The Consolation of Zion – 2 Baruch 35-44

Baruch goes to the ruins of the Holy of Holies and sits there weeping because “that of which we were proud has become dust” (chapter 35). He falls asleep and has a vision (chapter 36-37). In this vision he sees a forest surrounded by a high mountains and rugged rocks. A fountain appears in the forest and uproots the forest and even made the top of the mountain low. All which remained was a single cedar which was finally cast down. A vine arrives when the fountain is peaceful and tranquil, and finds the cedar.

Jewish-QuarterThe vine speaks to the tree and tells the fallen tree the forest was destroyed because of its sin.  All the cedar ever did was wickedness, never goodness. The cedar is burned to ash while the vine grows and becomes a valley full of unfading flowers. He prays for enlightenment so that he can understand the vision (chapter 38) and the Lord answers him (chapters 39-40). Israel is a vine frequently, see Isaiah 5, for example. This imagery is used in the rabbinic literature, see Sipre Deut. §312 (on Deut 32:9) and W. G. Braude and I. Kapstein, Tanna debe Eliyyahu: The Lore of the School of Elijah (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1981) 369. For both these references, see Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20 (Dallas, Word, 2001), 220.

Zion is the forest and it will be destroyed and rebuilt after some time. It will then be destroyed again, four times in all. The last kingdom will be the harshest and will exalt itself above the cedars of Lebanon. After the last kingdom the Anointed One will come (the vine, in the vision). This is roughly parallel to the four kingdoms scheme of Daniel 2 and 7, although the writer here does not detail who the kingdoms are who will overtake Zion. The last ruler of the final kingdom will be captured and brought to Mount Zion where the Anointed One will convict him of his wicked deeds and kill him. The dominion of the Anointed One will “last forever until this world of corruption has ended” (40:3).

Baruch asks the Lord about the timing of the events of his vision (chapter 41). He is concerned because many in the nation have “cast away the law.” What will happen to those Jews who are not prepared for this judgment? The Lord’s response (chapter 42-43) concerns those who have “withdrawn” and “mingled with the nations.” The writer seems to have in mind both natural Jews and converts to Judaism who “mingle.” They will be considered as the mountains in the vision, who were “brought low,” and “corruption will take away those who belong to it.” Baruch reports this vision to the people (chapter 44-47).

He tells them the judgment on Jerusalem was just and fair and that the people ought to dedicate themselves to the Law (44:6-7). The ones who will inherit the peaceful time in the future are those who are prepared for it (44:13-14), they have “not withdrawn from mercy and they have preserved the truth of the Law. For the coming world will be given to these, but the habitation of the others will be in the fire” (44:15).

This vision and interpretation is remarkably important for New Testament studies since it clearly shows an expectation of a Messiah who will free Zion from the oppressive last kingdom and establish a peaceful kingdom on earth for a period of time. If this expectation persisted after the fall of Jerusalem when Baruch was written, it most likely was common a generation before when Jesus was active in Galilee. For at least some Jews in the twenties and thirties Rome was oppressive and they did look forward to an Anointed One who will deliver them. Many of the themes present in Baruch could go back at least to the turn of the era.

Since context of this vision the fall of Jerusalem on A.D. 70, the final enemy must be Rome. Jews living in the post-70 world would have longed for God to act justly and punish Rome for destroying the Temple. Baruch makes it clear that the punishment received was just and fair (the cedar in the vision), but also that a restoration of the Temple (and Jerusalem) is God’s plan.

The Anointed One Will Appear – 2 Baruch 22-34

After Baruch prays this, he sees heaven open and his strength returns and a second dialogue begins (chapter 22). This time the Lord questions Baruch – does someone start something they cannot finish? The obvious negative answer is supplied by Baruch and the Lord continues to ask Baruch why he is so disturbed (chapter 23). When Adam sinned death was decreed, but the days are coming when the books will be opened and the righteous will be proven to be righteous (chapter 24).

JerusalemBaruch has acknowledged God’s control and ultimate foreknowledge, but he also admits man does not know the things God does. He asks to know what will happen so that he can instruct the people (24:3-4). God promises to preserve Baruch until the sign the Most High gives to the whole world at the end of days (chapter 25, cf. the “sign of the Son of Man” in Mt. 24:30). In those days great terror and tribulations will seize the earth and people will say that the Most High God has forgotten the earth; people will lose hope. Baruch asks how long the distress will last (chapter 26), and the Lord responds it will be divided into twelve parts (chapter 27), which are listed, but then the duration of the time is “weeks of seven weeks” (chapter 28). Kiljn says this is an unclear indication, although Baruch himself does not complain (OTP 1:620, note a). The time is obviously based on Daniel 12 and the other references to a time, times and a half a time as well as the “seventy weeks” prophecy (Dan. 9). Perhaps the translation from Hebrew into Syriac has obscured the reference. Perhaps the “twelve times” are to be taken as kingdoms or rulers (as in 4 Ezra, The Eagle Vision, 11:1-12:51).

When that time is accomplished, the Anointed One will appear and the whole world will be fruitful and prosperous (chapter 29). This is a very significant chapter since it clearly refers to the Messiah who will put an end to a period of suffering and introduce a period of peace and prosperity. This will be a time when the clouds “distill the dew of health” and the “treasury of manna will come down from on high.” The Anointed One appears in his glory (Mt 25:31f) and all those who “sleep in hope of him will rise” (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-17, 1 Cor. 15:51f) and the treasury of the souls will open up and huge multitudes of souls will appear (chapter 30).

This is a clear reference to the resurrection at the time of the Messiah, but it is not a resurrection to an eternal life in heaven, but rather a resurrection to a very real earthly life in a peaceful world ruled by the Anointed one. What is significant is description of those who are; they are those who “put their hope in him.” The people who are raised appear to be the Jews from the Old Testament period who were looking forward to the coming of the Messiah.

Baruch reports his vision to the people (chapters 31-34) and encourages them to “sow into their minds the fruit of the law (32:1). The building of Zion will be shaken, destroyed and left desolate, but will be rebuilt again. The Mighty one will renew is creation (32:6). The people think Baruch is going away from them, but he reassures them he will remain and do what Jeremiah command him.

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