A Vision on Zion – 2 Baruch 13-21

While standing on Mt. Zion, Baruch hears a voice from heaven. The Lord answers an objection Baruch raised in his lament (chapter 13). This is a dialogue between God and Baruch which deals with the problem of the destruction of temple (13-20). What good is it to follow God if he allows the Temple to be destroyed and the people judged so harshly? People may ask, “why has God brought this sort of destruction down on his people?” When these people wonder if such a retribution will come upon them, Baruch is to tell them that they will also drink the wine of God’s wrath down to the dregs. After hearing this, Baruch asks the Lord what benefit is there in being righteous if everyone will be punished by the Lord (chapter 14).

Glory-of-GodThe Lord’s reply (chapter 15) is that it is true all will be judged, but the righteous will have a crown of great glory waiting for them as a reward for their great struggle. Baruch wonders if the few evil years of this life are enough to inherit an unmeasurable reward (chapter 16). The Lord’s reply (chapter 18) is that the Lord does not take account of years. Adam lived 930 years but it was no profit for him if he transgressed God’s commands. Moses lived 120 years, but it would profit him nothing if he had not been the “lamp which lighted a generation.” But Baruch objections that while Moses was a lamp, few followed his light (chapter 18).

In chapter 19), The Lord points out Moses who gave them the covenant and they were judged by that standard. How happy a person is while young does not really matter if at the end of his life he transgresses and is judged. The Lord’s point seems to be that there is still time for repentance near the “end of days” for the nation. Baruch is told to go and fast for seven days and the Lord will continue his revelation to Baruch (chapter 20).

Chapter 21 contains a prayer of Baruch in response to the dialogue of chapters 13-20. In verse 4-11 he calls out to the Lord as the creator God, the God who is sovereign and in control of his creation. He decrees things so minutely he knows how many raindrops will fall on a given head (cf. Mt. 10:30, the hairs on one’s head are numbered.) Verses 12-18 develop this theme of God’s knowledge acknowledge that God has preserved the life of those who have sinned so that they may be proved righteous. Men are changeable even if God is not and God takes the time to change men. In verses 19-25 Baruch asks how long it will be that the world will continue to be polluted by sin.

Finally, He asks for God to act to reveal his glory in the world and restore creation. The restoration in mind is Israel, but this restoration will mean salvation for all creation. This resonates with Revelation, at least in the sense that the final restoration is the return of the glory of God and a “new heavens and new earth.”

2 Baruch and the Fall of Jerusalem

Baruch-and-Jeremiah2 (Syriac Apocalypse of) Baruch appears to have been written in the late first century, probably around A.D. 100. Like 4 Ezra, the book is a response to the recent fall of Jerusalem. Using the persona of Jeremiah’s scribe Baruch, the author of this book is answering a theological question, why has god allowed the Temple to be destroyed a second time? Has God cancelled his promises to his people? Is there any future for Israel? Since it was written about the same time as the New Testament’s Revelation, it is one of the more significant Second Temple period apocalypses.

4 Ezra and 2 Baruch share many similarities, although the direction of the influence is hard to determine. Klijn is inclined to see 2 Baruch as dependent on 4 Ezra; he therefore dates the book to the first part of the second century (OTP 1:616-52). Collins argues for a date a bit earlier based on the fall of Jerusalem in the twenty-fifth year of king Jeconiah in the first verse of 2 Baruch. This is not historically accurate, so it is possible the author is referring to the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, twenty-five years in the past (Apocalyptic Imagination, 212-3). The book was written in Palestine and most likely in Hebrew originally. The book is closely related to the rabbinic literature and seems to be exhorting diaspora Jews from the perspective of Palestinian Jews (OTP 1:617).

2 Baruch 1-4 forms an introduction to the book. The author takes on the guise of Baruch son of Neriah, the companion of Jeremiah. He is told by the Lord that all of the things which happened to the northern ten tribes will happen to the south as well. Jerusalem will fall and the people will be punished. Baruch agrees this punishment cannot be resisted, but asks the Lord what will happen after the city is destroyed. Are the promises of God ever to be fulfilled?  The Lord’s answer is that a New Jerusalem has been built, but it is in Paradise.

In chapter 5-9 Baruch prepares for the Babylonian invasion. He tells the people what the Lord has told him and they sit in the valley of Kidron and fast until evening. The city is surrounded the next day (ch. 6). Baruch sees four angels at the corners of the city with burning torches. He sees the temple and the Holy of Holies, including the ephod, precious stone and other temple items. These buildings are swallowed up by the earth, then the angels put their torches to the city and destroyed its foundations. Babylon enters the city and plunders it and kill many people.

