1sn In some Greek, Syriac, and Latin manuscripts this letter forms chapter six of the book of Baruch, rather than being presented as a separate composition. Many English translations follow that practice as well (e.g., KJV, Douay, NRSV, NAB, NJB, Knox). The present translation is based on the Göttingen edition of the Greek text and, like that edition, presents the letter as a separate document rather than as the final part of Baruch. Apart from convenience and the precedent of tradition there really is no good reason to regard this letter as a part of Baruch. The literary style of the letter is sometimes awkward and often repetitious. In arguing against idolatry the author winds up expressing the same basic thoughts repeatedly, though in different words and using different illustrations to get his point across. This repetition at times taxes the patience of even a sympathetic reader. Furthermore, the language of the text is not infrequently ambiguous. The author’s preference for pronouns where nouns would have been a better choice makes for some ambiguity in determining the antecedents of the pronouns if they are translated literally. In the interests of clarity many of these pronouns have therefore been replaced by nouns in the present translation
2tn Or perhaps “transcript,” in the sense of a certified copy of an official document. See LSJ 154.
3tc Some manuscripts have “the letter of Jeremiah.”
sn “Letter” is not an entirely satisfactory translation of the Greek word epistole, although it has been retained here due to its widespread acceptance as a designation of this text. However, as Adolf Deissmann has shown (Light from the Ancient East, trans. L. R. M. Strachan, rev. ed., 227-51, especially 228-30), a letter in the ancient world was a private communication written with only the addressee in mind, whereas an epistle was usually a more literary composition having a less restricted focus and intention. The text under consideration here is more of an epistle than a letter, if Deissmann’s distinctions are accepted. The KJV in fact titles this work The Epistle of Jeremy.
4sn Although this work claims to originate with Jeremiah (cf. Jer 29:1), this is almost certainly not the case. Rather, the identity of the author is unknown. He wrote for the purpose of exposing the folly of idol worship and warning people to avoid idolatry altogether. The work probably dates to sometime in the late fourth century B.C. and perhaps was written for a Jewish audience in Palestine. This date has been deduced by a number of scholars largely on the basis of a reference in v. 2 to seven generations (see the note found there). The author’s diatribe against the worship of idols may have been inspired by Jer 10:11: “The gods who did not make the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under the heavens.” This verse is a stray Aramaic sentence found in a book that is otherwise written in Hebrew. That anomaly may in fact have influenced the writer of the letter to develop further the warning against idolatry presented in that lone Aramaic verse in Jeremiah. The writer expands on ideas that are also found in the canonical scriptures. The biblical passages to which the author is most indebted are the following: Jer 10:2-5, 8-11, 13b-15; Isa 44:9-20; 46:5-7; Ps 115:3-8; 135:6-7; 15-17; Deut 4:27-28 (so C. A. Moore, The Additions, AB 44, 319-23). Although this work is not extant in Hebrew or Aramaic, the presence of a number of Semitisms suggests that probably the letter was originally composed in one of those languages, most likely Hebrew. This letter may be referred to in 2 Macc 2:1-3, which alludes to Jeremiah’s warnings about idolatry.
5sn The future passive participle achthesomenous is used here to refer to an impending or imminent action. There were three deportations of Jews to Babylon that marked the beginnings of the exilic period: one in 605 B.C., one in 597 B.C., and one in 586 B.C. It is the second of these deportations that is referred to here (cf. 2 Kgs 24:10-17). The literary vantage point of the letter is thus the early sixth century, although the date of the composition of the letter was no earlier than late fourth century B.C. and perhaps a bit later.
6sn The normal biblical expression is “king of Babylon.”
7tn The words “the purpose of this letter is” are not in the Greek text but have been added in the translation for clarity.
8tn Or “announce.”
9tn Grk “just as it was commanded to him by God.”
10sn Immediately at the outset of this letter the author seems to deal indirectly with a possible objection to his thesis, one that he apparently anticipated and wished to disallow in advance. Since an emphasis of this letter is the powerless of pagan idols to act in behalf of their devotees, an astute reader might ask how it is then that the God of the Jews has not intervened to prevent the catastrophe of their exile in Babylon. Is this failure not evidence of the powerless of their God to act in their behalf? And if so, is not their god just as lifeless as the pagan idols that this work so relentlessly criticizes? The point therefore made at the beginning of the letter is that the exile was not at all due to the powerlessness of Israel’s God or to his inability to prevent the disaster of the exile. Rather, it was due to the sinfulness of the nation itself. According to this letter it is the people themselves, and not their God, who must be blamed for their misfortune.
