By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Men in the Old Testament

  • Baruch means “blessed one.”  It is a shortened form of Berechyahu, which means “blessed by Yahweh.”
  • He was the son of Neriah and grandson of Mahseiah.  His brother was Seriah.
  • Some scholars have speculated that his father and grandfather might have been priests or of priestly descent.  But little is known about them.
  • Most agree that they were a family of some prominence.
  • Baruch is best known as Jeremiah’s scribe or secretary.
  • Jeremiah’s career spanned five Judean kings starting with Josiah in 639 BCE and ending with Zedekiah in 586 BCE.
  • Baruch worked with Jeremiah during the difficult years preceding the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 587 BCE.
  • When the Babylonians and the Medes defeated the Assyrians in 612 BCE, they made Judah a vassal state.
  • Initially, things might have been better for Judah under the Babylonians, but essentially things remained the same in that they were still a vassalage.
  • Perhaps under the advice of Jeremiah, King Josiah agreed to work peacefully with the Babylonians.
  •  Unfortunately, the Babylonians had their eyes on Egypt and vice versa.
  • Against Jeremiah’s advice, Josiah went out to do battle against the Egyptians who were on their way to fight the Babylonians.
  • Josiah was killed in this battle.
  • The people chose his son Jehoahaz II to be his successor, but within a few months he was deposed by the Egyptians who replaced him with his brother, Jehoiakim.
  • During the ten-year reign of Jehoiakim, the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish in 605 BCE.
  • With Babylon the undisputed leader in the region, Jeremiah further encouraged Judah to adopt a pro-Babylonian stance.
  • He, no doubt, believed Babylon was too powerful and that any resistance would be futile.
  • Jehoiakim, however, had been given his throne by the Egyptians and felt loyal to them.
  • Soon Jeremiah and Jehoiakim were on opposite sides of the issue.
  • In 601 BCE, Babylon besieged Judah, whereupon Jehoiakim turned to the Egyptians for aid.
  • This eventually led Babylon to completely conquer Jerusalem during which time Jehoiakim was killed.
  • His son, Jehoiachin, was his successor and had to suffer for the sins of his father.
  • After only reigning for a few months, Jehoiachin was captured by the Babylonians (597 BCE) and taken, along with many other prominent citizens, to Babylon where he lived in captivity for 37 years.
  • The Babylonians then appointed his uncle (another one of Josiah’s sons) as king of Jerusalem.  He took the name Zedekiah.
  • Even though he professed loyalty to Babylon, many of his officials still held a pro-Egyptian stance, to which he eventually succumbed.  
  • Zedekiah entered into a treaty with the Egyptians and, with their backing, endeavored to overthrow the Babylonians in 588 BCE.
  • Needless to say, this resulted in the Babylonian king routing them in 587 BCE after an 18-month to 3-year siege of Jerusalem.
  • Somehow Zedekiah managed to slip out of the city past the Babylonians, but he was soon deserted by his officials and eventually caught.
  • After killing his entire family, the Babylonians took him captive to Babylon.
  • These were the historical events that faced Baruch and Jeremiah.
  • Throughout it all, Baruch was a loyal supporter and secretary for Jeremiah.
  • We know of at least three examples of their close relationship.
  • The first occurs in Jeremiah 32:12-16 where Baruch witnessed and certified a land transaction for Jeremiah.
  • Jeremiah wrote out a deed, sealed it, had it witnessed, and weighed out the silver.
  • He then gave the sealed deed to Baruch for safe keeping.
  • He commanded Baruch to put the documents in a clay jar so they would be preserved.  (Since the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in a sealed clay jar 1900 years after the fact, it was sound advice.)
  • The point of this instruction was to symbolize that it would be a long time before people would return from exile to buy and sell land in Jerusalem.
  • It is possible this document was written on either parchment or leather.
  • It is very likely that Baruch drew up this document in accordance with the legal requirements of their day.
  • Once the document was signed, it was folded and sealed.
  • The seal was most likely a moist dollop of clay that was affixed to the string holding the document.  The scribe would then impress his seal into the dollop of clay and that seal would have been a permanent part of the document once it dried. This dollop was called a “bulla.”
  • Not surprisingly, archeologists have discovered many of these ancient bullae.  They persist even though the documents had long ago disintegrated.
  • Amazingly, one of these discovered seals has an inscription on it that closely resembles Baruch’s name and title: Baruch, the son of Neriayahu, the scribe.
  • It was found with many other bullae bearing the names of other royal officials in Judah.
  • It was purchased from a Palestinian antiquities dealer who claims it was found somewhere in Judah – probably discovered illegally.
