Haggai

Haggai is the tenth book in the collection known as the Book of the Twelve in the Jewish Bible or one of the Minor Prophets in Christian bibles. The composition bears the name of an individual prophet; Haggai means probably ‘born on the feast day’.

The book is a self-contained piece of literature. It is also interwoven with the first eight chapters of the ensuing book of Zechariah through the use of similar date formulas in both. Day, month, and year are given in the reign of a Darius, king of Persia (see Date and authorship). The months are given according to the calendar in use at the time, which begins in the spring. Both focus on the rebuilding of the temple of YHWH in Jerusalem under the Persian Empire (538–332 BCE). Haggai contains five dates, at 1:1, 15 and 2:1, 10, 20, covering three months and 24 days in the second year. Zechariah 1–8 contains an additional three dates at 1:1, 7 and 7:1, beginning a month before Haggai’s last date, and ending two years later. While each account can be read independently, the dates invite a reader to take both together as a single extended account, and it is generally accepted that Haggai and Zechariah 1–8 were included in the Book of the Twelve/Minor Prophets as a single, pre-existing unit.

Haggai is an atypical prophetic book. It is written largely in prose rather than poetry, and the use of precise dates within the two chapters and in Zechariah 1–8 provides an unusual chronological framework not found in other prophetic books except Ezekiel. Many prophetic books open with sentences that assign the ensuing prophetic messages to the reign of one or more kings, providing a more general historical context, but do not contain specific dates in internal chapters. While there are some internal dates in Isaiah and more in Jeremiah, they do not follow identical patterns as the Haggai-Zechariah dates do, and they do not structure the whole book as they do Haggai.

The series of precise date formulas introduces four consecutive messages, except the one in 1:15, which ends the first message: message one: 1:1-15; message two: 2:1-9; message three: 2:10-19, and message four: 2:20-23. Messages 1 and 3 deal with agricultural disaster; the first says the crop failure stems from Israel’s failure to rebuild the temple while the third says the laying of the temple foundation has reversed the drought so that there will be an abundant harvest. Message 2 promises glory for the rebuilt temple and message 4 says that God is going to shake the heavens and the earth and make the governor Zerubbabel his signet ring. Message 1 has been seen to employ the literary device known as a disputation speech in 1:2-11, which is designed to convince the people that their failure to have rebuilt the temple is wrong in the eyes of YHWH Sebaot. 1:12-15 then note the successful response of the people to the message.

In addition, the scroll may be organized as a temple–building account. Ancient Near Eastern accounts of temple-building could contain up to six standard elements: (1) the circumstances of the project and the divine or royal decision to build; (2) preparations; (3) a description of the temple structure; (4) dedication rites and festivities; (5) the blessing of the king by the god(s); and (6) blessings pronounced on those in the future who renew the temple and curses on any who profane it (Victor Avigdor Hurowitz 1992, 32-64, 137-38, 209-15, 220).

The book of Haggai would then contain elements 1 and 2 in Haggai 1:2-11, with the deity initiating the project, and 2:2-9 may also belong to element 2. Haggai 2:21 and 23 would seem to represent element 5. Haggai 2:11-19 either describes the ritual re-deposition of a stone from the former ruined temple to serve as a foundation stone for the new temple, symbolizing continuity between the two structures, or it describes the placement of the capstone at the final dedication of the structure. The dating scheme would favour its interpretation as the foundation stone. However, if the dates have been added to the composition at a later stage, then it would be possible to suggest that Haggai 2:11-19 describes the placement of the capstone at the completion of the temple, and v. 18 refers to the final blessings to be bestowed directly on the people collectively (Diana Edelman 2005,132-34).

Date and authorship

There were three Persian kings named Darius: Darius I (522–486 BCE), Darius II Nothus (425–405 BCE), and Darius III Codomannus (337–330 BCE). It is widely assumed that the dates in the book are to be associated with Darius I and refer to historical events that took place in 520 BCE (year 2). A minority position has argued instead that they refer to Darius II and so reflect historical events that transpired in 423 BCE (Luc Dequeker 1993, 68).

Another minority position has argued that the dates are invented and meant to set the temple rebuilding under Darius I in order to fulfill the predictions in Jeremiah 25:8, 11; 29:10-14, 20 that the land of Judah would be a waste and a ruin for 70 years but that YHWH would bring his people home from exile afterwards. It dates the rebuilding of the temple to the same time as the refurbishing of Jerusalem to serve as the regional administrative seat for the province of Yehud, under Artaxerxes I (465–425 BCE) (Diana Edelman 2005). The monarchic-era temple was destroyed in 586 BCE along with the rest of the city; Jeremiah’s 70 years would yield a date for the re-establishment of Jerusalem and its temple in 516 BCE. This coincides precisely with the date given in a Greek version of the book of Ezra, 1 Esdras 7:5, 23 Adar, year 6 of Darius, which places the week-long dedication ceremony in the final week of the 70th year and makes it likely that Ezra 6:15 originally also had 23 Adar rather than the current 3 Adar (first suggested by Herbert E. Ryle 1893, 82 and adopted by many subsequently).

The date of the writing of Haggai is hard to determine. Some have assumed that the book was assembled within a few years of the events described, giving the actual words of Haggai, and is a reliable picture of events that transpired at the time of the rebuilding of the temple in the Persian period. Others have dated it to the late Persian period or the beginning of the Hellenistic period (350–300 BCE), drawing on earlier recorded prophecies but not being created as a written composition until this later era. The manuscript evidence indicates the book already existed before ca. 150 BCE. As usual with prophetic books, its author or editor is entirely anonymous.