11sn Assuming that a generation is about forty years, this reference to seven generations would seem to imply the passing of almost three centuries from the time of the deportation to Babylon. This in turn might suggest a date of composition sometime in the late fourth century. On this line of reasoning some scholars date the composition of this letter to about 317 B.C.
12tn The words “of men” are not in the Greek text but have been added in the translation for clarity.
13tn Or “nations.”
14tn Grk “becoming like, you become like.” The expression is an obvious Hebraism, imitating the infinitive absolute construction.
15tn Or “mind.”
16tn Or “Master.”
17tn Grk “seeking out.” The meaning of the statement is uncertain. Most English translations take the word to mean that the angel of v. 6 will “watch over” (e.g., NRSV) or “take care of” (e.g., TEV) the lives of those under his care. So NAB: “and he is the custodian of your lives.” But in light of the caution against conformity to idol worship expressed in the preceding verses the statement may have the sense that the accompanying angel searches out the inner responses that individuals will make to these tempting circumstances.
18tn Grk “souls.”
19tn Or “polished.” See LSJ 903.
20sn That is, the idols had a wooden frame that was overlaid or plated with gold and/or silver.
21tn Or “false.”
22tn The word “gods” is not in the Greek text but has been added in the translation for clarity.
23tn The preposition apo (“from”) is used here with a partitive sense.
24tn The Greek word tegos (= stegos) originally referred to a roof or any covered hall or chamber, but later the word came to mean a brothel in particular. Several English translations prefer the rendering “terrace” (e.g., NRSV, NAB, NJB), but “brothel” (so RSV) fits the present context quite well. See LSJ 1765. Alternatively, the word may refer to the roof of the temple where prostitutes may have slept to take advantage of cooler temperatures. So, e.g., C. J. Ball, APOT, 601.
25tn The Greek word broma normally means “food.” However, the precise sense of the word here is not clear. It may mean “moth-eating” (so LSJ 332; cf. KJV, Douay, Knox), although it is hard to understand how idols overlaid with metal would be affected by moths. If it is the underneath wooden portion of these idols that is in view, then a reference to termites would perhaps be understandable (so TEV; cf. “woodworm,” NJB). If it is the metallic portion that is in view, then the reference may be to “corrosion” in a general sense (so NRSV). This latter view is reflected in the translation above. NAB has “insects,” which is probably vague by intention. It is also possible that the Greek text has sustained damage here due to a misreading of its putative Hebrew Vorlage. This is the view of Moore who (following Ball) argues that the Hebrew me’okel (“from a devourer”) was misread by the Greek translator as ma’akal (“food”), which according to Moore makes no sense here. See C. A. Moore, The Additions, AB 44, 338.
26tn The genitive absolute participial construction used here seems to have a concessive nuance.
27tn Grk “house.” So also in vv. 15, 17, 19, 20, 30, 54.
28tn Grk “he.”
29tn Or “offends.” Here the verb apparently refers to one who invades the sanctuary where the idol resides.
30tc The Syriac translation adds “in his left hand,” which has the effect of simplifying what is in the right hand according to v. 13.
31tn Or perhaps “worship.”
32sn This refrain, with slight variations in wording, appears repeatedly throughout the letter and provides a clue as to the organization layout of the letter (vv. 14, 22, 28, 39, 44, [49], 51, 56, 64, 68). With the exception of the introductory section (vv. 1-6) and the concluding section (vv. 69-72), each of the other nine sections concludes with a comment to this effect.
33tn The Greek word skeuos is a general and somewhat ambiguous term used to refer to an implement or utensil or type of equipment whose exact meaning must be determined from the context. There are various possibilities here: “bowl” (TEV), “dish” (NRSV), “tools” (NAB), “pot” (NJB), “jar” (Knox).
34tn Grk “them.”
35tn It is possible that this clause should be taken with what follows rather than with what precedes. So KJV, Douay.
36tc One Greek manuscript (538), the old Latin, and the Vulgate have “gates” rather than “courts.” Some scholars regard the Greek text as corrupt here, claiming that an original pulai (“gates”) was misread as aulai (“courts”). So C. A. Moore, The Additions, AB 44, 341. The English translations vary: “gates” (Douay, NRSV), “doors” (KJV, NJB), “courtyards” (NAB).
