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

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Commentary on Baruch

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Narrative Introduction ( 1:1–14 )

The structure and mood of this introduction are strongly influenced by Jer 29:1–2 and Jer 36 . There are many historical problems surrounding the events and circumstances as described here.

( 1:1 )

‘these are the words of the book’: there are four main theories as to what is meant. (1) It is generally thought that the book of Baruch itself is meant, and that Baruch is envisaged as reading aloud either the whole composition or the first part ( 1:15b–3:8 ). However, this would give the response of the hearers to the book ( 1:5 ) before the reader knows its contents, which are revealed when the exiles send back the scroll in 1:10 for recitation in the temple. Such a device is far from impossible, and is upheld by Steck (1993: 5–60), who sees 1.1–15a as the introduction which attributes the book as a whole to Baruch. (2) Whitehouse (1913 ) considered that 1:1, 3 prefaced 3:9–4:4 , while 1:2, 3b–3:8 and 3:9–5:9 formed separate documents. (3) Another solution would be to suppose that the order of the biblical books was Jeremiah-Lamentations-Baruch. Thus, ‘these are the words’ would refer to the book of Lamentations, a response to the fall of Jerusalem written by Baruch in Babylon to be repeated in front of the Jews there. The order Jeremiah-Lamentations-Baruch is not generally found in the Septuagint MSS, though it may have existed in the original form of Codex Sinaiticus (now truncated), and Epiphanius is the only commentator on the canon of Scripture to list the books in this order. But it would explain the response of the exiles and their dispatching of a prayer to be said on their behalf by their fellow Jews in Jerusalem. We would then have a lament sent from Jerusalem to Babylon (Lamentations), and its counterpart of a confession and petition sent back to Jerusalem from Babylon (Bar 1:15b–3:8 ):

The structure of the book according to this hypothesis would be:

  • (a. Lamentations sent from Jerusalem to Babylon)

  • b. Response of exiles: prayer and confession sent from Babylon to Jerusalem (Bar 1:1–3:8 )

  • c. Hymn to Wisdom ( 3:9–4:4 )

  • a′. Zion's exhortation of the exiles ( 4:5–29 )

  • b′. Consolation of Jerusalem ( 4:30–5:5 ).

(4) An alternative explanation of the opening words is that they may somehow refer to the book of Jeremiah (the normal order in LXX MSS is Jeremiah-Baruch-Lamentations), or to Jeremiah's letter sent to the exiles after Jeconiah's deportation, as described in Jer 29:1–28 (LXX 36:1–28 ). Jer 29 does not mention Baruch as either the scribe or the messenger of the letter, but it does begin in Greek in exactly the same way as Baruch: ‘these are the words’ (LXX 36:1 ). It also counsels the exiles to settle down in Babylon and pray for its welfare. This is exactly the response we find in Bar 1:11–12 . On this interpretation, the structure of the whole book would not be very different from that described above, in (3).

‘Book’ is the Greek biblion, here and in 1:3a , 10 . The same word is used for the scroll dictated by Jeremiah to Baruch in Jer 36:8, 10, 11, 18 (LXX ch. 43 ). A slightly different word, biblos, is used in Bar 1:3b for what Baruch recites, and in Jer 29:1 for Jeremiah's letter to the exiles (LXX 36:1 ). The difference is not significant: Jer 29:29 (LXX 36:29 ) uses biblion for a letter. ‘Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah son of Zedekiah son of Hasadiah son of Hilkiah’: the patronymic ‘son of Neriah son of Mahseiah’ is found in Jer 32:12 , but the other names are unattested as ancestors of Baruch.

‘Babylon’ refers to the region, and not just the city. According to Jeremiah, Baruch was taken only to Egypt ( 43:7 ), but both the book of Baruch and rabbinic tradition say that Baruch went to Babylon. In fact, the Babylonian Talmud improbably states that Baruch taught Ezra there (b. Meg 16b)! It is possible that a combination of the Lord's promise to spare his life wherever he went (Jer 45:5 ), Jeremiah's letter to the Babylonian exiles in Jer 29 , and the presence of Seraiah, Baruch's brother, in Babylon (Jer 51:59–64 ) suggest that Baruch journeyed there. Bar 1:8 may imply that Baruch returned to Jerusalem.

