Why Read the Apocrypha: The Book of Baruch

Why Read the Apocrypha: The Book of Baruch

Part 5 in our Why Read the Apocrypha series where we discuss the books of the Apocrypha. So far we discussed – The Book of Tobit, the Book of Judith, the Book of Wisdom, and the Book of Sirach.

This week we will be discussing the Book of Baruch – its historical and background information, criticisms against this book, and lastly, we will read portions of the text itself. 

The Apocrypha is a set of writings that were taken out of the Bible following the Protestant Reformation. They are books that have been cited to have unknown or doubtful authorship by Bible scholars and leaders. However, these books have great value, and history inside of them and they are beneficial for Christians to read. 

Book of Baruch – Historical and Background Information

Background

The book of Baruch is named after the prophet Jeremiah’s scribe and companion – Baruch ben Neriah (Jeremiah 36 – 45). The text over many years has been translated into several languages including Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, and many more (Britannica “Book of Baruch“).

The book of Baruch is believed to have been originally written in Hebrew around 582 – 550 BC, however, only the Greek translations have survived (Catholic News Agency “Baruch“).

History

The book of Baruch is the fifth book of the Septuagint Apocrypha. In many Bibles, the book of Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah are together in one book. However, in the Septuagint and some Orthodox bibles, these two books are counted separately.  

The Book of Baruch is included in the Eritrean/Ethiopian Orthodox Bible, and in the 9th century, was included along with the Letter of Jeremiah in the Latin Vulgate Bible compiled by Jerome, a theologian from the 4th century (Wikipedia “Book of Baruch“).

In addition to being included in the Latin and Ethipioian bibles, the Book of Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah were included in many pandect Greek bibles, including the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Alexandrinus. The pandects or the Digest/ Corpus Juris Civilis are a collection of books of juristic writings on Roman law compiled by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I (A.D. 530 – 533)(Wikipedia “Digest(Roman Law)“). 

Church Fathers

As we have seen throughout this series on the Apocryphal Books, many church fathers and leaders respected and quoted from the Apocrypha. 

Church fathers and leaders such as Thomas Aquinas (A.D. 1225 – 1274 ), Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150 – 215), and Hilary of Poitiers(A.D. 310 – 367) all quoted from the book of Baruch several times in their writings (Wikipedia “Book of Baruch – Theologians, Church Fathers, Second Vatican Council“).

The views and opinions of these writers are up for debate. However, we see that these Apocryphal books were widely used and respected, to a certain extent, in order for them to included in their writings during this time in history. 

Medieval Sculptures

Criticisms Against the Book of Baruch

The Book of Baruch includes many important themes, such as confession of sins regarding disobedience to God (Baruch 1:1 – 2:10); prayer for mercy (Baruch 2:11 – 3:8); desire for wisdom (Baruch 3:9 – 4:14); and a message to the captives (Baruch 4:5- 5:9).

However, there are a few Christian traditions and criticisms that try to disprove the validity of this book, but as we will see these aren’t valid arguments. 

Hebrew and Christian tradition state that the Prophet Jeremiah and Baruch died in Egypt based on Isaiah 30: 6 – 7 which reads: 

6 The vision of the quadrupeds in the desert. In affliction and distress, the lion and lion’s whelp, thence also asps, and the young flying asps, who bore their wealth on donkeys and camels to a nation which shall not profit them. 7 The Egyptians shall help you utterly in vain: tell them, This your consolation is vain.”

These verses do not say anything about the prophet Jeremiah and Baruch dying in Egypt. This verse only states that Egypt would be unhelpful to the captivity of Israel. This was prophesized by the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel (New Advent “Baruch“).

Criticisms

Like all the books of the Apocrypha, the book of Baruch has been severely criticized by modern Bible scholars. Here are a few of the criticisms that I found for this book:

This book is composed of different literary forms, and it’s in the style of/mirrors the Book of Sirach and Song of Solomon.

Why does a book having different literary forms and styles similar to others books mean that we should not read the book or that it is not accurate?

Historical inaccuracies seem to be an influence of the book Daniel.

The “historical inaccuracies” here are referring to Belshazzar being referred to as the son of Nebuchadnezzar. From my research, I found that many scholars believe that Belshazzar was a fictional character that only exists in the book of Daniel. So the reasoning is how can the Book of Baruch be written before the Book of Daniel about a character they believe doesn’t really exist? However, it is also widely believed that Belshazzar was Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson. The Bible doesn’t say which is the case, but we do know that Belshazzar is a direct relative of Nebuchadnezzar.

An issue over King Jehoiachin and the Temple administrations.

This first chapter of the Book of Baruch refers to sending animals and things needed to make sacrifices and offerings to the current High Priest in Jerusalem. The criticism here is that the book is being read to King Jehoiachin who wasn’t really king at the time and that the Temple wasn’t standing at this time.  However, the Hebrews weren’t taken out of Jerusalem all at one time. The king and his administration were taken out of Jerusalem first, then a few others, then the final burning and destruction of the Temple.

