The Canon of Scripture, Part 4: The Other Books of Baruch

[Note: I am rebooting this series to always include links to the texts discussed, whether or not I accept them.  The previous three articles have had these links added.]

The canon of Scripture is a settled issue, isn’t it? You’ve got your 66 books total, 39 in the Old Testament (24 by the Jewish counting) and 27 in the New Testament. However, when you do the research, things are not so simple. There are many “other” books claiming to be Scripture, a number of them accepted by various denominations and/or included in various Bibles over the years. Are they Scripture? Or just heretical additions?

I established in The Canon of Scripture, Part 1: The Apocrypha that the books known as the “Apocrypha” are inspired Scripture.  In The Canon of Scripture, Part 2: Enoch and Jubilees I established that the books of Enoch and Jubilees are inspired Scripture.  And in The Canon of Scripture, Part 3: Jasher I established that the original Book of Jasher was inspired Scripture, but that the current copies are forgeries.  Today, I will be dealing with the “other” books of Baruch.

One of the Biblical books usually grouped with the Apocrypha is the Book of Baruch.  It is otherwise known as 1 Baruch, due to the other books claiming Baruch as the author.  These books are:

  • Apocalypse of Baruch (or 2 Baruch)
  • Greek Apocalypse of Baruch (or 3 Baruch)
  • The Rest of the Words of Baruch (or 4 Baruch)

[Note: the numbers were applied by modern scholars in order to distinguish them; acceptance of, say, 4 Baruch does NOT require acceptance of the preceding two; and rejectance of, say, 2 Baruch does NOT require rejectance of the following two; they should all be considered independently of each other.]

Apocalypse of Baruch

Otherwise known as 2 Baruch or the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch (to distinguish it from the Greek Apocalypse), this is probably the best-known of the “other” books of Baruch.  It claims that Baruch was a prophet in his own right, in addition to being Jeremiah’s scribe.  Note that chapters 78-87 were often circulated as a separate work known as the Letter of Baruch to the Nine and A Half Tribes (in a similar fashion to the Letter of Jeremiah, which is commonly distributed separately from the Book of Baruch).

The Apocalypse of Baruch was part of the canon of the Aramaic Peshitta (translated sometime between the 1st century BC and 1st century AD), and is accepted by the Syrian Orthodox Church [sources differ as to whether this church accepted the entire Apocalypse, or simply the Letter; similarly, Peshitta manuscripts differ as to whether to include simply the Letter or the entire Apocalypse].  It was quoted from by Cyprian (c.200-258 AD) [and his quotes are from the main Apocalypse, not from the Letter].  The Apocalypse shows close relations with both the Book of Enoch and 4 Ezra [1].  For instance, the prophecy in 2 Baruch 29:4-6 almost exactly mirrors one in Enoch 60:7-9, 24 (58:7-12 in some versions).

An objection is occasionally made that 2 Baruch contradicts Jeremiah.  This is because whereas Jeremiah clearly states that the Prophet Jeremiah was in Jerusalem when it was captured by Nebuchadnezzar, 2 Baruch seems to imply that he was not.  The following is from an email I recently wrote to a contact discussing a possible solution to the “contradiction”:

I’ve found a possible solution for the “discrepancy” between Jeremiah and 2 Baruch. It’s a bit like the “contradiction” between the Gospels and Acts as to how Judas died. If one compares the different accounts, one finds the whole picture; no single one has it all.

Comparing the accounts, we find the following:

“So Yirmeyahu [Jeremiah] lived in the court of the guard until the day that Yerushalayim [Jerusalem] was taken; and he was there when Yerushalayim was taken. … And the Kasdim [Chaldeans] burned the king’s house, and the houses of the people, with fire, and broke down the walls of Yerushalayim.  Then Nevuzaradan [Nebuzaradan] the captain of the guard carried away captive into Bavel [Babylon] the remnant of the people that remained in the city, and those that fell away, that fell to him, with the rest of the people that remained.  But Nevuzaradan the captain of the guard left of the poor of the people, which had nothing, in the land of Yehudah [Judah], and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time.  Now Nevukadnetsar [Nebuchadnezzar], King of Bavel, gave charge concerning Yirmeyahu to Nevuzaradan the captain of the guard, saying, ‘Take him, and look well to him, and do him no harm; but do to him even as he shall say to you.’  So Nevuzaradan the captain of the guard sent, and Nevushazban [Nebushasban], and Rav-Saris [Rabsaris], and Nergal Sharetser [Nergal-Sharezer], Rav Mag [Rabmag], and all the king of Bavel’s princes; even they sent, and took Yirmeyahu out of the court of the prison, and committed him to Gedalyahu [Gedaliah] the son of Achikam [Ahikam] the son of Shaphan, that he should carry him home.  So he dwelt among the people….  The Word that came to Yirmeyahu from YEHOVAH [The Lord], after that Nevuzaradan the captain of the guard had let him go from Ramah, when he had taken him being bound in chains among all that were carried away captive of Yerushalayim and Yehudah which were carried away captive to Bavel.  And the captain of the guard took Yirmeyahu and said to him, ‘YEHOVAH ELOHAYKA [The Lord your Gos] has pronounced this evil upon this place.  Now YEHOVAH has brought it, and done according as He has said: because you have sinned against YEHOVAH, and have not obeyed His voice, therefore this thing is come upon you.  And now, behold, I loose you this day from the chains which were upon your hand.'” (Jeremiah 38:28, 39:8-14, 40:1-4)

