syriac Apocalypse and the Paraleipomena much as we know them to-day, or, alternatively, that he had access to much the same sources and traditional material that their authors had. If, however, we are doubtful about whether the Prologue is an original part of the book (on the ground that it refers to Baruch in the third person, whereas the rest of the book purports to have been written by Baruch himself in the first person), the case for direct knowledge of the Syriac Apocalypse and the Paraleipomena on the part of our author is very much weaker, inasmuch as the most telling contacts are to be found in the Prologue only. But in either case it is tempting to see the Greek Apocalypse as a later apocalyptist's amplification of the situation described so neatly at Par. Jer. iv. 11 (‘And he [i.e. Baruch] remained, sitting on a tomb, while the angels came and told him in detail about everything’). In no case are there grounds for positing dependence in the reverse direction. The Greek Apocalypse may be later than the other two works, or it may be contemporary with them: it is unlikely to be earlier.

There remains the question of the identity of our present book with ‘the Book of Baruch, the prophet’ known in Origen's day. Origen says that his book gave information about seven heavens (the usual number when a plurality of heavens is mentioned), whereas our book treats of only five. Is our surviving text an abbreviated recension of the original? Was Origen suffering from a lapse of memory when he specified seven heavens? If he was not familiar with the contents of the book himself, had he been misinformed about the details? Or was he referring to a different book altogether?

Since the translation which follows has been based on that of Hughes, it has been thought best to retain the square brackets which Hughes inserted to identify what he thought were the more noteworthy Christian interpolations.


1 Orig. De princ. II. iii. 6.

2 See M. R. James in JTS xvi ( 1915 ), p. 413.

3 L. Ginzberg in JE ii ( 1902 ), p. 551.

4 Cp. e.g. Diog. Laert. vii. 110–114 (Zeno); Dead Sea Man. Disc. iv. 9–11; Wisd. xiv. 25–26 ; Philo, De post. Cain. xv; Ep. Barn. xx. 1–2.

5 To appreciate the full force of this argument the relevant texts should be compared in Greek in each instance.

6 At Par. Jer. iv. 11 (cp. vi. 1 and vii. 1) Baruch sits on a tomb.

7 Agrippa's property is described as a χωϱιόν (‘farm’–lit. ‘place’, ‘estate’) at Gk. Apoc. prol. 2 and Par. Jer. iii. 15, v. 25 , but as an ἀμπελών (‘vineyard’) at Par. Jer. iii. 10 .

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