The scenes with Phoenix and Sun’s route in chapters 6–8 seem to be chronologically localized at the time of summer solstice. The summer solstice is the highest point of the ecliptic. This is certainly the best point to sketch a bird’s eye view of all the gates from which the Sun appears every day. These gates are adjacent to the horizon (both 3 Baruch’s cosmology and its Babylonian antecedents do not know the concept of heavenly equator using Earth’s horizon instead). This is also the best point to see Phoenix—the gigantic bird whose wings are protecting the Earth from the solar radiation (as the ozone layer in modern conceptions, wittily said Kulik, p. 241). However, there is a problem here that may be connected, in turn, with another problem of 3 Baruch’s text.
According to the Babylonian calendars of the MUL.APIN type, the date of the summer solstice is 15.IV (this is an idealized date derived from the computation, not from the observations). However, this date is not fitting the interval between the New Wine and New Oil feasts, as one could anticipate judging from the composition of 3 Baruch. The interval from the Passover (15.I = vernal equinox in the MUL.APIN and the corresponding tradition) to the festival of New Wine is (2 ´ 49) + n days where n £ 11 (number of days between 15.I and the starting point of the count of the first pentecontad; the latter is not the same in different calendaric traditions, the latest known date being 26.I). Thus, this interval is more than 98 days, while the interval between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice in the MUL.APIN type calendars is 91 days (one quarter of the 364-day year). Therefore, if our chronological localization of Sun’s route and Phoenix scenes at the summer solstice is right, the calendar of 3 Baruch has here a sharp difference from that of the MUL.APIN type, including the calendar of 1 Enoch: the summer solstice in 3 Baruch is not between the fist and the second Pentecosts (Shavuoth and New Wine) but between the second and the third (New Wine and New Oil).
This apparent anomaly could have several theoretical explanations one of them being a strange phenomenon that I coined elsewhere “asymmetry of solstices” (cf. B. Lourié, Calendrical Elements in 2 Enoch, forthcoming in the proceedings of the 2009 Enoch Seminar). In 2 Enoch, there is a one-month shift of the summer solstice that is not an error of scribes but the result of a peculiar solar trajectory through the six gates of heaven that is described in details but has little to do with that of 1 Enoch. This shift becomes responsible for dividing the 364-day year into two asymmetrical periods, 224 and 140 days (instead of the MUL.APIN scheme 182 + 182). This asymmetry is reflected in 3 Baruch, at least, in the recension S: the total duration of Baruch’s journey, according to the readings accepted by Gaylord in his reconstruction (followed by Kulik), is 30 (2:2) + 7 (3:2) + 187 (4:2) = 224. It is hardly possible that this number is hazardous. It is difficult to judge in what extent these readings belong to the Urtext (most of them certainly do not, especially 3:2 on which see Kulik’s textological analysis, p. 138-140) but the number 224 has a good chance to reflect, in some way, the original cosmology (alternatively, it could be influenced by the calendar of 2 Enoch). It is interesting to note that the numbers of days of various stages of Baruch’s journey are extremely varying in Slavonic while have no variant readings in Greek. In Greek, as Martina Frasson demonstrated in her reconstruction (1992, supported by Kulik), Baruch’s journey covers the whole 365-day year. The corresponding readings left some traces in a part of the Slavonic manuscript tradition (β-family). However, in all recensions the duration of Baruch’s journey is indicated in the part of the account (chapters 2, 3, and 4) before the scenes with the Sun. It is more likely that the genuine readings of these numbers were indicating the duration of the part of the journey before the summer solstice instead of that of the journey as a whole. And, fortunately, we do have the appropriable readings in the Slavonic manuscripts: 50 (2:2 ms N) + 8 (3:2 mss BT) + 40 (4:2 mss BT) = 98 = 2 ´ 49 (two pentecontads). I think, these numbers correspond to the first pentecontad period before the feast of Weeks and the second pentecontad period before the feast of New Wine.