“‘For I have said these things to you that you may bid Yirmeyahu, and all those that are like you, to retire from this city.’ … And I went and took Yirmeyahu, and Adu, and Seryahu [Seriah], and Yavish [Jabish], and Gedalyahu, and all the honourable men of the people, and I led them to the valley of Kidron, and I narrated to them all that had been said to me.  And they lifted up their voice, and they all wept.  And we sat there and fasted until the evening.  And it came to pass on the morrow that, behold, the army of the Kasdim surrounded the city, and at the time of the evening, I, Baruch, left the people, and I went forth and stood by the oak.  And I was grieving over Tsiyon [Zion], and lamenting over the captivity which had come upon the people.  And behold!  Suddenly a strong spirit raised me, and bore me aloft over the wall of Yerushalayim. … And I saw him [an angel] descend into the Holy of Holies, and take from there the veil, and the Holy Ark, and the mercy seat, and the two tables, and the holy raiment of the priests, and the altar of incense, and the 48 precious stones, wherewith the priest was adorned and all the holy vessels of the Tabernacle.  And he spoke to the earth with a loud voice, ‘Earth, earth, earth, hear the Word of EL ELOHIM, and receive what I commit to you, and guard them until the last times, so that, when you are ordered, you may restore them, so that strangers may not get possession of them.  For the time comes when Yerushalayim also will be delivered for a time, until it is said, that it is again restored forever.’  And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up. … And I, Baruch, came, and Yirmeyahu, whose heart was found pure from sins, who had not been captured in the seizure of the city.  And we rent our garments, we wept, and mourned, and fasted seven days.  And it came to pass after seven days, that the Word of ELOHIM came to me, ‘Tell Yirmeyahu to go and support the captivity of the people to Bavel.’ … And I said to Yirmeyahu as YEHOVAH commanded me.  And he, indeed, departed with the people…” (2 Baruch 2:1, 5:5-6:3, 6:7-10, 9:1-10:2, 10:4-5)

“It was also contained in the same writing that the prophet [Jeremiah], being warned of ELOHIM, commanded the Tabernacle and the Ark to go with him, as he went forth into the mountain where Mosheh [Moses] climbed up and saw the heritage of ELOHIM.  And when Yirmeyahu came thither, he found a hollow cave, wherein he laid the Tabernacle, and the Ark, and the altar of incense, and so stopped the door.  And some of those that followed him came to mark the way, but they could not find it.  Which when Yirmeyahu perceived, he blamed them, saying, ‘As for that place, it shall be unknown until the time that ELOHIM gather His people again together, and receive them unto mercy.  Then shall YEHOVAH show them these things, and the glory of YEHOVAH shall appear, and the cloud also, as it was showed under Mosheh, and as when Shelomoh [Solomon] desired that the place might be honourably sanctified.'” (2 Maccabees 2:4-8)

So, the overall picture is as follows: YAH [The Lord] warned Baruch about the impending destruction of Jerusalem. He tells Jeremiah and some others, and leads them out of the city, where they fast and weep until evening. YAH tells Jeremiah to hide the Ark of the Covenant and other features of the Temple, which he apparently does that evening. In all probability, Jeremiah returned to the city. Perhaps he thought he would catch a couple hours’ sleep and leave in the morning. Perhaps he went for supplies. Who knows. (According to 4 Baruch – a book accepted by Ethiopian Christians and JEWS, despite prophesying Yeshua [Jesus] BY NAME, and sharing details with both 2 Maccabees and 2 Baruch, despite the fact that these books were NEVER accepted in Ethiopia, and 4 Baruch was NOT accepted in Syria, where 2 Baruch [and 2 Maccabees] was accepted – YAH had sometime beforehand told Jeremiah that He wanted him to stay and be part of the captivity. This does not necessarily contradict 2 Baruch; YAH could have wanted Jeremiah to stay, but given him the opportunity to flee; allowed him to decide to do it the easy way, or YAH’s way, choosing to stay; that’s my family’s experience, He might tell you to do something, but tell you you can still go ahead and do the other thing if you want. It’s a test.) Either way, he either voluntarily entered the court of the guard, or was caught and put back in. After the sacking of the city, when most of the population (with the exception of some of the poorest) is being taken captive, Nebuchadnezzar tells Nebuzaradan to go to the court of the guard and NOT TAKE JEREMIAH CAPTIVE, BUT TREAT HIM LIKE A GUEST (hence the remark in 2 Baruch about not having been taken captive with the others). YAH reminds Jeremiah that He wants him to go with the captives, so Jeremiah CHOOSES to join the captivity. Joining the captives, he naturally has to be taken to Ramah with the other prisoners to be screened, and so therefore has to be chained like Jeremiah mentions. Once there, he is once again set free. 

