The book of Baruch was among the last books of the Bible to be written. It was written during the last century before Christ, in one of the Jewish communities outside of Palestine.
It includes several texts helpful to the dispersed Jews:
– a “prayer of the exiles” which intensified their longing for the Holy Land;
– a beautiful poem about wisdom (3:9–4:4);
– several texts inspired by the prophets of the exile;
– a “letter from Jeremiah,” which is a controversial text against idols (Bar 6).
Because it included some paragraphs written in Jeremiah’s style, it was attributed to Baruch, the prophet’s secretary (see Jer 36).
The prayer of exiles
1These are the words of the book written by Baruch, the son of Neriah, descended from Massiah, from Sedekiah, from Hasadiah, from Hilkiah. 2They were written in the fifth year, on the seventh day of the month, at the time when the Chaldeans had taken Jerusalem and burned it.
3Baruch read the words of this book to Jeconiah, the son of Joachim, the king of Judah, in the presence of all the people who had come together to hear it read. 4He read it in the hearing of the nobles and the king’s sons, of the elders and all the people, from the smallest to the greatest—that is, all those who were living in Babylon near the River Sudi.
5Then the people wept and fasted and prayed before the Lord. 6They also collected money according to what each one could afford 7and this they sent to Jerusalem, to the priest Jehoiakim, son of Hilkiah, the son of Shallum, and to the other priests and people who dwelt in Jerusalem with him. 8This same Baruch had undertaken to carry back to Judea, on the tenth day of the month of Sivan, the sacred vessels which had been taken away from the Temple of the Lord. These were the silver vessels made by Zedekiah, son of Josiah, king of Judah, 9after Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, had carried off Jeconiah, the artisans, the nobles and the people of the land and had taken them captive to Babylon.
10The letter said: Look, we are sending you money; buy with it victims for the holocaust and for sin offerings and incense; prepare oblations and offer them on the Altar of the Lord our God. 11Pray for the life of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and of Balthasar, his son, so that they may be successful in all that they do. 12Thus the Lord will give strength and light to our eyes. We will live under the protection of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and of his son, Balthasar. We shall have a long life serving them and we shall find favor before them.
13Pray to the Lord our God for us also, for we have sinned against the Lord our God, even to this day the anger of the Lord and his fury have not been turned away from us. 14Finally, read this book which we are sending to you, so that you can read it publicly in the House of the Lord on the day of the Feast and on other suitable days.
15You will say: May everyone recognize the justice of our God but, on this day, shame and confusion befit the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem—16our kings and princes, our priests, our prophets, and our fathers, 17because we have sinned before the Lord. 18We have disobeyed him and have not listened to the voice of the Lord our God, nor have we followed the commandments which the Lord had put before us. 19From the day that the Lord brought our ancestors out of the land of Egypt until this day, we have disobeyed the Lord our God and we have rebelled against him instead of listening to his voice.
20Because of this, from the day on which the Lord brought our ancestors out of the land of Egypt, so as to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, the evils and the curse which the Lord pronounced by Moses, his servant, have dogged our footsteps right down to the present day. 21We did not listen to the voice of the Lord our God speaking through the words of the prophets whom he sent to us, 22but each one of us followed his perverted heart, serving false gods and doing what displeases the Lord our God.
1That is why the Lord our God has carried out the word which he spoke against us, against the judges who have governed Israel, against our kings, our princes and the people of Israel and Judah.
2No one under the sky has ever seen the like of what happened in Jerusalem, according to what is written in the book of Moses. 3For people among us came to eat their son’s and daughter’s flesh. 4And he handed them over into the power of all the surrounding kingdoms, so that they were cursed and humiliated among the neighboring peoples among whom the Lord had scattered them. 5Submission and not command has been our lot, because we have sinned against the Lord our God and have not listened to his voice.
6Just is the Lord our God, whereas shame and confusion befit us and our ancestors right down to this day. 7All those evils which the Lord prophesied concerning us have fallen upon us. 8And we have not begged the Lord to make each of us turn away from the thoughts of our evil hearts. 9Then the Lord kept watch over the evils and allowed them to come upon us, for the Lord is just in all that he has commanded us to do. 10We have not listened to his voice nor followed the commands which the Lord has ordered us to keep.
11And now, Lord God of Israel, you who brought your people out of Egypt with a strong hand, with miracles and wonders and great power, you who stretched out your arm and made for yourself a name such as you have today, 12we have sinned. We have been godless and unjust, Lord, careless about all your commands. 13May your fury be turned away from us, for there are very few of us left among the nations in which you have scattered us.
