Jeremiah 32 – Jeremiah Buys a Field & Baurch, Scribe of Jeremiah

The Babylonian Chronicle: The Fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar
This section of the a much longer chronicle details the events of the last year of Nabopolassar and the first eleven years of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign.

There are a number of interesting sections but the most interesting from a Biblical point of view is the section that details Nebuchadnezzar’s seventh year:

In the seventh year, the month of Kislîmu, the king of Akkad mustered his troops, marched to the Hatti-land, and besieged the city of Judah and on the second day of the month of Addaru he seized the city and captured the king. He appointed there a king of his own choice, received its heavy tribute and sent to Babylon.

That would be a lot of writing and they didn’t have erasers back then.  The first eraser was plain old white bread and some artists still use it to lighten charcoal or pastel marks.  The rubber eraser was invented in 1770 by Joseph Priestley.

Baruch was Jeremiah’s scribe, so I’m curious…

Jeremiah 32 Jeremiah Buys a Field

1 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.

32:1-44 – though with some reluctance Jeremiah obeys the Lord’s command to buy a field in Anathoth from his cousin even as the Babylonians are besieging Jerusalem.

“Tenth year of Zedekiah…eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar” – 587 B.C., the year before Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians.  The siege began in 588 B.C.

2 For then the king of Babylon’s army besieged Jerusalem: and Jeremiah the prophet was shut up in the court of the prison, which was in the king of Judah’s house.

”Shut up in the court of the prison” – Jeremiah stayed in prison until Jerusalem fell.

3 For Zedekiah king of Judah had shut him up, saying, Wherefore dost thou prophesy, and say, Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it;

4 And Zedekiah king of Judah shall not escape out of the hand of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him mouth to mouth, and his eyes shall behold his eyes;

5 And he shall lead Zedekiah to Babylon, and there shall he be until I visit him, saith the LORD: though ye fight with the Chaldeans, ye shall not prosper.

6 And Jeremiah said, The word of the LORD came unto me, saying,

7 Behold, Hanameel the son of Shallum thine uncle shall come unto thee, saying, Buy thee my field that is in Anathoth: for the right of redemption is thine to buy it.

8 So Hanameel mine uncle’s son came to me in the court of the prison according to the word of the LORD, and said unto me, Buy my field, I pray thee, that is in Anathoth, which is in the country of Benjamin: for the right of inheritance is thine, and the redemption is thine; buy it for thyself. Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD.

9 And I bought the field of Hanameel my uncle’s son, that was in Anathoth, and weighed him the money, even seventeen shekels of silver.

The Babylonians’ religious beliefs were rooted in a tradition which dated back over 2,500 years to the origins of Sumerian civilization.
Every Sumerian city was ruled by a monarch – the representative of his city’s god who, surrounded by his court, was also masters of a specific art of the world.

The god assured the prosperity of the city by keeping in balance the cosmic forces upon which the fertility of the earth and its occupants depended.

Quite how this balance was maintained in the Babylonian scheme of this is not known. But some scholars conclude that, in Babylonian belief, the god shared his power with a mother goddess whom he wed afresh each year.

It was at these ceremonies that the king and the high priestess acted out the role of the divine couple.

10 And I subscribed the evidence, and sealed it, and took witnesses, and weighed him the money in the balances.

11 So I took the evidence of the purchase, both that which was sealed according to the law and custom, and that which was open:

“That which was open” – for ready reference, the authenticity of which would then be guaranteed by the sealed copy if the unsealed deed should be lost, damaged or changed (deliberately or otherwise).

Examples of tied and sealed papyrus documents of the fifth and subsequent centuries B.C. have been found at Elephantine in southern Egypt, in the desert of Judah west of the Dead Sea and elsewhere.

12 And I gave the evidence of the purchase unto Baruch the son of Neriah, the son of Maaseiah, in the sight of Hanameel mine uncle’s son, and in the presence of the witnesses that subscribed the book of the purchase, before all the Jews that sat in the court of the prison.