The Book of Baruch tells us that this book was read in the fifth year after the Babylonians burnt the city with fire. The king that Nebuchadnezzar placed as king instead of Jehoiachin was Zedekiah, he reigned for 11 years before the Temple was completed burnt down and the city was destroyed. 

Some believe the book of Baruch was referring to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. but uses the events of the fall of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. 

Some believe the events recorded in this book were not referring to the Babylonian Captivity, but to the fall of Jerusalem. I don’t think we should add to the text in this way. I think if the text is talking about the fall under Babylon we should believe it. However, it could also be referring to the fall of Jerusalem in a prophetic sense, but we shouldn’t disregard the surface-level meaning of the text on the account of a possible prophetic interpretation (Encyclopedia.com “Book of Baruch“). 

Biblical Background on the Book of Baruch

Before we discuss the Book of Baruch, we should talk about what is happening during this time in Biblical history. King Josiah was the last king of Judah that followed the Lord with all his heart. He was killed by Necho the King of Egypt, and his son Jehoahaz was made king. He only reigned for 3 months and was removed by Necho and replaced by his brother Eliakim- whose name was changed to Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim reigned for 11 years and was forced to pay tribute to the king of Egypt (2 Kings 23: 25; 29 – 37). 

King Nebuchadnezzar defeated King Necho of Egypt. As a result, king Jehoiakim was forced to pay tribute to Nebuchadnezzar for several years. Jehoiakim revolted and was raided by the Babylonians, Syrians, Moabites, and the Ammonites as punishment from God for the sins of Israel in years past (2 Kings 24: 1 – 7).

Jehoiakim dies and his son Jehoiachin becomes king and reigns for 3 months. Nebuchadnezzar besieges Jerusalem, and in the eighth year of Jehoiachin’s reign, he and his family and servants were taken to Babylon. During this time all the treasures from the Temple were either taken or cut up. 7,000 captains and mighty men, 1,000 artisans, and 10,000 prisoners were taken captive to Babylon- only the poor were left (2 King 24: 8 – 16). 

King Nebuchadnezzar placed Jehoiachin’s uncle Mattanyahu (later called Zedekiah) as king, and he reigned for 11 years (2 Kings 24: 17 – 20). In the last chapter of 2 Kings, we see that Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem until the 11th year of Zedekiah’s reign. There was a great famine in the land and King Zedekiah tries to escape, but his sons are killed and he is carried off to Babylon. Afterward, King Nebuchadnezzar’s army burns down the Temple, the holy things, the King’s house, and the whole city of Jerusalem (2 Kings 25: 1 – 18).

Introduction to the Book of Baruch

Close up on many old books

In the opening chapter, we see Baruch reading this book to King Jeconiah when he and his family and his royal cabinet and others were exiled in Babylon. This occurs before the complete destruction of the city of Jerusalem. 

The captives in Babylon were weeping, praying, and fasting for the state of the Hebrews in Jerusalem and for their sins against God. They sent the money that they had collected to Jerusalem to the High Priest Joachim son of Chelicias. This was done so that the priests could acquire the things they needed to perform the sacrifices on behalf of Israel- the burnt offerings, the sin offerings, and the incense offerings. 

They asked the Lord to give them the strength to live under the foreign rulership of the king of Babylon and his son. They asked the Lord for forgiveness from their individual sins and for the sins of the whole nation. 

Baruch 1: 12 – 14:

12 And the Lord will give us strength, and lighten our eyes, and we shall live under the shadows of Nabuchodonosor king of Babylon, and under the shadow of Balthasar his son, and we shall serve them, many days, and find favor in their sight. 13 Pray for us also unto the Lord our God, for we have sinned against the Lord our God; and unto this day the fury of the Lord and his wrath is not turned from us. 14 And ye shall read this book which we have sent unto you, to make confession in the house of the Lord, upon the feasts and solemn days.”

Baruch 1: 17 – 22:

17 For we have sinned before the Lord, 18 And disobeyed him, and have not hearkened unto the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in the commandments that he gave us openly: 19 Since the day that the Lord brought our forefathers out of the land of Egypt, unto this present day, we have been disobedient unto the Lord our God, and we have been negligent in not hearing his voice.

20 Wherefore the evils cleaved unto us, and the curse, which the Lord appointed Moses his servant at the time that he brought our fathers out of the land of Egypt, to give us a land that floweth with milk and honey, like as it is to see this day. 21 Nevertheless we have not hearkened unto the voice of the Lord our God, according to unto all the words of the prophets, whom he sent unto us: 22 But every man followed in the imagination of his own wicked heart, to serve strange gods, and to do evil in the sight of the Lord our God.”

Baruch 2: 1 – 2: 

1 Therefore the Lord hath made good his word, which he pronounced against us, and against our judges that judged Israel, and against our kings, and against our princes, and against the men of Israel and Juda, 2 To bring upon us great plagues, such as never happened under the whole heaven, as it came to pass in Jerusalem, according to the things that were written in the law of Moses;”

A Fulfillment of the Biblical Curses

When our people were first dragged off to Babylon, they saw this as the fulfillment of the prophecy that God had made to us through Moses before we entered the Promised Land. They saw the curses of Deuteronomy 28 coming to pass before their eyes with frightening clarity. The fulfillment of these curses and being dragged off to captivity by the Babylonians was devastating and caused a spirit of repentance to arise in our people. 

