3 Baruch was originally a Greek work but is also known in Slavonic translation. It is possible the book is mentioned in Origen’s De principiis 2.3.6. If this is so, then the book can be dated before A.D. 231. This citation is, however, far from certain, since it does not conform to the present text of 3 Baruch and may relate to some other unknown pseudepigraphical work under Baruch’s name. That the book is dependent on 2 Baruch is possible, but many of these motifs from 2 Baruch are also found in 4 Ezra and 2 Enoch (heavenly journey, the fate of the giants, the Phoenix, etc.) The book may have had some influence on the Apocalypse of Paul a third century Egyptian work describing Paul’s tour of heaven and hell. Himmelfarb points out several parallels between the two words, such as the defilement of the sun by human sin (91).
Although Gaylord concludes it is impossible to be certain of the date and provenance of the book (OTP 1:656), Himmelfarb considers the “fall of Jerusalem” motif as evidence a date soon after A.D. 70. 3 Baruch may be a Christian work which has reworked a Jewish source or a Jewish work which re-worked a Christian source. Either way, there is a blending of theological sources in the book which make use of the book for New Testament context and the development of theology difficult. OTP prints the Greek version alongside of the Slavonic for comparison.
Similar to 2 Baruch, the book begins with Baruch weeping by the Kidron after the destruction of Jerusalem. The book reads more like an Enoch text than 2 Baruch since there is a heavenly journey with an accompanying angel to answer questions. The Angel is angry with Baruch, more like the later Enochian visions than the earlier ones.
While Baruch weeps, he cries out to the Lord, asking why Nebuchadnezzar was allowed to destroy the vine of the Lord. Israel as a vine is drawn from Isaiah 5 and is an important feature of the teaching of Jesus (the Parable of the Vineyard in Mark 12:1-12 cf. Luke 20:9-19, for example). The metaphor describes the nation of Israel as a vineyard which did not recognize its owner at the appropriate time. George Nickelsburg suggested the vine was transformed into the tree of life in the original Jewish version of the book (300).
An angel responds and tells Baruch to stop irritating God with his prayers because the angel is about to reveal great mysteries to Baruch. The revelation takes the form of a heavenly journey to the first heaven, “across a river no one can pass about thirty days’ journey.” He sees strange men with the faces of cattle and deer who are the people who “built the tower of war against God” (an allusion to the Tower of Babel). The angel takes Baruch into the second heaven, a further sixty days’ journey. He sees more strange animal-men who are the people who plotted to build the tower.
In the next chapter, the angel takes him 185 days’ journey and shows Baruch Hades and the great serpent which eats the bodies in the place. He sees the vine planted by Samael in the garden which Adam was not supposed to touch. This removes God from the responsibility of placing the “forbidden fruit” in the garden. God cannot be blamed for the fall since he did not put the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil there in the first place. The vine was removed at the time of the flood, which also killed 409,000 giants from before the flood (the Slavonic texts reduces this number to 104,000).
Baruch continues his heavenly tour in chapters 6-9. The angel then takes Baruch to where the sun goes forth and there he sees the Phoenix. This legendary bird has a wingspan of 24,000 feet which eats only manna. Baruch asks what this fantastic bird excretes, “He excretes a worm, and from the excretion, this worm, cinnamon comes into existence, which kings and princes use” (8:12, shades of Frank Herbert’s Dune?)
Baruch asks where the sun goes after the cock’s crow so the angel takes him to the place of the setting sun where it is renewed after having to spend the whole day looking upon the sins of the earth. The angel then visits the place of the moon and the stars. The moon grows large and small because, after Adam’s first sin, the moon tried to give Adam light to wear. God was angry with her and judged her by making her wax and wane.
Baruch’s journey then proceeds to the third heaven. He sees a large plain with a lake in the center with many birds. These are the souls of the righteous. Baruch is taken into the fifth heaven but he cannot enter the gate until Michael comes with the keys. Michael appears with a very deep bowl filled with the virtues of the righteous which he holds before the Lord.
Chapters 12-16 describe the fate of the righteous and the evil. Given the context of the recent destruction of Jerusalem, the writer of this apocalypse is interested in the fate of the righteous who survive and the punishment of the wicked. Angels come carrying baskets filled with flowers, the virtues of the righteous. Some angels come lamenting because they are blackened. They have been handed over to evil men who never enter a church or go to their spiritual fathers (and a sin list follows). Michael opens the gate and delivers the virtues so that men may be rewarded. Those angels who have nothing are told not to weep, but they appear to be sent to torment the ones who did not have any virtues. The Slavonic version makes this clearer by adding a question from Baruch about these people. Finally Michael closes the door and there is a great noise like thunder, which is the noise of the virtues being brought to God.
Describing the theology of 3 Baruch is difficult because the book is incomplete and may have a number of Christian insertions. In addition, the book has not been as extensively studied as other apocalypses (Kulik calls the book an “underdog”). Nevertheless, the book is interested in two things, punishment/reward and the incredible glory of God. Kulik considers the message of the book as consolation for those who endured the fate of Jerusalem (34). Like 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch, the author of 3 Baruch argues God is in control of the universe and will (eventually) render justice.
Gaylord, H. E. “3 (Greek Apocalypse of) Baruch” in OTP 1:653-679.
Harlow, Daniel. The Greek Apocalypse of Baruch (3 Baruch) in Hellenistic Judaism and early Christianity. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996.
Himmelfarb, Martha Ascent to Heaven in Jewish and Christian Apocalypses (Oxford: OUP, 1993).
Kulik, Alexander. 3 Baruch: Greek-Slavonic Apocalypse of Baruch (Commentaries on Early Jewish Literature; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2010).
Nickelsburg, George. Jewish Literature (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1981).