Greek Apocalypse of Baruch

Otherwise known as 3 Baruch (by modern scholars), this books also presents a series of visions allegedly given to Baruch.  Some of the book’s claims are decidedly suspicious, and seem to contradict Scripture.  For instance the claims that the punishments of hell occur, not in Hell/Sheol in the centre of the earth (as the Bible says), but in various heavens.  Also claimed is that the wicked are reincarnated as dogs, apes or bears in hell.

There is also no evidence that I am aware of that 3 Baruch was ever accepted as Scripture by anyone, anywhere.

The Rest of the Words of Baruch

This text is also known as 4 Baruch, or even Paralipomena of Jeremiah  (meaning Things Left Out of Jeremiah).

As mentioned above, 4 Baruch prophesies Yehoshua/Jesus BY NAME, yet is accepted as canon by the Beta Israel Jews of Ethiopia.  If it is in fact a later Christian work as modern skeptical scholars like to claim, HOW THE HELL did Jews come to accept it?  So, a few centuries after Christ, a hated Christian went up to Ethiopia’s Jews and presented them with a supposed book of Baruch that they’ve never heard of, that prophecies the hated Yehoshua as Messiah BY NAME, and THEY ACCEPTED IT?!?  That prophesy – coupled with its acceptance by a Jewish sect – are very strong points in The Rest of the Words of Baruch‘s favour.  4 Baruch is also accepted by Ethiopia’s and Eritrea’s Orthodox Christians.

As mentioned above, the text contains interesting agreements with 2 Maccabees and possibly 2 Baruch – despite the fact that there is no record that either of those books were ever accepted in Ethiopia – or that 4 Baruch was accepted in Syria, where those books WERE accepted!  That ought to make one stop and think.

4 Baruch seemingly contradicts Jeremiah in claiming that the Babylonian Exile was 66 years, instead of 70.  However, this appears to be a scribal error; 4 Baruch was reworked (and de-Messianised) in the first few centuries after Yeshua by Jewish scribes, with the resulting work being called the History of the Captivity in Babylon or Things Left Out of Jeremiah (yes, it had the same title as 4 Baruch).  This expanded version of 4 Baruch gives the Babylonian exile as 70 years, indicating that the original text probably read that.

One could potentially contend that some of the miracles described in The Rest of the Words of Baruch are somewhat fantastic.  But YEHOVAH is not beyond using fantastic.  And the same accusation is sometimes leveled against Tobit or other books of the Bible – sometimes all of them.  Some would call raising the dead fantastical.

In Conclusion

2 and 4 Baruch deserve at least serious consideration – if not outright acceptance.  3 Baruch, on the other hand, would be better classed among fantasy novels and literature.

Online translations

R.H. Charles’ translation of 2 Baruch:

http://wesley.nnu.edu/sermons-essays-books/noncanonical-literature/noncanonical-literature-ot-pseudepigrapha/the-book-of-the-apocalypse-of-baruch-the-son-of-neriah-or-2-baruch/

3 Baruch:

http://www.pseudepigrapha.com/pseudepigrapha/3Baruch.html

4 Baruch:

http://www.swartzentrover.com/cotor/Bible/Bible/A&P/OTA&P/OTPseudepigrapha/4%20Baruch.htm

12 thoughts on “The Canon of Scripture, Part 4: The Other Books of Baruch

  1. A fun read! Love how you point out some obvious problems with commonly held ideas. Personally, I think all Christians would be better if they read some of those books that are considered canon by groups other then their own, as well as other ancient writings. But as always, one should have a care. If a book has a late authorship, it will likely have some bad teachings in it.

    I’m not sure if I wouldn’t include the book of Jubilees with the book of Jasher as in regards to not having any original, or near original, manuscripts (or not enough of an original to be worth more then just substantiating that there was such a book.) But I don’t know enough of the history of the book of Jubilees to really press that statement.

    It is odd that more Christians aren’t aware of the book of Enoch as it seems that some of the theology of the “new testament” is based on ideas from that book.

    But what I really enjoy is the section known as ‘Bel and the Dragon’ (an extension of the book of Daniel), present in some canons. I enjoy it because it throws to light the use of ingenious mechanical means to deceive people. That practice continues in many ways into modern age (and has morphed into electronic means of deception).

    A word of caution to those that are thinking of reading these books. If you don’t know the first 5 books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy); and for you Christians out there, if you don’t know the gospels, don’t read these books. First get a good foundation of knowledge, and live obediently, then have fun looking into these books.

    Shalom!
    – Yosef

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The manuscripts of Jubilees are about as ancient as manuscripts for other Biblical books. It’s Jasher that has no supporting manuscripts. And yes, if one doesn’t know the Bible we have, it’s best NOT to go reading other books; you’ll likely go after a wrong one.
      (Bel and the Dragon’s always been one of my favourites as well.)

      Liked by 1 person

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