Baruch – a Chronology
Damien F. Mackey
“… in the fifth year, on the seventh day of the month, at the time the Chaldeans took Jerusalem and destroyed it with fire”.
“The fifth year referred to is not the fifth year after the destruction of Jerusalem, but the fifth year of the exile of Jeconiah [Jehoiachin], i.e., the fifth year of Zedekiah”.
Fixing a Time for Baruch
Rev. A. Fitzgerald (F.S.C.), writing his commentary on “Baruch” for The Jerome Biblical Commentary, appears to me to have made a pretty good fist of pinning down, to 593 BC (conventional dating used in this article for convenience), the year when Baruch wrote his book, or scroll, “on the seventh day of the month in the fifth year after the Babylonians captured Jerusalem” (Baruch 1:2) – 593 BC being the fifth year of king Zedekiah, when the Temple was still standing.
For, those who would assign Baruch’s “fifth year” here to 582 BC, the fifth anniversary of the Temple’s destruction by Nebuchednezzar II, in 587 BC, run into the somewhat acute difficulty of there being no Temple standing in Jerusalem to receive the silver vessels referred to a few verses further on. Thus (vv. 8-9):
On the tenth day of the month of Sivan, Baruch took the sacred utensils which had been carried away from the Temple and returned them to Judah. These were the silver utensils which Zedekiah son of King Josiah of Judah had ordered made after King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia had deported Jehoiachin, the rulers, the skilled workers, the nobles, and the common people and had taken them from Jerusalem to Babylon.
According to Fitzgerald (37:8-9):
As 1:1b-2a stand, they indicate that the prayer [of Baruch] was composed “in Babylon, in the fifth year, on the seventh day of the month”. The absence of a number before “month” is strange, but it is generally agreed that the fifth month is intended …. The fifth year referred to is not the fifth year after the destruction of Jerusalem, but the fifth year of the exile of Jeconiah [Jehoiachin], i.e., the fifth year of Zedekiah. Another fifth year with no month given is found in Ez 1:2. Here clearly 593, the fifth year of Zedekiah is the date indicated. If Jer 28:1-3 and 29:1-2 are the source of the incident recounted in 1:8 about the return of the silver vessels, we have another reason for understanding the date of 1:2 as 593 (Jer 28:1). In any case, such an understanding of the problem presented by 1:2b harmonizes perfectly with the rest of the introduction.
[End of quote]
A second date usually assigned to Baruch that I now think needs seriously to be questioned is this one that we find with reference to Baruch in the Book of Jeremiah (36:1-2, 4):
In the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘Take a scroll and write on it all the words I have spoken to you concerning Israel, Judah and all the other nations …’.
…. So Jeremiah called Baruch son of Neriah, and while Jeremiah dictated all the words the Lord had spoken to him, Baruch wrote them on the scroll.
Whilst the 4th year of king Jehoiakim of Judah is a most crucial biblico-historical date, combining as it does in Jeremiah 25:1 the biblical fourth year of a king of Judah with the first year of a known secular ruler: “The word came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon” - not to mention a date from Jeremiah’s own prophetic career (v. 3): ‘For twenty-three years—from the thirteenth year of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah until this very day—the word of the Lord has come to me and I have spoken to you again and again, but you have not listened’, I think that this date may need to be - in the case of Jeremiah 36:1 - amended to read the fourth year of Zedekiah.
Thus, instead of the traditional year of c. 605 BC for the 4th year of Jehoiakim, I think that we are in reality, for Jeremiah 36:1, in the year c. 594 BC, the fourth year of Zedekiah. [E.g., different versions of Scripture present, now Jehoiakim, now Zedekiah, for Jeremiah 27:1]. So, when immediately after 36:1, in Jeremiah 36:4, “Jeremiah called Baruch son of Neriah, and while Jeremiah dictated all the words the Lord had spoken to him, Baruch wrote them on the scroll”, we are now moving speedily towards our very starting point of 593 BC which greets us again in v. 9, “In the ninth month of the fifth year … ”.
But not only our same year, because the “ninth month” referred to here just happens to be the very same month, Sivan, as that referred to when Baruch returned the sacred vessels to Judah.
Jeremiah himself was restricted as to his movements at the time (Jeremiah 36:5): “Then Jeremiah told Baruch, ‘I am restricted; I am not allowed to go to the Lord’s Temple’,” and hence he was quite dependent upon Baruch (v. 6): ‘So you go to the house of the Lord on a day of fasting and read to the people from the scroll the words of the Lord that you wrote as I dictated’. Whilst Baruch faithfully carried out the task assigned to him, it was in itself a most dangerous act – so, little wonder do we read of this hostile reaction from the king (v. 26): “… the king commanded Jerahmeel, a son of the king, Seraiah son of Azriel and Shelemiah son of Abdeel to arrest Baruch the scribe and Jeremiah the prophet. But the Lord had hidden them”. Hence we can easily excuse Baruch for his agony at this time (45:1-5):
When Baruch son of Neriah wrote on a scroll the words Jeremiah the prophet dictated in the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, Jeremiah said this to Baruch: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to you, Baruch: You said, ‘Woe to me! The Lord has added sorrow to my pain; I am worn out with groaning and find no rest.’ But the Lord has told me to say to you, ‘This is what the Lord says: I will overthrow what I have built and uproot what I have planted, throughout the earth. Should you then seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life’.”
