In biblical texts, the river Euphrates functions as a geopolitical border: it delineates the boundaries of the land promised to Abraham and his descendants, and it demarcates the border of the Babylonian exiles, separating those who remain in the land from those in exile while imagining a future when they will be reunited. After the destruction of the second temple, however, the Euphrates transforms into a border separating the eschatological future from the crisis of the present. This transformation is reflected in the pseudepigraphic works of 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch, where the eventual restoration of the full community of Israel is imagined through both a physical and a temporal crossing of the Euphrates. This paper explores the presentation of the Euphrates as a border that indicates temporal proximity to the eschaton and to the lost tribes in 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch.1
Zvi Ben-Dor BeniteThe Ten Lost Tribes: A World History (Oxford: Oxford University Press2009) 3 19-20 notes that the tribes are lost both to and from the world in three converging ways: they are lost from all of humanity from the physical world and from the “world as temporality (as in ‘end of the world’).” This temporality fuses together with a spatial understanding through the location of the Euphrates in an apocalyptic framework.
StoneFourth Ezra404. Josephus also speaks briefly about the great multitude of the ten tribes that are “beyond the Euphrates” when discussing Ezra and his favor with the king of the Persians: “And when these Jews had understood what piety the king had towards God and what kindness he had for Ezra they were all greatly pleased; further many of them took their effects with them and came to Babylon as very desirous of going down to Jerusalem; but then the entire body of the people of Israel remained in that country; so there are but two tribes in Asia and Europe subject to the Romans while the ten tribes are beyond the Euphrates until now and are an immense multitude and not to be estimated by numbers” (Ant. 11.132-133 [trans. William Whiston; Grand Rapids: Kregel 1999]). Josephus’s mention however does not favor an eschatological interpretation nor does it discuss their return although Ben-Dor Benite Ten Lost Tribes 77 argues that the phrase “beyond the Euphrates” in Josephus does suggest not so much a geographical location as a “larger and ontologically deeper place than the actual terrain on the river’s far banks.” See also Knibb’s comments in R. J. Coggins and M. A. Knibb The First and Second Books of Esdras (Commentary on 1 Esdras by Coggins; Commentary on 2 Esdras by Knibb; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1979) at 267-68.
Matthias Henze“Torah and Eschatology in the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch,” in The Significance of Sinai: Traditions about Sinai and Divine Revelation in Judaism and Christianity (ed. G. J. Brooke, H. Najman, and L. T. Stuckenbruck; Leiden: Brill2008) 201–15esp. 202–3.