14Hear our supplication and our prayer, O Lord, deliver us for your own honor and let us find favor with those who deported us. 15Let all the earth know that you are the Lord our God, because Israel and its people bear your name. 16Lord, look down from your holy dwelling place and think of us; Lord, incline your ear and listen; 17Lord, open your eyes and consider: it is not the dead, lying in the netherworld, who will praise your glory and justice, 18since their spirit has been taken from their breast. Grieving under his burden, and walking bowed down and exhausted, the man with eyes sore from weeping and who is hungry—these are they, who can give you glory and justice, O Lord.
19For it is not on account of the merits of our ancestors and of our kings that we pour out our cry for pity before you, O Lord our God. 20You have sent down on us your fury and your anger as you announced through your servants, the prophets, saying, 21“Thus says the Lord: Bend your shoulders and serve the king of Babylon and you will dwell in the land that I gave to your ancestors. 22But if you do not listen to the voice of the Lord your God and serve the king of Babylon, 23I will bring to an end in the towns of Judah and in Jerusalem the song of joy and gladness, the song of the bridegroom and the bride, and the whole country will become a desert without inhabitants. 24We did not listen to your invitation to serve the king of Babylon and so you carried out what you had foretold by your servants, the prophets, that the bones of our kings and our ancestors would be taken from their graves. 25See, they have been exposed to the heat of the day and the cold of the night; they died in cruel sufferings, by famine, by the sword and by plagues. 26And you have reduced the nation which bears your name to the state in which it is today because of the wickedness of the people of Judah.
27However, you have acted towards us, O Lord our God, indulgently and with great tenderness, 28as you foretold by your servant Moses, the day you ordered him to write down your Law in the presence of the children of Israel saying: 29If you do not listen to my voice, this great and vast multitude will be reduced to a small remnant among the nations where I shall scatter them; 30for I know well that they will not listen to me because they are a stiff-necked people. But in the land of their exile their hearts will be converted 31and they will know that I am the Lord their God. 32And I will give them a heart and listening ears, that they may praise me in the land of their exile and remember my name. 33They will repent of their stiff-necked obstinacy and their evil deeds, because they will remember what happened to their ancestors who had sinned before the Lord. 34And I will lead them into the land which I have promised by oath to their ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and they will take possession of it. I will increase their number and it will no longer diminish. 35I will make with them an everlasting Covenant; I will be their God and they shall be my people. I will no longer drive my people Israel from the land which I have given them.
1Almighty Lord, God of Israel, a soul in anguish and a discouraged spirit cries out to you. 2Listen, Lord, and have pity for we have sinned against you; 3for you reign forever while we perish forever. 4Lord, all-powerful God of Israel, listen then to the prayers of the dead of Israel. We are the sons of those who sinned against you, who did not listen to the voice of their God, and this is why disgrace has come upon us. 5Do not remember any longer the wrongdoing of our fathers, but remember at this time your power and your name; 6for you are the Lord, our God and we will praise you, Lord. 7That is why you have put your fear into our hearts and we call upon your name. And we will praise you in our exile for we have removed from our hearts all the wrong of our fathers who sinned against you. 8We are here today in our exile where you have scattered us to be insulted, cursed and condemned for the wrongdoing of our fathers, who separated themselves from the Lord our God.
Who has found wisdom?
•9Listen, Israel, to the commands of life, give ear so as to learn prudence,
10Why, Israel! Why are you in the land of your foes? Why are you growing old in a foreign country, contaminated by pagans,
11counted among those who go to the pit?
12You have abandoned the source of Wisdom.
13If you had walked in the way of God, peace would be your dwelling place forever.
14Learn where is Wisdom, where is Strength and Understanding,
that you may know, at the same time, where are length of days and life,
light of the eyes and Peace.
15Who will find Wisdom’s dwelling?
Who will enter her storage rooms?
16Where are the leaders of the nations, those who commanded the beasts of the earth,
17who played with the birds of the heavens,
who piled up silver and gold—in which people put their trust—
and who never tired of collecting it?
18Amassing money was their only concern,
their business beyond measure.
19But they have disappeared,
they have gone down to the dead
and others have risen in their place.
20A younger generation is there
on the earth and enjoys the light,
but they have not known the ways of knowledge;
they have not seen his tracks nor have they met him,
21and their children after them did not leave their paths.
