Jerusalem had fallen to the Romans; another Temple of the Israelites had been torn down and burned. In order to make some sense of what happened, many Israelites turned to the past. An Israelite of the late first century sought to provide understanding and encouragement to his fellow Israelites by writing as if Baruch, attempting to make sense of how YHWH could have again handed His people over to their enemies. His writing is known to us as 2 Baruch.
2 Baruch is also known as the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch, in contrast with the Greek Apocalypse of Baruch. 2 Baruch was almost assuredly originally written in either Hebrew or Aramaic, but probably Hebrew, and then translated into many languages. 2 Baruch has been primarily preserved in a Syriac translation of a Greek translation of the original (hence why it is often called the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch, even though it was not a Syriac composition). The work is written as if by Baruch, son of Neriah, Jeremiah’s scribe and companion, who experienced great distress on account of his circumstances in Jerusalem, but whose life would be spared on account of his faithfulness (Jeremiah 32:12-15, 36:4-32, 43:3-6, 45:1-5). And yet 2 Baruch would give Baruch a pride of place and standing as a prophet in his own right not at all suggested in Jeremiah or anywhere else in the Old Testament; for this and many textual reasons 2 Baruch is universally recognized as pseudepigraphal, written by an anonymous Israelite in the first century CE or early second century CE after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 but without any expectation of the bar-Kokhba revolt. The anonymous author most likely chose Baruch since he maintained faith and trust in God despite distress in the days when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians; he likely intended for this to provide a model and example for Israelites of his own day. Many have noted the many parallels between 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra and some have suggested a dependent relationship; while both have apocalyptic themes and relate to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, the two works remain distinct. 2 Baruch is not as consistently apocalyptic, featuring narratives, speeches, prayers, and lamentation as well; the author of 2 Baruch attempted to frame the most recent devastation in terms of the greater story of what he believed God was accomplishing for Israel. Through prayer, lament, speeches, and visions, the author of 2 Baruch attempted to provide context for his fellow Israelites after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, and hoped to encourage them with the promise of a Messiah and the resurrection.
2 Baruch can be read online here. 2 Baruch began with God warning “Baruch” and the faithful to leave Jerusalem before it is destroyed; “Baruch” cannot make sense of how God could be faithful and do such things; God told “Baruch” it would happen to discipline the people for their sins while giving confidence that the heavenly Jerusalem is preserved; “Baruch” saw an angel gathering the vessels of the Temple before the destruction (2 Baruch 1:1-9:1). “Baruch” remained in Jerusalem and lamented the fall of Jerusalem, considering those who died more fortunate than those who endured Jerusalem’s destruction (2 Baruch 10:1-12:5). God and “Baruch” then have another conversation regarding future judgment and the hastening of time so as to reach the end (2 Baruch 13:1-20:6). “Baruch” then prayed, contrasting God’s greatness and man’s short time, asking for the end to come (2 Baruch 21:1-26). “Baruch” and God conversed again, in which God established the end would come when the fixed number of those who would be born came to pass, with the end times divided into twelve parts, each with tribulation, culminating in the time of the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead (2 Baruch 22:1-30:5). “Baruch” then gathered the remaining elders of Judah and spoke to them of the future, in which the Temple would be rebuilt but destroyed again, but afterward built again for eternity in the renewal of creation at the end (2 Baruch 31:1-34:1). “Baruch” lamented the fate of Jerusalem again, even lamenting the insufficiency of his lament regarding the humiliation of Israel (2 Baruch 35:1-5).
“Baruch” was then given a vision of a forest with rocks and crags and a fountain turning into a river which uprooted the forest except for one cedar; the cedar would be brought before a vine and condemned: this is explained to “Baruch” as a series of four kingdoms, with the vine as the Messiah who would overcome the final kingdom; “Baruch” is told that all are judged by what they do toward the end of their lives (2 Baruch 26:1-43:3). “Baruch” convened a group of Israelites and exhorted them to obey the Law to obtain life in the new world to come; he would soon be gone, but Israel would not lack leaders or wise men (2 Baruch 44:1-47:2). “Baruch” again prayed a contrast between God’s greatness and man’s transience, begging God to not remove hope from Israel; God responded by emphasizing the need for judgment to satisfy justice, and detailed the tribulations to come; the nature of the resurrection is discussed, glorified for the righteous, a resurrection so as to decay for the wicked; “Baruch” wished for people to finish their lamentation and prepare for what God would give them (2 Baruch 48:1-52:8).
“Baruch” then received an extended vision, explained by the angel Remiel: he saw alternating black and bright waters raining upon the earth from clouds in twelve cycles, which were explained in terms of the six times of wickedness in Adam, Egypt, the Amorites, Jeroboam, Manasseh, and the Babylonian exile) and the six times of righteousness in Abraham, Moses, David and Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah, and the Second Temple); a greater darker period would then come, bringing destruction, and then a flash of light to end it: the end of the Second Temple, the time afterward, and the coming of the Messiah and peace (2 Baruch 53:1-76:5). “Baruch” addressed the Israelites for a third and final time, speaking of the present destruction as chastisement for Israel’s sins, admonishing the Israelites toward faithfulness no matter what (2 Baruch 77:1-17). Based on Israelite encouragement “Baruch” then wrote two letters of a similar message for the exiles in Babylon and in Assyria; the latter is preserved in the rest of 2 Baruch, the “Epistle of Baruch,” detailing the events which transpired in Jerusalem, how it was the judgment of God, the importance of remaining faithful to God and the Law, and the expectation of judgment on Israel’s enemies (2 Baruch 78:1-87:1).
We do not know how well 2 Baruch was received within Israel; the text was preserved by Christians who found it profitable for consideration and meditation. 2 Baruch testifies to how some in Israel attempted to come to grips with the destruction of Jerusalem, understanding it as God’s judgment for sin while remaining confident in the Torah and the coming of the Messiah and a day of resurrection. Jerusalem was destroyed on account of the sins of the people; yet that sin was primarily their rejection of the Messiah whom God had already sent to Israel, Jesus of Nazareth, who prophesied the destruction as His vindication as the Son of Man (Matthew 24:1-36). 2 Baruch has value for us as a witness of the continuing hope of the Messiah and resurrection in Israel; we do well to put our trust in Jesus as the Messiah so that we may obtain the resurrection of life in Him!
Ethan R. Longhenry
Stone, Michael and Henze, Matthias. 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2013.