“Baruch” – means “blessed (by the Lord).”  He was Jeremiah’s faithful secretary and friend.

13 And I charged Baruch before them, saying,

14 Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Take these evidences, this evidence of the purchase, both which is sealed, and this evidence which is open; and put them in an earthen vessel, that they may continue many days.

“Put them in an earthen vessel, that they may continue many days” – documents found in clay jars at Elephantine and Qumran (west of the Dead Sea) were preserved almost intact for more than 2,000 years.

15 For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land.

Jeremiah’s deed of purchase would enable him or his heirs to reclaim the field as soon as normal economic activity resumed after the exile.

16 Now when I had delivered the evidence of the purchase unto Baruch the son of Neriah, I prayed unto the LORD, saying,

17 Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee:

Jeremiah was imprisoned in a cistern (a water tank).
Amid the Babylonian attack on Jerusalem, the prophet Jeremiah gives his customary message as he predicts the fall of the city (Jeremiah 38:2-3).

His nation has only two options: submit or resist. While the government is committed to resistance, the prophet does what prophets often do and dissents. In his theological reading of the situation, Jeremiah encourages submitting to the empire noting the inevitable consequences of the siege: death, famine and pestilence (Jeremiah 38:3).

The local patriots cannot accept this perceived endorsement of Babylonian supremacy and respond by charging the prophet with treason and advise a death sentence (Jeremiah 36:4).

18 Thou shewest loving kindness unto thousands, and recompensest the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them: the Great, the Mighty God, the LORD of hosts, is his name,

19 Great in counsel, and mighty in work: for thine eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons of men: to give everyone according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings:

20 Which hast set signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, even unto this day, and in Israel, and among other men; and hast made thee a name, as at this day;

21 And hast brought forth thy people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs, and with wonders, and with a strong hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with great terror;

22 And hast given them this land, which thou didst swear to their fathers to give them, a land flowing with milk and honey;

23 And they came in, and possessed it; but they obeyed not thy voice, neither walked in thy law; they have done nothing of all that thou commandedst them to do: therefore thou hast caused all this evil to come upon them:

24 Behold the mounts, they are come unto the city to take it; and the city is given into the hand of the Chaldeans, that fight against it, because of the sword, and of the famine, and of the pestilence: and what thou hast spoken is come to pass; and, behold, thou seest it.

25 And thou hast said unto me, O Lord GOD, Buy thee the field for money, and take witnesses; for the city is given into the hand of the Chaldeans.

Jeremiah expresses his doubts concerning what must seem to him to be an unwise investment.  Nevertheless, he remains the obedient servant.

26 Then came the word of the LORD unto Jeremiah, saying,

27 Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is there anything too hard for me?

28 Therefore thus saith the LORD; Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the Chaldeans, and into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall take it:

29 And the Chaldeans, that fight against this city, shall come and set fire on this city, and burn it with the houses, upon whose roofs they have offered incense unto Baal, and poured out drink offerings unto other gods, to provoke me to anger.

Zedekiah was the last king of Judah before the destruction of the kingdom by Babylon.
He was installed as king of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon, after a siege of Jerusalem, to succeed his nephew, Jeconiah, who was overthrown as king after a reign of only three months and ten days.

William F. Albright dates the reign of Zedekiah to 606 – 586 B.C.

30 For the children of Israel and the children of Judah have only done evil before me from their youth: for the children of Israel have only provoked me to anger with the work of their hands, saith the LORD.

31 For this city hath been to me as a provocation of mine anger and of my fury from the day that they built it even unto this day; that I should remove it from before my face,

32 Because of all the evil of the children of Israel and of the children of Judah, which they have done to provoke me to anger, they, their kings, their princes, their priests, and their prophets, and the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

33 And they have turned unto me the back, and not the face: though I taught them, rising up early and teaching them, yet they have not hearkened to receive instruction.