Baruch 2: 11 – 15:

11 And now, O Lord God of Israel, that hast brought thy people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and high arm, and with signs, and with wonders, and with great power, and hast gotten thyself a name, as appeareth this day: 12 O Lord our God, we have sinned, we have done ungodly, we have dealt unrighteously in all thine ordinances. 13 Let thy wrath turn from us: for we are but a few left among the heathen, where thou hast scattered us. 14 Hear our prayers, O Lord, and our petitions, and deliver us for thine own sake, and give us favor in the sight of them which has led us away. 15 That all the earth may know that thou art the Lord our God because Israel and his posterity are called by thy name.”

Return and Restoration

Just as what was prophesied in the Bible, we see the familiar pattern of the trouble that comes when we are continually disobedient to the commandments of God. Of course, the Lord knows that we were a stiff-necked people. We oftentimes turn away from Him and have to learn the hard way, but there is always room for repentance and restoration. 

Baruch 2: 29 – 35:

29 If ye will not hear my voice, surely this very great multitude shall be turned into a small number among the nations, where I will scatter them. 30 For I knew that they would not hear me because it is a stiffnecked people: but in the land of their captivities they shall remember themselves. 31 And shall know that I am the Lord their God: for I will give them a heart, and ears to hear: 32 And they shall praise me in the land of their captivity, and think upon my name,

33 And return from their stiff neck, and from their wicked deeds: for they shall remember the way of their fathers, which sinned before the Lord. 34 And I will bring them again into the land which I promised with an oath unto their fathers, Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, and they shall be lords of it: and I will increase them, and they shall not be diminished. 35 And I will make an everlasting covenant with them to be their God, and they shall be my people: and I will no more drive my people of Israel out of the land that I have given them.”

Prayers of Repentance, Strength, and Praise

Old city landscape

Chapters 1 – 3 were prayers of repentance for the sins that caused the Hebrews to be dragged into Babylon. They were also prayers of strength, that they would be able to survive the next seventy years in captivity. 

Baruch 3: 5 – 8:

5 Remember not the iniquities of our forefathers: but think upon thy power and thy name now at this time. 6 For thou art the Lord our God, and thee, O Lord, will we praise. 7 And for this cause thou hast put thy fear in our hearts, to the intent that we should call upon thy name, and praise thee in our captivity: for we have called to mind all the iniquity of our forefathers, that sinned before thee. 8 Behold, we are yet this day in our captivity, where thou hast scattered us for a reproach and a curse, and to be subject to payments, according to all the iniquities of our fathers, which departed from the Lord our God. ”

Chapter 4 is a prayer of praise. They praised because they knew that God had driven them into captivity, and as a result, they knew that God would be the one to return them back to their land, and to right fellowship with him. 

Baruch 4: 4 – 7:

4 O Israel, happy are we, for things that are pleasing to God are made known unto us. 5 Be of good cheer, my people, the memorial of Israel. 6 Ye were sold to the nations, not for destruction, but because ye moved God to wrath, we were delivered unto the enemies. 7 For ye provoked him that make you by sacrificing unto devils, and not to God.”

Prophesied Destruction of Jerusalem

Another thing we see in this chapter is the city of Jerusalem being personified. She speaks of seeing the upcoming destruction from God on the Hebrews for their sins and gives admonition to the Hebrews in this trying time. 

Baruch 4: 8 – 11: 

8 Ye have forgotten the everlasting God, that brought you up: and ye have grieved Jerusalem, that nursed you. 9 For when she saw the wrath of God coming upon you, she said, Hearken, O ye that dwell about Sion: God hath brought upon me great mourning; 10 For I saw the captivity of my sons and daughters, which the Everlasting brought upon them. 11 With joy did I nourish them; but sent them away with weeping and mourning.”

Baruch 4: 21: “Be of good cheer, O my children, cry unto the Lord, and he will deliver you from the power and hand of the enemies.”

The Return of Israel to Jerusalem

The final chapter of the Book of Baruch speaks of the return of the captivity to Jerusalem and the glory of returning to the land and to right fellowship with God. 

Baruch 5: 5 – 6:

5 Arise, O Jerusalem, and stand on high, and look about toward the east, and behold thy children gathered from the west unto the east by the word of the Holy One, rejoicing in the remembrance of God. 6 For they departed from thee on foot, and were led away of their enemies: but God bringeth them unto thee exalted with glory, as children of the kingdom.”

Baruch 5: 9: “For God shall lead Israel with joy in the light of his glory with the mercy and righteousness that cometh from him.”

The Book of Baruch is an exciting and important book to read. It is filled with history that doesn’t contradict the Bible, as many Bible scholars and leaders may claim. I believe it is very important to do our own research especially regarding the Bible, and deuterocanonical books of the Apocrypha. They are full of history, Biblical lessons, and calls to follow the commandments of God, these things and more often times go unheeded and unseen.

I hope you continue to follow us along on this journey through the Apocryphal books. Until next time, Shalom!

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