This Divine encouragement no doubt gave new heart to both Jeremiah and to his junior scribal assistant (vv. 27-28, 32):
After the king burned the scroll containing the words that Baruch had written at Jeremiah’s dictation, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: ‘Take another scroll and write on it all the words that were on the first scroll, which Jehoiakim king of Judah burned up’. ….
So Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to the scribe Baruch son of Neriah, and as Jeremiah dictated, Baruch wrote on it all the words of the scroll that Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire. And many similar words were added to them.
Baruch 5:9 and 6:1-72 actually comprises: “A copy of the letter which Jeremiah sent to those about to be led captive to Babylon by the king of the Babylonians, to tell them what he had been commanded by God”.
Just some five years later, with the Babylonians now besieging Jerusalem, we read of a very similar situation of dangerous tension between the prophet and the king (Jeremiah 32:1-2):
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. The army of the king of Babylon was then besieging Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was confined in the courtyard of the guard in the royal palace of Judah.
And, once again, the restricted prophet is dependent upon the aid of Baruch.
The year is:
Jeremiah had famously at the time bought a field in Anathoth (32:6-25), and he had chosen Baruch to preserve the deed of purchase of the field (vv. 11-15):
I took the deed of purchase—the sealed copy containing the terms and conditions, as well as the unsealed copy— and I gave this deed to Baruch son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel and of the witnesses who had signed the deed and of all the Jews sitting in the courtyard of the guard. In their presence I gave Baruch these instructions: ‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time. For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.’
And once again we find the king, too, now Jehoiakim, now Zedekiah - but my argument is that it were all just Zedekiah - berating the prophet Jeremiah for his pessimistic predictions.
Also tell Jehoiakim king of Judah, ‘This is what the Lord says: You burned that scroll and said, “Why did you write on it that the king of Babylon would certainly come and destroy this land and wipe from it both man and beast?” Therefore this is what the Lord says about Jehoiakim king of Judah: He will have no one to sit on the throne of David; his body will be thrown out and exposed to the heat by day and the frost by night. I will punish him and his children and his attendants for their wickedness; I will bring on them and those living in Jerusalem and the people of Judah every disaster I pronounced against them, because they have not listened’.
Now Zedekiah king of Judah had imprisoned him there, saying, “Why do you prophesy as you do? You say, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am about to give this city into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will capture it. Zedekiah king of Judah will not escape the Babylonians but will certainly be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and will speak with him face to face and see him with his own eyes. He will take Zedekiah to Babylon, where he will remain until I deal with him, declares the Lord. If you fight against the Babylonians, you will not succeed’.”
Everything that Jeremiah, with the assistance of Baruch, had prophesied or proclaimed to the king and his officials, and to the people of Judah, would soon be fulfilled. For, the very next year, Jerusalem and its Temple fell to the Babylonians. And the king was taken into captivity.
And on the ninth day of the fourth month of Zedekiah’s eleventh year, the city wall was broken through. Then all the officials of the king of Babylon came and took seats in the Middle Gate: Nergal-Sharezer of Samgar, Nebo-Sarsekim a chief officer, Nergal-Sharezer a high official and all the other officials of the king of Babylon. When Zedekiah king of Judah and all the soldiers saw them, they fled; they left the city at night by way of the king’s garden, through the gate between the two walls, and headed toward the Arabah.
But the Babylonian army pursued them and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho. They captured him and took him to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath, where he pronounced sentence on him. There at Riblah the king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes and also killed all the nobles of Judah. Then he put out Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him with bronze shackles to take him to Babylon.
2 Kings 25:8-10:
In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. And he burned the House of the Lord and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem.
Not long after all of this had occurred, there was a rebellion against Babylonian authority, despite the warnings of Jeremiah against escaping to Egypt, and Baruch son of Neriah - apparently also still in the land - was accused of “inciting” the people along the same lines (Jeremiah 43:1-3):
When Jeremiah had finished telling the people all the words of the Lord their God—everything the Lord had sent him to tell them — Azariah son of Hoshaiah and Johanan son of Kareah and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, “You are lying! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, ‘You must not go to Egypt to settle there.’ But Baruch son of Neriah is inciting you against us to hand us over to the Babylonians, so they may kill us or carry us into exile to Babylon”.
The next is the last that we hear of Baruch, whose combined floruit in the books of Jeremiah and Baruch I have estimated to have been only about (593-587 =) 6 years - depending on when the exile to Egypt occurred (Jeremiah 43:6-7): “And they took Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch son of Neriah along with them. So they entered Egypt in disobedience to the Lord and went as far as Tahpanhes”.
So, what happened to Baruch after that?