34 But they set their abominations in the house, which is called by my name, to defile it.

35 And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.

“Molech” – the god of the Ammonites.

36 And now therefore thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning this city, whereof ye say, It shall be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence;

37 Behold, I will gather them out of all countries, whither I have driven them in mine anger, and in my fury, and in great wrath; and I will bring them again unto this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely:

38 And they shall be my people, and I will be their God:

Anathoth, modern Anata, was Jeremiah’s birthplace. The possible ruins of Anathoth may be here at Ras el-Harrubeh in Israel.

39 And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me forever, for the good of them, and of their children after them:

40 And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.

41 Yea, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will plant them in this land assuredly with my whole heart and with my whole soul.

42 For thus saith the LORD; Like as I have brought all this great evil upon this people, so will I bring upon them all the good that I have promised them.

43 And fields shall be bought in this land, whereof ye say, It is desolate without man or beast; it is given into the hand of the Chaldeans.

44 Men shall buy fields for money, and subscribe evidences, and seal them, and take witnesses in the land of Benjamin, and in the places about Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, and in the cities of the mountains, and in the cities of the valley, and in the cities of the south: for I will cause their captivity to return, saith the LORD.

The Elephantine Papyri are a collection of ancient Jewish manuscripts dating from the 5th century B.C.
They come from a Jewish community at Elephantine, then called Yeb, the island in the Nile at the border of Nubia, which was probably founded as a military installation in about 650 B.C. during Manasseh’s reign to assist Pharaoh Psammetichus I in his Nubian campaign.

The dry soil of Upper Egypt preserved documents from the Egyptian border fortresses of Elephantine and Syene (Aswan). Hundreds of these Elephantine papyri, written in hieratic and Demotic Egyptian, Aramaic, Greek, Latin and Coptic, span a period of 1000 years. Legal documents and a cache of letters survived, turned up on the local ‘gray market’ of antiquities starting in the late 19th century, and were scattered into several Western collections.

“Land of Benjamin” – here Benjamin is mentioned first because it was the region in which Jeremiah’s hometown was located.

Baruch, Scribe of Jeremiah

Baruch, a well-known figure in the book of Jeremiah, was Jeremiah’s secretary and advisor, with an official title of “scribe.”  Evidence suggest that he was a royal scribe from a prominent family involved in this profession.

Jeremiah 32 describes how Baruch drew up and filed a deed of purchase for the prophet.  Jeremiah also dictated his prophecies to Baruch, who wrote them down on leather scrolls with pen and ink.

Baruch was forced to hide with Jeremiah because of official opposition to Jeremiah’s prophecies.  Curiously, after the fall of Jerusalem, when Jeremiah told the Jews left behind in Judah that God forbade them to flee to Egypt, the angry Jews blamed Baruch for that message.

Jeremiah 45 gives us a glimpse of the man Baruch.  He was distraught over all that had happened and wondered what would become of him, but God responded with both an admonition and a promise.

Baruch ben Neriah was the scribe, disciple, secretary, and devoted friend of the prophet Jeremiah.
According to Josephus, he was a Jewish aristocrat, a son of Neriah and brother of Seraiah ben Neriah, chamberlain of King Zedekiah of Judah.

Baruch wrote down the first and second editions of Jeremiah’s prophecies as they were dictated to him by the prophet. Baruch remained true to the teachings and ideals of the great prophet, although like his master he was at times almost overwhelmed with despondency.

Two sealed impressions of Baruch,  both made from the same seal, have been acquired on the antiquities market in Israel.  One of them is on display in the Israel Museum.  The three-line inscription on each of them reads, “Belonging to Berekyahu, son of Neriyahu, the scribe.”

Berekyahu is a longer form of Baruch’s name, it includes the divine element “Yahu,” or Yahweh.  The other seal, including fingerprint (no doubt that of Baruch himself) is held in a private collection. 

…what exactly is a scribe and how did someone become one?