(Hebrew Barûkh, blessed, Benedict; Septuagint Barouch).
The disciple of Jeremiah, and the traditional author of the deuto-canonical book, which bears his name. He was the son of Nerias (Jeremiah 32:12, 32:16; 36:4, 8, 32; Baruch 1:1), and most probably the brother of Saraias, chief chamberlain to King Sedecias (Jeremiah 32:12; 51:59; Baruch 1:1).
After the temple of Jerusalem had been plundered by Nebuchadnezzar (599 B.C.), he wrote under the dictation of Jeremiah the oracle of that great prophet, foretelling the return of the Babylonians, and read them at the risk of his life in the hearing of the Jewish people. He wrote also the second and enlarged edition of the prophecies of Jeremiah after the first had been burned by the infuriated king, Joachim (Jer. 36). Throughout his life he remained true to the teachings and ideals of the great prophet, although he seems at times to have given way to feelings of despondence, and perhaps even of personal ambition (cf. Jer. 45). He was with Jeremiah during the last siege of Jerusalem and witnessed the purchase by the prophet of his ancestral estate in Anathoth (Jer. 32). After the fall of the Holy City and the ruin of the Temple (588 B. C.), Baruch lived probably for some time with Jeremiah at Masphath. His enemies accused him of having prompted the prophet to advise the Jews to remain in Juda, instead of going down into Egypt (Jer. 43), where, according to a Hebrew tradition preserved by St. Jerome (In Isaiah 30:6, 7), both died before Nebuchadnezzar invaded that country.
This tradition, however, conflicts with the data found in the opening chapter of the Prophecy of Baruch, wherein we are told of Baruch writing his book in Babylonia, reading it publicly in the fifth year after the burning of the Holy City, and apparently being sent to Jerusalem by the Jewish captives with sacred vessels and gifts destined to the sacrificial service in Yahweh’s Temple. It conflicts likewise with various traditions, both Jewish and Christian, which perhaps contains some particles of truth, but which do not allow us to determine the date, pace, or manner of Baruch’s death, with anything like probability.
In the Catholic Bible “the Prophecy of Baruch” is made up of six chapters, the last of which bears the special title of an “epistle of Jeremiah”, and does not belong to the book proper.
The Prophecy opens with an historical introduction (1:1-14), stating first (1-2) that the book was written by Baruch at Babylon in the fifth year after Jerusalem had been burned by the Chaldeans, and next (verses 3-14) that it was read in an assembly of King Jechonias and other Babylonian exiles upon whom it produced the most beneficial effects. The first section in the body of the book (1:15; 3:8) contains a twofold confession of the sins which led to the exile (1:15-2:5; 2:6-13), together with a prayer that God may at length forgive His people (2:14; 3:8). While the foregoing section has much in common with the Book of Daniel (Dan. 9:4-19), Baruch’s second section (3:9; 4:4) closely resembles passages in Job 28, 38. It is a beautiful panegyric of that Divine Wisdom which is nowhere found except in the Law given to Israel; only in the guise of the Law has Wisdom appeared on the earth and become accessible to man; let, therefore, Israel prove faithful again to the Law. The last section of the Book of Baruch extends from 4:5 to 5:9. It is made of up four odes, each beginning with the expression, “Take courage” (4:5, 21, 27, 30), and of a psalm closely connected with the eleventh of the apocryphal Psalms of Solomon (4:36; 5:9). Chapter 6 contains as an appendix to the whole book “The Epistle of Jeremiah”, sent by that prophet “to them that were to be led away captive into Babylon” by Nebuchadnezzar. Because of their sins they were to be removed to Babylon and to remain there “for a long time, even to seven generations”. In that heathen city they would witness the gorgeous worship paid to “gods of gold, and of silver, and of stone, and of wood”, but should not conform to it. All such gods, it is argued in various ways, are powerless and perishable works of man’s hands; they can do neither harm nor good; so that they are not gods at all.