Interpretation

The main point made to the people by Haggai is that their agricultural misfortunes have been due to their neglect of the temple of their God, and their attention to it has led to prosperity. Not that they are neglecting sacrifice (2:14) at the altar, which stood in the open, but that they have ignored the rebuilding of the roofed house which ancient peoples believed to be the dwelling of the god. Several theological assumptions are made here that modern people, and some ancient people, may well reject: one, that any kind of disaster or affliction must be due to sin against God (contrast Luke 13:1-5); two, that the ritual aspects of the service of God take priority (contrast Amos 5:21-24); and three, that God is not properly served unless God has a “house” (contrast the whole history of Judaism since 70 CE). Haggai is a stringent test case for the acceptability of (some) Old Testament theology, though many people in all ages would in practice accept all these points.

In the ancient Near East, kings normally built temples since they served as the earthly vice-regents of the local god(s). There had not been a king of Judah since 586 BCE, when the Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem and had converted Judah into a province of their Empire called Yehud. The Persians conquered the Babylonians and assumed control of their Empire in 538 BCE. The inclusion of the governor of Yehud, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, alongside the future high priest, Joshua son of Jehozadaq, as the leaders of the ‘remnant of the people’ in 1:1, 12,14; 2:2, 4 and alone in 2:21 and 23 serves important literary and theological functions. It provides a descendant of the Davidic royal line as an authoritative figure in the temple-building activity, to maintain the standard temple-building pattern to some degree. It also permits the presentation of a divine intention to reaffirm the Davidic dynastic promise, first depicted in 2 Samuel 7, that a descendant of David would always sit on the throne of Judah, implying the future return of Judah to the status of an independent kingdom instead of a province.

The title YHWH Sebaot, ‘LORD of Hosts’, is used thirteen times in the book of Haggai. It is a title applied to YHWH as the official state god of the kingdom of Judah, and is associated with the Ark in the books of Samuel (1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2). Its widespread repetition in Haggai seems designed to assert that the Persian-era temple was a direct continuation of the monarchic-era temple, with no innovations or changes. The appointment of a high priest who is said to be the direct descendant of the last monarchic high priest, Seraiah (1 Chronicle 6:14-15; 2 Kings 15:18-21; Jeremiah 52:24) reinforces the same point.

Reception history

In Jewish Talmudic tradition (see Talmud), Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi were the final prophets, and when they died, ‘the Holy Spirit departed from Israel’ (Yoma 9b; tosefta Sotah 13.2). However, another set of rabbinic traditions links the withdrawal of the Spirit with the destruction of the first temple: Lam R. Proem 23; Eccl. R. 12.7.1; Num. R. 15.10. Two different attempts to resolve this conflict of understanding about the date of the end of prophecy are noted in Pesikta de Rab Kahana 13.14.

In the Talmudic tractate Baba Batra 15a, the rabbis attributed the editing of the book of Haggai to the men of the Great Assembly, who were said to have continued the work of Ezra and Nehemiah. Haggai is cited as the source of various laws in the Talmud (e.g., Yev. 16a, Kid. 43a, RH 9a). According to Talmudic tradition (Megillah 3a), Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi were the founders of the Great Assembly, and the Targum to the Prophets (Targum Jonathan) was composed in Aramaic as a translation of the Hebrew Prophets by Jonathan ben Uzziel ‘from the mouths of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi’. The book of Haggai plays no part in Jewish liturgy.

In Jewish and Christian traditions, these three prophets were buried together in a tomb containing 38 burial niches on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem known in Arabic as Qubr el Anbia. Its style is typical of the 1st century BCE. The site was venerated by Jews beginning in the medieval period.

In the New Testament, the imagery of shaking the heavens and earth in Haggai 2:6, 21 is cited by the author of Letter to the Hebrews (12:26), but adapted for his own purposes. He wanted to contrast the theophany of God at Sinai, on earth, in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy, with the coming theophany of God at the end of time, which will involve both heaven and earth. To do so, he reversed the order of heavens and earth and added ‘not only’ before the phrase, producing the statement: At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.’ The next two verses then explain that he is referring to the coming final judgment day, when created things will be removed but the unshakable kingdom will remain and the faithful will receive it.

In Handel’s Messiah, however, a setting of Haggai 2:6-7 is placed in Part I, to do with the coming of Christ, rather than with the verses on the final reign of Christ at the end of Part II.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Haggai is commemorated as a saint and prophet, with an annual feast day being celebrated on 16 December for those who follow the older Julian calendar, and on 29 December for those who follow the newer Gregorian calendar. In the Armenian Apostolic Church, Haggai is commemorated as a saint along with the other Minor Prophets on 31 July.

Further reading

Coggins, R. J. Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987.
Coggins, Richard, and Jin H. Han. Six Minor Prophets through the Centuries: Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Blackwell Bible Commentaries 29. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
Isaacs, Ronald H. Pages 183-87 in Messengers of God: A Jewish Prophets Who’s Who. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1998.

References

Dequeker, Luc. “Darius the Persian and the Reconstruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 4,24).” Pages 67-92 in Ritual and Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East. Edited by J. Quaegebeur. OLA 55. Leuven: Peeters, 1993.
Edelman, Diana. The Origins of the ‘Second’ Temple: Persian Imperial Policy and the Rebuilding of Jerusalem. BibleWorld. London: Equinox, 2005.
Hurowitz, Victor Avigdor. I Have Built You an Exalted House: Temple Building in the Bible in Light of Mesopotamian and Northwest Semitic Writings. JSOTSup 5. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992.
Ryle, Herbert E. The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah with Introduction, Notes and Maps. The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1893.