Book of Haggai

From New World Encyclopedia
Books of the

Hebrew Bible

Torah | Nevi'im | Ketuvim
Books of Nevi'im
First Prophets
1. Joshua
2. Judges
3. Samuel
4. Kings
Later Prophets
5. Isaiah
6. Jeremiah
7. Ezekiel
8. 12 minor prophets

The Book of Haggai is one of the Books of the Minor Prophets in the Hebrew Bible (Christian Old Testament), written by the eponymous prophet. It was composed in or around 520 B.C.E., some 18 years after King Cyrus' 538 B.C.E. decree that allowed the Jewish resettlement of Palestine. In the years after their return, the prophet saw the restoration of the temple as a necessary imperative for the rebuilding of national and ethnic identity, which he saw as intimately tied to the participation in traditional religious practices. The fact that the Second Temple was, in fact, completed by 515 B.C.E. is often attributed to the potent persuasions offered by the prophet.[1]

Authorship, Historical Context and Textual Issues

See also: Haggai

Like many other texts in the prophetic corpus, little is known of the author of the Book of Haggai. His name appears to be derived from the Hebrew stem (hgg), which "means 'make a pilgrimage' or 'observe a pilgrimage feast.' H. W. Wolff suggests that the name, found often in extra-biblical, post-exilic sources, was popular because it was 'an allusion to the birth on a feast day of the person named."[2] Conversely, it could also be taken as "an abbreviated form of the noun Hággíyyah, [meaning] "my feast is Yahweh," a Jewish proper name found in … 1 Chronicles 6:30."[3] Regardless, these etymological possibilities are among the only information available on the author of the text, which lacks even the geographical/genealogical markers that often accompany prophetic accounts.[4] As a result, the various suppositions concerning his character—that he was over seventy years old,[5] that he may have been a temple prophet,[6] or that he was a "Judahite farmer"[7] — are simply that: educated guesses. The only other insight into the author that can be gleaned from the source text is that he was a man of some influence, either with the ruling authorities (i.e., Joshua, the high priest, and Zerubbabel, the governor) or with the general public, as the window between his initial prophecy and the completion of the temple is only five years.[8] [9] Indeed, regardless of the character of the prophet, it is undeniable that he knew how to efficiently disseminate his message.

In an explicit contrast to the vagueness of biographical details concerning Haggai, the text that bears his name has been more explicitly tied to a specific historical period than virtual any other in the Biblical canon. Specifically, each of the prophecies is superscripted with a particular date of exposition, which has allowed historians to temporally situate Haggai's activity in the four months between August 29th and December 18th of 520 B.C.E. While these superscriptions could have been later editorial insertions,[10] it is a near universal scholarly consensus that the book had more-or-less attained its present form by 515 B.C.E. (when the Second Temple was built).[11] This proposed dating is additionally supported by the mention of Haggai's ministry in the Book of Ezra 5-6.

As such, the text was written during a period of reconstruction, after the Decree of Cyrus allowed the tribe of Judah to return home, with the lands and sacramental objects of their temple cult returned to them.[12] Though it remained a vassal state, the Israelite kingdom was still comparatively free and self-governing under its "two leaders, Zerubbabel, the Davidic governor, and Joshua, the high priest."[13] All that remained to regain the kingdom's former glory, at least from the perspective of Haggai, was the completion of Yahweh's holy dwelling—the Second Temple.

Chronological Dating of Passages in the Book of Haggai[14]
Passage Year of Darius Month Day Equivalent Date BCE
Hag 1:1 2nd 6th 1st 29 Aug. 520
Hag 1:15 2nd 6th 24th 21 Sept. 520
Hag 2:1 2nd 7th 21st 17 Oct. 520
Hag 2:10 2nd 9th 24th 18 Dec. 520
Hag 2:20 2nd 9th 24th 18 Dec. 520

Note: the final two entries share dates, as the second is merely a summary of the first


The two chapters of the Book of Haggai, as noted in the above table, can be neatly divided into five sections, based on their chronological superscriptions. In all of his discourses, the prophet's aim is typically quite straightforward—to urge the people (and especially the authorities, Zerubbabel and Joshua) to proceed with the rebuilding of the second Jerusalem temple. In his attempt to make this point, Haggai attributes a recent drought to the peoples' refusal to rebuild the temple, which he sees as an architectural metonym for Jerusalem’s glory. The book ends with the prediction of the downfall of kingdoms, with Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, as the Lord’s chosen leader. The language here is not as finely wrought as in some other books of the minor prophets, yet the intent seems straightforward. Though the text is often given short shrift for its relatively unadorned style, many modern scholars note that it has a certain prophetic brilliance of its own. Meyers and Meyers offer such a perspective:

Critics have claimed that the value of the Book of Haggai is to be discerned merely in the modest amount of historical detail preserved in the text. They claim that either the book is devoid of spiritual content and religious significance or that Haggai fostered a narrow and rigid exclusiveness that signaled the decline of Judaism in the Second Commonwealth period. We, however, have found Haggai to stand squarely in the tradition of his prophetic forebears in language, idiom, and point of view. At the same time, Haggai clearly points toward a future that was at first uncertain. He eases his countrymen over the trauma of return and succeeds in rousing them to work on the temple. This he does with rhetorical ingenuity and skill and with a sophisticated, elevated prose style.[15]

The first chapter contains the first address (1:2-11) and its effects (1:12-15). The second chapter contains the second prophecy (2:1-9), which was delivered a month after the first; the third prophecy (2:10-19), delivered two months and three days after the second; and the fourth prophecy (2:20-23), delivered on the same day as the third.[16]

One of these "modest historical details" is the account of the rebuilding efforts, which the author reports as having begun on September 7, 520 B.C.E.—three weeks after his first prophecy. As noted in the text:

They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of King Darius (Haggai 1:14-15) (NIV).[17]


Two important themes are presented in the text: first, the temple as key to the success of the new kingdom of Judah, and second, this process of reconstruction as the "immanentizing" of the eschatological paradigm.

In the first case, the very agricultural fertility of the land is tied to the construction of the Temple, as when the Lord is quoted saying:

"You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?" declares the Lord Almighty. "Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands" (Haggai 1:9-11).

The theological significance of this perspective is eloquently summarized by Klaus Koch:

Haggai's intellectual world depends entirely on the priestly dichotomy between a holy and an unclean world. … As soon as holiness once more rests on Zion, and the kabod, the radiance of the divine glory, has again extended its presence on earth, salom [peace and prosperity] will spread over the earth by way of the cultic place, of course rippling out in concentric circle accordance with prophetic monanthropology (Hag. 2:3-9; cf. 1:8; Zech. 2:9; 8:13). But until then 'this people here' will necessarily remain in a state of impurity, 'unclean in the power of its life'; and everything which is the work of its hands will inevitably be infected by this disastrous sphere.[18]

In the second, the text avers that rebuilding the temple will be the first step in redeeming their kingdom (both politically and eschatologically):

'But now be strong, O Zerubbabel,' declares the Lord. 'Be strong, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,' declares the Lord, 'and work. For I am with you,' declares the Lord Almighty. 'This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.'
"This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the Lord Almighty. 'The silver is mine and the gold is mine,' declares the Lord Almighty. 'The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,' says the Lord Almighty. 'And in this place I will grant peace,' declares the Lord Almighty" (Haggai 2:4-9).

Once again, Koch provides a cogent distillation of this theme:

The words which Haggai proclaims to Zerubbabel, the ruling governor, are just as high-flown as the expectations of the period of blessing which is to ensue immediately after the reopening of the temple. He designates him as nothing less than the ruler over the whole world. Yahweh will soon shake the universe so that the thrones of the ruling princes will topple and a struggle of each against all will break out on earth. Then Zerubbabel will be the signet ring on the hand of God, the ring which God will use to stamp his will to peace into the very earth itself (Hag. 2:20-23).[19]

These messianic themes have caused later Christian commentators to read the passages as oblique references to the coming of Jesus Christ, as noted in the Catholic Encyclopedia: "It should also be borne in mind that although the prophecies of Aggeus [Haggai] were directly meant to secure the immediate rearing of the Lord's House, they are not without a much higher import. The three passages which are usually brought forth as truly Messianic, are 2:7-8, 2:10, and 2:21-24. It is true that the meaning of the first two passages in the original Hebrew differs somewhat from the present rendering of the Vulgate, but all three contain a reference to Messianic times."[20]