Dealing with the cosmology, Kulik poses, while without realizing this, an important problem of the construction of the gates between the heavens. He does not recognize that these gates are different from those that provide the daily motion of the Sun (p. 122), but he notifies that these inter-heaven gates “must be in fact like the long tunnel” and compares them with “the straight tunnel-like gates in broad walls widely found in the land of Israel in different periods” (p. 131). These two kinds of gates go back to the two different Babylonian concepts, that of the heavenly “gates” (abullu = ideographic KÁ.GAL; on this see esp. W. Heimpel, The Sun at Night and the Doors of Heaven in Babylonian Texts, Journal of Cuneiform Studies 38 (1986) 127–151) and that of the inter-heavenly “fords” (neberu). The latter is not studied properly.
The “fords” between the three “paths” of heaven are described in the opening lines of the Tablet V of the Enūma elīš, esp. lines 4-8, describing how Marduk created the universe (my translation is based on E. A. Speiser’s one but I made it more literalistic; the critical edition of the Tablet V is B. Landsberger, J. V. K. Wilson, The Fifth Tablet of Enuma Eliš, JNES 20 (1961) 154-179):
After he had demarcated the demarcations for the year,
He fixed the stand of dNeberu (dné-bé-re) to determine their bands,
That none might transgress or fall short.
He established with it [dNeberu] the stands of dEnlil and dEa [variant dAnu].
As it is shown by the determinative d (from Sumerian DINGIR “god”), Neberu is the name of God that is normally identified with the god-creator Marduk himself. According to the Chicago Akkadian Dictionary, “Neberu” is a derivative of the verb ebēru “to cross” (especially water), “to extend beyond (something)”. No mystical/liturgical connotations are known, except, however, the very fact that “Neberu” became a divine name belonging to the god-creator. However, the corresponding Hebrew verb cbr, having the same basic meaning, acquired a mystical/liturgical meaning of “entering into covenant” (in the Document of Damascus, by crossing Jordan, with a long trail of the “Baptist” rituals in late Jewish movements, including new born Christianity). This Hebrew “entering into covenant” by crossing a river already recalls the spectre of meanings of the akin Akkadian verb ebēru, even if the latter seems not to have meaning of performing a ritual. However, such meaning has the verb etēqu — “to pass through with a ritual” (of purification etc.), together with the whole spectre of meanings of ebēru, which was used as “synonymic or parallel with ebēru”. The liturgical meaning of the Hebrew verb has certainly antecedents in Babylonia, going back to the interwoven meanings of both ebēru and etēqu. This meaning of ritual of purification/initiation fits the role of Neberu as a divine “ferry” or “crossing” between the sectors of heaven. In the Babylonian context, it is actual, at least, in the context of the yearly renovation of the luminaries. In the context of Jewish apocalyptic, it is actual in a quite obvious way, because here each ascension to the next heaven is an additional and higher initiation. However, even the latter idea is not alien to Babylonia, while it is not explicit in the astronomical texts. It is certainly explicit, nevertheless, in the three-level structure of the Babylonian ziggurats (that are a somewhat neglected source for the study of the Babylonian cosmology). Finally, in the ziggurats we can “see” (that is, reconstruct) the gates between the different levels.
We are able to conclude that, if not the very wording but the idea of the “gates” identified with parts of heaven is, in the Jewish cosmological apocalypses, a part of their Babylonian legacy. It should be noted also, that the 3-heaven/gate model in 3 Baruch’s Urtext is closer to its Babylonian antecedent of three “paths/zones” than the 6-gate model in 2 Enoch.
Kulik’s commentary could be used as an encyclopaedia of the motifs belonging to the common ground of the mediaeval Jewish and Christian traditions, because he tries to give an exhausting list of the parallels to each scene. This is why it is reasonable to make some additions to the data accumulated by Kulik.