The word of the Lord comes to Baruch and he is command to tell Jeremiah to go to support the captives in Babylon. Baruch delivers a lengthy lament for the city in chapter 9, striking many themes found in later apocalyptic (“better never to have been born,” verse 6, for example.) He condemns Babylon although it is not as brutal as it might be. He asks how the Lord has borne the destruction of the city (chapter 11-12).

As Baruch weeps for fallen Jerusalem, the Lord will answer his questions through a series of visions

The New Testament and 4 Ezra

The Jewish Apocalypse of Ezra deals with the problem of the Jews in the post-70 world.  Has God abandoned his people?  This is extremely important for New Testament studies since the “Jewish problem” arises in nearly every context.  The New Testament passage which deals with this problem in the most detail is Romans 9-11. While Paul reaches a similar conclusion, he does so in a non-apocalyptic manner.  Paul is obviously writing well before the fall of Jerusalem, so this is not the “crisis” which has caused Paul to ask about the fate of the nation of Israel.  In Paul’s case the “crisis” is the resurrection of Jesus in general and more specifically his own calling to be the apostle to the Gentiles which raises the question of what happens to the Jews in the new era of “church.”

ApocryphalPaul deals with the problem much differently than 4 Ezra.  Rather than question God’s fairness or badger God with questions about his management of the universe, Paul grounds his understanding of Israel in the election of the nation to be the people of God and in the unalterable promises of God (9:1-21).  Even there, Paul is willing to accept that God makes some things for destruction, as objects of his wrath.  But Israel is not by nature an object of wrath, although they have “experienced a hardening in part” (9:30, 11:25).  Romans 10 makes clear it is God’s desire for Israel to be saved, they are not cut off from God and a remnant of Israel will be saved in the future.  Romans 11:1 cannot be clearer:  God has not rejected his people, and eventually “all Israel will be saved” (11:26).

Paul is writing in the pre-A.D. 70 world.  Israel still exists as a political reality, Jerusalem and the Temple still stand.  4 Ezra is on the other side of the terrible destruction of Jerusalem asking a legitimate question – does God still care for Israel? This question may be at the heart of the closest parallel in the New Testament to 4 Ezra, the Book of Revelation.

While Revelation never states the question in quite the same way 4 Ezra does, the fate of Israel in the post-A.D. 70 world is near the center of the theology of the book.  That Israel will continue to suffer and pass through torment is a given in the book; the nation will ultimately be tested to the point of death.  At the last moment, the Messiah will appear and vindicate his people and establish them in peace and safety in Jerusalem (and later the New Jerusalem) with a restored temple and renewed worship.  Revelation demonstrates, like 4 Ezra, that God has a plan to set things right in the future for the nation of Israel.

Another text which deals with the problem of Israel in the period after the fall of Jerusalem may be the book of Hebrews.  This book deals with the theological problems caused by a belief in Jesus as Messiah, especially the sacrificial system in the light of the death and resurrection.  The sacrifices are no longer necessary for a Jew to approach God since Jesus has given access to all through his blood.  The temple and Jerusalem are therefore no longer needed.  This is argued in non-eschatologically and would have appealed to Jews in the Diaspora.

Ezra’s Seventh Vision – 4 Ezra 14:1-48

Ezra has his final vision three days later while sitting under an oak (14:1-18).  The Lord calls to him and tells him to store up all of the visions he has received because the ages are growing old and the time of the end is drawing near.  History has been divided into twelve parts, and nine of these parts are already past as well as half of the tenth part.  The eagle of the last vision is “already hastening to come.”

Ezra the requests the Lord allow him to rewrite the scripture so the present generation will know what has happened (14:19-26). The Law was burned along with the Temple, therefore the people need new copies given to them by the Lord.  The Lord allows this, but some of the books are kept secret (14:26).  He announces his intention to rewrite the scripture to the people (14:27-36), and for forty days he goes into a field along with five scribes.

He is given a drink by an angel which will give him complete understanding and total recall as he dictates all day long.  After forty days ninety-four books were created:  the twenty-four canonical books and the seventy “hidden” books (14:37-48). This can be taken as a reference to an Old Testament canon since the 24 books are obviously the books of the Hebrew Bible. If 4 Ezra is dated to the end of the first century, then we have at least some indication that the canon was fixed by that date (for the author of 4 Ezra, at least!)