22No one in Canaan has heard of Wisdom, no one has seen her in Teman.
23The sons of Agar, who seek knowledge of the earth,
the traders of Madian and Teman,
the tellers of fables and philosophers,
they have not known the path of Wisdom,
they have not discovered her ways.
24O Israel, how great is the House of God, how vast his dominion!
25It is great and has no limits.
It is lofty, wide and immeasurable.
26There were born the ancient and famous giants
of high stature and skillful in war.
27God did not choose them,
he did not teach them the ways of Wisdom,
28and they perished because of their folly, because they lacked knowledge.
29Who has ascended to Heaven that he may lay hold of her
and bring her down from the clouds?
30Who has crossed seas and found her, and bought her with the purest of gold?
31There is no one who knows her path, no one who thinks of her way.
32But he who knows everything recognizes her.
He has found her in his own intellect.
He who created the earth, for all time, and has filled it with four-footed beings.
33He who sends the light, and it goes, who recalls it, and trembling it obeys.
34The stars shine, full of joy, to keep their night watches.
He calls them and they answer, “Here we are.”
They shine with joy for their Creator.
35It is he who is our God, no other can be compared with him.
36He has found the way of understanding and has given her to Jacob his servant and to Israel his well-beloved.
37Then Wisdom was seen on earth and lived among humans.
1She herself is the book of the commands of God, the law which endures forever.
All who hold fast to her will have life
but those who abandon her will die.
2Come back, Jacob, and embrace her, walk towards brightness under her light.
3Do not give up what is your glory or sell your privileges to any strange nation.
4We are fortunate, O Israel, for we know what pleases the Lord!
Consolation for Jerusalem
5Take courage, my people, you who preserve the memory of Israel. 6You have been sold to the nations but not for your destruction; because you had aroused the anger of God, you were delivered to your enemies. 7For you displeased your Creator in sacrificing to demons and not to God. 8You have forgotten the Eternal God, the one who nourished you. You have filled Jerusalem with sadness, she who brought you up. 9For she saw the anger of God fall on you and she said, “Listen, you neighboring cities of Zion, God has sent me a great sorrow. 10I have seen the captivity of my sons and daughters, which the Eternal one brought on them. 11I had nurtured them in joy; with tears and sadness I saw them leave. 12Let no one rejoice on seeing me a widow and abandoned by all. Because of the sins of my children I am now alone, because they have turned away from the law of God.
13They have not remembered its precepts; nor have they walked in the ways of his commandments, and followed the discipline which leads to uprightness.
14Let them come, the neighbors of Zion, and remember the captivity which the Eternal One laid on my sons and daughters.
15For he caused a distant nation to come against them, a ruthless nation with an unknown language.
They had no respect for the old, and no pity for the infant; 16they took away the only son of the widow, as well as her daughter, and left her alone.
17But as for myself, how can I help you? 18He who caused these evils to come upon you will deliver you from the hands of your enemies.
19Well, my children, go on your way; as for me, I am left alone.
20I have taken off the garment of peace and put on again the sackcloth of penance and prayer. I will cry out to the Eternal One all the rest of my days.
21Come, take courage, my children, cry out to God. He will deliver you from the violence of the enemy.
22Because I hoped for your salvation from the Eternal One, joy has come to me from the Holy One, because of the mercy that will come to you soon from the Eternal One, our Savior.
23In tears and mourning, I saw you leave, but in joy and gladness God will bring you back to me forever.
24As the neighbors of Zion have seen your captivity so they will soon see your salvation from God, when he manifests to you the great glory and the splendor of the Eternal God.
25Children, bear patiently this punishment which came on you from God. The enemy has persecuted you, but you will soon see his downfall and you will trample him underfoot.
26My well-beloved children have walked by difficult paths, carried off like a herd stolen by enemies. 27Take courage, my children, cry out to God, for he who sent you into exile will remember you.
28Thus, as you distanced yourself from God, return to him and seek him ten times more earnestly. 29For he who caused these evils to fall on you will bring you salvation and eternal joy.
30Take courage, Jerusalem. He who has named you will console you.
31Cursed be those who did evil to you and rejoiced in your downfall. 32Cursed be those cities in which your children were slaves, cursed the nation in which they had to live.
33Just as that nation rejoiced in your downfall and took pleasure in your destruction so will she be afflicted and destroyed.
34I will take from her the joy of being a numerous people; her pride will be turned into mourning.
