The Hebrew Bible is divided into three major sections: Torah (the Pentateuch), Nevi’im (the Prophets), and Ketuvim (the Writings). Combining the sections in this order gives us the acronym TaNaK for the whole Hebrew Bible.
The Prophets can be further divided into the ‘Former Prophets’, consisting of the four historical books—Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings—and the ‘Latter Prophets’, comprising Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve Minor Prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.
The order of the Twelve Minor Prophets
The Hebrew Bible lists the Minor Prophets in this order. In brackets are the approximate or possible dates BCE at which the prophet is likely to have been active. In most cases the composition of the book would have been considerably later. In fact it is generally believed by critical scholars that none of the prophetic books reached their final form until the Persian period, in the 5th or possibly the 4th century BCE. They may each contain material from the time of the prophet whose name it bears. An exception is the book of Jonah, which is a story written probably about the 4th century about the prophet mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25.
Hosea (ca. 750‒715)
Joel (ca. 500?)
Amos (ca. 760‒750)
Obadiah (between 587 and 515?)
Jonah (ca. 785‒775)
Micah (ca. 735‒690)
Nahum (between 630 and 612?)
Habakkuk (after 605)
Zephaniah (ca. 630‒620?)
Malachi (ca. 450‒430?)
Various factors could have influenced the ordering of the Twelve Minor Prophets. Chronology is the most obvious one. Prophets like Hosea and Amos, who performed their prophetic ministries in Israel, the northern kingdom, come first in the collection because they were written in the 8th century BCE during the Assyrian period. Micah prophesied later within that period in Judah, the southern kingdom. Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, on the other hand, were written much later, during the Persian period. If this assumption is correct, the editor who decided the order probably did so with the aim of reflecting the progression of Israel’s history. Joel and Obadiah appear to be exceptions; but they do not carry any indication of date, and the editor may have believed they prophesied in the 8th century.
Another significant aspect is the ‘catchword’; prophetic books are linked by words or phrases which appear at the end of one book and the beginning of the next. For example, the phrase ‘the LORD roars from Zion’, in the closing verses of Joel (3:16), reappears in Amos (1:2). The phrase ‘(the LORD) does not retain his anger forever’, in Micah 7:18, is similar to the phrase ‘the LORD is slow to anger’ at the beginning of Nahum (1:3). The phrases ‘that time’ in Zephaniah 3:19 and ‘the time has not come’ in Haggai 1:2 demonstrate a similar continuity between these two books. It is possible that these catchwords were inserted by the editor of the Twelve in order to link pairs of books together.
In the Septuagint (LXX), however, the ordering of the Twelve Minor Prophets follows a different arrangement for the first six books. This order, listed below, appears to be based on the respective size of each book.
The age of the Twelve Minor Prophets
The Twelve Prophets have been in existence as prophetic literature for nearly 2,200 years. The earliest reference to the Twelve appears in the 2nd century BCE, in The Wisdom of Ben Sira (180–175 BCE; also known as Sirach or Ecclesiasticus), which says : “the Twelve Prophets—may their bones flourish with new life where they lie” (Sir 49:10). Fragments of a single leather scroll containing the text of the Minor Prophets were discovered at Wadi Murabba’at above the Dead Sea, near Qumran, along with other texts and objects left behind by soldiers in the second war with Rome, 135-32 CE.
The Minor Prophets as one book or individual books
The question of whether the Minor Prophets were intended as individual writings or as a single book is a subject of some debate, with the two sides offering different interpretations of how they are conceived of in Ben Sira. The Babylonian Talmud (B. Bat. 13b, 14b) considers the Twelve both separately and as a single prophetic book. Recent scholars tend to be more inclined to view the Minor Prophets as a single book, and may therefore refer to ‘The Book of the Twelve.’ Others, however, prefer to speak of an ‘anthology’ or ‘collection’. It is likely to be useful for the student of the Prophets to consider both of these perspectives.
The message of the Twelve Minor Prophets
The theological message of the Book of the Twelve revolves around the tensional concepts of judgement and salvation. This can be seen in the context of the entire Book of the Twelve; Hosea begins with the unfaithfulness of Israel (Hosea 1‒2), but Malachi ends with the promise of God’s healing to those who revere his name (Mal 4:2). The same themes appear in each individual book. The book of Joel prophesies God’s judgement in the form of a plague of locusts that will destroy the city and the people’s crops (Joel 1:1‒2:17), but God then promises restoration to his people (Joel 2:18‒27). Similarly, Amos pronounces judgement against the nations for their crimes against other people (1:3‒2:3), against Judah for rejecting the LORD’s instructions (2:4‒5), and against Israel for committing injustices against the poor (2:6‒7; 4:1; 5:7‒12). God will destroy Israel (9:1‒10), but will also restore them and will bring them back to their own land to rebuild their ruined cities (9:11‒15). The book of Zechariah follows a similar pattern, calling the people to repentance (1:2‒6) because God will strike them down (13:7); however, God will return to Jerusalem with mercy, comfort Zion (1:16‒17), do good to Jerusalem (8:15), and pour out his grace upon his people (12:10).
Social justice and concern for the poor are major themes of the Minor Prophets. The book of Amos attacks the people of Israel for their unjust treatment of the poor: they sold the righteous person for silver and a needy person for a pair of sandals; they trampled on the heads of the poor as though they were dust on the ground, and deny justice to the oppressed (Amos 2:6‒7); they turned justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground (5:7). The book of Micah expresses a similar concern for justice, proclaiming that the LORD is not pleased with the costly gifts offered to him by the social elite; what the LORD instead requires of his people is “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God” (6:8). The book of Zechariah exhorts God’s people in the post-exilic period to properly administer justice, treat each other with mercy and compassion (7:9) and to speak the truth and render sound judgement in court (8:16‒17).
The Minor Prophets speak of divine judgement not only during their own time periods, but also in the distant future. God will judge Judah (Obad 18; Zeph 1:4‒5) and Israel (2:6‒7; 4:1; 5:7‒12), the Gentile nations (Zeph 2:1‒15; 3:8), all the nations (Joel 3; Obad 16; Zech 14:1‒2), and the whole world (Zeph 1:17‒18). However, God will also restore Judah and Israel (Joel 3:1‒2; Obad 18‒20; Zeph 3:14‒20; Zech 14:10‒11), invite the nations to gather in Zion (Mic 4:1‒5; Zeph 3:9; Zech 2:11; 14:16), and pour out his Spirit on all people (Joel 2:28).
Fuhr, Richard Alan, Jr., and Gary E. Yates. The Message of the Twelve: Hearing the Voices of the Minor Prophets. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2016.
Nogalski, James D., and Marvin A. Sweeney, eds. Reading and Hearing the Book of the Twelve. SBL Symposium Series 15. Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2000.
Petersen, David L. The Prophetic Literature: An Introduction. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2002.