“The person overcome with affliction,
Who goes his way bowed down and frail,
With failing eyes and hungering soul,
He is the one to give you glory, Lord,
And due observance”
Baruch 2:18 (Jerusalem Bible).

The integrity of these lines impressed John Calvin so much that when writing about prayer as the perpetual exercise of faith and the daily benefits derived from it, before citing this very verse, he exclaimed regarding the suppression of human pride in prayer: “For it was most truly and piously written by the uncertain author (whoever he may have been) that wrote the book which is attributed to the prophet Baruch” (Institutes, III, XX, 8).

Name

Baruch is a book of the Apocrypha or deuterocanonical book based on the book of Jeremiah. A booklet of five chapters purportedly composed by Baruch, the son of Neraiah, secretary or disciple of Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 36; 43:1-7; 45). Occasionally, it incorporates the Letter of Jeremiah (Epistula Jeremiae) as its sixth chapter.

Baruch, the friend of Jeremiah and partaker in his fate, who penned at least the original scroll for Jeremiah at his dictation (Jeremiah 36), was very popular in later Judaism as the alleged author of several compositions. The title of the book claims that Baruch composed it in Babylon following the seizure of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (Chaldeans).

In 1:3-14 one reads an account of how King Jehoiachin (Jeconiah) and the other exiles with Baruch who were coerced to settle in Babylonia at the river Sud, after he had read them the book, gathered money and dispatched it with the book to Jerusalem to pay for sacrifices for king Nebuchadnezzar and for the exiles living under his jurisdiction. The purpose of the book, according to this account (verse 14), was to be read in the Temple in Jerusalem on festive occasions.

The assigning of the prayer of repentance and of the poems to Baruch may be explained by the fact that Baruch and Jeremiah were the only ones involved in the national catastrophe in 587 BCE who left written record behind. Therefore, it is no surprise that writings preoccupied with this disaster were ascribed to them.

Canonicity

The Book of Baruch is acknowledged as canonical by Roman Catholics and Orthodox communities. It is not recognized by modern Jewish communities, and is categorized as Apocrypha by Protestant communities since it is not included in the Hebrew Bible.

Baruch was especially popular with the Jews in Upper Syria as it was extensively used in Jewish worship. According to 1:14, the book itself prescribes its purpose, namely to be employed in the liturgy of the Temple and consequently synagogues. Its liturgical purpose suggests that it would have been written in Hebrew. This idea is widely accepted among scholars with respect to the prose part of Baruch. The Greek version is clearly a translation of a Hebrew text, as shown by the presence of mistranslations from Hebrew. Additionally, some scholars reach the same result regarding the poetical sections. The two poems found in the book show parallelism, a prominent feature of Hebrew poetry.

Contents

The major section of the book commences at 1:15 and has two parts. The first one is a great confessional prayer (1:15 – 3:8), recalling the style of a national song of lamentation. The second one includes two poems, namely 3:9 – 4:4 and 4:5 – 5:9. The first poem is in teaching style with some words of praise; it resembles Proverbs 1 – 9 or Job 28. The poem directs Israel to seek and find wisdom, equated with the Law. The second is more like a string of poems, including songs of consolation at the beginning and end, and songs of lamentation in its central section.

Other academics divide the book into three parts. The largest section of the first third of the work comprises a prayer paraphrased from Daniel 9, extended to roughly fifty-four verses. The prayer commences with a confession of sins (1:15 – 2:10), followed by a petition for forgiveness and mercy (2:11 – 3:8). The second third (3:9 – 4:4) proceeds with a homily in poetry called The Fountain of Wisdom, based on the abovementioned passages from Proverbs and Job. Lastly, the third division of the poem begins at 4:5 and is a prayer for consolation and reassurance. As it happens, the metre alters from that of the second part.

Lastly, some scholars offer a fourfold division, namely narrative introduction (1:1-14), prayer of confession and repentance (1:15 – 3:8), wisdom poem of admonition and exhortation (3:9 – 4:4) and poem of consolation and encouragement (4:5 – 5:9).

Date and authorship

The more predominant view is that the book as a whole was composed in Hebrew and afterwards rendered into Greek, no earlier than the middle of the 2nd century BCE.

It is impossible to ascertain the date of the passage in 1:3-14 or of the Hebrew original.

The predominant view of scholars is that the book had three separate authors and that an editor united these distinct parts in order to create a somewhat unified composition by attributing the authorship to Baruch.

Interpretation

The various sections of Baruch have their own characteristics in terms of style and themes. Nonetheless, the author(s) connected the sections in question with words, themes, and traditions. As a consequence, the different outlooks and aims of these sections come together to form a rhetorical and literary unity, which progresses from suffering and repentance for sin (1:15 – 3:8) to allegiance to wisdom and submissiveness to the commands of God (3:9 – 4:4) and draws to a close with encouragement to perseverance and the guarantee of divine involvement (4:5 – 5:9).

The wisdom poem identifies wisdom with the Law and wise conduct with obedience to the precepts of God, just like other 2nd-century books (see further Ecclesiasticus 24). As opposed to several sectarian polemical texts, for instance some known from Qumran, Baruch does not differentiate between the faithful and the unfaithful Jews. All Jews are summoned to recognize the iniquities of the nation, repent, submit to the commandments, and anticipate divine help and intervention amidst a rehabilitated nation. Some scholars claim that Baruch offers a moderate, traditional theology for Israel to which people from all walks of life may be devoted to. In consequence, the criticism often levelled at the book of Baruch is this plain generality and absence of originality.

Reception history

Eight passages in the New Testament possibly reflect six in Baruch: Baruch 1:11f. and 1 Timothy 2:2; Baruch 3:29 and John 3:13 and Romans 10:6; Baruch 4:1 and Matthew 5:18; Baruch 4:7 and 1 Corinthians 10:20; Baruch 4:35 and Acts 18:2; Baruch 4:37 and Matthew 8:11 and Luke 13:29.

Further reading

Brueggemann, W. “The ‘Baruch Connection’: Reflections on Jer 43:1-7.” JBL 113 (1994): 405-20.
Saldarini, Anthony J. “Book of Baruch.” Page 153 in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Edited by David Noel Freedman. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, England: Eerdmans, 2000.
Tedesche, S. “Book of Baruch.” Pages 362-63 in vol. 1 of The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. 4 vols. Edited by George A. Buttrick. New York: Abingdon, 1962.
Wacker, Marie-Theres. Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah. Wisdom Commentary 31. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2016.
http://www.ellopos.net/elpenor/greek-texts/septuagint/chapter.asp?book=45 [Greek text and English translation]