•35A fire will descend on her from the Eternal One and burn for many days. She will be inhabited by demons for a long time.
36Jerusalem, look towards the East, and see the joy which is coming to you from God.
37Look, your children who were scattered are returning. They are assembling, coming together, from the East and from the West, at the voice of the Holy One, rejoicing in the glory of God.
1Jerusalem, put off your garment of mourning and unhappiness, put on the splendor and glory of God forever.
2Wrap yourself in the mantle of holiness that comes from God, put on your head the crown of glory of the Eternal One.
3For God will show your splendor to every being under Heaven.
4He will call your name forever, “Peace in Justice” and “Glory in the Fear of the Lord.”
5Rise up, Jerusalem, stand on the heights. Look towards the East and see your children gathered together from the setting of the sun to its rising, by the voice of the Holy One, rejoicing because God has remembered them.
6They left you on foot, taken away by the enemy. God will lead them back, carried gloriously like royal princes.
7For God has resolved to bring low every high mountain and the everlasting hills, to fill up the valleys and level out the ground, in order that Israel may walk in safety under the Glory of God.
8Even the forests and the fragrant trees will give shade to Israel at God’s command. 9For God will lead Israel with joy by the light of his Glory, escorting them with his mercy and justice.
The Letter of Jeremiah
•A copy of the letter, which Jeremiah sent to those who were to be taken captive to Babylon by the king of the Babylonians, to let them know what God had ordered him.
1“Because of the sins you have committed against God, you will be led captive to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Babylonians. 2After your arrival in Babylon you will remain there for a number of years—a long time, for seven generations; but after that I shall bring you home in peace.
3In Babylon you will see gods of silver, gold and wood, carried on men’s shoulders and filling the people with fear. 4Take care not to copy what foreigners do and not to let yourselves be terrified by them 5when you see the crowds pressing in front and behind to adore them. 6Say rather to yourselves: ‘Master, it is you we are to adore.’ My angel is with you to take care of your lives.
7Their tongues have been polished by a craftsman and even if they are of gold and silver, they are false and are unable to speak. 8As for a maiden conscious of her appearance, these pagans make golden crowns for their gods. 9Yet at times the priests steal the gold and silver from their gods for their own use and for the prostitutes in their temples.
10They give clothes to these gods as if they were people, but they are only things of gold, silver and wood, which cannot defend themselves from rust or woodworm. 11So, after clothing them in purple, they wipe their faces because of the thick dust of the temple that covers them.
12The god has a scepter like a governor of a province, but he cannot destroy the person who has wronged him. 13He carries sword and axe in his right hand, but he is helpless both in war and against thieves. 14This clearly proves they are not gods; have no fear of them.
15A broken pot is useless for anyone. So are those gods enshrined in their temples. 16Their eyes are full of the dust raised by those who enter. 17Just as doors are carefully closed on a man who has offended the king or on a convict sentenced to death, in the same way the priests lock and bolt the doors of the temple for fear of thieves. 18They light lamps, far more numerous than what they need for themselves, and yet the god sees no one. 19He is no more than any of the beams of the temple and some whisper that the inner part is gnawed by termites; worms out of the ground devour both the god and his clothes, but he feels nothing. 20Their faces have become black because of the smoke of the temple. 21Owls alight on their heads and shoulders, swallows and other birds perch on them and cats prowl around them. 22This tells you they are not gods, so have no fear of them.
23If the rust on the gold that adorns them is not removed, they cannot shine. Yet what does it matter? Even when they were cast they felt nothing. 24They may be bought at a high price but there is not a breath of life in them. 25As they are without feet, they are carried on men’s shoulders, showing publicly their shame. What a confusion for their worshipers if the god falls! They must lift him up. 26Once he has been stood up, he does not move. If tilted, he is helpless to straighten up. So you make offerings to these gods as you make to dead people.
27The priests collect what has been offered for sacrifice, selling it, while the wives salt some of it but give nothing to the poor and helpless. Do you think these are true offerings? Even women giving birth or who are ritually unclean touch them. 28See that they are not gods and have no fear of them.
