Peter Hawkins and Eric Reymond discuss disaster and hope, glory, and reversal in Baruch 5:1-9. The text is appointed for the Second Sunday of Advent (Advent 2), Sunday, December 5, Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary.
Voiceover Voice 1:
There’s always a disaster that just happened, and there’s always a reason to hope.
Voiceover Voice 2:
There’s always a reason to hope.
Welcome back to Chapter, Verse, and Season: a lectionary podcast from Yale Bible Study. I’m your host, Helena Martin.
Every week, we let you listen in on a casual conversation between two of our professors here at Yale Divinity School. We ask them to talk about one of the readings appointed by the Revised Common Lectionary for this coming Sunday. And hopefully that will spark some insight for your preaching, or teaching, or reading this week.
This episode, we have Peter Hawkins, Professor Emeritus of Religion and Literature, and Eric Reymond, Senior Lecturer in Hebrew Language.
They’re discussing Baruch, chapter 5:1-9, which is appointed for Sunday, December 5—can you believe we’re already talking about December?—the Second Sunday in Advent.
The text is read for you by student Caity Stuart.
Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem,
and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.
Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God;
put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting;
for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven.
For God will give you evermore the name,
“Righteous Peace, Godly Glory.”
Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height;
look toward the east,
and see your children gathered from west and east
at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that God has remembered them.
For they went out from you on foot,
led away by their enemies;
but God will bring them back to you,
carried in glory, as on a royal throne.
For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low
and the valleys filled up, to make level ground,
so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.
The woods and every fragrant tree
have shaded Israel at God’s command.
For God will lead Israel with joy,
in the light of his glory,
with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.
Boy, this passage, which is so rich and so beautiful, is really a kind of mood swing. Isn’t it? I mean, it involves a big costume change from the clothing of misery and affliction to the clothing of glory and duty. It seems to be referring to some kind of major historical event, but Eric, what is it?
Right. So, first of all, the person of Baruch is the scribe of Jeremiah. And in the typical canon, of course, we don’t have a book associated with Jeremiah’s scribe, but in the wider corpus of apocryphal texts we do. And this text purports to be, by him, by Baruch. And the identification of that author situates this at the time of Jeremiah. So this is supposed to be at the time of the Babylonian exile, or just before the Babylonian exile, and is situated in that literary context. But the time when it was actually written is probably much later. And likely refers to a historical situation that involves, perhaps not the Babylonians themselves, but rather the Romans or another, more recent kingdom.
So that for Israel, there’s always a disaster that just happened. And there’s always a reason to hope.
There’s always a reason to hope, indeed.
This personification of Jerusalem is interesting to me. It seems to be a “she.” It seems to be a woman. Is that the case always with personifications in the Hebrew Bible?
So, not with all personifications, but certainly with cities. The word for city is feminine. And perhaps because of that, the typical way of personifying and talking about a city is as a woman.
Okay. I note here the repetition of the word “glory” over and over and over again. It’s the antithesis of affliction and sorrow. It has to do with God, but it’s being shared with Jerusalem. And so I wonder if you could help me understand more fully what glory means here.
Right. You know, glory in Hebrew is the word kavod and has the sense of honor. It comes from a root that has to do with being important or heavy. And it’s thought that the book itself, at least large portions of the book, were actually written in Hebrew and that would have been the word that underlies the references to glory—at least potentially.
It does seem to me, it seems to be the word that connects all the different verses, Peter, right? Because it occurs in almost every verse and is associated then with a number of different things in the Hebrew Bible or in Hebrew literature. But it’s here associated with joy, with praise.
Eric, is glory, kavod, primarily pertaining to God, and God is sharing it with Israel?
I don’t think that it’s limited to the divine. It is something that is shared both by humans and the divine. So it’s something that can describe a human, just as much as the divine. So I don’t know that it would be characterized as an exclusive component of the deity.
I think what strikes me most about this passage—coming at it not from an historical basis, but from a literary one, which is my vocation—has to do with these images of contracts. I mean, the scattering of Jerusalem on the one hand, and the gathering of it from east and from west on the other. Or the children of Israel go out into exile on foot, led away by their enemies, but God brings them back, carried in glory as on a royal throne.
Even the whole landscape of the ancient near east is led to cooperate, so that the mountains and hills are made low in the valleys are raised up. It’s just a beautiful sense of restoration. And I guess that’s the point of this passage? Isn’t it?
Yes, I think so. it does have these nice reversals of things that have been described before.
And in in the book of Baruch, you have the description of these various events, these traumas. And this is at the end of the book, where the exile or the destruction of Jerusalem is being reversed. So, as a single entity, that poem is also expressing that kind of reversal from what has been described previously in the book.
In Hebrew, is it a beautiful text? The way it appears to me in the New Revised Standard Version in English.
In English? Well, we don’t have it actually in Hebrew. We have it in ancient translations, in Syriac and in Greek. And I’m most familiar with it in Syriac.
And I think there is a beauty to it. And in part it has to do with the repetitions of the words in the Syriac, I guess, but reflecting likely the kind of rhythms and repetitions that would have been in the Hebrew as well, since Syriac and Hebrew are relatively close in linguistic terms. So, I think so, but it’s something hard to communicate, I think, and hard to describe other than to say it has to do with the repetition of particular words and how they resonate throughout the text.
Yeah, I counted six instances of glory in these nine versus, yeah.
Yeah. And that kind of, that kind of linking a versus, in ancient Semitic poems is not uncommon and is one of the ways that poets would have created a coherence within a text.
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Chapter, Verse, and Season is produced by Joel Baden, Kelly Morrissey, and me, Helena Martin. Our theme music is by Calvin Linderman.
Thank you, as always, to the Center for Continuing Education at Yale Divinity School. And thank you to Professors Hawkins and Reymond for joining us today.
We’ll be back next week with another conversation from Chapter, Verse, and Season.
New Revised Standard Version Bible
Copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Host: Helena Martin
Producers: Helena Martin, Joel Baden, Kelly Morrissey
Music: Calvin Linderman