Ezra’s Sixth Vision – 4 Ezra 13:1-58 (The Man from the Sea)

man-on-mountainAfter another seven days, Ezra experiences another vision (13:1-13.)  A great wind stirs the sea and Ezra sees a figure of a man flying with the clouds, surrounded by a great multitude. The mountains melt like wax before him.  A huge multitude has gathers to make war against him, but they are destroyed by flaming fire from his mouth. This man then came down from the mountain and called his people to him; some were joyful but others were sorrowful; some came bound while others brought offerings.

Ezra is perplexed by the vision and prays for an interpretation (13:14-20).  The Lord responds by explaining that the world will make war city against city and all of the signs described before will come to pass.  The man will come and the multitudes will gather to make war against him, but he will stand on top of Mt. Zion and judge the nations (13:21-39).

This man is called “my son” (verse 37).  The people who gather to the man are the Jews, even the “lost” ten tribes (13:40-45).  The man who is coming will destroy the nations while preserving the people of God (13:46-50).

Ezra asks why the man was coming from the heart of the sea (13:51)?  The reason is that the sea is a great mystery, nor one can know when “my son” will come (13:52-58, cf. Mt. 24:36, 42, no one knows when the Son of Man will come, but one can know the “signs,” Mt. 24:32-35.)  Ezra leaves the field and gives God great glory because he controls the times and governs whatever comes to pass.

Book Review: Reinhard Pummer, The Samaritans: A Profile

Pummer, Reinhard. The Samaritans: A Profile. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 376 pp. Pb; $30.   Link to Eerdmans

In his introduction to this new history of the Samaritan people, Pummer cites an anonymous reviewer of James Montgomery’s 1907 monograph on the Samaritans that wondered if the Samaritans were worthy of a 360 pages book! The situation has changed one hundred years later. Following the publication of Magnar Kartveit’s The Origin of the Samaritans (Brill 2009) and Gary Knoppers’s Jews and Samaritans: The Origins and History of Their Early Relations (Oxford, 2013), interest in the Samaritans seems to be on the rise. Pummer’s new volume contributes to this developing interest in the history of the Samaritans by going beyond the confines of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament to explore the history of the Samaritans.

Pummer-SamaritansThe first section in the book deals with the identity of the Samaritans. Popular preachers and teachers have denigrated the Samaritans, calling the half-breeds and implying their religion is a subset of Judaism. This mischaracterization is often corrected in scholarly literature, but a full description of “Samaritan” is often lacking. Pummer begins his definition by contrasting what the Samaritans claim for themselves (they are the true heirs of Israel) with the typical Jewish view than the Samaritans are the descendants of the kingdom of Israel as described in 2 Kings 17. Modern scholarship on the Samaritans tends to reject both of these extremes. Kartveit argued there was a split in the fourth century caused by the building of a temple on Mount Gerizim. Knoppers argued for more interaction between two Yahweh sects at Samaria and Judea. The destruction of the Gerizim temple by John Hyrcanus (134-104 B.C.) was the cause of a split, but not an absolute schism between the two similar religions. Pummer thinks the evidence shows the Samaritans were not a sect that broke away from Judaism, not a “branch of Yahwehistic Israel in the same sense as the Jews (25).

The next three sections of the book trace references to the Samaritans in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and early Jewish literature. He adds a question mark to the title of his chapter on the Old Testament since it is possible the polemic in 2 Kings 17 does not refer to a long standing enmity between Samaritans and Jews. In fact, there appears to be an amicable relationship even after the Gerizim temple was destroyed. In the New Testament, Pummer suggests Samaritans are neither Jew nor Gentile, although Jesus did not engage in a systematic mission to the Samaritans (37). Luke for example, does not see the Samaritans as either pagans or syncretists (41), an no text in the New Testament looks back to 2 Kings 17 as an explanation of the origins of the Samaritans. Pummer only briefly deals with the Gospel of John, suggesting that John 4 expresses concern over Christian mission to the Samaritans. He does not think there is any Samaritan influence on Stephen’s speech or the book of Hebrews, although there may be some shared interests. Following the biblical data, Pummer surveys references to Samaritans in other ancient Jewish Writings including the Apocryphal (Sirach and 2 Maccabees), Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, and Rabbinic literature. Josephus has the most data, although it is possible Josephus has enhances his positive view of the Jews be contrasting them with the Samaritans, an unreliable people from the Roman perspective (55).