The Syriac version of Baruch says that Baruch sent the book to Babylon, but this may be a later change in order to avoid the problem of an unattested journey to Babylon. On the other hand, it may represent an attempt to harmonize Bar 1:1 with 2 Apoc. Bar. 77:19 , where Baruch is said to send two letters to Babylon.

( 1:2–9 )

‘In the fifth year, on the seventh day of the month’, the chronology of v. 2 is unclear, particularly as the month is not specified. The original reading was perhaps ‘the fifth year, on the seventh day of the fifth month’, the second ‘fifth’ having dropped out in the copying process. The fifth month was Ab (August), and the date is that of the burning of Jerusalem by Nebuzaradan, according to 2 Kings 25:8–9 . So Baruch is depicted as writing the book as Jerusalem is being destroyed (586 BCE). But then there remains the problem of which ‘fifth year’ is meant. It may be an echo of Jer 36:9 , where Baruch reads out Jeremiah's words before the people in the temple. Or it may refer to the fifth year after the capture of Jerusalem, which would be 581 BCE. The ‘Chaldeans’ are the Babylonians. v. 3 , for similar public readings, see 2 Kings 23:1–2 (= 2 Chr 34:30 ), and Neh 8:1–8 .

‘Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim’ (v. 3 ) is also known as Jehoiachin and Coniah (see 2 Kings 24:8–17, 25:27–30; Jer 22:24–30 ). According to Jer 52:31 , he was in prison for 37 years, rather than dwelling among the other exiles. He is certainly not mentioned in Ezek 8:1 .

v. 4 , ‘the princes’, the Greek ‘sons of the king’. Jer 22:30 says that Jeconiah will be childless, but 1 Chr 3:17 and Babylonian cuneiform inscriptions (ANET 308) say that he had sons. ‘The river Sud’: there is a reference in the Dead Sea scrolls (4QpJer) to a river Sur in the context of the Exile. The Hebrew letters r and d are very similar in form, and the Greek translator may have misread Sud for Sur. v. 5 , ‘they wept. and fasted’: For a similar response, see Neh 8:9; 9:1 , similarly followed by a prayer of national confession (Neh 9:6–37 ). v. 6 , ‘the high priest Jehoiakim son of Hilkiah son of Shallum’ is constructed from several biblical genealogies: J(eh)oiakim is a priest in Jerusalem much later, in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah (Neh 12:10, 12, 26 , cf. Jos. Ant. 11.5.1); the high priest Hilkiah discovered the book of the law in the temple (2 Kings 22:8 ), and Hilkiah son of Shallum is a progenitor of Ezra in Ezra 7:1 . According to 2 Kings 25:18–21 , the high priest at the time of the Exile was Seraiah, who was taken to Babylon and executed. It is possible that Jehoiakim is to be understood as a deputy who remained in Jerusalem.

v. 8 , Sivan is the third month, corresponding to May–June, evidently in the year following Baruch's reading of the book: ‘the vessels of the house of the Lord…the silver vessels that Zedekiah son of Josiah…had made’: according to 2 Kings 24:13 and 25:14–15 all the temple vessels were removed by the Babylonians (in 597 and 586 BCE), and they were not brought back until the end of the Exile (Ezra 1:7–8 ): Jer 27:22 certainly does not envisage an early return. Zedekiah is not known to have made anything for the temple, so perhaps this is an invention on the part of the writer of Baruch, to explain how an offering could be made in Jerusalem while the vessels were still in Babylon. The ‘Lord’: throughout the first part of Baruch, the Deity is referred to as ‘the Lord’ (kurios) in contrast to the second and third parts of Baruch, where ‘Lord’ never appears. The second part uses theos (God), and the third part ho aiōnios (the Eternal). 1.9, some MSS and versions add ‘and the craftsmen’ after ‘the prisoners’. The Hebrew word for ‘prison’ is identical to that for ‘smith’, masgēr. The same double translation is found in LXX Jer 24:1 and 36:2 (Eng. versions 29:2 ).

