The Destruction of Jerusalem and the Idea of Redemption in the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch


The Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch is a pseudepigraphic apocalyptic work ascribed to Baruch, son of Neriah and the scribe of Jeremiah.  Its overt content concerning the last days of the First Temple period disguises a description of the fall of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.  Contrary to the general scholarly view, this book attempts to show that the internal structure and central ideas of 2 Baruch must be understood in a Christian context.  This theological identity is reflected mainly in traditions which describe the destruction of Jerusalem and the three apocalyptic visions which depict the coming of the Messiah and the eschatological redemption.

Apocalyptic: Baruch | First Baruch | Second Baruch

“But also the heavens at that time were shaken from their place” 

“The first section is devoted to a description of the destruction of Jerusalem, in which we discuss the main traditions that may shed light upon the author’s position towards the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple: the Divine promise to Baruch that the Jerusalem that is to be destroyed is not the city that He had promised to inscribe upon the palms of His hands; the burying of the temple vessels in the earth until the end of days; the abandoning of the temple by its guard upon its destruction; the call priests of the temple to throw the keys up to heaven; and the call to the virgins who weave silk, crimson, and gold to cast their waving into the fire.

The second half of the book portrays the vision of eschatological redemption, as reflected in the three apocalyptic visions contained int he latter part of the work.. The first vision deals with the portrayal of the End, the havoc that precedes it, the eschatological meal, the two stages in the appearance of the Messiah; next, the vision of the forest, the cedar, the vine, and the well portrays the end of the world and the victory of Messiah over the final ruler; finally, the vision of the bright waters and the black waters, signals the end of the apocalyptic drama with the appearance of the uncorrupted world and the establishment of paradise upon earth.”


(On the Subject Matter of II Baruch)
“The Ambrosian MS includes the Old Testament, 4 Ezra, Book 6 of Josephus’ Jewish War, and the Apocalypse of Baruch, three works related to the conquest of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE.  The number of the manuscript is Codex Ambrosianus 13.21 inf (folio 257a-265b).”  (p.1)

(On the Significance of AD70: Redemption)
“I have focused upon those traditions depicting the destruction of Jerusalem and the three apocalyptic visions portraying the eschatological redemption.  These two foci, around which the plot of the work is constructed, may also serve as a litmus test for the identity of the work.  this is so because the place of f Jerusalem and the temple during the Second Temple period and the question whether to accept the Christian Messiah and the redemption that he was meant to bring to his believers lay at the center of the controversy between Judaism and Christianity.  Hence, it was regarding these subjects that the differences in principle between the two religions were most likely to find expression. ” (p. 5)

“b. Sanh. 98a already raises the possibility of a suffering messiah based upon the chapter of the servant of the Lord, esp. Isaiah 53, who sites at the gate of Rome, and of a messiah who will come like the Son of Man on heavenly clouds, as in Daniel 7.  These are the two central pillars of Christology, as embodied in the two manifestations of Jesus: his earthly appearance as the suffering servant, tortured and crucified, and his second appearance in heavenly clouds, mean to complete the redemption.” (p. 8)

(On Apocalyptic Hermeneutics)
“The very term “apocalypse” is itself a Christian term; it first appears in the introduction to the Revelation of John, the concluding work of the New Testament (“The Apocalypse [or: Revelation] of Jesus Christ”) and the work that provides the most fully developed model for apocalypse in general (cf. the synoptic apocalypse of Mark 13:1ff. and parallels).   Apocalypse was born in the bosom of Christianity, which is entirely apocalyptic on all its levels and components.” (p. 11)

(On The Dead Sea Scrolls)
“One may also include within this group (pseudepigraphic-apocalyptic literature) the literature of the Qumran sect, which expresses conceptual and linguistic relations and ideological and theological characteristics similar to those of the pseudepigraphic and apocalyptic literature.  Like the apocalyptic literature, the Qumran sect’s theological focus was on the eschatological anticipation of the approaching end of days, on the war between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, and on the appearance of the expected messianic age.  Similar to the apocalyptic literature, the Qumran scrolls expressed absolute negation of the historical Jerusalem and temple.  The sect anticipates a new Jerusalem and a new temple in which atonement will be achieved, not by means of the flesh of burnt-offerings and the fat of the sacrifices, but by  a spiritual sacrifice “of lips of justice like a righteous fragrance” (1QS ix 4-5).  The scrolls of this mysterious sect also include chapters and fragments of works from the apocalyptic literature (such as the Book of Enoch, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Book of Jubilees, etc.), which likewise betray an ideological proximity to the world of Christianity.” (p. 13)

The Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch begins with a description of the destruction of Jerusalem in which God appears to Baruch, informing him that, in wake of the people’s sins, He intends to bring disaster upon the city and its inhabitants, and asking Baruch to inform Jeremiah and his like to leave the city.” (p. 19)

(On The Heavenly Temple)
“The Jerusalem that God promised to engrave on the palms of His hand is not the Jerusalem that is about to be destroyed, the historic Jerusalem of the Second Temple.  Rather, he refers here to another Jerusalem, one kept by God in the heavens, which He himself created before time, alongside paradise — a transcendent and preexistent Jerusalem.” (p. 20)

“The author of this book is not at all interested in the rebuilding of the temple and of Jerusalem; indeed, not a word is said in the entire book regarding the hope and anticipation for its future restoration.  According to his view, the historical Jerusalem and temple, which were built by man on earth, were from the outset inferior and condemned to a limited life span, as against the heavenly Jerusalem and sanctuary, which were formed by God in hoary antiquity and will enjoy eternal existence.” (p. 21)

“It is clear from this scenario that the description of Jeremiah’s return from captivity alludes to the beginning o the new period of salvation that will come after the end of the world.  The conquest of Jerusalem is described in the Apocryphon in apocalyptic terms of the end of the world that opens the age of redemption in the New Testament.  Nebuchadnezzar together with all the heads of the army had subjugated all of Judah and the cities surrounding Jerusalem.  They wanted to wage war against the Hebrews, since all the other peoples were at war with them.  The people of Israel were before Nebuchadnezzar like women in their birth pangs: “He who was on the roof did not come down except with bonds, and he who was in the sown field did not enter the city except with fetters, and each one of them was seized in the spot where he was, and none was left who did not come to King Nebuchadnezzar who had fixed his throne at the gate of Jerusalem, the ramparts of which he had ordered to be demolished instantly.” At that very moment, when Cyrus and Amsis, the first general of the Chaldeans, set forth to wage war and to oppress the Jews, cloud and thick smoke appeared, the earth shook with a great tremor, the wind grew stronger, an eclipse of the sun took place in the middle of the day, and darkness covered the earth.  Those dwelling on the face of the land were mixed up with one another, horsemen with the masses, and the feet of the horses sank deep into the ground like pegs.  This description is based upon the signs of the end of the world and the coming of Jesus in the New Testament, which is described as a time of wars, famine, earthquakes, and slander.” (p.63)

“This work likewise portrays the departure from the Babylonian exile like the Exodus from Egypt, which is a prefiguration of the making of the New Covenant.” (p. 64)

“Notwithstanding the fact that it had earlier portrayed the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians, this work describes Jeremiah’s entrance into the temple as if it still stood.  And indeed, the temple did stand: not the historical temple, but the heavenly temple in the heavenly Jerusalem, established after Jesus’ second coming.” (p. 65)

(On 2 Baruch 8:1-5, Fall of the Temple)
“Who is the watchman of the house, and how is his abandonment of it to be understood?   Josephus reports that on the eve of the destruction of the Second Temple there were visible, early signs of the approaching calamity.  Among these, he mentions that the Nikanor Gate, the eastern gate of the inner court of the temple, which usually required twenty people to close it, suddenly opened of its own accord during the sixth hour of the night.  This was taken as a sign that the security of the temple had been breached, and that it was about to be given over to its enemies.  On the Festival of Pentecost, the priests, upon entering the inner part of the temple, “were conscious, first of a commotion and a din, and after of a voice as of a host, ‘We are departing hence'” (J.W. 6.293-300).

“According to Jewish tradition, as reflected in Josephus and in talmudic sources, the angelic entourage, a heavenly voice, or the Shekhinah, symbolizing the divine presence, abandoned the temple on the eve of its destruction as a concrete expression of the approaching destruction.  Tacitus cites a similar testimony in connection with the miracles that heralded the destruction of Jerusalem: “Contending hosts were seen meeting in the skies, arms flashed, and suddenly the temple was illuminated with fire from the clouds.  Of a sudden the doors of the shrine opened and a superhuman voice cried: ‘The gods are departing.’  At the same moment the might stir of their going was heard” (Tacitus, History, 5.13)..

