Baruch ben Neriah (Hebrew: ברוך בן נריה Bārūḵ ben Nərīyā) was an Israelite scribe, and (probably) the Biblical Author of the book of Genesis.
Baruch is most widely known for being the scribe for the prophet Jeremiah, as well as his follower, disciple, secretary, and dedicated friend. For some Christian sects he is known for having four books written in his name long after his death.
Baruch came from a noble Israelite family heavily connected in the Judean court. His family probably originally came to Jerusalem from the tribe of Reuben, and seems to have been rich and influential. In the book of Jeremiah, Baruch details his own political involvement in Jerusalem before and after the Babylonians burned it in 586 BCE.
Ben Neriah was taught to scribe according to the Mesopotamian method and tradition, and so came to learn about the ancient eastern stories he later adapted to fit in the narrative of Genesis. He incorporated Mesopotamian geography and themes into the creation stories, adapted a Sumerian story of the eternal feud between herder and farmer, turned the flood story of Utnapishtim into that of Noah, not to mention Biblical references to Ziggurats, the Mesopotamian character Enkidu, and Assyrian King Ashurbanipal II - he weaved in all of those into Genesis.
His masterpiece was the tale of Joseph, which incorporated his own life, the life of Jeremiah, the story of the mass Israelite immigration to Egypt, and ancient Egyptian stories - into one narrative full of compassion, regret, and solidarity. You can listen to the episode below to get a fuller picture.
Scholars and theologians agree that Baruch Ben Neriah wrote most of the book of Jeremiah. He was the one who put the prophet's prophecies in writing, and after they were burned, Jeremiah re-dictated them to Baruch word for word, sort of, with more rage and insults and death and destruction. A clear descritpion in the book of Jeremiah of the extra-rageful rewritten prophecies gives us the specific emotional state of Jeremiah as teh context to some of his most violent and virulent prophecies that are now chapters in the book named after him.
Both Baruch and Jeremiah were in Jerusalem during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem in 587–586 BC. They tried to flee to the Babylonian side, but Jeremiah was apprehended and arrested as a spy. It was Baruch who saved his life when he was dying of thirst and hunger in a waterless pit, serving as a prison dungeon. Ben Neriah got an audience with the king who decreed to take him out of the pit. Baruch's love for his friend is beautifully portrayed in the frantic emotion of a Kushite slave that is a stand-in for Baruch himself.
After the city's destruction, Baruch seems to have convinced Jeremiah to try and prevent the Israelite migration south to Egypt, but was unsuccessful and so had no choice but to immigrate as well. His community resented him for it.
It was in Egypt that Ben Neriah became the most prominent person of the immigrated Hebrew community, as in Egypt scribes were assigned to collect taxes from their communities and mediate all communication between them and the Pharaoh and court. The life of Jeremiah as a prophet that no one listens to, a prophet who is thrown in a waterless pit just for seeing the future, and the life of Baruch as the head of the Hebrews in Egypt - both were the direct inspiration to the tale of Joseph. Joseph is a prophet who sees the future and is hate for it, and is even thrown by the sons of Israel to a waterless pit. In Egypt, Joseph is collecting taxes from his community and communicating in their name with the Pharaoh and court.
And as Joseph and his brothers forgive and forget - so did the Hebrew immigrants who left their past differences behind them, considered the fall of Jerusalem a calamity via Force Majeur (in Genesis is a famine who pushes them south), forgave each other for all their internal feuds and opened a new leaf.
Listen to this episode to see for yourself how the lives of Baruch and Jeremiah were the inspiration behind the tale of Joseph.
Baruch Ben Neriah has been largely forgotten in recent centuries, but he was very well-known in his lifetime and legendary for a solid 2000 years after his death.
The Hebrews exiled in Babylon thought highly of Ben Neriah, even though he was, for them, part of the enemy camp that pushed to surrender to the Babylonians. The Babylonian Hebrews chose to appropriate the Ben Neriah brand to aggrandize their own local talent. They insisted that Ben Neriah had not, in fact, died in Egypt, no; he left it in old age and joined the rival exiles in Babylon to forgive and forget and most importantly - to teach the community's rising star, Ezra the scribe. When they wanted to give Ezra a glorious scribal lineage, they connected him directly to Ben Neriah. All of this - it bears mentioning - was when Ben Neriah had been dead for about 100 years.
Ben Neriah was so famous in the ancient world he was recorded by the Roman Jewish historian Josephus Flavius in the monumental historical books about Jewish History published in 94 CE, 600+ years after Ben Neriah's death! Josephus stated that Baruch had wonderful writing capabilities in the language of his people. Biblical Authors living around the time of Josephus produced new biblical books they claimed had been written by Ben Neriah, who was now considered a prophet 600 years after his death. These are called pseudepigraphic biblical books, and they were all the rage back then. The honor of getting a book written supposedly by a celebrated dead figure was reserved for King Solomon, Adam, and the aforementioned Ezra. That's pretty good company, but Ben Neriah got more pseudepigraphic books than anyone - four total! The Book of Baruch and Baruch 2, 3, and 4.
In the ensuing centuries, Ben Neriah was incorporated into Jewish and Christian fables, and he even makes an appearance in Zoroastrian and Muslim folklore more than 1500 years after his death. The last mentions of him that I could find were by Jewish rabbis living in medieval Europe, remembering him fondly some 2000 years after he drew his last breath. As is the case with immense historical figures, Ben Neriah's final resting place also became the stuff of legends for several communities.
Only because history works in mysterious ways, this is almost surely the first time you hear about this titan of biblical proportions.
Listen to this episode to learn about which Genesis stories other than Joseph were written by Baruch.