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Fourth Baruch was likely written in Hebrew, although no Hebrew manuscript of the book is extent. There are a number of words which are difficult in Greek, but make some sense of a Semitic language original is assumed. The book refers several times to the “vineyard of Agrippa.” Agrippa II ruled Judea from A.D. 41 until the fall of Jerusalem. If the fall of Jerusalem in the book refers to the events of A.D. 70, then the book must have been completed in the late first century. The problem for this date is the presence of redactional levels within the “Jewish” text. It seems probable a number of books could have been written in the wake of the fall of Jerusalem using Baruch and Jeremiah as models, 2 Baruch is the most obvious example of such a literary attempt to deal with the crisis of faith a Jew might have experienced after the temple was destroyed. A Christian revision of the work was made at a later date including the obviously Christian ending (8:12-9:32).

If the book does come from a Jewish context, then 4 Baruch is evidence some first century Jews believed the Temple administration were “false stewards” and the fall of Jerusalem was God’s just punishment. Just as in the apocalyptic literature, there is a pattern of punishment (exile) and restoration. The restoration is described in terms of a resurrection of the nation (represented by the eagle flying over the tombs). In the Christian conclusion the writer implies the Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus and are justly punished in the events of A. D. 70. In either case, the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 is interpreted as a just act of a righteous God.

The book begins with Jeremiah praying to the Lord on behalf of the city of Jerusalem. The Lord tells Jeremiah the city will fall, which Jeremiah reports to Baruch. Baruch is to take the vessels from the temple “to the earth” and guard them. Abimelech the Ethiopian is sent to the vineyard of Agrippa to collect figs and while he is gone the city falls. Baruch is told the city fell because the people were false stewards and he goes and sits at a tomb waiting for the things God would reveal to him. Abimelech, meanwhile, sits under a tree in the heart of the sun with his basket of figs. He sleeps there for sixty-six years, awakens and takes his basket of figs to the city. Obviously he is a bit surprised to find the city destroyed and long abandoned, so he cries out to the Lord.

An angel is sent to him and takes him to the tomb of Baruch, who is waiting patiently for him to return. They embrace and the angel tells him to prepare himself because the Mighty One is coming. Baruch writes a letter to Jeremiah telling him what the Angel of has announced. This letter is delivered to Jeremiah in Babylon by an eagle, along with fifteen of the figs (cf. 2 Baruch 78). When the eagle flies over the place where exiles have been buried, the dead come alive. Jeremiah reads the letter to the people and they rejoice and celebrate a feast day since they are about to return to Jerusalem. Jeremiah is going to lead the people back from Babylon but many do not want to leave because they have married Babylonian women. Jeremiah forbids them to enter Jerusalem, so they go and found Samaria instead.

The final chapter is a scene of worship in Jerusalem led by Jeremiah (verse 7f mentions the Son of God, Jesus Christ the light of the Aeons). Before the Lord comes will be four hundred and seventy seven years (chronologically the author thinks this return from captivity is about 477 B.C.). Why 477 years? This is an odd number since it is not a multiple of 70 (as would 490 years in Daniel 9). The number 477 is 3×159, but 159 is not a particular significant number either.

The people are angry at Jeremiah for this prophecy about Jesus and attempt to stone him, but the stones cry out condemning Israel for their treatment of Jeremiah (cf. the Lives of the Prophets, where the prophecy of the Virgin Mary is the reason Jeremiah is stoned by the Jews). In Luke 19:40 Jesus says that if he commands the people to be silent “the stones will cry out.” This is not likely a direct parallel since the words of Jesus probably go back to several Psalms which indicate creation will rejoice when the Lord “the Lord reigns” (Pss 96:11; 98:7-9; 114:1-8, see also Isa 55:12; Hab 2:11). This Christian ending to the book is a polemic against the Jews for their role in killing Jesus. The Jews in the story are enraged by the prophecy from Jeremiah about the coming Son of God, so much so they kill him.

 

The metaphor of heavenly books is common in both the biblical and apocalyptic materials. This is a stock image drawn from a court room scene. In Dan 7:10, for example, thrones are set in place and the Ancient of Days takes his place at the head of the court. Once the court was seated, “the books were opened.” Based on the content of these books, the blasphemous “little horn” is thrown into blazing fire. So what is the content of an “apocalyptic book”?

Angel BooksSometimes these books record the names of the redeemed; or conversely, the names of the wicked are “blotted out” of the books. This is probably based on Exodus 32:32–33. In this non-apocalyptic text, the Lord says “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book.” The Psalmist asks God to blot out the names of his oppressors from “the book of the living” (Ps 69:28). Originally this meant a name carved in stone that would be obliterated if the named-person offended the king. Perhaps this was based on a citizenship roll or something of the sort, but the idea a text exists containing the names of those who are part of the kingdom. Isaiah 4:3 some people have been destined to survive in Jerusalem, “everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem.” In 2 Baruch 24:1, the opened books contain both the righteous deeds of the righteous and the wicked deeds of the wicked. These books are opened after a period of oppression, “When horror seizes the inhabitants of earth, and they fall into many tribulations and further, they fall into great torments” (2 Baruch 25:3) after which the messiah comes.

In other apocalyptic contexts books contain hidden secrets sealed up to be revealed at the appropriate time. In Daniel 12:9-10 there are secrets sealed up in a book “until the end of time.” In Rev 10:4 John was prepared to write down what the seven thunders said, but he is told to “seal it up” and not writer it down. The seven thunders are therefore some hidden secret not to be revealed at that time. There are examples of this phenomenon in other apocalyptic books as well. In 1 Enoch, the seer has a great deal more revealed to him that he is permitted to write at that time,.

1 Enoch 81:1-2 Then he said unto me, “Enoch, look at the tablet(s) of heaven; read what is written upon them and understand (each element on them) one by one. So I looked at the tablet(s) of heaven, read all the writing (on them), and came to understand everything. I read that book and all the deeds of humanity and all the children of the flesh upon the earth for all the generations of the world.

In an expansion on the biblical story. Jubilees 32.20–22, at Bethel Jacob is given seven tablets determining everything that would happen to his sons in the future.

Jubilees 32.20–22 And Jacob watched until he went up into heaven. And he saw in a vision of the night, and behold an angel was descending from heaven, and there were seven tablets in his hands. And he gave (them) to Jacob, and he read them, and he knew everything which was written in them, which would happen to him and to his sons during all the ages.”

But more commonly the books contain the sins of the person under judgment. In Jude 4 the judgment against the false teachers was written down (προγράφω) long before they secretly crept into the churches. In the Animal Apocalypse, the names of the good and bad shepherds are carefully recorded in books for future judgment (1 Enoch 89:62; 90:14-22). In 1 Enoch 104:7 sins are investigated and “written down every day.” In Jubilees 5:13-14 sins are carefully written down and judgments are “are ordained, written, and engraved.”  Describing the judgment awaiting the sins of Lot’s daughters, the writer of Jubilees says:

 Jubilees 16:9 “And behold it is commanded and it is engraved concerning all of his seed in the heavenly tablets so that he will remove them and uproot them and execute their judgment just like the judgment of Sodom and so that he will not leave seed of man for him on the earth in the day of judgment.”

Bringing this back to the throne room in Revelation 5, the scroll functions similarly the last category in that the opening of the scroll subjects the world to judgment. The final judgment is the coming of the Messiah to set up thrones and render justice (Rev 20:1-6). By taking the Hebrew Bible as the immediate background and tracing the development of a metaphor in the Second Temple Period apocalypses, we are more likely to understand the metaphor as John intended.

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Christian Theology

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