What is Fourth Baruch?

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.