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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Baruch - Introduction

The book is known in Greek tradition as Baruch or the Epistle of Baruch. The name means ‘blessed’ in Hebrew, and is a shortened form of Berechyahu, ‘the Lord blesses’. According to the book of Jeremiah, Baruch was Jeremiah's secretary. He recorded the Lord's words at Jeremiah's dictation, read them out to the people in the temple, was taken to Tahpanes in Egypt along with Jeremiah, and was given a promise from the Lord that his life would be spared wherever he went (Jer 32:12–16; 36:4–32; 43:3–6; 45:1–5 ). Baruch himself was a historical figure, and a clay seal impression of the late seventh century bears his name, patronymic, and profession: ‘Berechyahu, son of Neryahu, the scribe’ (Avigad 1986: 28–9).

However, there are a number of circumstances that make it very unlikely that this Baruch was the author of the book of Baruch. Given that Baruch was a close associate of Jeremiah and may even have been responsible for parts of the Jeremiah tradition, it is odd that the first part of Baruch does not tie in more closely with statements in Jeremiah: e.g. Baruch's presence in Babylon in Bar 1:1 , the return of the temple vessels in Bar 1:9 , and the imprecise dating in Bar 1:2 . Baruch is a compilation of three very different parts, only the first of which explicitly has to do with the figure of Baruch. There are many similarities of thought and expression between Baruch and works known to date from the Hellenistic period such as Daniel (c.164 BCE), Sirach (mid-2nd cent. BCE) and the Psalms of Solomon (probably mid-1st cent. BCE). While it is conceivable that these depend on Baruch, the nature of the book is fundamentally derivative, a ‘mosaic of Biblical passages’ (Tov 1976: 111). Baruch is more likely to be dependent on them or to have originated in a common milieu. Finally, Baruch was not accepted as canonical by the rabbis, and was never cited by them, as if the the book's pedigree were suspect at an early stage.

So why was the name Baruch attached to the book? Baruch as a whole is concerned with problems of faith during the Diaspora, and the outlook of the first part is strongly influenced by the book of Jeremiah. As recorder of the prophet's words, Baruch was no doubt accorded quasi-prophetic status by Jews in the Second Temple period and, later, by Christians. Thus a book bearing his name would have enjoyed a certain prestige. One can compare the high position accorded to Ezra as a scribe of the law in the Second Temple period and the pseudepigraphical works consequently ascribed to him.

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