 

The fifth section of the book examines the archaeological excavations at Mount Gerizim. Although today’s Samaritans deny there was a legitimate Yhwh temple on the mountain (89), Josephus reported the presence of a temple as well as the destruction of the temple by John Hyrcanus. Pummer surveys modern excavations on Mount Gerizim and concludes it is “very likely that a temple once existed in this area” (80). There are nearly four hundred fragments with palaeo-Hebrew or Aramaic texts. Among these fragments are words like YHWH, priests, sacrifice, house of sacrifice. In addition to these inscriptions, a small golden bell was found which may have been part of a priestly ephod (84).

Pummer surveys several diaspora synagogues which have dedications implying they were Samaritan synagogues. Of primary importance is the synagogue a Delos where two inscriptions were found honoring a patron who made contributions to a sanctuary on argarizin. Pummer takes this as a reference to the temple on Mount (har) Gerizim, concluding this is evidence for “Samarian Yahwehists whose religious center is Mt. Gerizim” (93). This chapter includes many photographs and diagrams illustrating Samaritan synagogues both in the diaspora and in Palestine. Pummer admits the number of excavates Samaritan synagogues is small compared to Jewish synagogues, he asserts there is enough evidence to support the existence of these religious centers among the Samaritans in antiquity. Finally, Pummer briefly summarizes smaller discoveries such as amulets and oil lamps and Samaritan ritual baths (miqvot). Pummer believes the fact no mikvoth were found on Mount Gerizim is an indication they were not used until after then temple was destroyed (116).

Despite the extremely small number of Samaritans, there are some subgroups which can be described as sectarian. In the sixth section of the book, Pummer gathers this information from Samaritan, Muslim and Karaite sources, supplemented with a few Patristic sources. This evidence is sketchy, but seems to indicate there were as many as four types of Samarians in the fourth century. This is reported by Epiphanius of Salamis (312-403), but by the early nineteenth century Samaritans denied some of this evidence as relating to their history (127).

Perhaps the most useful section of the book is Pummer’s history of the Samaritans from Hellenistic and early Roman times through the modern period. Most introductions to the Samaritans are content to deal with the biblical period, Pummer traces the Samaritans through the Early Muslim and Crusade, Mamluk, and Ottoman periods. One of the most fascinating aspects of this history is what Pummer calls the “Modern Period,” introducing the reader to the current state of the Samaritan people. This short section of the chapter should be read alongside chapter 12, the Samaritans today. Chapter 8 concerns the geographical distribution and demography Samaritans over their history, in both Palestine and the Diaspora. Although estimates for the total number of Samaritans in antiquity vary from ninety thousand to as many as five hundred thousand in the Hellenistic-Roman periods, the numbers today are extremely low. In 1954 there were as few as 313 Samaritans but in a 2013 study, the number had risen to 756.

Chapters 9 and 10 concern the literature of the Samaritans. Of primary interest to most readers is the Samaritan Pentateuch (SP) and the differences between this ancient translation and the Masoretic Text (MT). Pummer contributed a monograph on the topic (Early Christian Authors on Samaritans and Samaritanism: Texts, Translations and Commentary, Mohr Siebeck, 2002). Although most readers will be familiar with the “sectarian changes” introduced to the Pentateuch in order to support Gerizim as the location for the Temple, but there is far more to the SP than this popular characterization. It is true there are minor modifications to increase the sanctity of Mount Gerizim, but other differences between the SP and the MT are found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and it now appears the Hebrew text behind the SP is older than the MT. Pummer offers examples of both in this chapter. For example, in the SP expands on the Decalogue to include a command to build an altar at Gerizim (205).  As with other sections of the book, Pummer includes a short history of the study of the Samaritan Pentateuch western scholarship.

No Samaritan literature has survived from the Hellenistic or Roman periods, and even the hints such a literature existed in patristic sources is debatable. For most Samaritan literature available today, there are no critical editions or translations available. Pummer summarizes a few examples of exegesis, halakhah and liturgy as well as some historical chronicles and folktales. Of some interest is the dialogue with European scholars. Since the Samaritan religion was virtually unknown at the time, Robert Huntington (1637-1701) wrote a series of letters to Samaritan leaders asking questions about their beliefs and practices. This sort of interaction continued into the twentieth century and is rarely considered in introductions to the Samaritans.