( 1:10–14 )

v. 10 , ‘grain-offerings’ is Greek manna, an error for manaa, the transliteration of Hebrew minḥâ (offering), a further indication of a Semitic original for the first part of Baruch. ‘[O]ffer them on the altar’: in spite of the burning of the temple, it seems from Jer 41:5 and Lam 1:4 that the temple cult continued in some form. The instruction to ‘pray for the life of King Nebuchadnezzar’ is an unusual sentiment, particularly in later Judaism where Nebuchadnezzar was regarded as the archetype of the evil ruler, and forerunner of Vespasian and Titus who destroyed the second temple. But cf. Jer 29:7 , where Jeremiah tells the Jews taken to Babylon in the first captivity to pray for the land in which they are exiles; cf. also 1 Tim 2:1–3 . In fact Belshazzar is not Nebuchadnezzar's son, as Baruch supposes, but the son of Nabonidus (555–538 BCE) whom Cyrus overthrew. The same error occurs in Dan 5:2, 11, 13, 18, 22 , which has led some to date Baruch after Daniel (167–164 BCE). However, the error may be due to dependence on a common source and have no bearing on the dating. Some scholars identify Baruch's Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar with Antiochus IV (c.175–164 BCE) and his son Antiochus V Eupator (164–162 BCE) after the desecration and rededication of the Temple, or with Vespasian and Titus in the years just prior to or immediately after the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE), and date Baruch accordingly. There is no convincing evidence for either identification.

v. 14 , ‘and you shall read aloud’ is cited by some in support of a liturgical origin for Baruch. Cf. 2 Macc 1:1–2:18 . In ‘to make your confession’, ‘your’ is not in the Greek text, which has merely ‘to make confession’. The ‘days of the festivals’: the oldest Greek MS has ‘day of festival’. It is not at all clear which, if any, specific festival the writer had in mind. Some have suggested the eight-day Feast of Tabernacles, held in the early autumn (Lev 23:33–6 ), while Thackeray (1923: 93) prefers a period in the summer, leading up to the ninth of Ab, when the burning of the temple was commemorated.

Confession and Prayer ( 1:15–3:8 )

This section is a pastiche of biblical citations. The main parallels are with Dan 9:4–19 and there are many references to Jeremiah. Tov (1975 ) gives a full list. From 1:13–15a , it seems that the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem are to pray the following words on behalf of those in the Diaspora. Nickelsburg (1984 ) suggests that the Jerusalem Jews make their own confession in 1:15b–2:5 , and then pray on behalf of the Jews in the Diaspora in 2:6–10 , but there is not real sign of a change in speaker, and it is easier to assume that 1:15b–3:8 is all part of the prayer sent by the exiles to be recited by the Jews of Jerusalem for the Jewish people as a whole.

( 1:20 )

‘the curse that the Lord declared…through Moses: see Lev 26:14–39, Deut 28–31 .

( 2:1–2 )

‘against our judges…under the whole heaven’…is based on Dan 9:12–13 .

( 2:3 )

‘Some of us ate the flesh of their sons’…is a reference to Lev 26:29, Deut 28:53, and Jer 19:9 , which with Bar 2:3 was the origin of the frequent anti-Jewish jibe in early Christian writers that the Jews had eaten their own children. Josephus (J.W. 6.3.4) describes one such incident during the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

( 2:17–18 )

‘the dead who are in Hades…will not ascribe glory’ is a common theme: cf. Ps 6:5; 30:9; 88:10–12; 115:17; Isa 38:18; Sir 17:27–8 . For ‘the person who is deeply grieved…with failing eyes’ see Deut 28:65 .

( 2:21–6 )

‘as you declared by your servants the prophets’: in fact, the references are all to Jeremiah: 26:5, 27:9; 7:34; 48:9; 36:30; 16:4; 32:36; 11:17 .

( 2:29–35 )

a reworking of several passages, principally from Jeremiah ( 42:2; 24:7; 25:5; 30:3; 29:6; 32:40; 31:33 ), along with Lev 26:39, 45; Deut 30:1–10 . vv. 34–5 , there is no explicit request for a return from exile, but the prayer repeats God's promise to end the Dispersion. The wording is based on Jer 30:3; 32:40; 31:33; 1 Kings 14:15 .

( 3:1–8 )

a heartfelt plea for mercy ends this first section of Baruch. Although the people of Judah have turned in repentance, they are still suffering the punishment incurred by their ancestors.

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