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Baruch ben Neriah Bulla, 6th century BCE

Baruch_ben_Neriah_Bulla

Baruch ben Neriah Bulla

(Belonging to) Berakhyahu

son of Neriyahu

the scribe

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The first four bullae in this particular hoard—a hoard that would ultimately number over 250—came to light in October 1975 in the shop of an Arab antiquities dealer in East Jerusalem. The four bullae were purchased by a collector who took them for evaluation to the leading Israeli expert on ancient seals and scalings, Nahman Avigad of the Hebrew University.

Jeremiah prophesied shortly before the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., as well as during the Exile thereafter. Professor Avigad dates these bullae to the very end of the seventh century and the beginning of the sixth century B.C., just before Jerusalem’s conquest and destruction.

In the summer of 605 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylonia and the most powerful political figure in the entire world, crushed the Egyptian army at Carchemish and began to advance into Syria. It was clear that tiny Judah would be next on the line of march. The northern kingdom of Israel had already been conquered by the Assyrians (in 721 B.C.) and was no more. Judah was obviously no match for the Babylonians, who had assumed the position of world superpower after defeating the Assyrians. The Egyptian defeat at Carchemish made it plain that Judah was relying on a weak reed if she expected any protection from her alliance with Egypt.

For some time Jeremiah had been lashing out against Judah’s alliance with Egypt and had been predicting Judah’s destruction at the hands of the Babylonians.

In the fourth year of the reign of King Jehoiakim (c. 605 B.C.), as the Bible tells us (Jeremiah 36-1), the Lord spoke to Jeremiah and instructed him to write his prophecies on a scroll. “Perhaps,” Yahweha told Jeremiah, “if the house of Judah hears all the disasters I intend to bring upon them, they will turn back from their wicked ways, and I will pardon their iniquity and their sin” (Jeremiah 36-3).

“So Jeremiah called Baruch son of Neriah; and Baruch wrote down in the scroll, at Jeremiah’s dictation, all the words which the Lord had spoken to him” (Jeremiah 36-4).

Jeremiah himself was in hiding, so he told his friend and confidant to take the scroll and read it aloud in the Temple on a fast day.

“Baruch son of Neriah did just as the prophet Jeremiah had instructed him, about reading the words of the Lord from the scroll in the House of the Lord” (Jeremiah 36-8).

When Baruch did this, it was reported to high officials at the king’s palace not far away. Baruch was sent for and was told to read the scroll to the palace officials. The officials, showing some courage, advised Baruch to go into hiding with Jeremiah.

The scroll—apparently confiscated from Baruch at the palace—was then taken to King Jehoiakim himself. Each time a few columns was read to the king, he would take those columns and burn them in the winter fire that was warming him.

Then the king ordered three courtiers, including his son Yerah\me’el, to go and “arrest the scribe Baruch and the prophet Jeremiah.” But the courtiers could not find the pair- “The Lord hid them” (Jeremiah 36-26).

When Jeremiah heard that the king had burned the scroll, he dictated to Baruch a second copy (Jeremiah 36-32). Then the Lord instructed Jeremiah to prophesy to King Jehoiakim-

“Thus said the Lord- You burned that scroll, saying, ‘How dare you write in it that the king of Babylon will come and destroy this land and cause man and beast to cease from it?’ Assuredly, thus said the Lord concerning King Jehoiakim of Judah- He shall not have any of his line sitting on the throne of David; and his own corpse shall be left exposed to the heat by day and the cold by night. And I will punish him and his offspring and his courtiers for their iniquity; I will bring on them and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem and on all the men of Judah all the disasters of which I have warned them—but they would not listen” (Jeremiah 36-29–31).

Jeremiah’s Scribe and Confidant Speaks from a Hoard of Clay Bullae, Hershel Shanks, BAR 13-05, Sep-Oct 1987.

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