Haggai (Hebrew: חַגַּי, Ḥaggay or "Hag-i") was one of the twelve minor prophets and the author of the Book of Haggai. He was the first of three prophets (along with his contemporary, Zechariah, and Malachi, who lived about one hundred years later), whose ministry belonged to the period of Jewish history that began after the return from captivity in Babylon. Though few biographical details are extant, he is notable for his role in promoting the construction of the Second Temple.
Like many other texts in the prophetic corpus, the Book of Haggai is supported by very little information about the presumed author. Haggai's 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.’" 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…I Chronicles 6:30." 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. As a result, the various suppositions concerning his character—that he was over seventy years old, that he may have been a temple prophet, or that he was a "Judahite farmer"—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. Indeed, regardless of the character of the prophet, he knew how to efficiently disseminate his message. The prophet's spiritual charisma is attested to in Haggai 1:12, which states that "Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord."
In an direct contrast to the vagueness of biographical details concerning Haggai, the text that bears his name has been tied more explicitly to a specific historical period than virtually 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 29 and December 18 of 520 B.C.E. While these superscriptions could have been later editorial insertions, 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 construction of the Second Temple was completed). This historical period, replete with its own opportunities, challenges, and triumphs, is evocatively described by Fleming James:
Jerusalem, and probably many smaller towns needed extensive rebuilding (Zech 1.16). To crown all, the temple of Yahweh lay waste (Hag. 1.4). Just how much of it had been demolished is not clear. The notice in 2 Kings 25.9 mentions burning only. This would have destroyed the wood-work, including the roof and panelling, and would probably have seriously injured the stone-work as well. Both Haggai and Zechariah indicate that stones had to be put into place (Hag. 2.15; Zech. 4.7) and a foundation laid (Zech. 4.9). Probably much of the former building still stood, but in such a condition that it needed reconstruction from the ground up. It must have presented a dismal sight!
Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jozadak set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, helping them (Ezra 5:1–2).
Further, the text later states:
Then, because of the decree King Darius had sent, Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and their associates carried it out with diligence. So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo. They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia. The temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius (Ezra 6:13–15).
A later reference to Haggai can be found in the non-canonical Lives of the Prophets, which accompanied many early recensions of the Christian Bible. This account, like that for many of the other minor prophets in the collection, is predominantly formulaic and lacking in identifying details:
Haggai, who is also messenger/angel, came from Babylon to Jerusalem perhaps as a youth and prophesied explicitly concerning the return of the people and saw, in part, the construction of the Temple. And when he died, he was buried near the tomb of the prophets, with honor, as they were.
A similar account can be found in an early Ethiopic version of the Lives of the Prophets, with the only major difference being the description of Haggai being buried among the priests instead of the prophets:
Haggai, while he was young, came (from) Babylon to Jerusalem. He prophesied openly that the people should repent and saw in part the son of man in the temple. And thereupon he died and was buried near the tomb of the priests in the same way as them, from the tribe of Ephraim, for ever and ever, amen.
Finally, the name Haggai, with various vocalizations, is also found in the Book of Esther, as a eunuch servant of the Queen: "Let them be placed under the care of Hegai, the king's eunuch, who is in charge of the women" (Esther 2:3). However, there is no reason to see this as anything other than a recurrence of a common name.
Haggai's life is commemorated by various Communions of Eastern Christianity, including the Eastern Orthodox Church, who celebrate his feast day on December 16th, and the Armenian Apostolic Church, where he (and the other Minor prophets) are feted on the 31st of July.
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