Chapter 11 summarized what is known of Samaritan rituals and customs, including the unique Samaritan calendar, their practice of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Weeks and the Day of Atonement. Some practices are similar to Judaism (pilgrimage to Mount Gerizim, circumcision, redemption of the first born and reading of the torah). Pummer includes a few short sections on the culture of Samaritans (betrothal, weddings and funerals, prayer, music and art). Overall these descriptions are dependent on modern practice since it is virtually impossible to know anything about Samaritan culture in antiquity due to the total lack of literature or material evidence. The brevity is frustrating to the reader, but given the available data, Pummer is not to be faulted for this.

The book concludes with a few comments the challenges the Samaritans face today. Since the Samaritan community is very small it is difficult to know how they can survive in the modern state of Israel.

Conclusion. Pummer’s introduction to the Samaritans goes beyond the usual topics to include the whole history of Samaritan culture. By blending literary and archaeological sources, Pummer presents a clear and concise picture of the Samarians both in antiquity and in the modern world. Although the arrangement of topics is sometimes odd, this book will be a useful contribution to the ongoing study of the Samaritans.

 

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Ezra’s Fifth Vision – 4 Ezra 11:1-12:51 (The Eagle Vision)

Ezra’s second dream in the field involves an eagle with twelve wings and three heads (11:1-35).  The heads and the wings mutate in various ways throughout the dream, some becoming dominant while others wither and become puny. Ezra hears a voice from the body of the eagle rather than from one of the mouths.    As Ezra watches this eagle, a creature like a lion appeared and addressed the eagle (11:36-46).  The lion-creature says the eagle is the last of the four beasts which remain (probably referring to Daniel 7).  The eagle has judged the earth, but not with truth, therefore it will be judged by the Most High.  As the lion is speaking, the eagle’s heads disappears and the body of the eagle burns up and the earth is terrified (12:1-3).

St-john-eagleEzra is perplexed and asks the Lord for an interpretation of this vision (12:4-9).  The Lord speaks to Ezra and confirms the eagle is the fourth beast of Daniel’s vision (12:10-39).  The wings are twelve kings which will reign over it, and the three heads are the final three kings which will arise in the final days.  One will be poisoned while the other two die by the sword.   These are probably to be taken as Roman emperors, although which is to be the start of the sequence is always a problem (Julius, Augustus, etc.) and if the three minor rulers are to be included in the sequence (Cf. Revelation 18 where there are a series of ten kings). The lion is the Messiah (12:32, cf. Rev. 5:5), who comes at the end of days from the line of David.  He will denounce the final beast and deliver the remnant of the people of the Lord and make them joyful in the end on the Day of Judgment.

Since Ezra has been gone from the people from some time, the people make a search for him.  When they discover him the field, they ask him how they have offended him (12:40-45).  Ezra tells them to take courage because the Most High has not forgotten them in their struggle.  He has been praying to the Lord on behalf of the desolation of Zion and will stay in the field another seven days (12:46-51).

Given the predominant imagery of an eagle, this vision seems to make the final empire in Daniel’s vision the Romans and describes the Messiah as overcoming the Romans and judging them for their ungodliness.  The identity of the four kingdoms in Daniel is a debated subject, many scholars take the fourth empire to be Greece, especially in the light of chapter 11 and the predictions of Antiochus IV Epiphanies and Seleucid meddling in the politics of Palestine.  Others take the fourth empire as Rome, arguing Rome is by far the most powerful and dominate of world empires.  Collins (OTP 1:550 note b) considers 4 Ezra a re-interpretation of Daniel, applying the fourth beast to Rome; I would be inclined to see 4 Ezra as confirming the fact Daniel’s fourth beast is Rome.

This prophecy was likely written after the fall of Jerusalem by a Jew who desired to comfort other Jewish readers.  God is aware of the evil of Rome, the fall has been predicted long ago by Daniel. Eventually the Messiah will come to deliver the Jews from the oppression of Rome.  It is possible this hope existed well before A.D. 70, especially during the ministry of Jesus.  We know there were a few small scale rebellions in the early part of the first century (Judas the Galilean in A.D. 6, for example) as well as several false messiahs.

4 Ezra represents a messianic hope for delivery from Rome some 70 years after the time of Jesus, but it may reflect a more long standing hope for deliverance.  It was well known that after the fall of Jerusalem there were three generations, about 70 years, before the Temple was rebuilt.  4 Ezra seems to represent the thinking of people living in the “three generations” between A.D. 70 and the messianic fervor of A.D. 135.   If there was an expectation for the Messiah even after the fall of Jerusalem, it is little wonder the Jews (Pharisees and disciples both) misunderstood Jesus as messiah.  Certainly Jesus talked about the Kingdom of Heaven, but the method for establishing the kingdom was not exactly what they may have had in mind.