  1. See, for example: "In large measure due to Haggai's urging, the temple was completed in 515" Barry L. Bandstra. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, Second Edition. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1999), 370.
  2. W. Eugene March. "Haggai." The New Interpreter's Bible, Vol. VII (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994-2004), 707.
  3. F. E. Gigot. "Aggeus (Haggai)" in The Catholic Encyclopedia. (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907). [1].Retrieved March 15, 2008.
  4. cf. Zephaniah 1:1 ("The word of the Lord that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah"); Micah 1:1 ("The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah"; Jonah 1:1 ("The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai"); Hosea 1:1 ("The word of the Lord that came to Hosea son of Beeri during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and during the reign of Jeroboam son of Jehoash king of Israel"), etc. (all biblical citations from the New International Version). March provides a brief summary of the scholarly debate on this lacuna: "The absence of a family name suggested to Carol Meyers and Eric Meyers that Haggai had family connections that would have been problematic for the prophet if they were publicly announced. David Petersen, on the other hand, considered the absence of genealogical detail concerning Haggai a deliberate means of focusing attention on the divine authority by which the prophet spoke. Nonetheless, for whatever reason, Haggai, like Amos, Habakkuk, and Obadiah before him, is not provided with a lineage" (707). As such, the lack of contemporaneous sources means that it is not possible to discern the explicit authorial/editorial purpose for this gap.
  5. Emile G. Hirsch. "Haggai, Book of" in The Jewish Encyclopedia. 2002. [2].Retrieved March 15, 2008.
  6. This issue of Haggai's "official" prophetic status is touched on in Klaus Koch. The Prophets: The Babylonian and Persian Periods. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), 162.
  7. An archaic hypothesis that is described in March, 708.
  8. Anchor Bible Dictionary, 20; March, 708;
  9. Bandstra, 370-371.
  10. The conclusions of this form critical approach are outlined in detail in Meyers and Meyers, lxviii-lxx. Conversely, recent scholarship by Floyd (1995) notes that there is, in fact, no particular evidence of a change in narrative voice between the prophecies themselves and the alleged "editorial insertions," which would imply a single, unified composition (474-476).
  11. March, 708-709: "Scholars basically accept these dates as authentic and believe the book was compiled in its present form only a short time after the prophet spoke, certainly before 515 B.C.E., when the work on the Temple initiated at Haggai's urging was completed." See also: Bandstra, 370-371; Anchor Bible Dictionary, 20.
  12. March notes that "this decree may also explain why the writer of Second Isaiah, rejoicing at the prospect of the return from exile, conferred upon Cyrus the title of 'Messiah,' the Lord's 'anointed'" (709).
  13. Anchor Bible Dictionary, 20.
  14. Derived from data in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, 21.
  15. Meyers and Meyers, xli-xlii.
  16. These discourses are referred to in Ezra 5:1; 6:14;(Compare Haggai 2:7, 8, 22.) See also the Anchor Bible Dictionary (21-22) and March (710-712) for an overview of the text.
  17. Its completion, on February 25, 515 B.C.E., is described in the Book of Ezra: "The Temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius" (6:15).
  18. Koch, 162.
  19. Koch, 163.
  20. Gigot (1907).

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

Initial text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897 (a document which is now in the public domain)
  • Bandstra, Barry L. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, Second Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1999. ISBN 0534527272
  • Floyd, Michael H. "The Nature of the Narrative and the Evidence of Redaction in Haggai." Vetus Testamentum 45(Fascicle 4) (October 1995): 470-490.
  • Freedman, David Noel (editor-in-chief). The Anchor Bible Dictionary, V. 1 New York: Doubleday, 1992. ISBN 0385193513
  • Gigot, F. E. "Aggeus (Haggai)." In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. Retrieved April 27, 2020.
  • Hirsch, Emile G. "Haggai, Book of" in The Jewish Encyclopedia. 2002. Retrieved April 27, 2020.
  • Koch, Klaus. The Prophets: The Babylonian and Persian Periods. Philidelphia: Fortress Press, 1982. ISBN 0800617568
  • March, W. Eugene. "Haggai." The New Interpreter's Bible, Vol. VII Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994-2004. ISBN 0687278201
  • Mason, Rex. Preaching the Tradition: Homily and Hermeneutics after the Exile: Based on the "Addresses" in Chronicles, the "Speeches" in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and the Post-Exilic Prophetic Books. Cambridge [England]; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990. ISBN 0521383048
  • Meyers, Carol L. and Meyers, Eric M. Haggai, Zechariah 1-8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1987. ISBN 0385144822

External links

All links retrieved November 18, 2023.


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