  • The writing on the bulla is consistent with writings of the seventh or sixth century BCE.
  • In addition to Baruch’s bulla, there were others who are mentioned in the book of Jeremiah.  This lends more credence to its authenticity.
  • This is not to suggest, however, that the found bulla is the one Baruch used on Jeremiah’s land sale.  As a scribe, Baruch undoubtedly sealed many documents.
  • Another duty that Baruch performed for Jeremiah is described in Jer. 36:4-32.
  • Jeremiah dictated to him all the words that God had spoken to him over a period of 22 years.
  • This occurred during the fourth year of Jehoiakim’s reign (604-5 BCE), when he and Jeremiah were on opposite sides of the Egyptian-Babylonian debate.
  • God told Jeremiah to write down all the words he had spoken against Judah and all the nations.  It was God’s hope that the leaders would hear all the horrible things that would happen to them and turn from their evil ways.
  • Baruch copied down every word that Jeremiah dictated.
  • Because Jeremiah had already been restricted from going near the vicinity of the temple, he instructed Baruch to go there and read the scroll on a national fast day (when more people would be in attendance).
  • This event took place in the ninth month of the fifth year of Jehoiakim’s reign.  (It probably took many months to write this scroll.  Then they also had to wait for the right time to read it.)
  • Baruch read the scroll to all the people from the chamber of Germariah, the son of another scribe, in the upper court at the entry of the New Gate to the temple.
  • He, of course, did this at great risk to himself.  If it was too dangerous for Jeremiah to even go near the temple precincts, it was certainly dangerous for Baruch to read Jeremiah’s words out loud.
  • Obviously, this was way above and beyond the call of duty for a scribe.  Baruch, no doubt, agreed with Jeremiah’s social and political agenda and wanted to do his part in furthering it.
  • Though we have little information about Germariah, it seems that he also would have been a supporter of Jeremiah’s agenda.
  • When Germariah’s son heard what was being read, he hurried to the king’s palace to where the king’s scribes were gathered.
  • The officials then sent for Baruch to come to them in the king’s house – and to bring the scroll with him.
  • Baruch went willingly, maybe even eagerly, but surely this was even more dangerous than reading it out in the open.  When they asked him to read it to them, he didn’t hesitate for a moment.
  • Needless to say, the scribes reacted with great fear upon hearing the words of warning addressed against Judah.
  • Baruch confirmed that he had written every word dictated by Jeremiah.
  • The scribes told him to leave the scroll and to find Jeremiah so they could go into hiding.
  • Either these officials were also sympathetic to Jeremiah, or they felt a kinship with Baruch and protected him.
  • Once they were safely ensconced, the officials took the matter to the king.  After all, it was their job to keep the king informed of all important matters, especially any prophetic words relating to the kingdom.
  • The king wanted to hear the words directly, so one of them took it upon himself to read from the scroll.
  • As he was reading, the king would cut off what had been read and throw the pieces into the fire.  The scribes protested, but ultimately, the whole document was burned.
  • This also gives readers a glimpse of palace and prophetic relations.  Not all kings responded appropriately to prophetic messages.  In this case, the prophetic message involved international politics at a time when Judah was in a very precarious position.  The king probably should have taken these words very seriously.
  • Nonetheless, neither the king nor the officials ever reacted with mourning or gave the words serious thought.  It would take another twenty years, but everything prophesied would eventually come to pass.
  • Obviously the king put out an arrest warrant on Baruch and Jeremiah, but neither was to be found.
  • While in hiding, the word of the Lord came again to Jeremiah and he was told to take another scroll and dictate the whole thing over again to Baruch, adding a few choice warnings at the end for Jehoiakim.
  • Scholars think if this scroll really represented all the words God had spoken to him over a 22-year period, it must have been a hefty document.
  • Nonetheless, Jeremiah did what God told him to do, and Baruch did what Jeremiah told him to do.
  • By putting his life in danger, Baruch demonstrated that he was more than a secretary to Jeremiah; he was also very loyal and obedient.  Some have even referred to them as collaborators.
  • It is possible that Baruch tried to promote Jeremiah’s geo-political agenda of accommodation to the Babylonians. 
  • In fact, after the exile occurred, many people who had escaped Jerusalem returned to take stock and figure out the next step.
  • They came to Jeremiah and asked him to inquire of the Lord: Should they go into exile or flee to Egypt?
  • They even promised to do whatever the Lord said.
  • Unfortunately, the answer was unequivocal – do not go to Egypt.
