This is another installment of my continuing study regarding how Jews understood the concept of ‘preexistence.’ In today’s post we will be examining a passage within the pseudepigraphal document known as 2 Baruch. This work was penned after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in the year 70 CE, with one of its key themes being an attempt to wrestle with the problem of why God allowed for the Romans to triumph over the Jewish house of worship. Scholars are fairly unanimous in dating this document to either the end of the 1st century or the beginning of the second century CE.
In the fourth chapter the unknown author describes a dialogue between God and Baruch. It is necessary that I quote the passage in full (verses are given in parentheses):
(1) And the Lord said to me: “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.”
(2) Or do you think that this is the city of which I said: “On the palms of my hands I have carved you?”
(3) 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.
(4) After these things I showed it to my servant Abraham in the night between the portions of the victims.
(5) And again I showed it also to Moses on Mount Sinai when I showed him the likeness of the tabernacle and all its vessels.
(6) Behold, now it is preserved with me–as also Paradise.
There are a lot of interesting things which I could say about this passage. However, since my inquiry regards Jewish preexistence, I will limit myself to the points which shed light on the study at hand.
First of all, it should be pointed out that the Jewish temple was “already prepared (4:3)” from the time when God created Paradise (i.e., from the foundation of the world). I have noted in previous installments of this study that the temple was often spoken of as having preexisted within God’s plans and purposes (Gen. Rabbah 1:4; b.Pes. 54a; b.Ned. 39b). In those studies it was concluded that this manner of preexistence was not literal, that is, where the temple structure physically existed in space and time up in heaven. Rather, those texts described this magnificent building, which is of no small importance to Jewish theology, as already planned within God’s mind. The author of 2 Baruch seems to be saying the same thing here. In 4:5 the author additionally notes that this building was shown to Moses along with the the “likeness” of the tabernacle and the accompanying vessels (which were eventually crafted and built later). It should also be noted that 2 Baruch predates both Genesis Rabbah and the Babylonian Talmud references.
Secondly, the language used the prepared temple is that of it being “with me,” used twice in this passage (4:3; 6). This is extremely fascinating, especially in light of the Prologue of John’s Gospel where the personified Logos is spoken of having been “with God” in the beginning (John 1:1b). Since the temple seems to only be preexisting as a concept rather than as a literal structure, the meaning of it being “with God” further suggests that it is a part of God’s plans and purposes. Similar uses of such concepts being “with God” can be observed in Job 10:13; 23:14; 27:11; Prov. 2:1; Wis. 9:9; Sirach 1:1. I suggest that the close proximity of the dating of John’s Gospel with the dating of 2 Baruch strongly allows for the interpretive overlap of these themes.
In sum, it seems that the document of 2 Baruch demonstrates that Jews spoke of the important things of Jewish theology as having been prepared beforehand in God’s purposes, even going so far as to say that they were with him. This further contributes to my working hypothesis that ‘preexistence’ within Jewish modes of discourse was conceptual and ideal, rather than literal.
This certainly has consequences for the interpretation of such ‘preexistence’ passages as John 1:1; 8:58; and 17:5.
One thought on “Defining Jewish Preexistence – 2 Baruch 4:1-6”
I’m not sure that I find the connection you are trying to make between “with God” (John 1:1b) and the reference to “with God” in the other texts you cite convincing. The main reason is that John 1:1b uses the Greek preposition PROS (meaning “toward”) which is not found in any of the other passages. For example, the texts you cite from Job have the preposition PARA (meaning “from”) in the LXX translation, and not PROS.
Here again, I’m not sure that something “prepared beforehand in God’s purposes” constitutes the idea of a “notional preexistence.” Using the retirement illustration again … someone can speak of being “prepared for retirement” 20 years ahead of time without any implication that his retirement has already “come to pass” or had a “notional preexistence.”
Thus, I’m wondering if it might be more reasonable to think that these Jews were simply expressing the certainty that the things God had been planning from the past were coming to pass as He intended. The language may just be figurative, so trying to impose a concept of “notional preexistence” may not really be necessary.