29How can they be called gods? Women carry offerings to things made of silver, wood and gold. 30The priests remain seated in the temple, their garments torn, head and beard shaved, and no covering on their heads. 31They roar and cry in the presence of their gods as do certain people during funeral meals. 32With the garments taken from the gods the priests clothe their wives and their children. 33Whether they are treated well or shabbily, the gods can make no return, neither can they make or unmake a king. 34They are incapable of bestowing riches or money. If someone fails to keep a vow, he is not called to account. 35They can neither save anyone from death nor rescue a helpless person from the clutch of the powerful. 36They cannot restore sight to the blind or save someone in distress. 37They will show no compassion to the widow nor do good to the orphan.
38These pieces of wood plated with gold and silver are no more worthy than rocks hewn out of a mountain and their worshipers shall be humiliated. 39How then can anyone believe they are gods? How can they be called gods?
40The Chaldeans themselves have put them to shame. If they see someone who is dumb, unable to speak, they bring him before Bel, entreating him to make him speak, as if the god could hear them! 41And yet these thinking people are unable to abandon gods that are completely devoid of sense. 42Women with cord round their waists sit in the street burning bran. 43When one of them has been picked up by a passerby and has slept with him, she taunts her companion for not having been so highly regarded as herself and for failing to have her cord broken. 44All that goes on anywhere near these gods is false. How can they be considered or declared to be gods?
45They have been fashioned by craftsmen and goldsmiths; they are nothing more than what the artisans decided they were to be. 46Those who made them haven’t long to live; so how could the work of their hands be gods? 47What they leave to their descendants is nothing more than illusion and shame.
48For when war or other disasters come upon them, they discuss among themselves where they, with their gods, will hide. 49How could anyone fail to be convinced that what cannot save from war and disaster is not a god? 50Later on, these pieces of wood plated with silver and gold will be known to be false. It will be plain to all kings and nations that they are not gods, but merely the work of human hands and God does nothing through them. 51Is there anyone unconvinced that these are not gods?
52They are incapable of establishing a king in a country or of sending rain to people. 53They are unable to discern what is just or to rescue a person who has been wronged. They are as helpless as crows between the sky and the ground. 54When fire breaks out in the temple of these wooden gods plated with silver and gold, the priests flee to safety but their gods are burnt with the beams in the midst of the flames. 55They can neither resist a king nor a hostile army. 56How can it be admitted or believed that they are gods?
57These gods cannot escape either from thieves or brigands. These are more powerful and despoil them of their gold, their silver and their robes. Such gods are unable to defend themselves.
58Better to be a king with a show of power, or even a household pot that is of some use to its owner than to be a false god; better even to be the door of a house that guards what is within, or a wooden column in a royal palace than to be a false god. 59The sun, moon and stars that shine and serve us are obedient to God; 60likewise the lightning that is beautiful to see, and the wind that blows over the country 61and the clouds passing over the earth at God’s command, fire sent from on high to consume mountain and forest—all do what is commanded. 62But these wooden objects can in no way compare with them, 63that is why it must not be either believed or said that these are gods, since they are powerless to administer justice or benefit anyone in any way. 64Since you know they are not gods, have no fear of them.
65They can neither curse 66nor bless kings, nor bring about signs in the heavens for the nations to see. They can neither shine like the sun nor give light like the moon. 67Animals are of more worth, since by taking cover they can look after themselves. 68So in no way whatever is it evident to us that these are gods; for that reason have no fear of them.
69For like a scarecrow in a field of melons, these gods plated with silver and gold protect nothing. 70Again these wooden gods may be compared to a thornbush in a garden where any bird can perch, or to a corpse thrown into a dark place. 71You know by the purple and scarlet robes rotting on them that they are not gods. They end up by being eaten away and become a disgrace to the country. 72Better then a just man who has no idols, he will not be dishonored.
• 3.9 This poem is inspired by chapter 28 of Job.
The author addresses believers who are very impressed by the culture and material wealth of the pagans among whom they live. He reminds them that authentic human wisdom is not mere technical knowledge, nor is it the art of making money or pure human reflection. Wisdom consists in knowing what is God’s plan in creating this world. What does God ask of humankind?
For Jewish believers, true wisdom was found in God’s words, in their “Law.” In their turn, Christians know that the wisdom ruling the universe is none other than the one known in the words and the person of Jesus.
• 4.35 Following the laments of verses 5-35, note the ending filled with hope and joy (4:36–5:9) which resembles chapters 60–62 of Isaiah.
• 6.1 This discourse also serves as a warning for us against exaggerated devotion to the saints and too much interest in religious images.
In the midst of so many considerations which may seem tedious to us, note the judgment expressed in verses 27 and 37: a religion which shows no concern for orphans and widows is a false religion.