A snake/dragon around the Hades/Babylon (ch. 4): see, for a broader context, L.-J. Bord, P. Skubiszewski, L’image de Babylone aux Serpents dans les Beatus. Contribution à l’étude des influences du Proche-Orient antique dans l’art du haut Moyen Age (La tradition biblique, ; Paris, 2000). Cp. also the Old-Russian Povest’ o Vavilone (“Story of Babylon”).
The souls of deads become birds (10:1-7, Lake of Birds): for the Babylonian background, see Gilgameš, Tablet VII (pre-death dream of Enkidu), and the Descent of Ištar; for the afterlife of the motif in the Christian apocalyptic tradition, see especially the Celtic (7th cent.) Navigatio Sancti Brendani, its “Paradise of Birds.” Jewish roots of this motif have never been recognised by the Celtic scholars, cf. P. Ch. Jacobsen, The Island of the Birds in the Navigatio Sancti Brendani, in: G. S. Burgess, C. Stijbosch (eds.), The Brendan Legend. Texts and Versions (The Northern World, 24; Leiden/Boston, 2006) 99-116. The Navigatio could be interpreted within the Jewish-Christian tradition as an apocalypse where the ocean replaces the heaven.
36 angels accompanying the sun at the sunset (8:1S; 40 of 6:2 minus 4 taking care of the sun’s crown in 8:4): they are the 36 decans. Subdivision of the 360-grade heaven circle into thirty-six 10-grade sectors (called “decans” in Greek) is known from the earliest stages of the Babylonian and Egyptian astronomy.
Sun’s quadriga (6:1-2), being a quite widespread image throughout the ancient world (Kulik provides many parallels), could be interpreted, in the context of Babylonian astronomy, as four winds that move the Sun.
Vine-Tree of Knowledge as planted by Satan (4:7S; 4:8): cf. John of Damascus, De haeresibus, 45 (= verbatim ps.-Epiphanius of Salamin, Anacephalaeosis, 45) on the “Severians,” who are the followers of certain Severus, who, following certain Apelles, “rejects the wine and the vine, fabulously saying that they are begotten from the coitus of the dragon-like Satan (τοῦ δρακοντοειδοῦς Σατᾶν) and the Earth.”
Syriac as the lingua adamica (3:8S, family β only): Kulik provides only the most known Slavonic parallel, Khrabr the Monk, On the letters (p. 152, note 78). The corresponding tradition, the only available in the Syrian literature (A. Borst, Der Turmbau von Babel. Geschichte der Meinungen über Ursprung und Vielfalt der Sprachen und Völker. Bd. I (Stuttgart, 1957) 263-271, 287-290), is presented in several other than 3 Baruch Church Slavonic works; on the Slavonic soil, it coexisted with the Byzantine common opinion that the lingua adamica is Hebrew [see М. А. Бобрик, Вопрос о первоязыке в славянской письменной традиции (постановка проблемы), Вестник Московского университета. Сер. 9, филология (1988) № 6. 32-38]. Starting from André Vaillant in the 1930s there were several hypotheses about the creation of the earliest layer of the Slavonic literature by Syrian missionaries, monophysite or monothelite, before Cyril and Methodius. The latest of them was proposed by me in 1996 (В. М. Лурье, Около Солунской легенды. Из истории миссионерства в период монофелитской унии, Славяне и их соседи 6 (1996) 23-52). It seems that such hypotheses point out a perspective direction of search of the sources of the peculiar Slavonic pseudepigraphic tradition, and this impression has been corroborated quite recently by finding of the Coptic fragments of 2 Enoch in Qasr Ibrim in the monophysite part of Nubia (Nobatea).
The discussion of Kulik’s monograph is still far from being exhausted but the present review must be eventually stopped somewhere. It is obvious that Kulik managed to produce an extremely thought-provoking work. I believe that it opens quite new perspectives for the study of both Jewish-Christian apocalyptic tradition and its Babylonian background. The main deficiency of such books is that they appear too seldom.