“The tradition in Syriac Baruch evidently relies upon the same report, although giving it a totally different interpretation.  Instead of the entourage of angels, a divine voice, or gods, it speaks of the “watchman” who abandons the house.  It particularly emphasizes that the voice that called to the enemies originated in the inner part of the temple, that is, from the Holy of Holies, ahnd that the departure of the watchman did not take place prior to its destruction, but during its course.  The author stresses that the guard only left after the wall fell, leaving the Babylonians nothing to do but take possession of the temple and its environs.” (pp. 79,80)

(On The Connection to the Rent Veil)
“Careful examination of early Christian tradition suggests a direct relation between the tradition discussed here and the exegesis given to the rending of the veil of the temple upon Jesus’ death (Mark 15:38; Matt. 27:50; Luke 23:45).  Thus, for example, T. Benj. 9:3-4 relates that, upon the crucifixion of the Lord, the veil of the temple shall be rent and the Spirit of God will pass to (or descend upon) the nations, like fire poured out.

“According to this tradition, upon Jesus’ death the veil was rent and the spirit of God abandoned the temple in order to dwell among the nations who had accepted belief in him.  In this context the “spirit of God” represented in some sources by a divine angel, symbolizes the presence of the Godhead in the temple, while its abandonment is a sign of its imminent destruction.”  (pp. 80,81)

“Likewise, we read in the early Christian work Didascalia Apostolorum (23.5.7) that God left the Jewish people and the temple and came to the church of the Gentiles.  When He did so, He also abandoned the temple, leaving it desolate.  He tore the veil, removed the Holy Spirit, and put it upon the believers among the Gentiles, as is said by Joel (3.1): “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh.”  He thereby removed from the people the Holy Spirit, its power of the word, and its entire mission, establishing these in His church.” (p 81)


“This city will be delivered up for a time, and the people will be chastened for a time, and the world will not be forgotten.  Or do you think that this is the city of which I said: On the palms of my hands I have carved you?  It is not this building that is in your midst now; it is that which will be revealed with me that was already prepared from the moment that I decided to create paradise.  And I showed it to Adam before he sinned.  But when he transgressed the commandment, it was taken away from him — as also Paradise.  After these things I showed it to my servant Abraham in the night between the portions of the victims.  And again I showed it to Moses on Mount Sinai when I showed him the likeness of the tabernacle and all its vessels.  Behold, now it is preserved with me — as also Paradise.  Now go away and do as I command you.” (4:1-7)

“The watchman has abandoned the house” (8:1-5)

“But also the heavens at that time were shaken from their place”


What do YOU think ?


“This unusual approach to several major documents of the Second Temple period makes it impossible to accept this work as a serious piece of scholarship. The proposal is an interesting and important one, but it must be considered under sounder methodological guidelines.”

In this article, Gary A. Anderson points out flaws in apocalyptic research be Russian author Rivka Nir. See below:

“Yet the book’s ability to sustain its provocative and challenging thesis is marred by a couple of very serious methodological flaws. First, Nir’s knowledge of early Christian reflection on Jerusalem, the land of Israel, and eschatological redemption is too one-sided. It is simply not the case that Christians relegated all hope to the heavenly realm and viewed any historical grounding in the land of Israel as inauthentic. As Robert Wilken noted in his book, The Land Called Holy (New Haven, Conn., 1992), Irenaeus’s conception of the kingdom of God has been formed by the Jewish restorationist tradition. He will not allow the passages about the rebuilding of Jerusalem to be taken in solely spiritual terms. A real Jerusalem in the land of Israel will be part of God’s plan of redemption. As Wilken’s work goes on to prove, this position, though not shared by all Christian thinkers, was no blind alley in the formative period of early Christianity.”

Articles like this are important in understanding Apocalyptic writing. One should not read an article and assume it to be truth. The Apocalypse is ultimitely a guessing game, yet some articles such as this one may be way off base and teach the reader views in which are both wrong and slanted towards a close-minded way of thinking.

Anderson, Gary. “The Destruction of Jerusalem and the Idea of Redemption in the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch.” Journal of Religion 85 (2005): 155-157. Religion and Philosophy Collection. EBSCO. LSU Middleton Library, Baton Rouge. 6 Feb. 2007 .

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