37tn Grk “of whom.”
38tn Or perhaps “so to speak.”
39sn The meaning of this sentence is difficult to grasp. It is possible that the text is corrupt.
40tn Or “termites” (NJB, TEV), or “insects” (NAB).
41tn Or “soot.”
42tn The word “other” is not in the Greek text but has been added in the translation for clarity. As it stands the Greek sequence here is odd: “bats, swallows, and the birds.” For the last item one expects a specific type of bird. The Syriac translation in fact has na‘be’ (“crows” or “ravens”) for the third item.
43tn Or “alight.” The verb ephiptamai (late Greek for epipetomai) normally means “to fly over” or “flit about,” although here it seems to refer to a stationary position (“perch” or “alight”) since even cats are included in the description.
44sn The Felis domesticus. See LSJ 38. This is the only occurrence of the word in the Septuagint.
45tn In v. 14 the pronoun (autous, “them”) is masculine, referring to the gods; here the pronoun (auta, “them”) is neuter, referring to the idols.
46tn Grk “for beauty.”
47tn Or “corrosion,” “rust.”
48tn Or “spirit.”
49tn The word “human” is not in the Greek text but has been added in the translation for clarity.
50tn Or “ashamed.”
51tn Grk “they.”
52tn Grk “it.”
53tn Grk “it.”
54tn Grk “its.”
55tn Grk “it is.”
56tn Grk “it.”
57tn Grk “it.”
58tn Grk “the sacrifices of them.” The antecedent of the pronoun is the gods, and the genitive is an objective genitive, indicating the recipient of the action implied by the preceding noun. So also in vv. 28, 29.
59tn Grk “from them.” The preposition apo is used here in a partitive sense; the implied antecedent of the pronoun is the sacrificial meat offered to the idols. The antecedent of the pronoun has been clarified in the translation above.
60tn The Greek verb apokathemai means “to sit apart.” Here it refers specifically to women who normally could be expected to refrain from certain social contacts due to undergoing their monthly period. Similar restrictions applied in the Old Testament to women having recently given birth. Cf. Lev 12:2-5; 15:33.
61tn Grk “set beside.” The word is often used of serving meals. Here it seems to refer to food offerings that women brought to the temples for the gods.
62tn Or “squat” (so NAB). The Greek word diphreuo normally means “to drive a chariot” (LSJ 438), but such a meaning makes no sense here. This is the only time the word is used in the Septuagint, and most translators render the word as “to sit,” which fits this context. See J. Lust et al., Lexicon of the Septuagint, 1:118. It is possible, however, that the Greek text is corrupt. Ball concludes that an original Hebrew text had yibkayu (“they weep”) which was mistaken for yirkabu (“they ride”). According to him the Greek reading here is based on this scribal mistake. See C. J. Ball, APOT, 597, 604.
63sn Presumably the contrast between the practice of Israel in this regard and that of pagans would not have escaped the attention of a Jewish reader. As Moore points out, such expressions of grief for the deceased were prohibited for Jewish priests in general (Lev 21:1-6) and for the high priest in particular (Lev 21:10-12). See C. A. Moore, The Additions, AB 44, 346.
64sn Cf. Ezek 8:14-15.
65tn Grk “from.” The Greek preposition apo is used here in a partitive sense.
66tn Grk “their.”
67tn Grk “bronze.” The word is used here in the sense of money.
68tn Grk “vows a vow.” The construction is a cognate accusative.
69tn Grk “seek after” or “require.”
70sn Singled out in vv. 36-37 are the blind, those in distress, the widow, and the orphan. Cf. Ps 146:8-9, which promises that the Lord undertakes in behalf of all of these.
71tn Grk “things.”
72sn The Chaldeans referred to here are not the Babylonians in general but rather a smaller subset consisting of professional magicians who frequently were asked by royalty to interpret difficult events. Cf. the similar use of this word in the Book of Daniel.
73tn The word “him” is not in the Greek text but has been added in the translation for clarity. The Greek construction is ambiguous and could be translated “they brought Bel,” although it is more likely that the one to be healed was brought to the idol than that the idol was brought to the petitioner.
74sn Otherwise known as Marduk.
75tn Grk “he.”