  • This was not the answer they wanted, so they began to accuse Jeremiah of not telling them the truth.  They continued by accusing Baruch of inciting Jeremiah to preach against those who wanted to flee to Egypt to avoid going into exile.
  • For whatever reason, they thought that Baruch wanted them to suffer at the hands of the Babylonians.
  • This suggests that Baruch may have been more influential than a mere scribe and that he was politically connected.
  • Nonetheless, Jeremiah stood firm.  He believed the only way to be saved was to place themselves in the hands of the Babylonians because this was God’s word.  Above all, he preached a message of remaining faithful to God.
  • Shortly after this, the commanders of the forces made Baruch and Jeremiah go with them down to Egypt.  Scholars think they stayed there until they both died.  In either event, neither is heard from again.
  • The final notation about Baruch occurs in Jer. 45 where he is the recipient of a divine oracle.  Some scholars think this might have occurred roughly in 605 BCE, shortly after the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish.  Others note that it is placed at the end of their public life.
  • After the defeat at Carchemish, any astute person would have known that Babylon was on the ascendancy and would be unstoppable.
  • At this time, Baruch sent up a lament: “Woe is me because Yahweh has added grief to my pain.”  He basically declared he had come to the end of what he was able to bear.
  • He had worked so hard for Jeremiah and what was the result?  People refused to listen.  They had lost everything.  They were taken by force down to Egypt.
  • God spoke to him through Jeremiah saying, “What I have built, I will tear down.  What I have planted, I will uproot.”  These words had come true in the destruction of Jerusalem.
  • But the oracle continued: God told him not to seek great things for himself.  Instead, he should wait for God to deliver him and He would give him “his life as a prize for war.”
  • It is unknown what “great things” Baruch might have been seeking for himself, but one plausible explanation is that he was seeking to be a prophet like Jeremiah.  He was also seeking a divine message to help him understand the events that had taken place.
  • According to God, this would not be his role.  Instead his life would be a “prize for war.”  This term generally refers to the war-booty that goes to the victor.  In this context, it probably means that since he was faithful, he would be one of the ones obedient to God’s word.  He would therefore obey God’s counsel and submit to the Babylonians.  In short, he would not die during the coming turmoil.  He would still be a witness to it, but he would not be consumed by it.
  • Baruch and one other person were the only recipients of a divine oracle through Jeremiah and both were promised their “life as a prize of war.”
  • This illustrates that oracles were given to righteous people, of which Baruch was one.
  • When the turmoil was over, he would be alive to continue the work of Jeremiah.
  • Some scholars think Baruch was the leader of “righteous Yahwists,” people who followed God’s commands and submitted to the Babylonians.
  • This also suggests that Baruch grew from being a simple scribe to someone who warranted a special oracle from God.
  • Baruch was, undoubtedly, instrumental in promoting a pro-Babylonian stance, saying that the only way to survive was to submit to the Babylonians and wait it out.
  • Moreover, this was in accordance with the word of Yahweh.
  • According to the Septuagint version of Jeremiah, Baruch was expected to (and did) take over after Jeremiah and was able to continue his work.   He was the intermediary between the people and God.  In so doing, he was transformed from a scribe to a sage.
  • This is a considerably different portrayal from the Masoretic (Hebrew) version of Jeremiah.
  • Unfortunately, scholars may never know whether he fulfilled this role.  He passed out of history without any mention of his demise.
  • It is the post-biblical books that suggest he might have been, indeed, a sage.
  • The Book of Baruch has been attributed to him.  In this book, Wisdom is defined as the following of God’s commands – not limited to a few, but to all who hear and see.
  • In this he is the model Jewish sage.
  • In other post-biblical writings, he does take on the role of community leader when Jeremiah is no longer in the picture.
  • He was also the recipient of divine revelation. 
  • Scholars disagree, however, whether he truly is the author of any of these books.


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Metzer, Bruce, Ed. The Oxford Annotated Apocrypha. New York: Oxford University Press. 1965.

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Redditt, Paul. "Daniel." The New Century Bible Commentary. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press. 1999.

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Towner, W. Sibley. "Daniel." Interpretation. Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press. 1984.

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