It is certain that this sixth chapter of Baruch is truly distinct from the rest of the work. Not only its special title, “The Epistle of Jeremiah”, but also its style and contents clearly prove that it is a writing wholly independent of the Prophecy of Baruch. Again, while some Greek manuscripts that have Baruch have not the “Epistle”, others, among the best, have it separate from the Book of Baruch and immediately before the Lamentations of Jeremiah. The fact that the sixth chapter of Baruch bears the title, “The Epistle of Jeremiah”, has been, and is still in the eyes of many, a decisive reason for holding the time-honoured view that the great prophet is its author. It is also urged that the vivid and accurate description of the splendid, but infamous, worship of the Babylonian gods in Baruch, vi, makes for the traditional authorship, since Jer. 13:5, 6, probably speaks of the twofold journey of Jeremiah to the Euphrates. Finally it is affirmed that a certain number of Hebraisms can be traced back to a Hebrew original point in the same direction. Over against this traditional view, most contemporary critics argue that the Greek style of Baruch, vi, proves that it was originally written not in Hebrew, but in Greek, and that consequently Jeremiah is not the author of the Epistle ascribed to him. For this and for other reasons suggested by the study of the contents of Baruch, vi, they think that St. Jerome was decidedly correct when he called this writing pseudepigraphos, that is, inscribed with a false name. However this may be, an important study of the Canon of Holy Writ proves that, despite the assertions of Protestants to the contrary, Baruch 6 has always been recognized by the Church as an inspired work.
With regard to the original language of the Book of Baruch proper (chaps. 1-5), a variety of opinions prevail among contemporary scholars. Naturally enough, those who simply abide by the title which ascribes the Book to Baruch, admit that the whole work was originally written in Hebrew. On the contrary, most of those who question or reject the correctness of that title think that this writing was totally, or at least partially, composed in Greek. It is indeed true that the Greek literary features of the various sections do not point back with equal force to a Hebrew original. Yet, it can hardly be doubted that the whole of Baruch proper in its extant Greek form looks like a translation. The linguistic evidence is also confirmed by the following considerations:
- It is highly probable that Theodotion (end of the second century of our era) translated the Book of Baruch from a Hebrew original.
- There are some marginal notes of the Syro-Hexaplar text stating that a few words in the Greek “are not found in the Hebrew”.
- Baruch 1:14 says that the book was meant to be read publicly in the Temple; hence it must have been composed in Hebrew for that purpose.
Besides this unity as regards its original language, Baruch presents a certain unity in point of subject-matter, so that most of those who maintain that the whole work was primitively written in Hebrew admit also its unity of composition. There are, however, in the Book of Baruch many traces of the compilatory process whereby its various parts were apparently brought together. The difference in literary form between 1-3:8, on the one hand and 3:9-5, is very great indeed, and, taken together with the abrupt manner in which the panegyric on Wisdom is introduced at 3:9, suggests a difference with respect to origin. The two confessions of the sins which led to the exile in 1:15; 3:8, are put side by side without any natural transition. The literary differences between 3:9-4:4, and 4:5-5:9, are considerable, and the beginning of the third section at 4:5, is no less abrupt than that of the second at 3:9. Again, the historical introduction seems to have been composed as a preface to only 1:15-2:5.
In view of these and other such facts, contemporary critics generally think that the work is the outcome of a compilatory process, and that its unity is due to the final editor, who put together the various documents which obviously bore upon the exile. Such a literary method of composition does not necessarily conflict with the traditional authorship of the Book of Baruch. Many of the sacred writers of the Bible were compilers, and Baruch may, and, according to the Catholic scholars who admit the compilatory character of the work inscribed to him, must, be numbered among them. The grounds of Catholics for this view are chiefly three:
- The book is ascribed to Baruch by its title;
- it has always been regarded as Baruch’s work by tradition;
- its contents present nothing than would be later than Baruch’s time, or that should be regarded as foreign to the style and manner of that faithful disciple and secretary of Jeremiah.
Over against this view, non-Catholics argue:
- That its ultimate basis is simply the title of the book;
- that this title itself is not in harmony with the historical and literary contents of the work; and
- that those contents, when impartially examined, point to a much later compiler than Baruch; in fact some of them go so far as to ascribe the composition of the book to a writer living after A.D. 70.
Catholics easily disprove this last date for the Book of Baruch; but they do not so easily dispose of the serious difficulties that have been raised against their own ascription of the whole work to Baruch. Their answers are considered sufficient by Catholic scholars generally. Should anyone, however, judge them inadequate, and therefore consider the Book of Baruch as the work of a later editor, the inspired character of the book would still remain, provided this later editor himself be regarded as inspired in his work of compilation. That the Book of Baruch is “a sacred and canonical” writing has been defined by the Council of Trent; that it has just as much right to be held “inspired of God” as any other book of Holy Writ can readily be shown by a close study of the Canon of the Bible. Its Latin rendering in our Vulgate goes back to the old Latin version anterior to St. Jerome, and is tolerably literal from the Greek text.