76tn Grk “them.”
77tn Or “husks of corn.” See LSJ 1409.
78sn Moore thinks that the burning of the bran was an aphrodisiac. See C. A. Moore, The Additions, AB 44, 348.
79tn Grk “she.”
80sn A lengthy passage in Herodotus describes a practice of sacred prostitution which, while different in some of its details from what is described in this letter, nonetheless is helpful for understanding how this practice might have worked. Herodotus introduces this description by referring to it as “the foulest Babylonian custom.” According to Herodotus every Babylonian woman was required once during her lifetime to go to the temple of Aphrodite and engage in sex with a stranger who happened to be there. The woman was to wear a crown of cord around her head and sit along a path in a crowd of people where she was supposed to remain until selected by an interested male. The man would declare his intentions by throwing a coin into her lap and announcing, “I demand you in the name of Mylitta” (i.e., the goddess Aphrodite). The woman was obligated to go with the first one who invited her, and no coin could be refused because of its worth. After making herself holy by having sex with the stranger in the name of the goddess, the woman then was free to return home. Herodotus says that those women who were beautiful and tall were quickly called for, but those who were uncomely sometimes had to wait for as long as three or four years! See Herodotus 1.199.
81tn Grk “them.”
82tc A tiny Greek fragment about the size of a postage stamp and containing portions of vv. 43-44 was found in cave seven at Qumran. Known as 7QpapEpJer gr and dating to about 100 B.C., this fragment provides no significant textual variants from the accepted Greek text. For an English translation of the fragment see M. Abegg Jr., P. Flint, and E. Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, 628-29.
83tn Grk “them.”
84tn Or “divine activity” (so NJB). The meaning of the statement is not entirely clear.
85sn The Corvus cornix, or perhaps the rook (Corvus corone). See LSJ 983. What exactly this statement means is difficult to say. Some scholars have suggested that the text may be corrupt. Ball, for example, emended “crows” to “clouds,” which provides an easier reading. However, that is not necessarily an argument in its favor, since it fails adequately to account for the lectio difficilior of the accepted Greek text. But see C. J. Ball, APOT, 598, 608. The Syriac translation has “But not like the crows do they fly in the air between heaven and earth.”
86tn Grk “they.”
87tn Grk “they.”
88tn Grk “they.”
89tc Ball regards the threefold repetition of the phrase “than these false gods” as suspicious from a text-critical standpoint, but he is unable to provide adequate evidence for concluding that the triple expression is “hardly original.” See C. J. Ball, APOT, 608.
90tn Or “everywhere” (so TEV, Knox).
91tn Grk “what has been appointed.” So also in v. 62.
92tn Grk “fire.”
93tn Grk “things.”
94tn The word probaskanion (“scarecrow”) is a hapax legomenon in the Septuagint.
95tn The word sikueraton (“cucumber bed”) is found in the Septuagint only here and in Isa 1:8, where desolate Zion is likened to an abandoned hut in a seasonal field.
96sn The analogy is drawn from Jer 10:5a: “Such idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field. They cannot talk. They have to be carried because they cannot walk.”
97tn The Greek word ramnos is used to refer to various types of prickly shrubs, such as the box-thorn (Lycium europaeum), the stone buckthorn (Rhamnus graeca), and the black buckthorn (Rhamnus oleoides). See LSJ 1565.
98tc The Greek word used here is marmaros (“marble”), a hapax legomenon in the Septuagint. But this word seems to make no sense in the present context, since marble does not rot the way clothes do. Possibly marble could be understood here as a metonym standing for the color of marble, and thus referring to clothes of this color. But this does not seem to be the most natural way to understand the word. Most scholars prefer to emend the text to read “fine linen,” suspecting that the Greek translator had before him a Hebrew text that had ses, which can mean either “marble” or “fine linen.” (See BDB 1058, 1010; HALOT 4:1663.) In that case the translator chose the wrong meaning for the Hebrew word. The translation above is based on this emendation.
99tn Or “country.”
100tn Grk “he.”
101sn Presumably the writer does not mean that one who avoids idols will necessarily avoid thereby all other forms of reproach as well. In light of the context the word should probably be understood in a qualified sense to refer specifically to the reproach of idolatry. But if the language is pressed it could be argued that the statement is actually a non sequitur and a “lame conclusion” that is not really accurate. So C. J. Ball, APOT, 611.